A short trip west of the beaches of Cancun, and miles from cosmopolitan Mexico City, the quiet interior Yucatan region is easy to overlook. But during a recent visit hosted by Journey Mexico, I learned that for sophisticated clients seeking to explore and to be inspired, the interior is a playground for discovery.
Journey Mexico is known for creative, luxury and off-the-beaten-path adventures. With often unparalleled access and connections, the tour operator ensures that clients experience exclusivity, discretion and lots of “wow” moments. And this trip was no exception; it hit all the high notes.
I arrived at Merida International Airport and was greeted with smiles and hugs from the Journey Mexico team. They whisked away my bags as we stepped into the warm and balmy jungle climate. But before anyone from our group could break a sweat, chilled towels and bottled water were offered to each guest. We boarded the waiting, air-conditioned Sprinter van, and we were on our way to Chochola, the heart of hacienda country and home to the award-winning Chable Yucatan.
The road from Merida to Chochola winds through jungle and vast expanses of brush hiding spiky sisal agave, the plant that has come to characterize the Yucatan. Along the way, our expert guide and driver shared informative and often colorful accounts of the region’s history, culture and lore. Curious questions were answered with thorough responses, punctuated with occasional jokes and lots of laughter.
After we freshened up at the fabulous Chable, our expert guide acquainted us with the history and geography of Mexico and the Yucatan state.
He then explained our detailed itinerary, which would lead us on a journey from ancient ruins to cenote caves.
In true Journey Mexico form, our first excursion took us to one of the most spectacular landmarks in the area — which clients have probably never heard of. Equally as impressive as some of its neighbors, the ancient Maya city of Uxmal is quiet and offers a more exclusive experience that is truly enjoyable for families and crowd-averse travelers. Clients are encouraged to climb to the top of the Great Pyramid for a bird’s-eye view of the extensive city.
For those with small children, Journey Mexico can arrange for a scavenger hunt in the ruins that weaves the activity with stories of elusive aluxes, the mischievous mythological spirits that roamed the ancient Maya world.
After visiting Uxmal, clients can stop in the colonial city of Merida for lunch and to explore. Journey Mexico’s guides were quick to share anecdotes about the families who made Merida famous. Once an important trading hub, the destination makes travelers feel like they are stepping back in time: Dramatic buildings line cobblestone streets, while the spectacular Homeland Monument sits at the end of Paseo de Montejo, the Champs-Elysees of the Yucatan. The city center is bustling, especially late into the evening, when families, friends and young lovers enjoy games of checkers and fruity, sweet paletas (ice pops) while the sound of live music drifts through the air.
Leaving Merida behind, we traveled on to Chichen Itza. The next morning, during an off-hours, private visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Journey Mexico arranged for our group to watch the sun rise over El Castillo (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan). In the company of an expert guide, and removed from the chaos of tour buses and vendors, I found the bucket-list visit enjoyable and relaxed — and I believe it’s the best way for luxury clients to comfortably experience the area.
A visit to Mexico would be incomplete without enjoying unique dining, and Yucatecan cuisine is complex and delicious. The region has an abundance of local farms, and the produce from the communities has a rich gastronomic heritage. Different foods and styles are often accompanied by legends and stories relating back to the region’s ancient heritage.
One of the most exceptional dining experiences was a farm-to-table lunch in a clearing overlooking a cenote. The exclusive experience began with a swim through an underground river that opened into the large cenote. Some from the group wore masks and snorkels, observing small fish below and nocturnal bats above.
Lunch was prepared in a quaint food truck by an up-and-coming chef who cut her teeth at one of the finest restaurants in Barcelona, Spain, but moved home to master and modernize local Maya cuisine. The meal was served at a beautifully appointed table decorated with local flowers and festive menus that outlined a meal suitable for every diet and restriction.
The Yucatan is an extremely diverse and culturally rich destination, offering ancient ruins, rainforests, underwater caves, traditional haciendas, colonial cities and natural wonders that will satisfy even the most seasoned travelers. With the help of the experts at Journey Mexico, luxury clients can experience an authentic, unpretentious and culturally mesmerizing side of Mexico accessible to very few.