Below is information re our next scholar escorted tour into the Mundo Maya. The small group tour (maximum of 12 particpants) will explore the Northern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
** UPDATE** We had a great tour all around including the weather! Photos should soon be up in the Photogallery. Thanks to all who made the trip a success!
For a look at past itineraries, you may view our Mundo Maya tour webpage by clicking on the photo of the tapir.
Mundo Maya Yucatan Exploration: November 5 - 18, 2013
The unique tour was designed and will be escorted by anthropologist Charlie Strader, President of Explorations. His love and appreciation of Mexico's cultures and nature started with travels there in the 1970’s while in college. Having traveled throughout Yucatan and Mexico many times, he wanted to offer a special cultural and natural history tour that takes time to enjoy and absorb the area visited.
This is not a "go-go" see the highlights tour. While you will certainly see the wonderful highlights in Northern Yucatan, you will also get to experience many of the small wonders to be found there - at small archaeology sites, traditional Mayan towns and villages, beautiful nature areas, local restaurants and markets, and with interactions with local residents. This is achieved by traveling with expert local guides and by staying several days at one location, which saves a lot of time and effort with less hotel moves. The tour's itinerary will be perfect for those traveling to the
Yucatan for the first time and want to understand what the region is about (and avoid the large bus tour scene), in addition to being a great opportunity for those who have been there before but missed sights and want to experience more in a relaxed manor.
The Yucatan Peninsula, is called the Land of the Mayab. It is a region full of wonders - a fusion of the past and present. A great travel destination - it offers unique geography, a rich history, scenic environments with high biodiversity, delicious cuisine, quality accommodations, and friendly peoples.
Northern Yucatan Itinerary, 14 Days
DAY 1: (Tuesday) (November 5, 2013)
Arrival into Cancun, Ouintana Roo, Mexico. We take the hotel's airport shuttle to the Marriott Courtyard which is less than 10 minutes away. The hotel has a full range of amenities and does indeed have an outdoor courtyard with a nice big pool. If flights arrive early enough in the day, the city of Cancun and beaches are close for independent exploring. Also, the new Maya Museum of Cancun is only about 7 miles away and is open until 7 pm.
DAY 2: (Wednesday) (Nov. 6)
At breakfast, we have group introductions and orientation session before departing. Afterwards, we drive into the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula to tour the major archaeological site of Cobá. The ruins are set amidst a tropical jungle, making it excellent for wildlife viewing. Only a small portion of this mega site has been cleared. Most of its estimated 6,500 structures remain uncovered, but the ones that have been are graceful and impressive. The restored structures groupings are connected by shady, well maintained trails under the jungle canopy. You may hear or see monkeys, a variety of birds, and forest wildlife. (There are bicycles and "taxi" bicycles available or rent for those who want an alternative to walking the lengthy jungle paths.) Built between two lakes, with most construction occurring during the Classic Period (600-900 A.D.), it was spread over 30 square miles. Its Nohoch Mul building at 138 feet high is the tallest pyramid on the Yucatán peninsula. Coba is estimated to have had some 50,000 plus inhabitants during its apex in the Middle and Late Classic periods.
Cobá was a hub for a system of sacbes (ancient roads), constructed by the Maya for travel, commerce, and political control. As many as fifty sacbes led into this huge Mayan city center, one of them over 62 miles long - the longest in the Mayan world. Between 10 and 30ft wide, some of the sacbes are long enough to even be seen from space.
After lunch nearby, we drive into the State of Yucatán to the colonial city of Valladolid (for 3 overnights). Valladolid is reminiscent of the Mérida of years ago. Founded by the Spanish in 1545, it was one of the four main Spanish towns on the Yucatán Peninsula, along with Mérida, Campeche, and Bacalar. As customary for the Spanish, the town was built on the site of an ancient Mayan city - that of Zaci, named for its cenote water source. Valladolid had a turbulent colonial history, including involvement in the War of Castes of 1847, during which the Maya of Yucatan struggled for independence from Mexico. Today it is a quaint town in which to experience traditional life in Mexico. The city centers on the zócalo, (central or main plaza), where locals and visitors congregate to mingle and relax on the benches. Mayan ladies in their traditional hupils (hand embroidered dresses) can be seen selling their wares around the zocalo. The zócalo's Cathedral is one of seven colonial churches in town. The original Cathedral of San Servacio on main plaza, took the place of the one which was erected in 1545. In 1705 the original church was completely demolished by order of the Bishop Don Pedro de los Reyes Ríos and in 1706 the construction of the current church began. Other beautiful historic buildings include the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, the Municipal Palace (with huge murals depicting Mexican history), the Iglesia de San Servacio, the Museum of San Roque, the Ex Telar de la Aurora, the Parque Central Francisco Cantón de Rosado, and the train station.
Overnights are at the lovley Ecotel Quinta Regia (www.ecotelquintaregia.com.mx). It has beautiful landscaping and is located only 5 blocks away from the Main Plaza. Its lush gardens feature a wide variety of local flora and medicinal plants. The hotel also has a nice pool for cooling off.
Those that would like can take an evening walk around the Main Plaza to learn of the town's history, orient for later personal explorations, and/or enjoy one the town's many fine restaurants for dinner. There are many great places in town for your independent dinners. Three excellent choices are: El Meson Marques, with courtyard dinning, located across the street on the Main Plaza (www.mesondelmarques.com); and the Taberna de los Frailes (www.tabernadelosfrailes.com), near the Main Plaza overlooking the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena which dates to 1552 and sits above the Sisha Cenote; and La Casona near the Main Plaza is worth a look around even if not dining. (B/L)
DAY 3: (Thursday) (Nov. 7)
After breakfast is a tour to the partially restored site of Ek Balám. Ek Balám has one of the longest records of occupation in northern Yucatán, from about 300 BC until the Spanish Conquest. Recent excavations have uncovered some of the finest of all known Mayan sculptures. The Acropolis is the largest restored building, measuring 480 feet across, 180 feet wide and 96 feet tall. Complete with stelas, many of the buildings were built in the architectural style of Northern Petén, which included interior murals and iconography. The city's central core was enclosed with the largest defensive walls found in the Late Classic period sites. The jewel of Ek Balám's architecture is a Chenes-style, "monster-mouth" doorway atop the massive El Trono temple. The technological and artistic development shown is a sign of Ek Balam’s material and cultural wealth, manifested in the colorful and complex murals. The pictorial style of Ek Balam is considered one of the best in the Mayan area. The recent archaeological project at Ek Balam, under the direction of Leticia Vargas de la Peña and Victor R. Castillo Borges of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), has made a number of discoveries in the ballcourt area, among them a painted stucco frieze and a collection of burnt stone balls that may relate to the ballgame.
For those who like, while we are at Ek Balám ruins, you may also independently visit the Xcanche Cenote about 1.5km from the ruins (optional, with about $5 entrance fee). There are usually kids with bicycle taxis or you may walk. Swimming is allowed in the large cenote and they even have rappeling. Cenotes are magical, enigmatic and unique in the world and besides rain were once the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatan jungle. They were the sacred places of the Mayas also because they represented the entrance to the underworld. The Yucatán Peninsula is a porous limestone shelf with no visible rivers; all the fresh water rivers are underground. Being porous, caverns and caves formed where the fresh water collects – hence the cenotes or water sinkholes. The water that gathers in these subterranean cenotes is a crystal clear turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of 78° F. The stalactites and stalagmites that form inside the cenotes are true natural works of art. In many, holes in the ceiling allow the sunlight to filter into the cenotes, giving the scene a magical feeling. The cenotes of Yucatán are a natural treasure that should be seen by all.
For lunch after the tour, we can stop at a local restaurant in Temozón. This little town is famous throughout the region for its ahumada (smoked meats), including longaniza (smoked sausage) which can be find in many restaurants in the region.
After a siesta at the hotel, those that would like can walk to the Zaci Cenote, which is about seven blocks from the hotel. The cool waters of the large and scenic cenote are popular and you are welcome to take a dip. About a third of the cenote is covered with stalactites and stalagmites and there is a walkway around the entire cenote. There is also restaurant located above that serves cold drinks and traditional cuisine. (B/L)
DAY 4: (Friday) (Nov. 8)
Early morning tour to the famous archaeological site of Chichén Itzá to explore this incredible "Mexicanized-Maya" site. The site is overwhelming and is certainly deserving of its notoriety. The immense scale and variety of architectural styles will definitely amaze. Sitting at the edge of the Sacred Cenote and contemplating will stimulate your imagination. The site is the most excavated and famous of all the great Mayan cities. The ruins are divided into two areas. One group belongs to the classic Maya Period and was built between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The other group corresponds to the Maya-Toltec Period, from the later part of the 10th century to the beginning of the 13th century A.D. Containing the largest ballcourt in the Mundo Maya, the famous El Castillo, astronomical observatory, large cenotes, skull racks - it's incredible archaeology and iconography must be seen to be believed. In 2007, the El Castillo (KuKulkan Pyramid) was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
For lunch and to relax, we go to the swimmable Yokdzonot Cenote (www.yucatanmayanretreat.webs.com). About 10 minutes from the ruins, the cenote and restaurant is operated by local women starting their own ecopark. It is a good place to learn about local medicinal plants and the authentic Yucatecan meals include handmade tortillas. The cenote is far less crowded than the Ik Kil Cenote which is close to the ruins.
Afterwards, we return to Chichen Itza to view the ruins we missed in the morning visit before returning to Valladolid. The archaeological site takes up about 4 square miles and it takes most of a day to see it properly. (B/L)
DAY 5: (Saturday) (Nov. 9)
After breakfast, upon departing Valladolid, we can make a quick stop to photograph the two scenic underground cenotes of Xkeken and Samula at Dzitnup - before the crowds that often arrive later in the day. The entrance fees are not included in case some just want to shop at the adjacent vendor stalls.
Afterwards, we depart for the Spanish Colonial city of Izamal. Depending on our "mood", we may make a quick stop at small mezcal distillery to lift our "spirits" and see how agave plants are used to make pulque, mezcal and tequila. In route to Izamal, we will stop at the pretty village of Uayma to see and learn about its colorful church. In colonial times Uayma
was an major stop on the camino real (main road) between Mérida and Valladolid. It was later "by-passed" in time and starting in 2003, repair and restorations on the church began.
At Itzamal, we will explore the Franciscan monastery of San Antonio de Padua, whose construction started in 1533 and completed in 1561, making it one of the first monasteries in the New World. It is site of the largest atrium in the Americas and second only to the Vatican. Izamal is a jewel of a colonial city, with many the historic buildings painted yellow. Cobblestone streets and colonial lampposts complete the scenery. Clean, peaceful and quaint, this is a great town to stroll through. There are Mayan pyramids, colonial-style buildings, parks and plazas, horses and buggies, and lots of people-watching.
Izamal is also one of the largest archaeological sites in the northern Yucatan, covering possibly 53 square kilometers of ancient monuments and residences. Raised causeways (sacbes) connected it with other important Maya centers. Five huge Pre-Colombian structures are still visible at Izamal. The largest pyramid is Kinich Kak Mo (Maya Sun God), with a base covering over 2 acres and rising 118 feet hight, it is the fifth largest in Mexico. Most of the ancient construction spans between the Protoclassic (200 B.C. - 200 A.D) through the Late Classic (600-800 A.D). It was partially abandoned with the rise of Chichen Itza in the Terminal Classic (800-1000 A.D.). Much of the ancient stonework was later used by the Spanish for building material. Pap-Hol-Chac, the largest Mayan pyramid is now the site and source of much of the stones in the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. However, despite all the Spanish influences, even today it is as common to hear the Mayan language as that of Spanish in town and see signs in both languages. UNESCO states it this way: "Seated on the palaces that were built by the prodigious Mayans, Izamal of today is a syncretism expression of cultures that, despite the ups and downs of modernity, conserves cultural identity and the architectonic expressions of the diverse stages of its history."
We have lunch at the Kinich El Sabor Restaurant. The restaurant is famous for their handmade tortillas, delicious traditional Yucatecan dishes, and palapa (thatched-covered) dining area.
After lunch in this historic city, we continue on to Mérida for three overnights to explore this capital of the State of Yucatán and enjoy the city and its Sunday events. This vibrant Mexican city still retains much of its colonial charm. At one time, it was one of the richest cities in the world. It is often called the "white city" for its architecture and native dress, but as you will see, it is also a very "colorful" city; full of new sights, sounds and smells. Founded by the Spanish in 1542, Mérida was built over the ancient Maya city of Tiho. It was named Mérida because the Mayan city reminded the Conquistadors of the Roman ruins in Mérida, Spain. Mérida has one of the largest historic districts in the Americas (surpassed only by Mexico City and Havana). During evening strolls down peaceful streets, you can admire some of the beautiful old houses and landmarks found at every turn in downtown Merida. The historical center of Mérida is currently undergoing a renaissance as more people are moving into the old buildings and reviving their former glory. Many are now winter homes owned by foreigners as the city's popularity for a great place to live has grown internationally. Because of its tranquility and cleanliness, Mérida has also become a popular place for families from other Mexican states. Many people have moved here from Mexico City, where crime, pollution and overcrowding are evergrowing problems. Crime is not tolerated in Mérida, and it has the distinction of the city with the lowest crime rate per capita in Mexico.
Merida also boasts a large number of restaurants for all types of cuisine, from the most basic and inexpensive to the most sophisticated fine dining. Traditional Yucatecan cookery derived from the mixing of Spanish and Maya cultures. It is the combination of recipes and ingredients from those two culinary traditions that has resulted in the characteristic flavors of Yucatecan cuisine. It also includes influences from Caribbean, European, and Middle Eastern cultures. Yucatecan food is renowned throughout Mexico for its strong condiments and the predominant use of corn. For instance, dishes like lime soup, papadzules and Motul-style eggs are all made with fried corn tortillas, and panuchos and dzotolbichay are made with corn dough. Another common ingredient in some of the most exquisite traditional Yucatecan dishes is turkey. And not to be ignored are wonderful Yucatecan desserts, most of which are prepared with locally grown fresh fruit.
Overnights are at the colonial-style Casa del Balam, located in the heart of Merida, just a couple of blocks from the Main Plaza. The Hotel Casa del Balam is one of the oldest and most distinguished hotels in Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula. Known as the "grandmother" of all hotels, it is also one of the few Art Deco buildings still seen in this colonial city. Marble floors, Moorish arches, and a stone carved fountain surround the beautiful central patio, making it a very special place. The owners love for art shows in the lobby, and antiques and pre-Columbian artifacts can be found throughout. The traditional atmosphere of the hotel radiates a home-style feeling seldom found in this now busy city.
The spacious and bright rooms have central air conditioning, telephone, cable TV, soundproof windows, mini bar, and well appointed bathrooms. The hotel has free Wifi and a nice pool.
Saturday and Sunday nights are part of En El Corazón de Mérida (In the Heart of Merida), when Calles 60 & 62 are closed off to traffic around the Main Plaza from 8 pm to 2 am and the restaurants and bars put their tables and chairs in the street. This is literally an open-air fiesta as there are bands on every block and other shows. Temporary stages host everything from rock to salsa to trova singers. On Saturday nights you may also go to the outdoor Fiesta Mexicana at the beginning of the Paseo Montejo at Calle 47. Here you will find vendors, food booths and Mexican folkloric entertainment. (B/L)
DAY 6: (Sunday) (Nov. 10)
Sunday is a fun and colorful time in downtown Merida,
when traffic is closed off around the Main Plaza. There are free outdoor concerts in various plazas and booths set up with food and crafts. You can enjoy Mérida en Domingo's outdoor handcraft markets and food festivals in the Main Plaza, Hidalgo Park, and Santa Lucia Park. In the late morning we have a walking tour the Main Plaza or Zócalo, with such colonial buildings as the Cathedral (started in 1561) and the Governor's Palace for a historical perspective highlighted by dramatic murals and paintings.
After lunch (not included to allow each a choice among the many restaurants and street vendors), those that would like, can explore Merida's main market (Mercado Municipal Lucas de Gálvez) to learn about local produce and to shop. This historic central market is about 3 blocks from the Zócalo and is one of the largest remaining in Mexico. (Here is a nice video regarding food shopping in the market.)
Later in the afternoon, we all meet back at the hotel around 2pm for a visit the new Gran Museo Del Mundo Maya
(www.granmuseodelmundomaya.com). There is an onsite restaurant for those who want to rest or have an early dinner. The expansive museum has a collection of more than 500 pieces, including textiles, religious objects, and items reflecting the current lives of the Mayas. They have engravings, books, and historical documents, artistic and religious works from the colonial historic era in addition to artifacts from the pre-Hispanic era including stelas, stone sculptures, ceramics and offerings. The exhibit rooms move from the present into the past through four distinct sections: The Mayab, Nature and Culture; Mayas of Today; Mayas of Yesterday; and Ancestral Mayas.
The evening is free to enjoy the Sunday outdoor concerts and activities. (B)
DAY 7: (Monday) (Nov. 11)
In the morning is a tour to the archaeological site of Dzibilchaltún with it's beautiful Xlacah Cenote (bring swimsuit), including a visit to the renovated Museum of the Pueblo Maya. The site's Temple of the Seven Dolls is also known as the Temple of the Sun, a square structure which was a focal point of the city. This second name may come from the phenomenon which takes place twice yearly, at the spring and fall equinoxes, when the rising sun is visible through one window and out the other, a tribute to the advanced mathematical knowledge of the Mayas. This site is distinguished due to its long history, which goes back from the mid Preclassic period to the Postclassic period. Its longevity can be explained, among other things, by its privileged location, 17 km from the coast and next to an area of fertile soils. Dzibilchaltún was a large city with a population of nearly 20,000 inhabitants. Dzibilchaltún was the center for salt trade and inhabited until the time of the Spanish Conquest. It is an area that is famous fo
r its lush greenery and refreshing cenotes. The park has over 100 natural and artificial wells, of which the Xlacah Cenote (35 meters long and 55 meters deep) is one of the most notable and unique natural setting. You may want to bring a swimsuit. One end of the cenote is very shallow, while the other is deep and continues on into a underground channel. Dzibilchaltún is a National Ecological Park with hundreds of species of fauna.
We then drive north to the coast and the port town of Progreso for lunch
at one of the local restaurants specializing in fresh seafood.
Afterwards, we continue east passing through Chicxulub Puerto, which gave name to the nearby impact point of a giant meteorite that many scientifist believe erradicated dinosaurs along with 90% of other species some 65 millions years ago. The diameter of the impact crater is some 110 miles. Along the coast we should be able to view (with luck and binoculars are handy) colorful pink flamingos
(November is start of mating season and they are usually easy to spot), white storks, and grey herons in the various roadside marshes, shallow lagoons, and estuaries. We then explore the rarely visited archaeological site Xcambo. It was an important ancient trading post for salt and salted fish production. Several artifacts have been found there as far from Guatemala and Belize. A small Catholic chapel was built right into the archaeological site using its ancient stones.
The late afternoon is free for personal for personal explorations in Merida. On Monday evening's you can enjoy an outdoor concert with traditional "Vaqueria" (Yucatecan dancing and dress) at the Palacio Municipal on the Main Plaza at 9 pm. (B/L)
DAY 8: (Tuesday) (Nov. 12)
After breakfast we drive south into the Puuc region for four overnights at the lovely Hacienda Uxmal. In route we first stop at the Hacienda Yaxcopoil (www.yaxcopoil.com) to learn about sisal and henequen plantations and its import to the history of Yucatan. The hacienda is left much as it was in historic times, with furniture and machinery still in place. It was named for the nearby Mayan ruins and at one time covered about 22,000 acres of land, operating first as a cattle ranch and later as a henequen plantation. Once of of the most important haciendas in Yucatan, it has been preserved but not renovated, and now operates as a museum, and location for filming.
Afterwards we have lunch nearby at another historic henequen plantation, the Hacienda Ochil (www.haciendaochil.com). The hacienda's restaurant is popular for both its food and lovely outdoor dining settings. The partially restored hacienda also has a small museum with exhibits illustrating the cultivating, harvesting and processing of the henequen plant and the property even has a cenote used as an amphitheater.
Continuing southward, we then tour the ruins of Oxkintok, one of the largest and longest inhabited Mayan cities in the region. The site has contributed the earliest and one of the latest dates in the Long Count calendar found in the northern Yucatan region. Recent excavations have revealed a unique mixture of of Central Mexico and early Mayan Puuc architecture styles which add to its mysterious history. Trade artifacts such as grey obsidian, jade and cinnabar from distant areas have been found onsite. Although not often visited by tourists, the ruins are well maintained and many are partially restored. Oxkintok’s best known building is the Labyrinth or Tza Tun Tzat which you can enter.
We then continue on to the Hacienda Uxmal (www.mayaland.com), located across the road from the ruins, in time for late afternoon swim in their large pool! Hand-painted tile, masonry sculptures and the generous use of the regional hardwoods sets a stately tone. The grounds are impeccably kept and lush with the flora of tropical Yucatan. The rooms are beautifully appointed and equipped with air conditioning, ceiling fans, tiled baths, free WiFI, and satellite TV. The terrace bar is an ideal spot for drinks and conversation at dusk, after a day of exploring. And, if sore, you can enjoy the spa services. (B/L)
DAY 9: (Wednesday) (Nov. 13)
All day to tour and explore the grandiose site of Uxmal. Many consider Uxmal the most ornate and complex Mayan city yet found, you will quickly see why it is so famous as a destination. The scale of construction and the delicate carved facades are truly remarkable for any culture. Standing over 100 feet up on the Temple of the Magician, one has an excellent viewpoint of the entire site and surrounding Puuc hills. Recent excavations and restorations has brought even more of the site's grandiose structures into the light. Even before the restoration work, Uxmal was in better condition than many other Maya sites thanks to being so well constructed. Much was built with cut stones, not relying on plaster to hold the buildings together. The intricate Puuc style of Maya architecture predominates. Thanks to its good state of preservation, it is one of the few Maya cities where the visitor can get a good idea of how the entire ceremonial center looked in ancient times.
Midday, we take a drive to the quaint Mayan village of Santa Elena for lunch. After lunch, we can visit a local Maya family's compound and learn about their traditional ways of living in the Yucatan. Also in Santa Elena (known as Nohcacab at the time) we can see the church where Stephens and Catherwood resided adjacent during their 1840 visit to Yucatan. The church also contains a unique collection of portable retablos. We then return to the hotel for a siesta and/or to site of Uxmal to explore missed outlying ruins.
After dark, those that would like can enjoy the light and sound show at Uxmal, which is included in the day's entrance ticket. (B/L)
DAY 10: (Thursday) (Nov. 14)
A day exploring great examples of the Puuc architectural style at the smaller archaeological sites of Kabáh, Xlapak, and Labná. The ancient Maya developed an outstanding architectural style, known as Puuc, which means “hill range” or “backbone”, after the hilly area in the southwest State of Yucatan. Vegetation in this area is low deciduous forest, animals and plants are diverse, its red soils are fertile, but there is no surface water, so the very existence of its Maya inhabitants depended on rainwater. This is why the Puuc people built numerous “chultunes” or underground cisterns which, along with natural pools, were vital to their subsistence and are still important water reserves to this day. We may have a picnic-style, boxed lunch this day as we are in remote areas. The ruins and surrounding forest also provide good birding locations.
While out touring the area, we will also visit the nearby EcoMuseo of Cocao and its cocoa plantation. We can learn about the relationship of the Mayas and cocoa, the hieroglyphs for cocoa, how it was included in their paintings, how they developed it, how it was processed and used, and how it spread throughout the world via the Spanish. And, of course we can taste some chocolate and buy some!
On the return we tour the impressive archaeology site of Sayil. This site is home to a beautiful palace that included 90 bedrooms for some 350 people. From the top level of the palace you can see the church at Santa Elena and across the way a tiny ruin on the side of a mountain. Like many sites in the region, there are several chultunes (under ground chambers for storing water), since the area lacks rivers. Together with Uxmal, Sayil was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Sayil means place of the leaf-cutter ants in Maya and they are easily seen crossing the forest trails. (B/L)
DAY 11: (Friday) (Nov. 15) (B/L)
After breakfast, we depart to the coast for a day tour of the historic city of Campeche, in the State of Campeche. The capital, San Francisco de Campeche, during the times of the Viceroyalty was the largest port on the Yucatan Peninsula and is one of the first Spanish Colonial cites in Mexico. The export of woods was concentrated here, especially logwood or Campeche, a natural dye which was greatly demanded in Europe and America until the emergence of industrial dyes. The beautiful old city is fortified and surrounded by 18th-century walls. The city, once the site of the pre-Colombian town called Kimpech (whose remains are still observable), was founded in 1540 by the son of the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo. It was sacked frequently by English buccaneers, and from 1862 to 1864, French forces blockaded the city.
Visits to the imposing Fort San Miguel and it's impressive Regional Anthropology Museum teach of the area's archaeology and history. Wealthy merchants and traders built stunningly beautiful houses and haciendas here. Today hundreds of these have been carefully restored to their former glory and repainted with the original soft pastel orginally used in the construction. In 1999 UNESCO declared Campeche a World Heritage Site. Campeche's colorful historical center is one of the most striking in Mexico and is the most walking-friendly of any capital city in Mexico. No buses are allowed inside the old walls of the historic area. History has divided Campeche City into three zones: The Center, formed by the old walled city which was
inhabited by the Spaniards during the Colony San Francisco, located to the north of the wall, where the Mayan population was concentrated; and San Roman to the south, where the Mexican natives established themselves along with the mulattos brought from the Islands of the Caribbean, mainly from Cuba. Campeche today has many brightly colored buildings reflective of Caribbean tastes.
As might be expected in a coastal town, Campeche has an abundance of fresh seafood prepared in every conceivable manner including some flavored with tasty Caribbean spices. We have lunch at one of the many good seafood restaurants. Campeche is famous for its cuisine, particularly seafood and restaurants offer unique dishes such as: jamon claveteado (clove ham),
pan de cazon (fried tortilla with shred dogfish, tomato sauce and beans), queso relleno (pepper stuffed Gouda cheese), pampano en salsa verde (pompano in green sauce) and of course, seafood cocktails, pickled fish, shrimps in many styles and fish croquettes.
On the afternoon drive back to Uxmal. We may stop in the village of Kuck Holocj near Becal, to visit a family for a demonstration of weaving hats made from the jippi plant. These "panama" hats are woven in caves to create an environment that is humid enough for the plant fibers to remain malleable. (B/L)
DAY 12: (Saturday) (Nov. 16)
Today we take roads less traveled to the Caribbean Coast (now often referred to as the Mayan Riviera). We travel into the interior of Yucatan into the State of Quintana Roo through traditional Maya villages to the historic town of Felipe Carillo Puerto for lunch and to see the Chan Santa Cruz shrine which was important to the Maya Cruzob religious movement and independence efforts.
Before arriving at the seaside hotel, we stop for a tour at the famous Mayan seaport ruins of Tulúm. Ancient walls and the coast protected this Late Post Classic city which has become popular tourist attraction.
We then continue on to the small seaside town of Akumal for two overnights in the Villas Maya Bungalows of the lovely Hotel Club Akumal Caribe (www.hotelakumalcaribe.com). Akumal is one of the less commercialized areas of this Maya Riveria coastline. Local fishing boasts in the Akumal Bay add to the authentic setting. Akumal boasts beautiful white sand beaches and bright blue water set in a peaceful bay and the water is great for snorkeling and relaxing. Our bungalows are, situated among lush gardens.
They are just steps away from the beach, and although they may not have a view of the ocean, they make up for it in charm, spaciousness, privacy, and convenience. It is a short walk to the beach or the center of the property where the restaurants and bars are located. Each bungalow has either one king size bed or two double beds, air conditioning, ceiling fan, mini refrigerator, and free WiFi. (B/L)
DAY 13: (Sunday) (Nov. 17)
This is a free day to enjoy Akamul Bay for beaching and relaxation or arrange optional day tours. (B)
Below are some of the more popular options for independent touring (most are about $100 per person):
- Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (www.cesiak.org, www.siankaantours.org) Travel to Muyil for a boat ride into the Reserve and Lake Chunyaxache including a chance to get out and float in the clear waters through the grass and mangrove-lined historic canals.
- Río Secreto (www.riosecreto.com). Go deep inside an underground cave, where you’ll experience true silence among some of the most dramatic mineral formations in the world. A stunning underground river with thousands of dramatic stalactites and stalagmites. You can observe natural history dating back millions of years as you hike and swim through a 600-meter route. (rio secreto video, video 2)
- Xcaret Park (www.xcaret.com)
- XelHa Park (www.xelha.com)
DAY 14: (Monday) (Nov. 18)
Farewell breakfast and morning transfer to Cancun airport for flights home (recommend midday flights out of Cancun. (B)
Below are various videos of relevance, (some are very glamorous, fanciful and surreal - however the photography is beautiful), to remind you to bring a camera :)
Quest for the Lost Maya (1 hour video by National Geographic, re northern Yucatan)
Yucatan, Yucatan 2, Yucatan 3
Campeche, Campeche 2
Uxmal, Uxmal2, Puuc sites
Merida Historic Downtown, Merida 2
Valladolid, Valladolid 2
Maya World Museum in Merida Lightshow
Cenotes, Cenotes 2
The Mayan Calendar
Below are a temperature chart for Cancun and a climate chart for Merida:
YUCATECAN CUISINE (mostly from Yucatan Today)
The culinary delights of a typical Yucatecan kitchen come from a mouth-watering mixture of European and Mexican flavors. A bit of history will explain this strong European influence. Once upon a time the Yucatecan peninsula was considered to be too far away and too difficult to reach from the rest of Mexico. Mountainous terrain and very poor roads kept the peninsula isolated. Having ports with commercial and cultural contacts with Europe (especially France), New Orleans, and Cuba, the Yucatecans were easily influenced by many aspects of these countries, such as dress, architecture and cooking, which explains why there is a lot of European flair in its cuisine.
Chicken marinated in achiote (annatto), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt, and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked. This dish can also be made with pork (cochinita pibil). A dish you should definitely try for lunch or dinner. Not spicy.
Soft, cooked tortillas with lettuce, tomato, shredded turkey or chicken, onion, avocado on top.
Feature fried tortillas filled with black beans, and topped with turkey or chicken, lettuce, avocado and pickled onions.
A delicious soup made with shredded chicken, bits of fried tortilla, and lime juice. Exquisite! And very good for you if you aren't feeling well.
Tender slices of pork marinated in sour orange juice, grilled, and served with a tangy sauce and pickled onions. Some restaurants offer a chicken version.
Chopped hard boiled egg rolled up in tortilla and covered with pumpkin seed sauce.
Frijol con Puerco
The Yucatecan version of pork and beans. Chunks of pork cooked with black beans, served with rice, and garnished with radish, cilantro and onion. A regular Monday dish in most Yucatecan homes.
Motul-Style Eggs A scrumptious breakfast of tortilla, covered with refried beans and a fried egg and then smothered with tomato sauce, peas, chopped ham and shredded cheese. Usually served with some fried banana slices.
Pavo en Relleno Negro (also known locally as Chilmole)
Turkey meat stew cooked with a black paste made from roasted chiles, a local version of the mole de guajalote found throughout Mexico. The meat soaked in the black soup is also served in tacos, sandwiches and even in panuchos or salbutes.
Bul keken, (Mayan for "beans and pork")
A traditional black bean and pork soup. The soup is served in the home on Mondays in most Yucatán towns. The soup is usually served with chopped onions, radishes, chilies, and tortillas.
Brazo de reina, (Spanish for "The Queen's Arm")
A traditional tamal dish. A long, flat tamal is topped with ground pumpkin seeds and rolled up like a roll cake. The long roll is then cut into slices. The slices are topped with a tomato sauce and a pumpkin seed garnish.
Spices and chiles
Achiote is the most popular spice in the area. It is derived from the hard annatto seed found in the region. The whole seed is ground together with other spices and formed into a reddish seasoning paste, called recado rojo. The other ingredients in the paste include cinnamon, allspice berries, cloves, Mexican oregano, cumin seed, sea salt, mild black peppercorns, apple cider vinegar, and garlic. The most popular Mexican hot sauce, El Yucateco hot sauce, is made in Mérida, Yucatán. Hot sauce in Mérida is usually made from the indigenous chiles in the area which include: Chile Xcatik, Chile Seco de Yucatán, and Chile Habenero.
Okay, this isn't food...it's a beer. You'll see it on the menu and wonder what it is. Michelada roughly translates as "my cold beer". The spicy concoction is a beer with lime and peppery seasoning. The ingredients are lime, coarse salt, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Tabasco sauce, black pepper, Maggi seasoning, and beer, preferably a dark Mexican beer like Negra Modelo. Another option is a CHELADA, which is a Michelada without the Tabasco, soy, pepper and other seasonings. It's just beer, lime, and salt.
MEXICAN CUISINE (common in the Yucatan)
Chiles Rellenos (stuffed chilis)
Poblano chilis are stuffed with either cheese or ground beef and pork, raisins, capers and olives, then coated in a batter, fried, and served with a tomato sauce on top.
Chiles en Nogada (gourmet stuffed chiles)
This is Mexican cuisine’s gourmet haute-cuisine dish, a fancy upscale cousin to Chiles Rellenos. Poblano chiles are stuffed with ground beef and pork, raisins, onion, garlic, peaches, apples, pear and crystallized orange and covered with a walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.
Often translated as cowboy bean soup, this is a red bean soup with diced ham, sausage, tomatoes and onion. Served separately are chopped onions, lime wedges and cilantro that you can add as you please.
Often translated as cheese fondue or melted cheese, this cheese dish is not as soupy as traditional fondue. A stringy Oaxaca cheese is melted in a ceramic bowl and served with tortillas. To eat it, rip the tortilla in ½ or ¼, take your fork, twirl some cheese around it then place it in the tortilla. Queso fundido adds-ons include mushrooms, poblano chiles (spicy-ish), chorizo sausage, cactus, or diced meat.
The sauce in this savory dish is made from 17 different ingredients that are ground up and blended. Ingredients include: mulato chiles, pasilla chiles, ancho chiles,, Mexican chocolate, peanuts, garlic, black pepper, cinnamon, raisins, cloves, peppercorns, almonds, anise seeds, coriander seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. The sauce is served over either chicken or pork and is wonderful. While not a spicy hot dish, spiciness depends on the chiles.
This traditional snack dish is one of Mexico’s claims to fame. Mix chunky avocado, chopped onion, cilantro, salt, some lime juice and possibly chopped tomato. Serve with tortilla chips. If you make it ahead of time, don’t put it in the fridge- that way it won’t turn dark.
Yucatan has its tamales and the rest of Mexico has theirs. Mexican tamales have mole sauces or poblano chiles, can be sweet, and are mostly wrapped in cornhusks (instead of the Yucatecan banana leaves.)
There are many versions of and ways to make enchiladas, but the basics are made with corn tortillas dipped in the chosen enchilada sauce (to soften), which can be mole, green tomato sauce, etc. then stuffed with chicken or meat, rolled up, placed in a casserole dish, then layered with sauce and cheese and cream and topped with chopped onions or crumbled white cheese.
Chilaquiles (Pronounced chee-lah-KEE-lehs)
This dish is popular at breakfast. Corn tortillas are cut in strips or triangles, fried in cooking oil, then topped with a red tomato or green tomato sauce then layered casserole style. Cream is drizzled on top. Shredded chicken can be added.
Handmade tortilla folded over cheese or chicken and topped with lettuce, tomato and cream
Wheat-flour tortilla with ham and cheese, lettuce, tomato sauce and cream
Tortillas cooked in traditional comal, topped with bean paste, cheese, lettuce, chicken, tomato and cream
Pollo a la plancha
Grilled Chicken breast topped with rice and bean paste, with salad
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