Hidden Cenotes and Mayan Pyramids
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Last updated: 02/19/2009
Visit authentic colonial towns, swim in beutiful cenotes, stay in fairytale villages and discover the Mayan Pyramids of North Yucatan.
Playa del Carmen to Valladolid
At 10 am your rental car will be ready for you in Playa del Carmen. After some brief instructions and directions you'll be on your way to Valladolid, roughly a 3-hour drive. Many consider this their first real taste of Mexico after having left the Caribbean coast and it's easy to see why; the historic colonial town with 50.000 inhabitants has retained much of its authentic character and seems unfazed by its popularity. Instead of touristy souvenir shops and travel agents you'll find small shoemakers, book stores and barber shops with little Mexican ladies in traditional dresses behind the counter.You'll be staying on the main plaza, a beautiful square with benches under shady trees. Once you've checked in, have some lunch on the patio at the hotel and then wander into the historic centre. Behind the Franciscan cathedral you'll find several working class districts with lots of colourful houses. In the middle of the town there's a âcenoteâ. This is an underground fresh water lake formed by erosion of the porous Yucatecan soil. There are several throughout Yucatan, and you can swim in most of them. The most spectacular is Dzitnup cenote, in a beautifully lit cave 15 minutes drive from Valladolid.In the evening head into the San Bernardino district with its atmospherically lit (car-free) streets which all lead to the San Bernardino monastery. Just about every corner of Calle 41 offers a good spot to enjoy a local beer.
Driving distance Playa del Carmen to Valladolid: 3 hours incl stops.
Valladolid - ChichÃ¨n ItzÃ - IzamalAn early start this morning to make sure you're at the entrance to Chichen Itza at 8am. Make sure you stock up on plenty of water; today is probably going to be hot and sweaty. You'll leave the hotel at around 7 for the drive to Chichen Itza.Park your car at the entrance and enter the complex when the gates open at 8am. Chichen is best experienced early in the morning before the crowds and the heat arrive, so this way you'll have several hours to enjoy the serenity of this ancient Mayan city before the complex is overrun by day trippers from Cancun.With its advanced infrastructure Chichen Itza was far ahead of its time. The city is made up of temples, a ball court, a cenote, a tortoise house and several smaller buildings. The focal point of Chichen is El Castillo (the castle), a temple dedicated to the god Kulkulkan. This nine-storey structure is a perfectly symmetrical pyramid, though because it's so steep climbing the temple is no longer allowed. Nevertheless it's still one of the most prominent structures in the complex.Driving distance: Total approx 2Â½ hours (from Chichen it's another 1Â½ hours drive to Izamal).
With just 20.000 inhabitants Izamal is a small town, but it has a very rich history. Izamal was once one of the greatest Mayan cities of its time until it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores. The remains of the original buildings that can be found on the outskirts are mostly untouched and overgrown, which is why they are rarely visited by tourists and consequently Izamal has maintained its peaceful atmosphere. This is exactly why we decided to stay here for the night and we loved it!The best way to explore Izamal is âlocal styleâ by horse and carriage. We've arranged a tour for you at 10am through the romantic yellow painted streets. It's like riding through a film set.Your horse and carriage will drop you off at the (yellow) monastery in the plaza. The monastery was built by Spanish monks on top of the original Mayan temples and the local inhabitants were converted to Catholicism. In 1993 Pope John Paul stayed in Izamal and visited the monastery which is ornately decorated with leaf gold, mosaics, stained-glass windows and crystal chandeliers.
Right outside the monastery is the local market where you can buy fresh fruit and delicious local snacks. Buy some food for on the way, then head back to the hotel to pick up your car for a drive through the surrounding countryside.There are several sisal factories around Izamal where the famous Mexican hammocks are made. If you want to buy one to take back home, you can be sure to get a good price (and good quality) here.In the evening the street lanterns in Izamal give a wonderful glow to the yellow buildings and the restaurants around the central plaza come alive.
Izamal to Campeche, Puuc RouteIf after your visit to Chichen Itza you've fallen under the spell of the Mayans then head out early today and take the Puuc Route to Campeche. This relatively quiet road winds through several small Mayan cities, some old and deserted, others modern and lively.After about 2 hours you'll arrive at Uxmal (admission approx US$8.-). The site is on a par with Palenque and Chichen Itza and of all the ancient cities along the Puuc Route we found Uxmal the most impressive. The great pyramid, the tortoise house and several smaller buildings are all ornately decorated with images of the rain god Chac (the crooked nose, you can't miss him).
The route then takes you first to Labna, where you'll need about 30 min to visit the magnificent arch and to Kabah, with its Palace of Masks, a wall covered in nearly 300 masks of the rain god Chac with his large crooked nose. The supporting pillars at the back of the wall are made of carved male figures. (Small admission fees charged at both places.)The smaller settlements of Sayil and Xlapak are close by but for the ruin aficionados only.
After Kabah follow the route for another 1Â½ hours to Edzna, roughly 60km (45 min) from your final destination Campeche. Edzna is a great end to your Mayan day, as the setting sun colours the great Five-Storey pyramid temple.At dusk you'll arrive in Campeche, a very relaxed colonial town by the sea.Driving distance: 9 hours incl. stops at Uxmal, Labna, Kabah and Edzna.
The tour ends the next morning in Campeche.
- Inclusions -
- Accommodation (in Valladolid, breakfast included) and city tour of Izamal
- Exclusions -
- Transportation and other meals
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