Merida Cenote Circuit
Five days circling the cenotes, haciendas, and Mayan ruins south of Merida

Dec 31 - Jan 4, 2022 -- compiled by Jeff DePree

The CTO accidentally gave us a 4-day weekend, so I rented a beach cruiser and did a 5-day circuit of Mayan ruins, haciendas, and cenotes.

Flights: Apparently, Frontier offers frequent flights from various US cities to Cancun for less than $100 each way. I bought my ticket from Denver 4 hours before take-off and it cost eighty bucks. The Yucatan is generally a terrible place to be a carless backpacker, but if you only need to travel between cities, there are frequent, ultra-comfy direct buses (with wifi, outlets, and sneeze guards between seats), as well as the usual supply of chicken buses and pickups.

Bikes: A lot of people ride bikes, tricycles, and rickshaws in the region, but it’s fairly impossible to find a decent one for sale. Everything on offer, new or used, tends to be a single-speed beach cruiser, or a mountain bike that makes American Walmart bikes look high-end. You could buy a new one for around $120, or find something horribly decrepit on Facebook for $50, or talk to the 12-year-old boy in Merida who rents them out of his living room for $25/week.

Bike parts/repairs: Outside of the major cities, it does not seem to be possible to buy a 700cc tube or tire. Other tools and parts are hard to come by. Walmart and other stores that sell new bikes carry zero bike-adjacent things. Towns of every size do frequently contain bike part and hardware stores that most likely sell 26” tubes and tires. But I would have been in trouble had I gotten a flat on this trip. I tried not to think about it too much.

Weather: Most days were brutally sunny and hot, often reaching the mid 90s around 2. It only rained once, but this was a torrential downpour that lasted for hours, and would’ve left me in rough shape had it caught me in the middle of my ride. The next day was an exceedingly pleasant, gray 72 degrees.

Food: Most of the available food options consist of a pile of meat on a tortilla. Larger towns allow you to splurge and get slabs of meat that you can cut up and put on a tortilla. For $2, you can get a full liter of delicious fruit milkshake. Micheladas are another decent recovery option, which consist of beer, a bit of fruit, and all the salt you just lost riding in the 90-degree heat.

Lodging: This ended up being less of a bargain than on previous trips, largely because of the holidays. I usually got my own room or apartment with ensuite bath for $20-30.

Road Conditions: These were mostly excellent. Often, I wouldn’t see more than a car or two per hour. On the larger roads, there was typically a large shoulder and cars were respectful. The riding can be a bit boring on account of the lack of hills and scenery, but frequent towns with interesting ruins and cultural flourishes tended to break up the monotony.

Sights: I probably passed about 30 different cenotes. These invariably cost 50 pesos, and since I had no interest in swimming alone, or fighting through crowds of tourists, I stopped at none of them. But I’m generally a huge advocate of swimming in caves and remember these being amazing. There are plenty of Mayan ruins to wander around - luckily most of the ones I passed were closed for the pandemic, so I never got too sick of them. Most of the ruined haciendas are private affairs, but they’re quite picturesque if you can get close enough.
Torta with everything that happened to have been on the grill at the time.
Abandoned cenote
Sewing iguana
A viejo - there's a tradition here where they set these guys on fire to bid farewell to the old year.
They often put cute hats on these color-coordinated horses.
Izamal has only one color.
I like this door.
“They chopped off my hands for swindling/ripping off. Don’t do it!”
Abandoned theater?
These appear to have been repurposed for some art project, but they are in better shape than 90% of the bikes on the road.
Back of Izamal central church

Did you know Ahmuzencab was the god of the bees? I sure didn't.
The beach cruiser did not appreciate the frequent bumpy single-track.
Poc chuc
Charred remains of viejo on New Year's Day.
Dog and tricycle
Stuffed avocado and chaya juice
These oval thatch-roofed houses were quite common - often they would appear sandwiched in-between modern apartment buildings.
One of my favorite town symbols.
I'm not sure what I expected when I ordered "burritas", but it probably wasn't tortillas wrapped around deli meat.

Rail cars used to deliver tourists to the cenotes.
$6 for all-you-can-eat coffee, juice, french toast, and omelets!
Abandoned cenote
Typical cow hazard
Descending the pyramid
Warning to trespassers?
On the Strava-prescribed route, I had to open and close 8 different barbed-wire gates in the span of a few miles - and pass through 2 herds of moderately annoyed cows.
The haciendas all had these chimneys

Sailing down the middle of the empty Ruta Puuc.
Most of the ruins were closed
When I wheeled my bike into the complex, the elderly ticket-seller searched at length to find the right pictograph to explain my transgression.
I think this building is called "Codz Poop"
Kabah's arch
Panuchos at the Pickled Onion
Mexican highways have a regular rotation of generic signs that appear about every 1 km. "Don't mistreat the signs" is one of my favorites. Another is "Avoid hitting whichever wildlife lives around here."
AirBnB known as the "House of the Jaguars"

The blur is meant to convey the speed with which I hurtled toward Merida in my attempt to make it to work on time.
Day 1: Merida to Izamal
Day 2: Izamal to Homun
Day 3: Homun to Ozkutzcab
Day 4: Ozkutzcab to Muna
Day 5: Merida to muna (Morning Commute)