Every tourist guide I have consulted since beginning my Yucatan research, in preparation for my move here, recommends a trip to Celestun. The guides cite the boat excursions through the tidal estuary of the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve that afford views and photo opportunities of the vast flocks of flamingos; hundreds of other bird species; a swim in the clear, cool fresh water springs that bubble to the surface and drain into the estuary; a stop to view the “petrified forest” which, as I suspected, is not really petrified; and a ride through one of the sloughs that penetrate the dense mangrove forests that flank the estuary. The guides also encourage lunch in one of the town’s many seafood restaurants.
The tourist guides are right. Celestun is well worth a visit. The exhilarating boat ride, bouncing through the Gulf waters to the Southern end of the peninsula upon which the town of Celestun resides and which separates the Gulf from the estuary, is itself worth the trip.
Being a freelance tourist who avoids guided tours, I opted for a “servicio intermedio” (second class) bus to Celestun. The bus traveled through the towns of Hunucma, Kinchil, and a number of smaller communities which afforded views of traditional Mayan homes and other interesting local sites. The bus stopped frequently along the way, during the two hour trip, to take on and discharge passengers.
As I descended the bus steps upon our arrival in Celestun, I was immediately approached by a fellow who identified himself as Hector Marine, who, I discovered as he addressed the five tourists from the bus, speaks, at least, Spanish, English and Italian. Hector asked us each, an Italian couple, an Asian couple, and me, if we were there for a boat excursion. While Hector showed the Asian couple to their hotel I walked the one block to the beach to wait for Hector’s return.
Shortly, I joined a very nice French family of five in wading through the light surf to board a boat piloted by Pedro, our “muy amable” young barcodero who was entirely competent in identifying the various species of flora and fauna and explaining the sights. I discovered there are also tour boats which leave from the estuary side of the peninsula, but I understand they cost more, the tour is about an hour less in duration, and the trip does not include a high speed dash down the Gulf coast to access the estuary. Besides, in keeping with my freelance predilections, I’d rather deal with the independent Gulf side operators.
There are indeed large flocks of pink flamingos, which are pink due to their beta-carotene rich diet; lots of gray and white pelicans; cormorants everywhere; vultures circling overhead; egrets; and many other species of birds. The French family took a swim in the beautiful fresh water spring, which is essentially a cenote nestled in the mangrove forest and which drains into the estuary. Pedro piloted the boat, fairly rapidly, through a slough that weaves through the mangroves and in which during the night one may see crocodiles. And Pedro landed the boat for the short walk to the “petrified forest”, which is actually, what along the Washington coast of the USA is referred to as, a “ghost forest.” The land, according to Pedro, subsided 80 to 100 years ago during a seismic event, thus allowing the intrusion of seawater which killed the trees, the ghosts of which remain standing.
After the boat excursion, I eschewed the tourist oriented, beach side restaurants and settled into the Nicte-Ha restaurant one block back from the beach. The beers were $6 pesos cheaper than at beach side; and, though I didn’t compare lunch prices, I suspect that my lunch of lightly fried fish filets, tomatoes and onions in vinegar, rice, and a stack of 15 corn tortillas was also less expensive. The other attractions lacking, I suspect, in the beach side restaurants are waiters who go about their duties holding a baby and the chatter of seven, or so, grandchildren of the proprietors sitting in a corner watching TV.
The entire trip, including el barcodero Pedro’s $50 peso tip was less than $40. U. S. It was another great day in the Yucatan.
I am writing a longer, more detailed travel report I will post when completed, but for now I wanted to get some pictures posted.