Named for the henequen crop once shipped from this colonial port, Sisal is today an unassuming collection of sandy streets facing a long, beige, sandy beach. In the earliest days of the Spanish occupation it was the busiest seaport in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Recently in the Yucatan with my own wheels, I came to visit this beach town which I have so often passed over in favor of Celestun, where pink flamingos congregate en masse. A friend and I passed a few enjoyable hours exploring the town. Since an offshore wind created eddies of sand on the long, wide beach, so we opted for a walk on the pier and around town.
We had a meal of fish and giant shrimp cocktail in Restaurant Muelle de Sisal, choosing a table on the covered patio facing the beach. Other diners sat at a table right in the sand, shaded by a small palapas. After lunch we watched village kids in bright polyester outfits form a straggling carnival parade along the dusty, almost empty streets. Another big event for the town is in late August, when the statue of the Black Christ (Cristo Negro) is carried in a procession from the inland municipal seat, Hunucmá, to Sisal. Fishermen fete the saint and then promenade the icon in a fleet of fiberglass skiffs to finish up this festival in His honor.
Returning to Merida after a few hours at the beach, we stopped visit the Franciscan church at Hunucmá. Seeing a sign for a cenote,, we searched for the sinkhole for a while, asking locals for directions, before giving up and continuing toward Merida. A bit farther down the road in Caucel, a band was playing in the town square while boys in traditional white Yucatan suits and beautiful girls in fancy flower-embroidered ternos performed traditional dances. Afterwards, everyone filed into the diminutive colonial church.
Sisal is not a major player in Yucatan tourism. But an excursion out of Merida makes for a pleasant beach day and a good excuse to visit unassuming but interesting old towns en route as well. There are a handful of small hotels in Sisal, but I suspect that most people go for the day.
Where to Eat
Restaurant Muelle de Sisal ($$---$$$, on the beach facing the pier) is open daily from 11AM to 6PM, a bit later in summer. The fish dish we ordered was typical of Mexican seafood restaurants on the beach: fresh fish fillet, rice, tortillas, and a bit of salad. The enormous shrimp cocktail must have had about two dozen medium-size shrimp in a ketchup-y sauce enhanced by onions and lime and hot sauce at the diner’s discretion.
Sisal is 57 km (34 miles) west of Merida on Highway 25. Both Caucel and Hunucmá are en route; in between the two is the small town of Ucú, famous as one of the few places in Mexico where beautiful pasta (colorful cement) floor tiles are produced. For a bus from Merida, go to the station at Calle 50 #531 between Calles 65 and 67.
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