Exploring Mayan Ruins
Situated on a limestone bluff overlooking the pristine turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, Tulum is visually stunning. Enjoy the views from the cliff-edge path that winds around El Castillo (the castle). In the distance, waves crash on the coral reef beyond, creating a natural barrier and a protected beach below. The archaeological site is small, but very accessible and well-visited. Arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds of tourists! By 10am the heat is intense, so why not take the stairs down to the beach and cool off in the gentle waves! There are so many picturesque views—your inner photographer will be delighted.
Visit Coba to climb the highest pyramid in the Yucatan! The ruins are spread out over a lush jungle plain, so be prepared to walk a lot. Bicycles are for rent, or for an extra fee you can hop aboard a tricycle wagon and be chauffeured between sites. Don’t miss the opportunity to climb the steep stairs to the top of the 42m-high pyramid and take in panoramic jungle views. Nearby are several cenotes, one of which is completely underground and has a spiral staircase with diving platforms. The cool, crystal-clear water is so refreshing!
For outstanding examples of the artwork of the ancient Maya, visit Ek Balam, a lesser-known site not far from Chichen Itza. The well-preserved state of the sculptures and frescoes on the temples is impressive. Every building is open to public access, so you can enjoy clambering over the Mayan ball court, temple pyramid and observatories. A beautiful cenote is a short bike ride away. Splash into it by rappelling down from the cliff edge or using the rope swing at the foot of the stairs.
Likely the most famous of Mayan archaeological sites (one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”), is the grandiose Chichen Itza. Keen observers of the night sky, the Mayans integrated their knowledge of astronomy into their architecture. El Caracol (the observatory), was constructed to align with certain astronomical events. One window at the top of the dome perfectly frames Venus at its exact appearance on the horizon every 8 years. El Castillo (the castle pyramid) showcases a splendid display of shadow and light at the Equinox, making it appear that a great serpent is illuminated on the steps.
It is worth hiring a guide when visiting the larger sites like Chichen Itza and Coba, simply to appreciate the incredible feat of engineering and design behind the buildings! Modern-day Mayan guides truly value their heritage and will gladly share some of the fascinating facts of their culture—like how the limestone was quarried without draft animals, metal tools or pulleys, how the main plaza platforms were carefully aligned with the cardinal directions and celestial cycles, etc. Visiting the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan is certainly an intriguing journey through time!
Written by Kelly G.