An Unlikely Hiker?

Challenging the image of an average hiker!

“The switchbacks repeated themselves so many times I couldn’t tell what progress I’d made, but there it was, the last one before the crest…”

I really identify with Bruso, who calls herself and “unlikely hiker”. In her 20s she was wholly uninterested in the outdoors. In the years since, she’s has become an avid hiker who works tirelessly to challenge the mainstream’s idea of who recreates outside.

Like Bruso, CityGirl did not grow up recreating in national parks and forests. “We didn’t like the dirt, the bugs or feeling uncomfortable,” she says. “We would much rather watch TV or ride our bikes around the neighborhood.”

At 40 I hiked Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park. I echo Bruso’s sentiments: “As tough of a time as I was having, I was not immune to how beautiful things were and how they sort of sunk into me”. She marveled at the smell of the forest in the summer sun, the sight of fiery wild rhododendrons. On every hike I take I feel the same way.

I’m still learning my limits and building up the stamina and strength it takes to hike strenuous trails. I’ve had two ACL surgeries so my hamstring muscles and tendons are weak and I suffer from Semimembranosus Tendinitis (due to a previous ACL repair surgery). That means I have to pay special attention to my body telling me I’ve done enough.

I’ve read up on and made investments in proper gear. I educate myself on the trails I want to do ahead of time so I know what to expect. Most of all I enjoy reaping the benefits of being an unlikely hiker. My spirituality and mental health both benefit from being out in the wild outdoors surrounded by creation.

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Cracker Barrel Overnight RV Parking

So…. last year when we went across the country we stopped at RV parks every night. Once we got to the west coast we found Harvest Hosts and used it to stop overnights at wineries. We also heard about overnight parking at Walmart and tried that on the way back to Louisiana from Washington State. Let’s just say that for light sleepers Walmart may not be ideal. It is very brightly lit (great for security, though) and noisy at night from cars passing by.

This year we used an app called AllStays to find places to park overnight and sleep in our RV while en route to destinations along our route where we plan to stay for a few days and plan to use campground hook-ups. As I write this post we are on the way from Shreveport, LA to Amarillo, TX. Last night we parked and slept at a Cracker Barrel for the first time and LOVED it.

We arrived around 8pm and found the spots clearly marked for RV parking. There was one other RV parked at the opposite end of the row of spaces. It was quiet, dark, and we parked next to a row of hedges for privacy (and kept that window open with the fan on all night, as it was the perfect temperature outside). I have to say that it was a great first experience. We will look for Cracker Barrel in every quick stopover city from now on!

I also recommend the AllStays app. More on that later.

Keep in mind that this policy could change for all stores or be different at the store you want to stop at, so here are a couple of tips for boondocking overnight at Cracker Barrel:

  • Pick up a map inside any CB for info on locations that allow overnight parking
  • Use AllStays to read about other experiences with that CB location
  • (Or) Call the CB ahead of time and ask if they allow overnighters
  • If you arrive before they close or leave after they open DO buy something in the store or restaurant. You gotta eat anyway, right? They also have great vintage snacks and drinks 🙂
  • Don’t put your jacks down unless you have permission from the store manager
  • Don’t put your slide out and block the adjacent spot (we parked so our slide went out over the grass/hedges)

Top 10 RV Apps for 2018

There are many apps out there that can help make RVing so much easier. Most of the ones we’ve found are free and the ones that cost or require a membership fee are worth it because they pay for themselves within 2 or 3 uses. As part-time RVers we have saved time, money, and stress by using these apps regularly:

  • AllStays Camp & RV

AllStays Camp & RV is perfect for planning your next RV trip and/or for when you’re making decisions on the road. It costs 9.99 and the app more than pays for itself. It helps find truck stops, rest areas, free RV dump stations, free camping options and a lot more. Instead of having separate apps for finding a Cracker Barrel or a Flying J, you only need this one.

  • Harvest Hosts

For a $40 membership fee this app shows you wineries, farms, gardens, and ranches that allow overnight stays in exchange for any purchase. We’ve stayed at picturesque wineries in Northern California, breweries in Montana, and a ranch in Texas. Two of the three actually has water & electric hookups. We simply bought and item as a thank you for allowing the stay; honey at one place, a wine tasting at another, a bottle of wine at another. A great way to see small business with great products in scenic settings all over the country.

  • Google Maps

We use a Garmin Nuvi that a trucker recommended for navigation purposes, but we use our Google Maps app on the fly to determine distances in case we want to stop earlier or later than we planned. We also use this app when we read about a place we want to stop in the future. If you are logged into your google account you are able to save a location on the map. This helps us remember amazing places we’ve been and figure out where we might want to visit next.

  • Yelp

You can find almost anything using this app from a good dog groomer to the best happy hour in town. The reviews are helpful when looking for good food in a new place.

  • Starbucks

It’s not just for coffee discounts either (but we love earning stars for that too!), we’ve saved time/money by using these spots for WiFi and clean bathrooms. When traveling through some states this is the most decent coffee you’ll find, anyway 🙂

  • Weather Channel

Of course you need to know the normal forecast when traveling, but this app has added features: severe weather updates plus air quality and UV indices. You can even see a 15 day extended forecast.

  • MyRadar

Beyond normal forecasts this is a quick way to see the Doppler radar for an entire region so you can plan accordingly. When severe weather is eminent this tool is a lifesaver.

  • Waze

When you’re stuck in traffic in a new city and need to know what’s going on up ahead this app is indispensable. It also shows cops ahead 🙂

  • Instagram

It is likely that other travelers and bloggers you follow are on Instagram (IG) and geo tag their location on the app. If you see they’re nearby, it’s as easy as leaving a comment to see if they want to meet up. It’s also a great way to let family and friends see photos of where you are and what adventures you’re having.

  • GasBuddy

GasBuddy is a free app that displays gas prices around the United States so you can compare and choose where you spend your money. There have been times where we saved over $.20 per gallon thanks to this app.

Bonus! For those RVers who love hiking, mountain biking, and overlanding here are two apps you need to check out:

AllTrails

iOverlander

AllStays Camp & RV App

This is a must have for those interested in boondocking and/or saving money while RVing across the USA.

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After two years of part-time travel we have been consistently impressed with one of our Top 10 Apps for RVing, the AllStays Camp & RV app. It’s a jewel of an app for full or part-time RVers. This app is great for planning, saves you money, and reduces the stress of finding anything from overnight accommodations to free dump stations.At 9.99 it pays for itself the first two times you use it. It’s our #1 must have app for RV traveling.

Main Features

When you launch the app, it shows where you are and displays the services in that area on a scalable map. You can zoom in/out, move the map and choose from standard, satellite, or hybrid map views. Here standard view of me searching for Amarillo, TX.

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There are some of the display categories on the map:

– Camping (e.g. State/National Parks, Casinos, BLM Land, Army Corps, National Forests)

– RV related businesses (e.g. dealerships)

– Rest areas

– Stores (e.g. Camping World, Costco, REI, Walmart)

– Truck Stops (e.g. Pilot & Flying J)

This is what you see when you tap on any of the icons to bring up a quick overview.

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To see additional information, tap on the info banner. In this example, you can see the Cracker Barrel has a overnight parking and a phone number plus reviews and a stay within the past year.

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Usually this page shows extra info like phone number, website, images, reviews, rating, weather, map. There is an “Update” section where users can submit information if there is an issue or change in status for the spot. User submitted information is displayed below the address and GPS coordinates. When you come across outdated information, you can send an update.

Filters

The main categories can be filtered by tapping the options you want to see on the map. To access the filters, tap on “Filter” in the main screen.

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Advanced Filters

From the filter screen, tap on the advanced filters option to search for specific things like free campgrounds.

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Offline Access

The offline access feature is very handy when there’s no cell service.

Save Money with thisApp?

Well…

  • Free dump stations
  • Free RV camping
  • Verified free overnight spots
  • Filter campsites by price

Mexidonia 2017 Updated

Starting this Spring we will be driving through Mexico in order to determine where we would like to live. And… we changed our route (still driving from New Orleans to the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize)!

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In the book of Luke, Jesus advised

“For example, who of you wanting to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense to see if he has enough to complete it?” – Luke 14:28

In order to really get to know where we want to live we will take three months to live in a few different places and gather information on “the expense”.  We plan to make this decision before we head home and we may want to go ahead and secure a rental before we leave the country. We will also be visiting Belize (so that country is still on the table, but doesn’t have as many pros as Mexico). Our route is now as follows:

  • Saltillo, Coa, MX
  • Guanajuato, Gto, MX
  • Puebla, Pue, MX
  • San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chi, MX
  • Valladolid, Yuc, MX
  • Cancun, Qro, MX
  • Chetumal, Qro, MX
  • Belize City, BZE

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On our return trip we would like to see the Rio Bec archeological sites near Xpujil, Palenque, Oaxaca, and maybe go to Guadalajara for the July convention. We also plan to stop in Villa de Santiago (Nuevo Leon) to hike El Laberinto, El Salto,  Cola de Caballo waterfall, and stay at Apple Tree Cabanas.

This is a very aggressive itinerary and will likely change as we drive depending on where we decide to rent and how much time we have before our own regional convention in July.

We have friends in a couple of the places we will be visiting and we have brothers and sisters in each place who we will meet at the local Kingdom Hall 🙂 when we attend meetings. I really fell in love with Valladolid on my last visit to Mexico, so that place is one I wanted to concentrate on. We’ve also heard great things about Guanajuato, San Cristobal de Las Casas, and Chetumal. Cancun is where we have the most contacts, but I don’t know if that city is a good fit for us. It might be a good first place to be until we become better with Spanish. Some of our deal-breakers are:

  • Availability of good medical care
  • Proximity to airport
  • Too many expats
  • No English congregation of JWs

I found this pre-1965 map of the Yucatan and my favorite places are on it, as they existed before Cancun was invented.

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I’m a big history buff, so I’ve been researching what I want to see and do in each place besides meetings and ministry. This is what I’ve found so far:

  • Saltillo, Coa
    • Churrigueresque facade of their cathedral on the Plaza de Armas
  • Guanajuato, Gto
    • Museo del Pueblo and La Valenciana
  • Puebla, Pue
    • Museo Bello and Museo Amparo
  • San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chi
    • Na Bolom museum, Chinkultic, Plaza 31 de Marzo
  • Valladolid, Yucatan
    • Zocalo, Dzitnup cenote, Grutas de Balankanche, Palacio de Municipal
  • Cancun, QRoo
    • El Rey
  • Punta Allen, QRoo
  • Chetumal, QRoo
    • Museo de la Cultura Maya, Cenote Azul

San Cristobal de Las Casas, MEX

Since we will be taking a three-month trip to do need greater work in Mexico this summer I wanted to document some of the sights in the cities along our route to Valladolid.

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Location of San Cristobal de Las Casas

 

 

 

The following is a blog post on San Cristobal written by goats on the road. Their link is at the bottom of the page:

Our bodies slid from left to right, from one side of our seat to the other, as our bus driver took the seemingly endless hair-pin turns at full speed. Trying to fight off the inevitable nausea and motion sickness was the ultimate goal of this 5 hour journey from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas (San Cristobal), which took us from a mere 60m to an altitude of 2,200m and into the mountainous, rugged hills of the Chiapas State. With each ascending, winding turn, the scenery changed and so did the climate. The tropical air, palm trees and thick humidity soon dissipated and we embraced the cool air and familiar pine trees.

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Pine trees in San Cristobal (by Leo via Wiki Commons)

San Cristobal is located in Chiapas, the Southernmost State of Mexico. Set in a small valley surrounded by pine-forest highlands, this charming colonial city is the perfect place for exploring. This State has the second largest indigenous population in the country and surrounding San Cristobal are dozens of Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages, just a short bus ride away. With many pedestrian-only streets, narrow cobblestone lanes and numerous towering churches and cathedrals, this is a great place to stay a while.

Nature & Landscapes

The first thing we noticed when arriving in the city were the mountains. We had become so accustomed to the flat terrain of the Yucatan area, so it was a breath of fresh air (literally) to be surrounded by such wild nature. We had read about the San Cristobal Church and the Guadalupe Church, each set at opposite ends of the city and were really looking forward to visiting them. The only catch was that we had to hike up many uneven steps to reach these sights. We made our way slowly up the steep rock-cut stairs, taking our time not only to rest, but to enjoy the unbelievable views over the city down below and the surrounding mountains.

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Views over San Cristobal de las Casas city

The churches were beautiful and there were only a couple of people around. We sat and enjoyed the serenity and peace at these viewpoints before slowly venturing back to the maze of streets and speeding cars in the city below.

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Views from Guadalupe Church

Although nature and mountains can be seen while staying in the city, there are many natural sights just outside of San Cristobal as well. The towering Misol Ha waterfall, Sumidero Canyon and the cascading waterfalls of Agua Azul are all great day trips from the city. We visited the Sumidero Canyon, but we’re saving that story for another time…

The Coffee & Cafe Culture

There seems to be a growing cafe culture in this city, which gives it a bit of a European feel. Tourists and locals alike spend hours a day enjoying a cup of Chiapas’ finest beans. Producing 4 million sacks of coffee each year, Mexico ranks 5th in the world behind the likes of Colombia and Brazil. We would spend our mornings lazily sipping on a freshly pressed cup of coffee while planning out our day. During the evenings we would wander by different cafes and be enticed inside by the strong waft of coffee beans and vibrant live music.

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Nick under the umbrella – A beautiful area to enjoy a cup of coffee

Churches, Convents & Plazas

While exploring the city, we stumbled upon many pastel coloured, historic churches, convents and plazas. Some we planned to visit, others we were pleasantly surprised by as we rounded the street corner.

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Beautiful Templo de Santo Domingo, one of the many gorgeous churches here

We were even lucky enough to witness some traditional dancing at the main square, which was truly a treat.

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Traditional dancing in the plaza

The Plaza 31 de Marzo, Templo de Santo Domingo and Church of Santiago were highlights for us. As far as walkable cities go, San Cristobal is one of the best! With many pedestrian-only streets, sauntering around this city while gazing up at the architecture and mountainous backdrop was an enjoyable experience.

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Plaza 31 de Marzo and the surrounding areas are great for walking and people watching

Markets & Food

One of the things that we really enjoy when travelling is visiting the local markets. The hustle and bustle of the vendors setting up their goods, people bartering for products and the overall vibe makes for an authentic and exciting experience. We explored the Municipal Market not only for pure enjoyment, but also with a purpose. We were on a mission to purchase local produce for dinner. We browsed, sniffed and felt the fresh fruits and vegetables before deciding on some we liked. The market was hectic, loud and a lot of fun to visit.

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Selling chickens and roosters in the Municipal Market

The candy and crafts market near the San Francisco Church was also a highlight. Here we wandered through the many aisles of sweets and textiles and even got lost in the maze of shops a few times.

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Yum!

Not only are there food markets in San Cristobal, there are many art and textile markets as well. The indigenous people of Chiapas are known for their fantastic weaving skills; colourful blankets, scarves and clothing can be found for sale all over the city. We explored the daily, tented crafts market near the Templo de la Caridad where bohemian travellers and local Chamulan women sell everything from bracelets to leather bags. Even though we weren’t there to purchase anything, it was a colourful and lively place to wander through.

Blinded By The Beauty…

Many people come to San Cristobal for a couple of days and are blinded by the bright churches, lively squares and colourful traditional clothing that is worn by the local people. It’s easy to come here as a tourist and only see the surface charm. But as each day went by in this city, we began to notice certain things. We learned more about the ill-treatment of the indigenous people and the high levels of poverty that this state is plagued with.

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Bright Church of Santa Lucia

As far as natural resources are concerned, Chiapas is the richest State in Mexico, yet economically it is the poorest. An astonishing 70% of people live below the poverty line. There is an embarrassing lack of resources for the inhabitants here (mainly the peasants, farmers and indigenous people). According to Wikipedia and the Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group, 18 out of every 100 people 15 years or older cannot read or write. Only 38% of homes have clean drinking water, 15% have drainage systems and less than 30% have access to electricity or gas.

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Women from nearby villages come to the city to sell their goods to tourists (Photo by: Wolfgang Sauber)

There have been uprisings and rebellions against the Mexican Government in the past, with the most famous being the Zapatista uprising of 1994, which took place on the day when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect. The Zapatistas fought (and still fight) for autonomy of the State of Chiapas, support of indigenous people, public health, women’s rights and more.

Final Thoughts

Despite the in-your-face poverty and repeatedly saying “no, gracias” to 3-year-old children trying to sell us bracelets and blankets, we really did enjoy our time here. We weren’t ignoring the issues of Chiapas, but we’ve travelled to many 3rd world countries in the past and have experienced this type of poverty before. We chose to help where we could and to enjoy the city for all of the positive things it has to offer tourists.

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Enjoying the beautiful city of San Cristobal with some freshly made ice cream!

On the surface, San Cristobal is the perfect retreat for the weary traveller, and to the naked eye, this is a city full of stunning sights, historic wonder, affordable textiles and gorgeous landscapes. But dare to dig a little deeper and you’ll find a culture and history that is as windy and bumpy as the bus ride that gets you here.

You can read their blog here http://www.goatsontheroad.com/san-cristobal-de-las-casas-mexico-revealing-sides-cool-colonial-city/

Mexidonia 2017

We are planning a driving tour of Mexidonia and Belize next Spring. Some of the cities we would like to visit during our tour to spy out the land together are:

  • Zacatecas
  • Puebla/ Tlaxcala
  • San Cristobal de Las Casas
  • Campeche
  • Merida
  • Valladolid
  • Cancun
  • Tulum
  • Chetumal
  • Belize City/San Ignacio/Hopkins/Placencia

If you have any advice about the English or Spanish congregations in these areas let us know. I have contacts in some of these cities, but not all of them. Here is just a bit of info I found on each one by visiting National Geographic, VisitMexico’s website, and Lonely Planet.



Zacatecas – Founded in 1546 after the discovery of a rich silver lode, Zacatecas reached the height of its prosperity in the 16th and 17th centuries. A mining town adapted to its valleys and mountains, Zacatecas reflects its appeal in its beautiful buildings which are actual works of art. Due to its architecture and urban lay-out, as well as due to the irregularity of the alignment of its streets, which constitute the splendor of its Historic Center recognized by UNESCO. Cross the Center of Zacatecas by cable car, and admire the city’s the beautiful pink stone monuments. Tour the legendary El Eden mine on board an underground train that reaches the bowels of the state, going by critical sites such as a chapel, the Museum of Minerals and other interesting sites. The Church of Fatima, the Gonzalez Ortega Market, the Cathedral, the El Eden Mine, the Church of Guadalupe, the Former San Pedro Bullring and the Former Church of San Agustin.

Any city is better admired from high above, and Zacatecas is no exception. The Cerro de la Bufa (Bufa Hill), with an altitude of 8,770 feet above sea level, provides an unmatched view of the city and its surrounding area. But you’ll find even more excuses get to the top: besides the views afforded of the landscape, visitors can admire several points of interest such as museums, a chapel, an observatory, a cable railway and a collection of commemorative statues. One attraction that is not to be missed is the cable railway, operating daily since 1979: it connects the hill to the city in a bracing eight minute ride and offers a spectacular panoramic view on the way down. There are two stations where you can board the railway – one on the lower section of El Cerro del Grillo (Grillo Hill), and the other at the north-western end of the Cerro de la Bufa.



Puebla/ Tlaxcala – The city of Puebla is a colorful mix of customs and history with abundant traditions and impressive architecture in Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles. Pueblan fine cuisine, traditional candies, artist’s neighborhood and museums evoke its epic past. According to historical research, the city – formally known as the Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza – was first used by the Spanish crown as a staging post between Veracruz and Mexico to help the Spaniards administrate the area.

On April 16, 1531, Fray Toribio de Benavente officially founded Puebla de los Ángeles. Puebla is one of those places everyone wants to come back to again and again; with its valleys and mountains, it has magnificent landscapes which you can enjoy in countless different ways. The state’s mountains and volcanoes offer a splendid range of adventure and eco-tourism activities. You can go rambling, hiking, walking, camping, rafting, hang-gliding, or simply watch the region’s flora and fauna while enjoying the area’s natural beauty. The rich legacy of the region’s indigenous peoples can be admired in places such as Cholula, which attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to admire the monumental pyramid – one of the largest in Mexico.The town’s historic center is so rich in architecture that it has been declared a World Heritage Site. As you wander this old part of town, you can see the unique façades of the buildings decked out in Puebla’s famous talavera pottery.

In the state of Tlaxcala’s more rural outskirts, visitors can take in the volcano Malintzin (also known as Malinche) as well as the mountains that surround it. In addition, the countryside is home to vast plains that make it perfect for getting in touch with nature through activities such as hiking, cycling and rappelling.

San Cristobal de Las Casas – San Cristobal de las Casas is situated in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico.

Chiapas is home to several indigenous groups descended from the Maya, two of the largest being the Tzotzils and Tzeltals who inhabit highland villages surrounding San Cristobal. The indigenous people of Chiapas speak their own language (often in addition to Spanish), practice their own unique customs and can be identified by their traditional dress that varies by group. They continue to depend primarily on agriculture for their economic well-being; however, it’s not unusual for them to travel into San Cristobal to sell their handmade crafts and shop in the markets for everyday items to take back to their villages.

San Cristobal, one of Mexico’s best-preserved Spanish colonial towns, is made up of a series of traditional barrios (neighborhoods), each of which is known for a particular trade or custom, such as iron working, carpentry and woodcarving. Along the main plaza you’ll find the architecturally stunning city hall and Cathedral. Five blocks north of the plaza, you’ll also discover San Cristobal’s Museo Templo y Convento Santo Domingo (Museum Church and Convent of Santo Domingo). A steep stone staircase leads up to the Templo de San Cristobal (San Cristobal Church) and the town’s best mirador (lookout point). Climb to the top to enjoy spectacular views overlooking the town of San Cristobal, the surrounding mountains and countryside.

Campeche – Located in Mexico’s southeast, the state of Campeche is blessed with natural and cultural diversity, making it an ideal place for adventures and discovery. Complemented by beautiful islands such as Isla del Carmen and Isla Aguada, the state’s extensive coastline sits between the lagoons and the sea and colors the region’s rich landscape and vegetation.

Campeche’s roads are filled with heroic archeological sites created by the Mayan civilization, luxurious haciendas that date back to the 16th century and varied architectural masterpieces such as the Campeche Cathedral, the Carvajal Mansion and Palacio Municipal (City Hall). A ride through the region brings visitors into contact with the San Francisco walls, which protect San Francisco de Campeche, a colonial city and the state’s capital, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, thanks to its architecture and enigmatic bastions and forts.

Merida – Merida is the capital and largest city in Yucatan state and the cultural and financial capital of the region. It’s a modern, cosmopolitan city with museums, art galleries, restaurants, shops and boutiques. A major center of commerce, Merida Yucatan is considered the crossroads of the region and one of the most important places to experience the Mayan heritage.


Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo “el Mozo” (the son), and built on the site of the ancient Maya city T’ho, meaning “city of five hills.” T’ho was the center of Mayan culture and activity in the Yucatan region. After the arrival of the Spanish, the ancient city’s five main pyramids were destroyed and their ruins used in the construction of Merida’s cathedral and other important buildings. Merida was built as a walled city and several of the old Spanish city gates remain.

The city boasts the second-largest historic center in Mexico; only Mexico City’s historic center is larger. Mérida gets its nickname, La Ciudad Blanca (The White City), from the predominance of white limestone that was used as a building material; although locals today will tell you that it also has to do with the cleanliness of the city’s streets and public areas, not to mention how safe is Merida, Mexico.Merida’s centro historico (historic center) is one of the largest in Mexico and laid out on a grid pattern. Many of the buildings in the historic center of Merida, including those on and around the Plaza Grande (central plaza), were built during the colonial period through the 18th and 19th centuries. Located on the south side of the central plaza is the Casa de Montejo (Montejo House), a 16th century Spanish plateresque-style building and former home of the Montejo family. A visit to the Montejo House, with its monumental carved stone facade, is one of the important things to do in Merida. Another of the important things to do in Merida is to tour the interior of the Palacio Municipal (City Hall). The interior of the City Hall building is decorated with murals by Yucatecan artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals depict scenes from Merida’s history. The adjoining building houses a cultural center and frequently hosts performances and exhibitions.

Valladolid – Located mid-way between Mérida and Cancun, colonial Valladolid is the third-largest city in Yucatan and a good base from which to explore the surrounding region. Visit Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Ek’ Balam, the Balankanche caves and Rio Lagartos, a coastal fishing village and flamingo colony located within the Reserva de la Biosfera Rio Lagartos (Lagartos Biosphere Reserve).

Valladolid is built over the ancient Maya ceremonial center of Zaci. The city centers on the Parque Francisco Cantó Rosado (Francisco Cantón Park) where you’ll find the Iglesia de San Servacio (San Servacio Church). There are seven colonial churches located in Valladolid Yucatán, and the city is nicknamed the “Sultan of the East,” because of its rich colonial splendor. Head southwest of the central park and main plaza to arrive at the 16th century Iglesia y Convento de San Bernardino de Siena (San Bernardino Church and Convent). Locally known as the Sisal Convent, the San Bernardino Church and Convent is one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in Mexico.

Cancun – Just around the corner from all of Cancun’s modern day resorts are ancient Mayan temples. The Mayan culture is considered one of the most advanced ancient civilizations. Their legacy and culture still thrives today through and can be witnessed at their elaborate and highly decorated temples. If possible, include a day trip to Chichen Itza, the largest site of the most impressive Mayan ruins. The two-hour drive from Cancun is worth it.

Xcaret is another must-see location. It is a nature preserve that allows you to swim with dolphins, snorkel in the lagoon, and walk through botanical gardens-a perfect place for any nature lover. There are many other interesting eco-parks and historic sites and ruins for those who visit the Cancun area for a longer time. In 1970, the entire population of Cancun consisted of about 1,000 people. Today, the population of 350,000 is primarily supported by tourism mainly from the Unites States, Japan and the Far East. I found Cancun to be safe, the people very polite, and the weather beyond enjoyable.

Tulum – Tulum holds the honor of being the most picturesque archaeological site in the Riviera Maya and the only one to have been built overlooking the ocean. A visit here offers spectacular views of the Riviera Maya beaches, Caribbean Sea and surrounding coastal region. Tulum was an ancient Mayan fortress city that rose to power toward the end of the Classic period.

The most iconic of its structures, the Castillo, is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the clear turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean. The cliff-top Castillo, with its beachfront location and lush green landscape, is the image most often associated with the Mayan Riviera.

You’ve probably seen the postcards. An expansive walkway extends out around the ruins and a staircase nearby leads down to the beach where you can swim and sunbathe. Tulum is one of the few archaeological sites in Mexico where it really does make sense to bring a swimsuit. The best way to experience Tulum is to combine a tour of the ruins with some beach time—maybe even a refreshing dip.

Chetumal – Founded by sailors, Chetumal is a city divided between the ocean and the jungle, where the colors contrast and combine with the Caribbean exuberance. The city is much more than a pretty landscape: it is a tourist resort where you will be able to participate in almost every activity you can imagine, from nature walks, water sports, swimming, snorkeling, sports fishing and diving; to enjoying its delicious cuisine and admiring a city full of history and folklore. Chetumal is located right at the end of the coast of the Mexican Caribbean, in the beautiful state of Quintana Roo. This corner of the Yucatan Peninsula is called the “cradle of the mingling of races” because it was here where the Mayan princess Zazil Ha married the Spanish shipwrecked sailor with whom she bred the first generation of mixed blood Mexicans.   From afar you will be able to see its boulevard, the longest in all of the Yucatan Peninsula, tour it on foot or on a bike and enjoy its cool breeze, scenery and beautiful sunsets.

Belize City – Belize City does not exactly top the list of tourist destinations in Belize. In fact, many visitors choose to bypass the country’s only major urban area. This may be because the country’s main attractions are natural and nautical, rendering superfluous a prolonged visit to its only metropolis. An additional explanation is that the city has a bad reputation for poverty and crime.

San Ignacio/ Hopkins/ Placencia – San Ignacio is the heart and soul of the Cayo District, a vibrant traveler center from where all roads and activities fan out. Together with twin-town Santa Elena, on the east bank of the Macal River, this is the main population center of Cayo, with lots of good budget accommodation, decent restaurants and frequent transport.

But San Ignacio is no inland San Pedro, existing only for tourism. It has a very positive and infectious local vibe, with a bustling market and a steady influx of immigrants. Residents are mestizos, Maya and Garifuna, as well as a bunch of free-spirited expats from Europe and North America. San Ignacio is on the west bank of the Macal River, a couple of miles upstream from its confluence with the Mopan River – a meeting of waters that gives birth to the Belize River. Pedestrianized Burns Ave, running north–south, is San Ignacio’s main thoroughfare, with the central plaza and market area a block to the east.

ADVICE?

Some have suggested the following cities: