Our entry to Mexico from Belize was pretty painless just a little time consuming, even though there was no one at the border except our bus. From here on, there were no more chicken buses, instead a big air-conditioned public bus for the trip to Playa del Carmen.
We had a few nights in Playa and every night was a party night! This place is busy during the day, especially along 5th avenue (shops, restaurants and bars/clubs) but even busier at night in certain parts.
We didn’t get to the biggest club ‘Coco Bongo’ which is quite expensive (and fabulous from what I hear) but did frequent many smaller bars and decent size indoor and outdoor clubs (mostly free) all walking distance from each other. At one point we ended up at a Salsa club (paid entry) staring in awe of the locals strutting their stuff and trying to keep our toes out of their way when we attempted to salsa.
Playa del Carmen is not just for partygoers. Firstly, it has less crowds and no large resorts than northern neighbor Cancun. Secondly, it has access to great cenotes and Mayan ruins 1-2 hours away. We took a day trip to Tulum Ruins and the Garden of Eden Cenote. I was eventually heading Cancun-Cuba-Cancun so decided to wait until I returned to visit Chichén Itzá. Unfortunately this never happened as I was delayed in Cuba for 31 hours (that’s another crazy story) so I’m extremely glad I did Tikal and Tulum.
A guided tour of Tulum Ruins showed us a former Maya community, which served as a commercial port due to it having road and sea access to trade routes. The city was also known as Zama (meaning dawn) as it’s one of the first places to witness dawn in Mexico. It’s the third most visited archeological site in Mexico (behind Chichén Itza and Teotihuacan) and one of the best-preserved Mayan coastal ruins. This is a very compact site compared to Tikal in Guatemala or Chichén Itza, not far from here. Tulum was at its peak during the 13th-15th century after the states of Chichén Itza and Mayapán fell. Maya were still here decades after the Spanish arrived.
The largest and most famous building of Tulum is El Castillo (Castle) perched on the highest cliff. This pyramid with a temple on top, also served as a watchtower and lighthouse.
We enjoyed some lunch at picturesque Tulum beach but unfortunately it was too cold to go swimming. Cold or not cold, it was definitely time afterwards, to go swimming in ‘The Garden of Eden’ cenote. Coming to a cenote allows you to escape the crowds on the beaches and feel like you’re on your own special adventure. Plus they are so unique and beautiful, even though I’m not the keenest swimmer; I knew this is an opportunity not to miss.
Cenotes are complexes of sinkholes and caves in the Yucatán, formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock over time. Some contain amazing cave formations and go quite deep while others are more open. Some are now archeological sites while a few are open to the public. There are an estimated 30,000 cenotes and many are unexplored.
The Mayans revered cenotes because they were a water source in dry times, the name cenote means ‘sacred well.’ Interestingly they say the Mayan civilization died possibly out due to drought. Others say the civilization has continued in a different way, with the 6 million or so people who carry on their ancestors traditions and beliefs.
Divers have discovered Mayan artefacts dating back 1000 years. They have concluded that the Maya inhibited the caverns, which had lower water levels than now. They also made sacrifices here to their Gods.
One such place for these sacrifices and offerings apparently of jade and gold, thrown into the water, was in the Garden of Eden (Jardín del edén) also known as Ponderosa.
It was an amazing few days in Playa and then it was time for Cuba. On my return to Cancun, I was supposed to have two nights plus a day-trip to Chichén Itza but CubanaAir cancelled our flight and I flew in 31 hours after I was supposed to.
The hotel was on the beach so I was teased with the images of the sandy beach and beautiful waters of Cancun that I was unable to enjoy, as I only managed 10 hours in Cancun before catching a flight to New York. On a positive – at least I didn’t miss my onward flight overseas. A few others from the flight definitely did. If they were American there was no sort of travel insurance compensation, as they are still not technically allowed in Cuba.