Cruise Critic Visits Progreso. Tours with Lawson's!

Chris from the website Cruise Critic, affiliated with TripAdvisor, visited Progreso and we had the pleasure of showing her our Mayapan and hidden cenote excursion. Here's the write up.

I just returned from about seven hours spent with William Lawson and his Lawsons Original Yucatan tours. Even though there are no ships in Progreso today, I asked him to give me as close an experience as I could get. I chose the company because it seemed that many people on this board were curious about him, and what he had to offer.

A caveat about this company: They specialize in private, small group tours. They don’t believe in mixing strangers together, although Ralf (the owner, originally from Canada) says that he does get groups who came together from CC roll calls. This is the company to call if you have a specialized interest, want to go somewhere off the beaten path or want to make sure you can do things at your own pace. He uses air-conditioned vans that seat a dozen to 16 people, although he can get a larger bus if the group is big enough.

I love swimming in cenotes, and know that Yucatan has some of the best. So Ralf suggested that I take his Mayapan and Cenote tour that caters to cruise tourists. It gives you a little bit of everything, and still gets you back to the ship by 2:30.

Mayapan is not as grand as Chichen Itza or Uxmal. What it is, however, is unspoiled. You won’t find vendors or crowds, and you could even have the site to yourself. While I was underwhelmed with the lack of stelae or details that you see at some sites (apparently hacienda owners and thieves carted off the more intricate stones), I did appreciate the peacefulness. You can still see pottery shards on the ground.

What’s also great about Mayapan is that you can climb the 90-foot main pyramid, if you aren’t afraid of heights (there is no railing and some of the rocks are uneven, so I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re the nervous type). I’m not the fittest chick in the world, but I didn’t have problems climbing at all. The view from the top gives you a good look at the surrounding jungle. Ralf had a driver with us who is Mayan in ancestry, and we had an interesting discussion about the Mayan calendar and hoopla surrounding last year’s alleged “end of the world.” On my visit, it was cloudy; normally, you’ll want to pack plenty of sunscreen and a hat as there’s no shade at all. Some bug spray would be also be appropriate.

After checking out Mayapan, we drove a short distance to the tiny town of Pixyah. A crowd of children greeted our van, most of them speaking Mayan (which you don’t see in Merida; most people in Yucatan’s cities speak Spanish, at least in public). We visited a small grocery store, where Ralf picked up a bag of sweet and savory pastries known as hojaldra. I found them addictive.

From the town, we followed a local guide down an unmarked road (bumpy but not obnoxiously so) to what Ralf calls the “hidden cenote.” I promised that I wouldn’t tell anyone exactly where it was, as tour guides have been known to poach other peoples’ routes. Suffice it to say that you’re pretty deep in the woods by the time you get there.

The cenote itself looked in great shape. On my visit, the skies were gray because of Hurricane Ingrid, but when the sun is shining, the light makes the cenote water turn blue. You take some steep wooden steps down to a platform, where you can leave your clothes and towel for a swim. If you aren’t a strong swimmer, Ralf provides life vests, as the water gets deep pretty quickly (I didn’t have any problems). I spent about 30 minutes happily paddling around the clear water, which had a temperature of 75 degrees or so. It felt good on a cloudy day; on a typical steamy Yucatan afternoon, it would feel like bliss.

Some logistics: I wore a swimsuit under my clothes and closed toe water shoes around Mayapan (which does have a modern, clean bathroom). After the cenote dip, I changed into my underwear in the van; Ralf and the driver stayed a respectable distance away (and the windows were tinted dark). Towels were provided, as were drinks and some snacks.

If there’s time before the ship leaves, Ralf will take visitors to a second cenote. I had wanted to do part of his “taste of Merida” tour instead (I’ll write that up in a separate post). He’s very open about tailoring the tour to your group’s needs, and welcomes suggestions. In short, if you’re the type of cruise passenger who really wants to experience something different in Yucatan and have an adventurous streak, this tour would be a great choice.
Chris Gray Faust
Destinations Editor, Cruise Critic