Friday, 10 February 2017

The Yucutan Peninsular and Chichen Itza – Days 146 to 148

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

We left Tepoztlan, the three dogs and Louise hoping we may see them again sometime in the future and caught the midday bus to the southern bus terminal in Mexico City. From there we took a taxi to the airport and our 2 hour flight to Cancun in the Yucatan Peninsular, arriving after dark at 19:30.

Since October of last year the easternmost state in Mexico, Quintana Roo decided to move to Eastern Standard Time, which is one hour ahead of the rest of Mexico and indeed most of the other Central American countries, so we lost an hour on the way, but only for that night as we only stayed in Cancun overnight. The next day we caught a bus to Valladolid, a 2.5 hour bus journey west, but we went out of Quintana Roo and, in doing so had to put our watches back an hour to where they had started. How bizarre!

An unrestored section of El Castillo
Temple of the Warriors and Group of 1000 columns
We intend to go back to Cancun next week to stay for a couple of days before heading South into Belize, but for now we wanted to see places further west in the peninsular so only stayed overnight. 

We were a little disappointed with both Cancun and our hotel, the Casa Habitacional Laurel it felt as though we’d arrived in a Club Med town, somewhere like Benidorm. One hotel after another, floodlit palm trees, restaurants everywhere and loud music, not our kind of place! 
The Cenote Sagrado, scene of many human sacrifices by the Maya
The hotel was only 200m from the bus station so we could wheel our suitcases round the hotel and check in easily, but the place was fairly tired and our room had a very damp smell, which we think was due the air conditioning unit which seemed to drip water inside the room. We dropped the bags and headed out for something to eat as it was 21:15 by this time, I’d found a place called Pik Nik on Tripadvisor which had good reviews for cheap Mexican food, but they were just closing as we arrived, so we chose the place next door, also serving Mexican food. We sat at a table outside as it was a warm night, but could hardly speak to each other because of the competing loud music being played, but the food was nice enough and reasonably priced.

Here's Eden and Keith, who we met at the Cenote and chatted with for half hour or so. really nice couple from Florida who have an 18 month old daughter being looked after by grandparents. They have just arrived here from a 5 day holiday in India - and we thought we got around! 'Hi' if you're reading this! (we gave them our blog address)
Platform of the skulls. each skull has a stake driven through it
The next day we got the 11:20 bus after buying a very average breakfast roll from a nearby shop and a very average cup of coffee in the hotel and arrived at 2:00pm’ish in the very nice town of Valladolid and a really nice hotel, the Hotel Maria Guadaloupe, right in the centre, again just round the corner from the bus station. It’s perfect! It really is a lovely town and we are now in the Cenote area. A Cenote is a sinkhole in the limestone bedrock, said to have formed when underground streams wear tunnels through the limestone that collapse. I’m sure I read somewhere that it’s also something to do with the huge meteor that struck earth, created the Gulf of Mexico and wiped out the dinosaurs, as there are a huge collection of Cenotes here that trace out the curve of the meteor crater.

So this is the ball park. Big isn't it! It's got amazing acoustics, you can talk on one side and it can be heard on the other side. Clap and you can hear four or five echos. Half way down on each side and high up is a rock hoop that apparently was the goal...
There's one of them up there. Bet the scores were not very high!
Anyway, it turns out there are several Cenotes locally, one of them in the town itself, so we took a walk to find it, turning a street corner, walking in past a restaurant and street vendors to be confronted with a huge hole in the ground. The hole must be 30 to 40m in diameter, partly covered with an overhanging roof with stalactites hanging and a vivid blue lake about 30m down of unknown depth. It was only 30pesos entrance, through a tunnel and prepared walkway and there were quite a few people down there swimming, so we thought we’d have to give it a try. We didn’t manage it on the first day as we got distracted on the way back to get our swimming things. On the rocks around the Cenote and even outside on the road we saw a number of quite large Iguanas which we just had to photograph.

This is called The Observatory, but it may not have been an observatory, it could have been to measure wind direction or it could have been something else
This is the High Priests Grave, now look at the following photo
On walking out we were accosted by a young man trying to sell us stuff, but he and his mate were the friendliest, nicest people who were great salesmen and they really deserve to do well. ‘Let me show you some things you don’t need’ he started off with a smile and went on to present us with wooden puzzle boxes that he bet we couldn’t open. We both did within a minute or so that left them both aghast and then he went on to try to sell us a ring that Jackie really liked. We didn’t buy it, but she may be tempted to go back, who knows, particularly as we have now booked our cruise back to Europe now!

There are three Iguanas in this photo, one bottom left, one is on the syline at the top of the left slope and the other is on top of the column on the right at the top of the steps
Beautiful stone carvings in the buildings by the nunnery
Anyway, we finished the day with a beer and nibbles on the roof patio at the hotel, a nice Mexican Meal at La Selva restaurant and a relatively early night ready for our 7:30am bus to the Maya ruins at Chichen Itza, one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World and a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Our Lonely Planet guide recommended getting there early to avoid the crowds, as well as the 33°C heat and it was good advice. We were there at 08:30am just as it was getting quite hot and starting to gather crowds, so we paid our 242pesos per person entrance fee (just under £10 each) and headed off in. We didn’t take a guide as we had watched a couple of documentaries in YouTube which gave us all the information we needed, and in fact one given by a Dr Simon Martin, an archaeologist, of Penn University ( doubted some of the accepted theories of some of the buildings. The ball park, for example he thinks is too vast and the rock hoops too high and small to get a ball through, so thinks it was probably a temple instead. The fact is that no-one really knows anything for sure. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century the site had already been abandoned for more than a century and the Maya people disappeared, so it is all open to interpretation.

View showing half restored and half original El Castillo. We were actually hoping to get a photo of us in mid air, but the person we asked to take it didn't get it quite right. We're almost off the ground! By the way, it has been found that this pyramid was built on top of an older smaller pyramid
Reconstruction of a traditional Maya house
The main central temple, named as El Castillo by the Spanish, but previously known as Kukulcan, has been refurbished on two sides to show what it probably originally looked like. Apparently on the Spring equinox the sun casts a shadow on one of the stairways that looks like a snake, but the temple was in such a ruin when it was found that it may or may not have been like that in Maya times and may or may not have cast such a shadow. We did learn on the documentary that the Spanish called it El Castillo (The Castle) as they fortified it after the conquest by taking a cannon up to the top and bashing a hole through one of the sides to poke the cannon barrel through!

The roof terrace at our hotel
We spent about 2.5 hours there, met a really nice couple from Florida by the Cenote, Eden and Keith, then headed back to Valladolid just as it was getting very hot.

After a bit of lunch we grabbed our swimming things and headed out to the Cenote in town, paid our entrance fee, walked down to the water’s edge, peered into the deep blue, apparently bottomless hole, saw quite a lot of fish swimming about and then jumped in. On such a hot day the water temperature was fabulous and cooled us off a treat, we really enjoyed it. I took the camera in to get some shots in the water, well it is supposed to be waterproof down to 5m, but I made sure I kept the wrist strap on, except when another swimmer offered to take a photo of us, so I gingerly handed it over pleading for them not to drop it!

Looking down into the Cenote in Valladolid town
Going down into it
Another beer and nibbles on the roof terrace again this evening, followed by a really interesting, very local Mexican dish that we’ve no idea of the name of what it was, but it was very tasty and very cheap, 140 pesos with non-alcoholic drinks for us both, that’s less than £6!

Tomorrow we have one more day here before moving on to Merida and we’re thinking of going to Ek Balam, another Maya ruined town, will we get ‘ruined out’?

Stalactites hanging from the ceiling
Jackie finally takes the plunge
Someone else takes a photo of us treading water. Don't drop the camera, it would never be seen again! Who knows how deep it is

Here's one of the Iguanas we saw, this one was outside on the road in town
Handsom chap isn't he!
The lovely church in the centre. Apparently is was built by the Spanish using stones from old Maya temples that they broke apart
I took this photo in a museum we visited. It's a plan of the very centre of Valladolid and I took it as it has got our hotel in it. It's right at the front in the centre, just set back from the ajoining buildings. It's not often we stay as central in a town as this!
The plaza in the centre of town


  1. Looks so interesting! The cenote looks lovely but scary like swimming in a disused quarry here- mind you they are very cold as we don't quite get the South American temperatures! Keep safe! X

  2. Hi both, the swimming looks fab, would have loved doing that. Sounds a fascinating place! Have fun. Xx