Mexico, The Yucatan - Introduction and Logistics

The Yucatan Peninsular actually contains 3 states - Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche. It had long been a destination on my 'to do' list so with Belinda in agreement we booked a leisurely 3 week trip to include birding by also more 'normal' tourist activities.

We booked direct flights with British Airways from Gatwick to Cancun for GBP696 per person via the eBookers website. Being a popular tourist destination Cancun has a variety of flight options.

All of this was booked in advance on Airbnb except one place near Calakmul which we used for. This worked very well with us having problems finding just one place (incidently the worst place we stayed which was on Cozumel) and one other not having our booking requiring me to 'prove' I'd booked and paid! (the place at Chichen Itza)
The places we stayed in varied greatly and naturally some were better than others.

  • Guesthouse in Playa del Carmen - a convenient quick overnighter before catching the ferry to Cozumel, very friendly and welcoming host)
  •  Eco Retreat, Cozumel - the worst place we stayed in. A strange yoga type place where despite good initial impressions we felt very unwelcome. The host wouldn't give us wifi details, spent more time telling us what we weren't allowed to do and no facilities whatsoever. Avoid.
  •  Casa Mango, Macario Gomez - a lovely eco lodge with just 4 'units' of which one (ours) was on stilts. The Italian owner was very helpful and cooks some great Italian dishes. Highly recommended. 
  • Privada los Sauces, Fellipe Carrillo Puerto - a rather luxurious if a little naff villa we had to ourselves on the very edge of town. Well kept gardens with a private pool and the ability to self cater. Ideal for me birding the Vigia Chico road while Belinda relaxed here. The gardener let us in and didn't have a key so I had to drive him across town to get one! Recommended
  • Rancho San Fernando, Bacalar - right on the lakeshore of Lake Bacalar but with very small water frontage. OK but not as good as the online picures suggest.
  • Cabanas Calakmul - in the small rural village of Nuev and only 2km away from the entrance gate to Calakmul. Very rustic and basic but very friendly and helpful guy who ran the small restaurant with help from his wife and 2 young daughters. Highly recommended
  • Hotel Puerto Seyba, Seybaplaya - modern, large but empty and souless place with no facilities except a pool and wifi. 2 rooms occupied in a big hotel probably means this place won't last long. Acceptable for a quick overnighter and luckily a good restaurant close by.
  • Hacienda Uzmal - large impersonal place trying to be posh but failing. OK for a quick stay and close to Uxmal ruins.
  • Macanche B&B, Izamal - lovely place with green grounds in the middle of the gorgeous 'yellow' ton of Izamal. Friendly host and nice breakfast. Highly recommended.
  • Hotel Villas Arqueologicas, Chichen Itza - pretty bad with small rooms, awful service and a member of staff knocking on our door demanding payment for a meal there and then. Avoid
  • Hotel Punta Ponto, Rio Lagartos - very reasonably priced small hotel on the seafront. Nice hosts, very welcoming and friendly. And bonus hummingbird feeders featuring Mexican Sheartails almost constantly! Highly recommended
  • Hacienda Kaan Ac near Valladolid - a stunning palatial castle with great history, rooms, pool and gardens. And we had it all to ourselves! A really fitting place to stay on our last night. Highly recommended.

Travel/Car Hire
Initially we took an ADO bus from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen which was modern, efficient and reasonably priced.

The ferry to Cozumel is also very easy, running on the hour, every hour with 2 almost identical companies with identical timetables!

Car hire on Cozumel for 2 days was a nightmare because the only car they had available was a soft top 1970s VW Beetle. Really challenging to drive and no ability to lock anything inside. This was pre-booked with a local company called Isis who I wouldn't recommend!

Back on the mainland we had a nice very new Nissan X-trail from Alamo. This was luxury compared to what we'd had on Cozumel. We picked it up in Playa del Carmen and returned it to Cancun Airport (at extra cost naturally).

I used my faithful app to navigate to all the birding sites, accomodations etc     

Beware - Cozumel is very expensive! Luckily things got cheaper on the mainland and even more so away from tourist hotspots. Nothing is free in Mexico though so be prepared to dip into your wallet regularly. The thing that shocked us most was the entrance fees to the Mayan archaelogical sites. To get into the popular ones like Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum etc you are talking 497 pesos per person which equates to about GBP23! Another fiver to park and it really starts to rack up. Chichen Itza is one place we felt we couldn't not visit but as well as the very steep entry fees there were mega crowds and hundreds of stalls selling tat inside the archaeological site which ruins it completely. With hindsight we wouldn't have bothered.

Birding Literature
The area isn't covered well by field guides - I found the free Merlin Bird id app (it has a Yucatan pack to download) far more useful. Trip reports on Cloudbirders were very useful in planning. I also took the rather outdated Field Checklist of Birds of Mexico and Central America (Van Perlo) but hardly used it.
I also managed to get hold of a copy of Where to Watch Birds in Mexico. Despite it being many years old most of the sites are still valid. Do NOT try the track opposite the Hacienda Uxmal gardens at Uxmal which is in the book - it is gated and I went through a barbed wire fence only to get caught on my way out with 7 security guards eventually letting me go but they were not happy!    

We did a clockwise trip around the peninsular after an initial 2 days on Cozumel. The sites visited in chronological order were:

  • Cozumel - Abandoned housing grid south of town, sewage treatment works road north of town and area around our accom
  • Coba ruins
  • Macario Gomez - area around Casa Mango
  • Laguna Ocom
  • Vigia Chico Road, Fellipe Carrillo Puerto
  • Laguna Bacalar
  • Eco Tucan, Bacalar
  • Nuevo Conhuas near Calakmul
  • Calakmul ruins
  • Hormiguero ruins
  • Gulf coast, Isla Aguada to Sebaplaya
  • Uxmal area
  • Chichen Itza area
  • Rio Lagartos area including San Salvador Track
  • Xoxen Track (SE of Valladolid)  

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