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Friday, December 3, 2021

A cheap flight and a whirlwind tour of Merida: How 1 couple did it

Travel writer packs in 2 days of activities with a smart, fun itinerary

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Cenotes Mucuyché. Photo: Courtesy

A new flight out of Tijuana is allowing travelers from southern California and Northern Mexico to explore Yucatan starting with a redeye that one woman found for US$35 each way.

Marlise Kast-Myers of San Diego Metro magazine said the easy, inexpensive trip “is squashing all three excuses for anyone who has shelved Mexico’s cultural center as nothing more than a pipedream.”

(Prices fluctuate; the lowest one-way Volaris fare we found on deadline was $93 — still a bargain. Check here.)

Volaris launched the super-saver flight to Merida in March, departing on Saturdays and returning on Tuesdays.

From southern California, traveler can ignore LAX and San Diego International Airport, and instead head straight to CBX, or Cross Border Express. This pedestrian bridge, which opened in 2015, connects San Diego to the Tijuana International Airport, with such perks as secured parking, no border waits, and a Starbucks, Kast-Myers notes.

The Tijuana airport goes to 34 other destinations in Mexico and flies direct to China. But Kast-Myers and her husband chose Merida for their latest journey. Here’s how it went.

They arrived in Merida at 6:10 a.m., in time — maybe even a little early — for breakfast.

For such a quick trip with a full itinerary, it made sense to bypass the luxury boutique hotels they normally favor in favor of the budget-friendly El Castellano by Gamma — a fairly nondescript high-rise on Calle 57 and 64 — for US$50 a night.

“In the heart of the city, this spacious property caters to jet-lagged travelers with uber-early check-in and hearty Yucatecan breakfasts,” said the writer.

After a nap and shower, the couple shuttled to the Uxmal archaelogical zone 50 miles away. From there, they headed straight to Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyché, which opened in 2017.

“In our half dozen visits to this Mexican state, we’ve had plenty of exposure to these majestic pools, but none quite like Cenotes Mucuyché,” said Kast-Myers. “Here we floated through caves, drifted in canals, passed beneath waterfalls, and then — for the finale — entered a dark chamber lit only by stalactite prisms. The grotto was silent, other than the sound of water dripping from icicle-like formations tapered inches above our heads.”

The cenote is where Mexico’s Empress Carlota, wife of Emperor Maximilian I, once bathed. She was guests of the Peon family in the 19th century, and guests of the cenote have access to their former hacienda.

After lunch at Cenotes Mucuyché, they returned to Merida for a city tour of the Historical Center, Mexico’s second largest after Mexico City. Every evening at 9:30 p.m., free walking tours are hosted by guides who narrate Merida’s rich heritage, starting with the 1563 Cathedral, one of the oldest in the Americas.

Dinner was at the new, privately owned Museum of Yucatecan Gastronomy, a restaurant devoted to preserving traditional Yucatecan and Mayan cuisine. The dining experience starts with a gastronomy tour through a replica of a Mayan village where visitors sample handmade tortillas, spices, nuts and herbs.

On the second and final day, they awoke and headed straight for Celestun, the hub of Mexico’s ecotourism, 55 miles away.

“Like a scene straight out of National Geographic, our boat cruised thick mangroves, cutting through narrow channels where 234 species of mammals roamed,” she wrote. “Crocodiles and birds were among those we spotted, including one of the world’s largest flamingo colonies.”

Then they headed to Hotel Xixim for an afternoon of swimming, snorkeling, and lounging.

Xixim has 32 bungalows, from US$200, with yoga, massages, healthy cuisine and local tours.

“Along the bumpy road are salt flats where we collected natural salt crystals to season our fries back home,” she wrote.

A “swanky dinner” at Hotel NH Collection Merida at the new Paseo 60, this contemporary hotel is worth a visit for those who want to be in the heart of coolness. Shrimp cocktail, an ahi tower, and other seafood smalls paired oh-too-well with rich blends from Valle de Guadalupe.

The hitch: the return flight is also painfully early, at 6 a.m. But “the trip didn’t break the bank, nor did it cost more than a ‘sick day,’ ” said Kast-Myers.

Read the entire article, and see photos, here.

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