We arrive in Cancun at 9:50 am. Our flight is on time. On the way out, we find a tourist information center. The representative tells us about discounted day tour that is associated with certain hotels. The more I talk to her, the more it sounds like a timeshare sales pitch. So, we get away and finally locate the ADO (express bus) ticket center at the end of building. The cost for an express bus between cancun airport and Playa Del Carmen is 80 Pesos.
The bus promptly leaves Cancun airport at 10:45 am, just like what the schedule says. The trip takes approximately 1 hour. The view between Cancun airport and Playa Del Carmen is a bit mundane with some bushes and palm trees dotting the sides of the highway. There are attempts to make things better like placing sculptures every few hundred meters on the highway median.
We arrive in Playa Del Carmen bus station around 11:45 am. The taxi from the bus station to our hotel is supposed to be 12 pesos, according to the information that I have on the Internet. However, the taxi broker (that's how I call this guy because he seems to be doing the price negotiation between the taxi driver and us, and other potential passengers) quotes 40 pesos. Although the real distance is only about 12 short blocks, since we are carrying a lot of stuffs, I just take the quoted price. BTW, if you look at the hotel address (Calle 26), you would think that it's 20 something block away from the bus station (on Calle2). However, in Playa (the short name for Playa Del Carmen), the street naming convention is the following. For streets that are parallel to the beach, the number goes up by 5. So, it starts with Ave 1, then Ave 5, then Ave 10, 15 and so on. The streets that are perpendicular to those Avenues are called Calle, and the number goes up by increment of 2. Hence, the distance between Calle 26 and Calle 2 is actually just 13 blocks.
We get to our hotel, hotel Luna Blue, around noon, but the room is not available for check in yet. Fortunately, we can drop off our luggage and go out for lunch. We go to a nearby restaurant called Vagabond Cafe. It's on Ave 5 between Calle 24 and 22, I think. If you come for lunch between 1 pm and 5 pm, you can ask for menu del dia for a really good price. I think appetizer, soup, main course and drink costs just 69 pesos. Today, the main course for the lunch special is chicken in wine sauce, and beef in tomato sauce. The soup is either cold tomato soup (gazpacho) or chicken corn soup.
After lunch, we check in to our hotel, and we are then on our way to the Mamita's Beach Club. This place is really swanky! Over here, you will find not only beach huts and reclining seats, but you will also find the real beach beds, big and cozy sofa or swings accompanied with ever present bar services and hip music. Another great thing about this place (or our hotel) is that admission to this place is actually included in our hotel rate. The water color is so blue, and we can see the nuances from light blue to greenish blue to finally dark blue. It's amazing, how does sea here gets such terrific color? After checking out the place, we pick a spot and then enjoy the rest of the day relaxing, having sun tan and enjoying the view.
Once in a while, you see outside food peddlars come in offering their goodies, like fresh cut mangoes (it's sweet), and professional photographers offering the service. The photographer will just swing by and ask if you want to have some pictures taken. He/she (in our case she) will tell you how to pose to make a professional looking magazine cover-like pictures. Afterwards, if you choose to have your pictures, you can take it from the store, also on Avenida 5 between Calle 12 and 14. I forget the name of the store though.
We have our dinner at Las Brisas (see itinerary). This place is terrific for fresh seafood. The lobster tail is great! It's just half a block off from Ave Quinta (Ave 5), but because of that, the price is almost half of the price charges by the competitions. We have a seafood platter for 2 that includes a 400 gr lobster tail, prawns, squids, fish for just under 300 pesos. This place is highly highly recommended.
We will have our tour to Sian Ka'an biosphere today, but first we have to get to Tulum from Playa (common nickname for Playa Del Carmen). There is an express bus to Tulum that leaves at 7 am and arrives in Tulum at 8, but we want a bit flexibility since we do not need to be at the tour office by 8:30 am. Hence, we catch a collectivo ride. The cost is half of that of an express bus ticket (40 pesos). Collectivo is a minivan that takes you from one city to another in Quintana Roo. I have heard that there are many collectivos stand within Playa. The collectivos that can get you to Tulum from Playa are stationed at Calle2, Ave 15.
The ride takes about 1 hour, about the same time it takes if you go with an express bus, but it makes quite a few stops along the way to drop-off or pick-up people. Sometimes the collective does not just stop at the side of the highway that connects Tulum and Playa, but it goes a few blocks in. Since I do not know what to expect in the beginning, the first few stops get me a bit paranoid lest the trip takes too long and we miss our tour. In the end though, everything is fine.
When we get to Sian Ka'an tour office, we are told that the Punta Allen Eco Adventure tour is cancelled because it's too windy and there are high waves. Access to the lagoon is limited to smaller boat, and with such winds and waves, it will be too dangerous to go to the open sea. Refusing to be disappointed, we decide to take the Muyil Forest and Canal tour, also in Sian Ka'an. The tour is operated by a Co-Op called Community of Sian Ka'an. This co-op is 100% run by Mayan people who live in Sian Ka'an. Part of the tour revenue goes to preservation of the biosphere and the improvement of the Mayan people who live there. We are excited about the trip to begin with, but after we know that we also indirectly contribute to the betterment of the community there, it feels even better. :)
Our first stop is Muyil forest. There we see the natural jungle in Yucatan peninsula, the wild animals and plants. We see some spines of porcupines from a few days ago, as we were told by our guide, Alberto. He saw a small jaguar tried to hunt a porcupine and failed in its attempt. That's why we saw the left-over spines on the trails. We also saw plants and seeds that the Mayan people use for their daily life -- some kind of seeds that smell like bubble gum that Mayan people use as detergent, and some leaves for their veggie. The veggie leaves smell like kafir lime leaves. I actually chew and eat it too.
In Muyil forest, we also see a Mayan few ruins, albeit smaller in scale to the one we will see in Tulum or Chichen Itza. Alberto, our guide, tells us various theories on why the entrance to the structures is so short. Some people think that Mayan people are short. That's possible but it would mean they are all dwarfs because the openings are just about a meter high. The more plausible explanation is that the door is designed in such as way as a defensive mechanism for the people inhabiting the place. If the door is so short, then visitors will have to duck to enter the site. If the visitor is an uninvited guests, then it's occupant can launch an unchallenged attacks to the intruder. Makes sense...
After visiting the ruins, we also walk through the jungle. It is a good 15 to 20 minutes walk, and we stop at a marshland. On the way, we also stop at a lookout point where we can climb a watch tower, probably about 4-story high. The walk up has to be done through a rickety (ok, more stable than the word I choose) permanent ladder, and it's very windy at the top platform of the watch tower, but we have a good view of the marshland and the jungle that we just crossed.
By the marshland, we are served with fruit salad topped with coconut slivers while waiting for our boat to the Muyil canal. The Mayan build quite a few canals to connect the inner side of the marshland to the sea so that they can trade with other Mayan from different regions. In this canal we will be floating away our rest of the day. Can't wait...
From one side of the marshland, the boat takes us across what appears to be a big lake, and then we arrive at a canal. We slowly cut through the canal with our boat, and we see another big lake. After crossing this second big lake, we see another canal. Over here is where we will float our way towards the carribean sea. The canal is not very deep. For the most part, I could pretty much stand up straight and only have about 2/3 of my body in the water. However, you see a lot of plants and animals in this ecosystem like various kind of egrets, various kind of fishes, wild orchids, etc. It's a very windy day today, but when we float in the canal, we don't feel the wind at all, although we can hear it. When I float face up, I can see the tall grasses of the marshlands, flying birds, water and winds sound in my ears. It feels very surreal.
Before we finish our trip, we are taken to an open top cenote in Sian Ka'an. Cenote is pretty much a sinkhole that collects fresh water. It usually happens when rain water or underground river erodes the limestones that is pretty much what makes up the Yucatan peninsula. This cenote is very deep. There is at least one spot where one can jump into this "abyss" from about 7-8 meter high, and when I jump in, I cannot even feel the bottom. However, when you see into the cenote from above the surface, the water is so clear that you can see the rocks and stones at the bottom. I could even see some of the scuba divers scouting the bottom of the cenotes. Although the outside air is pretty warm, the water in the cenote is quite cold to put it mildly. I am not sure if a rash guard or wetsuit will be an overkill, but it might be an option you want to consider.
After the tour, we are dropped off at the Sian Kaan Tour main office in Tulum Centro (downtown Tulum). We decide not to have our dinner at Charlie's (see schedule). We opt for a dinner in Playa Del Carmen and a second attempt to see the fire dance at Blue Parrot Club there. So we walked to the bus station, and stop by a fruit/veggie store and got a couple of champange mangoes for just 8 pesos. Pretty good deal. The bus ride back to Playa from Tulum Centro is 88 Pesos for each person. It is a bit costlier than that of Collectivo, but it is roomier.
In Playa, we decide to go for some humbler establishments for dinner. We go to El Fogon. We got lost on the way, but are helped by a passerby. She recommends us to a different place (<name here>) however. We try this place, and it sells fantastic sopa de lima (chicken lime soup). Then we go to El Fogon for some for taquitos and some more beer. They are very good, and the best of all is that the entire things do not cost more than 7 USD for both of us. Whoa, talking about dining on a budget.
At night we stop by Blue Parrot for the fire dance. Blue Parrot is an "Institution" in Playa, and some say that a visit to Playa is not complete without a visit to Blue Parrot. The fire dance really lives up to its name. It is quite a fascinating 20 minute show. BTW, be prepared to give some tips to the dancers. Apparently Blue Parrot is not paying for these dancers. They are indy dancers.
Today we go with a tour to Tulum and Xel-Ha. The tour organizer is Mayan Gate and the pick-up (since we are staying at a smaller hotel) is the Grand Porto Real nearby. The pick up time is supposed to be at 8 am. We are there 5 minutes before, and we see this one guy keeps on yelling some name "Sanova", "Sanova" and nobody answers. Then, time is not 8:15 am, and we still do not find our pick-up. The same guy is still coming back after few minutes screaming "Sanova". It turns out that this guy is looking for us, but my name has been butchered so badly that I cannot even guess that he's looking for us. Hence, one tip for you if you are going with a tour. If your ride does not show up at the agreed upon location at the agreed upon time, and you find somebody who keeps on searching for somebody who is not there, approach that guy and ask. You will save yourself a lot of troubles. :-)
Our pick-up vehicle is a minivan, and we (2 of us) have 8 more neighbors, plus a driver. My point is, the minivan is filled up to the rim. :-) I start to think that we are being short-changed by this tour, and I am so not looking forward to the rest of the day trip in this cramped vehicle. Luckily, somehwere along the way, we are dropped off at a transfer point where people for different tour will then hop on to big tour buses that will bring them to their destinations.
We arrive at Xel-Ha around 10:15 am, and we are told that we have to be back at the bus by 2 pm, if we want to visit the ruins in Tulum. Xel-Ha is a theme park (so to speak) built around a big lagoon. It has plenty of paid attractions like swimming with the dophin, sea-trekking, etc, as well as free ones like snorkelling, rope crossing, ponton bridge, etc. We started out by having our breakfast. I don't quite remember what's in the menu, but I remember it is quite good (decent) and it encompasses food from different parts of the world. Then we pick up our snorkelling gear, change and pick up a floating tube for both of us (this looks like a number 8). We float down from what appears to be a mangrove forest. Navigating our tube there is quite a challenge. Quite a few times we get stucked, and at least I feel intimidated by the seemingly prickly twigs sprouting out of the waters. Even after we pass the mangrove forest, navigating the tube in the lagoon is quite tiring. Hence, we finally ditch the tube and opt for snorkelling instead. We don't regret our decision. Not only it is more fun, we also get to see more marine lives. I see a jellyfish and many fishes of different colors (blue, yellow, and grey).
We It feels kinda rushed, and for a second we are thinking about ditching Tulum for more time in Xel-Ha, but we think that we have paid for both Xel-Ha and Tulum, and seeing the ruins by the ocean is kinda fun, so we decide to go for Tulum too. So, by around 1 pm, we get out of the lagoon, have a quick lunch and change for our next trip to Tulum. We are right on time for our bus ride to Tulum. The bus is only 30% filled. The bus drops us off at the Tulum ruin parking lot. From here, we have 2 options to get to the ruins. Take a shuttle ride for 1 USD each way per person, or walk about 1 km (or maybe less). We choose the latter. The parking lot is also adjacent to a craft market. We find a silver/gold jewelry store called Oro Maya (or Mayan Gold in English) where we order our silver pendants with our names carved in Mayan letters. A three letter pendant costs about 20 USD (if my memory serves me well). If you are ordering this, make sure that you order it before you get to the ruins. It only takes the jewelry maker about 30 minutes to an hour to make the pendant. Hence, you can have it ready on your way out.
In Tulum, we have a local guide from our tour. He happens to be a retired professor of history (or archeology). Hence, we have a very detailed description and history of the ruins. Luckily, he also has very good humor that the discourse does not feel like a lecture. Yucatan peninsula gets its name from the Spaniards who misunderstood the Mayan when they first encountered each other. Presumably the Spaniards tried to communicate with the Mayan, and they Mayan did not understand them, and said "Yucata" for "I don't understand you". We deduce that the Spaniards name the place Yucatan because of this misunderstanding. We also learn that according to the Mayan mythology, earth will renew itself every cycle. Mayan has many calendar cycles, and apparently year 2012 marks the end of a small cycle and the giant (biggest?) cycle. Earth will renew itself every cycle through a very marked phenomenon. Some say that it could be a giant catastrophy similar to what wiped out a civilization. Some say it could be an armageddon. Who knows... My take, hedge yourself against this possibility and enjoy your life, enjoy your family and friends, live like there is no 2013. Hehehehehe.
Tulum ruin complex is unique because it is situated by the ocean. The magnificent view of the ruins, plus the natural beauty of the ocean (clear water that appears in 3-4 different hues of blue). We see so many people swim by the ocean. We don't since we just finished snorkelling and we don't want to deal with rinsing ourselves afterwards again and we don't think we have enough time for that. Instead, we decide to check some more structures in the complex and take some pictures, and of course, enjoy the beautiful scenery. BTW, this kinda makes me think... Perhaps next time we should allocate the whole day for a trip to Xel-Ha. With our current schedule, we feel like we don't have enough time at Xel Ha (we don't even see more than 40% of the free attractions they have there), and we also don't have enough time in Tulum. Just a thought.
Back from Tulum, we stop at Xel-Ha again to pick up the rest of the tourists from Xel-Ha who didn't go to Tulum. Then we return to Playa. Since we also need to pick up our rental car today, we decided to stop somewhere near Playa downtown and walk to our rental car place from there. It is just a 6 block walk, but we are a bit worried that we get lost because the rental place is actually situated in what appears like a residential area. The attendant there speaks pretty good English, and she starts working on our rental paperwork efficiently. There should be no problem using your US driver license in Mexico, but apparently there is a tricky hoop-la (and I still am not quite sure what) that requires a big fuss after she finds out I'll be using my US driver license. As far as insurance goes, it is recommended that you take all insurance available to you. Even then, if you rent less than 1 week, you are still liable for a 1000 USD if you have an accident. Scary, isn't it? Moreover, if you get an accident in Mexico, you are likely detained by Mexican police whether or not you are at fault. Did I just turn off your appetite for driving in Mexico? I hope the answer is no, as you'll find out later that it's not as bad as it sounds.
We get our rental car, then return to the hotel, then have a dinner at Mandarina restaurant in Avenida Quinta. The place does not have memorable food, but it does have life music from a big grand piano near the entrance. BTW, if you really want to try this restaurant anyway, it wouldn't be too hard to spot. It's the only restaurant with a big grand piano near the entrance of a giant palapa. The piano music alternates with a jazz band from a restaurant across the street. I guess the 2 restaurants arrange the schedule well enough so that there won't be any interference between the two entertainers.
After dinner, we want to go to Alux, an underground club in Playa. Ok, it's not an illegal club, it's just that this club is really built underground in a cenote. Pretty interesting. I want to drive there, but many websites that I have looked at before going on this trip tells me not to drive in Mexico at night. Hence, I change my mind and get a taxi to get there. The cost one way is just 25 pesos, which makes me think that we really got ripped off on the first day when we caught a taxi from the bus station to our hotel. The cost then was 45 pesos, and the distance is (as I find out tonight) less than the distance to Alux. Grrr.... oh well.
Alux is an interesting club. Being in there is quite spooky, but groovy. Definitely something that you must try because I don't think it's a common setting you'll find anywhere else. (See pictures) The drink is so so, but the price is not bad (150 pesos for 2 cocktails). The music that night sucks. Apparently the DJ doesn't get enough traction. Only fewer than a handful dance, and when they dance, they dance only for a short while. Other than that, I don't see anything disappointing about the place. So, check it out.
Today we are leaving Playa for Valladolid, in the heartland of the Yucatan Peninsula. When checking out of the hotel, we talk to one of the owners, Tony. He recommends us to drive up to near Cancun and take the toll way to Valladolid. I originally want to drive down to near Tulum and take a local freeway to Valladolid. I am guessing his biggest concern is the mostly one lane freeways between Playa and Valladolid via Tulum, and the possibly many toupes that dot the roads. Toupes in Yucatan is long and high. Sometimes it's high enough that it could seriously damange your car if you miss it and fail to slow down. Since we think he knows the area better, we take his advice. As I found out later, the toupe issue is actually not as bad, provided you pay attention to the sign. Almost all toupes that I encounter are preceeded by signs a few hundred meters beforehand. Only a couple are not, but you could spot that if you drive in the day time. Passing a slow car/truck could be a challenge, especially if you are not used to it. For me though, it's a fun experience as long as I drive carefully.
The toll way between Cancun and Valladolid is pretty smooth, though quite expensive. A trip from near Cancun to Valladolid exit, which is approximately 160 kilometers, will set you back 25 USD. The view is pretty B.O.R.I.N.G. But, it saves you time.
We start out later than we would like today (10:15 am as opposed to 9 am), but we manage to get to Valladolid by 1:15 pm. Looking for parking in downtown Valladolid could be quite tricky. It's not like it is really hard because we actually see a few of available parking spots, but those spots are marked with unusual yellow signs which make us think that it's a loading zone or only for short term. Luckily, our hotel, Meson del Marques, has its own parking garage. After checking in, we start looking for lunch. Earlier while trying to locate the entrance to the hotel parking garage, we spotted a Chinese restaurant called Beijing just a block away from the hotel. Since we have never tried Chinese food in Mexico before, we get curious how it is like.
In the restaurant, we are greeted by a Chinese guy, whom we guess he is the owner of the restaurant. It turns out that he speaks Chinese and Spanish, and he's originally from Beijing. Since my Chinese is better than my Spanish, I talk to him mostly in Chinese. He's been there for almost 10 years. Apparently, there are quite a bit of Chinese in Valladolid. Why? I forget to ask him why. Forgive your travel journalist, he is so hungry that his hunger overrides his apetite for information. :-) We have 2 item combo for just 25 pesos each -- what a bargain. I have stir-fry shrimps and fried rice. The shrimps are pretty standard. The fried rice is a bit unique for my taste buds. This place uses rice pilaf (or black rice) to make fried rice. Flavor-wise, it's ok. Texture-wise, not for me.
After lunch, we try to locate Dzitnup cenotes. The place is only 2 kilometers from the downtown, but we couldn't find good enough signs and direction so we get lost big time. After wasting close to an hour on the road, we finally get to Dzitnup. The entrance to the cenote is 20 pesos per person. You have to walk down the cave opening to get to the cenote. One section of the path is narrow that you have to half-crawl to get through it. Inside, it is a big wide open space with a bit of opening at the top of the cave that allows sunlight to penetrate through. Underneath it is a vast pool of cool water that is the cenote. There are a few spotlights installed to help visibility. Never mind the added light, I still feel a bit eerie being inside. In the beginning, I am hesitant to swim in the cenotes. This imagery of a monster creeping out of the water while I swim there bothers my mind. But, I remember a saying "you will regret things that you don't do more than things that you don't enjoy doing in life". I don't know whether this is true, but I don't want to take a chance. So, swim I do. ;-)
The water is cold and it feels deep. I don't dare to test the bottom since I cannot see it. There are a few ropes that span across the cenote for people to hang on. Whenever I swim across between 2 spanning ropes, I always feel a bit wary that I might have a cramp or something and there is no rope for me to hang on. This cenote really induces a very different feeling from the other cenote where I did the free fall on the 1st day. That cenote is deep, but since it's in the open space and it's so clear, I don't hesitate to do some crazy things like the free jump from a spot that is about 6 meter higher. This place is quite a different beast. I am just doing a normal swim and my mind is messing with me about all the disastrous possibilities. We are indeed more afraid of things that we cannot see.
We have some fresh young coconut at Dzitnup before we leave. It costs 10 pesos. Unfortunately, like any other place we have young coconuts in this trip so far, the coconuts are never young enough. The coconut meat is thick and hard, but the coconut water is refreshing and helping us combat the heat. Hence, we are satisfied.
We return to downtown Valladolid to visit the San Servacio Church, the Calzada De Los Frailes and the Franciscan monastery of San Bernardino de Siena. Calzada De Los Frailes is a four block road that leads to the monastery that is dotted with many restored colonial houses. It's so beautiful to walk around here. While taking pictures, I meet another couple of tourists. He recognizes the T-shirt I wear, and he tells me that he works for a competitor. The T-shirt I wear is actually from my past company that no longer exists because it has been acquired by another company that I already left. Somehow this guy still recognizes it. What a small world.
San Bernardino de Siena convent is beautiful, especially when you view it during sunset. When we are there, there is a service going on, so access to the main basilica is restricted. We could check out the parts of the building to the left and right of the main basilica though. The architecture is similar to that we see in Spain, albeit it is humbler in decoration. Many giant wooden beams line up the ceiling.
We return to our hotel to enjoy the sunset from the top floor of the hotel. From here, you can see the San Gervasio church and zocallo. We also have dinner at our hotel. We order traditional Yucatan food (Yucatecan dishes) like Pollo Pibil and Poc Chuc. I also order sopa the lima (chicken lime soup) and gazpacho. They are all very good, and the ambience of the restaurant is impeccable. The restaurants is around the beautifully landscaped inner courtyard of the hotel. All tables are in the wide hallway. The hallway has high ceiling and it is lit with lights in many different casing, star, shell, ball, etc. Don't let the old style charm of the hotel building and the restaurant fool you. Go to the public bathroom, and you will see an ultramodern bathroom with minimalist style.
After we finish our meal, we go out for a night show at Valladolid zocallo just across the street. You see various bands play music, and many locals and tourists are dancing at one corner of the park. In the rest of the park, people just sit or walk around. Some line up for food and snacks sold by the peddlars. Some kids have fun drawing things (see picture). We have <name here> that is basically a rolled up crispy crepe filled with cheese and chocolate beads. It costs about 15 pesos and is very yummy.
Despite what the itinerary says, we decide to change our schedule today because we start really really late. Instead of going to Izamal for some more colonial architectural galore, we decide to go to a closer Ek-Balam (Dark Jaguar) ruins and then on to Chichen Itza (Mouth of Itza) ruins. We think that if we go to Izamal, we'll try to do it tomorrow.
We leave our hotel after breakfast and a bit of shopping around 10 am. We go to a traditional Yucatan sandal (alpargatas) shop/factory just next to Meson Del Marques hotel. Yucatan traditional sandals mostly look like Roman slippers. We have a few pairs for ourselves and gifts. Each pair is approximately 15 USD.
Ideally, we should have left the hotel around 8 so that we could get to Ek Balam (or Izamal) at earlier time. The weather is sunny and hot, and we are worried that it might be quite uncomfortable being in the open space of the ruins right around mid-day.
To drive to Ek Balam from Valladolid, just head North toward the Cancun - Chichen Itza toll, but instead of getting to the toll, just drive all the way North until you find a turn sign to get to Ek-Balam. Make a right turn and just follow the sign for zona arqueologica (a.k.a. ruins). The total distance is approximately 22 kilometers.
Entrance fee to Ek-Balam is (If I remember it correctly, 45 pesos per person). You could hire a local guide, but we have purchased a pre-recorded guide from Tek-Trek that can be uploaded to any mp3 player. It's less personal, but quite cost efficient (10 bucks per download). Ek Balam is actually a city, as well as a mausoleum for one of its ruler, Ukit Kan Lek Tok. What a name, eh? I wonder what his peer called him when he grew up. Kit like the car from Knight Rider? Lek like Alex's lex? Or, Tok like "Hey dude, talk to me"?
This ruin is relatively newly open for public that it is not crowded as its other competition like Chichen Itza and Tulum. One more highlight about this place is that you are allowed to climb up the pyramid all the way to the top. It used to be ok for visitors to climb pyramids in Chichen and Tulum, but after a tragic fall of an old lady from San Francisco while climbing Chichen pyramid a few years ago, those two pyramids are now off limit to climbers. The top of Ek Balam pyramid is supposedly higher than that of Chichen Itza. On a clear day from the top of the pyramid, you might be able to spot a bit of the other ruin sites like Chichen and Coba. So, why is it no as popular as Chichen then? I guess it could be because of it is relatively new to the public, and the pyramid is not as symmetrical (and thus not as imposing) as that of Chichen. What's unique about this place is that since you can get really up-close and personal with the pyramid, you could see more clearly the artifacts and carvings found in the pyramid and mausoleum (which is also inside the pyramid). The carving is still mostly in good condition and it reveals a lot more about the culture than the towering structures you find in Chichen or Tulum.
From Ek Balam, we drive South a bit and get on a toll way to Chichen itza. The distance to Chichen is approximately 45 kilometers. We exit at Piste and drive a bit of local road to get to Chichen, but on the way we stop at Hacienda Maya hotel for a buffet lunch. When we arrive there, it's almost 2 pm. The restaurant is so empty we think that we are their last lunch customers. However, all the food still look so fresh and untouched, and we wonder why. Halfway through our lunch, we start seeing big groups of tourists come in, and then we realize that lunch in Mexico is like that of Spain. It's very late in comparison to lunch at other places, in general.
The food at hotel Hacienda Maya is pretty good, especially for the price (about 60 pesos per person for a buffet lunch), with coupons that we pick up before entering Chichen complex. BTW, this is the reason why we drive back to Hacienda Maya for about 1.5 kilometer because we find this such a good deal. The menu this day includes chicken with olive, some beef stews, steamed vegetable (cayote squash, carrat and zuchhini), pasta, saffron rice and many more. The chicken is very good. The restaurant also serves sopa de lima, but I think the one in Playa and Meson is better. It also serves variety of desserts and fruits. Hot tea and coffee are included, but you must pay for other drink separately. It's so hot outside so we also order cold coca cola.
After lunch, we drive directly to our hotel, Mayaland. According to some articles we see on the website, this hotel was included as one of the 100 best hotels in the world in 2003. It also won an award for best hotel in the Yucatan Peninsula. The entrance to the hotel is quite unique. After we park our car, we are greeted by a concierge that will then get us a golf cart to transport us to the reception. Even the reception is way inside the hotel complex. We pass through quite a lot of bungalows and buildings to get to the reception area. The hotel has a very nice garden with well manicured lawn. It also looks quite empty perhaps because we are visiting not during the peak period of mid June through September or January through end of March.
The reception tell us that my name does not appear in the reception list, which I'll find out why the next day. Apparently I have made the reservation for the same date, but a month after (June) through hotels.com. Fellow travellers, do not make the same mistake that I do, please... Yikes. Never mind the hiccups in planning, we end up having a room in a Mayan bungalow. It's quite charming. After we put our luggages in the room, we go to the Chichen Itza ruins through the hotel private entrance to the complex. We still have to pay for admission of about 9 USD per person though, as this is not included in the hotel fare. The ticket includes admission to the ruin complex as well as a light show at night. This is the reason why we are staying in Chichen -- so that we can enjoy the light show and not have to drive in the dark back to Valladolid after the show.
Chichen Itza complex is just humongous. We allocate 2 hours to visit the complex, but we don't have enough time to visit the entire complex not only because of the immensity of the complex, but also because of the hot weather that becomes such a challenge for us. The Il Castillo, the main pyramind in the complex, is just all and imposing. The ball court is huge, and the alley of 1000 pillars really have so many pillars. I don't count how many there are though. It's just unfortunate that I couldn't find the Chac (rain god) altar that is in very good shape where I can mimic his pose and take a side by side picture. I thought it would be cool because the picture will show how big the altar is in comparison to a person.
We leave the ruin complex around 5 pm, just before it is closed and return to our hotel room. Once we get into our room, we hear such howling sound. Not long after, we notice that water leaks through the palapa roof atop our bungalow. It turns out that there is a big rain outside. And we have a leak in our room because of that!!! We try to report this immediately, but we realize soon enough that there is no telephone in our room. Later we find out that it's purposely done that way so that people feel more in tune with nature. But then I dont understand why we have TV if that's the case. Later, we report this to the reception so that it can be remedied in case another rain comes later today or early tomorrow, but nothing is done. Luckily, there is no more rain while we are there.
We have dinner at the hotel restaurant. An entree alone on average costs around 20 USD. But if you order any one the restaurant's 3 set menu (chicken, beef and vegetarian) that also includes soup, appetizer, dessert and drink, you only need to pay 18 USD. I guess they really want you to order from the set menu. ;-)
We just take our time for dinner that we are a bit late for the light show. It is already dark when we try to navigate our way to the light show area. The road lighting is so poor (but in no way it is horrible) that it is recommended that you bring your own flash light just to make your life easier. The light show is mediocre at best, but it might pass for a "try it at least once in your lifetime" if you are a relic/archeology buff. The sight of the ruin under the glowing moon is something to be appreciative about.
We wake up so late today that we decide to skip Izamal altogether. Besides my fiancee is having a really bad allergic reaction to sun and hote weather yesterday that she's now having really bad rashes. Having more of outdoor activities will only makes it worse. Hence we decide to drive back to Cancun -- back to our current civilization. However, since we now have more time, I decide to take the libero (local freeway) rather than the toll way.
The trip only takes slightly longer time between Chichen Itza and Cancun than it would be if we are taking a toll way. There are a few annoyances when you have to drive behind a really slow car, but once in a while you have the opportunity to pass them. The view is a bit more varied than what you see if you take the toll way. You can see local villages and factories, but in general it is still pretty mundane for me.
We leave hotel around 11 am, and we finally get to Cancun zona hotelera almost 3 pm. BTW, the local road in Cancun could be quite confusing, but somehow we manage to get there by luck and a bit of help from the map.
Our hotel in Cancun is Fiesta Americana Condessa. The hotel has a unique giant palapa roof at the entrance. It has all the facilities expected of any other 4-5 star hotel, but the beach area is quite rocky. I wonder if the other Fiesta Americana has a more friendly beach (i.e. the Grand Coral). Nevertheless, the sea color is as beautiful as always (several different hues of blue and green)
At night, we are hopping around several shopping malls like La Isla and Forum by The Sea. We go to Cambalanche for an Argentinian steak dinner. The meat is so succulent and soft, it is among the best steak we have so far. The salad and soup are made right by your table side. It's quite a unique experience.
Today we are leaving Cancun. At Cancun airport, we find a bottle of tzi tzi tche honey from Yucatan peninsula. Alledgedly it is high in anti oxidant, but alas, since we are not flying overseas directly from Cancun, we cannot buy this in Cancun. We are told that we have to buy it in Mexico City.
In Mexico City, we cannot find that tzi tzi tche honey anymore. I guess if you are really interested in trying this, you should get it in Valladolid (or somewhere else in Yucatan)