Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yucatan adventures

After a week of relaxing on the beach, visiting Mayan ruins and looking for tropical wildlife in the Yucatan Peninsula, Dan and I reluctantly returned to the rainy Bay Area. Dan had a work meeting in Cancun, so I joined him afterwards for a little vacation...wished we could have stayed longer!

I met up with Dan in Isla Mujeres, a small island north of Cancun. We stayed at an oceanside apartment, listening to the ocean waves and relaxing in a hammock on the patio.

Pretty pool of water
Pretty pool of water by the ocean

From Isla Mujeres we took a day trip to Isla Contoy, a national park and bird sanctuary. We snorkeled in the warm waters, looking at different corals, tropical fish and a giant manta ray. Also saw many, many magnificent frigate birds and spotted a few sunning reptiles along the paths. We enjoyed delicious grilled fish under a palapa with a huge community of hermit crabs nipping at our toes.

Dock at Isla Contoy
The slow boat we took is on the right

After a couple of days of island relaxation, we rented a car from Cancun and drove inland to the town of Valladolid. Each morning we enjoyed breakfast in the pretty courtyard of El Meson del Marques, which is right on the town plaza, where we strolled while listening to a band perform on Sunday evening, and sampled delectable treats from various street vendors. From Valladolid, we visited the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.

El Castillo
El Castillo, the main pyramid

Shadows forming a serpent appear along the steps during the equinox! But people are not allowed to climb the pyramid anymore. The ruins were very impressive, and Dan loved examining the many intricate limestone carvings.

Platforma de los Craneos
The Platform of Skulls

But by midday it was very crowded and hot, and not so fun. We drove to the colonial town of Izamal, where the Spanish built one of the first monasteries in the New World...slowing down as we passed through small villages by the topes, speed bumps along the roads throughout Mexico.

Another view of the church
Santuario de la Virgen de Izamal

Stones from Mayan pyramids were used to build the monastery in 1533, which is like a fortress. The next day we visited Ek Balam, recently discovered ruins that are still being excavated.

View from halfway up the Acropolis
View from halfway up the Acropolis

Acropolis, the main pyramid, can be climbed, and is higher than El Castillo at Chichen Itza.

Carol on the steps of the Acropolis
Resting on the steps

Dan was enthralled by the many stucco carvings halfway up the Acropolis, amazingly preserved. (Or restored?) Jaguar teeth surround the carvings...Ek Balam means black jaguar in Mayan...

Stucco figures
Intricate carvings topped by human figures

We also noticed many of the doorways had the same trapezoidal arch shape at all the ruins we visited.

Carol in doorway at Ek Balam
Trapezoidal doorway

To cool off from the midday heat we went for a dip at Cenote Samula. The Yucatan Peninsula has few surface lakes or rivers, but many cenotes, underground freshwater sinkholes exposed when the limestone surface falls through. Dan was slightly apprehensive as we descended the dark, slippery steps...but the freshwater pool was lovely and refreshing.

Cenote Samula
Tree roots extend down from the opening

The tree roots hanging down from the surface above were so long! We also saw stalactite formations and fish swimming in the water.

From Valladolid we drove back to the coast, and stayed in a bungalow on the beach in Tulum.

Sunset color on Tulum beach
Sunset from the porch

We walked on the beach, snorkeled in Bahia de San Francisco, swam in Gran Cenote, relaxed in the hammock, and visited the ruins at Tulum...the only Mayan ruins built on the coastline....a spectacular setting...

Tulum ruins
Surrounded by three walls and the ocean

From Tulum we also visited Sian Ka'an, a biosphere reserve encompassing 1.3 million acres of tropical forests, mangroves, lagoons, and coastline. We went swimming, walked through the mangroves, saw beautiful beetles, a couple of small crocodiles, reddish egrets and many other birds flying to San Miguel Island as the sun set.

Sunset Boca Paila
Sunset over Boca Paila Lagoon

On our last day on the way to the airport we stopped in Puerto Morelos to buy hammocks...and have one last look at the beautiful beach. It was a wonderful vacation...I was so sad to leave, and hope to return someday soon!

Beach at Sian Ka'an
Beautiful blue-green waters


snoopyjoanne said... looks so lovely there! so blue! you are lucky to have such great weather when you went. how i wish i could be on vacation again too. looks like you had a wonderful time, despite the weird car issues! :)

African Kelli said...

Oh my gosh -- that looks like the vacation of a lifetime! You should send your write up to the Mexican tourist bureau. It makes me want to pack up right now!