Things to do in the Yucatan


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Chichen Itza 


One of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza was first settled in 435 A.D. by a group of Mayans but was not developed into a city until between 600 and 900AD when the Itza people arrived at Chichen, bringing with them influences from central Mexico. During the early 15th century, internal conflicts lead to the downfall and abandonment of Chichen.


The central pyramid El Castillo is one of the most impressive structures of the Mayan culture, rising to a height of 78 feet, with a temple at the top. Many believe that the pyramid was built in honor of the sun god and represents the Maya solar calendar. The pyramid has 91 stairs on each of its four sides equaling 364, plus the top level equaling 365, the same as the number of days in a solar year.


Chichen Itza has many phenomenon including the Equinox which takes place on 21st March and 20th September. During these two days, seven triangles of light form shadows on the pyramid's stepped edges on the north staircase. This phenomenon slowly takes form until the serpent 'Kukulcan' emerges measuring 115 ft from its head at the bottom of the base , to the top where the temple is located.


Located to the north of El Castillo is where the Mayans played 'pok a pok', which translates to 'crouching several times'. Chichen Itza has ten ball courts located on the great platform, which is one of the largest discovered.

Chichen Itza has cenotes  (sink holes)  where one can take a swim, but some are sacred, with murky waters where many young men and women were covered in jewels and sacrificed into the cenote. When visiting  Chichen Itza,  it is also well worth seeing 'Ikil', located only a few miles to the east where cenote swimming is allowed This is one of the most photographed cenotes in the world.

 

Cenotes of Cuzama


Cuzama is a typical Mayan village with quaint houses lived in by the locals. Their main source of income is from the 'Trucs' (horse drawn carts)  pulled  along an old rail system which takes you four and a half miles through the jungle to three cenotes (underground sink holes).


The first is the easiest to access with a stairwell that descends to 50ft below the surface and is great for all ages as it has a shallow area that allows you to stand up, and other areas that are over 65ft deep. The guides usually allow a thirty minute stop at each of the three cenotes. The journey between the first and second cenote takes about fifteen minutes and is very enjoyable as you are travelling through 200 year old henequen plantations on tracks that the original farmers used.


 The second cenote is a cavern which has a small entrance, then opens up into one of the most spectacular cenotes with a hole in the top and tree roots hanging down more than 50ft looking for water. This cenote is 30 ft deep in its shallowest area and in the deepest could be more than 80ft deep. People can go to this cenote and enjoy a great dive and see the caves from a different perspective.


 The third cenote is a full cave and the entrance is very small and not for the fainthearted. This cenote is very shallow, has natural light, and is very unique.


 The ride back to the start of the tour takes about 40 minutes and is very relaxing as you enjoy the breeze. The original tour operator of Cuzama is still in business, so pass the' commercial tour' of the three cenotes and travel on about only three minutes. If at the first stop they tell you they are the only tour, this not strictly true, as they are the only commercial tour. 


Once you have finished the tour, there are a few great places to eat, either right where you get off the Truc for Mayan food, or a short 4 mile drive to 'Hacienda Cuch Balam' where you can have lunch made with home-grown organic produce. If you feel that you may want to visit more of the area the following day, there are two unique hotels in the area.

 

Izamal (The Yellow City)


Some forty miles east of Merida, the capital of Yucatan, is the quiet, old fashioned colonial city of Izamal. In the center of town lies the great Monastery of Izamal which houses one of the most venerated Mayan statues in all of Mexico. Thousands of miracle healings are attributed to this statue. The usual Christian explanation for these miracles is that the prayers of the pilgrims call forth the benevolence and therapeutic powers of Mary.


The town of Izamal is painted egg yolk yellow and has beautiful cobblestone streets and unique lamp posts which give the town a true magical feel. The town was considered one of the thirty five  Pueblos Magicos  (magical towns) in the Yucatan in 2001.


During the time of the Spanish conquest of Yucatan (1527-1547), Izamal was one of the largest and most beautiful cities on the peninsular.  A pilgrimage site since as early as 1000 BC, Izamal had become the most important religious center in Northern Yucatan during the early Classic  Period  of 300-600 AD. The city was considered by the Mayans to be the abode of Kinichkakmo, a manifestation of the sun god, and of the god Itzam Na (the name Izamal derives from the god's name). Itzam Na was a deity of healing and resurrection, the creator of arts and writing, and the introducer of many important agricultural items. He was also head of the Mayan pantheon bearing the title of  ahaulil, or'Lord' and was shown as presiding over a collection of lesser deities.


Following the capture of Izamal by the Spanish, the local population was enslaved and forced to dismantle the top of an enormous pyramid in the center of the city. Upon the now flattened pyramid,  at the place where previously had stood the sanctuary of the god Itzam Na, the enslaved Indians were forced  in 1553, to erect a monastery and church. This was done because of the Christian belief that a church would discourage  the Indians from their 'devil worship'. Soon after the consecration of the church and the installation of the Marian statue, miracles of healing began to occur. The miracles were explained by the Christian authorities as resulting from the grace of Mary. Yet, were the miracles really caused by the wooden statue of Mary inside the church, or might they be better explained by reference to the Mayan belief about the power of Itzam Na?


Izamal's Mayan structures have not been re-constructed like those at nearby  Chichen Itza, therefore the town has far fewer visits by tourists. This sleepy little town comes to life twice a year however, when thousands of Mayans come on a pilgrimage on October 18th for the 'Procession of the Black Christ' and the December 8th' Procession of the Virgin of Izamal'.

 

Flamingo Tour (Celestun)


Located one hour from Merida to the west is Celestun, a small town on the edge of the Celestun Biosphere Reserve which serves as an annual migration ground for the pink flamingos.


 There is a  tour that leaves from the right of the bridge as you are coming into Celestun. This tour lasts 2 to 3 hours and takes you through low water areas where flamingos are seen in their natural habitat. You then travel through the mangroves where you can hear birds singing and fish jumping.


 Towards the end of the tour, you stop off for a while at the Ojo de Agua (water hole)  where you can go for a swim and cool off after your trek. After you finish the tour, be sure to go in to town as there are many restaurants on the ocean's edge where you can order 'catch of the day'and a wonderful cold cerveza !

 

Sunday in Downtown Merida


Located in the heart of the downtown area of Merida, Merida en domingo is the host to many great vendors who come from different parts of the state to sell their hand crafts, herbs, spices, and everything under the sun that you could want to take home from your trip.


 To the west of the park are the mayors offices where they host typical dancing from different parts of Mexico as well as the Yucatan. The cathedral located on the other side of the park  is very impressive and holds lots of history and is the oldest cathedral in the Americas.


 The 'Centro' area of Merida is enjoyable every day of the week but Sundays are especially magical.

 

Visit a Hacienda


The haciendas of the Yucatan are a gem all on their own, with hundreds in some state of decay, while others have been developed into lush resorts and museums. The haciendas in the Yucatan date back more than a hundred years when henequen was the 'green gold' of the Yucatan. Now you can still experience the haciendas as they were more than a hundred years ago by taking a tour that some haciendas have to offer.


  On these tours you will see the entire process of henequen production and get to experience what hacienda life would have been like more than 100 years ago.  If you choose not to visit a working hacienda, there are some which have been converted into beautiful hotels which offer some of the best accommodations in the state.


 So, relax by a pool and hear birds chirping, eat authentic Yucatecan food, or lie back and enjoy a massage, or better still, do all three!

 

Progreso


Progreso. Once a sleepy fishing village,  it is growing fast, with new found fame as a Mayan port of call for many cruise ships. The pier in this port town is at nearly five miles long, one of the longest in the world and is particularly beautiful at sunset.


 The Malecon 'beach street' is open to pedestrian Located 30 minutes north of Merida's centro at the end of a magnificent eight lane highway is traffic only except Sundays and is great to take a stroll along. Shop for local handicrafts, and stop in to a Botanero for a quick Margarita and snack, or one of the many fresh seafood restaurants which offer the 'catch of the day' while overlooking the white sandy beaches that the Yucatan has to offer. Progreso has much to offer for all who visit.

 

Caves


Along with the cenotes, the Yucatan offers great trips to various caves, with 'normal' tours and 'extreme 'tours. There are many many caves , some of which have cenotes that have never seen the light of day. Caving is great fun, but, remember to use a qualified guide and take plenty of food and water.....

 



 




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