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Crocs, Snakes and Flamingos at Celestún

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In the southeastern corner of the Yucatán is the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, a natural lagoon home to mangrove forests, flamingos, crocodiles and fearsome snakes.

While booking our tour on the Biosphere’s lagoon, we were the only tourists present. Normally, this is something we’d be pleased about, but not today. “If only some other people would show up,” we wailed. We even waited twenty minutes before buying tickets, just in case. Of course, we weren’t concerned about “sharing the glories of nature” with strangers or anything like that. We just wanted to save a buck. To take a tour at Celestún, you have to rent an entire boat, and it’s the same price whether you’re a group of ten or two. About $120 US.

Alas, nobody came. We cursed and paid up, but at least we’d have a private tour. For two hours, we cruised up and down the lagoon, just ourselves and our guide. Celestún is home to a healthy population of flamingos throughout the year, and we saw plenty of them. They were soaring in from the sky for a graceful landing, running atop the water while preparing for take-off, and wading in the shallows, bobbing for food like the keys of a big, pink piano.

Not far from the flamingos, and surely too close for their comfort, we spotted crocodiles. Well, our guide spotted them. Jürgen and I couldn’t see them until we got very close. A big mother and her son, partially covered by the brush and completely immobile. Shortly thereafter, near the edge of a mangrove formation called “Bird Island”, the guide suddenly stopped the boat and pointed into the bush. It was now that I began to suspect him of being half-eagle. Somehow, from fifty feet away, he had spotted a boa constrictor napping in the tree.

A boa constrictor! It had recently eaten, if its distended stomach was any indication. I’ve never seen such a big snake in the wild, and was mesmerized. Our guide tapped my shoulder and pointed to another boa farther up the tree. And then another a few feet away. I have no idea how he kept spotting them. Later on, while coasting along the river, I nudged Jürgen and whispered, “Watch this.” And then without warning I threw a sardine high up into the air, certain that our half-eagle guide would leap off the boat in pursuit. But he didn’t take the bait.

Midway through the tour, as we were cruising along the river at a rapid clip, we suddenly took a sharp left turn. It looked like we were going to crash into the thick brush, but instead we entered a mangrove tunnel. This was the most picturesque moment of the day, a natural passage through the dense growth, with sunlight filtering through the canopy and pelicans taking a break in the shade.

The long tour finished with a visit to the Ojo del Agua, a natural freshwater spring, and a trip down to the Gulf of Mexico, where we stopped briefly at a petrified forest which had died after the encroachment of salt water. This had been an expensive day out, but was ultimately worth the money. If you’re in a larger group and can split the cost, the boat tour is a no-brainer.

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We Rented A Car From Sixt For This Trip (No Hidden Costs!)

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December 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm Comments (2)

The Parque Centenario & Mérida’s Zoo

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It’s a considerable hike from the center, but the Parque Centernario (Centennial Park) on the west side of Mérida certainly warrants the effort, or the cost of a taxi, if only to visit the city zoo, which hosts a surprising number of exotic animals.

Zoo Merida

The zoo in the Parque Centenario is free to visit, which made us a bit nervous. While I generally love free stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder how well animals could possibly be cared for in an open, public zoo. Indeed, Mérida’s isn’t exactly a glorious Garden of Eden in the vein of San Diego’s or the Bioparc in Valencia, Spain. No, this is the kind of run-down and cramped operation which will probably make you a little sad.

Luckily, we were squarely still in our honeymoon phase with Mérida, and the city could do no wrong. So the fact that the hippos were confined to a tiny muddy pool didn’t really bother us. But the fact that there were hippos… thrilling! I hadn’t come to Mérida expecting to see animals ranging from chimpanzees to African lions, crocodiles and Burmese pythons, but they were all here and we had a blast touring the exhibits.

The zoo is just one piece of the Parque Centenario, a popular place for Meridianos to spend a weekend afternoon with the family. Since it was a sunny Sunday when we visited, the park was in full swing. There were pony rides, trampolines, bouncy castles, food stands, and thousands of screaming children. It was chaotic, but completely entertaining. This isn’t a park with a lot of green areas. In fact, it’s not a “park” at all, in the way I understand the word. There’s no place to have a picnic or play soccer, but there are plenty of places to have fun.

Throughout the day, we didn’t see another foreign face. It’s a 20-minute walk from the Plaza Grande, which is apparently enough to discourage most tourists. If you want to visit a different side of the city and see how locals enjoy themselves, check it out.

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Great Hotels In Mérida

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November 21, 2013 at 12:52 am Comment (1)
Crocs, Snakes and Flamingos at Celestn In the southeastern corner of the Yucatán is the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, a natural lagoon home to mangrove forests, flamingos, crocodiles and fearsome snakes.
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