The statue of two monumental Panama hats which reigns supreme in the center of Bécal's main plaza is strange, but leaves little doubt as to the town's claim to fame. Found about an hour south of Mérida, Bécal is best known for its traditional hats made of jipi.
Okay, so the ancient Maya site of Oxkintok is not "forgotten" in any true sense of the word. It appears on maps and in guidebooks, and there are people waiting at the entrance to collect your fee. But once you're inside, wandering about ruins half-reclaimed by the jungle, so distant from the next town, Oxkintok feels forgotten. And you're allowed to feel like the intrepid adventurer who discovered it.
Though they're beginning to blend together, Mérida is still largely defined by its neighborhoods, each with its own personality and history. Neighborhood life is almost always centered around a central plaza, where friends and family gather to meet, eat, chat, and just hang out. Here are five of our favorites.
Jürgen and I aren't the types to spend much time thinking about jewelry. Neither of us owns a single piece, not a ring nor a bracelet, and I very rarely notice the jewelry worn by others. But when the piece in question is a living beetle, it's a little hard to ignore.
On the way home to Mérida from Izamal, we swung by the small village and archaeological site of Aké. Requiring a long drive off the main highway, it's a town which feels forgotten by the march of time.
Izamal is a small city and you don't need a lot of time to familiarize yourself with it, but you will need sturdy legs. Both of its main sights, the ancient Maya pyramid Kinich Kakmó and the somewhat-less-ancient Convent of San Antonio de Padua, involve a lot of stairs and climbing.
One of the most important cities in the Yucatán long before the arrival of the Spanish, Izamal is still among its most beautiful. Called the Yellow City for the monochrome color scheme of its buildings, the City of Hills for the ancient pyramids which give shape to the land around it, and the City of Three Cultures for its harmonic balance of pre-Colombian, colonial and modern influence, Izamal ranks as perhaps the essential day trip from Mérida.
The tiny community of Las Coloradas certainly picked an appropriate name for itself. Found at the end of a bumpy road about 30 kilometers east of Río Lagartos, it is a town defined by its colors.
A small town on the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, Río Lagartos is most well-known for the abundant bird life of its lagoon, a protected natural reserve which is named, somewhat confusingly, Ría Lagartos. But unpleasant weather during our visit spoiled any bird-watching plans we might have had. (Which was fine, since we didn't really have any).
Just twenty minutes north of Valladolid are the ruins of Ek Balam, a fantastic archaeological site which boasts some of the peninsula's best-preserved Maya sculptures.