Winters in Vancouver are notoriously gray and rainy, resulting in a condition that motorcyclists tend to call PMS: Parked Motorcycle Syndrome. This past winter was a typically wet one, and by the end of the season I was itching to ride. So when the opportunity for a Mexican motorcycle trip presented itself, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity.
My boyfriend and I began our trip in Cancun on the Caribbean Sea, a notably clean and modern tourist central with a plethora of resorts, shopping centers and restaurants. For many Canadians in need of a tropical winter vacation, they look no further than the mega all-inclusive resorts of Cancun. We weren’t there to lounge poolside though; we were there to explore.
Renting the Bikes
The process of finding motorcycles to rent was a lot more challenging than I anticipated. Scooter rentals are accessible, and there are Harley Davidson rentals in nearby Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, but the only adventure bikes that seem to be available to rent in all of the Cancun area are from Mexico Motorcycle Adventures. The company is based out of Mexico City, but they are currently expanding their operations to the Mayan Riviera.
We chose a pair of BMWs for our rentals, the F700 GS and R1200 GS, and travelled to nearby Puerto Morelos to pick them up. Puerto Morelos is a town about an hour south of Cancun, midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Our laid-back, bilingual local contact, Oscar, was helpful throughout the rental process. The experience was generally smooth, although finding the rental “office”—a nondescript house on an unmarked street—proved to be a challenge.
First Impressions on the Road
We departed Puerto Morelos and ventured south down the coast into the Mayan Riviera towards our first destination: Tulum. We were disappointed by the lack of views from the highway. Despite being so close to the sea, massive resorts blocked the ocean views for the majority of the ride. On the positive, the highway was well-marked and well-paved and the traffic moved swiftly, except entering Playa del Carmen’s centre and passing through the occasional police checkpoint station. To my relief, we weren’t stopped at all throughout the trip and we were impressed by the courtesy we encountered, both on the road and during our stops.
Gas stations offer full service for both air and fuel, and most of them accept credit card payments, although we had some difficulties paying by card on a couple of separate occasions. It doesn’t hurt to carry some US cash or Mexican pesos for situations like that, and also because many small businesses are cash-only.
Tulum and Boca Paila
In Tulum we stayed at an eco hostel owned by a robust Mexican woman who warmly welcomed us like children coming home for the holidays. She provided our motorcycles with secure, gated parking, complete with a peppy guard dog. And judging by the dusty paw prints on the bikes’ seats the next morning, it seemed her two cats were also keeping a keen eye on the vehicles.
In Tulum we visited the famous Tulum ruins, an ancient Mayan city set against the resplendent Caribbean coastline. Although the ruins themselves were quite small compared to other Mayan ruins in Central America, the turquoise beaches flanking the site were a unique feature that I hadn’t seen elsewhere in my travels.
On Oscar’s recommendation, we escaped the tourist zone by riding south along an unpaved road towards Punta Allen. After about half an hour of riding along the dirt road, we passed Boca Paila and reached a bridge over a lagoon where we were finally rewarded with a stunning ocean view and the company of a local fisherman. The clear water below beckoned us for a swim, and we probably would have too, if it wasn’t for the threat of crocodiles nearby.
From Tulum, we ventured westwards into the Yucatan to Valladolid, a small charming city with both Mayan and Spanish colonial influences. The highway from Tulum to Valladolid was smooth and straight, with endless greenery along the way, making for a relaxing ride. It’s worth noting that although Valladolid is just 100km from Tulum, they operate on a different time zone, one hour ahead.
The final item on our tourist checklist was the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, which was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Of course any place that has such a designation attracts the tourists by droves, so we left for Chichen Itza very early the next morning to get there before it became too packed. Even at the early hour, however, the tourists were lined up to enter the site. We were happy to discover that the site offered a complimentary baggage room where we gratefully left our helmets and riding gear.
Almost immediately after entering the site, we encountered the famous Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo. Towering nearly 100 feet high, the dazzling pyramid consists of four sides of 91 steps plus the temple platform, totalling 365 steps—one for each day of the Mayan calendar.
Another point of interest was the Sacred Cenote, a giant pit filled with murky green groundwater, which the Mayans allegedly used for ceremonies and human sacrifices to their water god. By the time we left the ruins, the sun was in full force, as were the aggressive souvenir vendors that lined the site’s walking paths. As anticipated, the parking lot was crammed with tour buses and we departed on our bikes with a renewed appreciation of our two-wheeled freedom.
Delicious (and Dangerous) Mexican Food
Back in Valladolid, we sampled some of the region’s fine Mayan cuisine, including the Yucatan’s renowned Cochinita pibil, a slow-cooked pork dish marinated in sour orange juice and wrapped in banana leaf. I also attempted to eat a habanero pepper where I learned that “muy picante” (very spicy) is a warning that gringos should take very seriously.
And of course no trip to Mexico is complete without eating tacos, so the next morning we started the day with a roadside taco breakfast before venturing back to Cancun to complete our final leg of the journey. We relished in the warm and sunny climate and savoured the medley of colours in preparation of our return to rainy, gray Vancouver.
We have been frequently asked about the safety aspect of riding in Mexico. While I can only speak from my own experience, I found the safety to be on par with what I have experienced in any major North American city. City riding comes with its typical hazards: drivers who don’t signal, potholes, weaving scooters and bicycles, aggressive taxi drivers and unleashed dogs.
The most perilous aspect of the journey was probably the partial consumption of the spicy habanero pepper. Lucky for me, I came out unscathed.
Overall, for Canadians going a little stir crazy over the winter months, a motorcycle trip within the Yucatan Peninsula is a great option to fill the riding void while escaping the cold. And for those really looking to turn up the heat, a couple of habaneros will certainly do the trick.