Voted one of the 7 wonders of the World in the 1980s the ruins of the Mayan civilisation’s capital town, Chichen Itza, is a must see for any travel bug or culture vulture. Located a couple of hours from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, and surrounded by jungle, the ancient city, centred around a large pyramid shape temple, is truly magnificent to see with your own eyes.
Though the free space around the site is vast, it still seemed pretty busy, with bus loads of tourists arriving all the time from the resort towns. It was plain to see why this was Mexico’s primary historic attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I was amazed by the massive ball court, which looked a bit like snowboarding half pipe, with a basket-ball style hoop on either side wall. Apparently, the Mayans were big fans of playing ball in these gigantic court, and with the death penalty for the losers I can imagine it was a pretty intense match to watch. Mayan culture seemed to involve death an awful lot, with human sacrifices being referred to an unnerving number of times by the tour guides. The Yucatan Peninsula has many fresh water holes called cenotes, with a very large one next to Chichen Itza being the reason why the town was founded there. These cenotes were used as pits to throw in human sacrifices as a way of paying the Gods for what they had given the people. By the sounds of it, young women and girls were often the recipients of this ‘honour’. The Chichen Itza cenote had been dredged in the past by archaeologists, and along with hundreds of human bones, beautiful jewellery had been found that the women were wearing for the sacrificial ceremony.
Chichen Itza is well worth the trip. The ruins are well preserved and the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of an ancient civilisation, in a clearing hidden amounts the Mexican jungle feels like you are really at the heart of the Mayan culture which still exists in pockets in Mexico today. Rather than going on one of the expensive day-trips from the costal resorts, I’d recommend hiring a car and driving yourself – much more of an adventure!
In the centre of the peninsula, between Playa Del Carmen and Merida is a Mayan reserve called Punta Leguna. This area of jungle is owned, maintained and populated by a community of about 35 Mayans, who live of the land and make their money from showing tourists rounds the sites of the jungle. Our guide (who was fluent in five languages) told us most of this income went on paying for school for the children.
For about £20 each we spent a couple of hours with the guide. First in the jungle, we went to seek out some Spider Monkeys, which our guide seemed to be able to send the presence of from quite a distance. He also showed us the foot-wide trails in the forest leaves which were created by swarms of ants moving around the jungle floor.
After a canoe across a lake we took a zip-wire across the water. Obviously, this isn’t an authentic Mayan zip-wire, but nevertheless it was fantastic fun. We did it twice, armed with hooked sticks to use as a brake and to bop any over-zealous crocs on the heads with as we whizzed low over the water. Luckily, only the brake was required.
My favourite part of Punta Laguna was the centoe. Harnessed up, we were able to climb about 20 metres down a ladder into the cool water of the centoe cave. After a couple of minutes in the dark waters I started to notice that he entire ceiling was pretty much covered in squeaking hordes of bats, dangling upside down. Occasionally one or two would flutter around the ceiling of the cave and rest somewhere else.
Have you checked out my other Mexico posts? Beautiful Tulum is my fav!