Celestun is a small quiet village on the northwest corner of the Yucatan peninsula. Walking around gives you the feeling of a virgin town, one where unlike Cancun or other resort towns throughout Mexico, the beach is undisturbed and starfish and whole shells can be found laying on the shore.
How to get there
Celestun is most easily reached by bus from Merida, the capital of Yucatan. Buses leave from the Northwest station. The two hour bus trip is short, pleasant, and inexpensive (about 70 pesos), with buses leaving Merida every hour until 10pm. If you’re staying in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, you can travel to Merida through the ADO bus station, take a cab once you’re in Merida to the Northwest station (or simply instruct the taxi driver to take you to the location where buses leave to Celestun), and proceed to Celestun from there. Buying the Merida bus ticket online and in 48 hours in advance will save you money and guarantee you a seat. The price will be around 220 pesos one way, compared to 480 pesos if purchased at the bus station.
Here is the link for the ADO website: http://www.ado.com.mx/ado/index.jsp
Where to stay
Once you get off the bus, there will be bici-taxis waiting to take you to the area where the hotels are. Hotel prices can range from 250 to 2000 pesos per night. There is no need to go for the most expensive option of which there are only two, most of the rooms in the town are of similar quality, and you won’t be planning to spend a lot of time in the room anyway. Don’t expect any five star hotels, the choices will be simple, with a clean bed and bathroom but not many amenities. You’re not there for the room, you’re there for the outside experience.
Where to eat
Celestun is known primarily for it wide variety of delicious seafood. Stone crabs, scallops, ceviche, and different kinds of fresh fish are some of the unique options on the menu. The scallops are best eaten raw (don’t ask for it grilled, it won’t be what you expect, it’s a different presentation that would be common in America or Europe, it looks like a piece of steak and it’s hard to eat), it’s an unusual flavor but fantastic. Los Pampanos is widely considered the best restaurant in the village, it’s the one that the locals recommend the most. You can enjoy the variety of flavors of the sea while sitting on the beach and looking out at the Caribbean. Another recommended restaurant is La Playita. Also facing the beach, travelers can enjoy huge portions and a fun cocktail selection. Don’t forget to ask for the homemade guacamole!
Things to do
The principal activity in Celestun is the flamingos tour. There will be multiple people who come up to you and offer you their tour package. It doesn’t matter which you choose, all of the tours are identical. Run by the same people, the only distinction is which promoter you talk to. The best time to take the tour is between 10 and 11am. You can grab breakfast at one of the local establishments, and head out to the boat directly after. There may be a short wait involved as the captain will try to fill the boat completely before taking off. Be advised that the boat will move fast and the temperature on the boat may be 10-15 degrees colder than on shore. Bring a jacket just in case, especially if traveling during winter months. Each tour will have 5-8 people on the boat. Once you get on the boat, after a 5 minute journey, the first place you will be taken to is a small cliff formation with hundreds of pelicans and herons sitting around, diving for fish, and loudly squawking with their giant beaks. The captain will take you up close to within a few meters of the birds, almost close enough to touch.
Following that, there will be another 15 minute ride until you reach the area with the flamingos. One of the first things you’ll notice is the color of the water, which is bright pink matching the skins of the majestic animals. This is due to roots of the mangrove trees growing underwater which give off the red pigment. This effect can only be seen in the winter. There are several groups of flamingos that you will driven around to. They travel in herds of a hundred or more at a time. Their beautiful color comes from their food, primarily shrimp.
Also you may see packs of wild dogs running on the beach. They look like jaguars, but they are not. Finally, after viewing these magical creatures, you will go to a mangrove forest situated on the water, and the boat will navigate through the wooden area with roots twisted and surrounding you from all sides. It’s an unreal world. When you exit the magroves, you will be greeted by a small cenote. You will exit the boat and take a short walk around, taking in the air and the environment. This cenote won’t be for swimming however. After completing the two hour tour, the boat will take you back to the beach and ready for lunch. The cost of the tour is 200 pesos and is a must for anyone visiting Celestun.
Other things you can do in Celestun is walk along the beach and collect shells. If you see a starfish don’t pick it up and disturb it from its natural environment. If you do take it, there is long process involved for cleaning and preserving the shell. You would have to ask one of the craftsman to help you with that for 200 pesos. This isn’t recommended because it kills the starfish, better to leave it there. At night, there is a pier at which you will have the opportunity to admire the stars and the peaceful water. If you still have energy at the end of your long day, there will be a local bar in front of the park playing reggaeton and other latin music. You can hang out with friendly locals, dance, and drink beer.
It’s only necessary to spend 2 days in Celestun to enjoy everything it has to offer. Backpackers can set up their tents on the beach, but be careful of the many dogs wandering around. The dogs are friendly though. The bus returning to Merida runs every hour as well. Good luck, relax, and enjoy your trip.