The Yucatán peninsula has a lot of interesting, beautiful and inspiring attractions: mystic Mayan pyramids, picturesque colonial towns, wild jungle, caves, coral reef, sand beaches and the turquoise Caribbean Sea.
Until the mid – 20th century Yucatán was isolated from the rest of Mexico, and it still is in some ways. The people there see themselves as a world apart, with its own way of living, combining Mayan and Spanish culture. I was fascinated by mystic Mayan history and culture. The Mayan of the Yucatán resisted the Spaniards longer than any other people in Mexico, despite being divided into 19 small lordships. In the Classic era the Mayan were the most sophisticated and advanced of all the ancient cultures in Middle America, especially in art, astronomy and mathematics. They were fine builders, their harmoniously proportion buildings are today a great tourist attractions.
My favourite place in Mexico is definitely Tulum, a magnificent Mayan city on the coast of Yucatán, with a breath-taking view over the Caribbean Sea. In the Post Classic Era, from around 1200-1530, Tulum was one of the most prominent and significant Mayan coastal trading towns.
Despite of the stunning cultural heritage, Tulum’s other treasure is its 11 km long beautiful sand beach – perfect for romantic walks, relaxing under the palm trees, drinking cocktails at one of the beach bars or simply enjoy the turquoise colors of the Caribbean Sea.
At Riviera Maya there is also very nice eco-archaeological park –Xcaret. There is a diverse program for nature lovers: you can swim with the dolphins, take a snorkeling tour, visit a butterfly pavilion, swim in the underground rivers etc.
If you take a bus from Playa del Carmen, a town near Tulum, in few hours you could be standing in front of the one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” – Chichén Itzá, the most famous Mayan temple city.
The most important site is a fascinating pyramid El Castillo de Kukulcán – which represents the Mayan calendar. Back in ancient times, the Mayan people developed calendar of 365 days. The four stairways of the pyramid have 91 steps each, which including the platform at the top, is in total 365 – the number of days in a year. Other important site is a wonderful Observatory, also known as Caracol. Mayans were great astronomers. Their astronomical calculations were incredibly precise. It was really inspiring to visit a place where people were dedicated to astrology and looking at the stars a millennium ago, trying to predict every single aspect of everyday life.
On the north-west side of the central plaza is the great Ball Court, the largest in Middle America, where the ancient Mayans played their favorite sport. The captain of the losers team would have had been sacrificed to the Gods.
In Chichén Itzá, a lot of locals may approach you selling souvenirs. There is a whole souvenir market and if you negotiate well you might get a nice souvenir really cheap.
IL KIL CENOTE
The Yucatán peninsula and its Caribbean coast is a natural wonderland. It is a home of various and magnificent species of birds, animals and plants. What makes the Yucatán peninsula more interesting is the fact that there are no surface rivers. All rivers are underground. Any hole in the rock that allows access to underground water is a cenote (a Spanish version of Mayan dzonot).
Cenotes took very important role in life of the ancient Mayans. They considered it sacred places. Human sacrifices were performed at the Cenote Sagrado in Chichen Itza and hundreds of sets of bones were discovered in the bottom of that cenote. Ik Kil was more for sacred rituals and there were no known sacrifices performed there. Some cenotes they simply used for water supply.
Today, cenote is a magical underground world to visit, where you can swim in the fresh water or take a snorkeling tour.
WHERE TO STAY?
While visiting Tulum, we stayed at Hotel Real del Mayab in Playa del Carmen, a town close to Cancún. Hotel has really kind staff, affordable prices with nice breakfast included, free wifi and a lovely courtyard to relax in. Bedrooms are spacious and very clean. The hotel is located 3 minute walk from the beach and the main street with the restaurants and shops.
Even though there are also a lot of tourists in Playa del Carmen, I prefer it rather than Cancún because of its completely different, more intimate style.
In Chichén Itzá there are only a few hotels. We stayed in lovely bungalows surrounded by jungle – Hotel Dolores Alba. The hotel is clean, with very nice staff, tasteful restaurant, affordable prices and an outdoor pool. It is few minute walk from the Chichén Itzá ruins and Ik Kil Cenote.