The Urban Wanderer

Crossing Borders ~ Bridging Cultures ~ Traveling Responsibly

Mayan Magic

This post was originally from February 11, 2023

Even though Playa del Carmen is absolutely beautiful, something about it rubs me the wrong way. I know that I am also a tourist but when you see thousands and thousands of other tourists all in one place it feels like I am one more person adding to the excessive waste that humans potentially leave behind. Tourism can help communities and be life changing for so many so I don’t want to sound like a negative Nancy, but watching intoxicated, half naked gringos party it up in Senior Frogs just makes me excited to get out of this hub and explore the more authentic side of Mexico. 

As we are now part of the group tour we all packed ourselves into an (extended) minivan. Liza and I wound up behind a three seater than wasn’t properly secured to the ground. The space for our legs was so minimal that we couldn’t sit facing forward. Getting into the seat was a challenge in an of itself but every time the vehicle braked, the 3 people in front of us slammed straight into the sides of our knees. It was quite comical and we even have battle wounds to show as Liza’s knee is both bruised and rug burnt. It’s safe to say we got the worst seats on the bus! 

What also made us laugh was listening to the conversation of these two girls on our tour. As we drove through tiny villages lined with palm trees, these two Canadians from Toronto of all places commented on several occasions on how similar it looked to Canada. I wanted to turn around and ask what planet they’re from but I was too wedged in that I couldn’t move!

Happy to stretch our legs, we arrived at Chichen Itza first thing in the morning. Even though it was an early start from the hotel, I was so grateful that we had left when we did. We definitely beat both the crowds and the heat. Chichen Itza is a sacred Mayan city and is known as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. We were given the most amazing tour by a local Mayan guide. The way he explained the culture, his people and the architecture made the place feel incredibly magical. I would say the most incredible thing that struck me was how every shape and structure of the Kulkulan Temple has a specific detail and function. On every equinox Chichen Itza becomes a religious pilgrimage because the sun creates an illusion of  snake creeping down the northern staircase. The Mayan God was represented by a feathered serpent which made this event even more spectacular to them. 

I was completely gobsmacked when our guide clapped his hands in certain positions from the Temple. The Mayans used physics to recreate the sound of their most sacred bird – the quetzal. Just by clapping (or drumming) in front of the temple the echo that bounced off the stone stairs would come back as the bird call. You’ll have to hear it to believe it, but the entire experience in this Mayan city was truly unbelievable. 

From Chichen Itza we traveled about 2 more hours to the bustling city of Merida. Merida is the capital of the state of Yucatán and is rich in Mayan colonial heritage. Every few blocks from where our hotel is located there is a beautiful square with music, a church and gorgeous gardens. The streets are vibrant and it feels so safe. It’s a gorgeous city and I highly recommend visiting this city if you are ever Mexico. 

Today we spent the day visiting two different cenotes. A cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone. The vast majority of cenotes can only be found in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico where there are supposedly 2700. Ancient Mayans used them for a water source and also for sacrificial offerings. Today you can go to many of them for a refreshing swim. It’s amazing because many of the cenotes belong to village cooperatives and they have opened them up to the public. They village maintains the area and in return they have income. 

The first one we visited is called Kankirixche and it is partly covered by a cave. Narrow stairs were built down to the crystal clear water and from there we jumped in. We snorkeled around the cave with stalactites protruding from the top. Swallows were flying around us and fish swimming with us. It was interesting to see the clear bottom with more of the rock formations and caves below. The second cenote, called Yaal Utzil is fully open to the sky. It was equally as beautiful with vines hanging from atop. It was truly unforgettable and I feel so lucky to experience such incredible natural beauty. 

After our swim we were taken to a local Mayan family’s home. Here we were served a traditional Mayan meal and taught how they make tortillas over the fire.  I truly am in my happy place when I can learn about new cultures, try new food and bask in the beauty of nature. 

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