The Yucatan Peninsula’s coastline is a touristic place especially during the high season but nevertheless the beauty and the historical values of some areas is undeniable and I treasure many unforgettable memories of this journey. One above all: the gorgeous island where I escaped during the last days of my trip.
In my opinion, the coast from Cancun to Tulum is overbuilt: there are a series of hotels, private areas and touristic “entertainment parks”. I made the mistake to book an horseback riding at one of this private entertainment park, the Punta Venado Eco Park and I didn’t like it very much. Although the beaches are nice, the poetry is frustrated by crowds of tourists and the rhythm of the organised activities. Not my favourite situation at all.
I travelled across the peninsula by local buses (from Cancun to Playa and from Playa to Tulum), joining some tours (to Chichen Itza and the Sian Ka’an Reserve) and by taxi (from Tulum to Chiquila, because it wasn’t so expensive compared to the huge amount of time I saved).
The followings are the best spots not to be missed:
The city is divided into three main areas: the archaeological site, the pueblo (the area along the main road) and the zona hotelera (the hotel zone along the coast).
Tulum’s archeological site is unique and one of the best-preserved in the Riviera Maya because it is the only one to have been built overlooking the Caribbean Sea and surrounded by beaches.
In the Yucatec language, Tulum means “wall”, referring to the large barricade that surrounds the settlement. The buildings date from around 1.200 to 1.500 A.D. and they were the city’s main center where ceremonial and political activities took place.
Tulum was functioning at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, being the center for the Maya’s extensive trade network with both maritime and land routes converging here. Tulum remained inhabited about 70 years after the Conquest, when it was finally abandoned.
The most iconic and photographed of its structures, the Castillo, is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It may have functioned as a navigational aid, directing Mayan crafts through the break in the reef to the beach.
On the left side of the complex, a short walk leads to Playa Paraiso, an endless white beach: the coastline along this southern part of the Riviera Maya remains relatively undeveloped and it is possible to enjoy a more wild and relaxing beach life.
The first day I arrived in Tulum I went to a very well known agency, iTourMexico, run by Marco and I booked two amazing day-tour to visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and Chichen Itza. Very early in the morning the courtyard of the agency is already full of tourists from every country waiting to enjoy an adventurous trip!
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The Sian Ka’an Reserve is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.
In the Mayan’s language Sian Ka’an means “the Origin of the Sky”. This important biosphere contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef and it provides a habitat for a rich flora and fauna.
Early in the morning we jumped on Jeep and our guide drove to reach the fishing village of Punta Allen crossing the Boca Paila’s bridge that divides the laguna from the waters of the Caribbean.
At the village we met the local fisherman who took us with their small motorboats across the laguna: we stopped several times to admire crocodiles along the mangrove canals and the “bird’s island” colonized by cormorants and pelicans.
From the laguna we reached the ocean heading to a place where we were able to admire many dolphins and sea turtles. The fisherman from each boat were in competition trying to be the first one able to guess where the next dolphin would have appeared. We had a lot of fun!
We spent the last part of the boat tour swimming in a ‘natural swimming pool’: its crystal clear shallow waters are the ones you imagine when you dream about the Caribbean Sea.
The Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza is one of the greatest Mayan sacred centres of the Yucatán peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the world.
Our guide was very well prepared and he explained us the meaning and the most credited historical reconstruction about the buildings, the life and the mayan culture.
We ejoyed visiting the central Kulkukan Pyramid (the Castillo) which represents the Mayan calender, the Gran Juego de Pelota, where the capitan of the winning team would be honoured and decapitated, the Temple of the Warriors, decorated with 1,000 columns, the Sacred Cenote, a natural hole where human sacrifices were made and the Caracul Observatory, the only spiral Mayan construction.
I was extremely impressed by their accurate knowledge of astronomy. During the equinozes (the only times when the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated and they occur twice a year, around 21 March and 23 September) the architecture of the Pyramid combined with the natural rotation of the earth creates an illusion of light and shadows: seven triangles on the side of the staircase create a giant snake having is stone head at the bottom of the Pyramid.
I spent half-day to reach Holbox island from Tulum by taxi and then I took a ferry from the mainland town of Chiquila but as soon as I arrived on the island I thought that time was absolutely worth it.
I immediately felt in love with the authentic atmosphere and the colors of this place where everyone circulate on the streets by bicycle or golf car. You can literally take off your shoes and forget about them!
It is recommend bringing sufficient cash as there are no banks on the island and the ATM are often out of cash or they allow to withdraw a very little money charging a fee.
I stayed at the very luxury and romantic Casa Sandra: the hotel and the room are beautiful, very comfortable and clean. It is perfectly located on the beach and you can reach the city center walking less then five minutes. Unfortunately, most of the staff does not speak english and probably for this reason they are not so friendly with guests.
Isla Holbox is a paradise. I enjoyed its biodiversity walking for hours along its beaches full of shell of any size, watching the seagulls and a great variety of birds colonizing the docks and contemplating the colors of the sundown.
In the summer season (from June to September) it’s possible to swim with the whale shark passing by island during their annual migration and watching the migrant flamingos in the shallow lagoon separating Holbox from the mainland.