Maya temples, Spanish cathedrals and jungle
Apart from the famous Maya temples, Mexico has a lot more to offer: Spanish colonial cathedrals and palaces, volcanoes and thick jungle with beautiful waterfalls, Indian villages and colorful local markets. On the Gulf of Mexico are sandy beaches where one can snorkel, even though it's very crowded.
Text and photos: Geja Rijsman
When we take a walk after arriving in Mexico City, we end up on the Zócalo. It's pretty crowded and there are stands everywhere, selling different kinds of merchandise.
We go inside the cathedral. It needs a lot of scaffolding to keep it from collapsing. Next we walk to Templo Mayor and decide we don't think it is worth visiting.
Next morning we take the bus to Chapultepec. Because it is still cool, we take a walk from the bus stop over the pedestrian bridge to Castillo de Chapultepec. After having almost completed a full circle around the castle, we finally find a staircase. Mexicans are fanatically jogging here.
The castle is disappointing, it looks very modern. The prettiest part, the Maximilianus quarters, is closed for renovation. We visit all other rooms and then follow the signs to the anthropological museum, a gigantic building. Here we get an impression of what is still in store for us.
People live under plastic sails, stretched over the road
We take a bus to Hidalgo and walk to Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución), on our way passing by the Palacio de Belles Artes (Palace of the Arts) and a church, where we visit Casa de Los Azulejos (House with the Tiles).
On Zócalo we also visit the Palacio National to see Diego Rivera's frescoes.
We continue our walk along the Templo Mayor toward Iglesia de San Domingo. And then we find ourselves all of a sudden inside a plastic tent camping site. It isn't clear if people live here permanently or temporary. In many places in Latin America, people have to live like this permanently. Everywhere plastic has been stretched over the road, under which groups of people live.
The Iglesia de San Domingo turns out not to be all that special, the square in front of it is, though. It is covered with tables with old typewriters, where people type letters, for a fee, for others who are illiterate.
Via the Road of the Dead to the Temples of the Sun & Moon
We take a daytrip from Mexico City to Teotihuacán, where we first visit the Ciudadela, behind which the statues of Tláloc (rain god) and the snake god are hidden.
Climbing the Pirámide del Sol (Temple of the Sun) turns out to be easier than expected. When we have reached the top, we have a great view of the Pirámide de la Luna (Tempel of the Moon). Looking up, we see a wonderful corona around the sun.
it's quite a walk on the Avenida de los Muertes (Avenue of the Dead) to the Pirámide de la Luna (Tempel of the Moon). This climb is shorter, but much steeper. But again, once we're at the top, we enjoy the view. Behind the temple are several sights worth seeing, the most remarkable being frescoes.
After we have seen the whole comlex, we look for a bus back to Mexico City. We are impressed with public transportation in Mexico. We find a bus immediately and when we reach the bus terminal, we catch a trolleybus to our hotel within 5 minutes.
A stunning view of volcanoes and agricultural fields
Early in the morning we take the bus to Puebla, where we find a small, but clean room in a pretty hotel.
We walk along the Reforma to the Zócalo where we visit the Cathedral in Herreresque, mostly known for its bells. Through streets with shops we walk next to the Templo de Santa Domingo. After that, we walk back to Zócalo, visit the old library and want to visit the Amparo Museum, which unfortunately turns out to be closed.
Next morning we take the bus to Loreto and on to Cerro de Guadelupe. The first fortification isn't very interesting, so we just walk around it. Then we return to the road. In the distance we see mountain peaks.
Unfortunately it isn't clear wheather. But we do have a good view of the city. We walk back to take a look at the shops with special Puebla merchandise.
We take another bus to San Miguel and Nativitos. After a long ride we are left at the foot of Cacatla.
We walk uphill with a wonderful view of the volcanoes. When I've had enough, we take a bus for the last stretch. There is a small museum, but it has some nice replicas of the frescoes that were found here. We have to climb a rickety staircase to reach the temple. The area is covered with canvas to protect the frescoes.
From this temple we already see the Xochitécatl temple on the next hill, so we decide to walk there. It is a nice climb, very quiet: we only meet two other people.
The views of both the volcanoes and the agricultural fields is stunning. We climb up to the relatively low-lying temple and then walk back to San Miguel, where we take the bus back to Puebla.
Stairs up and down in the huge complex of ruins Monte Albán
We get up early to go to Oaxaca (WA-HA-ka). We are very disappointed when we find out at the bus station that the next bus will leave only at 10:45 AM.
We arrive in Oaxaca at 3:45 PM. We find a local bus and get off a few streets before we reach the neighborhood where all the hotels are. The bus is something out of the ordinary: you can't look inside and inside all kinds of stuff are exhibited. We have enchiladas at El Meson, where we also try the Mexcales de Oaxaca proberen. This turns out not to be a dish, but a drink! The enchiladas with chili are very spicy, so Michael removes the peppers from the remaining ones.
It a steep climb to Monte Albán, but the bus gets there in a half an hour. First we visit the museum and then we walk to the ruins. It's a large complex, so we keep walking up and down stairs. Unfortunately the sky is hazy, so we can't really enjoy the view. At 1 PM we take the bus back.
On our last day in Oaxaca we leave our luggage at the bus station and walk into town. We sit on a bench in a park and then walk to the Templo de Santo Domingo. It turns out to be closed until 5 PM, so we go to the south part of the city instead; there is an arts and crafts market. It is Sunday and not all stands are open, but we find a nice T-shirt and a small, painted doll (devil, monster), typical for Oaxaca.
After lunch we return to the north part of the city. In a crafts workshop we buy a beautifully colored sun and moon, to hang on the wall. Next we visit the museum near the Templo de Santa Domingo, which among other things has a gorgeous gold mask on exhibit. Inside, this church is the most beautiful we have seen so far. Gold and paintings everywhere.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
By ship through the canyon & on horseback to an Indian village
After an uncomfortable night on a bus we arrive at 7:30 AM in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Because we want to take a tour and go horseback riding tomorrow, we visit tour operators and in between visit the cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
We book a tour to the Cañón del Sumidero and a horseback ride to an Indian village at the most trustworthy looking tour operator.
At the end of the afternoon we climb an enormous amount of steps to reach the top of San Cristóbal Hill, where we wander around. There is hardly a view because of the overgrowth everywhere. I don't feel completely comfortable.
Next morning it turns out there are only four of us for the tour, so we go by taxi instead of bus. The driver turns on the radio, which produces more static than music.
After one and a half hour we have reached the place from where we take the boat. It takes us into the Cañón del Sumidero. It's a fast boat and we have the best place: in the front. No spray, so we stay dry. When the boat stops for the first time near a nesting site, it's almost too hot for us.
The second time we stop in the middle of the water near a bunch of tree branches. We take pictures of the birds there and than suddenly see a (small) crocodile. We continue our ride through the Cañón, the view is spectacular. We see a "christmas tree" of moss on a steep rock.
After an hour we reach a dam, where we take a break. After a drink we return, this time without stopping and very fast. All in all we have spent two hours in the Cañón.
The taxi takes us to the village Chiapa de Corzo. We have an hour to look around. After ten minutes we have seen all the souvenir stands along the village square, so we sit down on a bench.
Finally an hour has passed and the taxi takes us back to San Cristóbal. On the way we pass by a village that has been built in the crater of a volcano.
In San Cristóbal we visit the local market. When we arrive at the Zócalo however, it starts to pour. We take shelter underneath the colonnades in front of a bank. Within minutes, the Zócalo has turned into one big puddle of water.
Today we go horseback riding. There is three of us. Daniel from Switzerland is our companion. Michael gets the biggest horse, Daniel the smallest and I get the medium one. The horses have wooden saddles and a piece of rope as reins.
We walk on the side of a busy road, in the trash. Not pretty, but after we cross the road it gets better. We pass through a village and then enter the jungle. Here and there are quarries, then again forest with little streams of just plains.
Soon Michael complains about his behind, but I don't notice anything. We alternate trotting, galloping and footpace. After one and a half hour we reach San Juan Chamula. When I get off my horse, I have a strange sensation in my behind and upper legs.
We have a drink in an outdoor cafe and forget to pay when we leave, after we have bought a stone sculpture and things to put in my hair from a sweet girl. We have to pay to visit the church. We get a certificate, which also mentions that taking pictures is not allowed in the church and that offenders will be prosecuted.
The church turns out to be extraordinary. Candles everywhere and along the sides all kinds of statues in glass vitrines. The floor is probably completely covered in wax because of the many candles that are burning. We take a look at the souvenir stands and after a lot of haggling, I buy a Mexican shawl.
After an hour we leave. Soon my behind starts to hurt and to make things worse, there is an open blister on my thumb. I don't feel like galloping, because it hurts too much. My horse doesn't feel like it either, because it can't keep up with the others.
When I get off my horse I feel dizzy and have to sit down. In the taxi van to the Zócalo ga I rest my head on my knees, because I feel terrible. I'm sure my eyes are open, but I can't see a thing.
Waterfalls in a banana jungle that overgrows everything else
Early next morning we're on the bus to Palenque. The surroundings change from green pastures, fir wood and cornfields into a green banana jungle that overgrows everything else. It looks as if people are burning down forest frequently.
Then we see a local bus lying on its side on the roadside; soldiers are directing traffic around it. A little later there is a checkpoint and a soldier enters the bus. Much later than we expected, around 1:30 PM, we arrive in Palenque.
It rains almost all night and we wake up early because of the roosters. The van that picks us up is relatively new, but we're shocked when we see that there are 15 passengers (13 adults and 2 children). It's overloaded.
We stop near Misol-Ha, a 35 meters high waterfall, about 20 kilometers south of Palenque.
NAfter another hour we arrive in Agua Azul. The water is brown and we have lost our interest in swimming. There are crucifixes on the bank as memorials for people who drowned here.
We walk along the waterfalls until someone tells us he just was warned not to go any further because of "banditos" in the jungle. So we turn back.
We walk in the other direction until we see a warning sign that we don't understand, so we turn around again. Just when we have given up, one of the girls who was in the bus with us, comes running toward us.
We don't understand her Spanish, so we ask her to repeat everything in English. It appears that everyone is back in the bus already and they are waiting for us.
Finally we go to the ruins of Palenque. At the bottom of the hill we're let off the bus in front of the museum. From there we'll have to walk up to the entrance.
The Palenque ruins site is beautiful and the jungle here is gorgeous. Even though the temple with the inscriptions is closed and scaffolded, we take way too many pictures.
Soon it gets sweating hot, but Michael is fascinated and runs up and down the stairs to all temples, while I stay in the shade.
By noon we descend to the museum. On the way we think we hear monkeys, but unfortunately they're just birds. The museum is small, but has beautiful big masks and clear information.
The Puuc Route along El Arco, Xlapak, Kabaf and Uxmal
At 8 AM we're on the bus to Mérida. On the way the landscape gets drier and flatter. We see the Gulf of Mexico. At 5 PM we arrive in Mérida; leaving the cold, air-conditioned bus it is as we're entering an oven. It's very hot and there is a strong hot wind. It's not humid, we hardly sweat.
Next morning we are at the bus station early to get tickets for the Puuc Route. The first archeological site we're going to visit is Labná.
The first things we see are two huge iguanas. El Arco is beautiful, the palace is nice. The statue we've seen in the Lonely Planet, of a snake with a human head, we can't find anywhere though.
We continue our trip to Xlapak. The site is not very special, but the horseflies are, one of them gives me a mean bite in my leg. After Xlapak, Sayil is our next stop. The palacio is nice, but it can be climbed only half-way; we don't even get that far. El Mirador is nothing special and the stèle with relief of a phallic god is ridiculous.
Next we visit Kabaf. It is a beautiful site and we see only half of it. The palace of the masks is stunning and very big, with steep stairs in the front.
After thirty minutes we leave for Uxmal, which was founded around 600 and abandoned after about 3 centuries. There are different explanations why this civilization ended. It could have something to do with lack of water in the region, but also with the rise of Chichen Itza.
We get off at a bad start when we're not allowed to climb the 39 meters high piramide del Adivino. We go to El Cuadrangulo de las Monjas which is very pretty.
Michael climbs the Gran Pirámide alone, because I'm beat. After taking a look at the rest of the site we go to the exit. One of the wonderful things of this Puuc Route is the enormous amount of butterflies; also in the ruins are lots of little birds.
In the 10th century the most important city of Yucatan
In the morning we take the bus to Chichén Itzá. It's hot, but still we walk 1.5 km to the village Piste to find a hotel. Next morning we get up early and walk to Chichén Itzá. This city was founded around 550 and was the most important city of Yucatan in the 10th century.
We start by climbing the great pyramidebe, El Castillo, where we have a view of the whole site. While I'm descending, Michael takes a picture to show its heighth. He notices that my steps make a hollow sound. It turns out that under these stairs is the entrance to a second pyramide that lies underneath the big one.
We walk toward the Grupo de las Mil Columnas, where we take pictures of the great pyramide (El Castillo). Then we walk to the Juego de Pelota Principal (arena for ball game) where both rings are still intact.
We also see El Osario, Casa de los Metates and finally Edifico de las Monjas. Here we see beautifully colored birds and lots of iguanas. Via Xtoloc Cenote we return to Grupo de las Mil Columnas to take a good look at them.
A quick look at the Sacrid Cenote where valuable objects and skeletons were found. Next is the secret temple underneath El Castillo. It's too wet and slippery for me, so I don't go up.
Playa del Carmen
Snorkling between big fish
In the afternoon we take the bus to Playa del Carmen, a three and a half hours trip. Playa del Carmen is a sea resort in the province of Yucatan.
Today we sleep in. Only by noon we go to the beach. The water isn't cold and the sand isn't hot. But the sand is sticky. The last day we don't spend on the beach for this reason, we don't want to feel sand during our flight.
On our last but one day we take the boat to Cozomul. On this island we take a cab to the snorkel beach. The park is nice: pretty laguna, even dolphins, nice sandy beach with palm cabins and deck chairs. Snorkling is perfect: lots of (big) fish; it's just a little too crowded (lots of Americans all of a sudden). Unfortunately the salt water makes my nose run, so we return at 4 PM.
On our last day we travel from Playa del Carmen to Cancun. We take a stroll, have breakfast, sit in a park, walk to the mercado where guys who want to talk you into their stores drive you crazy. Cancun is nothing special. By 3:30 we take a cab to the airport.