My week in Mexico was spent at the Barcelo Maya Tropical Beach hotel, part of the huge Barcelo Maya Beach Resort, located just over an hour drive south from Cancun airport. The Barcelo is an all inclusive hotel, which was a nice touch but I didn’t spend a sufficient amount of time at the hotel to take full advantage of this.
The reason for visiting the Yucatan Peninsula was my desire to visit as many of the historic Mayan sites as I could. I arrived at the hotel in the late evening on Monday. After settling in, exploring the rest of the resort and having dinner it was time to get some sleep before the start of what was to become a very busy week.
Tuesday morning, an 8am pick-up from the hotel lobby to take me to the first and one of the most photographed Maya sites, Chichen Itza. After a long drive and a stop at a cenote, and another for lunch the tour bus finally arrived at Chichen Itza where our very knowledgeable guide explained the main sites of this ancient city. The most famous of which is El Castillo which was built around 800 AD. The city was a major commercial and religious centre until around 1200 AD.
Chichen Itza also features a well preserved ball court used for playing an ancient ballgame after which either the winner or loser (know one is sure which) would be sacrificed to the Mayan gods.
The immense size of all the constructions on this site is very impressive. So too is the fact that the civilisation that constructed them clearly understood the way sound waves travel. There are only two places in the ball court where an echo can be produced, under each of the two hoops used for passing the ball through during the game. It is also possible for two people at opposite ends of the ball court to hold a conversation without having to shout over the long distance between each other. Even more impressive is that if a group of people standing in front of El Castillo clap their hands together three times the resulting echo from way above at the top of El Castillo sounds like the name of the Mayan god Kukulcan.
Wednesday morning was spent at another famous Maya site, and one visited by nearly every cruise ship that stops in the area. Tulum is a walled city located on top of a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Tulum dates from around 1200 AD until the arrival of the Spanish. The city was an important training port. Tulum is located just 30 minutes south of the Barcelo hotel, and makes for a very easy and interesting half day excursion.
Ready for a break from Maya ruins Thursday was time for something a little different, a visit to an ecological theme park called Xel-Ha. Xel-Ha’s main attraction is it’s excellent snorkelling. However it also has a nice walking trail and, my main reason for visiting, a Bottlenose Dolphin training facility.
The Dolphin swim lasted 45 minutes and included the opportunity to swim with three dolphins all aged between 3-4 years old. The experience was both educational and fun. On the fun side, the dolphins jumped over the dolphin swim participants and also gave each participant a foot push. The foot push involves either one or two dolphins pushing the participant through the water at high speed and is extremely exhilarating.
8:00am on Friday morning and I was once again waiting in the hotel lobby for another tour bus. This time the destination was the city of Coba that was only recently rediscovered and is currently being excavated. Before arriving at Coba the tour made a stop at a Maya village where today Maya decendents live very much as their ancestors did before them. These hunter gathers open up their homes to the Coba Maya Village tour and allowed us to see how they live and work.
After a visit to a sacred cenote and lunch it was on to Coba’s historic site. A major city between 300 AD and 1000 AD it is now shrouded by the jungle. Whilst less well preserved than Chichen Itza, the history, location and lack of crowds makes this site well worth a visit. It’s highlight is the 42 metre Nohoch Mul pyramid. The climb up this old and worn building is rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding jungle.
Another popular ecological park called Xcaret, about 20 minutes North of the Barcelo hotel, was the location for Saturday’s day out. Built around the ruins of an ancient Maya city Pole this park is a mixture of an archaeological site, zoo, water park & beach resort. I enjoyed an underwater walk using Sea Trek equipment (a helmet that pipes air in from a facility located on the shore). The weighted helmet allows you to walk easily along the sea bed whilst watching the wide variety of sea life. Xcaret also has performances of various Maya ceremonies throughout the day, including a demonstration of the ballgame, as part of a 2 hour spectacular in the evening.
Sunday was my last full day in Mexico and I decided to relax on the beach and take advantage of the sea kayak rental. It’s been a while since I had been in a kayak so I really enjoyed the chance to spend as much time as I wanted paddling around in the warm Caribbean sea. The sea was rougher than when I rented a Kayak on Wednesday, and unlike Wednesday I wasn’t the only one on the water so it wasn’t as serene or relaxing, but was fun battling the waves. Sadly it was too windy for the beginners windsurfing course so I didn’t manage to try out windsurfing, maybe on my next visit…
You can find more photos of my visit to Riviera Maya in the Photo Album.