Program Information


In addition to the program excursions, the IFSA-Mexico staff has organized a series of activities designed to give you an insight into the local culture. These activities will take place through the whole semester:

Group Meals: As a participant in this program, you will have two group meals. One is the welcome meal, during the first day of orientation and the other is the farewell dinner at the end of the program.

Bus Tour of Mérida: This will help you get your bearings, understand how things are organized downtown and discover what is located there. Also, it will help you to appreciate the difference between downtown and the neighborhoods in other areas of the city.

Mérida en Domingo, Scavenger Hunt & Museum of Anthropology: This is an activity that involves the host families and takes place during your first Sunday in Mérida. You will go downtown see what happens in el centro on Sunday, participate in a scavenger hunt, followed by a visit to the small, but wonderful museum. This museum holds some of the most magnificent pieces and artifacts from the main archaeological sites nearby.

Academic and Cultural Activities Organized by UADY and the College of Social Sciences: There are a myriad of socio-cultural activities organized in Mérida by the University and the College. Most of these are free or have a student discount.

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Excursion

Excursions

Program excursions or field trips are partly subsidized by the program. These activities are designed to enrich the academic component of the program and organized only for program participants. Students cannot invite guests, friends or relatives. These excursions are designed to provide a historical and cultural perspective of México, their traditions and make-up. Excursions are mandatory.

The resident director makes all arrangements, prepares an itinerary and background information in advance and informs students of the activities they will be involved in, so students can pack and plan accordingly.

Transportation, accommodations, entrance fees and most meals are included; however, students are expected to pay for any optional activities, some meals and out of pocket expenses.

Students are not refunded the cost of an excursion if they choose not to attend.

During a program organized excursion:

More»

Excursions and program Activities during any semester:

A. Mérida en Domingo / Scavenger Hunt & bus tourMore»

B. Welcome Reception at Telchac PuertoMore»

C. First Program Excursion: Uxmal & Visit to HaciendaMore»

D. Second Program Excursion: Chichen-Itza archaeological siteMore»

E. Third Program Excursion: Social Service at Yaxunah CommunityMore»

F. Fourth Program Excursion: ChiapasMore»

Other Program-Organized ActivitiesMore»
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A TRAVELER’S GUIDE:

TO THE YUCATAN AND BEYOND

I came up with the idea to write this travel guide after reading one that had been passed down to me by my host family.More»

Easy Day Trips

You want to experience part of the Yucatan, but you don’t want to lose a whole weekend traveling. More»

Campeche City

What to do:
Campeche’s capital city doesn’t have a whole lot do, but it‘s still a great place to visit.More»

Celestún

What to do:

Take the flamingo boat tour. It’s pretty much the main tourist attraction of the area. More»

Izamal

What to do:

Called “La Ciudad Amarilla”, Izamal is painted completely yellow. Why? More»

Cuzamá

What to do:

Swim in three beautiful, warm, crystal clear cenotes. Each one is more enclosed than the next. More»

Cancún

What to do:

Cancún is actually split into two different parts: la Ciudad Cancún and la Zona Hotelera.More»

Tulum

What to do:
In case you didn’t already know, Tulum has some of the best beaches in Mexico.More»

Punta Allen

Why:

Punta Allen is one of the few places in Quintana Roo that hasn’t yet been taken over by tourism. More»

Xplor

Why:

Five kilometers south of Playa del Carmen (directly in front of Xcaret) is an amazing adventure park.More»

Rio Bec, Campeche

Why:

The Rio Bec region in southern Campeche has many archeological sites within close proximity to each other, all of which are buried deep within the Mexican jungle. More»

Tikal, Guatemala

Why:

It’s Guatemala. Need I say more?
What to do:

See Tikal, an archaeological site that was inhabited by the Itzá tribe before they migrated northwards. More»

San Ignacio, Belize

Why:

Belize is culturally different from everywhere else in Latin America because it was a British colony until about 30 years ago.More»

Mexico City

This is not a full entry. When I went to Mexico City I stayed with a local family, so I don’t know anything about hostels or public transportation.More»

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Street View, Chiapas, Mexico

SUMMER IN MERIDA

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE IN MERIDA, MEXICO

at the AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF YUCATAN, UADY

More»

LA UNIVERSIDAD

More»

COURSESMore»

STUDENT LIFEMore»

FIELD WORK More»

COURSE WORKMore»

EXCURSIONSMore»

Depending on whether you come in the Fall or in the Spring, you should have the following excursions available for you:

  1. Cenotes of Cuzamá
    We will end orientation visiting the cenotes of Cuzamá, which are sinkholes that are interconnected underground. You will have the opportunity swim in two of them.

Cenote 2
Cenote 2

Cenote 3
Cenote 3

 

  • Chichén-Itzá Archaeological Site & the colonial city of Izamal
    Chichén-Itzá has been recently nominated one of the wonders of the modern world. It is an impressive site, where in addition to walking through the ancient Mayan buildings, you will also visit the sacred cenote. We will also visit the charming colonial city and convent of Izamal.

    Chichen
    Chichen

    Chichen 2
    Chichen 2

    Izamal
    Izamal

    Izamal 2
    Izamal 2
  • Uxmal Archaeological Site
    Uxmal or “the-three-times-built” is an impressive archaeological site within the Puuc Route; this site is probably one of the best preserved. We will combine this excursion with a visit to the convent of Maní.

    Uxmal
    Uxmal

    Uxmal 2
    Uxmal 2
  • Yaxunah Community Experience
    During this excursion you will have the opportunity to live, talk, observe and interact with the local people of the Mayan community of Yaxunah. You will get involved in volunteer activities that have been developed to meet the needs of the community.

    Yaxunah
    Yaxunah

    Yaxunah 2
    Yaxunah 2
  • Chiapas (For Fall only students)
    We will visit the State of Chiapas during the Day of the Death holiday. We will stay five days in San Cristobal de las Casas and go to experience the way the indigenous honor their death in the villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan.

    Chiapas 3
    Chiapas 3

    Chiapas 4
    Chiapas 4
  • For Academic Year Students: the Inframundo
    We will spend four days in Tulum as our base from where we will go to archaeological sites, a protected seashore, the Caribbean sea and some cenotes, all along the Mayan Riviera.

    Tulum
    Tulum

    Tulum 2
    Tulum 2

    Tulum 3
    Tulum 3

  1. Students may not bring any alcoholic beverages in the bus. Furthermore, the program will not provide any alcoholic beverages.
  2. Students may not bring, purchase, traffic or consume illegal drugs. (Failure to comply with this will result in program dismissal).
  3. Students must observe the local laws and customs of the places we will visit.
  4. Students are expected to respect other guests at the different hotels where they will be staying.
  5. Students should refrain from damaging, losing or breaking local property, such as hotel furniture, linens, room keys, etc. In the case of lost or damaged property, students will be charged the cost of the goods, which is to be determined by the hotel and/or owner. Payment must be made in cash.
  6. Students are responsible for carrying their own bags, suitcases, backpacks, etc., and taking care of their own valuables.
  7. Students are responsible for respecting and obeying all pre-determined meeting times, so as not to delay other members of the group.
  8. Should you choose not to attend a particular pre-planned activity, it is your responsibility to inform the RD, PA or person in charge, of your absence.
  9. There are four excursions this semester; two day-long, one four-day long and a five-day organized excursion. Dates have been established and are listed under “important dates,” however, changes might occur due to the weather conditions or other unforeseeable events.
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This is an activity that involves the host families and takes place during your first weekend in Mérida. You will be taken downtown and participate on a scavenger hunt followed by a bus tour of the city, so you can get your bearings and understand how things are organized downtown and what is located there. Also, it will help you to appreciate the difference between downtown and the neighborhoods in other areas of the city.



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We will conclude the first week of Orientation at a Hotel in Telchac Puerto, where we will spend the day reviewing information and relaxing by the oceanside.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5


One of the most impressive archaeological sites within the Puuc Route, this site is as impressive as it is historically important. We will combine this with a visit to one of the henequen haciendas.

Uxmal
Uxmal
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Chichén-Itzá has been recently nominated one of the wonders of the modern world. It is an impressive site, where you will visit not only the Mayan remains, but also see the sacred cenote, which is extremely important in the study and research of Mayan artifacts.

Chichen
Chichen
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During this excursion you will visit the community of Yaxunah. You will get involve in volunteer work activities and spend time with the people of this town.

Yaxunah
Yaxunah
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This is a four-day excursion to the nearby state of Chiapas, which coincides with the “Semana de la Antropología”. You will be exposed to a great example of the cultural traditions surrounding the Day of the Dead in México.

Chiapas
Chiapas

Chiapas 2
Chiapas 2



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In addition to the four program excursions, the IFSA-México staff has organized a series of activities designed to give you an insight into the local culture. Most activities will take place during orientation and some during the semester:

  1. Visit to Anthropology Museum: This wonderful museum holds some of the most magnificent pieces and artifacts from the main archaeological sites nearby. We will visit this museum with an archaeologist during the semester.
  2. Visit Hacienda Aristi: As part of your Spanish classes you will have the change to visit one of the most traditional family-run businesses at a typical hacienda.
  3. Academic and cultural activities organized by UADY and the College of Anthropology: There are a myriad of socio-cultural activities organized by the City, the University and the College. You will be informed of these with enough time so you can plan accordingly. Most of these are free or have a student discount.
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I read it word for word, trying to visit as many destinations throughout the semester as I could. By the end, I realized what a wonderful resource it had been for me. Sure, some people brought their own guide books, but there was nothing more useful than the experiences of a fellow student. They could provide the gritty details such as bus routes and schedules, travel times, prices, and hostel reviews. I learned from their experiences, just as I hope others do from mine. Please, take this book. Don’t just read it, use it and make it your own. Add notes, update prices, revise bus schedules, etc. Let’s make this a living, breathing journal for all IFSA students.

*Note: All prices are listed in Mexican pesos unless otherwise specified.

Helpful websites:

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Main bus stations:

  • CAME 1st Class – Calle 70 x 71
  • CAME 2nd Class – Calle 69 x 70
  • Noreste – Calle 50 between 65 y 67
  • Auto Progreso – Calle 62 between 65 y 67

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Maybe you have homework due Monday or you want to spend a night on the town back in Merida. You also don’t feel like planning too much. You want a quick trip that allows you to sleep in, see a slice of Mexico, then be back by dinner. In this chapter, I’ve outlined several easy day trips from Merida. Buses run frequently to these destinations, and all are within a 1-2 hour travel distance.

  • Campeche – colonial city
  • Celestún – beach + wildlife reserve
  • Izamal – colonial city + ruins
  • Cuzamá – cenotes

(Notable exceptions: Dzibilchaltun, Chichén Itzá)
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You’ll be doing a lot of walking around and sightseeing. If you start at the Monkey hostel, make a right onto Calle 10. Keep going until you get to Calle 63, and look up. You‘ll see an old stone church. It was closed when we got there, but another visitor said there are many impressive paintings inside. Make a right on Calle 63 until you get to Calle 8. The fort-looking structure is a museum of the city (free with UADY card, of course). It’s fairly interesting if you take the time to read some of the stories. There are three levels: the basement, which used to be a prison, the museum on the ground floor, and the guard towers and cannons on the roof.

Where to stay:

If you want more than a day trip, we’d highly recommend the Monkey hostel at Calle 57 and 10. (www.hostal campeche.com). It has the best location because it’s right on the main plaza. It is also the most popular hostel in Campeche, so it’s a great place to chill and hang out. In the main lobby, there’s a hammock that hangs in front of a beautiful view of the cathedral. There are three computers with internet access. There’s a decent kitchen with a stove and a full assortment of pots and plates. Best of all, there’s an iron spiral staircase that goes up to the roof for an incredible view. Sheets and towels are provided.

Where to eat:

You could probably walk around the city and look for a restaurant. We decided to save money by cooking our own food in the hostel’s kitchen. We’d recommend purchasing groceries in Mérida because it was very difficult to find a convenient store, much less a grocery store. Once your food is ready, bring everything up to the roof for a spectacular rooftop dinner. The entire plaza, including the cathedral, is illuminated at night.

How to get there:

Buses leave fairly often from the first class CAME station. It should take only 2 hours. Once you arrive in Campeche, walk out to the main street that passes directly in front of the bus station. There’s a giant sign that says “Centro”, with an arrow pointing to the right. You can’t miss it. Walk a block or two down the road until you get to a bus stop. Look for the yellow buses that say “Centro” and hop on. After 5-10 minutes, you’ll know when you’re there because the centro is surrounded by a large stone wall. Since the bus doesn’t actually go inside the wall, get off around the open air market.

Cost:

$288 first class Mérida – Campeche round trip

$80 per person in the Monkey Hostel dorms

$5.50 for bus ride to the centro

When to go:

Whenever. Try to go during some kind of festival or holiday so there’s more to do. Even then, the town is still quiet by Mérida’s standards.

Fun is defined as:

Walking along the sea. Climbing in forts. Having a rooftop dinner in front of the main plaza at night.
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The first stop is a bunch of pelicans, both black and white. Continuing on, you’ll see a petrified forest. It used to be a fresh water spring, but a hurricane destroyed the mangroves that separated it from the ocean. Once the saltwater got in, it destroyed the plant and animal life. After a long drive in the boat, flamingos and more flamingos. Another loooong drive, and you enter a small river that passes under the mangrove trees. Finally, you’ll visit a fresh water spring that is home to an abundant amount of baby fish. You’ll hear them jumping around as you go for a swim.
*Note: the water is VERY choppy, especially in the open ocean. It’s a small boat, so you’ll be bouncing around the entire time. I would suggest waiting until after your tour to have lunch.

Where to stay:

You could certainly make this a day trip, but if you want to spend the night there’s a Hostel Ría Celestún on the walk from the bus to the shore. The sign said $100 a night in the dorms.

 

Where to eat:

Most guide books say to eat at La Palapa, which is the giant restaurant across from Hostel Ría Celestún. It does have nice décor and a beachfront view, but the prices are a little higher. There are changing rooms in addition to bathrooms. Order the camarones empanizados, they are served in an open coconut.

If you’re looking to save money, there is another option. Leaving La Palapa, head to your left. A few blocks down, there’s a restaurant on a corner that says “Pescado de Oro.” Their food is reasonably priced and portions are bigger than at La Palapa. However, their bathrooms are just a big open room (no door) with a toilet. Order the Pescado de mojo al ajo.

How to get there:

Go to the Noreste station. (Same station as Izamal). Buses leave on the hour and the trip takes 2½ hours. Once you arrive in Celestún, ignore the flurry of people that hound you as soon as you step off the bus. Head straight to the beach, which is only about three blocks away. Once you get to the beach, make a right and walk down the shore. About two blocks down, you’ll see a hut with a bunch of life jackets and a sign on it that says “Flamingo tours.”

**WARNING: do NOT pay anyone for your tour until you step onto the boat. One guy followed us from the bus all the way to the beach (talking about flamingos the whole time), so we thought he was going to be our guide. A girl in our group gave him her money, but when she turned around he was gone. Our REAL tour guide told us that man was not affiliated with the company.

Cost:

$94 second class bus Mérida – Celestún round trip

$150 per person for a boat of 8 people. $180 if only 7 people.

$80 – $100 lunch

[About $400 total]

When to go:

When it’s warm. No one wants to go the beach when it’s cold. Plus, you’ll feel chilly on the boat because so much wind whips past you.

What to bring:

Sunscreen – you’ll be on a boat for two hours, so you won’t feel how much the sun rays are actually hitting you. It’s very easy to get burned.

Your bathing suit! – wear it on the boat tour. You’ll want to swim in the fresh water spring.

Sweater – all that wind makes you feel really cold when you’re in a wet bathing suit.

Ideal number of people:

No more than eight. Preferably multiples of two. I actually got into an argument with the tour guide over prices. The first time, they let us go at $150 a piece for only seven people. The second time, a boat of seven people was $180 a piece. They said it’s $1200 for a boat, and if it’s not full we need to split the price of the empty seat. I said that’s not fair because on our previous trip we paid a lower price for the exact same number of people. But, his logic was sound and I eventually gave in. We ended up paying $172 per person. ($1200 ¸ 7 = $171.43)

Level of Spanish:

You’ll save money with a Spanish-speaking guide. Basic words you need to know are ojo de agua = spring, agua dulce = freshwater, mangral = magrove, flamenco = flamingo.

Fun is defined as:

Being on a boat. Taking in the scenery. Speeding across the waves at full throttle. Watching flamingos try to fly. Swimming in a warm, crystal clear spring.
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We still don’t know. Tour the convent in front of the main plaza. You can tell the place was built on top of mayan ruins because walking up the entrance steps feels like you’re walking up a pyramid. Once you reach the entrance to the courtyard, look down at the final step for a glimpse of a mayan symbol carved into one of the stones. (There’s another one on the wall in the courtyard behind the bathrooms). If you walk around the left side of the church, there’s stairs leading up to a shrine. On your way back down the steps, there’s a museum for $5 which wasn’t really worth the money.

After the convent, climb some mayan pyramids. (There‘s a map in the main plaza). The ruins are scattered throughout town, just right next to houses. You can climb up the sides if you want. The one on Calle 27 is fairly large, and offers a bird’s eye view of the whole town. There’s another one on Calle 26 and 31, among others.

Where to eat:

For amazing food at cheap prices, we’d recommend El Toro. You can see it from the Mercado side of the convent. Their entrees are only $35-$45 and are more than enough for one person. They also have Horchata and Jamaica for only $15. Be careful not to fill up on the pumpkin seed salsa or beans that come with the chips!

Another option is Kinich Kak Moo on Calle 27 between 28 and 30. For only $5-$8 more per entrée, you get better décor, a gift shop, and REALLY nice bathrooms.

How to get there:

Buses leave frequently from the Noreste station. (Same place for Celestún). The trip takes about an hour and a half. Once you get off the bus in Izamal, walk directly ahead of you towards the main plaza. There’s a map with all the sites listed.

On your way back, make sure you’re taking the Oriente company bus. If you go on Centro, it costs $10 more and there’s no air conditioning.

Cost:

$40 second class bus Mérida -Izamal round trip

$50 – $80 lunch

When to go:

Whenever. If you go on a Sunday the sound of people singing in the church echoes throughout the whole convent.

Ideal number of people:

However many. It’s becoming more visible on the tourist radar so large groups aren’t uncommon.

Fun is defined as:

Getting in touch with your religious side at the convent. Even if your not religious, appreciating the beauty of Catholic artwork and architecture. Climbing pyramids smack dab in the middle of town. Stuffing your face with delicious Yucatecan food.
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On the last cenote, you have to climb down a ladder to reach the water. All three cenotes have wooden landings inside if you want to bring your personal belongings with you.

Where to eat:

There is absolutely nothing around. I’d suggest bringing your own cooler filled with sandwiches and beer.

How to get there:

The combis headed for Cuzamá wait directly across the street from the Noreste station. The ride takes a little over an hour. Once you reach Cuzamá, get off in the center of town. You’ll recognize it because it will have the typical church/plaza layout.

Now this is the worst part of the trip. The place with the cenotes is actually 3km down the road, and there aren’t too many ways to get there. One option is to take the bicitaxis that congregate right where the combi drops you off. However, they look about 10 years old and like to scam as much money out of tourists as possible. Long story short, agree on a price BEFORE you get in.

Finally, you’ll reach a large, dusty open area. From there you’ll take a truk to each of the centoes. A truk is an old wooden cart that as is drudgingly pulled along railroad tracks by an underfed horse. The wheels often make a loud screeching sound. There’s only one track, so if someone’s coming the other way you have to get off and let them pass.

The truk takes you back to where you got on. But to pick up the combi to Mérida you have to get back to the center of town 3 km away. However you decide to do that (bicitaxi, walk, hitchhike) is up to you.

Cost:

$34 combi Mérida – Cuzamá round trip

$200 truk ride for 3 hours

$50-$70 per bicitaxi one way ($100-$140 round trip, depending on your haggling skills. Or you could just walk.)

When to go:

Whenever. Weekends tend to be more crowded

Ideal number of people:

Two or four. The truk seats four but the bicitaxis only seat two.

Level of Spanish

The combi and truk drivers will not speak English.

Weekend Beach Getaways

You’ve had a stressful week. Maybe you had a huge test or paper due, and now you want to get away for the weekend. You’ve already been to Progeso and Celestún, and want to try something new. All the destinations in this chapter are located in Quintana Roo, and are about 4-5 hours away by bus.

  • Cancún – touristy beach + shopping + nightlife
  • Tulum – beautiful beach + ruins + cenotes
  • Punta Allen – deserted beach + camping
  • Xplor – adventure park (in case you get tired of the beach)

(Notable exceptions: Playa del Carmen, Cozumel)
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Ciudad Cancún – this is the downtown area on the mainland. It’s just like any another Mexican city, which at times is actually refreshing. In fact, you will see very few tourists walking around, if any at all. That’s great for you because it means better service at hotels and restaurants, which are all way cheaper. There are some shops and a sizeable flea market along Tulum Avenue. This is also your public transportation hub, meaning buses and combis leave from this part of town.

Zona Hotelera – Separated from the mainland by the Nichupte lagoon is a 12km strip of land shaped like a “7“. This is Isla Cancún, also known as the Hotel Zone. It’s the epitome of over-development and mass tourism

Beach: The beach is as nice as Tulum, but with thousands more people. And good luck getting there. Public access points are few and far between. You’ll probably have to cut through a hotel (beach access is usually through the outdoor pool), which is fine unless it’s an all-inclusive resort, like the RIU properties.

Shopping: Other than the beach, this is pretty much your only daytime activity. There are several malls along the lines of Altabrisa (Plaza Caracol, Forum by the Sea, La Isla Shopping Village). And there’s a decent flea market. It’s not a place for wandering though, as literally everyone hawks you down. Come with a specific thing in mind and be firm about what you want to pay. Also, don’t come with any shopping bags or fancy jewelry because they’ll charge you what they think you can afford. The Mexican Outlet store is crap, they’re way over priced. However, they have the best $US/MXN exchange rate.

Nightlife: If there is one redeeming quality about Cancún it’s the nightlife. This is where legends are made. The majority of the mega clubs (The City, Daddy’O, Coco Bongo) are literally right next door to each other. It’s absolute craziness. They all have outrageous cover charges, though. That’s because they want you to go Open Bar, which is usually just a few $US extra. Yes, most prices will be quoted in $US. You have to ask for pesos. Señor Frogs, just a few blocks down the road, is a fun bar atmosphere if you’re not up for a club. Drink prices may seem expensive, but they come in GENEROUS portions.

Where to stay:

Depends on what you’re doing in Cancún. If you’re just passing through, I’d highly recommend staying downtown. Heck, even if you’re visiting you could still stay downtown. The buses to the hotel zone run 24/7.

Ciudad Cancun – Hotel Alux. (http://www.hotelalux.com/aluxcancun/start-alux-hotel-affordable.html) It’s literally a block from the ADO Bus station. For a budget hotel it’s not that bad. There is a computer in the lobby with free internet and the rooms even have TVs! The only downside is that the beds are rock hard.

Zona Hotelera – Grand Royal Lagoon. (http://grlagoon.com.mx) You could choose to stay in some fancy five star hotel or all inclusive resort, but Grand Royal Lagoon is a HUGE bargain for it’s location. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the nightclubs and the flea market. It also has a pool, and hammocks overlooking the lagoon!! Rooms come with a TV and a fridge. The view isn’t too bad either, you’re just looking over the Nichupte lagoon instead of the beach.

Where to eat:

Ciudad Cancun – Just walk down Tulum Avenue and you’ll find many loncherías and cocina económicas. If you want Mexican food, you’ll find it here. There’s also a good Indian restaurant opposite the glorieta from the bus station.

Zona Hotelera – The hotel “restaurant” will be your cheapest option. It’s nothing fancy, just burgers, quesadillas, chicken strips, etc. It’s open from 7:30am-11:00pm. If you want a restaurant, just keep walking down Kulkulcan. Everything’s super expensive though, and Americanized. Some of the closest eateries are McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, and TGI Fridays. There is a grocery store before you hit Plaza Caracol if you want to pick up some non-perishables. (Ironically though, it sells more alcohol than food).

How to get there and around:

Buses leave from Mérida out of either CAME station. Go first class. The trip already takes over 4 hours without stopping, I can’t imagine what it would be like 2nd class… and without a bathroom.

If you’re going to the hotel zone, make a right immediately coming out of the ADO station. The giant road in front of you is Avenida Tulum. Make a left and walk up the street a little bit. You’ll see a bunch of buses either stopping or passing by. You want the one with the large red stripe on the windshield that says “Hoteles” in white.

Now, the Hotel Zone is literally just one road, Kulkulcan Boulevard, but there are no addresses! Maps list everything by kilometer number which, of course, is not marked. Get a detailed map and do your best to locate major landmarks such as beaches, malls, or large hotels.

If you’re going to Grand Royal Lagoon, just get off across from the Presidente Intercontinental Cancún and walk back a bit. Take the first street that goes left. There will be a golf course to your right. Grand Royal Lagoon is about the third property down that road. To get back downtown, you have to cross Kulkulcan and walk down to the Presidente Intercontinental Cancún again. Look for the same bus with the large red stripe that says “Hoteles“. However, make sure it says R-1. DO NOT take the very similar looking R-2 because you will wind up lost somewhere. The glorieta with the starfish sculptures starts Avenida Tulum. The next glorieta is the ADO station.

(See Xplor entry for info on traveling between cities on the Mayan Riviera.)

Cost:

$300 for a double bed, or $370 for two singles at Hotel Alux

or $500+ at Grand Royal Lagoon

$730-$770 round trip first class Mérida-Cancún

$7.50 for the Hotel Zone bus

$100+ per cocktail at Señor Frogs

$400+ open bar at a nightclub

When to go:

Anytime other than Spring Break. Prices vary by season. Keep an eye out for promotions advertised on TV in Mérida, like special events or discounts.

Ideal number of people:

However many. At Hotel Alux, room rates are based on one person. You have to add $60 for each additional person. At Grand Royal Lagoon, you could probably stuff 3 or 4 people into a King.

Level of Spanish:

The more you know, the better. It separates you from the throngs of tourists.

Fun is defined as:

Getting some cool souvenirs at amazing prices. Walking along the empty beaches at night. Standing at Cancún point, where the Bay of Mujeres meets the open Caribbean. Surprising locals with your ability to speak Spanish. Throwing back jello shots and then jumping on stage to dance the Macarena.
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The water is pure turquoise and the sand is crystalline. The best part is, you can actually enjoy yourself because it’s not as built up as the rest of the Maya Riviera. If you get tired of the beach there are other things to do. The ruins are on the north side of town (free with UADY ID), and there are also several cenotes nearby. Gran Cenote is a half-enclosed cave system, complete with bats flying around. Further up the highway towards Playa del Carmen is Cenote Eden, where you can jump off a 15ft cliff into the water. If you want to go scuba diving, I heard Dos Ojos was pretty good.

Where to stay:

Depends on what you want to do. If all you want is beach time, you might want to look at staying in a cabaña right on the shore. However, they are usually pretty “rustic“. When we went with the program we stayed at Zazil Kin (www.hotelstulum.com/Zazilkin), which had a community bath, no hot water, and no electricity after certain hours. Bring your own towel. On the plus side, they great happy hour specials. Two cocktails for $50.

If you want to be more mobile, I would highly recommend Lobo Inn. (www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/ Lobo-Inn/Tulum/16833). They have bicycles that you can use for free and vespas that you can rent for the day. The bikes are fine if you’re going to the ruins or into town, but you’ll need the vespas to get to the cenotes. Towels are provided and there are computers with free internet. Best of all, Lobo has free breakfast!

Where to eat:

If you’re staying at Lobo, it’s cheaper to cook your own meals. There’s a San Francisco Super just 3km down the road, heading into town.

How to get there:

If you’re coming from Mérida, there are buses that leave from the 1st Class CAME station. The trip takes a little less than 4½ hours. Once you arrive at the ADO bus station in Tulum, you’ll need to take a taxi to your destination. They congregate right out front and their rates are posted on a sign. If you’re coming from Cancún or Playa del Carmen, you can get off right at Lobo Inn. It’s on the right side of the highway about 500m before the entrance to the ruins. Just tell the bus or combi driver that you’re getting off at “Las Ruinas,” and when he tells you you‘re getting close, keep an eye out for the bright yellow building that says “Hostel” on it.

If you’re going to toodle around on the vespa, you’ll want a map on hand. There are three centoes (including Gran Cenote) between kilometers 1 and 8 on the highway headed towards Cobá. Head to the San Francisco Super and make a right. Dos Ojos and Cenote Eden are back up Highway 307 towards Playa del Carmen. If you want to get to the beach from Lobo Inn, make a left at the intersection with the San Francisco Super. You’ll see a sign that says “Acceso Publico a la Playa”. Keep going down that road until you hit the Blue Tulum resort. The road that passes in front of Blue Tulum parallels the beach.

Cost:

$400+ Mérida-Tulum round trip (depends on season)

$120 per person per night in the dorms at Lobo Inn

$250 for vespa rental (9am to 6pm) + however much you spend on gas, usually $10-$20

$100 per person at Gran Cenote

Fun is defined as:

Speeding along the highways on a vespa. Being able to touch stalactites from the water. And of course, chilling on one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico.
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It’s like a trip back in time – you’ll see what the Mexican Caribbean was like before Cancún. The beaches may not be as picture perfect or overly cleaned, but they’re still nice.

Where to stay:

Serenidad Shardon (www.shardon.com). It’s run by a widowed ex-pat named Nikki. She’s really nice and will help you with whatever you need. Her cheapest option is a tent out in the garden. It has a double bed and a single bed, a fan, and towels. Elsewhere on the property there are two bathrooms and a kitchen. You pay up front, which is nice, but she only accepts cash.

What to do:

Hang out on the beach. Hang out on the porch in front of her house. There are hammocks to lounge in, a mayan chess set, and wireless Internet when the electricity‘s on. There’s a volleyball court across from the reception area. If you rummage through the cabinets, you’ll find tennis rackets, Frisbees, and a volleyball.

If you’re up for an adventure, there’s an old light house at the end of the peninsula. Facing the beach from your tent, make a right onto the sand trail that passes in front of the bathroom. It’s a good 30-40 minute walk through the jungle, just keep going until you see the lighthouse. The hardest part is that you have to jump an 8ft concrete wall to get in. Get creative. The view from the top is incredible.

Where to eat:

You‘ll want to cook in the kitchen because the restaurants are fairly expensive. La Bahia is the cheapest grocery store. They sell chicken and meat by the kilo, but other than that don’t expect a huge selection. If you want to take a break from cooking ask Nikki about the Tacos al Pastor across from the park.

How to get there:

Get to Tulum (See Tulum entry). Once you‘re there, there’s only one combi a day that goes to Punta Allen. The driver, Tony, leaves at 2pm from the sitio de Taxis, which is about 4 blocks up the road from the ADO bus station. You’ll see the garage with combi vans inside and a bunch of taxis parked out front. The trip is rather bumpy and lasts 2½ hours.

The only combi coming back leaves Punta Allen at 5am… Yah. The fact that there’s no electricity at that hour makes it even more fun. Double check your alarm. Better yet, set two alarms. On the bright side, if you ask Tony the night before, he can pick you up right from Serenidad Shardon. And once you get to Tulum, he’ll drop you back off at the ADO bus station.

Cost:

$400+ Mérida-Tulum round trip (depends on season)

$400 combi Tulum-Punta Allen round trip

$200 per person per night in the tent

Fun is defined as:

Hanging out on a deserted beach. Seeing the jungle from 5 stories above the ground. Trying to hack open your own coconut. Looking up at the stars at night. Possibly skinny-dipping.
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The whole place is built into an existing cave system, which you notice right from the entrance. It’s not as overly-hyped as Xcaret and Xel-ha, two other major theme parks nearby, so you don’t get the huge crowds. There are also age restrictions on a lot of the rides, so you don’t get annoying kids either.

Helpful Advice…

  • Buy your tickets online (www.xplor.travel) and bring them with you. It’ll save you tons of time.
  • Get there early so you have more time. The park opens at 9am.
  • Eat a solid breakfast. You’ll need the energy.
  • They do have free lockers but they’re the size of a shoebox. Try to leave as much as you can at your hotel. If you’re coming with a full backpack you’ll need two, maybe three lockers for all your stuff.
  • Bring a waterproof camera. They don’t allow regular cameras on most of the rides.
  • Wear water shoes. Flip flops would probably fall off on the zip lines and are not fun to swim in.

What to do:

The park has four major attractions. Apart from these, there’s a mini-zipline where you can hang a hammock seat and fly into the water. There’s also a rest area with lounge chairs and hammocks if you want to take a nap.

Ziplines: Their course is HUGE. They have two separate lines: Deer and Jaguar. They each have about ten different towers. I’d say it took us two hours to complete both. Jaguar is technically higher, but Deer is more fun. You land in the water three times and there’s a water slide! Go early in the day to avoid the lines.

*Note: This is the most physical activity out of the park. There’s a lot of stairs. And I mean a LOT. You also have to hold your legs up each time you go through the air to avoid getting whacked by trees.

River Swim: Definitely the most awe-inspiring cave formations of the whole park, and it ends in a waterfall which is amazing! The water level is about shoulder height, so you can swim it if you want. If you’d rather walk, sometimes the bottom just drops off without notice. The water was fairly cold, but they have a coffee/hot chocolate station once you get out to warm you back up.

Balsa Rafts: They give you little hand paddles to steer your way through the cave. I’m not very coordinated though, so I bumped into the walls a lot. There’s a shortcut if you’re running low on time.

Jeeps: At first I thought this was gonna be lame, but it’s actually kind of cool. The 5km paths take you through caves and over bridges and stuff. It makes for a relaxing end to a busy day. Track 1 has cooler caves, but Track 2 has a lookout point where you can see Xcaret and Cozumel in the distance.

Where to eat:

There’s a buffet at the center of the park. It’s incredible. The food is super healthy too, so you leave feeling full but not gross. The best part is, you can go however many times you want!

Cost:

This is the worst part. Tickets are US$90 per person. Yes, that’s 90 US dollars. It’s definitely worth it, though.

How to get there:

Get to the Riviera Maya. (See separate entries for Cancún or Tulum.) Getting around the Riviera Maya is actually really easy because it’s all connected by one highway, Federal Highway 307.

If you’re coming from Cancún, you can find combis to Playa del Carmen across Avenida Tulum from the ADO bus station. It’s in the parking lot to the left of the Comercial Mexicana. Once you get off in Playa del Carmen, hop on a combi headed to Tulum. You‘ll be on it for like five minutes. If you‘re coming from Tulum, go to the sitio de taxis and pick up a combi headed to Playa del Carmen.

Whichever direction you’re coming from, it’s impossible to miss the signs for Xplor. And since it’s in front of Xcaret, those signs apply to. The park itself is easily recognizable because it’s surrounded by a giant stone wall with “Xplor” engraved in block letters. Once you see a large spiral tower with a Mexican flag on top, tell the driver to stop at “la entrada“. If you’re coming from Playa del Carmen or Cancún, you’ll have to cross the highway.

Getting back, just stand on the side of the road. If you’re going to Tulum you’ll have to cross the highway. Look for combis that say Playa del Carmen-Tulum on the hood. If you’re going to Cancún, you’ll have to switch combis at Playa del Carmen again. Another option is to flag down a Mayab bus. Since they’re second class, they’ll stop to pick up passengers. Look for one saying either Cancún or Tulum. The one to Cancún makes a quick pit stop in Playa del Carmen.

Here’s the break down of travel times and prices between cities on the Riviera Maya:

  • Cancún – Playa del Carmen : 1½ hours (lots of traffic and construction), $30
  • Playa del Carmen – Tulum : 1 hour, $35
  • Cancún – Tulum : 2½ hours, $60

3 Day Weekend Adventures

You’re adventurous, a thrill seeker. You want to take advantage of every opportunity you have to travel. You see that 3 or 4 day weekend on the calendar next month and are already thinking about where to go. The trips in this chapter involve serious dedication. They all require weeks of planning, strong Spanish abilities, and a willingness to “rough it.” Let’s be honest, doing so much in so little time requires sacrifice. Expect to wake up ridiculously early, pack your days with activity, and spend long hours on uncomfortable buses. Of course, these trips can always be extended for a less stressful experience (and more sleep); but, never doubt what you can accomplish in a three day weekend.

  • Rio Bec, Campeche – ruins in the jungle
  • Tikal, Guatemala – ruins in the jungle
  • San Ignacio, Belize – extreme caving
  • Mexico City (by plane)

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These sites receive few visitors, so there’s a good chance you’ll have them all to yourselves. If you are an archaeology enthusiast, thrill-seeker, or nature-lover (preferably all three), then this is the trip for you.

Where to stay:

Rio Bec Dreams, a small, eco-friendly hotel about 12 kilometers west of Xpujil. (www.riobecdreams.com) The entire property is literally built into the existing jungle, with the restaurant and bar all made out of local wood. You’ll want to stay in the jungalows (Paloma, Puma, or Tigre), which have space for two. The Paloma jungalow is the only one with single beds as opposed to a double bed. Bathrooms are separate from the rooms. Towels are provided.

Though pricey, Rio Bec Dreams is well worth the money. It is run by a hilarious British/Canadian couple, Diane and Rick, who love helping tourists explore the region. The best part is that they provide the transportation and a guide to all the sites.

*Note: Everything from the food to the tours to the bar tab are all charged to the room. This means you should keep track of what you spend so you don’t get hit with a huge bill at the end. They only accept cash. Worst case scenario, there is an ATM in the Munipicio Principal in Xpujil.

What to do:

Go see the ruins of course! Make sure you ask for Luis as a guide. Not only is he rather handsome, but he knows his stuff about the ruins and local plant and animal life.

Calakmul – This site is HUGE. It’s about 3-4 km wide, with two major pyramids. We spent a solid four hours walking around. It is also the furthest drive from the hotel. After about one hour, you enter the Calakmul Biosphere, which is 6 million acres of protected jungle. You keep driving for another hour down a small road until you reach the archeological site of Calakmul.

The rest of the sites can be covered in one day if you make good time. They are all smaller and closer to the hotel.

Becán -The next biggest site after Calakmul. It has two well excavated plazas and sizeable pyramids. It also has an incredibly well-preserved mural that still bears half of its original paint.

Hormiguero – This one is about an hour away, not because it’s far, but because the road to the site is completely unpaved and rocky. You pass a small lagoon on the way, which is a great place to have lunch. Once you arrive at the site, it may seem small, but it has lots of cool secrets. Luis showed us a chultun hidden in the forest and a small opening that led to a two-story interior tomb. Way cool!

Xpujil – This site has three towers that distinguish it from traditional Rio Bec style. Luis showed us how to climb halfway up one of the perilous towers, making for an awesome photo-op.

Chicanná – Mayan for “mouth of the serpent.” It has an intricately decorated facade.

If you’re still not tired, you could walk around the town of Xpujil at night. It’s within walking distance of the Xpujil archeological site, and a taxi back to the hotel only costs $50.

How to get there:

Get to Campeche. (See Campeche entry). From there, take a taxi to the second class bus station. You’ll want to buy a ticket for a bus headed to Xpujil. The only in the morning leaves at 5:15am, the rest all leave in the afternoon. The trip will take a little over 5 hours, three to Escárcega, where it’ll stop for a quick break, and two to Xpujil. Rio Bec Dreams is located at kilometer 142, on the left side of the highway. I would tell you to just watch the marker signs, but because of all the construction, there’s nothing between kilometer 100 and 140. At the very end of the construction, you’ll see a cow-crossing sign and then the marker for kilometer 141. Within a minute, you’ll see the entrance on your left. It is marked by three flags: Mexico, Canada, and Britain.

On your way back, there’s some bus that passes in front of the hotel between 8:00am and 8:30am. It was orange and white, and had Villahermosa written in big letters. Once we flagged it down, we saw Escárcega written on the other window in smaller letters. In case there are different buses, your best bet is to stop any bus that passes and ask if it’s going to Escárcega. You’ll arrive at the second class bus station, where you can catch the next bus to Mérida. If you’d rather go first class, you’ll need to ask someone where the first class bus station is.

Cost:

Room

$500 a night for a double occupancy jungalow

Tours

$40 per person to enter the Calakmul Biosphere

$1200 – Calakmul for four people ($300 per person)

$800 – Hormiguero, Chicanná, Becán, and Xpujil for four people ($200 per person)

**BRING YOUR UADY CARD. All sites are free for students.

Food at Hotel

Breakfast $30 – $60

Packed Lunch $60 – $75, includes water bottle

Dinner $80 – $100

[Overall hotel bill (room and board, tours, food, bar) $1300 – $1500 per person.]

Transportation

$144 First class bus Mérida – Campeche

$155 Second class bus Campeche – Xpujil

$70 Second class bus Xpujil – Escárcega

$178 Second class bus Escárcega – Mérida

Take about $2200 just to be on the safe side.

Length of stay:

Depends. You could make this a 3 day trip if you head to Campeche the night before. Have the hostel concierge call you a taxi for 4:30am and take the 5:15am bus towards Xpujil. You’ll arrive at Rio Bec Dreams in the late morning, giving you most of the day to still see the sights. If early morning buses aren‘t your thing, you could extend this to a 4 day trip. It would be: travel, ruins, ruins, travel.

When to go:

When it’s not too hot.

Ideal number of people:

Four and only four. Luis drives a small sedan, so you can’t take any more than that. And, you’re charged the same flat rate no matter how many people go, so you don’t want fewer than four either.

Level of Spanish:

Well, I’m sure you could get by with less Spanish, but I feel like the more you know the more you will enjoy this trip.

Fun is defined as:

Walking around and climbing all over incredibly well-preserved ruins in the jungle. Watching spider monkeys and howler monkeys swing through the treetops.
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Like Calakmul, it is also buried deep within the jungle and boasts a wide variety of animal life. Expect to see more spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and even the white-nosed coati. However, it is unique in its own way. Even though we went at the end of the semester, after seeing more ruins than we could count, we were still amazed. Some of the stelas are in excellent condition, allowing you to calculate cuenta larga dates. There are also some impressive carvings on the structures in Gran Plaza. Top that off with a number of towering temples and Tikal is sure to please.

Where to stay:

You could make this a day trip from San Ignacio, Belize (see San Ignacio entry). If you’d rather stay in Flores, Guatemala, you’ll have a wide variety of places to choose from.

 

How to get there:

Get to Belize. (See San Ignacio entry). Wherever you end up, you’ll have to take a taxi to the Guatemalan border. There is no bus that goes directly there. From San Ignacio it’s a quick 5-10 minute trip. Once you’re on the other side, keep walking. After you cross a bridge, you’ll be in the border town Melchor de Mencos.

Now, there’s no public transportation that goes directly to Tikal. You have two options:

1. Right after you cross the border, you could negotiate a round trip fare for your own private transportation. Taxi drivers, tour companies, and random strangers will all be hounding you with offers. This option is significantly more expensive, but it’ll save you lots of time (and you’ll have the safety of knowing you have a way back to the border).

2. While the public transportation option is WAY cheaper, it can be a little risky at times. Keep walking past the bridge in Melchor de Mencos until you see the dirt road split into different directions. You‘ll want to catch a colectivo headed for Flores. It‘s a blue minivan with a sign in the window that says “Flores.“ If it’s not already waiting, feel free to ask people where it usually stops. Once you get in, tell the driver you’re getting off at Ixlú, also known as “El cruce.” It’ll be a two hour drive across unpaved roads.

Once you get off, you’ll be standing quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Although, you will notice the road splits into two directions: one back to the border, and the other northwards toward Tikal. Walk a little further up the Tikal-bound road and try to flag down another colectivo. These minivans are red and have a luggage rack on top. They pass about every hour. However, if they’re full they won’t stop. Another option is to try to flag down the silver minivans. They’re usually express service, but may pick you up if it‘s a slow business day.

After about 45 minutes, you’ll arrive to Tikal. It’s up to you whether you want to confirm a return trip to Ixlú or take your chances later. From Ixlú, repeat the same process, except on the other side of the street. Stand on the border-bound side and try to flag down a colectivo. We were told the last ones run at 6:00pm and 7:00pm, and that apparently the border closes at 9:00pm. Once you cross over, you’ll have to take a taxi to San Ignacio again.

Cost:

The cost of this trip depends entirely on your bargaining skills. The prices listed below show the range of what people charged us. The highest number is what they started with and the lowest number what we got. People WILL try to get as much money as they can out of you. For example, the border officials in Guatemala will ask for a 30Q entrance fee. It’s bogus. Just argue with them in Spanish or demand a receipt and it’ll go away.

As far as money goes, we didn’t see any ATMs around. I would suggest exchanging Belize dollars for Quetzals on the Belize side of the border. The money changers gave us 3.50Q for every BZ$1. If you have extra Quetzals at the end of the day, keep in mind they leave around 6:00pm.

150Q Tikal entrance fee

Transportation

BZ$10 – BZ$30 taxi to Guatemalan border

200Q – 400Q per person for private, round trip transportation to Tikal

or 20Q – 25Q Melchor de Mencos to Ixlú one way

60Q – 80Q Ixlú to Tikal round trip

I would exchange around BZ$80 to Quetzals if you’re using public transportation and don’t plan on buying lunch there.

Length of stay:

You could feasibly do this trip in three days if you make Tikal a day trip from San Ignacio. Or, you could add a day or two by staying in Flores. I heard it’s kind of a boring city, but Lago Petén Itzá is really pretty. Plus, it’ll make getting to Tikal a MILLION times easier. The reason most of the colectivos that passed Ixlú were full was because everyone had already boarded in Flores.

When to go:

During the rainy season, which is May through September. It gives the ruins a cool misty fog, plus keeps most of the tourists away.

Ideal number of people:

However many.

Level of Spanish:

Very necessary in Guatemala, especially if you’re going to be taking public transportation.

Fun is defined as:

Getting stuck on top of a Mayan temple in the pouring rain. Hearing howler monkeys in the distance. Navigating your own way through the jungle-covered paths. Having to squeeze into a colectivo that was already beyond full, and by squeeze I mean hanging halfway out of the open door.
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The official languages are Creole and English, and the majority of people are of Afro-Carribean descent. Although poverty runs rampant, the country was blessed with beautiful natural resources. The eastern coast is surrounded by breathtaking coral reefs and the Western region, by rugged jungle.

What to do:

Go to the Aktun Tunichil Muknal cave. It is an absolute MUST-SEE in Belize and hands-down, our most exhilarating experience of the semester. You get to explore a hidden underworld and come within inches of ancient artifacts. The only downside is that, since this place is so off-the-beaten-path, you can only go on a guided tour with one of two companies: Mayawalk or PACZ tours. Both had to apply for special permissions from the Belizean government and get their guides certified by an archaeological commission.

Other less extreme activities are canoeing, cave tubing, horse back riding, or just hanging out around town. Check out the numerous tour companies along Burns Avenue for more ideas.

Where to stay:

Rosa’s Hotel in the center of town. The owner, Doug, is super nice. If you have any questions about what to do or where to go in Belize or Guatemala, he’s a great resource. Plus, breakfast is included in the price. It was usually an assortment of fresh fruit, coffee, and bread. There is a kitchen if you want to cook your own food. The rooms were very comfortable and all came with private bathrooms. The best part was the view from 3rd floor patio overlooking the hillside.

 

How to get there:

Take an ADO bus to Chetumal from the first class CAME station in the centro. The only one in the morning leaves at 7:30am. It should take exactly six hours. When you arrive to the station in Chetumal, you’ll need to buy a ticket for the next bus to Belize City. It’s not advertised anywhere, but you can buy it from the ticket counter (Window 1) just like you would for another Mexican bus.

Crossing the border was stressful. On the Mexican side, they wouldn’t let us get off the bus and held our passports hostage until we paid the “exit tax“. Cash only, of course. After that, the bus drove past a few kilometers of “Free Zone” before reaching the Belize border. You’ll have to take all your stuff with you and walk through Belize immigration and customs. The bus should wait on the other side, then leave once everyone‘s back.

*Note: You change time zones at the border. Belize and Guatemala are an hour behind Mexico.

After three hours, including pit stops in Corozal and Orange Walk, you’ll pull into the bus station in Belize City.

However, bus stations in Belize are not like what you’ve seen in Mexico. They are literally just empty parking lots where the buses wait. There are no bus schedules listed, nowhere to buy tickets in advance, and worst of all, no public restrooms. There are two different bus classes: regular and express. Regular buses will stop to pick up people on the side of the road, but an Express bus will only stop at designated cities. The bus class and destination should be printed on a card that sits in the window shield.

In Belize City, you’ll have to wait for the next bus towards Benque Viejo (last one leaves at 9:30pm). It will stop in Belmopan after an hour, than San Ignacio after another hour and a half. You’ll know you’re there because you’ll cross a bridge. When the bus stops, get off and walk straight ahead. You’ll see a light green ATM on the corner of a large intersection. It splits Burns Avenue from Hudson Street. Burns Avenue is your first left and Hudson Street your second left. Rosa’s hotel is about a block up from there, directly across from a Venus Photos. Look up because it’s on the 2nd and 3rd floors above a Chinese restaurant.

**Advice: San Ignacio is probably as far as you can get from Mérida in a day. I would warn against trying to go any further, because you don’t want to travel in Belize and Guatemala after dark. Not only do the buses run less frequently, but it is very dangerous.

Buses back to Belize City start at 5:00am and run every hour (every half hour after 7:00am). You can catch them from the same place you got off. If it’s a regular bus, it could take as long as three hours. It’s important to get an early start from San Ignacio because the last Express bus from Belize City to Chetumal leaves at 11:00am!! After that, there are only regular class buses that stop at the border. If you planned on coming back to Mexico in the afternoon, you’ll have to take a taxi from the Mexican border to Chetumal. The last bus back to Mérida from the ADO bus station leaves at 5:00pm.

Cost:

**DO NOT ENTER BELIZE WITH PESOS. You will get ripped off so much it‘ll make you cry. You’re safer coming in with US$, since the Belize dollar is fixed at BZ$2 = US$1. Another option is to exchange just enough to get to San Ignacio, then withdraw the bulk of your money from the ATM there. While this is simpler (and gives you a better exchange rate), you’ll have to call your bank in advance to get your ATM card unlocked. If do decide to exchange currency at the border, you’ll want to do it on the Belize side. If you don’t see the money changers walking around, ask someone where they are. When we went, they were hanging around where the cars drive through.

Room

BZ$55 per night for a double occupancy room at Rosa’s Hotel

Tours

US$75 Mayawalk Tour: Actun Tunichil Muknal

Food

BZ$6 – BZ$10 food at the Belize bus station

<BZ$5 per meal if using food bought from the grocery store

Transportation

MX$313 Mérida to Chetumal first class

or MX$208 second class

MX$162 Chetumal to Belize City, first class

BZ$8 Express bus Belize City to San Ignacio

or BZ$7 Regular bus

BZ$12? Express bus Belize City to Chetumal

or BZ$10 Regular bus Belize City to the Mexican border

MX$80 taxi from Mexican border to Chetumal

Taxes

MX$200 questionable Mexican exit tax

BZ$37.50 Belize exit tax (BZ$30 if in the country for less than 24 hrs)

Length of stay:

If you’re just going to see Actun Tunichil Muknal, three full days. Two for transportation, one for the tour. Add another day if you want to see Tikal, or if you want to do other things around San Ignacio.

Ideal number of people:

However many. Doug said he had some rooms for 5 or 6 people for only BZ$65.

Fun is defined as:

Hiking through the jungle. Feeling like Indiana Jones as you swim, climb, and crawl your way through a cave with nothing but the light from your helmet. Discovering a secret burial chamber littered with hundreds of ancient artifacts.
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I also only went for a weekend, and therefore did not have time to see everything. (Notable omissions are the National Museum of Anthropology and Teotihuacan.) Hopefully people make this trip in the future and are able to provide more information.

*Note: All the events listed on here are free. I didn‘t go to any museums, but I found out that they are free on Sundays. Also, NOTHING is open on Mondays, so I would suggest planning your arrival/departure on a Monday.

**WARNING: do NOT hail a taxi off the street. There have been numerous incidents of robberies and hijackings. Only get into taxis that you have called by phone or that you have solicited at a sitio de taxis.

  • ZócaloZócalo – This is Mexico City‘s main plaza, surrounded by the National Cathedral and National Palace in traditional Mexican fashion. It is known as one of the largest gathering spaces in the world and is marked by a GIANT flag that flies in the center. There’s tons of people, tons of excitement. Try some of the local foods. Watch a traditional Aztec dance. Check out the souvenirs being sold by artisans (make sure to haggle, they originally ask for more than they expect.)
  • National PalaceNational Palace – If you see nothing else in Mexico City make sure to make a stop here. The Diego Rivera murals along the walls are fascinating. Constitution Hall is up the stairs. Back down the stairs and through the left hallway is a long courtyard. There are ruins under a glass floor. All the way to the back and up some stairs is a museum dedicated to Benito Juarez. It’s one of the coolest museums I’ve seen so far.
    **Note: Bring some form of identification. They will not let you in without it.
  • National CathedralNational Cathedral – The inside is even more intricate than the spectacular façade. There are shrines and niches for various patron saints. Make sure to see both parts of the Cathedral, the original building and the newer reconstructed one. Check out the ruins underneath the glass tiles in the entrance.
  • Basilica of the Virgin of GuadalupeThe Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe – This is an entire religious complex dedicated to Juan Diego, the peasant who saw the Virgin in his shawl. There’s the newer church where masses are held. Outside there’s an open plaza with a statue to the pope. To your left is the original church. It’s undergoing reconstruction because shifts in the foundation have caused serious structural damage. Behind that is a large hill. At the very top is a chapel in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe and a birds-eye view of the city. Coming back down the hill is a garden with a series of sculptures depicting the miracle.
  • Chapultepec ParkChapultepec Park – Imagine Central Park meets the state fair. It‘s a popular hang out for local families so it‘s wonderfully tourist-free. Vendors line the walkways selling everything from chicharrones to cotton candy to balloon hats and sticky bubbles. Every once and a while you’ll see clowns roaming around or performing a show. The National Museum of Anthropology is at the entrance, across from the a Voladores show. Keep walking and there’s a lake where you can go paddle-boating. The national zoo is in the middle, but keep in mind that it closes at 4 pm.
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U.S. Credits Hours: minimum of 7 and maximum of 10

Required G.P.A.: 3.0 (4.0 scale)

Program Dates: 6 week-long program

Arrival Date May 28 (evening)

Program Orientation May 29 – 30

Welcome Reception May 30

Classes begin May 31

Classes end July 9

Program ends July 10

Departure date July 11

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This language and culture summer program in Mérida is designed for students interested in learning about cultural contrasts. Students will live in Mérida, one of the most charming cities in Latin America and experience the mixture of cultures that mingle the Mayan and modern Mexicans. The program is six weeks-long and is held at the Autonomous University of Yucatan, UADY, which is the largest and oldest State University in the Southeast of Mexico.

You will be able to attend Mexican Anthropology, Mayan Archaeology, Underwater Archaeology, Doing Business in Mexico and a Spanish language course into different levels, according to your linguistic skills. You will need one-and-a-half years of college Spanish (three semesters of college Spanish or the equivalent) to be eligible for this program.

At the end of this program, students would have covered one semester’s worth of Spanish language, along with 6 additional credits of disciplinary courses. All courses are held at UADY’s College of Anthropological Sciences and are taught in Spanish by local faculty.

Spanish tutorials will also be offered.

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Students can choose two of these three and the mandatory Spanish class to add up to 10 credits.

Track I (Intermediate – students arriving with 2 or 3 semesters of Spanish)

Intermediate Spanish II (mandatory) 4 U.S. Credit hours (60 contact hours)

History of Mayan Culture and Civilization 3 U.S. Credit hours (45 contact hours)

Doing Business in Mexico 3 U.S. Credit hours (45 contact hours)

Intro to Underwater Archaeology 3 U.S. Credit hours (45 contact hours)

Track II (Advanced I or II- students arriving with 4 or more semesters of Spanish)

Advanced I or II Spanish (mandatory) 4 U.S. Credit hours (60 contact hours)

History of Mayan Culture and Civilization 3 U.S. Credit hours (45 contact hours)

Mexican Anthropology 3 U.S. Credit hours (45 contact hours)

Doing Business in Mexico 3 U.S. Credit hours (45 contact hours)

Introduction to Underwater Archaeology 3 U.S. Credit hours (45 contact hours)

All courses are taught in Spanish with different requirements for students in lower levels of the language. Academic tutorials meet for one hour, three times / week. A minimum requirement of 5 participants is necessary before offering a class.

The underwater archaeology course offers an optional 4-day excursion to the “Inframundo” for an additional cost of USD$400 (per person. This includes transportation, entrances to sites, accommodations and all meals)

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A homestay is crucial for language acquisition and culture learning. You will be placed with a Mexican family for the duration of the program. It is through this family how you will meet and be exposed to the largest part of the informal culture-learning that takes place in this type of experiences.

Mérida is the capital of the State of Yucatán, a city of approximately 800,000 inhabitants that thrives with cultural activities. You will be constantly informed of the many cultural options and highly encouraged to travel around Mérida and nearby villages to gain a greater perspective of the Yucatan Peninsula. Fortunately, Mérida is one of the safest cities in México where you will feel very comfortable moving around.

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For you to gain a wider perspective of the Peninsula and greater Mérida, the program staff has organized a series of local visits to museums, nearby beaches, theaters and cooking lessons. The program offers three day-long excursions to renowned archaeologogical sites such as Uxmal, Chichén-Itzá and Ek Balam. These will take place during three consecutive Fridays.

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All courses will be taught in Spanish by UADY faculty. All courses will meet from Monday through Thursday. Three consecutive Fridays will be reserved for the program organized day-long excursions. The remaining Fridays are free for you to travel.

Intermediate II, Advanced I and Advanced II Spanish Language

A placement exam will be applied to all students upon arrival to determine their language skill level. The Spanish courses will start reviewing grammar and introduce students to more complex linguistic competencies and structures of subjunctive, vocabulary and stress communication according to the local context where students will be involved during this time. Students will do a comparative study between the Spanish spoken in Yucatán vs. Spanish spoken in other Latin American countries and discuss issues of current interest in Mérida.

Mexican Anthropology

Through a series of ethnographies, we will review the most important aspects of Mexican Anthropology. The course will cover different aspects such as gender differences, art, architecture, food, politics and contemporary issues taken from periodicals to discuss current aspects of contemporary Mexico.

History of Mayan Culture and Civilization

This course will cover material from pre-hispanic Mayan cultures, analyzing archaeology, epigraphy and history of the Mayan. We will visit important Mayan archaeological sites as part of the course to try to the learning into the right context. We will also learn the way the Mayan society was organized and sustained, while at the same time looking at the socio-political structure.

Introduction to Underwater Archaeology

The diversity of the region and the importance water and cenotes have in the Mayan culture, provide for a perfect setting to study and discover the great number of underwater archaeological remains in its natural context and understand important influences these elements have had in the pre-hispanic Mayan. This course is theoretical with an option to do a practicum.

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During Fridays you will have organized program excursions that will compliment the academic content of the courses.

First Excursion: Visit to Uxmal Archaeological site

Second Excursion: Visit to Chichèn-Itzà Archaeological site

Third Excursion: Four-day excursion to Chiapas

Fourth Excursion (optional): Inframundo

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