The best of Yucatan Peninsula (top places to see)
If you are planning to visit Mexico, and you are thinking of settling on the beautiful shores of Yucatan Peninsula, you will be in close proximity to some really great places that you don't want to miss.
Mexico has great offering for culture and adventure travellers as well as great beaches when you need to rest after all sightseeing. With approximately 11 hours flight from Europe that's quite tempting offer, here is my list of what not to miss:
El Castilo in Chichen Itza - one of the New Seven Wonders of The World
Chichen Itza - most famous landmark in Yucatan peninsula, one of the 7 Wonders of the New World. Chichen Itza is the remaining of Mayan settlement, with most prominent El Castilo or Temple of Kukulcan (pyramid we all know from the photos). This is a place of interest for anyone who wants to know a little more about Mayan culture or pre-Colombian times. At this complex you will find the biggest Pok-a-Tok playing field (court) of a Mayan ball sport (resembles football but the ball could not be touched with hands or legs - only elbows). I was on a guided tour with archaeologist which is something of my personal interest and the amount of information we received was vast. You can easily go on your own as well, however I'd advise getting a guide as they will tell you a lot of interesting facts and stories.
Travel tip: be there as soon as the complex opens, which is 8 am - this way you will avoid crowds as well as scorching hot sun. You need about 2 - 3 hours to visit the whole site.
Coba - this is another Mayan 'city' which is not very far from Chichen Itza. From the parking to the actual pyramid it is a trek of 35 mins (approx. 3 km) but you have options of renting a bike, hire a pedicab or walk. We went on bikes and it was so much fun, if you have plenty of time you may prefer to walk as you will be walking through a jungle make sure you have plenty mosquito repellents.
At the time I visited Coba, I was still able to climb 120 steps pyramid (known as Nohoch Mol) - it is said to be the tallest Mayan temple in Mexico. It is not for the faint hearted. The steps are steep and uneven. Some of them are slippery, even when grabbing onto the fixed safety rope. The way down is particularly tricky, I decided to to go down crab-like, on my bottom.
Coba pyramid - you can still climb it although it is not for the faint hearted.
At the top you are rewarded with spectacular view of the jungle that surrounds the site. You can also see shapes of other ruins visible through jungle but still not excavated (5% of Coba is uncovered).
En route to the pyramid, there a number of other ruins which you can admire, as an example ancient bulletin board stone (the one that allegedly predicted the end of the world in 2012, in fact it was an exact solar and lunar eclipse calendar through to 2012), Pok-a-Tok playing field (Coba has 5 of them), or a beginning of a road that leads to Chichen Itza which is called 'the snake' due to it's winding shape with a snake's head at Coba.
The best way to sightsee Coba is by a bike
However according to our archaeologist guide in order to preserve this site, and mostly health and safety reasons, it may be closed to public soon (same as Chichen Itza pyramid was closed in 2006 due to fatality). There's also damage from thousands of tourists threat.
Coba is not as popular as Chichen Itza or Tulum (which is only 45 min drive away) and the good news is not as crowded as other two.
Tulum - it's a city further west from Playa del Carmen and Cancun. It has it's own ruins remaining after a port city that supplied jungle cities of Tulum and Coba. The views from Tulum ruins over ocean are spectacular and you can admire perfectly turquoise water and the white sand beaches from the top of the ruins. They are not as big as the two previously mentioned; however they show the life of common people with runs of their houses, and altars. Where previous two were focused on Gods.
Tulum has, according to me, some of the most beautiful beaches I've seen in Mexico. It's also quite a hip and upcoming location with plenty of beautiful (very often vegan) restaurants.
It's a great opportunity to see the ruins from the sea - we did that by going on a snorkelling trip and were able to admire the ruins from different perspective.
If you are a fan of nature and would love to see some animals in their natural habitat, I would recommend heading to Akumal and swimming with giant turtles. It's very close to Tulum and it's also not far from Playa del Carmen. There's a section by the beach where you are allowed to swim and if you are lucky you will see them feeding by the shore.
You should not touch the turtles, and not disrupt them in their natural habitat. Also preferably you want to have biodegradable sun screen not to cause any harm to the animals in the sea. Again, you can just swim on your own or you can source a local diver to take you to the location (which will be quicker and you have more chances of seeing turtles as they know where turtles tend to feed).
Snorkeling in Mexico is a popular sport, and you may as well head to Cozumel for snorkelling trips. That area offers amazing spots for diving and snorkelling. Also a great boat trip location. On the island of Cozumel you can spend time getting to know its animals such as raccoons as well as visit the Light House.
Playa del Carmen - a vibrant city with many bars and restaurants and a great night life scene. There's also 5th Avenida (avenue) with shops and bars - some of them selling all touristy stuff (however all clothing items are made in Mexico). Definitely a place where you can sample variety of delicious Mexican cuisine (and others if you are bored with Taco - but who is?!) It is definitely where hustle and bustle is.
Pink lakes of Las Coloradas - probably most recognised pink lakes of Instagram. When I arrived to Mexico, one of the bloggers I follow wrote an article saying it was fenced off and you could not get there. Additionally, she added that just driving for hours to see pink lake (and possibility that you won't get in) is not worth it. I was influenced by her opinion and decided not to go as the drive from Playa del Carmen where I was based would have taken 3-4 hours one way for 1 - 2 hours by the pink lakes and a photo. It would have been nice to have photo from the pink lake, but I am happy I spent that day productively on the beach sampling Mexican food ;-) I could have planned it better and on the way to Las Coloradas stop over at Valladolid which has a colonial architecture with picturesque streets.
Last but not least, swimming in Cenotes is a must! What are Cenotes and why it is worth taking a dip in the cold water of cenotes? I will tell you my stories in my next post focused only on cenotes.