After a long flight from Amsterdam Schiphol via Madrid and Miami I arrived in already spoiled Cancun. I stayed at the Days Inn, a nice hotel complex in the form of a pueblo right on the beach (Boulevard Kukulkan km 17.5). The location is at Cancuns hotel zone on a L-shaped island between the Caribbean and the NichuptÃ© lagoon. The different parts of the hotel have names like Taxco, Oaxaca, San Miguel and Agua Azul. The right way to start your trip through Mexico! The hotel has 5 swimming pools - 1 with waterslide. Unfortunately the room I stayed smelled rather fuggy....
A relaxing day at Cancun in and around the swimmingpools to recover from the jetleg.
Cancun Maya ruins
I didn't forget the beautiful white sandy beach and the turquoise sea. Only the day started very, very early because of the fact that my biorhythm wasn't used to the 7 hours time difference yet... A visit to the mayaruins El Rey just opposite the road didn't appeal to me. Lots of historic and far more attractive places were to come. After a long Mexican study, Cancun was chosen as an ideal location to attract tourists and built up out of practically nothing. Quite a competition for Acapulco. Well, the tourists did come and the prices developped with it.
The Yucatan peninsula is full of Maya history, it takes ages to visit all sites. After leaving Cancun you are immediately confrontated with the reality: Mexico is a developing country with much poverty. I took a look at the small village of Leona Vicario, where people are living in small huts (with TV!) only few kilometers from the luxurious hotels of Cancun.
Cichen Itza Pyramid of Kukulcan
A long straight road leads to Chichen Itza
, the mega tourist magnet on the peninsula. I must say that the site is very impressive. It was founded in 445 A.D. and was inhabited intermittently intil 1204 A.D., when it was mysteriously abandoned. After the entrance you see on the left the "Juego de Pelota" with reliefs bordering a playing field and illustrating the bloody confrontation between the teams. Behind this playing field is a path to the "Cenote de los Sacrificios". In the deep green water were found 53 skeletons and (other) offerings. Undoubtedly the most impressive structure at Chichen Itza
is the 25 m high pyramid of Kukulcan ("El Castillo"). I climbed the 91 steep stairs where every equinox is a play of light and shadow. On the "Templo de los Guerreros" sits one of the most photographed men of America: Chac Mool.
Chichen Itza El castillo
In his hands is a sacrificing dish on which freshly cut human hearts were placed. From this temple there's a beautiful view to the hall with the 1,000 pillars. There's so much to see at Chichen Itza, but you shouldn't forget the observatory ("El Caracol") and the strucures nearby.
After a good night rest at the Piramide Inn (with a small version of El Castillo next to the swimming pool), a standard hotel with a nice garden near the site of Chichen Itza, I continued my trip passing villages like Kantunil and Hoctun. In Hoctun I went to the local cemetery, where people were preparing the colourfull graves for the day of the dead. If you are in Mexico begin November, you should visit a cemetery! Not far from Hoctun is the "Planta Francisco Villa", a tourist friendly sisal factory.
Final goal for the day was Mérida
, the capital of Yucatan. This is a colonial town of sisal barons with their big villa's still remaining on the Paseo Montejo. The town has a lovely plaza mayor with odd S-shaped banks called "confidenciales". Well worth visiting are the cathedral, the Palacio Municipal, the Iglesia de Tercera Orden and the Palacio de Gobierno with a patio containing a series of paintings by Fernando Castro Pacheco, showing the social development in Yucatan. If you like nice odeurs you can go to the mercado municipal Lucas de Calvez near calle 65A. In MÃ©rida I stayed at the fine Hotel Residencial (Calle 59 no. 589). If you're lucky, you can even find the swimming pool.
It's south to Uxmal, another impressive maya site.
A challenge is to climb the very steep Adivino pyramid, from which you have a great view over the nunnery ("El Cudrangulo de las Monjas") and the rest of the site. Don't forget to see the so called pigeon house west of the south group with the big pyramid and "El Palacio del Gobernador". A little south of Uxmal
is the site of Kabah
showing the palace of Codz Poop with a wall of 300 masks of Chac. When I was in Kabah
some pyramids were still completely overgrown by the jungle. After crossing the border of the state Yucatan near Sayil (passing a Maya arc) I ended up in Campeche
, a town on the western shore of the peninsula. I stayed at the nice hotel Debliz (Av. las Palmas 55) with a fish formed swimming pool.
One of the churches in Campeche
has a very functional tower: it's also a light house!
Heading south I arrived in the fishing village Champoton. It's here that the first Spanish blood was drawn over Mexican soil, when Cordoba fought the Maya's. Nothing interesting to be seen. Near Francisco Escartega I entered the state of Chiapas. It's not long to Palenque, which is the most beautiful Maya site in Mexico. It is situated in the jungle and near the entrance I met some Lacandonean Indians who came out of the jungle and tried to sell me their hand made bows and arrows. Although heardly speaking Spanish they knew how to get in touch with tourists! When I was wandering around the border of the site I heard a jaguar roaring.
Jaguars have often been seen on the site in the evening after the tourists have gone. The major temple is the "Templo de las Inscripciones", which I climbed and decended inside to the grave chamber of Kin Pacal whose dead mask is to be seen in Mexico City
. Still on location are the sarcophagus and the large (2.2 x 3.8 m.) cover plate with reliefs. If your not claustrophobic you must go down in the temple to have a small Indiana Jones experience..."El Palacio" is the largest building of Palenque
. It's a terrace complex with a unique tower. I spent the night at the jungle hotel Nututun. Watch out, this is malaria area!
On my way to Ocosingo (not really worth a stop) I visited the Cascadas de Agua Azul.
The falls have different levels and although it's very tempting, it's dangerous to swim. The setting is most beautiful and so is the entire region. Further south in Chiapas is the traditional indian village of San Juan Chamula. I got the idea that despite the traditions they are very well adapted to tourists who are forbidden to photograph the colourfull folklore. The church of San Juan was a bit peculiar. Not the outside but the inside. The floor was covered by pine-needles, there were no seats and most of the small statues of saints had mirrors around their necks. The Tzotzil indians became catholic, but stuck also to old traditions.
San Juan Chamula
This day I was in San Cristobal de las Casas, a lovely colonial town. From the temple of Guadalupe you have got a good view of the place.
San Cristobal de las Casas
Most interesting is the "mercado tipico" (market on Plaza Santo Domingo), where Indians of surrounding villages try to make or spend some money. I think the most money they get from tourists who have to pay to get them on camera. I had a good dinner in a great Mexican ambiance at restaurant El Fogon de Jovel icluding life marimba music and funny dressed waiters.
Passing through a beautiful mountain scenery I went to Tuxtla Gutierrez, not that interesting if it wasn't situated close to Chiapa de Corzo, where I went aboard a small but fast boat for a spectacular trip on the river Grijalva. This is the beautiful Sumidero Canyon with bluffs of more than 1 km. As the boat navigated into the canyon, it foated into caves like the cueva del silencio, along the waterfall formed arbol de navidad and close to shores with enormous colonies of vultures, monkeys and crocodils.
The day ended in Tehuantepec
A day with lots of kilometers crossing the state of Oaxaco. Mitla is the ancient capital of the Mixtecs. It has an interesting archeological zone with a catholic church built on an old temple. Typical is the stone mosaic. In Tlacolula I visited a mezcal producery. Bah, how could the Aztecs drink this rot-gut? Further on I came in the village of Santa Maria del Tule with a unique tree having a diameter of 51 meter and aged 2000 year (so they say). Arriving in the city of Oaxaca I dropped in the hotel Senorial right on the main square. I should have known with a band stand in the middle of the zocalo. Till late in the night the mariachi's poluted the air with their biting copper instruments preventing me from having any sleep.
On the other hand, it had a real Mexican atmosphere...
Time for another archeological highlight: Monte Alban, set on a hilltop high above the city of Oaxaca. It was the capital of the Zapotecs, controlling the entire valley of Oaxaca. The main structures are the Great Plaza, the Ball Court, Building 7 Deer and the Dancers ("Los Danzantes"). In the darkness of tomb 104 stands a statue of Cocijo, which can be lightened with sunlight by a mirror. Worth a day trip!
In Yanhuitlan there is a big ruin of an Augustine monastery, a nice place for a stop along the long road from Oaxaca to Mexico City. On the main square of Acatlan (Puebla) you find lots of pottery. In Puebla the landscape has changed into Sequaro.
Mexico City Torre Latinoamerica
It's getting dryer and next to the Panamerican highway you can see huge candle cactus, This could be the location of a western movie. The PopocatÃ©petl vulcano is prominently present.
La Ciudad de MÃ©xico, Distrito Federal: one of the biggest cities in the world! I stayed during the last nights of my Mexican adventure at Fontan, a hotel of the category "not too bad" on Avenida Juarez. Mexico city is really big, buzy and bizar (and covered with a carpet of smog). It's built on the old Texcoco lake. That's why the city is sinking. Result: subsiding historic buildings like the cathedral, Santa Cruz, San Juan de Dios, the Basilica of Guadelupe and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. I observed the city high from the Torre Latinoamerica, a great viewing point. Heart of the city is the Plaza de ConstituciÃ³n a.
Mexico City Bellas Artes
k.a. Zocalo. Here was the center of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs. Ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor can be found next to cathedral. The national palace (you must see the fresco's of Diego Rivera inside!) was built on the ruins of the palace of Moctezuma. If the hustle and bustle of the megapolis get to much, you can escape and have a enjoyable stroll in the Alameda Park nearby. Nicer though is the Chapultepecpark with the museo nacional de antropologia. Even if you're no museum freak, this one is a must! If you're travelling by underground, station Pino Suarez has it's own Aztec ruins.
Insurgentes Norte, the road north out of the city, passes the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. This plaza shows the remainders of some Aztec buildings, the Franciscan church of Santiago and tall appartment buildings.
Mexico City Basilica de Guadelupe
At end of Insurgentes Norte is the most important sanctuary of Mexico: the Basilica de Guadelupe. It's very crowded with pelgrims, some of them crawling on their knees or worse. As the old basilica sank dangerously, a new building was constructed on the square. Because of the fact that pope John Paul II read mass there, his statue is between the two buildings. Stairs lead to the top of the Tepeyac hill with a chapel for the Virgin of Guadelupe. Some 50 kms north of the city lies one of the biggest archelogical sites of Mexico: TeotihuacÃ¡n
. There are 2 immense buildings, the pyramidof the sun (a base of 225 x 225 m, almost the same as the Egyptian pyramid of Cheops, and 65 m high) and the pyramid of the moon (150 x 140 m) with in between the small but beautiful palace of the jaguars. Down along the axis of the site is the temple of QuetzalcÃ³atl.
This is my last day in Mexico.
A day to relax a bit. An ideal place for this is Xochimilco
. The borough of Mexico City is famed for its floating gardens. Even the "embarcaderos" (boat docks) are impressive with all those colourful boats. This is Venice in Mexico, floating, enjoying a meal, a dos equis and mariachi pirates...
Flying home, what a sad end of such a beautiful trip!