The fishing is just one of the wonders of the Yucatan Peninsula, a corner of Mexico that slept in the sun behind its jungle curtains until Charles and Anne Lindbergh mapped its spectacular Mayan ruins 30 years ago, disclosing the continent's most dramatic archaeological treasures. Now that fishermen have discovered waters full of tarpon, and hunters skies full of ducks; now that beachcombers have found endless sands and skin divers clear waters, reefs and sunken galleons, Yucatan's ma√±ana is today.
GETTING THERE: Pan American jets leave Miami for Mérida Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, cost $124 round trip first class, $89 economy. From New Orleans, Pan Am jets fly Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at noon, arrive in Mérida at 1:30 p.m., cost $119 round trip first class, $81 economy. Compa√±ía Mexicana de Aviación has daily DC-4 service at 11:30 a.m. from Mexico City, arriving in Ciudad del Carmen at 4:15 p.m., where taxis from El Tarpon Tropical wait.
STAYING THERE: Mérida (pop. 177,000), the capital of Yucatan, has beautiful gardens and white houses. There are 10 hotels that will meet reasonable tourist standards. The Hotel Mérida, with 110 rooms, has colonial Spanish charm and a swimming pool. It costs about $8 for a double room. The Hotel COlón has 20 rooms, each with bath and telephone and tiled steam baths adjoining a swimming pool, small in size but Roman in splendor. Double rooms are from $8 up.
EATING THERE: AH hotels recommended here have good food. Los Tulipanes in Mérida has beautiful gardens, and for swimming a cenote, one of the many natural underground pools or wells found on the peninsula. The indigenous Carta Clara or Carta Obscura is as good as any beer in Mexico (no beer anywhere is better) and costs only one peso (about 8¢) per bottle. The winter climate is mild, but a topcoat is often necessary in the evenings. Shopping is negligible but there is one great buy: the hammocks made of sisal by the convicts in Mérida's jail.
FISHING: The fishing is at its best at El Tarpon Tropical, on the peninsula of Aguada, which Fisherman-Artist Tom Allen (see color pages)says is "better than any fishing camp I have ever visited." El Tarpon, open from January till late August, was built in 1954 by Hal Hassey, a former Long Island sporting goods dealer. It has seven double rooms and baths and good Mexican-American food—the kind of relaxed place where one makes one's own drinks and puts them on the tab. Rates are $35 a day for food, shelter, boats, guides, licenses—but not drinks. Tom Allen and the party he fished with found light and medium tackle all they needed. They used freshwater spinning rods with 8-to-10-pound test line for trout, baby tarpon (you can sometimes raise 20 in a day on top-water plugs), grouper in deeper waters and snook in the estuaries. For the large tarpon in the bay they took 6-foot glass plug-casting rods with 15-to-20-pound test line and sinking plugs. For the big tarpon (up to 160 pounds), glass trolling rods, reels with 250-yard capacity and 30-to-40-pound test line and big sinking plugs are recommended. For reservations write Harold E. Hassey, Apartado 40, Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, Mexico.
DUCK HUNTING: In winter the duck hunting at Sisal, 45 minutes from Mérida, is so splendid that one could bag 50 to 100 ducks a day if 15 weren't the limit. There is no hotel—take a sleeping bag or return to Mérida. Be sure to take the time to check on firearms permits at a Mexican consulate before going.
PYRAMIDS: Chichén Itz√†, most famous of all Mayan ruins, is 75 miles from Mérida on a good, paved road through the jungle, but if you have time for only one ruin, go to Uxmal, 50 miles south of Mérida, which has a pyramid as impressive as Chichén Itz√† as well as the House of the Governor, with its stone mosaics. The Hacienda Uxmal has a swimming pool, superb food, a great deal of charm and costs $28 per double with meals. If you are a true temple scout, go on to Sayil-Labn√†. It is a day's journey round trip from Uxmal, and the 40-mile drive through deep jungle is made by Model T Ford to a Green Mansions site with pink temples, pink columns and the Arch of Labn√†, another Mayan triumph.
BEACHCOMBING: Cozumel has been called the best island in the Caribbean. Its beaches stretch for miles. You get there by flying from Mérida on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays (80 minutes, $22 round trip). The best hotels are the Mayaluum, Caba√±as de Caribe and the Playa Azul (between $20 and $40 a day for two, meals included). The superb beaches and skin diving of Mujeres are just being discovered by vacationers. Stay at the Hotel Zazil-Ha ($18 per double with meals). The island can be reached by bus or car or chartered small plane from Mérida.
Mayan pyramids and mammoth tarpon have brought Yucatan to life
GULF OF MEXICO
EL TARPON TROPICAL
Laguna de Términos
Ciudad del Carmen