Crossing Colonial Yucatán

Traversing the Yucatán Peninsula was like hopping across a chain of sunny pastel islands surrounded by an opaque ocean of jungle green. Out of the dense shadowy camouflage, we found four bright bastions of Spanish colonial charm in the amiable town of Valladolid, yellow city of Izamal, well-to-do metropolis of Mérida, and coastal capital of Campeche.

Valladolid Fort

San Bernadino of Siena, Valladolid

In all four of these places, the Spanish located their colonial settlements on top of former Mayan communities, repurposing the building stones according to their own architectural requirements. In Valladolid, to protect themselves from the displaced native Mayan population, the Spanish had to fortify their Franciscan monastery San Bernadino of Siena like a medieval castle.

Mud bath

Crocodiles, Flamingos, Mayan Mud Bath, and Bad Hair Day, Rio Lagartos

For us, the relatively small and navigable town of Valladolid was a convenient base for exploring the surrounding area. From there we rode bikes to several cenotes, visited nearby Mayan ruins, and toured a nature preserve where crocodiles and flamingos coexist.

Izamal Street

The Yellow City of Izamal

The next colonial stepping stone in our Yucatán crossing was the all-yellow city of Izamal. In preparation of a papal visit by John Paul II in 1993, the people of Izamal painted their entire town center ochre yellow to match the colors of the Vatican flag. Sauntering through the streets of brown mustard, we marveled at the color conformity but sadly failed to find a hot dog vendor.

Izamal Es

Valentine’s Day Visit to Izamal (and a better hair day)

What we found was the Franciscan convent San Antonio de Padua, and the second largest church atrium in the world. The two-acre arcaded quadrangle includes 75 arches and enough lawn to cover two football fields. Besides praying and chanting, I suppose the monks got pretty good at kicking field goals.

Merida Biking

Sunday Morning Bike Ride in Posh Mérida

From brown mustard to pastel wedding cakes, our next colonial stop was Mérida, once home to the greatest concentration of wealth in the world. Its affluence, evident in its soft-hued French-styled mansions, was due to its 19th century henequen industry and profitable production of rope and rigging.

Merida street with bus.jpg

Typical Mérida Street Scene

In the Spanish way, Mérida is centered on a square plaza, dominated by the church. From the central plaza, Mérida and the Yucatán’s other colonial cities followed a regular reticular pattern of square blocks and numbered streets. Like the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, the sprawling gridiron of Mérida’s historic center is one of the largest in the Americas.

Campeche Joe on wall

Patrolling Campeche’s City Wall

Before solving the entire puzzle, we concluded our trip across colonial Yucatán in the walled port city of Campeche. Here the fortifications were erected to protect the city from English and Dutch pirates and buccaneers including Francis Drake, Henry Morgan, and Cornelius Jol (aka “Pegleg”).

Campeche concert

Evening Concert in Parque Principal, Campeche

Even today the walls still safeguard the city center from the outside world. Regulations and restrictions have transfigured Campeche’s encircled center into an immaculate Disneyesque attraction. To find authentic street scenes with their ubiquitous stray dogs, pushcart vendors, cracked sidewalks, and genuine smiles we had to pass outside the walls, and back into the real Mexico.

Campeche girl selfie

Pastel Memories of the Real Mexico

The real Mexico is a complex and multi-faceted collection of images across a wide range of geographic regions. On our fun and interesting crossing of the colonial Yucatán Peninsula, from the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, we formed new pastel-colored impressions amidst a deep jungle of dark and incomprehensible green.

Final dog siesta

Street Dog Siesta

 

Featured Image: Palacio Municipal, Mérida

22 thoughts on “Crossing Colonial Yucatán

    • Hi Janann, Thanks for the comment. Es and I are very happy that you enjoy following our travels. We like that our family and friends can see where we are, and what we are doing. All the best to you and Wayne!

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    • Thank you, Sara. The light show on the city walls must have been quite a sight. We missed it, but really enjoyed walking the seaside promenade in the evenings. The sunsets and crescent moon were divine.

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    • Sue & Dave, We are humbled that our posts have provided some inspiration to you to consider a trip to Mexico. Conversely, your travels through southeast Asia have opened our eyes to the possibilities there. Happy travels!

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    • Me too, Marty. Now that we have visited a few regions of Mexico, the color schemes vary from place-to-place. The Yucatán is decidedly pastel, while other areas paint their buildings in more vibrant in-your-face colors. The colors really enhance the street scenes, and really help out this amateur photographer. – Joe

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  1. I have seen so little of Mexico that reading your blog is a real treat! Thanks for the photos and the descriptions…it all looks wonderful (except for the stray dogs, I admit I feel sorry for them.) But I am certainly understanding why you love this country so much!

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    • Hi Ann, Up until about a year ago, I too had seen very little of Mexico. I have always wanted to explore the country, but was a little intimidated by its poverty and criminal reputation. So far, we have been fortunate to stay out of trouble and have found some friendly, beautiful, and authentic areas. The stray dogs roaming the streets are a sad fact of life here. There is a serious lack of spay/neuter control. The people ignore them, and the dogs just multiply and go about their business.

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      • Honestly, I have been intimated by that as well, but it seems that being a visitor there is still okay. That’s why your blog helps, it spreads the word, I think. As for the dogs, Mexico is not the only country with that problem, but I am hopeful that there are groups starting to address the issue. Hopefully spay/neuter will become more popular there, and so will animal shelters to help them. We were in Cancun a few years ago, and I saw a stray dog that looked just like my Lucy. She looked directly at me, and we communicated for a minute or two. But then I had to turn away, as there was nothing I could do for her. It haunts me to this day.

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  2. Your pictures make me so anxious to get back to Mexico (soon)! I’m curious about how you’ve planned your itinerary this time since you don’t seem to be staying in one place for long. Have you found a good go-to source of info? And, have you rented a car, or are you traveling by bus, or? Thanks, as usual, for bringing us along!

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    • Hi Janis, Thank you for your interest, comment, and questions. I am very excited to hear about your upcoming travels, and hope Mexico is in your future plans. On this month-long Yucatán trip, we planned an independent tour of 3 to 5 days in six different locations, traveling entirely by public bus. We prefer the challenge and freedom of independent travel over group tours, and it saves us money and gets us closer to the local people. To plan our trips, we use typical on-line resources such as blogs like yours, local Facebook groups, Google Maps, Tripadvisor, and other area-specific websites. While at home, I also like to use our public library for regional guidebooks, and other books and novels about the area. For me, the more I know about a place beforehand, the more meaningful and rewarding the visit.

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  3. Once again I’m blown away by the amount of territory (physical, cultural and otherwise) your travel adventure is covering. Did you set out an “etched in stone” itinerary before you left or is some of this “on the go?”

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    • Thank you very much, Dina. I hope you have the chance to visit warm and sunny Mexico in the near future. We met many European visitors during our month in the Yucatán. I am sure that Norway is cold but also very beautiful this time of year. Joe

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