Maya Ruins of Mexico

If there’s one other thing I’ve been doing in Mexico, apart from cooling off in the lovely cenotes, it’s working up a sweat wandering round the many Maya ruins. I thought Belize was well-represented in that department, having been to six of them (including the two biggest, Caracol and Lamanai). But Mexico has about ten major ruins, and tens of smaller sites. Continue reading

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The Cenotes of the Yucatán

The Yucatán Peninsula is the area of Central America that juts out into the water like a big fat thumb, separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico (most of it’s in Mexico, but it also includes parts of northern Belize and northern Guatemala).  The Belizean and Guatemalan parts are mostly low-lying jungle; and the Mexican part is equally flat, equally hot, and comprised mainly of limestone.  This soft rock is so porous that the abundant rainwater drains straight through it, and as a consequence there are no surface rivers in this part of the country.  But what there are plenty of is sinkholes, known locally as cenotes (from a Maya word dzonot, meaning sacred well).  The Peninsula is pockmarked with thousands of them, and they range in size and shape – while some are open water pools at the bottom of circular limestone holes, most are mainly or completely underground, accessed by small holes in the ground or twisting cave passages.  In this flat landscape, the only thing that rises above the forest and the plains are the giant temple-pyramids built by the ancient Maya, and it was probably the numerous cenotes and their fresh water that allowed the Maya cities to survive and grow. Continue reading

Christmas in Mexico – Playa del Carmen

Day 5

After another ferry journey (again accompanied by adverts for duty-free jewellery at Diamonds International, and Band Aid singing their absurd and patronising song about Africa), I’m in Playa.  As the largest town on the Riviera Maya, and the second-biggest on Mexico’s Caribbean coast (after Cancún), Playa is tourism central (it’s impossible to imagine what these places would be like without all the tourists – Sleepy? Empty?).  The statistics of the whole region defy the imagination – Cancún’s first hotel went up in the 1970s, yet it now has 30,000 hotel rooms and 4 million annual visitors.  And Playa, which in the 1980s was a small town of 1000 people, now has a population of over 150,000 (not counting all the tourists).  The sandy streets of the 80s are now paved avenues full of traffic, with hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops.  And being the high season, it’s very busy with people like me, as well. Continue reading

Christmas in Mexico – Isla Cozumel

I’ve seen in the festive season in Belize for the last few years (and eaten my enormous fill of turkey, ham, and black cake; not to mention drank myself slowly under the table with beer and rum).  Now, it’s time to head north to Mexico, to spend my Christmas holiday in the tropical paradises (or over-hyped tourist traps, depending on your point of view) of Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Continue reading

The Lake of Many Colours and the Town of Many Shops – Part 2

After what seems like an entire day on the road (and it’s still only lunchtime), we arrive in Bacalar.  And I have to say, the lagoon is very pretty – it’s known as ‘the lake of seven colours’, and the vivid shades of blue and green remind me of the Belizean Barrier Reef.  We head straight to the balneario, a swimming spot with various amenities.  Having slept for most of the way (and slept through the shopping), and eaten three Orange Walk tacos and a Chetumal McFlurry, it’s time for a proper meal.  There’s no doubt that the food is delicious (I have an enormous plate of fresh shrimp ceviche with extra beans and avocado, washed down with an ice-cold beer); but the service could definitely do with some improvement – the amount of time it takes for the waiters (who are so plentiful that they almost outnumber the customers) to hand out menus and take orders is interminable.  Watching the bored-looking staff milling about chatting to each other, while customers frantically wave arms and menus in the air in a desperate attempt to get noticed, reminds me that this country was colonised by Spain, after all ;-). Continue reading