The Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico is situated in the South-east of the country, and broadly comprises the provinces of Quintana Roo and Yucatan. The area covered is larger and more spaced out than seems on the map, so driving distance was taken into account when planning the itinerary. Cancun can now be reached on a reasonably priced package - we booked in December and paid £350 each for flights and 7 nights hotel (room only), which was at the Hotel Laguna Verde. Most of the Yucatan and Quintana Roo area comprises low to medium height thorn forest (with smatterings of equatorial forest for good measure), with some of the more reasonable sites (including locations of hotels) being near Mayan archaeological sites. To vary the birds and habitat, the area to the North of the peninsular was also covered - there is a mixture of open and semi-open scrub, with semi-desert and coastal sand here.
The practicalities of the trip meant picking a car up at the resort, staying the first and last nights in the pre-booked hotel, and checking into hotels as we arrived at the various sites. This was not a problem in reality, as all had plenty of rooms available for low to reasonable prices, with the standard of accommodation ranging from basic (but clean and habitable) to very comfortable. The food in the restaurants attached to these hotels was also very good and reasonably priced.
The Mexicans we came across were all very friendly and helpful, despite only a minority speaking more than a word or two of English. We spoke no Spanish, but the odd word or phrase and flailing arms normally got the message over. Outside of the relatively affluent (and unreal) Cancun, the majority of Mexican standard of living is very 3rd world, with many of the families living in small, poorly made houses (although the prerequisite TV is usually present!). We didnít put much trust in local food and water but bread, prepacked meats and cheeses did for birding on the hoof food, and large bottles of water were readily available.
Dawn birding started at 6 in the morning, and ended with dusk at 6pm. The weather throughout was very hot, but usually with a cooling easterly wind. Travelling between sites, which usually lasted a couple of hours, was done over midday - a doubly sensible move since birds were less obvious and the potholes and topes (speed ramps) were better seen in daylight. Mosquitoes were present in small numbers, as were large biting flies. Jungle formula seemed to keep the former at bay, although there is a small risk of malaria, so prophylaxis is sensible (once weekly chloroquine over the counter is recommended).
The car was booked with Hertz (via the USA) from the UK - this was the best deal that included insurance with no excess. Most car hire companies will only hire a car with a £1000 excess (or 10% of the value of the car) - not a good idea when you see the state of Mexican roads and driving (although the latter was not as bad as we expected - with care!). Final costs will include hire, collision damage waiver (CDW), excess waiver if available, tax (10%), and any fuel due. Our total for an intermediate compact Chrysler Neon was £480 for the week. It seemed likely that we were given a rather battered car because we had no excess - it wasnít a bad idea, anyway, since Iím sure we added a few bumps and scratches of our own, which tended not to show. If there is an excess and the car is unmarked, I would guess that on return it would get a thorough once over for new marks. The roads were in better condition than expected. The new toll road from Cancun has a limit of 110km/hr, but only has exits from Valladolid, Chichen Itza, and Merida. The cost was £12 to Valladolid, and £2.50 from Valladolid to Chichen Itza. Route 307 south from Cancun also looks good, and may be the best way to get to Coba. The lesser roads have plenty of potholes to worry about, but the greatest danger came from the topes. These speed ramps are in almost all inhabited areas, and can be a chassis breaker due to their varying heights and often unexpected (yet unmarked) occurrence. Petrol stations are few and far between - good maps show where they are. The car we had was big enough to hold four of us, a holdall and backpack each in the boot, along with assorted optics and tripods.