We chose to stay in the small Mayan village of Santa Elena due to its close proximately to Uxmal, which we wanted to see in the morning before the tourist busses arrived. Upon arriving in the village we came across the same dusty roads and frenzied scene we had seen in the other villages. But here we got an added bonus. Music was blasting, firecrackers were being lit, and all the men were drinking large Sol beers in the streets. A hand-hoisted chariot was sitting on a platform decked out in dozens of balloons waiting to carry some people. We figured it perhaps was someone’s birthday. We later discovered it was their village’s annual celebration of the patron saint of their village and this was a celebration that goes back for centuries of generations. Later the beautiful women of the village would adorn in their traditional Mayan dresses and the men would carry them from one house to another across town. The men were drinking beer to give them strength and courage. I really wish we had stayed or come back to watch this rare sight but we didn’t want to be looky-loos gawking at their unique customs.
After driving though Santa Elena we came across an oasis in the middle of nowhere when stumbling across the Pickled Onion. It was truly a unique lodging experience. We stayed in a Mayan-styled adobe set amongst the ground’s beautiful gardens. Mayans prefer to sleep in hammocks, so the adobes here come complete with hammocks to stretch out inside the adobe. Wanting to get that true local experience, I gave it a try but lasted only a few minutes before transferring to the comfy bed. Although traditional in style, these adobes still had some nice modern amenities (beds, fridge, coffee maker), which were all welcomed.
We could hear the loud music and partying continuing all night down in the village. It was close enough that we could hear the music well but soft enough to still fall asleep to. The occasional firecracker didn’t really wake us after our long day. We later found out that there was also a wedding occurring that night but it must have been a more modern wedding because they stopped early. Early for them was 12:30. The owner of the Pickled Onion had explained this to me. So when I asked when they usually carry-on to, she explained it was usually until four or five in the morning. Well all right, Mayans of Santa Elena are my kind of people! We really should have tried to go party with them. Oh well, it gives a good excuse to perhaps one day go back.
We made it to Uxmal the next day refreshed and ready to roam around the ruins. We quite enjoyed Uxmal, more so than Chitzen Itza, in which we had visited about a week prior. We found significantly less tourists at Uxmal. Not a single annoying tout was to be found there (compared to the hundred who set up shop in Chitzen Itza). The ruins themselves were arguably more impressive. And perhaps best of all, you can actually climb on many of the ruins which is always fun.
We later went on to see the Kabah ruins and the Ruta Puuc, which were nice but somewhat underwhelming after having just visited the amazing Uxmal site. Kabah’s highlight was the wall of masks. From the Kabah ruins, it was onward to the beautiful walled city of Campeche.
Brittany Thiessen says
Thanks so much for those tips! That will be very helpful 🙂
Dave Wright says
Thanks, Brittany, for the question, and John for the answer… I’m hoping to make the same car rental trip from Merida to the Pickled Onion myself in the next 18 months or so.
Brittany, did you make the trip? What was you experience?
I am planning on renting a car while in Merida to visit the Puuc Route ruins (Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and Labna) and I will also be staying at The Pickled Onion! I have never driven in Mexico before… Do you have tips and advice? How is the drive from Merida to Santa Elena? Is there good signage? Did you feel safe driving there (I will be going as a solo female traveler)? Is it straightforward finding gas stations and getting gas in that area? What car rental agency did you rent from in Merida?
Sorry for all the questions! I hope you can help me out 🙂
John Widmer says
The Puuc route will be a nice trip and you’ll certainly have a good stay at the Pickled Onion! We took a very indirect route from Merida to Santa Elena (through Cuzama) on some rough roads. Signage was poor and I wouldn’t recommend going that way, particularly by yourself and/or without GPS. But going from Merida to Santa Elena using 261, you should be absolutely fine. Nice paved road that you stick to until you get to Santa Elena, pretty straightforward. I don’t recall exactly where the gas stations were but we never had any issues running out of gas or getting close to. You should be okay on that front.
My biggest tip would be simply to stay on the main roads. We saw what seemed like good routes on Google Maps, which turned out to be unpaved roads that were in very bad condition. Once we stuck to the main roads, driving in Mexico became so much easier. Also, beware of the topes (speedbumps) and be sure to go over them very slowly. Hope that helps!
Thanks for the great info on Uxmal. I want to visit there next year but was wondering if you could tell me … is it far to walk from Santa Elena to the site or is there a collectivo / taxi. Even in Lonely Planet there seems to be a lack of useful information about the area.
John Widmer says
I wouldn’t recommend walking, as Santa Elena is nearly 15 km from Uxmal. If you need transport, I’m nearly certain that there will a taxi of some sort or someone in Santa Elena or at least someone looking to make a few extra pesos that can run you up there and back, it just may cost ya. I’d imagine that wherever you’re staying can probably help you out with that and you may just want to send them a quick email to inquire directly to verify if someone can give you a lift to Uxmal. We had a rental car during our trip out there so am not too familiar with other transport options around there.