Upon arriving in the Yucatan, we decided to stay the night in a super tiny town of X-Calakoop (population 1200!), near the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.
The ruins are a 2 hour drive from Cancun and Tulum, so a lot of people visit them as a day trip but we figured this would be a good opportunity to see a small village and not be in the car all day. Plus one of our main goals on this journey is to push ourselves outside our comfort zones a bit.
Not just staying in westernized hotels or in trendy towns, but also staying in homestays to meet locals and experience real life in whatever area we’re in. So when I found this AirBnB that offered a little cottage off this family’s remote village home, I knew we had to stay there for the night.
Despite the stellar reviews online, we were both a little hesitant about what we would get. Would the family speak much English? Would it be clean? Would there be lots of bugs? Would we be safe in this village?
The moment we arrived, all concerns faded away and we looked at each other so happy we made this choice. Our host, Luis greeted us warmly with fresh juice and a big smile. He introduced us to his young son and told us in great English about his life. Along with his wife who owns a bakery in town (!!), they moved to X-Calakoop about 9 years prior from Cancun, for a quieter lifestyle and to have more space with a garden.
And what a garden they have! The property is laid out with trees of papaya, orange, avocado, tamarind; ginger root, spinach, every herb you could think of are growing throughout; and beautiful flowers are blooming in every direction. They also have a little chicken coop so they can have fresh eggs every morning. Luis proudly toured us around the garden, explaining each plant and what the best season was for each.
Our room for the evening was a little bungalow in the midst of their garden that they built for Luis’s mother-in-law who lived there for a short while. It was beautifully decorated, had air conditioning, a comfortable bed, and a nicely outfitted and very clean bathroom with hot water right nearby. Needless to say, especially for $36 a night, we were impressed!
That night we drove into the “larger” nearby town for dinner. Street food was the name of the game here. Brice bought some delicious handmade chicken tamales from an old lady on the corner for $1, while I got incredible vegetarian sopes from a little restaurant stand.
The next morning, Luis made us an amazing – and very plentiful! – breakfast of tangerine juice, yogurt and granola, fresh fruit, eggs with Mayan spinach, warm tortillas and great conversation.
After we stuffed ourselves, we were off on the 5-minute drive to the ruins. Unfortunately we were NOT impressed with Chichen Itza. We likened it to Disneyland the moment we arrived. Along with the swarms of people from the giant tour buses, we had to first stand in line to buy tickets for literally 45 minutes. That was not a great start.
After that, you walk past numerous people trying to sell you knickknacks or get you to pay for a private tour, then finally walk into a large field with the main pyramid. Sadly it was pretty underwhelming, especially by comparison to Teotihuacan which was a massive complex and despite the people, seemed untouched. At Chichen however, everywhere you looked were hordes of tourists and vendors selling anything and everything. It was expensive, crowded and felt like not much archaeology to see.
At least we had our fantastic homestay experience to make up for that!
Staying with Luis and his family? 110% recommend.
Visiting Chichen Itza? Pass.