Tag Archives: mexico

Tulum & Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

For the last part of the tour we crossed the border back into Mexico. We followed the coastline and made two stops: Tulum and Playa Del Carmen.

Tulum

Tulum is famous for the Mayan Ruins that are perched on a cliff top overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

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The day we planned to visit the site, we awoke to a downpour, which we waited out. With clear skies we headed to the site and started exploring. Firstly the site was much smaller than expected. Secondly the view of the ruins against the sea and sand was a little disappointing due to the major seaweed issue that has been plaguing the beaches on the Caribbean Sea. Despite this, it was really pretty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time we were half way into our visit, the skies darkened and we watched the wall of rain and lightning approach is rapidly from over the ocean. We did a runner under our raincoats through the remainder of the site and returned to our hotel soaked through all layers of clothing.

The site opens at 8am and it is advisable to go as early as possible to avoid the heat and the crowds, though neither were an issue for us. The entry cost was 64pesos and considering the size of the site, that price is more than fair. You should allow a minimum of one hour to visit the site If you want to spend longer, maybe take some picnic food and relax under one of the trees to simply absorb the environment around you. It really is quite a nice site to visit.

P1060555The other activity we did in the city of Tulum was to take a taxi out to some local cenotes. We started with a trip to Gran Cenote. The entry cost was 150pesos and the site was quite commercialised, with a cafe, showers, toilets, as well as lockers, life jackets, diving and snorkelling gear for hire.

To keep the water clean you shower before descending the stairs to the walkways above the water. Even though the cenote is quite open at the top, descending into it makes it feel much more exotic and interesting. The walkways had ladders at various points to provide access to the water. The water was crystal clear and there were many areas you could swim, follow the walls of the sink hole, swim through caves and even swim with turtles. Even though I didn’t like how commercialised the site was, it certainly was very pretty and had variety of things to see.

P1060588The next cenotes we visited were Crystal Cenote and Escondido Cenote. The entry cost was 120pesos but was a combined ticket for entry to both (on opposite sides of the highway). Both Crystal and Escondido were less commercialised. There were very rudimentary drop toi
lets on site and a few timber benches to sit on, but that was the extent of the development. They felt much less like cenotes and more like small lakes, but were nonetheless beautiful.P1060567

Playa Del Carmen


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlaya Del Carmen is roughly an hour up the coast from Tulum, in the direction of Cancun. It is a very popular tourist destination. The main street, 5th avenue is full of shops, restaurants and bars. A great spot for cheap souvenirs. The beach runs parallel to 5th avenue, but is one block down. The beach, like in Tulum, is plagued with seaweed. So unfortunately there is no beautiful white beaches and crystal clear water .

Something interesting and helpful to understand about Playa Del Carmen is the street naming system. Avenues run parallel to the beach and go up in fives eg. Avenida 5, Avenida 10 etc. Streets run perpendicular and go up in twos eg. Calle 2, Calle 4.

IMG_6166With no set plans and some days to spare a few of us booked an apartment with a pool, using airbnb. So we spent a few days pottering around the local area and chilling out by the pool.

I’m sure there is loads more to see and do in the Playa Del Carmen area but after touring Mexico, Guatemala and Belize for close to a month, a few days off in a sunny location is exactly what we needed.

Check out all my photos on Flickr

 

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Palenque & San Cristobal de Las Casas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPalenque

Palenque is perhaps a slightly lesser known Mayan site than Chichen Itza, but it is still famous and rightly so. It is a much larger temple complex than Chichen Itza and in my opinion much grander. There are more buildings, the buildings are larger and more elaborate. It is also much more obvious that this was a city where people lived as you can see the areas where people lived, the temples, the common areas, the aqueduct and so on.

The biggest and perhaps most important temple in the area is the Temple of the Inscriptions. This is a very grand temple, inside which the remains of King Pakal were found. His body was adorned with a jade mask and jade jewellery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext to the Temple of the Inscriptions is the Temple of The Red Queen, whose remains were found painted completely in red. Unfortunately this affected the ability to complete DNA analysis on the remains, so it is uncertain who the red queen was, though some people are guessing it may have been Pakal’s wife.

Adjacent to these temples is the palace. This was a large building with many levels and many rooms. Though worn away over time the walls were once heavily decorated with stone reliefs and elaborate and brightly coloured paintings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the hill behind the palace were three more temples: The Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Foliated Cross. They each face in towards a small courtyard. The Temple of the Sun was built by the son of Pakal, Can Balam, who succeeded his father.

All of the temples have nine terraces, except the Temple of the Cross which has 13. This was the wish of Can Balam.

The numbers 9, 13, 20 and 52 are significant to the Mayans. The number nine represent the underworld, partly because it would take nine days for a corn to seed after having been planted, and the Mayans believed they were descended from corn. The corn seed would have to defeat nine levels of the underworld in order to survive, live and grow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe number 13 relates to pregnancy, as the term of a pregnancy is 13 Mayan months. There are also 13 months in the religious calendar, and thirteen squares of the shell of a turtle.

A Mayan month is 20 days, the year is made up of 18 months of 20 days plus one unlucky month of 5 days. This is the sun calendar of the Mayans.

After exploring the main, excavated temples we went on a jungle walk which is predominately pre-pakal buildings, bt they are still buried beneath the jungle growth. It was pretty fascinating to see how these temples would have appeared (and still do appear) pre-restoration. Essentially any hill you see is actually hiding a temple. Quite a bizarre and awesome concept!

Check out all my Palenque photos on Flickr

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San Cristobal de Las Casas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop after Palenque was San Cristobal de Las Casas, in the highlands. There was a noticeable drop in temperature on arrival!!

The town is absolutely gorgeous, there are cobbled streets and loads of churches, it was just fantastic to explore. The buildings are all brightly coloured and super quirky. I spotted many interesting door and window frames, as you will notice by the photos.

Mayan Villages Tour

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the first full day in San Cristobal de Las Casas we did a tour of two Mayan Villages, San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan.

Interestingly these villages aren’t far from the centre of San Cristobal de Las Casas, and their architecture and level of development is the same. The villages however are completely independent, they operate on their own time zone (an hour earlier), they have their own police, their own laws and regulations and the Mexican government does not intervene.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe crime rate in these towns is very low and prison sentences are very short, with a maximum stay of three days. If one cannot afford the fine, they may also be required to do community service. If the crime is severe, such as rape or murder, the punishment is equally sever – death. It may be death by beating and being burned alive or by being lynched. So this is a good explanation for why the crime rate is so low, in my opinion.

The people in San Juan Chamula consider themselves to be predominantly Catholic, though aside from baptisms there is no clear link to Catholicism as we know it. The Catholic church has Shamans who perform rituals and sometimes sacrifice chickens. The men are allowed to take multiple wives and wedding ceremonies are never performed in a church.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe people in Zinacantan view themselves are Christians and there is much more visible link to Christianity as we know it, including church weddings and only allowing one wife.

The primary industry in San Juan Chamula is growing vegetables, while in Zinacantan they grow flowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Zinacantan we were invited into the home of a family to see a demonstration of back strap weaving, which is how they weave their elaborate tapestries and other woven goods. A lovely lady also demonstrated how they make traditional tacos. She made us some delicious purple corn tacos. The hospitality of these people was lovely.

In learning about the religious aspects of these cultures, something they both had in common which I found fascinating was the references to the cardinal points and colours.
The North is represented by the colour white. If you were to light a white candle in the church it would represent tortillas, a food offering to the saints.
The South is represented by the colour yellow. If you were to light a white candle in the church it would represent prosperity.
The East is represented by the colour red. If you were to light a white candle in the church it would represent the restoration of harmony.
The West is represented by the colour black. If you were to light a white candle in the church it would be to ward off evil/witchcraft (you also see people drinking coca cola in religious ceremonies for this reason).
The center is represented by the colour green. If you were to light a white candle in the church it would ensure a successful harvest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the Catholic church of San Juan Chamula we witnessed a ceremony performed by a Shaman on a girl who had lost her spirit. As part of the ceremony, the Shaman took a chicken, held it upside-down by its feet and waved it over some candles or incense, then waved it around the body of the girl, before wringing its neck (it didn’t make a noise at all). If I remember correctly, the process would then be for the girl to go home and eat the chicken (perhaps just the head) and stay in her room for five days. After that time she would go with the Shaman to the place where she had lost her spirit and call it back using some kind of egg shaped whistle.
There may be more to the process, but those were the bits I heard. Such a strange concepts, but thoroughly fascinating!
The tour cost 200 pesos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChiapa de Corzo Canyon Tour

On the last full day in San Cristobal de Las Casas, a group of us went on a boat tour of a Canyon just outside of the town Chiapa de Corzo. The canyon was gorgeous and it was so relaxing to be on the river. We cruised up and then down the river for approximately two hours.

Along the way we did see some wildlife, some Caymans, Pelicans and a variety of other types of birds. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a) terrrified of birds and b) useless at identifying them.

We finished the tour with a short hour stop in the central plaza of Chiapa de Corzo – another cute Mexican town.
The tour cost 200 pesos.

Check out all my San Cristobal de Las Casas photos on Flickr

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Chichen Itza, Merida and loads of Cenotes!

Now that my study tour of the US is complete, I’m back to adventuring all over the world. I am currently touring with a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen in 25 years. We will spend the month of August touring Mexico, Guatemala and Belize on the Intrepid tour Mayan Highlights. It turns out that it’s actually a combo tour, so our current guide Edwin (who is Guatemalan) who is absolutely awesome will only be touring with us as far as Guatemala (the Intrepid tour for this portion would be called Explore Mexico and Guatemala, if booked separately).

We arrived in Cancun in the evening of August 8th and set off to explore, first thing the next morning.

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Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the most famous Mayan ruins, Apparently the second most visited Mayan site in Mexico. I suspect the site is one of the most visited due to it’s proximity to Cancun, approximately three hours drive by bus. It was also named one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007.

Chichen Itza means “At the mouth of the well of Itza”. The town was built here because it provided access to some sink holes (cenotes) which are the only source of fresh water other than the rain, in the Yucatan Peninsula.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most recognizable part of the archaeological site is the Temple of Kukulkan, otherwise know as El Castillo. It is a stepped pyramid with 9 terraces and 365 steps.

The site was fascinating to visit, but I found that it was very busy, both with tourists and with locals selling their wares; also there weren’t all that many buildings to see. It’s also quite challenging to visit as there is little to no shade at the site and Mexico is HOT!

The buildings were certainly beautiful and there

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIk Kil

Approximately 5-10 minutes by taxi down the road from Chichen Itza is the very popular cenote Ik Kil.

Ik Kil is approximately 26 metres below ground level, 60 metres in diameter and roughly 40 metres deep. As the water is fresh and I am used to swimming in the sea I was surprised at how much effort it took to keep my head above water as I wasn’t buoyant.

Due to it’s popularity it was crazy busy, but simply fantastic!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMerida

Merida is the capital city of the Yucatan state, and is roughly two hours from Chichen Itza. Due to my busy-ness exploring cenotes I didn’t spend much time exploring the town of Merida. The bits I saw were super cute and the people were very friendly.

Cenotes of Cuzama

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince one of the reasons I wanted to visit Mexico was to see the cenotes, I did a day tour from Merida to the town of Cuzama, from which we were able to visit some cenotes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce we arrived at the site we had a pretty interesting ride into the jungle. It was done in three legs. The first and third legs were with a very rudimentary four person train cart that was horse drawn along train tracks. The middle leg was also a four person transport method, but it was a motorbike tuk tuk type thing. The ride was so bumpy even the cheeks on your face would vibrate and flap up and down. It wasn’t particularly comfortable but it was quite the adventure!!

The first cenote we visited was Bolonchojol, the name means nine holes for rats. There was only a small opening to get into the cenote and you had to climb a ladder down 15 metres to access it. The water was a crystal clear turquoise colour with some tree roots dropping through the ceiling into the water, not to mention beams of natural light. This was probably the most stunning of the cenotes.

The added bonus was that we were the first group there and had it all to ourselves for a short time. The water temperature was perfect and it was such a peaceful place to visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second cenote was Chaceziniche, the name means rat ant for wood. It has a much larger opening allowing more natural light to enter, it is a 20 metres descent down a staircase and the water is roughly 27 metres deep.

The water here was again a beautiful temperature and was 100% crystal clear, this time a deeper blue colour. This one also had more tree roots dropping into it.

P1060034The third cenote was Uzil, little place. You entered it be climbing down a ladder between the roots of a tree. You descend into a pitch dark cave, and can swim a 30 metres stretch between the stalagmites and stalactites from north to south in this tiny cenote. With no natural light, it is quite a bit colder than the other two cenotes, but quite a difference and exhilarating experience. Swimming in a dark cave.

The cenotes were simply magnificent, and I had the most amazing day but if you have issues with animal cruelty, then I would perhaps not recommend this tour to you – I had no idea of the transport method, so was unaware of the cruelty to the horses that I would witness.

View the album on Flickr

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