The Chicago Tribune just published this great article on Tulum. This article goes into the rich history around Posada Yum Kin Hotel in Tulum. Check it out…
Riviera Maya serves up history with all the comforts of being away
3:15 p.m. CDT, November 1, 2011
Visit places such as Muyil, Coba and Tulum, and you can step back into different eras of Mayan history, walk among moldering ruins, climb ancient pyramids. And, if you use your imagination, you might in some places hear the grunts of ancient players of the Mesoamerican ballgame as they throw a hip into the hard rubber ball in a game where the losers might face death.
Muyil is nestled in the massive Sian Ka’An Biosphere Reserve, which is about 70 miles south of Playa del Carmen. At 1.3 million acres, the biosphere is the third-largest natural protected area in Mexico and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple ruins here are surrounded by jungle, unlike sites such as Tulum, where, our guide told us, “100 years ago when they found the place of the Mayan people, they cut down all the trees to start to make a reconstruction.”
Muyil’s ruins were discovered more recently, and a more conservation-oriented mindset resulted in the removal of only trees on top of the temples.
Sian Ka’An, which translates as “Entrance to the Sky,” is populated by a wealth of wildlife, including tapirs, peccaries, deer, spider and howler monkeys, jaguars, anteaters and ocelots, and you need a guide to visit.
Our guide, a Mayan, peppered us with facts as we hiked through the jungle, occasionally blundering into concentrations of large black ants that like to bite.
El Castillo is the largest temple here, topping out at roughly 50 feet. Climbing it and the other temples at Muyil is a challenge, because the steps are very narrow, requiring you to sidestep up and down. “That was so that when you were going down, you couldn’t turn your back on the temple, which would be a sign of disrespect,” our guide said.
Later we enjoyed a break from the intense sun and heat by donning life jackets and floating down a section of a canal the Mayans constructed to connect Muyil to the sea.
Coba, translated as “waters stirred by wind,” “water with moss” or “murky water,” is inland, northwest of Muyil, and is home to the Nohoch Mul pyramid. At 140 feet, it’s the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan.
Thankfully, the steps at Nohoch Mul are wider, but the climb to the top (there’s a rope handhold) isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s worth it, though, and the view, along with the climb itself, will take your breath away.
Back on solid ground, you can walk through the site, which is much more open and developed than Muyil, or do as I did and rent a beater bike for a few pesos.
Our guide here told us about “good” trees that the Maya used for their medicinal properties and “bad” trees that can poison you if you touch them. Best advice? Don’t touch any trees.
Mayan lore is replete with stories of human sacrifice, including on the ball courts at Coba. Two large slanted walls flank a corridor, and high up each wall is a ring. Teams would try to put a large rubber ball through the ring, using only hips and elbows.
Depending on who’s telling the story, the losers of the competition would be killed and perhaps beheaded. Or maybe just the team captain. Or the winners might be killed and go to live with the gods as their reward. Or all of the above. Or none of the above.
Isn’t folklore great?
Later we got a taste of what those ancient battles were like. We descended into a giant sinkhole, called a cenote (see-NO-tay), and by torchlight watched brightly painted mortals do battle against a team from the underworld on a court that was randomly set on fire.
Holy smokes, but at least no one was beheaded when they were done.
Unlike Muyil and Coba, the archaeological site at Tulum sits smack on the ocean, atop nearly 40-foot-high cliffs, with a three-sided wall around the inland side to defend against attacks on what was an important commercial port.
The wall itself is impressive enough, standing about 13 feet high and nearly 20 feet thick. Rulers and priests lived inside the walls while the common folks were outside.
As our guide at Muyil had noted, the look of Tulum is much different and more open because of trees that were cleared. But the site’s buildings, several of which were houses of nobles, also are notably different, being much lower and more expansive. Murals and other decorations are in evidence, and altars are sprinkled around the area.
Dominating the landscape is El Castillo (it means, The Castle, and many sites have one). It sits at the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean, standing 40 feet high. With no invaders to worry about these days, there’s access to a beach area below, where several people waded in the teal-colored waters of the Caribbean.
If the Spaniards who came here to colonize the area could have done that, Riviera Maya the sun and sand capital probably would have boomed much sooner.
If you go
Is it safe? Mexico has had major problems with murders and violence, virtually all related to drug cartels. Some tourists have been victims. But most of these cases have been in the northern areas of the country along the U.S. border.
The U.S. State Department‘s last travel advisory for Mexico was issued April 22, and Quintana Roo, where the Riviera Maya is located, was not mentioned among Mexican states that are considered security risks.
That said, as with any place you visit, including in the U.S., use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings.
Lodging Tons of options in the area, from all-inclusive to null-inclusive.
Touring the Mayan sites Most hotels can help you arrange tours.
Information Riviera Maya Tourism Board, rivieramaya.com