We left the craziness of Tulum and drove the short distance to Coba, much less touristy than Tulum. We really enjoyed Coba and visited its magnificent ruins. Coba’s claim to fame is the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world, called sacbes (white roads). Over 50 of these roads have been discovered at the site, with 16 of them open to the public. The largest pyramid at Coba is called Ixmoja, part of the Nohoch Mul group of buildings. The pyramid is 42 meters (138 feet) tall and was the heart of the city. It was a steep climb to the top-but totally worth it as we gazed over the greenery of the jungle stretching in all directions. We were also there just after opening time (8am) and almost had the place to ourselves, which was refreshing after the huge crowds at Tulum.
We visited the cenote at Choo-Ha. The Yucatán Peninsula is home to a unique group of underwater habitats that look like circular swimming pools. These beautiful formations are known as cenotes, meaning “natural well” in Spanish. Formed through the gradual wearing away of the limestone walls by freshwater river systems, cenotes offer an opportunity to enjoy swimming in the depths of the underwater cenote world. Cenotes are a result of the constant, and widening flow of underground rivers through limestone caverns. Freshwater moves through the caverns eventually widening them to a point where the ground above can no longer be supported and falls in.
Choo-Ha is a shallow water cenote with crystal blue water and many stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. It was beautiful and we were the only ones there. The cenote was underground and full of bats! I really enjoyed a quick dip in the water whilst Gav took pictures.
Our next stop was Valladolid. On the way, we visited the stunning cenote of Suyton-it was incredible. Cenote Suytun is an underground cavern containing many stalactites, and clear shallow water where you can see the freshwater fish. The sun`s rays shone in though a small opening at the top of the cave-making a natural spotlight on the water below.
We really enjoyed Valladolid-using it as a base to visit a few places. We went to the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza, hugely popular and declared one of the wonders of the modern world. We went really early before the crowds and really enjoyed its imposing structures, particularly the massive step pyramid called El Castillo.
We also visited the ruins at Ek Balam-much less touristy than Chichen Itza. When the Mayas abandoned the site, it went undercover, literally, as the dense low-lying jungle of Yucatán engulfed it. As with all of the Maya pyramids, these were discovered when archaeologists and adventurers saw a group of hills with trees and brush growing out of them. Digging in the mounds, they uncovered treasures of buildings and artifacts hidden for hundreds of years.
At Ek Balam, restoration has been ongoing since 1997. The Acropolis is the largest restored building, measuring 480 feet across, 180 feet wide and 96 feet tall. This palace has six levels where the governors and higher echelons of the city’s population lived. We climbed this imposing structure, and from the top saw all the other structures at Ek Balam, as well as two large hills which are two unrestored buildings.
We visited the centre of Valladolid and really enjoyed an hour`s tour around a private home, Casa de los Venados, containing over 5,000 items of Mexican folk art. it was a beautiful home with so many beautiful things to see such as art, ornaments, and sculptures etc.
We had a day visiting 3 nearby cenotes-San Lorenzo Hacienda Oxman cenote; Xkeken and Samula. Oxman was amazing. Deep underground-we had to access it by a stone staircase. The water was clear and there is a large opening at the top of the cenote where tree roots and vines dip down to the fresh water and you can swim up to them. Xkeken and Samula were close to each other-both located completely underground with a small opening at the top of the rock ceiling, allowing the sun’s rays to shine down to the water below, with tree roots hanging through the opening. There were stalactites hanging from the rock ceiling, and interesting rock formations, bats flying above your head and little black catfish swimming in the water with you!
Next, we headed to Merida, the largest city and capital of the state of Yucatan. Much of Mérida's architecture from the colonial period through the 18th century and 19th century is still standing in the historic centre of the city. We spent a very hot day wandering around the city, before meeting our old friends Roque and Sharon, who we first met in Death Valley, for dinner. It was great to catch up with them again and share stories. It is the last time we will see them this trip although hope to see them again one day when they visit Europe!
Next was Campeche, a colonial-era harbour city with baroque Spanish architecture, colourful houses, cobblestone streets and a walled historic district. Its preserved fortifications contained museums and a small botanic garden. We enjoyed wandering around the walled city and visited some of the museums and forts.
On our way to Veracruz we encountered our first "dodgy "police officer of the trip. The police in Mexico are very poorly paid and some try and supplement their income by other means. He pulled us over at a check point and told us (in Spanish) there had been an infraction! He said we had been speeding (we hadn`t) but he had no equipment to verify this. He took Gav`s driving licence and I gave him only copies of our other documents, as I realised we might have some issues getting them back without paying. He kept saying "infraction" and then typed it into his phone on google translate! I spotted my opportunity and swiped Gav`s driving licence from his hand, leaving him with the worthless copies of the other documents. We stayed calm and just kept telling him we did not understand. He gave up pretty quickly and told us it was an infraction but he would let us off and shook our hands before waving us on our way! We even got the copies of our documents back. I must mention that, before this incident, we have been stopped by countless police and military over the last 2 years. They have all been wonderful-curious, helpful and courteous. I have learnt to say in Spanish "Hello-the police/military in your country are wonderful-so friendly-unlike the police in England who are miserable (this bit is untrue of course!)" We then have lots of handshakes and smiles and get waved on our way!
We are heading next to Puebla and Mexico City, where we have booked tickets for the front row to see Lucha Libre-the famous Mexican wrestling!