Cancún is the kind of place that a visitor planned to stay for a few days, and ended up staying for a month. Mexico’s Riviera Maya is situated on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula and it’s the cradle of the ancient Mayan culture, stretching down the coast over 60 miles on the South of Cancún. Therefore, apart from the long coastline, adventurous water sports, and exciting party scene, the area also has a great number of heritage sites to offer.
Enjoy the Yucatán Sunshine! – travel tips
I was welcomed by the sound of birds and tropical breeze once stepped out from the airport in the early morning. It reminded me so much of Bali. Then I was surrounded by drivers who greeted their guests and took them to their resorts. Within 15 minutes we have reached the tourist area of Cancún – it’s a long strip along the coast with high-rise resorts lining up along the beach. Most of the hotel suites are with a balcony facing east. The first morning I woke up I saw a beautiful sunrise at my window and it was breathtaking.
After I got picked up by the shuttle bus the group lined up and boarded a large coach bus heading to Chichen Itza. It was a combo tour package so I enjoyed a small discount for visiting both Chichen Itza and Tulum. Day one, we are going to see Chichen Itza and Cenote, on the way back.
The sun was shining and it was a big group of tourists from all over the world – the tour guide was knowledgeable and he began to introduce us all the Mayan culture and history. First, we had a shortstop in the Spanish colonial city of Valladolid. The city is situated in the inland eastern part of the Yucatán state with about a population of 50,000, making it the third-largest community in the state. The city was named after the old capital of Spain and the city is a replica of any historic town in Spain. Once the coach bus reached the city I could see classic Spanish-style architecture everywhere.
Cathedral of “San Servacio o Gervasio” is the focal point of the city. Valladolid has a chessboard-like city grid while Cathedral is the center, standing next to the main square, Francisco Canton Rosado, where souvenir shops and restaurants are located. It was a nice stop to check out the colonial past and refreshed before carrying on our journey to the ancient Mayan Wonder.
On the way to our lunch, we had another short stop at the Mayan Cultural Village, basically a handicraft store for tourists to buy souvenirs.
The Maya civilization began over 3500 years ago in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. It was one of the most extraordinary cultures in the American continent. The Mayans forged a great nation with distinct and uniquely defined style; yet their extraordinary cultural expressions only remained as ruins and heritages for us to see today, as they have mysteriously “vanished” in the human history.
Their architecture, science and mathematics discoveries and art have changed today’s human life tremendously. Their books, codecs, and finely elaborated hieroglyphics have recorded knowledge from the ancient time that inspired all (Not to mention the 2012 apocalyptic conspiracies?).
The most important discovery of them all would probably be the introduction of “0” in the numerical system that revolutionized the arithmetic methodology in the entire world.
Besides, the Mayan Calendar was an extremely accurate calendar in human history, with their refined astronomical skills and careful observations of the rhythm of seasons, the passage of the sun through its zenith, and the appearance of stars, constellations, and eclipses and so on. The body of astronomical knowledge was applied to the measurement of time and mathematics that still amazed scientists about their precision and accuracy today.
Chichen Itza is the most recognizable wonder of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past. The archeological site revealed a lot about this long lost civilization, where the people who once thought that God made them from corn:). Once we arrived at the archaeological site, wow, it was crowded. But the pyramid actually has a lot of space for visitors to appreciate the architecture up close, and far.
The site was constructed ~525AD outside a ring of a meteorite crash, and it was a prominent governing and religious center in the Mayan world. The heritage site was huge, so it had a lot of things to see. The pyramid (The main temple) was the main feature and it was built based on the solar calendar; our guide gave us some insightful commentary about how this pre-Colombian settlement was an important destination for pilgrimages and still considered sacred today.
We could not enter or climb the pyramid. There was a spot in front of the pyramid that every group clapped their hands together because people could hear the echo of the sound coming out from the top of the pyramid when they clapped – resembling the chirp of Quetzalcoatl (a deity in Mayan Culture).
Besides, there was an observatory to explore astronomical events, the light enters the observatory and illuminates the structure during equinox (The day of the year when the length of the day equals night)! Another noteworthy culture in Mayan history was the Ballgame. Chichen Itza is also known for its Great Ball Court with stone rings hanging 20 feet high on both sides of the stone walls. The walls are leaning inwards and produce echoes so that the audience could hear the ball bouncing during the ball games.
Lastly, we visited the beautiful open-air Cenote, a natural fresh-water sinkhole. The cenote is the only source of freshwater to the Mayans and they considered Cenotes to be sacred portals to the underworld.
Visitors could swim in the water and cool off. Simply change in the changing room at the entrance, and rinse at the shower before walking down the stairs in the cave to the water.
Towel and locker’s rentals were available but visitors could bring their own equipment and a change of clothes.