In the summer of 2017, our goal was to swim with the whale sharks in Holbox. So we decided to make a 2 week trip out of it and explore the Yucatan Peninsula.
We started out trip in Playa del Carmen. We chose the Be Playa hotel which was perfect. Service was excellent and the atmosphere had a chic vibe but was still kid-friendly. Perfect for us. We had an excellent breakfast every morning that we looked forward to, and the Quinta Avenida was only a block away. We weren’t thrilled with the beach in Playa del Carmen. It was quite crowded and didn’t feel relaxing at all. If you like Frida Khalo, don’t miss the new museum in downtown Playa del Carmen.
From Playa del Carmen we moved to Alaya Tulum. Again, excellent service and beautiful hotel. We chose a room that was not directly on the beach but was very close. We were lucky to have chosen a time of year when the turtles were laying their eggs on the beach. At night one can go out and sit on the beach and if you’re lucky you will see turtles coming up out of the ocean onto the beach, digging a giant hole and laying their eggs. The process takes hours but just to see these magnificent creatures crawling on the beach is quite a spectacle. Thankfully there are many local volunteers that patrol the beaches at night to ensure that the tourists don’t get too close or disturb the turtles in any way. If you visit during the summer months please do not use flashlights on the beaches at night, as this confuses the turtles. We liked Tulum, but we didn’t love it. That’s because outside of the hotel there are little shops and plenty of restaurants to explore, but walking on the narrow street in Tulum with the traffic is a bit stressful, especially if you have kids. I wish there was some way they could make it more pedestrian friendly. Maybe close off the street to traffic and taxis and only have a local tram that takes people up and down Tulum. Also, while the beach is beautiful, the surf was quite rough, at least while we were there. So it wasn’t that enjoyable to bathe in the ocean.
From Tulum we hit the road and drove to Valladolid. We stayed at Hotel El Mesón del Marqués and loved it! Now, keep in mind this is not a luxurious hotel. The rooms were Days Inn quality at best, but if you can get past that, I highly recommend choosing this property. The website doesn’t do it justice. First of all it is located right on the main plaza of Valladolid, which we were ecstatic about since there was a festival going on in the square during our visit which meant a street market, music, ice cream and more. If you enter the hotel from the square, you would be entering through the restaurant which has an authentic hacienda feel to it. In fact the entire property feels like a traditional authentic Mexican property. If they would upgrade their rooms they could charge 3 times the price but they have a lot of rooms so I would imagine that would be a challenge, and I don’t know how many tourists visit Valladolid, although they should! We used Valladolid as a base to visit several cenotes around the area as well as Rio Lagartos and Los Colorados where the pink lakes are. Many of the cenotes are quite touristy and commercialized. We found one that was incredible and there was hardly anyone there. It’s a bit off the beaten path but completely worth it. It’s called Cenote Oxman. It’s located within a Hacienda (Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman), and you have to drive down a dirt road to get there. The owners were there enjoying the pool with their family and were extremely nice. The cenote there is pristine and it’s the one you can see in the video with the rope swing.
The tour in Rio Lagartos was ok. We got to see a few flamingos and it was a nice boat ride and all, but what made the trip worthwhile was to see the pink lakes in Los Colorados. From what was explained to us, the water is pink because of the salt mines. The company adds an agent to the water which allows them to produce more salt and it turns the water pink. You are not supposed to go in the water and there are people patrolling the lake to tell people to get out. So don’t be fooled by the Instagram pictures that make it look like you can leisurely swim and float in the lake. However, it is pretty cool and worth a visit.
From Valladolid we drove to Holbox, the highlight of the trip. We stayed at Casa de Las Tortugas which again, we absolutely loved and would definitely stay there again. We stayed in the Frida Khalo room and since Sina is crazy about Frida, this was a big hit. Holbox has suffered lately from over tourism and we could feel that while we were there. The electricity would go out sometimes during the day and it was quite crowded in the streets. We spoke with some locals who had lived there from the time when there was nothing and they voiced their discontent with the uncontrolled influx of tourists. If I had lived there I would probably feel the same way and completely understood their feelings of frustration. We arrived on one of the last ferries and there were no taxies waiting at the terminal, so we had to walk to the hotel. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem because it’s really not that far, but… we don’t travel light, and so we had to drag a few large bags through the dirt roads of Holbox. But it was worth it. Swimming with the whale sharks was an experience that none of us will ever forget. It takes a good 2 hours by boat to get to the place where they swim. We spotted one and got to swim with it for a bit but then she went down deep into the water and we couldn’t see her anymore. The water tends to be a bit cloudy because of all the plankton, which is why they are there in the first place. We convinced our tour guide to let us find another one, and this time we spent quite a lot of time with her. She let us swim right along side for quite a while before we just couldn’t keep up anymore. These sharks are completely harmless and are beautiful, docile creatures. Swimming with whale sharks is something that you should definitely add to your bucket list.