Countries Latin America Mexico Travel

The world of Mayans in Mexico

By on May 28, 2016

The Yucatan Peninsula in the east of Mexico comprising the state of Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo has stunning coastline (I can’t blame the spring-breaker for hoarding this area), majestic Mayan ruins, incredible biospheres and natural parks, second largest barrier reef in the world, mouth-watering cuisine and a haven for water sports junkies. There can be endless reasons to visit this area or simple reasons to see the different shade of turquoise water and feel the softness of the powdery sand.

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The Mayans originally came from Mesoamerica, modern day Mexico and Central America as early as 2500 BC. There are eight Mayan structures still standing today scattered in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The Mayans were one of the most evolved and sophisticated civilization. Their knowledge in astronomy was way advanced for the times they lived in, predicting solar, lunar and astral cycles;measuring time by developing two complex and highly accurate calendar system(We’d all have heard of the Mayan Doomsday prophecy of the world ending on December12, 2012.); they had elaborate mathematical and hieroglyphic system used to communicate, figured how to build magnificent structures without modern machinery, grow food in unfavourable conditions and landscapes and impressive artwork like carving in stone and wood; painting, writing and weaving. Today, the Mayan still live in the Yucatan Penisula with their traditions and lifestyle alive.

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Even though we were very close to Chichen Itza, which is one of the New seven wonders of the world, we decided to explore Coba and Tulum instead. It was tempting to go to Chichen Itza especially to be able to strike off the third in our list of the seven wonders but we wanted to climb the pyramid which is allowed in Coba.

COBA

Coba, a short drive from Tulum lies in the state of Quintana Roo is said to be the biggest and most important of all the Mayan cities. It was only discovered in the mid-1800 and still remains largely unexcavated. It was opened to the public only as recent as the 1970’s when a road to Coba was build. It is located around two large lagoons which give its name, Coba meaning ‘waters stirred by the winds’. What makes this ruin different from other is that it’s a huge collection of different settlement connected through sacbes or the white road to the central pyramid, Nohoch Mul. The pyramid is 138 feet high and is the tallest Mayan structure in the Northern Yucatan.  These network of roads played an important part in the communication and trade between other Mayan sites such as Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum and others. A large number of Stelae, stone slabs inscribed with Mayan hieroglyphics were found here and some can still be seen, placed under thatched huts to protect them from harsh weather conditions.  There are several other buildings of interest including several temples, an astronomical observatory, and a ball court. This site alone demonstrates the sophistication of the Mayan civilization.

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Climbing the steep pyramid is a little nerve wracking and definitely not for the faint-hearted hearted. As you go higher up, it gets difficult to look down since the pyramid rises at a significant angle and it is as difficult to come down. There are approximately 130 stairs which are uneven, narrow and very steep, some even very slippery. But the pyramid is divided into two by a thick rope, one side for people to climb up and the other to come down. It’s possible to hold onto the rope and take one step at a time. Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with views of the dense jungle and can’t help wonder how many undiscovered sites still lay hidden in those lush green carpets.

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Practical Information

Tickets: The ticket to the ruin can be bought at the entrance costing 64mxn. The entry is free to the Mexican citizens on Sundays and holidays.

There are registered tour guides which charge 250 mxn.

Opening timings: The site is open from 8am to 5pm every day of the year.

Getting there:

Bus from Tulum: There is a direct bus from Tulum Ado bus stop leaving at 10:11 am ever day. The bus is very comfortable and takes abour 50 minutes to get to the ruin. The ticket cost 66mxn one way and can be bought in advance as well. The limitation with the bus is that there is only one bus from Tulum to Coba and the return bus departs from Coba at 3 pm. If you’ve explored the ruins in a short time then the only option is to wait till 3 pm or hire a taxi.

Bus from Cancun: There are no direct buses from Cancun to Coba but there are hourly buses leaving for Playa Del Carmen. From PDC there is one bus leaving for Coba at 9:00 am and reaches Coba at 11:00 ma

Taxi from Tulum to Coba costs 600 mxn one way. If you can find people to share it then taxi is a good option. Inspite of the whole area being a tourits hub, the taxi drivers are incredibly honest and don’t try to fleece you.

Driving: It’s possible to rent a car and drive to Coba allowing you to stop at the many cenotes around Tulum. Coba is 131 kms from Cancun and 44 kms from Tulum. There is plenty of parking space costing 20 mxn.

There are many tour operators in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum which take you to the Coba ruin and usually club it with a visit to one of the cenotes close by. If you are short of time, then these is a good option but you’d have to bear with hordes of tourist like yourself 🙂

There is a toilet facility next to the ticket counter and many shops and restaurants to buy water and snacks as you won’t be able to purchase anything inside the ruin.

Renting bicycles: You can also rent bicycles(40mxn) or human powered tricycles (190 mxn for 2 hours) if you have mobility limitations or short of time. The road is unpaved but an easy walk (1 km) to the central pyramid. But the heat can be unforgiving so bring plenty of water, hats, sunglasses and insect repellant.  Allow at least 3-4 hours to explore the site extensively.

Restaurants: El Bocadillo is the first restaurant outside the main gate of the site. It also doubles up as the bus stop and you can purchase bus tickets from here. We had a delicious meal at the neighbouring restaurant, El Paso. The food was authentic and so so delicious, I am salivating as I write about it. Sigh!

There are a few more restaurants around the parking lot and some a few minutes walk from Lake Coba.

TULUM

Tulum is a hipsters and backpackers paradise. It’s a small village in Quintana Roo in Mexico filled with massage and yoga parlors, organic cafes and hole in the wall eating joints. Meeting hipsters is as common as coming across a taco stand. It’s a haven for the hipsters with bearded men, men and women with tattoo and dreadlocks, cycling in colorful and mismatch bikinis gives the place an uber cool and laid back atmosphere. We stayed in one such rustic hostel filled with people smoking marijuana, partying till wee hours and some crashed on the hammocks with their dogs while others on the beach chairs around the pool. It’s a totally different world from Cancun equally lively with many hip clubs but more run down and bohemian.

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Tulum ruin is unlike any of Mayan cities as it was the only coastal city built on a cliff along the Caribbean sea. It is spread over a large area and is walled from the three sides opening up to the sea on the fourth side. It’s is more modest in scale with the main pyramid, Castillo standing at only 25 feet tall. While the exact date of the birth of the city is not clear, most of it was built between 1200 and 1500 AD. Tulum is believed to have been a thriving centre of trade connecting both land and sea from Central and South America into the Yucatan.  It is also believed that the city was still functional at the time of the conquest of the Spanish as the mural with gods riding on horseback have been found on the site (Spanish were responsible for bringing horses in the area). Tulum’s most common depiction is that of the diving god or descending god. This god is depicted as an upside-down figure and is seen among many doorways on the ruins in Tulum.

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This city was also called Zama, meaning ‘dawn’ as this is the place dawn first breaks in the country. The Tulum ruins are in perfect order with paths and wooden railing built along the entrance. There are boards placed at every structure detailing the history of it. The best part of visiting Tulum ruin is the view of the Caribbean sea from it. There is a wooden deck close to the pyramid which through a flight of stairs connects the beach to the ruin.

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Practical Information

Tickets: The ticket to the ruin can be bought at the entrance costing 64 mxn, an additional cost for video cameras. The entry is free to the Mexican citizens on Sundays and holidays.

Opening timings: The site is open from 8am to 5pm every day of the year. If you want to avoid the crowds completely then the sites is also open from 6:30-8:00 am and 4:30-6:30 pm but the tickets cost almost 4 times at 220 mxn

Getting there: 

From Tulum: From Tulum downtown a taxi costs 110 mxn and takes about 15 minutes to get there. There are plenty of taxi’s available in Tulum and one can flag it down at any time of the day or night.

From Cancun: There are ADO buses which go to Tulum downtown every hour or so. For the ruins, you have to get off at the first stop in Tulum on the main highway and walk left into a road leading to the ruins. Else, you could take a taxi for 20mxn or so but the taxi is only allowed till the parking lot.

Driving: It’s possible to rent a car and drive to Tulum allowing you to stop at the many cenotes and Playa Del Carmen. Tulum Ruin is 138  km’s from Cancun. There is plenty of parking space costing 50 mxn, it’s a one-mile walk to the main entrance. If you’re unable to walk then there are shuttle trams (20 mxn) available as well.

There are registered guides at the entrance should you wish to hire one to show you around. They charge 20 USD. There are many tour operators in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum which take you to the Tulum ruin and usually club it with a visit to one of the cenotes and the beach.

Renting bicycles: Bicycle(50mxn per day) and scooters (200 mxn per day) can be rented at Tulum downtown. Some of the hostels or apartments give them for free as part of the accommodation deal.

CENOTES

A cenote is a natural sinkhole formed as a result of the collapse of porous limestone caves revealing an underground pool. Cenotes were scared for the Mayans as they were the only source of fresh water in the jungles. They worshipped the cenotes and religious ceremonies took place here including human sacrifice. The water is crystal clear water allowing you to look at the fishes and turtles from the surface. The entrance to the cenotes are spectacular half open letting the light through the foliage, but as you swim deeper it gets darker and impenetrable, difficult to explore without anyone to guide through.

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We could only go to one of the cenotes, Dos Jos meaning ‘two eyes’. There are two cenotes like the eyes joined by a short cave. It is 82 km’s long and 17 metres deep, being one of the longest cave systems in the underwater world.  These natural sinkholes were unlike anything we had seen before – a part of the cenote in open air and the other in semi-darkness with vines hanging from the roof, green blue water shimmering in the early morning sunlight, stalactite formations, bats hanging overheads, turtles swimming alongside, docks to jump off in the water and the underwater formations for divers to explore.

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There are many more cenotes in the area with Gran Cenote, Cenote Yokdzonot and Ik-kil are the well knows ones. If you are a water baby, you could spend weeks even months exploring the underwater world of Mayans and still not tire of them.

Practical Information

Entrance: The entrance ticket for Dos Ojos is 120 mxn and is opened between 8 am to 4:45 pm with the last entry allowed by 4:00 pm.

Rentals: There is a rental shop right at the cenote from where you can hire diving equipment including cylinders and wetsuits, life jackets (50 mxn), snorkeling gear (80 mxn) and lockers (30 mxn) available too. An underwater housing for phones are available too incase you’d want to take your selfie stick underwater 🙂

There are toilets and changing rooms and open showers close to the entrance. It’s compulsory to take a shower and then enter the cenotes.

Non-Swimmers: Dos Ojos is a good cenote for non-swimmers as it has a shallow area. There are roped strung on most of the cenotes which help non-swimmers to navigate along with the help of life jackets. Some even don’t mind holding onto the vines and roots.

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The Yucatán Peninsula not only captivates with its Maya ruins but also with its friendly and simple inhabitants, its mangrove swamps, its breathtaking turquoise waters, out of the world Cenotes and the unlimited option to indulge in the cuisine.

Starting your travel in Mexico in its capital city, Down in Mexico

Travel to this pretty colorful town north of Mexico City, Guanajuato

Feeling bohemian, visit Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico city.

 

                                         Which is your favourite Maya site?

 

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1 Comment
  1. Reply

    Natalie Charlton

    July 22, 2016

    Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and swimming in cenotes were my favourite things about the Riviera Maya!

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