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We are currently in week 4 of our 3-month trip and I have found it hard to find time for blogging. Inspired by our friends ytravelblog and missing writing in travelogue style, I am going to write a weekly update report. Later, I will come get around to publishing more detailed destination guides. You can read our first complete Mexico guide about the beautiful Isla Holbox here.
Week 4 saw us reunite with Paul, who unexpectedly went to Australia for work for a week. He arrived back with us very tired after a busy week working and long travel days. We met up in Laguna Bacalar, right near the Belize border. To say that we were all super excited to see him would be a huge understatement! We like being “5 lost together”, not 4!
Our plans continue to be fluid and I love the flexibility to adapt as we go. We had thought about entering Belize or Guatemala, but opted instead to head to the state of Chiapas in Mexico. We don’t like rushing through a country and with the 8 days we had, we couldn’t do either of those countries justice. We will be back someday to see them for a longer time!
Both Paul and I have been noticing the campervans that are driving between Canada/USA and Argentina and this has planted a seed within us. We loved travelling by boat where your home moves around with you and vanlife offers a similar advantage, without having to deal with extreme weather. Over the years we are realizing how much we love road trips where our best memories are the “in-between” places, not the headlining attractions or activities. We already know we will do the full lap of Australia one day, and we have always dreamed about overlanding in Africa again and now we have added a trans-Americas trip to our bucket list.
We are loving travelling in Mexico and are so glad that we picked it as our first destination on this trip. I know many people worry about safety in Mexico, but we have never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. We did purposely select southern Mexico, which is known to be much safer than other parts of Mexico. We haven’t had any issues with police and really it is only the stray dogs that occasionally give us a fright.
We had a rental car for the first few weeks and we loved the independence of having a car. Lately, we have been travelling by bus. Mexico has an excellent bus system with very comfortable and modern buses, although they aren’t that cheap. The food in Mexico has been as good as we expected, although sometimes it can be difficult to find vegetarian options at local restaurants. We do continue to struggle to find suitable accommodation for the 5 of us. Most rooms have two double beds and throughout the Yucatan every room had hammock hooks so we could sling our new hammock. However, now that we are in Chiapas, hammocks aren’t as common and we are back to squeezing into two double beds.
This lagoon of 7 colours with its turquoise waters was a welcome break from the more touristy Tulum. The town of Bacalar has been chosen as a “pueblo magico” and it was an easy place to spend a few days. We had trouble booking accommodation and once we arrived we realized why: Caranval was being celebrated that weekend. We love getting to experience a local holiday or festival when travelling, so were quite excited to be in town for Carnaval.
Staying directly on the lagoon was outside of our budget and we prefer staying close to the main plaza in town anyway.
We spent our days enjoying the gorgeous lagoon at Cocolitos, where for $2 we could enjoy their water hammocks, swings and see ancient stromatolites. Stromatolites are only found in a few locations around the world and are formations formed by bacteria that were the earth’s earliest signs of life. The kids spent hours in the water (getting their first sunburns – oops!), hanging from the posts in the water and getting more and more daring with their acrobatic moves.
We also spent some time at one of the municipal docks (balnearo ejidal) on a Sunday when it was alive with Mexican families celebrating Carnaval.
Mexico’s Canavals have their roots in pre-Lent celebrations and feature elaborate costumes, dancing and parades. We watched the dancers and musicians parade through the streets and were surprised when we would occasionally get pulled into the action. Ella absolutely loved this, but Gavin wasn’t quite so sure about it! In the evenings, the plaza was alive with vendors selling yummy foods and handmade crafts.
I was surprised to see Mennonites in Bacalar and after some Google research, I learned that there is a large Mennonite population in Mexico. It was interesting to see the checkered shirts and traditional dresses amidst the tropical Mexican town.
From Bacalar, we took our first overnight bus of the trip to the town of Palenque in Chiapas state.
Arriving into Palenque, we definitely felt like we were in an entirely different place. The scrubby woodlands of Bacalar had been replaced with lush jungle. We arrived at 5 am and took our taxi to our hotel out of town, anticipating camping out in their lobby. We were so appreciative when they showed us to our room and we could crash for a few more hours. It is little things like this that make all the difference when you are travelling.
When we awoke to howler monkeys and birds, we were blown away with the incredible view over the jungle and the welcoming pool. The owner had a 7-year-old son that the boys played with for days even though neither could speak each other’s language. They got by with hand gestures and the occasional use of Google translate.
Palenque’s jungle-clad ruins are what brings most people to Palenque, but it is easy to spend a few days there enjoying the jungle wildlife and many waterfalls. The ruins kind of reminded us of Angkor Wat in Cambodia with the jungle taking back this important Maya site. Luckily the cost to visit the Palenque ruins is much cheaper than the ones in Yucatan. We paid 75 pesos ($5 CAD)/adult and the kids were free, plus $2.50 CAD/person for entrance into the National Park.
While the kids enjoyed exploring the ruins, their favourite activity was visiting Roberto Barrios waterfall. I vaguely remember visiting Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica when I was a kid and these falls reminded me of that. It also reminded me of a swimming hole we visited in far north Queensland, Australia. You can climb up the many sets of falls, go behind some of the falls and swim in the beautiful turquoise waters. We all loved this afternoon and were so glad we chose these lesser known falls, to the more popular Agua Azul and Misol-Ha. This was well worth the $16 CAD/person we paid for transport and entry to these falls.
Where We Stayed this Week
Pueblo Viejo, Bacalar – we just walked in and were thankful to find they had a room for us. Good clean, budget option, near town and right across the street from the very cool La Pina restaurant. We paid 850 pesos/night.
Casa Lakyum, Palenque – this was a bit of a splurge for us at 1,050 pesos/night but the gorgeous setting, pool and strong WIFI, wooed us. Our stay was book-ended with two overnight buses, so we wanted a nice place to recoup and relax. We LOVED this hotel which represented great value.
Travel Costs this Week
We wanted to keep to $150 CAD/day, but unfortunately we haven’t been meeting that in Mexico. Instead we are averaging $200 CAD/day. I don’t love this, but Paul is working quite a lot, so hopefully his increased income makes up for our higher expenses.
We treat ourselves to cold drinks every day and the occasional ice cream which we could cut out. But YOLO! We probably eat half our meals in local joints and half in more touristy restaurants that offer some Western foods and more vegetarian options.
Total Costs: $1419 CAD
Accommodation: $347 CAD
Food & Drinks: $681 CAD
Transport: $260 CAD (two overnight buses and some taxis)
Entertainment: $135 CAD
For our last week in Mexico, we have based ourselves in the picturesque town of San Cristobal de la Casas. We will be really sad to leave Mexico mid-next week, although we are looking forward to our 44 hours in LA where we will visit Universal’s Harry Potter World. After LA, we are headed to Guangzhou, China for a few days on our way to India.
We are hoping the India-Pakistan dispute continues to calm down. We know travelling in India will test us much more than Mexico, but we are excited to return to India.