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Coba

Coba is a very large yet only partially excavated Mayan site found in Mexico. The area is made up of 4 groups of buildings; Coba, Macanxoc, Las Pinturas and Nohoch Mul. All of which are located within a kilometre or so from each other.

The Pyramid of Nohoch Mul:

Coba ruins - The pyramid of Nohoch Mul group

Each can easily be visited either on foot, by bicycle (hires available on site) or by taxi (a bicycle with passenger seats at the front). We opted on walking the site and it took us about 3 hours to do the whole area, including climbing the tallest pyramid in the northern Yucatan found in the Nohoch Mul group from which you can see the jungle all around – a truly impressive view and worth the climb!

Coba ruins - the view from the pyramid of Nohoch Mul Group

For us the main appeal of Coba is the seclusion of the site itself, you really have no idea of where the next set of buildings are until you turn a corner and come face to face with them.

Coba ruins - one of the buildings in Nohoch Mul Group

One of the things we found particularly nice about the site was due to its size you could walk around without having crowds of tourist around you. In fact most of the tours we came across on the day were hiring bicycles so they would just speed past now and again without really giving us that crowded site feeling.

Las Pinturas Group

Coba: Las Pinturas

Coba is about a half an hour’s drive from Tulum and as we found a good last minute deal, we hired a car for the day. This then gave us the freedom to be able to see the nearby cenotes, a group of 3 subterranean ones which luckily for us were not being visited by the tours as we found them virtually empty.

Cenote Multun Ha

Cenote Multun Ha

Coba was the last archaeological site we visited in Mexico before we moved onto Belize.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Tulum

Tulum is both a busy resort feeling town a 5 mins drive from the beach and the Mayan-Toltec ruins set on the rocks above the beach.

The town of Tulum is not very big and consists of one main road where all hotels and restaurant can be found, interestingly though the town seems over run by Italians who decided to settle here about a decade ago, to the point where you can pretty much speak Italian to anyone. A great perk of this phenomenon is the array of restaurants offering great tasting home-made pasta and pizzas. Guess it could be worse!

Tulum town

Apart from the Tulum ruins other nearby attractions include Coba, a partially unearthed Mayan site in the jungle, numerous cenotes and the beach.

The Tulum ruins themselves can be easily reached by collectivo and are a 10 mins drive away from the town. Alternatively, you can hire a bicycle for the day from one of the many rental places along the road.

What makes Tulum so special is the equinox. The Mayans had designed Dzibilchaltun, Chichen-Itza and Tulum to align for the spring and autumn equinox, with Dzibilchaltun being the initial door and Tulum being the final alignment, causing in essence the ray of sunlight to pass through the 3 sites in a straight line.

The Tulum ruins are not as big as other sites we have visited but the setting is stunning, with wide open areas and palm trees.

Tulum Ruins

As you make your way through the ruins you are suddenly greeted by a view of the castillo on the edge of the cliffs above a stunning stretch of beach, which is breath-taking.

Tulum Ruins: El Castillo

Ensure you pack your swimming gear as access to the beach is included in the ticket. The beach is not very big so try to arrive early if you plan on spending some time there, also note there are no beach facilities so make sure you bring drinks etc.

Tulum Ruins Beach

Our visit coincided with Tom’s birthday so he got to spend the day at the site he most wanted to visit followed by swimming and relaxing on the beach, not his worse birthday I think.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Chichen-Itza

The Mayan site of Chichen-Itza, now a UNESCO world heritage site, had always been one of those places I had seen on TV and wished I could one day see in person, so needless to say we were not going to miss this out whilst travelling through Mexico!

The delays we had in Mexico City and San Cristobal meant we had the luck of being at the ruins for the spring equinox, which is when the serpent body is formed by shadows of the edges of el castillo creating an illusion of the snake slithering down the side.

Chichen-Itza el castillo with the serpent

The serpent actually appears for 3 days, from the 20th – 22nd March and not just on the 21st, the official equinox. The actual effect appears when the sun rises and the sun sets and happens only twice a year, for the spring and autumn equinox. It is definitely a sight worth seeing if you have the chance.

Chichen-Itza site

As you can imagine the site tends to get very busy, but the tours seem to arrive later in the day so if you get there for 8am you will have a couple of hours of the site to yourself. Not even the vendors set up their stalls until 9.30am.

Chichen-Itza is very large and actually consists of 2 halves an old side, with the sacrificial cenote, and the newer side where el castillo is.

It took us a solid 3 hours to look around both areas, however we were very disappointment with the fact that almost all the structures were cordoned off to the public, which meant you could look but couldn’t climb.

Chichen-Itza: Temple of the warriors

Chichen-Itza: Temple of the warriors

We were told that this was because of a combination of several deaths from falling from the castillo and the fact people had graffitied areas in the site, both sad events in their own rights.

Chichen-Itza: The Observatory

Chichen-Itza: The observatory

Nevertheless the site is one of the largest we have visited and offers visitors a real feel for what mayan cities would have looked like and just how many people would have lived in them.

Chichen-Itza: The Church

Chichen-Itza: The church

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Cenotes

Cenotes can only be described as marvellous creations of nature. These magnificent areas of natural beauties are an absolute must for anyone visiting Mexico.

A cenote is a sinkhole created by nature where a pool of clear water has formed. There are 4 types of cenotes; open land level, open land level but enclosed, partially covered and subterranean.

In Valladolid, where we spent a couple of days due to its proximity to the ruins of Chichen-Itza, is a small but beautiful cenote located right within the town. This partially covered cenote, like most is open to all for visits and more importantly for swimming! Unfortunately we forgot the camera that day.

Just outside Valladolid are plenty more cenotes, in particular a lovely duo called Samula and X-Keken. Both of these are fully subterranean with a hole in the ceiling of the cave to let light in.

Samula is the smaller of the 2 with shallower water, but was our favourite due to the setting of it and the fact it has varying depths including a small island in the middle. It also benefitted from a lack of crowds.

Cenote Samula:

Cenote Samula

X-Keken is a little bigger in size and has its own caves to explore; the water here is deeper across the whole pool and it tends to get a little busier due to it. However, the cave formation is truly spectacular!

Cenote X-Keken:

Cenote X-Keken

I am not a particularly strong swimmer and one nice touch we found with the cenotes was the availability of life vests for visitors, enabling swimmers like myself to enjoy the water without worrying about drowning!

Cenotes can even be found at some of the Mayan ruins, including Dzibilchaltun with cenote Xlaca. Unfortunately, as we were visiting during the spring equinox this one was closed off to the public, but we were advised that swimming is allowed at all other times.

Dzibilchaltun: Cenote Xlaca

If you head out towards Tulum, you will encounter many more cenotes, in fact we came across more on this route than at any other point.

For ease and convenience we opted to see a complex of 3 subterranean cenotes located nearby Coba, the partially unearthed Mayan site in the jungle.

You can opt to see 1, 2 or all 3 and the there are discounts depending on how many you choose to visit. You can swim and snorkel in all 3 and they all have crystal clear water allowing you to see all the way to the bottom. A truly unnerving experience when you are over 40m above the bottom!

Our favourite of the 3 was Multun Ha, although also the scariest. We arrived to find the cenote completely empty and in darkness! After a few minutes the lights came on to reveal the clearest water we had ever seen.

Cenote Multan Ha

Cenote Multun Ha

The depths of the cenote varied from 5m to 44m and being able to see all the way to bottom is very unnerving, so much so that it took me a good 5 minutes to let go of the stairs and trust the life jacket I was wearing, and even then it was an adrenaline rush each time I dared to look down!

Cenote Multan Ha

Cenote Multun Ha

The second cenote, Tamcach Ha, was smaller in size but still as impressive in terms of the clear water and cavern.

Cenote Tamcach Ha

Cenote Tamcach Ha

The depths in this cenote were not as deep as the first, so it was a little less scary to swim in. One thing this cenote does have though is a diving board if you’re feeling brave enough!

The last cenote we visited was Choo Ha, the shallowest of the 3. The charm of this cenote lies in the formation of stalagmites and stalactites, the whole cavern seems to be made up of an intricate maze of these, so much so that you can even swim through them.

Cenote Choo Ha

Cenote Choo Ha

If you are in the cenote region make sure you visit at least 1 as the experience of swimming in these is truly unique!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Valladolid

Due to the costs we incurred for visiting Dzibilchaltun we decided to pass on seeing the ruins at Uxmal and instead travel from Merida to Valladolid. If we had to do it again we would opt to see Uxmal and not Dzibilchaltun.

Valladolid is a great stopover as it offers easy access to Chichen-Itza which we had our hearts set on seeing, especially as we could time the visit for the spring equinox and see the serpent effect on the temple.

The town of Valladolid was by far the calmest we have visited so far, the centre is small and compact enough to never find yourself more than a 10 mins walk back to the main plaza, which made a nice change from the larger cities, such as, Merida and Mexico City.

Valladolid centre:

Valladolid main plaza

One aspect to bear in mind is that due to its size the town does not have many places to stay, however if you are looking for a clean room with your own bathroom for a fraction of the price of the hotels then head down to Calle 44, behind the plaza, to Antonio’s shop where he will rent you a room for only 200 pesos. A real bargain in this town!

A perk of Valladolid is the fact it has its very own cenote located within the town, just a 5 mins walk from the plaza, making it an ideal place to relax for a couple of days in between sightseeing!

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Monte Alban

Monte Alban, a UNESCO world heritage site, is easily accessible from Oaxaca. If you have this on your itinerary then ensure you do not opt for the tours offered in town as they will cost you up to 4 times the bus fare.

We were lucky enough to befriend some travellers in the morning who had been advised that there is a local bus service running directly to the ruins, so naturally we tagged along!

The site itself is located about 20 mins away and you should allow a couple of hours to fully see it. A word of advice though, try to go early as there is very little shade at the site and it gets very hot.

Monte Alban main plaza:

Monte Alban

Monte Alban was one of our favourite sites mainly due to its location. It is set high up on a mountain top and you are rewarded with beautiful views of the region from its vantage point.

Views of Monte Alban

Views of Monte Alban

The ruins themselves are also mostly accessible allowing you to really explore and climb the site to your heart’s content. It is also relatively quiet in terms of visitors, creating a very relaxed feel about the place.

Monte Alban:

Monte Alban

One of the aspects we particularly liked was the abundance of hieroglyphs still clearly visible on the outside of the temples as well as stone slabs dotted around the ruins. This, for us, helped to give the site more character and a deeper insight into its previous occupants.

Hieroglyphs:

Monte Alban Hieroglyphs

The museum on site is a little gem in itself, showcasing not only almost intact pottery found at the site but also an array of skulls and bones from sacrifices carried out in the past.

From the museum:

Monte Alban Museum

This is definitely a recommended site and a good morning out!

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Dzibilchaltun

We had expected to visit Dzibilchaltun and be wowed by the site as this is the starting point for the spring equinox sunrise which then shines through to Chichen-Itza and Tulum to form an alignment of all 3 sites. Unfortunately we were left disappointed.

Firstly, the cost of entry was much higher than that of any other sites we had been to, in fact twice the price of previous entries, and came close to the price of Chichen-Itza, which we knew was going to be expensive due to its size and popularity.

Secondly, for some strange reason it seems to be the only site where you are unable to bring in a backpack in, and instead have to leave it at the entrance. No food in the site is also another policy we didn’t understand.

Thirdly, the site itself was not very big so we were even more disappointed when we discovered that the Temple of the Seven Dolls was blocked off and that the cenote was closed to the public, due to safety reasons as we were visiting in the week of the spring equinox.

Temple of the Seven Dolls:

Dzibilchaltun: Temple of the Seven Dolls

Cenote Xlaca:

Dzibilchaltun: Cenote Xlaca

We were also disappointed by the fact that there were no markets or vendors at the site, which usually bring some life to the sites. The only souvenirs/refreshments were provided by a small shop at the entrance.

View from the main plaza:

Dzibilchaltun: view of the plaza

A real shame as it had the potential to be a much better experience than it turned out to be, especially as there were no crowds for once!

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Palenque

A clear distinction is needed here: Palenque is both a town and the ruins. The town is a don’t-bother-unless-you-have-to sort of place. It is uninteresting, a little run down and apart from offering internet really does not have any real charm.

If you are arriving to Palenque before 10pm I would suggest to bypass it altogether and head straight out to El Panchan area, however if arriving any later than it’s easier to crash out in Palenque and head out in the morning. There are both taxis and collectivos running to and from.

If staying in Palenque I would avoid eating anything that is not pre-packaged, harsh but both myself and 2 others who ate in the town were struck with food poisoning, coincidence?

El Panchan is a nice little “jungle” area next to the ruins that was cultivated back in the 80’s. The place is now made up of various places to stay all literally next to each other, from a sling your hammock up to a private room accommodation. Note that if you head further in towards the ruins you will also find the likes of Mayabell and couple of other places to stay, so there really is plenty of choice.

El Panchan

We opted for El Panchan area and chose Margarita and Ed’s cabanas, which were simple but clean accommodation with their own bathrooms. The complex also has a couple of eating places with Don Muchos being the primary place, the menu is varied and all the food is fresh with prices that won’t make your eyes water.

However, one thing to note is that there are no shops in the complex, so make sure you bring anything you need with you or you will have to return to Palenque for provisions.

The ruins themselves are a short collectivos’ drive away and run every 10 minutes, you could walk it but for 10 pesos we opted for the ride up. Try and get to the ruins early in the morning as the tours start arriving from 10am.

Palenque Ruins Temple of Inscriptions

The most impressive part of the Palenque ruins has to be the palace with the sheer scale of it and the amount of hieroglyphs still found intact. You really do feel a little like Indiana Jones walking through the ruins with the jungle as your background whilst exploring the palace.

Palenque Ruins Palace

Whatever you do, don’t miss the museum, not only does it have an impressive array of near perfect ceramic masks and hieroglyphs but there is also a special chamber that houses the sarcophagus of Pakal the Great, discovered in the Temple of Inscriptions. Photos do not do it justice as the sheer size and condition of it are outstanding!

Pakal's Sarcophagus

Palenque/El Panchan are also a great jump off point for many other sites nearby. We opted for a day out to Misol Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls, again this can be accomplished by taking collectivos but we opted for a tour as they gave us plenty of time at each place.

Misol Ha is a beautiful waterfall which you can actually walk behind of, but make sure you wear proper sandals as the stones are quite slippery. You can also go for a swim at the bottom of the waterfall.

Miso Ha Waterfall

From behind the waterfall:

Miso Ha: Behind the Waterfall

Agua Azul on the other hand is a series of waterfalls with bathing areas at each level, in total the waterfalls run for around 7km but the lower level has the most impressive colours.

Agua Azul Waterfall

Agua Azul Waterfall

There are also plenty of places to either pick up a snack from empanadas to coconuts or have a meal at a number of restaurants. The water also varies in depth at each bathing level so there is an area for everyone, plus for safety there is also a lifeguard available at each pool too!

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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San Cristobal de las Casas

An 11 hour overnight bus from Oaxaca brought us into San Cristobal de las Casas in the region of Chiapas. The journey saved us a night’s accommodation but did not provide us with the best night’s sleep, due not to the coach itself but rather a combination of an over zealous coach driver and tight mountainous roads. Still if you can get even a few hours sleep it will see you through until you check in and save you some cash.

We had managed to pre-book at the Leon de Jovel hostel, situated on a quiet corner 2 minutes from the center, but as soon as we stepped out of the bus terminal we were greeted by numerous hostel reps. Guess this is the plus side of travelling during low season.

San Cristobal itself is set high up in the mountains, which is part of its appeal, and the weather can vary a great deal, from warm sunny days to very cold nights. Which we discovered on the second night when we needed to unpack our winter gear!

The town itself has a very laid back charm and feels welcoming and homely, so much so that our initial 3 day stay has now extended to a week. The hostel definitely helps to create this atmosphere as many of the people here are residents, from teachers to arts and crafts sellers.

Another bonus for us is an excellent vegetarian restaurant virtually on our doorstep. The Parvati, is a small tucked away gem with both dish of the day and a set menu, but for us the portion sizes and prices just don’t seem to add up.

The first time we ate there we ended up over ordering by adding the not so small side of guacamole, yet the total bill with drinks came in at just over £7 for the both of us!
Needless to say we have been back.

Parvati Vegetarian Restaurant

San Cristobal is the sort of place that in high season would probably be full of tourists, as the center does seem ready to cater to that, but in low season the town is relaxed, the markets are bustling and the plazas have bands playing music whilst people enjoy a fresh coffee in the sun.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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El Tule, Mitla and Hierve el Aqua

El Tule, Mitla and Hierve el Aqua were the key sites that made up the day tour we took, whilst in Oaxaca. The Mezcal and textile factory tours, which felt like add-ons to the tour, were nice to visit but had a very commercial spin to them.

El Tule is worth visiting, and as it is only a short bus ride away I would recommend it as a morning outing. The site itself is not big but the sight that awaits you is truly unbelievable.

El Tule

At present the tree is over 2,000 years old and has a trunk diameter of over 42m, which makes it the world’s largest tree. It lives in a church yard and is fed water daily to sustain it.

Mitla is a small zapotec site with palaces. One of which is still very much intact and gives you a very good idea of how the rest of the site would have looked. However, this is not a day out site as it is small enough to comfortably do in 2 hours.

Mitla Palace

Hierve el Aqua, the furthest of the sites we visited, is located about an hour and a half away. Our guide books did not prepare us for this place. We expected to find some sort of waterfall with stalactites but instead found this…

Hierve el Aqua waterfalls

Apart from the amazing petrified waterfalls, which we unfortunately did not have time to trek to the bottom of due to the time restrictions in the tour, are these amazing natural pools of water which form at different areas of the rock tops.

The water itself is filled with minerals and these give it the wonderful colours, but also make it an amazing place to go for a swim in, and you really can’t beat the view!

Hierve el Aqua pool

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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