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Published: March 25th 2018
Templo de las Inscripciones Group
The second part of our whirlwind Mexican adventure has gone a little like this, ruin, colonial city, colonial city, ruin, colonial city, ruin, ruin. That’s a lot of ruins! And colonial city’s! Welcome to the Yucatan, where Maya ruins and pastel coloured colonial cities seem to vie for your attention. Or you can go to the beach and ignore it all. In fact I suspect that is what a big group of tourists does. But as much as I enjoy the ocean, it was not on our itinerary. At least not as a destination per se.
In a sense this trip has been about hitting the highlights, with no room for off-the-beaten track destinations. It doesn’t matter. Now I have got the top sights out of the way, next time I can go to all the nooks and corners of Mexico that see few visitors. The better for me.
That is not to say that the top sights are not worth a visit or that I didn’t enjoy going to them. I did, they are top sights for a reason after all. So what were those sights?
The first one on our list was Palenque, and it probably
Inside the Tomb of the Red Queen
was also the highlight for us. An ancient Maya city in the jungles of Chiapas. It is a major site, but nevertheless it didn’t feel too crowded. And parts of the area reminded us of Ankor Watt, in the sense that they haven’t been cleared of the forest yet and meticulously restored. Instead there are large swaths with temples and buildings entangled in trees and roots and vines, the jungle creeping over the tumbled ruins, light and shadow playing games on the stones of yore. It was nice ambling around the shady paths among the tumbled ruins of a once great Maya city.
Next was Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage City, its colonial centre restored in all its pastel coloured glory. It was hot in Campeche, with temperatures hitting 39 degrees Celsius! And that in spring. We huffed and we puffed along the cobbled stone streets and when we were too tired to even huff and puff, we took a very touristic toy train. One of those on wheels that goes around the town with a man telling you what there is to see to the left and to the right. There were all kind of things to see
on the left and on the right. Churches, squares, statues, walls and bastions. After we had an early dinner, or a late lunch, depending on how you look at it, to recover from it all.
With Campeche out of the way, we bussed it to Merida, another pastel coloured colonial town. It’s the capital of the Yucatan part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Confusing isn't it, but the peninsula is actually divided in three parts, only one of which is named Yucatan. Thus far for my geography lessons, back to the blog. Merida was our base for Uxmal, our second Maya city. The scenery was drier here. The ruins not so much bigger than Palenque, but more intricate. With lots of details. We were lucky once again, because the day we visited Uxmal, everybody else went to Chichen Itza to see the sun play some equinox tricks on the Great Temple there. It must have been jam packed. We on the other hand had another very pleasant day at Uxmal, with few people and a bit of cloud cover to take the worst off the heat.
From Merida it was on to Valladolid, which is… you guessed it, another
View towards the Templo de las Inscripciones from the Palacio
pastel coloured colonial city. It’s main draw is (apart from the pastel coloured houses), the nearby sinkholes, called cenotes, where you can take a refreshing dip in crystal clear turquoise waters, and Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza is Yucatan’s top sight, so it gets busy with tours, and more tours, and more tours. Come early and you will avoid the worst of it. But don’t expect to have it alone, not even if you arrive at opening time. There was already a traffic jam when we arrived, about ten minutes after it opened! Still, once again, we managed to see most of the place without feeling too claustrophobic due to the hordes. It’s a bit of a Disneyland experience though, as the paths inside the actual sight are lined with souvenir stalls. I mean every single one of them. And then the crowds arrive. Groups everywhere, led by men and women with flags. It’s quite a spectacle. This is the time you would ideally want to have finished your tour of the sight and make like a tree and leave.
Personally I was more impressed by both Palenque and Uxmal. And I suspect there are many more Mayan ruins
Admiring the reliefs
which we missed which I would rate higher. Those that are hard to get to and thus little visited. Still mostly covered in jungle, with maybe one or two temples excavated. Something to look forward to on my next sojourn to Mexico.
But I am rambling. Back to the here and now. Or actually the few days ago. To Valladolid. And its other draw, the cenotes. We only had time to visit one, but it was a good choice, as we had it all to ourselves. It’s within a former hacienda and you have to pay to get in (as you have to do at most of them), but it was worth it. Blue water, vines hanging down from the trees far above, the sun peeping in, and nobody around. Magical!
Our final destination in Mexico was Tulum, a beach resort for most, but one with something extra. A ruin. Of course. Right on the sea-front, with the main temple perched on a cliff above the waters, to each side of it, beaches. It’s the setting that makes these ruins special, as they are not particularly big or spectacular. It was a nice way to end our trip.
So in the end we got to the coast, just like all those beach bums, but we didn’t actually hang on the beach or swim, so not quite like those beach bums after all.
And that folks concludes our ruinous business in Mexico. I shall return one day, but for now it is over and out.
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