On the route of Mayas, Mexico
This trip aimed to combine enjoying the beach with getting to know some history and visiting some places that we had chosen in advance for this or that reason. These were: Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Ek Balam, Coba, Playa Paraiso, Playa Akumal, Playa del Carmen, Valladolid, and even two cenotes, Ik il, and Tamcach-ha. Indeed for me an experience of a lifetime!
The departure was from Lisbon with Orbest. Everything was very peaceful and the journey was always with sunlight illuminating the sky, we passed over the Azores, and the Bahamas until the Riviera Maya appeared!
The airport was Cancún, the second largest in the country and we quickly went to the hotel that would provide the base for an intense vacation.
The Grand Bahia Principe in Mexico is a complex with 4 hotels, the Tulum, the Akumal, the Coba, and the Sian Ka'an, being the last not located on the beach.
It is a very nice hotel. Identical to the GBP in Punta Cana.
We stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe Tulum.
The sand is very white, but in some areas, there are a lot of rocks and corals and you need to be careful when walking. Furthermore, there are areas with barriers to stop the waves, which makes the beach safer, but a little less natural in these areas.
The hotel has very different beaches with warm water and where we can find many signals indicating turtle nests so that the birth of these small marine animals is not disturbed.
In this photo, the bay with the beaches of the hotels of the complex. On the left, Coba, and on the right Akumal.
Tip, without being too visible, try taking some bread in your hand into the water, in the sea...
The hotel staff is very friendly and cautious about details.
At night there are always some very curious creatures looking for something...
One of my traditions is to get up early, at least one day, and take the opportunity to see the sunrise, which is always fantastic in the Caribbean... and here it was no different!!
Food, lots of variety, quality, and quantity, no imperfection to point out. In addition to the traditional buffets, there are also themed restaurants.
At night there is an area where we can walk around and visit the little shops or "Tiendas de Recuerdos" at the hotel - LOL
Chichén Itzá is the most famous and visited archaeological place in Mexico. It is the main postcard of the entire Mayan civilization.
The pyramid or Temple of Kukulcán, also known as El Castillo, is one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. The causes of the decline of this ancient Mayan city are still a mystery. But there are several theories...
But in the enclosure, there are other points of interest as I will show.
The construction of "El Castillo" began on January 1, 1101, and was only finished on December 31, 1200. About 30 meters high, this pyramid has 91 steps on each side and one on the top of the entrance, thus presenting a total of 365, which symbolizes the number of days in a year of the Mayan solar calendar (Haab - each year had 18 months ("uinals") with 20 days ("kines") each.
The Mayans used yet another calendar, the Tzolkin, also known as the sacred or 260-day calendar since it had 13 months, each with 20 days. For this reason, every 52 years both calendars combine.
When you clap your hands at a certain distance from the pyramid, you can hear a sound equivalent to that of a quetzal, a bird originally from Central America. It was all these details and more that made Chichén Itzá a World Heritage Site in 1988 and one of the 7 wonders of the modern world in 2007.
(At the bottom of the stairs is the enormous head of the snake from the Temple of Kukulcan.)
Another very interesting area is the Great Ballcourt, where they literally played for life. Here, when I closed my eyes listening only to the sounds of the environment, I could almost hear the noise of the crowd that was supposed to watch the games!
The original name of this game is "ōllamaliztli", and it was a traditional Maya game.
The specific rules of this game differ depending on the era, but basically, players were trying to drive a heavy rubber ball through stone rings (like the one pictured) using their hips.
In the end, the captain of the winning team was ritually sacrificed to the gods!!
In the background, on the north side of the enclosure, is the Temple of the Bearded Man.
Other magnificent buildings can be visited such as the Temple of Warriors.
The Observatory or Snail
This building is a beautiful round stone structure with a partially ruined vaulted ceiling which originally should have been cylindrical in shape.
The staircase at the front of the Snail is strictly aligned at 27.5 degrees north and west, perfectly with the extreme north and the position of Venus in the universe. Snail is one of the oldest observatories in the Americas and highlights the great importance that astrology had for the inhabitants of Chichén Itzá.
The house of the nuns, as the Spanish people used to call it, since they considered that it looked like the convents of their country. Today it is thought that this building would have government purposes.
This construction is one of the oldest and most important in Chichén Itzá, and its construction dates back to the year 600 A.C.
The Jaguar Temple has a decoration linked to the ritual of ball games, where representations of warriors can be seen.
EIt is located on the platform of the playground.
Other places in the enclosure presented always an incredible beauty!
The Wall of Skulls, in the Aztec (Nahuatl) language, is a very large wall and is decorated with skulls, all with eyes!
The upper part was pierced with holes, probably to support on stakes the skulls of sacrificed victims and vanquished warriors.
The temple of the warriors (Chac Mool), with a strong Toltec influence, occupies about 40 square meters, consists of 200 columns, and dates from the year 1200 (more or less).
The Osario or tomb of the high priest was built as a smaller version of "El Castillo".
The Church, as the name implies, is another place of cult.
Cenote Ik Kil
The cenotes, sinkholes/natural cavities, or "natural wells" were for the Mayan society portals to the underworld, where, for that reason, they performed sacrifices.
The Yucatan peninsula has no rivers, instead presenting a vast network of underground channels and it is here that cenotes appear, which can be of three types, open-air, semi-open, or completely underground.
The cenotes constituted an important source of drinking water for the Mayans (or at least it would have been drinkable before they started carrying out the sacrifices).
One of the stories I remember being told in Chichén Itzá, by locals, was that one of the possibilities that were pointed to be the reason for the decline of that city was the fact that human sacrifices in the cenotes made the water unfit for consumption without the inhabitants noticing!
The Ik Kil cenote is about 60 meters in diameter and 40 meters deep (plus 26 meters between the ground level in that area and the waters of the cenote itself) with the water being around twenty-something degrees.
I can say that swimming in these incredible geological formations is something supernatural. An experience of a lifetime, no doubt.
The Mayan ruins of Ek Balam were hidden for centuries in the tropical jungle of Yucatan. This complex was built over 2300 years ago!
Of the 45 buildings already identified and discovered by archaeologists, only 17 are open to the public. The rest are waiting for its exploration.
The ruins of Ek Balam have opened to the public a few years ago, as they were the last archaeological sites to be discovered in the region. Its excavation only started in 1998!
Perhaps that is why it is such a well-preserved place and also less known than Chichén Itzá.
Of the 12 km² that occupied the city, only the center has already been excavated and can be visited.
It is not a very extensive area, but it has significant buildings for the Mayan culture.
The magnificent Acropolis - this construction is about 32 meters high and is one of the largest in Mesoamerica.
It's different from Chichén Itzá, and it's allowed to climb to its top. There are 106 steps. The climb is tiring! However, once you reach the top, it's worth all the effort. The panoramic view is amazing...
The decorations on the walls of the Acropolis are made of stucco. This one, with a whitish color, forms representations of warriors, gods, and animals. The entrance to the king's tomb has a kind of sculpture that resembles a jaguar's jaw - which is related to the city's name.
The term Ek Balam comes from the Yucatecan Maya language and means Black Jaguar (Ek, black; Balam, jaguar).
The two buildings that stand out in Ek Balam are the Oval Palace and the Acropolis. These are on opposite sides of the central square. In both, it is possible to climb and admire the surrounding landscape. And it's worth it...
Each stone carries an emotional charge that seems to want to tell a story. More than words, I leave some more photos of this magnificent place.
A playground in Ek Balam.
When contemplating the jungle from the top of the Acropolis, it is easy to understand why, in the 21st century, there are still so many treasures to discover in this area!
The horizon is all green and certainly hides other secrets to reveal.
There are signs of occupation of Ek Balam since the 4th century B.C., but the city experienced its apogee between the 7th and 10th centuries A.C.
The city fell into decay in the following centuries and was probably abandoned when the Spanish arrived in Mexico.
Undoubtedly a very special place.
Valladolid is a small colonial city founded in 1543. It is located in the central region of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is only 45 km from Chichén Itzá.
TULUM means enclosure, trench, or "Wall". But this name is recent!
The original name was Zamá, which means morning or dawn. The city was built in a risky area, facing the Caribbean Sea. Located 127 km from Cancún, it was protected by a wall with only one "opening" on the seaside, where even so there is the second largest coral barrier in the world that extends to Belize (Belize Barrier Reef - 300 km in length) that protected this Mayan city by functioning as a natural barrier.
Here is the Temple of Descending God.
Tulum was founded in the 6th century A.C. and after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century A.C. fell into decay and was abandoned.
Located by the sea, the city was an important port and trading post.
Buildings in Tulum are low, with El Castillo being the tallest.
SIf there are places on our planet that are naturally imposing, Tulum has to be at the TOP...
The ruins of Tulum are visited annually by thousands of tourists, and it is the only archaeological site that the Mayans left us right next to the Caribbean Sea.
It's hard to find words to describe Tulum!
Tulum is the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico, not being very large, a couple of hours are enough for your visit. It is advisable to go early because, on the one hand, of the heat and, on the other, the number of tourists ends up making the visit less interesting...
Popular wisdom tells that at dawn on the day of the winter solstice, the sun appeared in a small window of El Castillo, highlighting the connection between the city of Tulum and the sea and the cosmological environment.
Similar alignments occurred in other Mayan buildings during the equinoxes, such astronomical calculations allowed the Mayan rulers to control the populations, who certainly watched these phenomena with great astonishment and believing that the God of the Sun was at the "orders" of their religious and governmental authorities.
And it is for this reason that this city was originally known by the Mayans as Zama, which means "Dawn".
The archaeological area of Tulum is much smaller than Chichén Itzá or Cobá. Moreover, the buildings in Tulum are very close to each other.
Tulum is considered the most beautiful of the Riviera Maya beaches. Archaeological ruins and the turquoise blue sea combine perfectly.
The Mayan city of Cobá is located northwest of Tulum, approximately two and a half hours from Cancún.
The city of Cobá has had signs of occupation since the 1st century B.C. It had its apogee in the 11th century B.C. when it became one of the main cities of the Mayan civilization.
It is one of the oldest and most existing Mayan cities. It is estimated that it had a population of approximately 50,000 between 500 and 900 B.C.
Known as "The Crossing", this is one of the most emblematic constructions with a semicircular structure where the various paths that come from all areas of the ruins can be found.
The main temple of Cobá is the Pyramid of Nohoch Mul which is 42 meters high (12 meters more than the pyramid of Chichén Itzá).
One of the reasons why Cobá is worth visiting is because it has the highest Mayan pyramid on the Yucatan peninsula (Nohoch Mul).
The steps are narrow and irregular, thus many people use the rope to go up and down. And many go down sitting!
You can also appreciate a temple called "La Iglesia". This monument is next to the playground and belongs to the group of buildings closest to the city entrance.
Cobá is one of the few archaeological finds ever discovered and still not fully explored and restored. One of the main reasons is that it is located in the jungle in an area of difficult access and covered by very dense vegetation.
Archaeologists estimate that there are still more than 5000 sites to be explored in this area of the Yucatan Peninsula.
This beach, as the name implies, is fantastic, postcard-type! But if you want to appreciate, in my opinion, even better beaches, visit my post about my vacations in the Punta Maroma area...
The fine sand and warm water here combine perfectly!
Akumal Beach, this famous beach has the particularity of being able to swim with sea turtles. These come here to feed on algae and provide incredible moments. I was lucky to swim with them, but unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the moment...
This was a fantastic vacation and Mr. Espinosa also contributed to it with his very complete explanations and essential tips.
Playa del Carmen
Finally, there was still time for some last shopping on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen.