Exploring the Mayan Ruins on the Yucatan Coast

Our Mexico trip turned out to be a dive centric holiday, where we dove 5 out of the 6 full days there. Not complaining in the least, hehe.

On our dive-free day, Jeff decided to rent a car to explore Playa del Carmen. Like in Europe, we had to pay a steep premium to rent an automatic car. I would have driven the stick, as I did the afternoon we rented a beat-up old VW convertible to explore the windward side of Cozumel, but I’d left my driver’s license back at our hotel. Ah well, at least our Nissan rental was a really comfortable ride.

Our first stop was Tulum, the popular and picturesque Mayan ruins along the coast of the Yucatan, and one the of very last Mayan strongholds to fall. It’s easy to get to from Playa del Carmen – a 45 minute straight shot down highway 307 from town.

We decided not to get a personal tour guide (costs were kind of outrageous, really), and just strolled around the grounds ourselves. Here and there, we stopped behind other tour groups to eavesdrop on what the guides had to say… although most of their spiel seemed to be colorful rehashes of the information boards posted in the front of most buildings.

From Cozumel and Playa del Carmen 2013
From Cozumel and Playa del Carmen 2013
From Cozumel and Playa del Carmen 2013

We left right as the skies opened, and took a turn in-land towards Coba, another Mayan ruins. It’s not as popular a destination as Tulum and Chichen Itza; we didn’t see as many people milling about the sprawling grounds. Coba is a huge settlement, more than 70 square kilometers. We didn’t know this prior to setting off on foot to explore the area, and initially scoffed at the tourists who rented bicycles and trishaws. It was actually kind of neat to walk down the dirt tracks that wound around the forest, and come up upon a quiet clearing with a cluster of pyramids and temples. But after wandering around for over an hour, we realized that we still hadn’t come to the main highlight of Coba was the 42m high pyramid, which is the only pyramid that tourists can still climb on the coast. By this time, we took up the offer of a trishaw driver, and raced off to our destination.

From Cozumel and Playa del Carmen 2013
From Cozumel and Playa del Carmen 2013

We were afforded beautiful views of the jungle and the tops of smaller pyramids within Coba from atop the pyramid.

Afterwards, with only an hour and a half to spare before we had to return our rental car, we decided to stop at Akumel, a popular beach along highway 307, for a spot of snorkeling. We’d heard that people could swim with dozens of turtles there. But the beach was crowded when we arrived, and the wind and waves had churned up all the sand close to shore. We dove in anyway, but couldn’t see much apart from sea grass and a few fish. Disheartened, and with an eye on our watch, we decided to leave. Jeff talked to a snorkeling guide on our way out though, and we realized belatedly we had been snorkeling in the wrong area. Not the area cordoned off by the bouys, the guide said, incredulous that we hadn’t seen any turtles, you have to go further down the beach. Aiyoh. Oh well, next time… at least we did see a couple turtles during our dives… Still, we had an action-filled day and felt that the ruins were well worth visiting.

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