This time, my journey begins in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. I’ll be embarking on a 3-week tour with Intrepid that will take me to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
I need to catch the bus at 3am to get to the airport on time, so I decide not to sleep. But staying awake this long is a bit of a challenge! I am dead tired by the time I sit down on that first plane but of course I don’t sleep very well. A short layover in Mexico City and then a small plane into Cancun…the pilot keeps warning about turbulence but it is one of the smoothest flights and landings I’ve ever had. SIDEBAR – this is my pet peeve with pilots…either they are over cautious and nothing happens, or we’re being thrown around in major turbulence without a word of reassurance!
I head outside to find the transfer company for my ride into Playa Del Carmen town. I am greeted with a big sign and smiling face and I’m shuffled into the van with Carlos – who wants to take me to his place for home cooking and tequila. Not sure if this is creepy or if he’s just super nice? Haha.
After driving for a half-hour, we arrive into PDC. My hotel is called SC Playa Del Carmen Hotel and I opt for a deluxe room for my first two nights by myself before the tour starts. The hotel is really cute; in the center is a large open-air courtyard with a pool.
I leave the hotel at 7am for a short walk to my pick up spot; the sun is already bright and shining and it seems like it will be a nice hot Mexican day. I wait for my tour bus to pick me up. And wait. And wait. I get a little worried they have forgotten about me, or am I in the wrong place?? Nah, they show up eventually. Then it’s a 3-hour drive to get to Valladolid, a pretty colonial town. We drive though the town and I’m excited to get off the bus and look around. The church, the pretty colored buildings…. nope, it was just a quick drive through. Come on!!!!! Such a tease. Then we do one of those mandatory shop stops. Which is ok because I’m able to pick up an authentic obsidian souvenir (beware of fakes!). Also, we meet a real Mayan shaman (he can access good and evil spirits and stuff like that).
He brings out his smoke and leaves dipped into water from a sacred cenote. Fun Fact: a cenote is a natural sinkhole which exposes the water table to the surface. I must then take the water in my hands and put it on my head, heart, arms and legs. I’m truly blessed now!
And finally, we arrive at Chichen Itza. I’ve been wanting to get here for many years now and today is the day! Another UNSECO World Heritage site to tick off my list! The weather is super fun today…. ridiculously sweaty hot, with a chance of a downpour. There is not much shade here, so thank Itzamna it’s cloudy. Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan city that dates back to 600 AD. Most of these ruins have been excavated, but there is still more to be uncovered. To get to the main area we must walk past many stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs. The most annoying one is the whistle type thing that mimics the sound of a jaguar…needless to say the first time I hear one of the guys blow into one it scares the shit out of me. I decide not to bring one home. Haha
And now we are walking towards the main temple…the one you see in all the pics…and it’s one of those heavenly (wahhhhhhhhh) moments.
It is breathtaking! The Kukulcan Temple (also known as El Castillo), stands 98 feet high with 365 steps leading to the temple situated at the top. There was a time when folks like us could climb to the top, but since Chichen Itza has become Mexico’s top tourist attraction with over 2 million visitors per year…. well you can imagine why that’s no longer a great idea. And also, a woman died falling from the pyramid. Fun Fact: archeologists believe there is a cenote hidden under the temple but it’s never been seen.
We marvel at its beauty and the head over to The Great Ball Court. If it weren’t for this tour, I would have no clue what this giant open space is.
It is the largest and best-preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. The sound that can resonate here is amazing…our guide Cesar gets us to chant “CHAC” into one of the walls, and it echoes back behind us. Fun Fact: Chac is the name of the Maya rain deity. There are many cool carvings and details in the walls surrounding the court.
The ancient Maya would make a pilgrimage to this cenote and sacrifice during times of drought. Because of this archeologists have recovered all kinds of items including human skeletons. It’s pretty; a pool of bright green water shaded by trees. I head back to check out The Temple of the Warriors.
It’s a large pyramid that isn’t very high and is surrounded by a thousand columns.
Back in the day, these columns would have supported an extensive roof. Now I wander over to get closer to Kukulcan and check out the detail on the pyramid, with the intricately carved serpent heads at the base.
Now we take a short drive to Ik Kil cenote, which is super touristy and busy. We have a chance to swim, so I figure I should give it a go. I walk down the many steps to get to the sinkhole.
I get into the water…I can swim, but not for extensive periods of time so I hold onto the panic rope that extends into the water for people like me. I last maybe 5 minutes – like really, how long do I want to float in there surrounded by a hundred people? No thanks! It is a refreshing dip though, and now I am ready for a late lunch. It is a very basic buffet…. not a big fan. The food is mediocre.
On the way back to the bus, I stop for a very touristy photo with some Mayan warriors. Haha.
The drive back to Playa Del Carmen takes around 3 hours. I still don’t know my way around, so I find a small pizza place on the way back to the hotel and grab a quick bite. I’m not brave enough to hit the street stalls yet. Back to the hotel with a Dos Equis in hand, I sit overlooking the pool reflecting on my first day in Mexico………