After getting the thumbs up from my boss to jump down to Cancun for a long holiday weekend, I flew down to meet up with two of my favorite travel amigos down in Mexico. The first night was a late arrival after missing a flight out of Mexico City, but after landing I immediately joined them out at the fairly sketchy biker bar that they had found with live music and cheap beer. The crowd was lively, the cervecas were cold, and we were amped for a mini vacation away from the snowy weather back home!
The next day we spent the afternoon scuba diving the Underwater Museum located about 30 min off the coast, which were shallow dives but the eerie statues were quite fascinating to explore. In 2010, Jaime Gonzalez Canto and Jason deCaires Taylor opened an underwater museum known as the Museo Subacuático de Arte or MUSA with the intent of saving the natural coral reefs in the area. The Underwater Museum has several exhibits consisting of nearly 500 statues and sculptures that have small holes in them to allow coral and algae growth to support marine wildlife. Swimming silently through the groups of these sunken statues is slightly eerie, but a completely new way to experience art in a different realm.
That night we decided to go out and experience some of the local nightlife since we were not getting picked up until 7 am the next morning. Even though tequila is generally not my adult beverage of choice, we crushed several rounds in quick secession in addition to our numerous dollar cervezas. Although the next morning was significantly rougher than anticipated, we still managed to make it on to the bus and were on our merry way to visit Chichen Itza.
The massive Mayan pyramid, El Castillo, sits in the middle of a beautiful open field on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico at the center of the Chichen Itza complex of ruins. The complex is located only two hours outside of Cancun making it one of the easier wonders to visit as a popular tourist destination and there are a multitude of companies offering their services to take visitors there on an afternoon tour. Most tours include a few other stops along the way to share other local highlights. This was another trip that I opted for a Viator tour for the convenience of having a direct pick-up (encouraging our tequila run-in), meals were provided, and a tour guide was included. Prices for tours generally range from $50-$90 and usually last a full day.
Upon arrival, we were immediately welcomed with a grand view of the El Castillo, the focal point of the complex. Our guide spent about 30 minutes talking about the history of the Mayans migration to the area and the construction of the Kukulcán pyramid, El Castillo, before releasing everyone to roam about the area. There are numerous impressive architectural nuances that the Mayans built into Chichen Itza that our tour guide explained and demonstrated for the group. The crowd favorite was definitely the echo clapping on El Castillo where he stood directly in front of the staircase of the large pyramid and clapped, and then the sound unmistakably echoed back in the same pattern.
There were plenty of brochures about the history of the different ruins within the complex were freely available as well as several large maps located throughout the 740 acre spread of ruins. We were free to explore the various sites at our leisure, but unfortunately guests are no longer permitted to climb the pyramid or any of the other ruins. The Great Ball Court and the Temple of Warriors were my two favorites of the ruins and both are located directly adjacent to El Castillo. Although there is still much debate amongst historians as to the exact rules of the game that used to be held in the Great Ball Court, it is commonly agreed that at the conclusion of the match, the winner would be decapitated before the Mayan king that was presiding over the game as a demonstration of ultimate victory and his transition to glory in the afterlife. It was still possible to see depictions of the games in the carvings that lined the Court. The Temple of Warriors was my other favorite with columns stretching from the open field far back into the jungle. While the human sacrifices at the Temple of Warriors may not have been as gory as the scene in “Apocalypto” in reality, it was chilling to stand in the precise spot where the executions took place.
On the way back from Chichen Itza we stopped at one of the numerous Cenotes that are located along the drive for a big lunch and a quick dip. Cenotes are underground caverns that are part of a massive network of rivers and caves and there are numerous ones are available to take a quick plunge. My group stopped at Ik kil Cenote and immediately gorged ourselves on their large buffet. Immediately afterwards (forget the 30 min wait rule to swim) we were taken down the winding stairs leading down to the base of the cenote. The seemingly bottomless pool of water was a little disconcerting not knowing what could live in the waters, but there was a ledge to climb up and jump off which successfully distracted us.
Tacos comprise my most essential food group and thankfully there were plenty of incredible spots to meet the demand for endless tacos. For the first two nights we relied on Yelp to locate the best spots and found fantastic local joints with delicious food and tasty margaritas that were two for the price of one and one of the restaurants even came with a mariachi band! However the final night we decided to stay in and eat the free family style dinner that was served at the hostel. While it was a fun evening of drinking games around the table with travelers from around the world, something was not quite right with the dinner and the next day on our flights home we each had stories of desperate scrambles to the bathrooms on our planes. Although it is amusing to reminisce about our food poisoning stomach Armageddon now, the plane ride home was anything but entertaining at the time. Overall it was still a fantastic getaway in the middle of winter and a great chance to get some quality tacos & tequila!