If you’re leaving from Valladolid and heading for the coast, or looking for the fastest way to Tulum from Merida (or vice versa), you will find yourself on the road of which we speak. The first time we drove this road four years ago, it was two narrow pot-holed lanes between kilometers and kilometers of jungle on both sides… and not much else.
Things have changed a bit.
Starting in Tulum, the road leaves from the corner where the San Francisco Assis grocery store is located. The signs point to Coba and Valladolid. At this end, they are starting to widen the road, so there is a nice wide road to start, some construction, and then it narrows for the rest of the way. The narrow road is not for the first-time driver in Mexico, perhaps, but if you are used to driving here, you should have no problems. The pot holes are mostly gone, but it is still narrow for most of the way, and cars do drive fast.
But don’t let that stop you, because there is much to discover on this road. One of the first things you will see is a cenote, (whose name escapes us at the moment), where swimming and scuba diving are available. Tour buses seem to stop here, so it must be good… and one day, we’ll find the time to go there and let you know all about it. (Feel free to comment if you’ve been there!)
Fairly soon after leaving Tulum, you will pass three small pueblos. In each pueblo are artisans who create handmade wooden furniture, replicas of Mayan ancient relics, figurative wooden sculptures, planters made from logs, masks and stone carvings. There are also fresh juice stands with everything from cocos frios (cold coconuts that they poke a whole in so you can drink the coconut water) to mandarina (tangerine) or naranja (orange) or whatever is in season. Don’t hesitate to stop at these little villages and sample their wares. The people are friendly and some of the crafts are quite exquisite.
For instance, in the middle village there is an older gentleman who has spent his life making exacting replicas of ancient Mayan sculptures. He has an extensive art book collection from which he creates his sculptures. He and his son sculpt from plaster, stone and clay and his creations are not cheap, but they are exquisite. And from what he says, his work is collected by people from around the world. I know of at least one of his works that resides on a shelf in a modern 33-floor high rise apartment in Las Vegas!
Continuing on the road towards the north, you will come to a glorieta (roundabout) where you can turn off to go to the Mayan ruin of Coba to the left. If you continue north (straight ahead or todo derecho, as they say here in Yucatan), you will come to the libre (free) road that parallels the carretera (toll road) from Cancun to Merida. Turn left here to go towards Valladolid.
On our last trip this way, we weren’t interested in going into the town of Valladolid. The town is well worth the trip, but we didn’t have time. Instead, we stopped at a restaurant called Restaurante Hacienda Ticuch. This restaurant has been built to look like an old hacienda, though it is new construction. The main building houses the kitchen, an indoor dining area and a gift shop. If the weather is nice, we suggest sitting outside under the palapa-covered tables. While you are waiting for your meal, take a stroll towards the back of the property along a well-maintained path where you will see a dozen or so peacocks strutting their stuff. At the end of the path is a capilla (chapel) dedicated to El Cristo de Las Ampules (the Christ of the Blisters). Its a lovely spot and a peaceful place to stop in the middle of this long drive.
The food was delicious too! Some of the best sopa de lima (lime soup) that any of us have ever tasted. We had fresh fish, arrachera and delicious homemade tortillas. The food was fresh and well prepared and we would go back again.
Just past the restaurant, turn right to follow the signs to Merida. At the next stop, follow the sign to Merida if you want to continue on the libre road, or go towards Tizimin if you want to get on the carretera here. If you neglected to eat at Hacienda Tucich, then stop at the halfway point on the carretera, and eat at one of the little restaurants. The tacos and tamales have always been delicious here. We prefer the restaurant with the big shiny capuccino machine. A cappucino for the road makes the rest of the drive back to Merida that much easier.