Quintana Roo – Mahahual Christmas

After Tulum I drove south along the coast back to Mahahual. It’s closing in on Christmas and it’s funny to see the decorations out on the beach.


Lots of friendly street dogs. i guess they have to be friendly if they live on handouts.


Camping in the Blue Kay resort again. The main reason I am back here is that there is a good dive shop next to the resort with a PADI Open Water dive course at a pretty reasonable rate. I walk into the dive shop at lunch time to ask about the course and they say sure, you can start right now. There is a group of three students who started the course this morning so they hand me the book and tell me to study chapter one. I can take the first written test after lunch and then continue on with the rest of the group. It takes about 3.5 days pretty solid work with studying, exercises off the beach, and four open water dives all day long then more studying and review in the evenings. The diving here is pretty good, in my limited experience. Lots of great reefs just offshore with cool canyons to swim through. I do the final dive and finish the final exam around lunchtime on Christmas Day. Nice Christmas present to myself, I have been wanting to do this for a long time.


Unfortunately, just after finishing the course I come down with a pretty good cold so no more diving for awhile.

Evening at the Blue Kay restaurant/bar, it’s very relaxing. I take one day to rest after finishing the class then on to the next country, Belize.


Quintana Roo – Tulum

Upon returning to Cancun from Chicago it suddenly feels very hot, even though it’s only about 88 or so. One last night in the Marriott Courtyard then back down the Yucatan peninsula to Belize. On the Facebook Pan Am Travelers group I see that somebody is looking for someone to pick up a package of motorcycle parts at the post office in Tulum and meet up somewhere in Guatemala next month. Since I’m on the way I volunteer for courier duty. Next day I drive down to Tulum and find the tiny post office. It’s about the size of a one car garage with two guys behind a counter and packages piled up to the ceiling behind them. I give them the tracking info and after about 5 minutes or so they come up with the package. They ask for my ID, which has nothing to do with the name on the package. After writing down all of my Florida drivers license details they hand over the package and I’m on my way. I opened it just to check that it was really a head and piston and not packed full of meth or something like that, since I will be carrying it across two borders.

Off to the ruins at Tulum (site of Bachelor in Paradise I am told) which are much smaller than others I have visited, but the location is beautiful up on cliffs over the Caribbean.


The ruins are covered in iguanas soaking up the sun.


There are actually more people on the beach than touring the ruins.


More iguanas.




Since I already paid $150 pesos to park at the ruins I decided to just camp in the parking lot there, after checking with the parking boss. The ruins close fairly early so it is pretty much emptied out by sundown.

Lots of restaurants and gift shops at the entrance.



I have some Marriott points to use so I booked 3 days at the Cancun  airport Marriott Courtyard, 2 days before flying to Chicago and 1 day on the way back. If you stay there they provide parking in their secure lot for a reasonable fee, so I can leave the Land Cruiser behind in Mexico with no worries. The amount of resorts along the way is amazing, pretty much from Tulum up to Cancun is one beach resort after another. Cancun itself is very modern, almost like an American suburb. I go out to the local mall to pick up some snacks and eat dinner and it’s full of parents in BMWs and Mercedes dropping their kids off to hang out.

There is a huge snow storm scheduled to hit the Midwest on the day I’m flying so I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather. My first flight is from Cancun to Houston so no problems there, but when I change planes in Houston it looks like about half the flights going into Chicago are delayed or cancelled. Not mine, luckily. By the time I get into O’Hare nothing is flying out…this is one board of 3 or 4, all the same story:


When I make it down to the Blue Line station I’m quite excited to see not one but two Christmas trains in the station. Mrs Claus and an elf welcome me back to Chicago.

It’s great to spend time with family and friends but holy cow is it cold. These past months traveling the southwest and Mexico have really thinned my blood. It doesn’t help that a couple of days after the big snow storm the temperature drops to -6.


The time passes all too quickly and before I know it I’m back on a plane to Mexico.

Quintana Roo – Mahahual

I’m flying to Chicago for a visit before Christmas, leaving the Land Cruiser parked in Cancun for 10 days. I have seen a couple of mentions that Mexico has just recently linked their customs info with their immigration system and that it could be a problem leaving the country, even temporarily, with a vehicle imported under my passport number. Since Quintana Roo is a vehicle free state like Baja (no temporary import permit required) I decide to stop by the Mexico-Belize border outside Chetumal and cancel the TIP before heading up the peninsula to Cancun. It takes a minute to convince the lady at the immigration booth that I don’t actually want to leave Mexico, just go past her booth to the banjercito to cancel the permit then turn back into Mexico. No problem cancelling the permit, but they are very thorough. The banjercito lady comes out and takes several pictures of the Land Cruiser, 2 different pictures of VINs, picture and scan of the windshield sticker, then pulls off the sticker. I should get my $300 deposit refunded to my credit card in a few days. Then back through customs for a brief search. Even though I have only gone about 100 yards past the customs station they still want to check everything.

A couple hours north of Chetumal is the beach town of Mahahual. It used to be just a little fishing village until they put in a cruise ship port north of town, so now it’s more developed and full of tourists on ship days. I arrived on a Sunday with no ships so it was pretty quiet. There is a huge sidewalk running the length of the beach with hotels, bars, restaurants and shops on one side, beach on the other.


It’s a little hot but not bad with the beach, plenty of shade from palm trees and palapas. The water is perfect for swimming, clear and warm with lots of coral reefs right offshore. I jump in with my WalMart snorkel gear and see tons of fish, coral, and a decent sized octopus.


I stay at the Blue Kay Cabana resort. It is mostly little cabanas as the name would suggest, but they have a small camping area in the center. It’s right on the beach so access to the beach chairs, palapas, etc is included (each hotel or restaurant seems to own its little stretch of the beach.)



Next day around 10:30 taxis start pulling up and dropping off cruise ship tourists for the day. It’s a little crowded around lunch time but they all clear out by 3 or 4.


I had intended to make my way up to Cancun over 5 days but it’s so relaxing here on the beach I end up staying in Mahahual for 5 days.



Campeche – Calakmul

The ruins of Calakmul are in the state of Campeche just 35km from the Guatemala border. It’s a huge site with over 6,000 structures, but has not been excavated and restored like Palenque. It’s about 60km off the main highway on a twisty and sometimes rough road, so I don’t make it to the ruins until later in the afternoon. The bright sun and jungle shadows make it difficult to get good pictures.

Calakmul is known for its many inscribed stelae. They are made of limestone and have mostly eroded away over the years. These are supposed to be monuments to the many kings and their wives.


The jungle has not been cleared back much, which lends to the Indiana Jones/explorer feeling of the ruins.


One of 2 large temples on the central plaza


Everywhere there are trees growing out of and around the ruins.


One of the stelae with part of the inscription remaining.


I have a couple of hours to wander around in the ruins. This late in the day it is very quiet, just a few other tourists here. It’s out in the middle of nowhere with only one resort right at the highway, but although they did have a room available it was $200USD.

On the way back to the highway I can drive a little faster as there is no oncoming traffic. I have to dodge several groups of peacocks crossing the road and at one point I saw a huge tarantula highlighted by the sun in the road ahead. I checked in the rear view mirror and I’m pretty sure I squashed it.

It’s getting dark when I reach the highway and the nearest town with a hotel is 35 miles away, so I decide to break the #1 rule of driving in Mexico: Never drive at night. This highway is the straightest, smoothest road I have been on so with topes (speedbumps) few and far between so it is not too risky.

Arriving at the unexpectedly nice hotel I check in, crank up the AC, and enjoy a much needed shower. As today is my birthday I went to the hotel restaurant and splurged on a steak dinner with a couple of cold Coronas.


Chiapas – Palenque

I have seen many warnings about blockades and robbery on the highway from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque, particularly in the town of Ocosingo, so I decide to take the detour to the north almost to Villahermosa then east to Palenque. It’s several hours of more serpentine mountain roads then the highway descends toward sea level nearing Villahermosa. When I get onto highway 186 heading east to Palenque it’s straight and flat through endless miles of banana plantations. Usually this is kind of boring but after all these months driving through the Mexican mountains it’s a pleasure to just cruise along. It turns out I made the right decision, I later read on the Pan Am Travelers Facebook Group about another couple who left San Cristobal on the same day (Dec 1) and were stopped at a roadblock in Ocosingo and had to backtrack and take the detour anyway.


I made it to Palenque mid afternoon and got a little cabana at a small resort right at the park gate. It’s just a little screened in room with a bed, one light bulb and one outlet but very cozy, it looks like a place Survivor contestants stay when they win a challenge. There’s a good pool just outside which is very refreshing after a long day’s drive, and a nice restaurant across the road. It’s surrounded by jungle and at night I can hear howler monkeys moving through the trees.


In the morning I go to the ruins. It’s a bit of a hike past the parking lot but very cool to walk out of the jungle and see the ruins looming out of the mist. Since I stayed right at the park entrance I am there before all of the tourist crowds.


Early in the morning it is very cloudy, looks dramatic.



Palenque was occupied up to around 700AD and is famous for its many stone carvings


I almost sat on this iguana, it blends in with the rocks so well.


It’s very impressive, but they have done a lot of restoration and reconstruction.


The main tourist site is maybe one square mile, but there are thousands of buried buildings and temples around it. This is what an un-excavated building looks like, just a hill with some stones sticking out.


Chiapas – San Cristobal de las Casas

After three days relaxing in Santa Maria del Tule it’s time to hit the road. It’s about 900 KM to San Cristobal de las Casas over mostly twisty mountain roads. No more blockades, thankfully. The scenery is great, arid mountains covered with cactus.


A short video of mountain driving through Oaxaca. For some reason my dashcam has a high pitched whine so I usually edit out the sound. I added the song that was playing at the time back in for extra ambience.

Oaxaca Highway Driving

It takes me two days to make it to San Cristobal. On the way I stayed at a little no frills hotel in Zapatepec . I pre-booked a hotel in San Cristobal since it seems to be packed with gringos on vacation. It;s the last of the old colonial cities on my Mexico tour. The only downside is that the “free parking” they promised on hotels.com is street parking. Which nobody does in Mexico. The lady at the hotel desk assures me it is safe to park on the street overnight so I give it a shot. Coming back late to the hotel on the first night I am the only car still parked on the street, but nobody messes with it so I guess it’s OK for another night.


San Cristobal is a another great walking city; the center is pedestrian only so there are lots of interesting restaurants and shops along the streets.

It has a large tree lined square in the center with many benches to sit and watch the city go by.


There are many gringo restaurants on the pedestrian streets but I found a traditional Mexican pizza place a couple blocks outside.


I’m not sure if it is a holiday or just the usual Mexican fireworks but they have gigantic fireworks going off all day and night. During the night there is a group marching around with a band and apparently unlimited fireworks. They’re marching along with trumpets, tuba, and drums then every half block or so they stop and light off a huge firecracker. The entire night. Makes it hard to sleep, and on the second morning around 5:30 I give up on sleep and head off toward Palenque.




Oaxaca – Santa Maria del Tule

Leaving the butterflies behind I spend my last night in Michoacan in a very basic hotel in the town of Zitácuaro, then on to Villa Victoria in the state of Mexico. I found a nice hotel right on the lake of Villa Victoria. Great view but it was a little cloudy and chilly in the morning.

Continuing east towards Oacaxa I run into a roadblock just outside Izucar de Matamoros. I was making good time until everything came to a complete stop. It seems that the taxi/bus drivers union has blocked the road just outside down protesting for more money. It’s pretty mountainous so there is no way around. At one point a Policia Federal car drove up to the roadblock in the left lane and I thought “OK now he’ll clear them out and we can get going”, but he just got out of his car and said “Let me through” and left the rest of us sitting there. Finally they tell me they’re going to keep the highway blocked until 4 pm, as it’s not even 1 pm yet and I don’t want to drive through the mountains at night I retreat back to the town and look for a hotel room. The first hotel I see is an Auto Hotel where the rooms are 150 per hour or 360 per night, it seems sketchy so I splurge on 460 for a night at the clean and modern Hotel Casablanca.  Walking out the front gate I see some wild turkeys running down the street and I remember that today is Thanksgiving in the US. Turkey is not popular here, el pollo is the king of birds, so the turkeys run around loose without a care even on Thanksgiving.


Instead of a turkey dinner I get a great pizza  for Thanksgiving.


Next morning I am up and on the road at the literal crack of dawn to avoid the highway blockade. As I get close to Oaxaca I can see the remains of this summer’s blockades. In June/July the teacher’s union had Oaxaca completely blocked; stores closed because the shelves were empty and they had to fly in critical supplies like medicine. There was a lot of fighting on the blockades and several people were killed. They are still upset about it and the burnt out skeletons of buses and semi trailers remain across parts of the highway, covered with banners commemorating the dead. I make it almost to the west side of Oaxaca and traffic comes to a stop again.There is another blockade at a critical junction of the free highway and the toll road. At least I am near a major city so there is some hope of getting around it. I follow a line of cars driving the wrong way back down the highway, then get off and take some dirt roads out to the southeast of the blockade. I have almost made it past when I come to a culvert running under the toll road, but with my rooftop tent I am about 6 inches too tall to fit through. I have to retreat all the way back to the highway and circle around to the northeast. Apparently all traffic rules are suspended when there is a blockade, the cars go the wrong way down a one way street, around gates blocking off streets, wrong way down the highway. I drove past two policeman sitting on their police car while going the wrong way on a one way street, they just waved. Finally I make it past the blockade and back onto the highway into Oaxaca, drive all the way through Oaxaca and out the east side, and when I am about 2 miles from my destination there is another blockade on the east side of the city. It takes me another hour to follow detours down roads that are not even dirt roads, in some cases just paths through fields.


Finally I arrive at Overlander’s Oasis in Santa Maria del Tule. It’s a great place run by a Canadian couple that caters to overland travelers. They have a beautiful garden courtyard that can accommodate 4-5 campers. They make me feel right at home, and it is quite nice to just hang around and have a conversation in  English for a change.


Santa Maria del Tule’s claim to fame is the world’s fattest tree, right next to the church in the town center.



It’s a quiet little town with many good restaurants. The empanada is popular here, lots of little grilles right on the sidewalk cooking fresh empanadas.



From here it’s easy to catch a small bus back into Oaxaca, but I am a little burnt out on driving around blockades so I just spend three days here relaxing and eating. The weather is perfect so it’s good to just sit out in the sun in the town square after lunch and look out at the world’s fattest tree.


Reserva de la biosfera de las mariposas monarcas

Heading east from San Miguel de Allende the next stop is the Monarch butterfly reserves in northeast Michoacan. This is where all of the Monarch butterflies that head south from Chicago at the end of summer end up for the winter. Pretty amazing when you think about it. These are not the same butterflies that started the journey, it takes three generations of butterflies to make it here to their winter spot in Mexico. They’ll stay here until spring then hatch a super generation which will make it all the way back to Chicago.

It is a steep and winding road up to the park entrance around 11,000′.  I pick up a guide at the entrance and he hops into the passenger seat and guides me up the couple of KM of very rough road to the parking lot. From there we set out in search of las mariposas.


My young guide speaks zero English so there is not much conversation on the way to the butterflies after my tourist Spanish is used up.

I’m surprised the butterflies like it this high, at 11,000′ it is very cold around 48F even in the sun. Great view of the surrounding countryside.


After a mile or so we arrive at one of the butterfly spots, it’s amazing seeing them flying everywhere.


The butterflies are clumped together on trees to keep warm, those are butterflies not leaves.


It’s around noon and they are waking up in the sun and flying around. It’s a great feeling just looking up and watching them fly.

Click below for video


San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is another colonial city in the mountains of Guanuajuato state dating back to 1541. Like Guanuajuato it’s spread out over the surrounding hills, but nowhere as steep as Guanuajuato. It’s a very popular with gringo tourists and many US and Canadian citizens live here year round. I’m told that it is about a 10 hour drive straight north from here to the US border, which all of the expats have to do every 180 days to renew their tourist cards and vehicle import permits.

It’s rainy and cold when I arrive but everyone tells me it won’t last, the weather is supposed to be very nice here during the winter. “It’s like the Hawaii of Mexico” one woman tells me. I spend a rainy Saturday afternoon sitting in The Beer Company, a tiny place with about 4 tables and 12 chairs. There are a bunch of Americans and Canadians here drinking beer, eating peanuts, and watching MTV’s hits of the 80s. It’s good to spend some time talking to people in English for a change. After talking to some of the expats about living here I do a little research and it seems  too good to be true, houses or large apartments for 800US/month including utilities and maid service. It’s a long way to the nearest beach so maybe that keeps the prices down.

La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is the largest and most distinctive of the many old churches in town, off the Plaza Allende in the center of town.


This is another great town for walking around. Lots of narrow cobblestoned streets with tons of cool little restaurants and shops.

Despite being the middle of winter it’s very lush, the buildings are covered with colorful vines and plants.


Apart from shops and restaurants which are open on the street side, most places are built around interior courtyards.

The food is great, as always. Since there are so many expats and tourists here you can find pretty much any kind of restaurant: Thai, Indian, Italian. I’m mostly sticking with traditional Mexican since it’s so good, although I did get a great margarita pizza one night. Here are some delicious nachos.


I’m camping in a tiny RV park about 10 minutes walk from the city center. It has space for maybe 10 RVs/campers in between tennis courts on each side. There is a nice German couple staying next to me, they say they have been there for a month waiting for a new water pump for their German popup camper van. My wakeup call at 8:30 every morning is the pock-pock of tennis balls coming from the court behind me.

I originally paid for 3 nights and was thinking about continuing on after that, but people keep telling me the weather will improve. The RV park/tennis courts have excellent wifi so I spend the rainy parts of the first few days catching up on US TV shows. As the week goes on the weather improves so I sign up for another 3 days, which turns into a week as they give you every 7th day free. By now I’m enjoying being in the same place for awhile. Even on rainy days there are a few sunny hours for walking around town. I find a bakery that makes an excellent European style baguette (Mexican bread is sorely lacking in crust and texture), a little place on the corner that sells a nice assortment of cheeses, most days I start my random walking through town at a candy shop on the Plaza Allende that has excellent chocolate chip cookies which go well with a strong black Mexican coffe.

One day there is a big parade and celebration. It’s one of the longest parades I have seen, every high school and civic group for miles around is in it.




The parade day was supposed to be my last, but the weather has finally turned for the better so I decide to stay for another 3 days, or 10 days total. My longest in one spot yet, but well worth it.