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Yucatan Ruins

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Travel Notes: Travel-Write: Central America: Yucatan Ruins

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We took an early morning ferry from Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen.

The warm wind and sea spray felt good on our frost bitten faces, fresh from Northern California.

Touring The Yucatan Ruins

We had previously toured the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio, on Cozumel.

They are special in that Mayan girls came to the island as part of a ritual of womanhood.

The principle deity of San Gervasio is Ixchel, the goddess of weaving, women, childbirth, pilgrims, the moon, and medicine.

With all those responsibilities, it is no wonder she chose tranquil Cozumel for her home. Although the pyramid at San Gervasio is not as high as Coba or Chichen Izta, the ruins have a primitive architecture that is interesting. There are many large and colourful iguanas at San Gervasio that love to have their photos taken.

At Playa del Carmen we rented a car and drove south to Tulum.


The ruins of Tulum are on a limestone bluff overlooking the aqua Caribbean and are the only Maya ruins located next to the sea.

Tulum is a walled city built in the 10th century. When the Spanish arrived, about 600 people inhabited the area, living in platform dwellings. The word Tulum is Mayan for wall, which was built around the city to protect it from invading rival tribes.

The wall did not stop the Spanish and the city was abandoned about 70 years after the Spanish conquest. It was an important seaport for the Mayans, when the Spanish arrived, but now the seaport is a beautiful sandy cove under the shadow of the castillo (Mayan castle), where tourists swim and sun-bathe.

The overwhelming feeling I had when I saw the complex architecture and intricate frescoes, from the 13th-century, was that Mayan culture was equal to the Spanish and it is unfortunate that the Mayans did not have the ability to keep their culture alive. Driving through the Yucatan, you still see traditional Mayan huts, but I have not seen Mayan villages comparable to the Native American towns in the United States.

From Tulum we drove north-west for about an hour along a fairly good highway to Coba. Driving at 60 miles per hour, it is difficult to see the occasional car-eating chuckholes, which is probably the reason why the wheels of our rental car were out of alignment.

We arrived about 1pm on a Saturday and the parking lot was nearly empty, a big change from the line of tour buses at most archaeological sites in Mexico. After a typical Mexican lunch at an outdoor restaurant, we entered the park and rented bicycles.


Cob� was a city-state covering 42-square miles and although most of it is not uncovered, there are still several miles of trails between the four groups of ruins that have been excavated and it is best to rent bikes or take one of the peddle-taxis.

From the top of El Castillo, which is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán, (even taller than the El Castillo at Chichen Izta) you can see for miles in every direction, with jungle-covered pyramids and ruins poking out of jungle floor.

We stayed in the park until dusk and we were alone when we rode our bikes along the sacbe, a Mayan raised road, to a large group of intricately carved stelae - carved stone pillars and slabs.

Walking among the stelae in the shadows of the setting sun, I thought I could feel the presence of the Mayan gods but my wife and son said I was just getting hungry.

Our plan was to drive to Chichen Izta that day, but it was about 7pm by the time we drove into Valladolid and I did not feel like driving the additional 25 miles.

We stayed at Hotel El Meson del Marques, a restored old colonial hotel across from the main plaza. For $67 we got a large room, which had recently been renovated, with two queen beds, A/C, large clean bathroom and TV.

The hotel has an excellent restaurant in the courtyard, surrounded by hanging plants and paintings by Frida Kahlo. Her style of art, which is often grotesque and depressing, is not my favourite, but it is worth seeing. The excellent movie about her life brought her art into perspective for me and gave me a greater appreciation for her style.

On Sunday morning we toured Cenote Zaci, just a few blocks from the hotel. It is a very popular place with the locals to stay cool in the heat of the day. The roof of the huge cavern has been opened and concrete trails go down to the large underground pool, which is surrounded by stalactites and tree roots wrapped around the rock.

There is a restaurant above the cenote that has good food and a great view of the cenote at night, when the cavern lights are on. After touring the cenote, we went shopping at the town market, where we bought the local honey made from the tzi-tzi flowers. The women at the market all wore beautiful embroidered Mayan dresses.

We beat the tour buses to Chichen Izta.

Admission on Sundays is free.

The Pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo at Chich�n Izt� - by David Hammer
The Pyramid of Kukulcan at Chichen Izta - by David Hammer

The grandeur of the ruins of Chichen Izta is awesome. In the centre of the four square mile ancient city is El Castillo, which seems taller than the pyramid at Cob�, possibly because of the vast open area around it.

The rows and rows of columns flanking the Temple of the Warriors reminded me of the columns from the Roman Empire I had seen in Europe. The carvings of the warriors on the walls of the Temple are in relatively good condition and the detail can still be seen.

Temple of the Warriors, Chich�n Izt� - by David Hammer.
Temple of the Warriors, Chichen Izta - by David Hammer.

Although the Mayans abandoned Chichen Izta hundreds of years ago, we saw one life form that stayed and thrived: leaf cutter ants. It was fascinating watching the army of ants cut the leaves and carry them several hundred feet through the jungle to their nest. The old rotted leaves were several feet deep at the nest.

It took us about three hours to tour all of the ruins. They have a light show at night which we would like to have seen, but we had plans in Merida that night.


We arrived in Merida late Sunday afternoon and most of the shops in the central market were closed, but Curios Lucia's, where I had shopped before, was still open. They have an excellent selection of blankets and local crafts and will barter.

Every Sunday the main plaza,and a section of the major downtown streets are closed to traffic traffic and there is a festival called Domingo en Merida. It is worth going to the city just to see the festival.

There are always several bands, some playing traditional Mexican music accompanying dancers in traditional dress. Other bands play mambos, salsa and cha-chas, while around a thousand people dance in the street and listen to the music.

Merida is a beautiful old colonial city that reeks with history and culture. It has excellent, inexpensive hotels and restaurants.

We had dinner at Portico del Peregrino, which has a quiet garden courtyard.

Monday morning we to took the toll road, which cost about $24 one-way, toward Cancun. It is a lot more fun to take the old highway but the toll road cuts the trip from 5 to 3 hours and made it possible for us to catch the 1pm ferry back to Cozumel.

When I have more time, I would like to spend several days in Merida and the surrounding towns.

By David Hammer.

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