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Senior Correspondent

For many years I have loved visiting and traveling in Mexico. Sadly, some of the places I have visited are now unsafe, and generally driving through much of Mexico is risky. The good news is that there are parts of Mexico that are as safe as Kansas: the west coast, the Yucatan Peninsula and most of Baja California, for example. Last week I traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula. I wanted to experience a place that tourists didn’t frequent. I love the Mexican culture with all its beauty, art, dance, gaiety, quirks and weirdness, not to mention the food and gorgeous beaches.

Luckily, my writing pal, Sonja Lillvik, lives part of the year in the perfect place to soak up Mexican culture and enjoy the beach. So off I flew to Cancun, where from the airport I was immediately whisked away by Sonja’s assistant, Miguel and driven to one of her two guesthouses. You might have to take the bus. For those of you unfamiliar with Mexican buses, they are the preferred means of transportation within Mexico. They are modern, clean and comfortable.

The first of Sonja’s guesthouses that I visited, The Painted Fish, where she lives, is in a small town about a two to three hour drive (depending on traffic and road conditions) from the Cancun Airport. The town, Carrillo Puerto, is in the State of Quintana Roo (the next state southeast of Yucatan, but still on the peninsula), and is a delightful mix of true Mexican and Mayan culture and a few American expats. Although the town is small, it is big enough to have some outstanding restaurants serving real Mexican food with a Mayan influence and an emphasis on seafood at prices we haven’t seen in the United States since the ‘70s.

The Painted Fish has an apartment and a few rooms, the number depending on Sonja’s mood and ambition, but if you make a reservation, she will make sure one is available for you. The rooms are clean and lovingly decorated and at a price that puts Motel 6 to shame. The grounds are beautiful and include banana trees that actually grow bananas, as well as orange and avocado trees and habanero pepper plants. There are always flowers in bloom and a swimming pool. It is a short walk to the town central plaza, where there is always something going on, and Sonja usually seems to be throwing a party for someone at her place. I enjoyed three peaceful days and quite a few wonderful meals.

If you are interested in boning up on your Spanish (or learning Mayan), there is an excellent language school in Carrillo Puerto, Na’atik, SC, run by Catherine Gray and her husband. Individual tutoring and classes are available. Catherine can be reached by email, naatik@yahoo.com and by Mexican cell phone, (52) 983-700-7248.

Quintana Roo is Mayan country, and the Mayan cultural influence abounds, including a number of spectacular ruins within easy driving distance. Tours are available. There is also a chocolate museum that we visited, learned how chocolate is made and tasted various forms.

The weather in this part of Mexico is subtropical, the landscape appearing much like jungle in most places with lots of flowers, wildlife and birds. The most pleasant season is winter and early spring, when it is divine — temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s during most days and plenty of sun.

Sonja’s other guest house, Cuzan, where I spent another three days, is right on the Caribbean sand, steps from the water in a small fishing village called Punta Allen (about two hours from the Cancun Airport, accessible by bus).

Cuzan has its own restaurant and bar and a dozen or so rooms, including several freestanding thatch huts, but with modern conveniences. Cuzan provides guided fishing trips, and many of its guests are groups and individual anglers. Ocean fly fishing is the most popular. Other guests are just intrepid travelers (like me), birders or snorkelers. Prices for food and lodging are extremely reasonable, and I found the food (lots of fresh fish) simple, but excellent. The town of Punta Allen is quaint and makes for interesting walks. And don’t worry, there is a Canadian that runs an outdoor coffee café with great lattes, cappuccinos and just plain coffee. Of course, for those like myself who don’t fish, the main attraction is the warm waters of the Caribbean with those sparkling colors from aqua to turquoise to deep blue, miles of shore to stroll along, lots of birds and stunning sunrises. I read, contemplated life and walked for miles.

For more information on Sonja’s guesthouse in Punta Allen the, Cuzan Guest House:



For the guest house in Carillo Puerto, The Painted Fish:



On the way back to the airport about three miles outside of Punta Allen we stopped to visit Anna, a friend of Sonja’s who runs a retreat center for artists and other groups who prefer being out in the country instead of in town, but still fronting on the Caribbean. It is a Sian Ka’an Unesco Reserve. Anna is an artist who has decorated her guesthouse beautifully, and there are rooms for making art, meditating and meeting, as well as sleeping rooms. She calls it Xo Ki’in, and she can be reached for reservations by email, xokiin@yahoo.com or by phone, 512-772-1747. Learn more on her website, www.annawoods.com.

I highly recommend both of these towns and Sonja’s guesthouses for an authentic and relaxing Mexican experience.

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