Thursday, 24th July
We arrived into Valladolid around 1pm after the relatively short two and a half hour bus ride from Merida. As usual the bus ride was comfortable although our stomachs were still giving us some grief. We caught a cab to the hotel not feeling up to the walk. We knew our hotel was close to the bus station but obviously didn’t realise just how close. The cab only took around 2 minutes if that to get us there, literally around the corner! We paid the man 20 pesos for his trouble and checked into the lovely ‘Tunich Beh’ hotel. This hotel is a little more than we would usually pay but I booked it and don’t have the knack for finding hidden gems on a budget as Kirsty does and to be honest after the last few days in our hostel in Merida it is a blessing to have a private bathroom, some peace and quiet and a pool literally just outside our room door. We had a rest and thought about what we might do here.
Valladolid is a so-called ‘pueblo magico’ or ‘magic city’. This is because it is a colonial city from the 1500’s, has nice architecture and sights to see and most importantly still preserves it’s traditional cultures. It is a very quiet place compared with Merida but has a population 1/20th the size. It is certainly a pleasant change. Once settled into our hotel we ventured out for a wander and to check out the tours that a local company offered. Whilst here we were keen to visit Chichen Itza and some cenotes (sinkholes). We found a place that offered a full-day guided tour of Chichen Itza, Yodznotol (a local village with a cenote), a traditional lunch and a visit to Izamal (another pueblo magico) with a horse-drawn tour. After thinking it over lunch at ‘Squims’ (some amazing chicken soup, I would go as far to say the best chicken broth I have tasted) we opted to book ourselves on a tour for Saturday, the day after tomorrow. This should allow for one extra day to get over whatever bug has been enjoying giving us grief with our stomachs. We also booked ourselves on an evening bus to Tulum for the next day so we would hop onto the bus straight after the tour.
That left the rest of today to relax, swim at our hotel, get some laundry done and have a nice dinner at ‘El Meson del Marques’ on the main square. This is a lovely restaurant, a little fancy but then fancy in Mexico isn’t exactly expensive and in our state of not wanting to eat large meals we could handle the epense in our budget. I had some more soup, this time ‘Sopa de Lima’, chicken broth soup flavoured with lime, and Kirsty had some grilled vegetables. Perhaps almost a weeks worth of vegetables in our usual travelling diet sitting on one plate! We sat at a table next to the central grassy area with a fountain in the middle. This restaurant has tables all around a central courtyard giving you the feeling you are outside. The only thing missing is a mariachi band.
Friday, 25th July
We had our inclusive hotel breakfast of eggs and then decided to visit some local cenotes. These are amazing natural formations found all over the Yucatan peninsula, around 4,000 in all. In the Yucatan there are no overground rivers or lakes, instead what they have are lots and lots of sinkholes. The Yucatan sits on a limestone shelf above an underground water system. In places the limestone has fallen away to allow access to this water supply. They were used in the past for sources of fresh water and in rare cases to sacrifice people by throwing them in, as in the case of the one in Chichen Itza. We visited the one in Vallalodid town first, Centoe Xaci, and had a swim. This is a open-air cenote and the water level is about 20 metres from the surface but a walkway and stairs has been created to make the job easy. It was nice and cooling although cleary very popular with coach tours judging by the car park and facilities available. We then went back to the hotel for a rest and some reading by our pool lazing in a hammock.
Next on the agenda was a visit to an underground cenote, Cenote X’Keken, about 4km from Valladoid. We went to the street in town we were told for a taxi and found that the ‘taxi’ they were referring to is really a communal car that waits for a full load then ferries people to the next town. We got out close to Dzitnup for the cenotes. We paid out entrance fee of 60 pesos each and walked down the steps to the underground cavern in which we found the turquoise green water of the cenote. It was so nice and cool down here, not too may people around. There is one hole in the roof, about a metre across letting in some light but not too much. When the sun does shine through it creates a beam of light. It was quite amazing to swim around in this place. The entire pool would have been around 20 metres across and up to 100m deep in places. There were fish swimming in the water and bats flying around above your head. You can really see the spiritual significance these places would have had on the local people when they were discovered. There are many cenotes open to the public that the local communities make a living of, charging for entrance and having market stalls and places to eat outside but there are many more that are not accessible unless you know what to look for, ensuring that a majority are kept pristine as they should be. We stayed for around had an hour, swimming around and marvelling at the unique formation. Looming down from the roof of the cavern area stalactites that have formed over time reaching down, some almost touching the water. You can swim around the whole cavern exploring every nook and crevice. It would be quite eery on your own I think.
Once back in Vallalodid, we went to the ‘El Meson del Marques’ restaurant again for dinner which, as it turns out just consisted of a couple of margaritas each and some guacamole (made at our table by a very skilled waitress). After a few days of not eating much our appetites had decreased somewhat so that’s all we had for dinner although it was one and a half large avocados worth of guacamole with tortilla chips and various salsas so ton too small. Wherever you eat here they give you a dish of tortilla chips and salsas to get you going. With dinner done we headed home to pack our bags and get an early night as we were being picked up at 7:20am the next morning to beat the crowds to Chichen Itza.
Saturday, 26th July
We had our tour booked today and although not feeling 100% from the bugs that had afflicted us over the past week were excited to be going to Chichen Itza, one of the seven new wonders of the world and a major focal point for the Maya people. It was one of their largest cities with a population of around 40,000 and was of importance around AD600-1200. We were picked up by our guide for the day, Gilberto, and got to Chichen Itza around 8am where we were greeted by our Chichen Itza guide. She took us around the area, talking us through the significance of what we were looking at. It is so helpful to have someone around to tell you things and to ask questions of. It would have been great to visit this place without a guide but you get so much more out of it by understanding what took place here and why. We got here before the crowds and so had the main area to ourselves for the first hour or so. When the crowds started to pour in it really filled up and was hard to get a view of the buildings without a mass of people on front of you. The buildings, especially the main pyramid are immense and stunning to see. The main building, Temple of Kukulkan, is 60% original, having been re-constructed from the fallen rumble and looks magnificent. You can see clearly carving in the stone all around on various temples, buildings, ball courts (the winner of the game played four times a year was sacrificed, apparently) and observatories. There is a cenote at one end of the complex into which people were thrown and sacrificed to appease the rain gods, this being a particularly dry area. We had a guided tour for one and a half hours then another one and a half hours to walk around ourselves before meeting Gilberto once more to head to our next destination, Yokdzonot.
Yokdzonot is a local village about 40 minutes from Chichen Itza with a cenote. This is an open-air cenote, with the water level about 20 metres from the surface and the water around 40 metres deep. We changed and jumped into the refreshing water. This was a nicer place to swim than the other cenotes we had visited yesterday as there were much less people there, less than ten including us. It is run by the local community as a cooperative to make a living from with 200 ‘owners’. There are too many cenotes for the government to look after so this is scheme by which the local community does just that and is a source of income also. After our much needed swim in the heat of the day we dried off and had our lunch. We started with ‘Sopa de Lima’ then Kirsty had some local vegetables and I had ‘poc chuc’, a grilled Yuacatan dish of citrus marinated pork, grilled and served with rice and beans. We had a relaxing and laid back lunch chatting with our guide, Gilberto, and our other tour companion, Edwin (from Panama). It was nice to take our time on this tour and not feel rushed around, the benefit of being in a small group.
With lunch complete we drove on to Itzamal, around one and a half hours away. Izamal is another ‘peublo magico’ and is a beautiful colonial town built upon an old Maya city by the Spanish. All the buildings here are painted yellow and white, this was done around 60 years ago to reflect the corn origins of Mayas, or so we were told by our guide. Just as Christians believe that man was created from the earth, Mayas believe that man was created from corn, hence the yellow and white of the buildings. Gilberto gave us a guided tour of the town, first on foot then jumping aboard a horse and cart (calesa) painted in the colours of the Mexican flag to go further afield. We climbed a Maya pyramid still remaining in the town and were greeted with a great view of the surrounding land, everywhere looking so green. The pyramid has not been reconstructed except for a few steps and is an impressive site, with the base measuring some 600 feet square. We then had some free time which we used to get some ice lollies and sit by the central square. It was then time to head back to Vallalodid and our bus to Tulum. We just had time before our bus to get some dinner at ‘Squims’ which happened to be next-door to the bus station.