One of the largest and easiest Mayan sites to visit is the “UNESCO” World Heritage site of “Chichen-Itza” the Yucatan’s most prized archaeological site. This huge ancient site covering in excess of 500 hectares contains numerous gatherings of huge temples towering pyramids and sports field where blood thirsty games were held. The central point of the complex is a mixture of an older “Mayan” Settlement and a more recent “Toltec” Settlement with the soaring “Castillo” pyramid built in the 11th to 13th centuries and full of cosmological imagery. The pyramid soars ninety feet into the sky and to reach the top you have to climb 363steps one for each day of the year. Mayan sports were extremely cruel and brutal and this is shown clearly with the gruesome carvings displayed around the sports field explaining the rules of this sacred ritual. One well known carving depicts the losing captain’s head being severed, large crowds of Mayans flocked to watch these grisly scenes. Many golden and jade artefacts have been recovered from a sacred well as well as human remains. One of the most interesting constructions on the complex is the” Astronomical Observatory” a similar shape to its modern namesake and used for similar pursuits “Star Gazing”. The magnificent “Temple of Warriors” a fearsome structure with columns engraved with feathered serpents and the amazing sculpture of the “ChacMool” used as an altar in ancient times for blood thirsty sacrifices to the Mayan deities.
Located in the more remote Eastern half of the Yucatan Peninsula is the Mayan archaeological site of “Coba”. It is an early Mayan complex still to be released fully from its jungle confines. The site is in a poor state of conservation with much of this complex still awaiting excavation. It is well known for its two lagoons and huge system of ceremonial roads radiating out from the central complex to smaller less important sites located near and far. Over 16 of these roads have been recovered and restored from the dense jungle with one travelling an amazing 62 miles to the ancient site of “Yaxuna”. Undoubtedly the outstanding feature of the complex is the amazing “Pyramid of NohochMul” with its 120 steps, the highest of its type in Yucatan. Climb to the top to enjoy the unbelievable vistas of the surrounding jungle with numerous temples and pyramid structures peeking out of the jungle canopy. These ruins are all that remains of Coba which may have been the largest Mayan city ever constructed spread over 50 sq kms with an estimated 6,000 plus structures accommodating over 50,000 Mayans at its zenith. It is a huge site and you should set aside at least three to four hours to explore most of what’s on offer.
Located to the south of Cancun is the “Walled City of Tulum” it is believed to be one of the most influential cities of the ancient Mayan kingdom between the 13th to 15th centuries. Tulum is located on a headland facing towards the Caribbean Sea, and its main purpose was as a defensive structure to watch out over the sea. It was ideally located for its intended defensive duties with one side protected by steep sea cliffs and the sides facing inland protected by a huge complex of sturdy walls measuring 5 metres high and eight metres thick. It had easy access to both sea and land trade routes making it an important commercial centre of its time. It was constructed before the arrival of the European invaders and managed to survive for approximately seventy years after the Spanish Invaders started to occupy large swaths of Mexico. Tulum is one of best conserved coastal Mayan sites and due to its fabulous location next to the outstanding white beaches it is also one of the most popular sites.
Beaches in and around Cancun
The beaches in and around Cancun and the superb azure clear sea is the main reasons why tourists flock in their millions to this location. Its understandable when you consider there is approaching 100 miles of this beautiful asset located in the area referred to as the “Mayan Riviera”. It is a true tourist paradise with age old Mayan cities and temples, lagoons, mangroves, large coral reef, environmental reserves and fantastic weather to enjoy on the beautiful white sandy beaches. All along from Cancun in the North to Tulum in the south the scenery is nothing short of magical with stretches of rocky outcrops, rolling waves and incredibly wonderful flat beaches. Why not visit one of the finest stretches of beach along the coast and the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum at the same time, the ancient settlement overlooks the beautiful small beach, but you will find the best just to the south along the route to “Boca Paila”. All of the amazing beaches are open to all to enjoy because of Mexican Law which makes beaches public property.
Home to the second largest “barrier reef” in the world it runs for an incredible 724 kms from the tip of Cancun south to Islands in Honduras. The reef is full of more than 150 species of the most colourful fish you could wish to see and close to 100 different species of coral. Scuba diving gives you the freedom to explore the hidden treasures of the reef including a variety of shipwrecks and underwater cave systems. With a specialist guide you can enter the “Cave of the Sleeping Sharks” where if you are lucky you can get the opportunity to “pet” these spectacular creatures. The waters are renowned for their clarity which is essential to fully enjoy your scuba diving experience. If feeling confident it is possible to do some nigh time diving to see the reefs luminous colours against the darker night time waters. The worlds largest underwater sculpture museum can be found in these waters, created by “Jason de Caires Taylor” out of materials in harmony with the surroundings which over time will become spectacular artificial reefs. Cancun can also offer the unique experience of scuba diving in the labyrinth of tunnels from ancient underwater systems known as “Cenotes”.
Over the millennia rainwater and excess run –off from the bordering jungle have filled huge naturally formed sinkholes creating many miles of caves that criss cross the Yucatan Peninsula, these are known locally as “Cenotes”. Unsurprisingly the ancient Mayans believed these Cenotes were portholes to the afterlife and frequently many of their sites and rituals to the underworld gods were performed around them. There are thought to be around 4,000 of these in the Yucatan and are proving to be great tourist attractions with many tour operators arranging combination tours allowing you to try various activities such as snorkelling, diving, swimming or even hiking through the jungles to reach them. It is a truly unique experience one Cancun can offer and nowhere else in the world can so take the opportunity you wont regret swimming and snorkelling amongst the million year old stalagmites and stalactites.
Xplor Adventure Park
For endless adventure and hours of fun the” Xplor Adventure Park” located just south of “Playa del Carmen” provides a combination of natural terrain offering spills and thrills and man made additional adventures all round up into one fantastic location. Located above ground there are separate zip lines covering an amazing 2 miles of Arial adventure , rushing though the jungle canopy at the dizzy height of 130 feet providing amazing vistas of the park and culminating with a 30 foot slash down into a natural Cenote. Take part in the unique experience of swimming in the spectacular subterranean cave channels of the Cenotes taking mystery tours around the stalagmites and stalactites. You can even partake in rafting through the breath taking grottos, a truly amazing adventure. Back above ground you can race through the dense Mexican jungle on two separate tracks on unstoppable amphibious terrain vehicles discovering the secrete treasures of the park. A fantastic fun filled family experience and not to be missed.
Swimming with Dolphins
What an opportunity to experience a totally exclusive experience of swimming with these amazing creatures. Many places around the world you are not allowed to get this close and intimate with dolphins but in Cancun with its superb marine facilities you get that once in a lifetime experience. See the dolphins swim effortlessly around you carrying out spectacular tricks just for your own amusement. Its even possible to have a ride on one of these majestic creatures with the chance to partake in a “Dorsal Tow”, “Foot Push” or even a “Boogie Push”. It is a life changing experience to witness these wonderful creatures so close up and the Dolphins genuinely seem happy to see you and part in the fun and games, its a total privilege to share the same water with these magnificent creatures.