My final day in Mexico and it was an early start, with a 6.30a.m wake-up followed by a 7.10a.m pick-up which was a 10 minute walk from the apartment. I had sensibly packed a bag the evening previously to ensure I didn’t forget anything and so headed off to the meeting spot where my transfer was waiting. We had 2 further stops to make before they drove for around 40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen to a large drop-off location where we would be put into a tour group with others and shipped onto coaches. I am generally not a huge fan of particularly large coach tours, you don’t get any personal service and a lot of the time you end up paying over the odds just because it is easy and put together for you. However, Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan site I would be visiting that day and one of the modern wonders of the world is far and difficult to reach from Playa and so a cheap $35 dollar tour made a lot more sense than the hassle and stress of attempting to get there myself, particularly when the tour made other additional stop-offs. So we had 40 minutes to kill before the main tour departed in what was effectively a massive shop and café. I sat and spoke to two of the guys that had been in my small transfer – Nasr and Ali who were from Bahrain and travelling through Cuba and Mexico. They had some pretty good chat so I adopted them as my travel buddies for the day (it had been a while of solo travel) and off we went.
Our tour guide explained the 4 stops of the tour; cultural centre (shop) and ceynote, lunch, Chichen Itza and then finally Valladolid. It was around an hour and a half to the first stop but unfortunately my sleeping plan was interrupted by the guides 1 and a half hour sales pitch for the upcoming cultural centre. He was definitely all about the hard sell, Mayan people must be helped by the money foreign people bring, do a good deed and buy something to help out a poor struggling Mayan family, you all stay in expensive resorts where it costs $200 for a hot stone massage (at this point my face was clearly making a disbelieving look to which he responded that this was indeed true, while I just shook my head, who pays $200 for a hot stone massage??) and that in fact it would be better value to buy a magic stone off him for $50 to have a massage at home all the time. The heavy handed sales pitch was a massive dampener for the tour in general and we arrived at the shop a bit disillusioned but unable to skip through it. We had to spend 30 minutes in it before he would hand over our ticket for the ceynote. This angered me even more and I am not sure if anyone on the tour bought anything. The ceynote was in the same place – Suytun and the owners insisted that people could only swim if they hired a lifejacket. For someone who has swam for years this was particularly frustrating as I find it more annoying and constricting in a jacket now but I wasn’t going to miss out on going swimming. The water was FREEZING!! Especially since it was still early in the morning and the ceynote only has a small sunlight opening and is otherwise in a chilly cave. We had a swim around and I spent some time showing Ali how to swim before heading back up and drying off for lunch. The lunch was a buffet style and was surprisingly very good. They had pork and chicken tacos with some great spicy sauces and the usual rice and beans get-up as well as catering for a less adventurous palate with the likes of spaghetti etc. However, I had been sold the tour based on all water and local soft drinks being included and this was not the case so again slightly annoying. There was also 2 traditional dancers weaving in amongst all the tables which made going to the buffet and back to your table a bit challenging at times!
We were soon off again for another hour or so for the highlight of the day – Chichen Itza!! I was really looking forward to this part and I was not disappointed. Chichen Itza is probably one of the most famous Mayan sites that you can visit, given its recent wonder of the world status. Due to this fame and popularity it is busy but as we had arrived towards the end of the day it was not crazy busy with just a few groups as well as those who had travelled solo. Included in the price of the tour was a guided tour which took around an hour and we then had about 45 minutes of our own free time left to explore. The Mayan civilisation reigned from 2000BC and is still found today, particularly in the Yucatan Peninsular area of Mexico. It ranged from Mexico all the way South through Belize, Guatemala, to as far south as Honduras and El Salvador. As you can see here https://samanthasworldwanderings.com/2015/09/05/copan-to-tela-honduras/ I visited the site of Copan in Honduras a few years previously so was looking forward to seeing the differences between the two sites. Chichen Itza was one of the largest sites of the Mayan population and had a diverse population which as a result contributed to a site with a huge variety of architectural styles. We started our tour next to the most iconic image (the one on all the postcards) – the Kukulkan Pyramid which is known as “El Castillo” (the castle). It is this part of the site that was designated as a wonder of the world and while it is huge and imposing at 24m high, I found other sections of the well excavated site a lot more intriguing. It is unknown the exact purpose of the pyramid but due to the carvings of a snake (said to be a depiction of the serpent feathered god Kukulkan on the side of the pyramid which during the equinox essentially comes to life due to the position of the sun, many believe it was used by the ruler of the area as a way of keeping the lower classes in check and working hard. There is a side door on the pyramid where archaeologists have explored inside and found further mini pyramids inside but no graves.
The second section was more of a ruin and entitled the group of a thousand columns. Although these columns are now exposed they would have been under cover when the city was inhabited. This section is at the temple of warriors – which was, you guessed it, linked to the warriors of the kingdom. The most interesting thing about this structure is that the complex holds a lot of similarities to that of a Toltec temple and evidences the cultural contact between the two regions. The other notable feature of the complex is the ball court, and this was the part that had the most resemblance to the Honduras Mayan city I had visited. Much about this game is unknown but they believe it may have been a competition where the winner was sacrificed as an offering to the gods. They believe this would have been a sort of public beheading ceremony and then the skull would have been places along with other victors. There are also 4 ceynotes at different points to the complex where the inhabitants would have got fresh water. Excavations have shown that one in particular was used as a burial ground for sacrifices.
After an interesting afternoon learning all about the complex and history of the Mayan’s we had a little walk round photo shoot with my new friends before heading for our final stop of the day Valladolid. I have to say, by the time we arrived I could have thought of a lot of nicer things to do than wander around a city. It had been a long day and after Chichen Itza we were ready to head home. However, it was only a 30 minute stop so we wandered around and soon came to see just how beautiful a city it is. There is a lot of colonial architecture similar to what you might see in Nicaragua but unlike anything I had seen so far in Mexico. There was a beautiful old colonial era cathedral the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena which was very pretty. The outside aesthetics are always more impressive than inside with these style but it was nice to wander around. The main park square was also very pretty and felt like being right back in Spain. We wandered around checking out the various street vendors before heading back to Playa for my final night of the trip!
The boys invited me to have dinner with them, which I accepted. We didn’t get back until after 8 and given that it was the opening night of the famous music festival BPM the main 5th Avenue strip was bustling with people. We opted for a place they had eaten at the night before – Muy Salsa where I opted for the chicken quesadilla. I have to say I was massively underwhelmed by the meal (it was really bland and a lot more expensive than any of the other tasty local places I had eaten in) but it was nice to spend my last night hanging out with some cool people and swapping travel stories. I had to run off around 10 to get back in time to pack my bag for my early 4a.m pick-up the next morning. Mexico – you have been wonderful and I couldn’t recommend enough, especially for divers to jump on a plane and visit. It is so easy.