Over the last two weeks I saw, climbed, ate, and soaked up the best Southern Mexico has to offer. Thanks to a two week long spring break I traveled around the Ruta Maya (Mayan Trail) visiting Mayan ruins for most of the first week, and then basking on the beach for most of the second week. We missed out on some of our planned route due to unexpected circumstances (always expect the unexpected when traveling) but you always have to leave something out so you have a reason to go back.
Instead of detailing every part of my trip, I’m going to include my favorite photographs from each place we visited and a high point (rainbow) and a low point (rain cloud).
1. San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
San Cris was our first stop on the Ruta Maya. It is a darling town with an international flavor unlike any other city I have visited in Mexico.
Rainbow: Our boat tour the Cañón del Sumidero (pictured above). The cliffs reach up to 1 km in height from the water’s surface and crocodiles are common.
Rain cloud: Literal rain, we were not prepared for the somewhat chilly weather and precipitation we found in San Cris.
Palenque was my favorite archaeological site, probably because you can climb and explore the majority of the ruins. Since we visited on a national holiday week, there were a lot of people visiting the site that day. However, Palenque is very spread out and by venturing into the jungle a little, we were alone with the ruins.
Rainbow: Having the deeper jungle ruins all to ourselves.
Rain cloud: A “the white people are melting” worthy heat!
3. Yaxchilan and Bonampak
Yaxchilan are some fairly recently opened ruins that are only accessible by boat. The river on which you ride divides Mexico and Guatemala, although to actually get over to Guatemala you have to visit the immigration office at the dock. You can climb all up and down the Yaxchilan ruins, and even explore the inner parts of a building and see bats and absurdly large spiders. Bonampak is a small site mainly famous for well preserved Mayan murals. It comes as a packaged deal with Yaxchilan on tours, and I don’t think it’s remarkable on its own.
Rainbow: Climbing up the many Yaxchilan stairs and seeing Guatemala from the boat.
Rain cloud: Literal rain, again, we were not prepared for rain and got soaked on the way back from our tour, to our cabin, to dinner, and back.
I adore the city of Campeche. I hope there is a great influx of tourism after the City’s renovations are completed. All of the buildings downtown are painted different pastel colors and the boardwalk provides a great view of the ocean. The food is good, the people are friendly, and the weather was warm but not suffocating.
Rainbow: After a morning run on the boardwalk we had breakfast at a local restaurant where a generous local paid for our meal. When we asked for the check, the waiter said that our bill was already paid. When we asked for an explanation he said that’s how Campechanos are and that the man who had paid for our breakfast was a regular who often did that as a welcoming gesture for foreigners.
Rain cloud: I was so excited to have a place to run on the boardwalk that I put in too much and hurt my foot. It was an annoying problem to have since we were putting in a lot of walking touring the cities and the ruins. I thought it was a stress fracture, but fortunately whatever it was has resolved itself and my foot is now pain free.
We arrived in Mérida on Good Friday, and as an good Catholic country would, the entire city shut down after 2pm with the exception of a few restaurants. We also had planned to visit the Uxmal ruins, but were unable to on Saturday because of a medical situation. Mérida, I’ll have to give you another chance on some other trip.
Rainbow: The delicious Yucatecan food. We tried traditional papadzules which are essentially tacos with shredded hard boiled eggs and bathed in chaya (we saw it translated as “Mayan” or “Tree” spinach) and tomato sauces as well as cochinita pibil and agua de chaya.
Rain cloud: Not getting to see much of Mérida. I’m convinced there is more to it than what we saw.
The ruins at Chichén are quite impressive. There are a lot of ruins to see and they are quite spread out, but the big pyramid that everyone thinks of when they think of Chichén is right near the entrance of the site. You can no longer climb it, which was a bummer, but most of the sides of the pyramid were pretty well preserved. After visiting the site we stayed at a hotel nearby which was across the street from a water filled sinkhole – cenote – where we swam after a hot morning at the ruins.
Rainbow: Finally seeing the Chichén ruins and swimming in the cenote which we couldn’t do in Yucatan. Also, we saw the ruins for free because on Sundays Mexican residents don’t have to pay.
Rain cloud: The tunnels of vendors we had to go through in order to access different parts of the park. As two young white women we normally get a lot of attention and I wasn’t expecting harassment at an archaeological site.
7. Playa del Carmen/Tulum
The Caribbean Sea has the most beautiful water you will ever see in your life. Cameras can’t accurately capture the varying shades of blue and turquoise, not even with Instagram filters. We enjoyed 4 days on the beach at Playa del Carmen and during that time we took a day trip to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, which are the only ruins to be right on the ocean. The ruins themselves aren’t all that impressive, but with that view they are worth visiting.
Rainbow: Being on the beach and feeling the gentle sea breeze.
Rain cloud: A disappointing and expensive snorkel tour on the island of Cozumel. I might have to give Cozumel another chance because what we saw was not that impressive.
8. Isla Mujeres
Rainbow: Staying at a beautiful hotel with view of the water and a small pool.
Rain cloud: The heat! We couldn’t stay in the direct sun for too long because we would melt. I couldn’t believe how hot it was on the island, even with the sea breeze.
That was my Ruta Maya trip in a nutshell! If any reader wants more information specific to accommodations, restaurants, and sites for their own travels, I would love to talk to you.
I’m closing in on the end of my grant period and I promise to be a more active blogger for my last month!