Mexico's Land of the Maya By Rail
How I Got There:
Leave:How I Traveled by Train While There:
Expreso Maya (Private Train)Telephones/Internet Access:
I had my provider, Verizon, add Int'nl. Service and could call California from Campeche and Merida, Yucatan.Where I Stayed:
Villahermosa: Hotel Cencali, DWhere I Ate:
Villahermosa: Hotel Cencali, D
For More Information:
Go to Sue Stilwell's website:
Web: www.ss-tours.com; E-mail:
Ph: (520) 803-1352;
Toll Free: (800) 499-5685;
Fax: (520) 803-1355
4250 S. Hohokam Dr.;
Sierra Vista, AZ 85650
Her consist included, for this trip from Palenque, Chiapas, to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, four of her eight private luxury cars: Calakmul (64-comfortable seat coach car), Palenque (56 deluxe-class capacity Bar-Club car), Merida (48-seat deluxe-class dining car), and Sayil (Baggage car). All headed by engine 8847 of the Ferrocarril Chiapas-Mayab line which is one of several lines owned by Genesee & Wyoming Inc. Greenwich, CT <www.gwrr.com>.
Even in the soft light of dawn, I could see the characteristic red color of the Mayan god Chac as the base color of the cars. We had seen this red in ancient Mayan stuccos in the images of their leaders at the Palenque ruins. The overlaid white plumed serpent we would see at every Mayan ruin we would visit on this historic trip along the Mayan Route.
With our luggage being handled by the train and hotel porters, Sue Stilwell's small group of 14 plus six others taking the same journey, leisurely made its way onto the train. First we boarded the 64-seat coach car noting the decorations of Mayan themes that we had heard about on their website. Thus a very large capacity first-class private coach car had only 20 guests and the Chief of Operations for the train, Humberto Gomez Herra, who occupied the last 2 seats in the coach, where he could plug in his radio for recharging. Between these last two seats and the end of the car and vestibule, was a flat area without seats that I presume would accommodate as many as 4 wheelchairs, without lockdown capabilities.
We were like a group of school kids on their first train-based fieldtrip. We were told 'Sure!' when we asked if we could see the other cars before getting underway northward. It was beautiful! All the cars' interiors are designed and painted by the renowned Yucatecan artist, Carlos Millet. We ventured into the next car forward, Palenque, the 56-seat club car. We found tables decorated with toucans, jaguars, monkeys, and alligators former inhabitants of the jungle location of Palenque. There was comfortable seating of four padded chairs at each table, a curved conversation area, and a bar in the center at which the barman was serving coffee before breakfast. There is a library, game room, and music. You can pick up a red-covered 8-page descriptive foldout brochure complete with a map of the route we would be following through the Mayan ruins. In this club car, I was able to purchase a black Expreso Maya cap and a white polo shirt with the same embroidered logo. I did not see the advertised, "books, maps, handicrafts and other regional items, for sale" but found plenty of these items to my liking off the train in Palenque (embroidered purse by Mayan ladies), Campeche (a Panama hat) and Merida (silver jewelry and sisel shirt).
The third and final public car, the Merida dining car, was even more impressive. It had a seating capacity of 48. This car also included the kitchen, which I would later visit and find emaculate and fully staffed with a chef and his cooks. The Merida dining car's interior is decorated reminiscent of the old henequen haciendas of Yucatan.
As we journeyed northward from Palenque toward Campeche, our first stop was "the place where the water gods lived," Cenote. At the Balam (jaguar in Mayan) Cenote, we stopped, detrained, climbed down a steep semi-improved trail to the water's edge of this very large, stone-quarry-appearing natural reservoir. After reboarding, we were invited to have complementary liquid refreshments, including margaritas and wine, in the bar car and we discuss the natural phenomena.
Our second of two full days on the Expreso Maya, was from Campeche (where we had stayed 2 nights in the Hotel del Mar) to Merida. We started early again this day and enjoyed another excellent breakfast onboard. On this segment, our mid-day stop was at Maxcanu where we boarded a bus that was basically parked in the weeds next to the tracks, and were taken to the Uxmal Mayan Ruins, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. After returning to the train, we were given complementary drinks followed by an excellent lunch including wine, as the train traveled very slowly, and comfortably, on the ancient tracks, to Merida, arriving at sunset.
We said our farwells to the entire train staff who aligned themselves single file as we detrained and we bid each farewell. The owner of the trainset was there and greeted us as we transferred to the bus for a short ride to our hotel. Later Sue related that he is encouraged about the future of the Expreso Maya. That was good news for those of you who have not yet experienced this excellent rail journey!
Itinerary and photos of "The Mayan Route by Rail" follow.
Day 1-Travel by air to Villahermosa
Day 2-Visit "La Venta" Museum/Park.
Day 3-Palenque Ruins.
Day 4-Train Ride to Campeche
Day 5-Edzna Archeological Zone and Fort San Miguel.
Day 6-Train Ride Champeche to Merida, Uxmal Archeological Site, Mission Park Inn Hotel, Merida.
Day 7-Tour to Chichen-Itza
Day 8-Tour to Celestun Biosphere Reserve
Day 9-Tour to Izamal, Sisel Factory, Hacienda
Trip Report by Travel Writer, Wanda Smith, Eugene, Oregon.