Just some woolgathering that I have done during the trip on what I could have done better on planning the trip.
Shopping Tips in Mexico
Look for arts and craft workshop that directly works with the artists.
A workshop de artesania en Izamal near the third pyramids is good place to go (bargain hard – i got 25 percent discount on my mask and it is still slightly more expensive than the Uxmal place and pay in peso and if you want to pay in dollar, bargain your exchange rate).
In the Uxmal ruin, there is Casa de Artesania that is owned by government of Yucatan. Logical prices and good selections of quality handicrafts.
Skip the markets and souvenir shops in Cancun and Merida and Playa del Carmen – unless you are ready to bargain hard – not worth it and mass production. I paid half price for a sombrero in Valladolid main square compared to the other places.
In Cancun, sometimes certain companies prefer dollar (for example, the Ultra ferry to Isla Mujeres and it is quite a huge difference – USD22 vs MXP310). Get your calculator and brain ready at all times!!! Cancun and Merida and Playa del Carmen have better exchange rates. If you will leave the main tourist areas, exchange to pesos.
For famous ruins, it is worth it to leave early and arrive at the ruins at 8am (ie. Tulum, Chichen Itza, Uxmal). In the case of Chichen, it is worthwhile to stay in Mayaland hotel who has an entrance to Chicen Itza on its property. Book your tour guide for 7.55am latest. So that you can walk over and by 8am you will be queueing at the ticket booth. For the Singaporeans, it is a kiasu way to do it, but nothing beats the feelings when you can take photos with no one around. You really feel the mystery and mystic of the place. In the beginning of the summer, there is early morning fog. The photos come out amazing!
Sound and light show at Uxmal can be skipped. Unless you are staying the night at Ruta Puuc and you would like something to do at night. The show is in Spanish, and it is a bit boring to be honest. (I am writing this blog during the show lol). I actually prefer the 3-D show of Tales of Maya Skies at the Mayaland hotel planetarium.
Look for local places to eat. I find it tastier and the food is more catered to local tastes. The local places are Bueno (good), barato (cheap), though the place is not necessarily Bonita (pretty) – charming for sure though! And the food is freshly cooked and thus, there is no worry of getting ill. And yes, affordable, delicious, authentic places do exist in Zona Hotelera of Cancun and in Mercado 28. (Check out my food entry to be published soon!)
Isla Mujeres – the idea of renting and driving around in your own golf cart is cute, however, if you are renting by the hour (MXP180 per hour), for a little bit more you can get taxi by the hour and get chauffered around for MXP200 per hour. It is less cute, but it is more relaxing! And if you speak spanish and you get lucky, the taxi driver will also be your tour guide. It is worthwhile.
Shell collecting – the beach of Celestun has beautiful shells and some are in perfect conditions.
To swim in the sea, for those who are weary of the sea when you cannot see the bottom, swim in Cancun/Isla Mujeres. At Celestun, it is too sandy and one cannot see the bottom.
If there is two or three of you, it is worthwhile booking a driver and a car and a guide who knows the ruins well. The convenience is priceless, and you can change your plan at a moment’s notice. Ecoyuc team has been very patient and accommodating. My itinerary has changed loads since the original plan. I have been paying at least USD40-50 for guides in the major Ruin sites. I could have just arranged for guide actually from the agency (extra USD500 extra for the trip, but he would be with me for 7 days). I am spending less now of course, but I am probably am not getting the full value. Though I was told that guides sometimes will not work the extra time, and the clients will have to follow his/her pace. That is so not happening with me.
Skip the guide in Tulum. The place is small and the archeologists do not know much yet about Tulum. You can read about Tulum online or from books written by the Mayanists. The guide in Coba is not bad. The guide in Chichen and Uxmal were great! I got lucky I guess!
If you are into ruins, make sure you stay one night in Ruta Puuc to enjoy the ruins. Puuc style is one of the most beatiful design of architecture. We stayed at Sacbe Bungalows in Santa Elena. The place is cute, au naturel, clean, and very friendly owners (French).
In Merida, stay near Plaza Santa Lucia or Plaza Grande, there are festivals almost nightly between the two. On Thursdays, there is a trova (folklore) show about Merida. It started five years ago. It starts at 9pm for one hour. It is a safe city, but I am not totally comfortable walking back to my hotel on Calle 57 and 68 (about four blocks away from both Plaza Santa Lucia and Plaza Grande). Luckily there is a hotel on almost every block. Casa Ek Balam, Luz en Yucatan, Maison del Embajador, and Hotel Casa Lucia would have been a great choice from location perspective.