In Janel's second post for ESG, she shares her recent experience as a solo black female traveler in Mexico, from Mérida to Mexico City. One of her goals as an ESG blogger is to empower other women to take the leap: “Believe it or not, I still find that people see a solo female traveler of color as a novelty. But it’s helped me grow a lot as a person.” Follow Janel's journeys on Instagram and stay tuned for Part 2 of this adventure! 

       Solo Traveler: Taking the Leap

This May, I traveled to Mexico for one week. I had set my sights on various cities and countries across Latin America last winter before finally choosing Mexico. The flights from DC were some of the cheapest I had found at the time. Also, I'd heard many positive stories from people who visited different parts of the country, which were a stark contrast to a common mass media narrative in the U.S. that dismisses much of Mexico as a cesspool of drugs and crime. I wanted to experience the country's stories and cultures for myself.

One of my closest relatives even expressed disappointment about the trip and concerns about my safety. I immediately replied, "If I let fear solely drive my traveling decisions, I’d go nowhere," before we ended the tense phone conversation (note: I understand the concern was out of love). Within a few hours, I landed across the border and felt excited to take the plunge into the food, culture, and sights of Mexico!

I started my trip in Mérida. This city is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, a few hours away from Cancun. I wanted to avoid the resorts because immersing myself in the local culture was more appealing. Mérida is also considered one of the safest cities in the entire country, so I  felt little to no worries as a solo female traveler from the States. My accommodation was the Nomadas Hostel, where I stayed for four nights. Young travelers from all over the world stayed there and have the opportunity to schedule Mayan Heritage tours, take cooking and salsa lessons, and relax at the hostel pool.

Mérida was simply breathtaking. The residential and business areas were very colorful. The area near the hostel was quiet, but the city center was more upbeat despite the overall slow pace of the city. I really felt like I could take it all in with ease after spending over 10 hours traveling to this destination.  I regret not brushing up on Spanish as much as I could have, but Méridans were very patient and even willing to translate words and phrases at times. I felt like it was a home-away-from-home because the city and the people were so welcoming.

I’ll admit it: I was exhausted after spending almost 10 hours traveling from the U.S. to Mexico and planned to rest early the night I arrived. Then, I happened to meet two other female hostel mates from Austria who planned to explore the evening markets together that my "resting" plans took a backseat. We met up before 9:00pm and shopped in the local markets, were serenaded by a mariachi band, randomly stopped by and watched a live dance performance, then headed back to the hostel. I slept in on Sunday and relaxed, because I knew my Monday and Tuesday would be jam packed with trips to Mayan ruins!

Mayan Architecture

visited Chichen Itza on Monday. I didn’t realize it, but Chichen Itza is actually one of the New7Wonders of the World! I woke up early and had breakfast before traveling with a tour guide from the Mayan Heritage company for a two-hour van ride to the site. There were ruins all along the forest-like trail towards the main pyramid. When I looked up at the main pyramid in the center, it seemed as if was touching the sky! The pyramid conveyed a sense of authority which left me in awe. I learned from the tour guide that the pyramid was used by the Mayan people to mark astronomical occasions and that the snake – seen on smaller periods throughout the sight – was one of the most prized symbols of Mayan culture. We wrapped up the trip with a buffet-style lunch before heading back to Mérida. I highly recommend visiting Chichen Itza if you want to be visually and mentally blown away by ancient Mayan architecture!

I traveled to Uxmal on Tuesday. Uxmal is another major pyramid site outside of Mérida that visitors can climb. I started climbing the pyramid and felt frightened within seconds. The steps leading up to the top were very steep and a bit glossy. Anyone who knows me well is aware of how clumsy I can be, so I decided to go up just a quarter of pyramid before exploring other ruins to the side called the Palacio de Gobernador (Governor's Palace).  There were other travelers on the tour who weren’t nervous at all and said they enjoyed the views from above. 

The pyramid I was too scared to climb. Yikes!

However, I still felt regret for not overcoming my fear of heights and walking up the pyramid. Wasn’t having new and exciting experiences part of the trip? It was for me, and I felt like a failure. Or so I thought...There would be more sights, sounds, food, and pyramids for me to explore in Mexico City. 

Would I be able to conquer this fear at last on the second half of my trip?
Come back soon to find out!