The first Mayan ruins I set my eyes upon were the most magnificent. I still can not believe that I have been and seen them. Chichen Itza conjures up the image of an epic pyramid but the ruins themselves spanned a large area and I took a fascinating tour of them, learning about the history and beliefs that surround the ruins.
After a hearty breakfast in the hotel I headed off towards Chichen Itza. It was about a 2 and a half hour drive from the hotel, stopping at a ‘local Mayan community’ on the way. Now, I use that term loosely as, on reflection, I think I was somewhat ripped off, but I will detail that in later blog post.
I arrived at Chichen Itza about 10/10.30am and was greeted by a group of men dressed in traditional Mayan dress making loud and somewhat intimidating sounds as you walked up the steps to the entrance vestibule. I was surprised at how modern the entrance vestibule was, there were several tourist shops and cafes surrounding a cobbled court yard. The walk from here to the ruins was also less than relaxing. The paths are lined with stall after stall, heckling for your trade. It has sort of ruined the whole historic atmosphere of the place, and detracts somewhat from the experience.
The heckling aside, when you get your first glimpse of the El Castillo pyramid, it takes your breath away. I could have spent the day just gazing up at its wonder. Our tour guide took us around the surrounding ruins that make up Chichen Itza. The detail of the carvings was astonishing, and you find yourself engulfed in the history. Arriving at the time we did was ideal and as our group was leaving, there was a constant stream of larger tour groups arriving, and I had the sense that the site, albeit large, was soon to feel crowded.
The next set of ruins I visited were the less well known, and only recently discovered ruins at Ek Balam. Although Ek Balam’s ruins didn’t have the same ‘wow’ factor as Chichen Itza, they more than made up for that by the fact that you could actually ‘experience’ the ruins. My other half, who I was travelling with, said that these were his favourite – probably due to the Indiana Jones element of exploring these ruins!
The main reason I decided to visit Ek Balam was to have a more ‘authentic’ experience, away from all the tourist influence and rules that go hand in hand with that. At Ek Balam you can climb the ruins and meander in and out of the various rooms and chambers.
The site is considerably smaller than Chichen Itza but just as fascinating to visit. It was a very hot day (30 degrees Celsius) and there was very little shade, so come prepared with a bottle of water and a hat. I had forgotten to bring a hat and after reading reviews from people who had been before, decided to buy one from the hotel gift shop. Granted it had the name of the hotel plastered all over it, and I therefore screamed out tourist everywhere I went (which my other half was less than amused at).
As you enter the centre of the site you can see a towering pyramid poking up above the trees, you feel a knot in your stomach as you realise you are going to climb to the top. As a warm up, and after exploring the ground level ruins, you have the chance to climb, what I have referred to as, ‘the warm up pyramid’. That in itself is intimidating to climb but nothing compared to the significantly taller pyramid at the opposite end of the site.
You have some more time exploring the ground level ruins before reaching the base of the main pyramid. You are always comforted when, even in Mexico, you have a brief health and safety chat – i.e. It is dangerous, you may die, it is at your own risk. Lovely.
I set off up the steep, narrow, uneven steps of the pyramid determined to not look down and praying that I did not lose my balance. At the half way point you can climb onto a precarious ledge and catch your breath, which at this point seemed a welcome break, however the sun was beating down and there was no shade whatsoever. After less than a minute I decided to carry on up the pyramid.
As you reach the top you have to angle off towards the right and due to the lack of secure footage there is a rickety wooden banister to hold on to as you climb the ladder to the very top. Upon reaching the top you forget the height and how exhausted you are as the view is mesmerising. You can see for miles across the tree tops and make out various Mayan ruins spread across the surrounds.
After various pictures at the top I built myself up for the descent. I found I was shaking at this point, probably through a combination of exhaustion, heat and panic. I had a few harsh words with myself as, shaking as I was, I was in no fit state to make the descent. I eventually pushed through and, holding the hand of my other half, took it step by step until I almost collapsed with relief as I reached the bottom. I had survived to tell the tale!
The final set of ruins I visited was those at Tulum. These ruins were more the ‘picture postcard’ of ruins. I again went to these ruins as part of a tour but, as I had already been around a couple, and found the tour guides repeat a lot of the same things, I decided to tour these ruins at my own pace. The ruins at Tulum are beautiful and there is a gorgeous beach that you can descend to and relax on whilst you take in the unique view. If you have already been around ruins elsewhere I would recommend you do these at your own pace and enjoy the beauty of their location, as it is truly stunning.