Tulum to Bacalar – through the Sian Ka'an National Park

(for the full post, click here)

The journey between the turquoise sea of Tulum, and the equally translucent waters of Laguna de Bacalar, has been a good one. A chance to ride off pavement again, which always brings a smile to my face, escaping the main highway that beelines towards the Belize border at Chetumal. And, a real find: perhaps the best camping spot of the trip so far…

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A ride of wild, windwept beaches along a rugged, empty coastline…

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Mined with wheel swallowing potholes…

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Multi modal transport: a short hop across a lagoon…

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A night being eaten alive by jungle mosquitos and being chomped on by leaf cutter ants…

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And perhaps the most sublime camping spot of the trip so far…

So, after I finally teared myself away from Playa Esperanza, I rode with Romain along the coast road to Punta Allen, in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, perched at the end of the Boca Paila peninsula. Of course, Mexico being Mexico, even a national park can't escape the greasy fingers of corruption. We couldn’t help but notice how much of this protected coast seemed to have been sold off to private investors; one large villa was even once the home of the notorious cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.

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Still, it was rugged and beautiful, and abounded with prime camping real estate. We stopped for a swim, spotting colourful fish amongst the coral and a massive sea ray hovering over the sea bed.

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After 60kms of intermitently paved and potholed track, we pulled into Punta Allen, a laidback settlement that didn't seem more than a collection of sandy streets, a line of fishing boats bobbing in the evening sun, and a few fish-themed eateries. Here’s Romain’s Surly Long Haul Trucker parked up next to Chaac, the Mayan god of rain. I'll probably be praying to him a fair bit in the ensuing wet season months...

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A short boat ride, at 50 pesos each, linked us with this track on the other side, heading bolt straight across the lagoon. The area abounds with fauna, including pumas, spider monkeys, anteaters and turtles. Although we didn't spot anything quite so dramatic, we did pass tiny terrapins who telescoped their heads in their shells, legions of giant blue crabs who defiantly waved their massive claws at us, dainty white tailed deer and some kind of massive, plump bird that waddled off into the mangroves.

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As the forest canopy closed in around us, the ground became increasingly greasy and slippery. Both of us took spills as front wheels washed out. No time to stop and nurse wounds though - the mosquitoes were out in full force.

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Then it was back on pavement from Felipe Carillo Puerto, where we gorged at the market, before pushing on to camp in the forest.

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Back on the road, I swapped out my locally bought mountain bike rubber for my locally bought slicks, thanks to this locally bought 'mini' track pump. It’s size belies its weight – this temperamental contraption sure is heavy.

I'd also planned to fit a new bottom bracket, long overdue for a change. Unfortunately, between buying a replacement in Playa del Carmen and finding a shop with the necessary tools, I managed to misplace it... So my current shonky, horribly wobbly one will have to last me until I track down somewhere in Guatemala. If anyone has a spare kicking around...

Bacalar, just 30kms from Belize, is a little gem of a spot that deserves a post of its own - a freshwater lagoon whose pale waters might have been piped straight out of the Carribean. And, as a bonus, lush grass in place of that all-infiltrating fine sand! Just where we camped, there were these mysterious looking fellows, reminding me of the alien eggs from the film 'Cocoon'. Stromatolites, according to Wikipedia, make up some of the most ancient records of life on Earth. From what I understand, they're a kind of algae bound by sedimentary grains.

3 thoughts on “Tulum to Bacalar – through the Sian Ka'an National Park

  1. Brett

    Stromatolites! I worked in Glacier National Park and these are exposed in the ancient sedimentary rock layers in places from 1.6 Billion years ago. Just an ancient algae, but some pretty cool looking bulbous rocks. Good luck with the bugs and ride on!

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  2. Mike

    We just did the leg from Punta Allen to Felipe Carrillo Puerto today and are nursing our wounds in town right now. A beautiful but brutal ride. Sections of the road were as slick as ice where even walking was a challenge and being chased by swarms of flies that reminded me of Tsetse flies was a test of mental fortitude. Good times.

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