We arrived in Cancun on a Friday evening and, after just one night, we headed out with our rental car to explore the Yucatan. It had always been our intention to get away from the Cancun and Quintana Roo area for at least a few days because it just seemed far too touristy for our liking to be there for a while. We’re so glad we got a rental and went off to explore the Yucatan!
Day 1: Costco, Toll Roads, Izamal & Tacos
Before any road trip (yes, I will consider this a road trip, although it’s only about 3.5 hours from Cancun to Merida) it’s always important to stock up on some essentials. It’s not exactly safe for most people to drink the tap water in Mexico so we decided to head to the Costco in Cancun for some bulk spring water before driving off. I also just have a huge, probably strange, interest in seeing what products American companies like Costco and McDonald’s offer in countries outside of the United States. Usually it’s not that different, but sometimes you find some real gems that reflect local or regional tastes and/or customs.
I really enjoyed seeing items like Choco-Flan, Tres Leches Cake, and more in the baked goods section. The canelones and mango smoothie were welcome additions in the outside food court area. Our favorite items from this Costco visit were the mango smoothie and some mini-doughnuts coming off a conveyor belt in the back. The nice lady making them let us try a couple hot off the belt, which immediately convinced us to buy a whole box (no smaller sizes, this is Costco) of them for a measly $2.50 or so. Little did we know that $2.50 could actually go quite a long way in these parts of Mexico.
It should be worth mentioning that driving in Mexico can be a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never experienced something like it before while traveling. We, however, didn’t find it to be too bad, all things considered. I’ll be writing another post about our driving and car rental experience a bit later, so stay tuned.
You’ll hit two tolls if you’re taking the main highway (cuota) from Cancun to Merida. The first toll was 305 pesos and the second toll was 175 pesos. Not a terrible price, but just be aware that prices for tolls and admissions to cenotes/sites in this region of Mexico are always changing. I researched the prices before we went down from articles posted just earlier this year and the prices we paid were a bit higher.
We decided to stop in the town of Izamal on our way to Merida because it looked like a nice place to wander around and take some photos. The many yellow buildings and a few of the nicer sites in the area make it a worthwhile stop-off if you’re in the area. I’m not sure I’d want to spend a full day here, though.
Izamal Recommendations: Wander around any number of nice, quiet streets for shots of beautiful, yellow buildings. Take a quick, free jaunt up the steps of Kinich Kakmo Pyramid. Wander around the Saint Anthony Convent.
Driving the rest of the way to Merida from Izamal will take about an hour. When we arrived there was a bit of a snafu upon trying to get into our Airbnb, so we decided to go out and grab a bite to eat. Tacos were on the mind and I was thoroughly convinced we should check out Tacos Tumbras after seeing a photo from a Google Review of a slow-rotating, giant spit of meat. Say no more!
It turned out to be a great choice. For nine tacos, a horchata, and a sidral, we spent ~$7.00. Not too shabby, if I say so myself. Also, we chatted with our server and he just happened to be in town visiting some family so he was helping in the restaurant. He was from Salt Lake City. What a small world!
Tacos Tumbras Recommendations: I’m sure most anything will be good, but we really enjoyed the plain (without cheese) al pastor tacos on corn tortillas. The suadero taco was also pretty tasty and the chorizo taco was decent. I prefer a sweeter Horchata to what I had here, but it definitely wasn’t bad. Al pastor torta was very good. I happened to see someone order some nachos at some point and they looked pretty massive. They were being shared between a family of four.
Day 2: Plaza Grande, Progreso, & More Tacos
Sunday started off with a nice Sacrament Meeting in a local ward of the church we attend (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). It was a testimony meeting that reminded me a lot of when I was a full-time missionary in Peru.
After changing out of our church clothes, we headed to Plaza Grande to check out their famous Sunday Market. The main attraction here is food. The plaza gets taken over by droves of food vendors with temporary stalls and plenty of plastic seating and tables. It’s the type of place/event that gets me excited because there’s nothing fancy about it and the majority of people around are locals, which means there’s got to be something good happening. We tried a few different things, like some tacos, a torta, some salchipapas, and fresh orange juice. It was all pretty decent. I think I actually hyped it up a bit too much in my head, but I would definitely go back because there were just so many stalls to try and it all looked so good.
Sunday Market Recommendations: With the hot, midday sun bearing down on you it’s advisable to find a nice, cool drink and a shaded spot to sit so you can do a bit of people watching. We did this with two bottles of fresh orange juice and a plate of salchipapas.
We hung around downtown for a bit longer and then relaxed in our Airbnb for a bit before deciding to go check out the nearby beach town of Progreso. It isn’t too far away, especially if you have your own vehicle to get you there.
Honestly, Progreso seems a bit run-down. We found some free, public parking and then went walking around on the beach and the boardwalk area, but I wasn’t too impressed. Apparently it’s a port for some cruise ships, but I’m not sure what people would be doing in the actual town. If they’re headed out into the Yucatan a bit more then that would probably be worth it.
Overall, I’m not sure Progreso merits a visit. However, there is a cool spot nearby that we visited the next day that’s definitely worth a visit.
Progreso Recommendations: You can walk along the beach and around the pier area. You’ll find a decent number of marquesitas vendors. We didn’t stay any nights here so I’m not sure what else there is to do.
Upon returning to Merida from Progreso we hit up Tacos Tumbras again. Great the second time around as well!
Day 3: Salt Ponds, Plaza Grande Nighttime, & Even More Tacos
We got up early to try and get some cool shots walking around the colorful streets of Merida. There are literally multi-colored buildings everywhere close to downtown, which makes it nice to get a lot of photos.
After spending some time in the general area of Plaza Grande we went off in search of food. Early lunch in Merida was at one of the Wayan’e locations. If you look up popular places to eat in Merida you’re sure to find Wayan’e on the list, and for good reason.
We chatted with our server to see what was good and we ended up with a bunch of different tacos. We enjoyed our meal right on the sidewalk in some shade. This location was basically in the middle of a neighborhood and I loved it.
Wayan’e Recommendations: We had tacos and I got a torta to go. The pork belly taco here was probably my favorite taco of our entire Mexico trip. Get it with cheese. It’s called castakan con queso. The pollo con cilantro was also very good and so was the carne asada en adobo. We both really enjoyed our drinks. I had carambola (starfruit) and Lauren had chaya (tree spinach?). Both were very refreshing. I didn’t end up eating my pork belly torta until the next day, but it was delicious.
After eating, we decided to venture out and try our luck at finding some salt flats/ponds in the area. We had originally planned on going to Rio Lagartos, but it just wasn’t really that close to anywhere we were going on this trip. I mean, it’s not that far away from Cancun or Valladolid, but it’s still a bit out of the way.
We ended up going through the nearby town of Dzemul and heading north towards the Laguna Rosada. We also wandered around a pretty cool cemetery on the outskirts of Dzemul that reminded me of the cemeteries we’d seen in New Orleans.
We found the salt ponds right next to the lagoon. If you’re heading north from Dzemul, you can’t miss them. You also might be able to see some flamingos in the lagoon! It was easy for us to spot the correct location because there were a few tour vehicles around and the salt ponds stand out pretty well. At the moment, there is no charge to enter the grounds and take pictures. Donations are welcome. However, this could always change in the future since places like this always tend to increase in popularity.
After wandering around the area for a while and marveling at the colorful ponds and flamingos, we decided to head back to Merida.
Once again, we found ourselves at Plaza Grande. However, this time we were here to have some dinner at Las Vigas and then enjoy the holiday lighting and atmosphere around the plaza in the evening.
Las Vigas is a bar/restaurant that’s located on the second floor of a building near Plaza Grande. It’s not the easiest to find, but it’s not hard either if you know the general whereabouts and that you have to go up some stairs. We decided to try out this place because I wanted to sample a few of the authentic Yucatan dishes. Other than my foolish decision to take a huge bite of a random pepper I found on my plate, it was an enjoyable meal.
Las Vigas Recommendations: We had the sopa de lima, poc-chuc, pechuga de pollo con mole, and a pitcher of limonada. I think the sopa de lima (lime soup) was our favorite bit, although I also enjoyed the poc-chuc (basically a grilled pork chop). The pechuga de pollo con mole (chicken breast with mole) was good, but I’m not sure either of us are huge fans of mole. Now we know!
The Plaza Grande at night has a wonderful atmosphere, especially during the holiday season because all of the trees and lamp posts are strung up with lights.
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