Are you visiting the Yucatan peninsula on vacation and wondering which Mayan archeological sites you should take the time to go visit? First off, realize there are probably hundreds of Mayan ruins on the Yucatan peninsula. You could probably spend months exploring all of the Mayan ruins in Mexico and still not see them all. Of the known ruins, many remain in their natural state – however a few major ones have been restored. The most famous of these are known as the “Big 4.” They are: Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque, and Tulum.
During our travels, we visited 3 of the “Big 4.” We opted not to visit the site of Tulum. We chose not to visit Tulum because it is actually a more compact site – largely popular just because of its location along the Caribbean Sea and proximity to Cancun. Since we had spent plenty of time at beautiful seaside locations during our travels, we decided we would skip Tulum and spend more time exploring cenotes instead. However, if you only have limited time and are traveling to the Yucatan for sun, sand, and a little adventure – I have heard great things about Tulum. This may be the perfect spot for someone on a quick vacation.
3,000 miles into our overland voyage through Mexico, the oil change light in our Ford Transit Connect came on.
We had just left the city of Coatzacoalcos, and were on our way to Palenque, when we noticed the service light flashing in the lower corner of the dash board. Of course, even the smallest towns in Mexico have some sort mechanic who could have probably changed the oil in the van. (There are many cars in Mexico that seem to be just barely functional – so it makes sense that there are lots of mechanics everywhere.) However, we wanted to take our vehicle to some place reputable, so we decided to find a Ford dealership and have the car examined at their service center.
The process was surprisingly familiar and straightforward.
Cenotes are one of the most fascinating, unique, magical, and bizarre features of the Yucatan peninsula. Pronounced: suh–noh-tee, a cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes fresh groundwater underneath. While they are very rare in most parts of the world, they actually occur in great number in the Yucatan peninsula. Several thousands have been documented in the area.
After leaving Palenque, made a quick stop in the old colonial town of Campeche before heading on to the most famous Mayan site in the Yucatan Penninsula: Chichen Itza. Current evidence suggests that construction Chichen Itza took place between 600 AD and 1200 AD.
We decided to camp at a motel called the Piramide Inn – which is located 1 km from the park entrance. It was actually pleasantly cool in the evenings, so we slept in our van, but made full use of the motel’s pool and lounge areas.
Eric and I have spent the last few days exploring the Yucatan peninsula, seeing Mayan ruins and free diving in as many cenotes as we can find. Cenotes are a type of underwater sink hole that is created in the limestone, and are unique to the region. Here is a short clip of us exploring a cenote called Chacsinicché.
After a couple more days on the road, we reached Palenque. We stayed at the Maya Bell Campsite – located one kilometer outside of the park. We really enjoyed this campsite as it was very well maintained, and there were actually several other people camping at the site! (This was the first time in the last two weeks we had shared a site with other campers.) The amazing ruins we saw at Palenque – and the return of good roads and other travelers strengthened our resolve to continue on and see the other sights in the Yucatan. Continue reading “Camping at Palenque”
After Oaxaca, our next major overlanding goal was to reach the Yucatan penninsula to explore the Mayan ruins and cenotes that area is known for. However, we still had to traverse a lot of territory to get to the Yucatan – 1,500 km to be precise. To leave Oaxaca, we took road 190 south towards Tehuantepec. While this road was wider and better maintained than the 175 which we took to come into Oaxaca, it was by no means an easy drive. It was disintegrating in sections, with hairpin turns, and steep drops. We spent most of the day driving, and by the afternoon we pulled into Teahuantepec. Tehuantepec has historically been considered a crossroads of Mexico, as it is located on the isthmus (i.e. the narrowest part of the country) and many major roads meet there. The women in Tehuantepec are known for the beautiful embroidery on their dresses – a style which incorporates large, beautiful, colorful flowers.
Oaxaca is defined by its geography. The city is located in a broad valley amoung high mountains. The mountains can be very steep and difficult to traverse – conditions that have allowed the small villages of indigenous people in the area to maintain their traditions to this day. The city itself was first built during colonial times and has maintained a tight grid of city blocks, making it easy to walk around to the various attractions within the city.
After passing through the deserts of Baja California, the jungles and gardens of mainland Mexico feel like an Eden. We have seen an astounding variety of plants as we have traveled down the coast. One of my favorite flowers is the hibiscus – known as jamaica here.