Ruins Archives

July 11, 2009

Day 4 - New Car, Ek Balam & Cenote Dzinup

It's Friday. I'm in Merida, at the hotel Dolores Alba, and Mika and Camila are happily swimming in the small hotel pool. Mike is upstairs, taking a nap. Camila is wearing a life jacket (the best buy ever) so I don't have to watch her that carefully. Mika has gotten pretty good at swimming, plus it's not that deep a pool. Still, they are within eyesight.

Yesterday started in Cancun with breakfast at the hotel, followed by a dip in the pool for the kids, while I packed our suitcases (it's a pain in the butt to have to pack up daily). That done we went to exchange our car at the rental agency, as our original car had a problem with the A/C - it worked well for half an hour to an hour and then it stopped. Not ideal given the heat of the Yucatan. Having to return the car was a pain, we had meant to stay that night in Valladolid rather than Cancun, but fortunately my plans for each day are pretty light, so we still managed to hit the two places I had planned - even though we didn't leave Cancun until noon or so.

The drive to the Valladolid area took probably an hour and a half or so (the half being getting out of Cancun). We took the paid road, hoping it would save time, and with NO idea of how expensive it was - about US$20 for the 150 km stretch! cuota.jpg We're definitely not making that mistake again. Still, we managed to get to Ek Balam early enough, so I can' t really complain.

Our first stop off the highway, however, was Temozon, a small village famous for its smoked meats. We got some smoked pork at one of the many roadside butcher shops (1lb for MN$50, not sure if we got taken) and, indeed, it was very good. Even though we'd had a lunch of sorts
in Cancun, both Mike and I devoured it.

After a brief, involuntary visit to Ek Balam village (we turned left on the side of the road when we were supposed to go straight), we ended up on the large but almost empty parking lot for the ruins. Ek Balam has gotten much more popular in recent years. Indeed, I hadn't been there as serious excavations/reconstructions did not start until the mid-nineties. But we were there a bit late in the day, and must have missed the tour buses.

Ek Balam is a pretty cool site. It has a large pyramid, which Mike and the kids delighted on climbing and a couple of other large structures. Some cool reliefs on the sides of the pyramid, which the kids could not care less about. By far the coolest thing the kids saw was a bunch of puppies, perhaps 8 weeks old, that were hiding in one of the rooms of the structure next to the pyramid. The kids were enchanted. They loved the puppies, they loved playing with them, holding them, petting them, you know the drill. They were by far more impressed by the puppies than by the ruins. They only left, after quite a while, to see some iguanas Mike had found on his explorations. But they wanted to go back to see the puppies, only some firmness and Camila's need for the potty helped us get them away.

Our next stop was the cenote Dzinup. I know that it's no longer called that, now that there are two cenotes in the Dzninup village that are open to the public, but that's how I knew it back then and that's what's easiest to remember now.

The cenote Dzinup is a beautiful cenote at the bottom of a cave. It's almost completely covered by limestone, with the exception of a little whole on the roof through which light filters in. I remembered the effect to be magical, the cenote having the most gorgeous deep turquoise color. I had seen it in the morning, however, and this time we were there in the late afternoon. It was also quite overcast by then. The cenote was pretty, but quite dark, and taking pictures was impossible. The kids and Mike loved it, though. The water was cool and refreshing, the cenote large enough to accommodate all the swimmers, and the setting just beautiful. Once again, I was thankful that we'd bought and brought along the life jackets, as it'd have been difficult for the kids to enjoy it so much otherwise. Indeed, the kids, who had had great reservations as to the cenotes when I was describing them to them, were instantly sold over. Today we explored Chichen Itza to Camila's chanting of "I want to go to the cenote" time after time :-)

The cenote closed at 5:30, so we headed to our hotel, the Hacienda Sanchez in Valladolid. I have to confess that I spent quite a long time researching hotels before this trip, and the research did pay off - as we've been very happy with the hotels we have been staying in. The hotel Hacienda Sanchez was no exception and I would fully recommend it to anyone making a stop in Valladolid. Indeed, we wished we had a reason to stay an extra day.

I very much doubt that Hacienda Sanchez was ever a real hacienda. Rather I suspect the hotel was built in the manner of an hacienda, with a three-story building and a number of "casitas" (or suites) facing a large, internal, manicured garden/patio. A very pleasant place all in all.

The kids, of course, zeroed in the pool and they happily swam there until the pool closed at 8. We then got dressed and went for dinner at the very empty hotel restaurant. Very empty, very good and very reasonably priced, that is. We had multiple juices/shakes, main dishes and dessert for less than US$30. And I can't tell you how beautiful the open room was, and how attentive the service. So far our best general experience in the Yucatan.

And that was it for the day.

Day 5 - Chichen Itza, Cenote Azul and Merida

Time is flying by. It's Day 7 already and I still have a couple of days to blog about. I also haven't yet posted any of the pictures - but I will do shortly. If you are following this (Kathy), you may want to look back at older entries for corresponding pictures.

Anyway, we woke up in Valladolid for our 5th day, at the Hotel Hacienda Sanchez, and had a very nice breakfast of eggs (served with black beans, of course) or pancakes, coffee, orange juice and pre-buttered French bread. Service, as the night before, was amazing.

We packed up (always a hassle for us) and headed towards our next destination: Chichen Itza. First, of course, we made a detour to buy a couple of hammocks at the state prison. In Mexico, you may remember, prisoners must feed themselves, plus they have a lot of time on their hands. So the prisoners at the prison in the Valladolid-Chichen Itza road, make some money by making hammocks. Their hammocks are double-stranded, and have the reputation of being the best in the Yucatan. We wanted to buy the largest there was, but that proved to be of monstrous proportions and price. Instead, we bought more "valued" price ones, which I think are still large enough. They are quite heavy and we paid US$40-50 for them. I can't tell, at this time, if we got a good deal. In any case, those selling it weren't willing to bargain (they said each prisoner puts a price on them, and they are not authorized to take less).


After that, it was time for Chichen Itza (MN$20 to park, MN$111 entrance, children free) which Mike explored fully. You can't climb much at Chichen Itza anymore (when I went, eighteen years ago, I actually climbed everything), so it wasn't as much fun for Mika as Ek Balam. Mike enjoyed it, visiting all the ruins, while the kids were probably more fixated on finding something to buy for the MN$10 we gave each of them. Mika was interested in the story of the human sacrifice victims thrown into the cenote, though somewhat disappointed that she couldn't see the remains.


Camila was obsessed with going swimming at a cenote, and she let us know of her wishes pretty much constantly throughout the visit. The only thing that really distracted the kids were the iguanas. They've seen lots of them by now, but they're still cool creatures.




After Chichen Itza it was time for the Cenote Azul at Ik Kil. This is a completely commercial operation, with a fully developed cenote, dressing rooms and bathrooms, life jackets and towels for rental, and tourist buses from Cancun (which visit it before or after hitting the ruins). Still, we got there right between the time that the earlier buses left and the newer buses arrived, so that we had 10 full minutes of bliss (aka "alone time") at the cenote. The cenote itself was beautiful, deep in an open cave, with roots of plants and trees hanging on top of it, and tons of little catfish swimming around (just try to grab one).



Once again, the life jackets were a great savior, as the kids delighted in both swimming around, and, later, in jumping into the cenote.



Despite my natural buoyancy, I was still a bit unnerved about swimming around in what's essentially a bottomless pit, so I mostly kept to the sides.

Once people started coming in, it became more like a glorified swimming pool than anything else, but the kids & Mike still enjoyed it. The hike up the stairs was much easier than it seemed it'd be.

After cenote azul I thought we could hit Izamal or the ruins of Acanceh, but neither Mike nor the kids seemed that excited by the prospect. Instead, we came directly to Merida (through the non-cuota highway, which proved to be quite nice).

In Merida, we are staying at the hotel Dolores Alba, which is very popular with tourists from all over. It's no wonder, it's pretty cheap (MN$540 for a double room for the four of us), it has a small but very clean pool, and gorgeous, large, tiled rooms. It was built in a more traditional-looking style than modern hotels, which makes it so much the nicer.

In the afternoon, the kids swam at the hotel while Mike slept. He wasn't feeling too well after his own encounter with Montezuma's. Of course, by the time he woke up and was ready to go, I fell asleep, and we all didn't end up going out for dinner until 9 or so. And of course, we were still somewhat confused about the layout of the city and did not take a map, so it took us a while to find a place for dinner (an expensive taco-chain near the zocalo).

We were all pretty tired by the time dinner was over, I had suggested that we take a taxi, but Mika insisted on that we do a buggy. It was MN$100! but Mike acquiesced. She, of course, was in princess-land being taken by a very cute horse-drawn carriage. We ain't doing it again, though.

July 12, 2009

Day 6 - Uxmal & Kabah

It's later on Sunday, the kids are playing at the hotel pool with Mike and I have some time to blog before we go shopping and city-exploring. I think I will actually be able to get caught up - at least with the blogging of the trip. I still have hotel & restaurants reviews to write - but I can do that when we get home.

In any case, yesterday started with breakfast at the hotel and then a leisurely drive to Uxmal, which is probably the second largest reconstructed Maya site in the Yucatan. In my opinion, it's also prettier than Chichen Itza, but being out of range of Cancun buses, it's much less visited. There were only a handful of people during our visit. Cost-wise it parallels Chichen Itza, just FYI.

The whole family enjoyed the Pyramid of the Magician (which you can't climb) and the Nunnery (which you can) together. It was alternatively hot and cool - depending on clouds and breezes - and there was much to see, including, of course, multiple iguanas. There were no cute puppies here, but lots of birds (in particular in the very aptly named "Quadrangle of the Birds" ) which build oven-style nests inside the ruins.

Despite the fact that it wasn't that hot, Camila and I tired quickly, and decided to go back to the entrance and wait for Mika and Mike. Mika and Mike, meanwhile, explored the rest of the site, climbing every possible structure and having a lot of fun. Their most interesting moment came when they saw two male iguanas bloodily fight each other. It's disturbing how much they enjoyed the whole bloody mess.

After Uxmal we meant to stop in Santa Elena for lunch, but couldn't find any suitable restaurant, so we continued on to Kabah, probably the 2nd largest reconstructed Puuc site. It's sad to say that the kids and I stayed at the entrance drinking sodas while Mike explored it by himself - but hey, we are wimps! Mike explored to his heart's content, though, once again climbing whatever could be climbed.

We decided to have lunch in Ticul afterwards, at the famed restaurant Los Almendros, known for its Yucatecan cuisine. I had actually eaten there in my last trip (let's repeat again, eighteen years ago) and wanted to relive the experience. Alas, the restaurant had moved since then, and we spent close to an hour looking for it - under the false premise that it would be somewhere near downtown.

During our search it started to rain heavily in Ticul - and when I say heavily, I mean heavily, as in trees falling off the ground heavily. We were glad we weren't outside. We finally found the restaurant, coincidentally during a short reprieve, and had a good, but not outstanding, Yucatecan lunch. By the time we finished it was close to 4 PM, too late to make it to the Loltum caves, our next destination. So we headed back to Merida ... and to the hotel pool.

We had dinner in Plaza Hidalgo - a square I well remembered from my last trip here eighteen years ago. Back then there were restaurants there, and I could bet there still would be some. And so they were. Very expensive restaurants, but we've found that Mexico, at mid-level traveling, is just as expensive as America. C'est la vie.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Marga & Mike's Yucatan Adventure Blog in the Ruins category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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