Saturday 16 November 2013

Dinnerathon Goes to Mexico: The Yucatan

Cancun, baby! Spring Break, pool parties and long, long beaches. That's pretty much all I knew of the Yucatan.  Not somewhere I would have thought to visit.  But, recently, I did. And, yes, from the state of the people getting off the plane from the UK, I am sure that Cancun is all of those things. But, as I found out, the Yucatan is so, so much more.

We headed straight for a taxi on landing, down the coast to Tulum (two hours drive south, a very reasonable $100). Tulum town itself it is a little disappointing, a strip stretched along the main highway south.  But it is not the town you go for, it is the beach.  Now I am not a beach person at the best of times, fill a beach with people and  I will be even less enthused. But our hotel, El Pez, was situated on a point, an empty beach on both sides, waves crashing outside our wonderful room as we slept. Delighted.

Paradise at El Pez
So to the serious task of eating.  Tulum is set up for tourists.  There is no getting away from that, so options for the real deal are limited.  But the food at El Tabano was excellent, and the steak at Casa Banana was great.  One place of note is El Camello in Tulum itself, a ramshackle place at the end of the strip, it serves mountains of fantastically fresh ceviche. although the tacos were less impressive.

The ceviche at El Camello - super fresh!

In terms of things to do, the impressive Mayan ruins on the coast take a day, and the Grand Cenote is certainly worth a visit.  We went by bike to both, the best way to get around, but ensure your bikes are fine before you set off. Cycling with a flat tyre is no fun, as we found out.  Other than that, there's not much to do, but that seems to be the point.  It is a place to leave the world behind.

Mayan ruins at Tulum
So two books and a great deal of sleep later, we reluctantly left Tulum. We had intended on getting a bus to Chichen Itza, but there was only one space left. A taxi for £40 for a two hour ride seemed eminently reasonable, so we went with that instead.  For proximity to the ruins we stayed at Hotel and Bungalows Mayaland - a vast place, full of tired rooms and some of the worst food I have had, anywhere. The hotel was set up for large tours, my idea of hell. One night would have been more than sufficient.  However, one perk of the place is that it has its own entrance to the ruins, allowing you to be the first one in.  Quite a special experience standing at the foot of the main pyramid, sun rising, not another soul around.  The Cenote nearby is also absolutely worth a visit, but get there before one to avoid the hoards.

The (one and only) benefit of staying at Hotel and Bungalows Mayland

The Cenote
From Chichen Itza we moved on to Merida, again by taxi.  Yucatan's largest city. Merida is the administrative and cultural centre of the Yucatan.  On a recommendation from The London Foodie, we stayed at the Hotel Hacienda Merida.  Situated in a colonial townhouse, this hotel was one of the highlights of the trip.  Beautiful room, a stunning pool and some of the friendliest staff I have ever come across.  It was a real oasis from the hustle and bustle outside.

Hotel Hacienda Merida

Food in Merida was a mixed bag, the stalls at Mercado Santa Ana served up some of the best slow-cooked smoked pork I have had, La Chaya Maya the worst food of the whole trip (old fish, pushed on us in an attempt to shift it almost made me sick - to be avoided at all costs!). Rosas y Xocolate had an interesting take on Mexican fusion, albeit in rather cold surroundings.

The best slow-cooked pork I have ever had from Santa Ana Market

Chilies in Merida Central Market
Tortilla making in Merida
But our favourite places of all in Merida had to be La Negrita and their sister bar La Fundacion - both full of locals and without the usual tourist tat that seemed to be the mainstay of so many places in the middle of Merida. La Negrita is an old cantina. a place men used to go to escape the world, given a lick of paint and more than a hint of style. We ended up going so many times, the barmen got to know us. Local artisan beers, some of the best bar snacks I have ever had, and a great laid back vibe. La Fondacion is more a late night place: an impressive selection of mezcal and live music make for a great night out watching the locals try to out dance each other.

The bar at La Negrita - a Mexican Dalston
The "snacks" at La Negrita - the "ticames"(I think) at the front right was incredible fresh!
 The Yucatan had been fun, but now we were off to Oaxaca - holy mole, I couldn't wait.

1 comment:

  1. i hate mole. i kept accidentally ordering chicken oaxaca forgetting what it was and then having to chow it down trying not to gag. not too bad as a hot drink mind.


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