The Yucatan offers so much with its endless shores, ancient cities, deep forests, crystal waters, echoing caves, hidden lagoons and friendly people . After the fishing posts, I was asked about the non fishing activities.
Our 10 day road trip covered only a fraction of the Yucatan peninsula. Half the time was spent exploring and the other on outstanding DIY fly fishing. I have included the links to the fishing stories at the end.
We flew into Cancun, hopped into a hire car and headed inland to explore ancient ruins and cities before heading back towards the coast via the crystal waters of Bacalar lake, and onwards to fishing around Mahahual & Xcalak and then turned back up to Tulum via the incredible Sian Ka’an biosphere.
Chichén Itzá needs no introduction, but was surprised me was the sheer scale. Not only the giant step pyramid, El Castillo, but the extensive Mayan ruins, thousands of columns, buildings and reliefs. We were advised to aim for end of the day when most of the tourist busses have headed off. We ignored the advice and arrived to crowds, but we stuck it out and they quickly dissipated towards the end of the day.
Often archeological sites have a few walls or foundations on display. These are in a different class with many of the ruins still in an amazing condition. The artwork, carvings and elaborate decorations are spectacular, if a little gory at times. Occasionally a hint of colour remains and apparently these were historically richly decorated and colourful.
The Mayans made soccer and basketball skills look a infantile. The ball game of pitz sounds far more complex, with teams trying to knock a heavy rubber ball through that tiny little hoop without using their hands! The hoop shown below is small and a number of meters above ground. Perhaps the threat of being sacrificed as a losing team granted super human abilities.
While the coloured painting of the ruins may have long since vanished, the colours remain vibrant in the culture, clothing and decorations.
Not far from Chichén Itzá are a large number of crystal clear cenotes. Most are open to tourists and swimming. Many are deep underground, but others are under the bright sunshine. Once again if you want to miss the crowds, head in early and you will have them to yourself. The water is astonishly clear and while this is not about fishing, I was tempted to bring 1wt to get a closer view of the fish species swimming about. You can see the little black fish (catfish) in the picture below right.
The highlight of the trip for me (excluding the fishing obviously) was the ancient city of Calakmul. Once resident to over 50 000 people before they mysteriously disappeared. To get there you drive down a straight, narrow road, deep into a forest for almost 40 km. The journey is a game drive at times with loads of little Agouti (imagine a dassie with longer legs) running along the road in front of the car and the endless trees are interspersed by small deer and ocellated turkeys. We heard thousands of birds, but saw only a few in the thick forest. I had hoped to spot some of the colourful Toucan species, but will have to try again next time.
The tree canopies have a rich biodiversity with each tree being home to large numbers of air plants and other species.
The city itself is almost invisible from above. It was first ‘discovered’ by an aerial survey of the area, but it took a further 50 years before archeologists first managed to get that far into the forest. On a clear day you can see Guatemala from the tallest ruins which almost reach 50m in height. By the end of the day, you will have climbed thousands of stairs and walked a half marathon. Take plenty of water as nothing is available at the site itself and you would need to drive back out.
While only part of the city is fully excavated, there are still close to a thousand structures to explore across kilometres of ancient city and will keep you busy all day. You get to see massive temples, game areas, courtyards, sacrificial areas and numerous residences ranging from decadent to very simple. And if you still are thinking of fishing, check out the feathers of the occelated turkeys that wander about.
There is a small museum on site with the history of the city as well as ancient and current wild life.
Around Calakmul are numerous other ruins. The designs and detail varying tremendously from place to place.
Once you have seen your fill of ancient cities and ruins, the lagoons are stunning. We did very little exploration of those apart from stopping at a few view points. Next time I hope to have an inflatable kayak or SUP that will allow some exploration of the lagoons in search of Tarpon, Snook and other species. Lake Bacalar is worth a look. On the day we travelled past the wind was howling as a weather system moved through, so had lunch over looking the lake. The water looks absolutely stunning – Google it.
Down near Mahahual or Xcalak, the beaches run uninterrupted for hundreds of kilometres, apart from the odd reef. There are a few airbnbs right on the beach, and with loads of coconut trees about you can tuck in. My coconut tree climbing skills left something to be desired.
We were lucky in that there was only a small amount of sargassum weed about. Higher up near Tulum there were mountains of it in places. It makes snorkelling or fishing impossible until you get beyond it.
Heading offshore you have the second longest barrier reef in the world. With a kayak you can reach parts of it that are closer to shore, but personally would feel more comfortable in a boat to dive, snorkel or fish the reef itself. Another aspect of the beaches that was truly shocking is the amount of plastic litter along the beaches. Most of it originates in Central or South America, is carried along by currents and is then dumped onto stunning white beaches. While I recycled before, following this visit I now really try to recycle everything and cut down on plastic where I can.
After exploring beaches, lagoons and coral reefs to your hearts content, there are also some spectacular cenotes along the coast up towards Tulum. Some waters are completely fresh, decorated by the odd alligator and numerous fish species. If you fancy cave diving, and heading from a cenote through a series of caverns before entering the sea, this is the place to do it. In this particular cenote, fresh water flowed into a salt water area, creating a slight haze in the water. Large numbers of juvenile tarpon were always hanging around these points.
And lastly, but not least… the food is incredibly tasty. In most of the towns or cities, there is plenty of delicious street food to sample, Braais (BBQ) on the beach with fresh fish, guacamole, salsa and tacos for dinner, splendidly tasty fruit for breakfast, or more upmarket style meals and cocktails for lunch over looking the sea.
So, To fish or Not to Fish? I say make sure to do both…