My husband, Mike, and I headed to Akumal to spend several days helping with the 2nd Annual CEA Festival. It was a great time and we enjoyed every minute of it! When we finished we were ready for an adventure so we decided to take a side trip with our friends, Tom and Vicki and meet up with Joe and Nan who were staying in Progreso for a week. Progreso is located in the State of Yucatan on the Gulf Coast.
We started our morning – like most of our mornings when we are in Akumal – at Turtle Bay Cafe. With bags stored, good-byes said we got in our car and headed south on 307. At the Coba/ Tulum Road we headed towards Coba. The road has recently been widened a good portion of the way to Coba. There is a circle at which you have a choice of roads to Punta Laguna, Chemax or Coba. We took the middle road to Chemax, which eventually ends at route 180, which runs parallel more or less to the toll road from Cancun to Merida. At 180 we took a left and drove in to Valladolid.
For anyone heading to Merida, Chichen Itza or just looking for a nice colonial city to visit this is a great stop. We arrived about noon on Friday and the square was full of beautiful Maya women with their hand-made clothes for sale. If you are looking for that perfect baby gift for a little girl you can't go wrong with the hand made embroidered dresses for under $10.00 USD.
Time for lunch, we decided to check out the The Hotel El Meson del Marquez . It is right across the street from the square and is a gorgeous old hotel. The ambiance was just what we were looking for and the food was excellent. With a full bar from which to choose our libations we started the lunch off with a cold refreshing drink. Tempted beyond control by the list of home-made soups on the menu, the four of us tried several so we could all have a taste. The Black Bean soup was rich and creamy with just the right flavor. The Lima Sopa was some of the best I have ever had, fresh ingredients were obviously the key. The vichyssoise was the most pleasant surprise of them all. No one expected it to be as perfect as it was – a creamy, rich blend of leeks, potatoes and garlic. An excellent choice on a hot summer day. The next course was equally satisfying for all of us. We all chose the traditional local cuisine from the menu choices. One had the fish and it was light and fresh with a side of rice and cooked carrots. Two others in our party had the chicken tacos which were hard tacos stuffed with chicken and cheese with a side of refried beans and rice. I had the cheese enchiladas made with a cottage cheese filling. Our waiter spoke perfect English and the service was wonderful. The setting with its open hacienda architecture surrounding a fountain with gorgeous plants, made us want to stay all day. Or better yet we could have lazed around the pool and bar in the back of the property, but we had hours to go before we could stop.
Strolling slowly through the park admiring the hand-made items one last time we got back in our car and headed out of Valladolid. The last time we had been there was when we took a bus tour to Chichen Itza on one of our first trips to Cancun. We all decided we would visit Valladolid again some day. We stayed a little longer on the older Route 180 until we finally took a look at our watch and decided in order to meet our friends in time we had better get on the toll road next chance we had. The toll road is an amazing way to cut across the Yucatan Peninsula if you are in a hurry and want to ride on a typical highway. Like driving in our own country you see nothing of the countryside traveling this way. But we had seen plenty and had friends waiting. A note to those traveling on the toll road – get gas when you can! There are very few Pemex's and we drove into Mérida literally on fumes.
Next stop the Gran Hotel at Hildago Square in Mérida. Built in 1901 this hotel still is in wonderful condition. Full of antiques, the recently renovated rooms made it a favorite of all of us. We found Joe and Nan and now the party of 6 was together. We all had rooms on the 3rd floor with balconies that overlooked the square. Across the square was a gorgeous church made almost entirely of blocks from Maya pyramids and structures, you will see that a lot in this part of the world.
If you are going to visit Mérida be sure to be there on a Saturday and Sunday. Saturday nights they close the street near Hildago Park and the festivities begin, street vendors are out, restaurants pull their tables and chairs on to the side walks and there is dancing in the streets. This particular weekend was the celebration of Salsa! It was a quieter weekend than most, we were told, because the week before was Carnival and Lent had begun. We walked around the town and took some photos and wandered in and out of some shops. Then we headed to dine at Restaurante Portico del Peligrino, on Calle 57 between Calles
60 and 62. I am not sure exactly how we ended up at an indoor restaurant but it came highly recommended and lived up to the hype we had heard. It was actually in a courtyard and was full of lush greenery. The waiters were friendly and attentive. The meal was completely wonderful and everyone was pleased with their meals from the ceviche and soups to the main courses. I had a wonderful dish made with layers of eggplant and chicken and cheese.
With a coffee and a little Kahlua to top off the meal we headed out to wander some more through the parks and squares and take in the music and festivities. With salsa music still filling the air we headed to our rooms and drifted off to sleep with the sounds of paradise.
The next morning we started our day with breakfast out in Hildago Square at the restaurant next door. We then walked to the main park and enjoyed the street vendors. Peeking in the churches and shops along up and down the street. The morning passed too quickly and before we knew it it was time to head out.
Next stop Chedraui to buy groceries with Joe and Nan, who would be spending the week on the beach just east of Progreso. For those of you who have never been in a Chedraui, it is the Mexican equivalence of a super Wal-Mart. You can buy almost anything you need there. But remember their import section is where you will see your familiar brands – if for some reason you would want to.
Progreso is on the Gulf Coast and it has one of the longest piers in the world, 6 kilometers long. With over 400 cruise ships arriving yearly this is a busy place to be during most days. The coastline here in July and August is full of people escaping the heat of Mérida. More and more Americans and Canadians are showing an interest in this area because it is a great place to get away in the winter and is still very reasonable. Winter is the time that the flamingos come to the gulf coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, along with many other migrating birds – it is an excellent place to go if you like birding.
The house our friends were renting was about 15 minutes east of Progreso. It was a lovely 4 bedroom, 3 bath, cement, two-story house directly on the beach. With an upstairs balcony and a covered patio it had more room than we needed. We were all ready to kick off our shoes and relax while enjoying the wonderful view. The water here is not the crystal blues of the Caribbean but it is a lovely shade of greens and aqua. The sand is a little looser, not being made up of coral, so when you step in there is a murkiness, but the water is clean and refreshing all the same. And with a sand bar not too far off shore it was the perfect spot to watch a pod of dolphins fish and frolic.
After a dip in the ocean, showers, apps and cocktails on the porch we decided to head back to Progreso for dinner. We parked our cars and wandered down the boardwalk until we found a place that looked good. We had been told that all the restaurants in Progreso were good and had the best seafood. Well that might be the case, but it is hard to tell when your meal comes out cold or not completely cooked. I think that we were a little too late as the help was closing up around us.
The next morning we were sorry to say good-bye to Joe and Nan but at the same time we were all quite excited about exploring the beach road. We took it all the way until it ended at the nature reserve. It took us about an hour and a half to get there but the journey was amazing. The beginning of the road we were surprised at some of the huge and wonderful summer homes built along the coast. Once the road narrowed the houses changed or disappeared for miles. There were long stretches of road where on the left side we saw the gulf coast and on the right were miles and miles of salt flats and green hammocks with water and birds galore. I have not seen this much pristine nature except for the Sian Kaan Biosphere – though there you cannot drive along it.
Dizliam de Bravo sits at the end of the road. It is like a little piece of paradise welcoming those who have traveled along the Gulf coast, as well as those coming from Izamal and inland. Beyond it is the San Felipe Natural Park. It is a fishing village that had us wondering if it had had it's day or was just about to take off. The village is clean and welcoming and the fishing boats dot the coast. There is a bus that travels to and from this spot making a turn around and letting off children in their school uniforms. Several of these children then hailed a “taxi” and were taken home for lunch an a tricycle with an umbrella on top. What a great way to travel to and from school.
We stopped for brunch and had a great meal. Three of us had eggs that were wonderful with rice, beans and the freshest tortillas. Vicki had the chicken and we marveled at how fresh it tasted, commenting that that is free range organic chicken at its finest. After a stroll around town to take some pictures we headed back to the car for our next stop – Izamal!
On the road to Izamal we passed through several wonderful small towns and wished we had had more time to stop and explore - Dzilam Gonzálaz, Temax and Tekal de Venegas. Once you arrive in Izamal there is no doubt that you are there. Everything is painted a bright yellow and the roads wind like a maze through connected, walled buildings. In the center is the Cathedral where Pope John Paul blessed the Maya during his visit. This extraordinary piece of architecture was literally built from the stone of a sacred pyramid and the base of the pyramid still stands at the bottom.
Izamal is well worth a visit. I would recommend spending more than a day here. There are ruins to visit, the convent, shops and small artisan workshops. And all of this can be done by horse and carriage. There is lots I could write about this unique city but I think I will end my story here and let the photos say the rest...