In March this year my family traversed the Yucatan and Quitana Roo states from Merida to Playa del Carmen, taking in Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Labnas, Ek Balam and Tulum en route.
A wild Mayan undercurrent resides beneath the scrub jungle, pyramids and rolling hills of the Yucatan state. The fame, famine and deceit flow through mighty power centers particularly the colonial city of Merida, the cultural capital. Narrow streets, broad central plazas with huge laurel trees and the area’s finest museums reside here. Our top choice was the Museo De Arte Popular, with gorgeous frescos adorning the walls. Gamboling the picturesque boulevards in general with multiple churches and European style mansions created a renaissance atmosphere. A hilarious quirk was an entertainer with a musical saw!
A short day trip to Uxmal revealed impressive ruins, ranking among the top archeological sites, and was actually built five times. Engineering feats by the Mayans include ancient reservoirs and cisterns in this hilly country, distinct from the area flatlands.
Chichen Itza, albeit quite the tourist destination with hawkers everywhere, nonetheless had a fabulous evening light and sound show describing the ancient Mayan cultural birth and how it came to flourish.
Close by is the historic Labna ruins. At one point in the 9th century, 3000 Maya lived here supported by water collected by chultunes in this arid countryside. Well constructed limestone arches and ball fields (with serpent head with a human face on one wall) were impressive.
Ek Balam was by far the remote and most interesting, with only a single sleepy park ranger manning the site. It features the Acropolis, a “gallery” or series of separate chambers. The top of the pyramid sports a huge jaguar mouth with stucco skulls below. We stayed at Genesis Eco Retreat, and it lived up to its favorite rating by Lonely Planet. It features natural landscaping, mosquito eating ducks and a dip pool plus temascal steam bath, neither of which were open when we were there. The proprietor is quite charming.
Finally we arrived at Playa del Carmen, at 100,000 the biggest city in the entire Yucatan peninsula. It is less commercial than Cancun and more European chic but is becoming more a mass tourist destination. We relished snorkeling and swimming with our trusty guide BoBo. We also visited one of the area’s cenotes near Tulum, a spectacular underground sinkhole with gigantic tree roots. You can bathe in the cool water and many pilgrims do.
It was a fabulous trip made easy by my guide daughter who is fluent in Spanish.