We arrived in Merida at 7am after our night bus from Palenque. We were staying at the Yucatan Vista Inn, a small, seven bedroom guesthouse with spacious rooms and a pool in the garden. We hadn’t told them that we would be that early and were greeted at the door by a very grumpy English man. After he’d moaned a bit about check in time not being until 12pm and me asking him sarcastically whether he’d prefer us to wait on the street, he mellowed a little and allowed us to relax in the lounge. As it happened, the guest staying in our room was up and out by 8.30 and an hour later our room was ready. Shattered, we headed straight to bed to catch up on a few hours’ sleep.

Swimming pool at our hotel

That afternoon we headed into town to explore the central area. Merida is famous for its weekly celebrations held every weekend, where they close off the streets to traffic and have a bit of a knees up. We had dinner at a typically Mexican place where the food was cheap and the service fast. Plus they were playing a Shakira concert on the television so Rich was pleased although a little quiet throughout the meal.

Happy Richard

The next day and the Stefs arrived from Playa del Carmen. They had promised back in Antigua that they would meet us for Rich’s birthday and now here they were! They managed to get a room in the same hotel and that evening we took them back to the Mexican restaurant before heading onto to a nearby bar for a few drinks and some light entertainment from a guy on a Casio keyboard. Unfortunately, everyone was feeling a bit tired so we called it a night around 11pm with plans for birthday celebrations the following day.

The cathedral at night

Sunday was Rich’s birthday and after a long lie-in and some TV, we headed into the main square to check out the festivities. One side of the square was now covered in food stalls, selling all the local treats such as tamales, churros and many other delicacies that we hadn’t seen before. Meanwhile, on the other side, a comedienne was doing a routine and judging from the size of the crowd she was pretty well known. In the middle of the square were the usual stalls selling souvenirs, hammocks and traditional cotton dresses. We grabbed a table at one of the food stands and had a great lunch for pennies.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed another square where a band was playing and lots of people were dancing salsa. Most of them were older couples and it was very cute watching them getting into the swing of things, mostly in time to the music!

Back at the hotel and we were greeted by the Stefs with a huge birthday cake for Rich and a six pack of beers – thanks guys!!!

Birthday cake and beers

Later that evening we headed out to an Irish pub for a birthday meal of fish and chips. Well I don’t know what Irish pubs these guys have been to but it was the poshest Irish bar I’ve ever seen! The food was absolutely delicious though and the fish and the burgers came close to the best we’ve ever eaten. Still not quite as good as Tranquilo on Little Corn but amazing nonetheless.

Monday morning and we were off to be tourists. We’d booked ourselves on a tour to some nearby cenotes, underground pools in caves which you can swim in. There are tons of them around the Yucatan and today we were going to visit three of them.

It was an hour and a half ride before we reached our destination. Then it was out of the van and a quick change into our swimming gear before hopping onto our transport for the day – what can only be described as a train pulled by a horse. It was a bit of a bumpy ride but a nice change from sitting on a bus at least! Unfortunately, there was only one track so whenever we met someone coming the other way, one or other of us had to get off the train, manually lift the truck off the rails, let the other pass and then remount the truck back on the rails before continuing. Hmmm. Good design.

Our first cenote was a semi-open one, which you reached by climbing down a flight of stairs. Down below, there was a wooden platform and before us a pool of the clearest water which shimmered a deep blue colour in the cave. From the ceiling hung stalagmites as well as tree roots from the ground above. The water itself was not cold as expected but more like a swimming pool, it was absolutely beautiful. We spent twenty minutes exploring the cave before jumping out and back up to the surface to dry off and head on to our next cenote.

The cenotes

The second one was completely enclosed and you had to climb down a vertical ladder to reach it. Some of the older folk in our group stayed up top, it was a pretty steep climb down. Another stunning pool, this time a little colder due to the lack of sunlight but still not unpleasantly so. After this we were off to a final, semi-open cenote before the horses took us back to our start point. After a bite to eat it was back in the bus for our return to Merida. A very touristy but very enjoyable day and pretty cheap (about £20 each) to boot. Sometimes it’s just easier and cheaper to jump on a tour than trying to DIY it.

The cenotes

The cenotes

Unfortunately, girl Stef was ill so we opted for a dinner of takeaway Subway before packing our bags, ready for a bus to Tulum in the morning. The Stefs were off to Isla Mujeres but we hoped to meet up with them again in a few days’ time.