~ CANCUN ~
There is no ‘real’ Cancun.
That term didn’t sink it until i arrived to Cancun and anyone that has been to Canberra will know what i am talking about.
Cancun is an artificial and invented place which was little more than an empty stretch of white sand and turquoise waters. Forty years later, someone with the brilliant idea of throwing up a few hotels along this stretch targeting vacationing Americans gave birth to what is now known as the party capital of the Mayan Riviera.
..and if you can’t have fun in Cancun then you can’t have fun anywhere! Tequila shots and Cancun are two things that blend well together.
White sandy beaches, turquoise waters and nightlife to rival Vegas is what keeps me coming back for more. Temperatures were HOT in July when i visited, the price to pay for purposefully avoiding spring break in the cooler temperatures in March..still no regrets though!
~ PLAYA DEL CARMEN ~
Having spent 2 weeks in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen was the perfect place to unwind!
It is only 40 miles south of Cancun yet it felt like a million miles away. My first impressions were the low-rise buildings as a pose to Cancun’s multi-million dollar high-rise resorts….the atmosphere was charming and authentic and while i was still seeking abit of fun in the sun, the great thing about ‘Playa’ is that it gives you the option of relaxing or partying thanks to its unpretentious bars and clubs along the pedestrian strip ‘Avenida Quinta’.
Quinta Avenida or 5th Avenue is the busiest part of Playa which runs parallel to the Caribbean Sea.
What i enjoyed most was it is a great place to just wander along seeing what’s there to be seen. 5th avenue isn’t somewhere to rush down! sampling local food, pausing by a street performer, exploring the shops and drifting into the bars was fast becoming my past time. What i loved about it is that it’s fully pedestrianized and cobblestoned making the atmosphere extra special.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Cancun, it’s the community feel to ‘Playa’ that was a stand out in my mind as the daytime is so relaxed and happy…
The jewellery was handmade and very unique and while the chain stores sold the stereotypical Mexican clothing, there are also boutiques that sell clothes that Mexicans really wear.
And the vibe at night is so electric, unpretentious and relaxed depending on what mood you are in..definitely did not miss the cheesy Coco Bongo nightclubs in Cancun!
~ CHICHEN ITZA ~
I was determined to get outside the touristy areas, away from the glittering high-rises in the Hotel Zone of Cancun and get a feel for the ‘real’ Cancun.
My first book on Mayan civilisation had a picture of a giant pyramid on it. Ten years later i was standing in front of this masterpiece completely in awe of what the Mayans created.
And Chichen Itza is a stunning testament to what man is capable of achieving.
It’s located about 2 1/2 hours from Cancun and is by far the best excavated site and probably the most famous in the area. I went on a tour which stopped in a town called Valladolid which adds a bit of time to the trip so making it closer to 3 hours.Lots of crowds, scorching hot in July and tours only allow for about 2 hours of visiting time.
The most startling feature in this Mayan center is the main pyramid Chichen Itza. Both the east and south sides of the pyramid were restored, with the west and north sides left to its original state. The pyramid is a temple pyramid representing the current calendar we observe today. It was built for astronomical purposes.
What is truly impressive is that during the vernal equinox (March 20) and autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3pm, the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramids main stairway.This causes to form imitating the body of a serpent that creeps downwards until it joins the serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway The four sides of the pyramid represents the 4 seasons.The steps up to the temple are days in each season, times 4 to total the 364 days in one year, plus the 1 step in the temple, totaling 365 days.Each block on each side of the pyramid represents the number of weeks in the year, total 52 weeks.
Let that one sink in for a moment.
Having recently visited Chitchen Itza and Tulum, I can confirm that the buzz over 2012, which marks the end of the Maya calendar, is heating up, at least in the Mayan Riviera.
~ TULUM ~
Location! location! location!
The Mayans selected their real estate wisely.
I can see why Tulum sits on the list of the worlds best beaches. What blew me away was exciting mixture of stunning Caribbean views and the ancient history, in fact Tulum is considered the ‘odd one out’ of all Mayan cities because it’s actually located on the ocean… where turquoise seas meets 1200 year old Mayan ruins!
A little bit of history on Tulum.
It is one of the few Mayan cities known to have been inhabited when the conquistadores arrived in the 16th century. Wondering around the site, the tour guide painted a picture of this once thriving trade center, a safe harbor for trade goods from rival communities who considered the city neutral territory. The city reached its height when its merchants, made wealthy through trading, for the first time outranked Maya priests in authority and power. The arrivals of the Spaniards forbade the Maya traders to sail the seas, and commerce hence the decline of the Maya people.
As the Spaniards never officially conquered this city, Tulum is a symbol of independence and resistance for the Maya although it was abandoned by the Maya about 75 years after the conquest of the rest of Mexico.
The Castillo (Castle) is the largest, tallest and most-photographed structure and sits at the edge of a 40-foot limestone cliff, definately the highlight!
Tulum was only an easy hour drive south of Playa del Carmen which was great and the actual site is relatively compact and takes about 100-120 minutes to walk around at a slow pace (especially in the HOT July heat).
I opted for a tour guide once i arrived which wasn’t a problem as there are people out the front offering their services.
Xel-Ha…heaven on earth.
Translating to “where the water is born”, Xel-Ha (pronounced “shell-HAH”) is a breathtaking place of natural beauty.
It’s essentially a natural aquarium made from coves, lagoons and natural wells inlets cut from the limestone shoreline. The natural spring water flows out to meet the salt water of the Mexican Caribbean sea creating a beautiful home for tropical marine life.
I bought a day pass but would have rather a life pass. I have been here before and it never fails to amaze me.
While its sometimes felt like an all-inclusive water park experience (having to pay for extra things like swimming with the dolphins, snorkelling gear etc !) it did not take way from my experience. I loved the fact that there were Mayan ruins are scattered throughout the park, gives it a little touch of history.
What i enjoyed most and what actually caught me by surprise was that for a very touristy attraction, i was able to wander around at my own pace thanks to the low wooden bridges over the lagoons and the fact there were so many spots to rest or swim. It offers just about anything a tourist could want: snorkeling, tubing down natural-spring rivers flowing out of underground cenotes (the highlight!!!), cliff-jumping, swimming with dolphins and all-inclusive access to food and drink, especially tequila : )
As with most touristy places though, my last visit here seems that Xel-Ha is trying to be too many things to too many people, trying to attract the adventure-sport crowd, catering to families with lots of kids with playgrounds resembling Disneyland.
Nature did a great job creating Xel-Ha and i hope developers stop trying so hard to improve it.