Celestun is about one and a half to two hours outside of Merida. The distance isn't far, but the drive takes you through a number of towns and smaller pueblos that take some time to traverse. Most of these are in the first half of the drive, with the last half dominated by a long, straight road through lots of scrubland and nothing. The drive is not difficult, and there is lots to see that will give you a deeper perspective on the Yucatan outside of Merida.
Just before you come to Celestun proper, you cross a bridge over the river (although on a map it seems more like a large tidal inlet from the Gulf) where there is a boat dock for tours to see the flamingos. The facility has parking, restrooms, a couple of snack counters, and vending machines along with the ticket booth and the dock itself. We took a 1-hour boat trip that cost 800 pesos for the five of us. I don't think that the price changed for the number of people (so long as you could all fit on one boat), but it would be an overstatement to suggest that I understood the complete exchange with the lady in the ticket booth. Others who were there booked the more extensive two-hour tour.
|The boats have 8 seats and a canopy to protect from the sun.|
The one-hour tour took us out to see a group (flock? gaggle?) of flamingos, a mangrove tunnel, and a cenote that bubbled up within the mangroves. Although you could swim in the cenote, it was not very inviting on the day of our trip. Our guide (the boat driver) told us that for the last ten days there had been no flamingos, but that the small group that we saw had arrived on the morning of our trip. Both the guide and other folks in Merida report that on a good day there can be literally thousands of these graceful, unlikely birds. We spent about 15 minutes of our hour watching them, and I could easily have spent more. The mangroves were interesting, and the short boardwalk into the trees to get to the cenote was fun, so long as you bring mosquito repellent. In the mangrove tunnel, the guide pointed out aerial termite colonies built onto the trees, something I had never seen before.
The drive back was uneventful and ended with an afternoon of napping. For Darren and me, it was good to learn that there are destinations within an easy drive or bus ride from the city that are appealing enough to draw you back repeatedly and a sane, quiet beach town near Merida even in the height of summer. If you haven't been to Celestun, we would recommend a trip whether you are a resident or a tourist.