80 kilometers south of Mérida with great bus links, Santa Elena is the perfect place for bike excursions. Unique room rentals plus good eats are all here.
Piping hot tortillas fresh from local corn are produced across from the church.
This noisy contraption efficiently removes corn from the cob in seconds.
This unique little out of the tourist loop frontier town abounds in photo opts. Many interesting and unusual sights besides the many Mayan ruins untouched by the conquistadors are here plus it is a bird watchers paradise.
The town is small, very rural and just far enough away from Mérida to not have any chain stores. The above palapa home is also a convenience store
This is a look inside the palapa convenience store where the staples of life are found. Something to eat, something to drink and even smokes are available here where there is a conspicuous lack of motor noises.
The kids ride their little bicycle triple loaded on the quiet streets of Santa Elena where time seems to have passed the place by and much of the housing is still as it was several thousands of years ago.
Hustle and bustle have not arrived here in Santa Elena where nature and human habitat commingle. Other than electric service, these traditional Mayan homes are totally constructed from local materials available in the surrounding jungle.
The Maya held many secrets of survival here in this semi arid nearly soil-less rocky terrain where they managed to flourish.
In the 1860’s Germans established a colony here, Villa Carlota. They were merely cannon fodder in the protracted Caste War and a buffer against the Maya. Even with their strong work ethic and savvy European agricultural knowledge they failed.
Amazingly the Mayan temples south and east of here plus Uxmal all escaped the plunder of the Spanish conquistadors.
Little Santa Elena has a couple of cantinas where the Yucatecan tradition of beer and botanas is a favorite. Note; none of the clients arrived by automobile…only bicycles.
Perched upon the most prominent point in town, the substantial church was constructed from a Mayan temple with construction starting in the 16th century with the Indian chapel and the completion of the church in 1779…recycling dates back centuries here.
Peering down from the church steps also built from the Mayan temple materials you can see the Mérida-Campeche bus in the city center loading passengers.
Viewed from the choir loft, the magnitude of this structure becomes apparent.
(View our other Santa Elena stories for more information on the interesting history this area abounds in.) Also recommended reading is; Mayan Missions by Richard and Rosalind Perry.
Two kilometers from the city center, the Santa Elena church presents a stunning vista. Note the conspicuous lack of traffic as Jane stands on the Uxmal road.
This is the heart of town, note the cleanliness. Bus patrons wait in the shade.
South of town the Sacbe Bungalows commingles with nature and is our destination.
Annette and Edgar are the owners, operators and managers of the most ecologically friendly accommodations to be found in Yucatán, Sacbe Bungalows. With over twenty years of dedicated involvement in keeping a balance of nature alive and well,, they have established a harmony with nature.
From their solar heated water system to the extensive collection of well marked and labeled trees, shrubs and a cactus garden the serenity is so complete it makes you want to whisper.
This place is not only bicycle friendly, it happens to be the perfect jumping off place for bike tours to Uxmal, Ticul, the Mayan ruins of Labáh, Sayil, Labná, Loltún and on to the Ruta Puuc hills with more Mayan ruins than you could visit in a season. The roads of the Puuc region are mostly quiet and well paved.
The place is meticulously clean and perfectly maintained. It has a peaceful natural ambiance where bird watching is tops.
When you feel the need to find a quiet place to escape to, this is your place.
As this planet becomes further overrun with the push and shove of hurried humanity places like Bungalows Sacbe become even more of a rare treasure.
French, English and Spanish are spoken here.
A December day finds Jane out examining one of the cactus gardens adjacent to the pool. This is the dry season and there is little or no rain for six months.
Viewed from our patio porch at our bungalow the view is of nothing but nature. Each of the bungalows is situated so that they are hidden from the others giving the grounds a special atmosphere rarely found elsewhere.
Our bikes roll up to the patio where we spend many pleasant hours with nature.
Annette, the owner has made the Sacbe Bungalow experience positively wonderful by labeling the trees, shrubs and cactus with signs like the one you see above.
Strolling through the extensive dry jungle grounds at Sacbe is a fun adventure and educational.
Also on the south side of Santa Elena is the recently opened restaurant and hotel named the Pickled Onion owned and operated by Valerie Pickles. (At present the hotel is a series of Mayan style palapa cabins.)
Jane Grimsrud of Bicycle Yucatan with Valerie Pickels owner, developer and manager of the Pickled Onion Restaurant and Hotel at Santa Elena, Yucatán.
Nestled in a tropical setting this is one of several Mayan style palapa cabins that make up the Pickled Onion Hotel.
Chicken fajitas are served up in portions ample enough to feed two.
Clean, quiet and friendly, the Pickled Onion Restaurant a place you will want to frequent. They are bicycle friendly and speak English and Spanish.
Other eating options in Santa Elena include the Chac Mool restaurant featuring Yucatecan specialties and the small open air restaurant in the city center across from the municipal building…they open early and speak Spanish and Maya. More information can be found on the website of the Pickled Onion.
While biking the secondary side-roads of Santa Elena area photo ops abound like this ancient chapel in the process of being reclaimed by the jungle vegetation.
This gem of a quiet jungle road was pointed out to us by the owner of Bungalows Sacbe, Annette. It turned out to be just a few meters from their entrance and was their favorite.
Fresh air, no traffic and picturesque Mayan milpa farms made this route enchanting.
This area of the Puuc Hills is very thinly populated due to the fact that water is scarce in the extreme. At the Bungalows Sacbe their water well went down nearly four hundred feet. When they put it in twenty years ago it cost them almost as much as their house and land.
A huff and a puff got us up the hill heading for Ticul. If you look closely far off in the distance you will be able to discern the Puuc Hills and our starting point at Santa Elena. The lack of traffic makes these roads excellent for biking.
This is Ticul as viewed from the loading dock of the bus terminal. This church dates from 1625 and is actively maintained.
Visit our other Ticul stories for more informative information and photos.
From Ticul, an hour and a half bus ride takes Jane and I back to the streets of Mérida.
Thirty five minutes from the city center bus terminal in Mérida and we are home in our jungle sanctuary garden swinging in our hammocks and reminiscing about our lovely Yucatecan sojourn.