December 7-14th, 2002
The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the most intriguing regions in all of Latin America. It is home to some of the most impressive archaeological zones in the world, including Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. In addition to these fantastic ruins the Caribbean coast offers world-class snorkeling, diving, and of course great beaches for relaxing in the sunshine. The lucky visitor to this part of Mexico has many great experiences in store for them and we found out first-hand just how fabulous the Yucatan is on our vacation in December of 2002.
After much consideration, we decided that Xpu-Ha, Quintana Roo would be the perfect base for our explorations of the Yucatan. Our main objectives being visits to each of the aforementioned Maya ruins and a ferry ride to the island of Cozumel for some snorkeling. Our next decision would be where to stay while we were there and our research led us to the All-Inclusive Resort of the Hotel Copacabana. I can sincerely tell you that we couldn’t be happier with our decision, the staff was excellent and the food was great. In addition, the grounds of the hotel, the pool, and the rooms were beautiful. The beach was soft, white sand and the water was a spectacular turquoise color and crystal clear. There was even pretty decent snorkeling right off the beach from the hotel.
Thanks to El Nino our trip during the dry season turned out to be a little bit wetter then expected. We landed in Cancun during quite a downpour and our transfer from the airport to our hotel, a forty-five minute drive, was also accompanied by gray skies and rain showers. We took the opportunity to explore the hotel during this inclement weather and hoped that the next few days would bring blue skies and sunshine. During our exploratory outing we discovered a few things that were a bit of a disappointment in regards to the hotel. One being that our room (4105) did not contain an in-room safe as advertised, which meant that we had to use the one at the front desk. The treadmill was broken at the fitness center, and the “business center/email” facilities consisted of a free-standing “email machine” that ate pesos for food without ever being able to connect to the internet even once for the entire 5 days we were there. I really feel that the Hotel Copacabana should change their advertisements concerning these matters. But, with that said, we would indeed return to this hotel in the future seeing that those were our only “complaints”. Okay, on to the good stuff.
On our first day exploring the Yucatan we decided to head for Playa Del Carmen for some shopping. We caught the collectivo, which is the public transportation system that consists of white vans that cruise highway 307; they are extremely affordable ($1.00US to PDC from Xpu-Ha vs. $14.00US via a taxi), and quite pleasant to use. Once we arrived in Playa Del Carmen we headed for Calle 5, shopping central, where we found some great shops and colorful characters. After buying some great souvenirs we dined at La Parilla Mexican Grill for lunch. The food was excellent; especially the chips, guacamole and pico de gallo. The atmosphere was fun and lively as well. A mariachi band rounded out the afternoon while we sipped on pina coladas. The day was still quite overcast from the previous day’s rain but we were undaunted in our travels. We arrived back at the Hotel at about 4pm. It started raining again in the evening so we took advantage of the All-Inclusive perk of free alcohol and sampled several mixed drinks…not a bad way to end the day.
Monday started off with gray skies again but we soon noticed bits of blue trying to peek through; this perked us up and we hurried to the hotel lobby to rent a car from Budget so we could head for Tulum. We procured a Chevy Pop for $55.00US and hit the road. The ruins of Tulum were absolutely amazing! Their spectacular Cliffside setting adds to their majestic feel. El Castillo is the most impressive structure on site with the Templo de los Frescos coming in a close second. We spent several hours hiking around Tulum enjoying the architecture and the wildlife. We were surprised to see a wide variety of animals among the ruins. We came across several iguanas, lizards, and magnificent butterflies and birds (including several Yucatan Jays), but our biggest surprise was when I looked over at a tree and noticed the familiar pattern of a boa constrictor! What a highlight it was to see this snake in the wild; we were thrilled and a little freaked out at the same time. After our visit to Tulum we couldn’t wait to see the other Maya ruins, especially since driving in Mexico turned out to be less scary then anticipated.
Our next visit was to Coba, which in my opinion is the most spectacular of the Maya ruins in the Yucatan. It has this great “Indiana Jones” feel to the site since most of the ruins are still buried under thick jungle. The structures that are excavated are astounding. We hiked among the buildings and climbed to the top of Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan at 140 feet in height. From the summit you get a great view of the rainforest and in the distance you can see the temple Iglesia protruding from the jungle. It was hard to believe that at one time 55,000 people inhabited this ancient city.
After about two hours at Coba it was time to head back to the car for our long drive to Chichen Itza. The drive was about 2 hours on some crazy backcountry roads. The roads have huge potholes and lots of animals that wander about, but all of these things are easily maneuvered around in the daylight. Among the animals, both domesticated and wild, we saw were: pigs, goats, cows, donkeys, chickens, and the highlight…a snake speedily chasing a basilisk down the road! A basilisk, or Jesus Christ Lizard, is an amazing creature that can run on its two back legs when trying to flee a predator, they can run so fast that they can even tread water…hence the JC reference, seeing one was quite a treat for us and we are happy to report it outwitted its attacker.
Chichen Itza…what can we say, except that it is superb! The precision with which these structures were built is mind-boggling! The highlight, of course, is climbing the Pyramid of Kukulcan. It is 91 stairs to the top, and once on the summit the view is fantastic. You can see the entire grounds with the many buildings including a great view of the Temple of the Warriors with its Group of the Thousand Columns. If you visit the Yucatan don’t miss this archaeological masterpiece that ranks right up there with ancient Rome.
Our last adventure while in Mexico was to be a trip to Cozumel, but due to the rain the clarity of the water was not that great and the ferry ride seemed a bit treacherous with the waves, so we decided to pass on that excursion. We are already planning a trip to Cozumel so that we can make up for our lost visit, hopefully in the spring or summer of 2003. We did get to snorkel in a great little lagoon called Yal-Ku that is located in Akumal, just a short drive from our hotel. Yal-ku is home to a myriad of colorful tropical fish, including sergeant majors, parrot fish, damsel fish, needle fish, and starfish. The water is an emerald green color and is crystal clear and warm. Wooden stairs lead down into the water making entry and exit a breeze. There is an entry fee and a stand that rents snorkel gear and life jackets right near the entrance. After you pay your fee you will get a wristband that entitles you to use the lagoon all day, you can even leave for lunch and come back if you want. That is exactly what we did. We drove down to a restaurant called La Buena Vida and it was excellent! They have this great bar with swings as barstools and crow’s nests that you can climb and get a great view of Half Moon Bay. The floor of the restaurant is simply the sand from the beach and the chairs and tables are at a great vantage point right by the ocean. The burgers and fries are great, as was the pico de gallo and chips. There is nothing better then a cheeseburger in paradise!
For our last couple of days we basked in the sun on Xpu-Ha beach and enjoyed the atmosphere of the Hotel Copacabana. The Yucatan is a wonderful place with great people, unique culture, and brilliant flora and fauna. If you are considering a trip to this part of the world then you should not hesitate to put your plans into motion. We hope our photos and info help you make your decision…enjoy.
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