As we were studying Spanish during the week throughout our stay in Merida, we only had two full days on the weekend to venture outside of town to visit some of the sights surrounding the Yucatan capital. When deciding what to do we ended up shortlisting a cenote day trip (something we had really been looking forward to) and another day trip to a place called Celestún – famous for its pink flamingos!
In what turned out to be a superb safari-esque day, we not only saw hundreds of pink flamingos in their natural habitat but also hundreds of pelicans, ducks, some iguanas, a couple of crocodiles lurking in the water and many other birds! Turns out Celestún is home to Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celestún, a large coastal wetland reserve and wildlife refuge right in the heart of the Yucatan region.
On our visit we got to experience a boat ride amongst the mangroves along with a little adventure into the forest surrounding the mangroves – plus swim in a freshwater swimming hole located inside the mangroves. It was a pretty special moment when the sun came out and the water turned an amazing shade of turquoise, bouncing back the reflection of the trees and plants surrounding the water.
The water in the freshwater swimming hole was beautiful but actually quite salty. We forgot to buy snorkels which made it hard to see but it was still amazing to float in the water, look up at the canopy of trees above and realise we were swimming in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary in Mexico. #holidaymoment. We only found out later that there was a 3 metre crocodile around the corner on the other side of a wooden bridge!
On the way back we saw more flamingos and pelicans and they truly are fascinating! The flamingos are a bright shade of coral pink and are so elegant when they fly, glide and land in the water with the rest of their flock. Turns out that flamingos mate for life explaining why many of them fly in perfect unison in pairs. So romantic! But in a bittersweet way, Flamingos are the Shakespearean tragedy of animals – if one dies the mate stops eating until they die too. #soromeoandjuliet
Afterwards we stopped by the little beachside town of Celestún for lunch. For all the ice cream lovers out there, take note: there is this little ice cream / corner shop in Celestún that sells freshly homemade, natural coconut ice cream in a coconut shell… delicious! You can really taste the coconut and eating out of a coconut shell is, well, quite the awesome experience.
Overall, our favourite part of the day was the visit to the biosphere reserve. In hindsight, it would have been more interesting to make our own way there and easy enough via bus or collectivo (shared van taxis). Our day trip cost us $695 MXN each, which mostly covered the private shuttle that picked us up and drove us there and back. Doing it on our own would’ve been a fraction of that (only $50 MXN for a second class bus ticket)!
We must admit though, the 1-2 hour siesta in the back seat of the air-conditioned shuttle bus on the way home was pretty darn good. And stepping off the bus at the end of the day onto the front step of our hostel was even better :)
Freshwater swimming hole amongst mangroves vs. underground cenote inside a cave? I like fresh air and sunshine, so it would have to be the freshwater swimming hole. Unless the cenote happens to have a huge opening letting the sunshine and fresh air through. In that case I would pick the cenote!
If you could only pack one thing for this day trip, what it be? The Action Cam (underwater camera). Wait, no… my snorkel. Top tip we’ve learned along the way – whenever there’s water involved… BRING YOUR SNORKEL, so many amazing things to see in these crystal clear Caribbean waters!
Freshwater swimming hole amongst mangroves vs. underground cenote inside a cave?
It would have to be a cenote, such a unique experience. The underground water is that little bit more refreshing than the warm waters of the Caribbean. The only thing it is missing is a swim-up bar…
If you could only pack one thing for this day trip, what it be?
A camera, there is so much beautiful wildlife here. Amazing colours and unique animals make for some great photos!