When I was planning our Cancun vacation, my wife was thinking… we’ll chill on the beach at an all inclusive resort, and I was thinking… we’ll grab a rental car and pick up as many of the Mayan temples as possible within a 2 week period. Finally I can see one of the 7 finalists of the new 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza. As a traveller I was anxious to see real wonders of the ancient world. I love temples, I love archeology, and I love the mystery that surrounds these massive new world temples. I also was incredibly interested in Tulum on the coast, and my ultimate Tikal the Mayan Capital. We know so little about the Mayans, but I was surprised to find out they weren’t totally wiped out. There is a group of Mayans that give the tours in Tulum, and they speak the ancient Mayan language. It’s so, so sad that the culture has so much of who they were. They lost everything. A few documents recently were rediscovered in Germany referred to as the Mayan Dresden Codex. Which some point to as the source of the 12, 21, 2012 apocalyptic date or the beginning of 1000 years of peace, but “A German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it…The interpretation of the hieroglyphs by Sven Gronemeyer…He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god. Continue reading on Examiner.com German Mayan researcher’s 2012 conclusions. Cool. Beginning of the end of the world or return of a Mayan god… Bearded white god? (By the way, ask to see the rock carving of the bearded god at Chichen Itza. It’s pretty cool. If it’s Lief Erickson or Jesus or insane stone carver it’s mind numbing given the carvings all around it. Seriously fun stuff. You gotta enjoy the speculation and not get too caught up either way, since we can’t know.
While I don’t think the end will happen in December 2012 (No one is suppose to know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back Matthew 24:36), I have used it as an opportunity to be prepared for disaster. In my church, we have been asked to have a year supply of food on hand in case of disaster. It has paid off with members all over the world. As recent as the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Hati, the members who obeyed have been blessed. As a member of the LDS Church there is a fascinating Book of Mormon back story of Christ in the Americas and Artists often paint pictures of Christ appearing to the righteous people in 3 Nephi 11 with the back drop of Tulum. There are Mormon tours all over this region. In fact we discovered that more than 30% of the guides in Tulum were Mayan members of the LDS Church. It’s understood that there really hasn’t been any LDS revelations on the locations, and anything discovered is purely speculation. Our guide at Tulum was actually a Mormon Bishop named Mosiah. It was a quick tour, which really didn’t add any info on what we had already got from our tour in Chichen Itza. He shared pictures of Tulum where light shines through specific building on April 6th, and sold us a tree of life medallion. Great stories. Amazing place. While I didn’t necessarily subscribe to all he shared, I was fascinated with the history of the Mayans, he being one himself. The PC accepted story is that Mayan calendar simply points toward a new era. Great. Others are looking for the Age of Aquarius.
These grandios temples are mucho bueno. Very incredible. Left: My trooper, Dean at Chichen Itza. This is 3 of 7 New Wonders for him. He’s been to Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.
Travel Tip: I do recommend highly recommend seeing Chichen Itza. I do recommend getting a negotiated tour there. There are some inscriptions and history that you’d miss otherwise. There are a lot of things to point out in the area. There are half a dozen buildings and a great ball court area, and you need to know more about the rules of that game and what happens to the winners and losers. Those stories you must hear. There’s a lot of inscriptions and interpretations and stories you need to hear. We got the 2 hour guided tour, that we negotiated on the spot after we arrived. It wasn’t too outrageous. There are a lot of people that can give tours, so shop around and negotiate. Don’t take the first rate you hear. Many hotels in Cancun can arrange transport and tour as well. Just don’t over pay. There is a lot of cushion. In relation to Cancun both Tulum and Chichen Itza are both day trips. There is a toll road all the way to Chichen Itza from Cancun. You’ll pay 20-30 USD for that trip one way! We decided we’d take the scenic route on the way there, and hurry back. It is a difference of about an hour. You can get to other ruins as well including Coba. I didn’t make it to Coba, we were with my wife’s family and Jeff got sick, so we missed out on that one, but that’s ok because my eye was on the ultimate prize of Tikal, Jaguar temple the largest temples in the new world. In contrast to Chichen Itza, I do not recommend the tour in Tulum. The buildings are a lot smaller, things are close and if you did this one after doing Chichen Itza there’s a lot of overlap. Our tour may have ultimately been 15 minutes of explanation and he didn’t even walk the whole thing with us. Don’t miss the views from either side of the temple near the water. There are some great photo shots by of Tulum by the water. Another reason to do your research of Tulum ahead of time and get the guided tour at Chichen Itza.
By the way there is a dairy queen right by the exit. We went on a very hot day, so that blizzard while out of cultural context hit the spot. We saw a monkey in the near by market, so it helped balance the cave in. I had my kids with me, so I felt they deserved it. It was also air conditioned, and we all appreciated that.
After Tulum we headed south leaving behind my sister in law Christine Beaulieu and their family, her blog on our Cancun “Mexico” trip shares a more family human side of the story. She also includes the comfort creature side of the story hanging out at the beaches and pools and our excursion to Isla Mujere.
Speaking of things we did with the Beaulieu’s, we also did Xcaret. It’s the Mexican Disneyland, and was a highlight for the kids. They loved the floating of the underground river or cenote. We also took one of those once in a life time swimming with Dolphins. For about $50 or so each we swam with the dolphins and a few of us opted for having the dolphins come underneath our feet and do a superman with 2 dolphins simultaneously. Seriously it was cool despite the concern for the dolphins. These guys from what I could tell, did take good care of their dolphins. We spent about 20 minutes in the water, splashing with them, dancing, having them jump over us, having them push us around. I don’t recommend the prepaid food option. There are plenty of food options in the park that are less crowded and give you choice. Also the seating for the show wasn’t that bad. There are other more natural cenotes that you can visit and some you can swim or snorkle or scuba. Do your research and you’ll find plenty, some are more pricy… lots of private, must pay type places. There are a couple of other Mexican Disney style parks around like Xplorer with X-treme fun times, and one focused on snorkling and natural fish.
Google is now showing the one way trip as about 11 hours one way. There’s no freeway, there’s no highway period. Belize, was the real surprise. Despite the fact there’s really one major north south and east west, and don’t think you can do 65 because they have these speed bumps every so often. Oh by the way it’s easy to get off the path, and there is very little signage. You may try to get maps before you’re there. The little stores I stopped at couldn’t help me coming from Mexico.
If you haven’t figured out yet or are a new reader to my blog. I really dive in when I travel. When I rented a car in Mexico I did the research with the plan to do all the driving myself and full intention of driving through Belize to Tikal in Eastern Guatemala, despite the fact that google maps couldn’t give me all the details. Travel Tip: Make sure your rental car has insurance of course, but you ensure that you can drive through Belize and Guatemala and where ever else you plan to go. Don’t leave the agency without a permission slip or you will be turned around at the border. I would say, most do not provide this and those that do it’s with a price. It was worth every penny in my book. It did have us doing a little hunting online and we found one that specifically called it out. Despite all the warnings about police in Mexico, we didn’t get pulled over once in the 30 or so hours we spent driving round trip from Cancun to Flores, Guatemala and Tikal. Although we did spend over an hour at a check point in Belize, but this was due to lack of Belize car insurance. I was just looking at my Amex the other day and saw that it covers rental car coverage. I totally should print that policy out and travel with it as essential documentation. Getting insurance in Belize would have been easy… if I would have realized what risk I was taking in simply not having the paper work. There are a lot of crazy streets, lots and lots of dirt roads in Belize. We were on our way to a howler monkey reserve where we ended up turning around due to the roads being too extreme. We did see Atun Ha on our way back, and climbing was allowed on all of the temples. We had the
temple complex to ourselves. Finding it was a hassle, but the payoff was good with 13
temples and structures around two plazas. I would like to have added the river boat excursion up to Mayan Ruins of Lamanai, it’s still under excavation with 3-4 temples excavated, that you can climb on, but I believe the only way to see it is on a tour. As well would have liked to have done some cave tubing but it didn’t fit our tight schedule while in Belize. We did see howler monkeys, as we drove through the jungle on a Sunday afternoon, and we visited an LDS ward in Belize, but we had to be on our way. I wanted a full day in Flores and Tikal.
(On right Dean finds we aren’t alone at the Atun Ha temple complex, there’s a lawn mower guy.
Some locals gave me some tips for how to avoid the check points, and I did track down some local car insurance, but it was a PAIN. So hard to get good directions that are easy to follow. Everyone knows everybody. I think I went in half a dozen houses going nearly door to door before I found the right one to buy insurance from an old lady who sold it out of her house. Everyone was very helpful though. The people are fascinating. You’d think you’re in the caribbean. Dark skin and islandar accents. Lots of bicycling. Belize city is depressing and it’s really lost a lot of what I’d call culture. Asking for where to get a good meal, I was sent to a Chinese restaurant with bars on the windows. I believe that’s the history is the Chinese did come in when Belize was wide open for immigration. The Chinese took over much of the markets and food. I was told I couldn’t find Belizean food in Belize City, the largest city in Belize. Given the whole country has less people than Idaho, and it’s understandable, but they really need to think about how they are going to preserve their history and culture. UNESCO may want to make a visit or two. Some of the greatest buildings in town have turned into greasy casinos. There are so few places in the world where I tell people I didn’t have the greatest time, and Belize was one of them. It was a culture shock. The speed bumps in the middle of the road, max speed limit of 40 in the entire country, and my time I spent with the police may have been part of the turn off… and the food or lack there of. The grocery store prices are island prices as well. Both Mexico and Guatemala were a breath of fresh air. Sorry Belize, I can’t tell you about how amazing Ambergris caye is because I hear that’s where it’s at! I’d love to dive the blue hole. Next time!
Now as I said, Guatemala was a breath of fresh air! There was some construction after the border and before we got to flores, but wow what an amazing city that was. Great choice on place to stay. There are multiple options and some rustic backpacker choices. For the american peeps, there is even a brand new Burger King in Flores. I say boooo, but my kids were ready for that after 2 days of Chinese food and grocery store food in Belize. We did eventually try some local food that was amazing. Kudos to Guatemala. Great food, great hospitality. Flores is situated on a lake and has some great history itself. It’s about 40 miles from Tikal.
If Chichen Itza was a 2 hour tour, Tikal was twice that. 4 hours and guided is more than recommended. This place is literally a jungle like anything we had seen up to this point. More dense than even the jungles we’d seen in Belize.
The peak population is somewhere between 45,000 and 450,000. There are over 200 or 3000 original structures. You won’t be prepared for how huge it really is. Tikal is in the middle of Yellowstone National Park, and Yellowstone National Park is a dense jungle.
Part of hiring a guide in Tikal is getting an animal spotter. We saw lots of monkeys, toucans, various birds, leaf cutter ants, parrots, and lots of iguanas…. we saw those all over Mexico. I think the Mayans preferred their meat.
Structures: There are thousands of ancient structures at Tikal and only a fraction of these have been excavated, after decades of archaeological work. The most prominent surviving buildings include six very large pyramids, labelled Temples I – VI, each of which support a temple structure on their summits. Some of these pyramids are over 60 metres high (200 feet). They were numbered sequentially during the early survey of the site. It is estimated that each of these major temples could have been built in as little as two years
Below: Recognize this view? You can see almost see Temples I, II, II, V, Star Wars Episode 4 included are the rebel base. Ironically the other filming they did for the desert scenes was first going to be at the Selime Monastary in Cappadocia, Turkey, but the Turkish government kept them out and they instead took lots of pictures and rebuilt what they wanted in Tunisia. They advertise the site in Turkey as a Star Wars movie scene.
There are really these amazing temples across Mexico. The Temple of the Moon and Temple of Sun and valley of the dead in Mexico City while not Mayan in Nature are not to be missed. The collapse of the Mayans in Tikal may have had a lot to do with Teotihuacan. I recommend visiting that complex of temples as well. Don’t miss the temples next door. They are very easy to miss!!! They are all so very incredible. I did Egypt’s Kofu Great Pyramid and Teotihuacán back to back a couple of years ago. Incredible!! There are more temple complexes I hope to visit soon in Southern Mexico including Palenque the temple with the space man sarcophagus, and the complex shown in the Nacho Libre film of Oaxaca. Those are both high on my list.
Above. I’m sitting on the Teotihuacán outside of Mexico City at the Moon Temple and the Sun Temple is in the Background with the Avenue of the Dead in front of me.
Below… It’s not all fun and games. There’s some reality to all the ritual killings you hear about. The Archeology Museum in Mexico city is NOT to be missed. Best Archeology Museum outside of Cairo.
People are feeling the energy at the top of the Sun Pyramid in Mexico City. I imagine they are saying… Calgon take me away, or let’s hope 2012 comes and goes with little fanfare from the chaos earth trembling department!