One of our first travel fails happened during a full day of travel from one side of the Yucatan peninsula to the other, from Celestun to Tulum. We had a rental car in Celestun that we needed to return to Merida. We had scheduled it perfectly to get to Merida at 11:30, allowing us time to each lunch, walk to the bus station and buy our tickets before boarding at 1:00, getting us to Tulum in time for dinner. But when we reached the Merida bus station, we learned that tickets for the 1:00 bus were sold out. So the next bus would not leave for another 5 hours later, at 6:00 pm, putting us into Tulum at 10:00 pm. We had all of our luggage with us, no hotel, with 5 hours to kill. But we made the most of our extra time in Merida by dropping off our dirty laundry to get washed and using the wifi in Plaza Grande to catch up on some things.
Since January is high season here, hotels were booking up quickly and we did not want to arrive to Tulum without reservation. Up until this point, we had done extremely well finding very reasonable accommodation, sometimes booking in advance and sometimes just showing up. Tulum seemed to be filling up so we booked the room online, paid for it, and received confirmation. However, when we were waiting in Merida, I received an email from the owner of the place informing me that the room was somehow just booked in-person by someone else and he wouldn’t be able to accommodate us. What?! We had a reservation and had paid! How does that happen? So I sent him a bit of a nasty-gram, asked for a refund, and quickly booked the next decent hotel I was able to find online.
So we’re getting into Tulum late. No big deal. Our confirmed room reservation fell through on us, but now we have a different hotel instead. Fine. So shortly after arriving, we located our hotel and went to check-in. But nobody was at the reception. The gate was locked and there was a sign instructing to ring the buzzer. We rang. It was loud. No one came. We rang dozens more times. Nothing. Finally some hotel guests began waking up and coming out of their rooms to offer assistance, but could find no staff members anywhere. We sat outside the gates of the small hotel for a good hour hoping someone would be arriving soon, but no such luck.
So there we were, having not one, but two separate paid reservations in Tulum, yet neither one could actually accommodate us. You have got to be kidding me! So we walked around from hotel to hotel. All were either booked or had no staff on duty during the late hour. It was now approaching midnight and we had no place to stay. We were completed stranded and homeless in Tulum, Mexico.
Finally I decided to go to the original place that we had booked a room to see if anyone was around there, and demand to give us the room we had paid for. Thankfully someone was there and after receiving my email they had moved some people around in order to host us after all. Thanks (sarcasm). After this nerve-wreaking long travel day, we needed a few drinks to unwind and found the best mojito ever at Batey’s, which did the trick.
We thought it was all over, but when we got up the next morning and begun getting dressed we found this little guy crawling around the floor. I hightailed it out of there and found a nearby hotel room with availability. Time to move!
There is one silver lining to our little travel ordeal. Because we used an online booking service (hotels.com) to book the hotel room who had totally abandoned us, I was able to submit a complaint with them that not only got me a full refund but also a $100 credit to use on a future hotel booking. So after all our trouble, we were actually up $100. Not bad. This is a great reason to use a booking company when possible instead of booking directly with a hotel.
Hello John and Heather,
Sorry to hear that you have experienced such troubles. But this is what it makes it real… I guess 🙂
Do you recommend visiting Merida for a day? From your blog and from the photos I’ve seen online it looks very breathtaking. However, my girlfriend and I are staying in Akumal (it will be our first time in Mexico) and to Merida it is more than 4 hours’ drive in one direction. Do you know some bus connection and how much it would cost more or less using public transportation? We are definitely visiting Chichén Itzá during our stay in Mexico, but we are not sure whether to do this as an organized trip from our tour guide or as a DIY. I guess it is impossible to visit both places in a day and then go back to Akumal, right? Could you as well recommend some other places and things to do near Akumal rather than Playa del Carmen and Tulum (those we are definitely visiting)?
I am really looking forward to your answer.
Greetings from Germany,
Mladen + Katrin
John Widmer says
Hi Mladen – Yes, that’s all part of the fun of travel and gave us a story to tell. As for your question…
I would NOT recommend a visit to Merida from Akumal in a single day. It is too far and too much travel time for a day there. If you want to see a nice colonial city, I would instead recommend Valladolid which is much closer (somewhat near Chichen Itza). You could easily visit Valladolid and Chichen Itza in a single day. To do so, I would suggest to either rent a car for the day or to take a tour that visits those locations. For example, this tour visits Valladolid, the ruins, and a cent in the same day:
As for other recommendations, I would strongly suggest Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to see a beautiful natural side of the region where you can take a boat and even float down an ancient Mayan canal. You can find complete instructions how to get there, here:
Another suggestion is to visit the nearby Coba ruins. They are much less visited compared to Chichen Itza yet it’s a fairly sizable site! You can rent bikes there to ride around the shaded trails and see it all. And it’s one of the very few ruins in the area in which you can actually climb up an ancient Mayan pyramid.
Hope that helps and you have a wonderful trip to Mexico! 🙂