Monday, August 28, 2006

Riviera Maya Journal 2 #3 - The ruins of Cobá

Visitors to the Cancún area will enjoy exploring the spectacular ruins of Cobá, an ancient jungle city that archaeologists think was built in 600 A.D. Because the local advertising materials often concentrate on nearby Chichén Itzá, many tourists don’t find their way over here. As a result, those who arrive early in the day may just find they’ve got Cobá all to themselves. The city is huge and spreads out over 50 square miles so be sure to bring a bottle of water and a comfortable pair of shoes. Not all of Cobá’s buildings are on display, but a series of well-maintained gravel paths lead to the ones that are. The bicycles, which can be rented at the entrance, are a great way to cover a lot of ground in a little time. There are virtually no hills in the city, and pedaling is effortless. A can of insect repellent makes time spent at Cobá more enjoyable. Without it, the tiny jungle mosquitos will raise a few harmless but annoying bites that turn itchy after a day or two.

Cobá’s astronomical observatory, the royal palace, a military watchtower and two pelota arenas are among the silent sentinels that line the sacbé, mathematically precise Mayan roads that radiate in five directions like spokes on a wheel. One particular sacbé is exactly 100 kilometers long and leads to Chichén Itzá, while another goes to the site of Yaxuna. To date, 16 of these roads have been uncovered in Cobá. Experts estimate that more than 50,000 people once lived in the city and there are about 6,000 structures still hidden within the jungle awaiting excavation. Cobá has been identified as a major economic center that supplied goods to the neighboring Mayan communities. The port cities of Xcaret, Xel-Ha and Tulum were important trade hubs that were used for bringing merchandise into Cobá.

Deep inside the complex is Nohoch-Mul, a massive limestone pyramid that has the distinction of being the tallest structure in the Yucatan. Climbing the steep 120-foot facade is a bit of a challenge, but most definitely worthwhile. The rope bolted to the stairs comes in handy, especially towards the top. There’s a place to sit and rest near the bas-relief stone carvings at the summit while admiring the stunning views of the surrounding jungle. Several structures are partially visible through the foliage. Cobá is operated by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology & History. Admission is 45 pesos (about $4.50) Monday through Saturday. There is no charge to visit on Sundays and national holidays.
-Larry Widen

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Riviera Maya Journal 2 #2 - Casa Sombra

The beach house we stayed at is called Casa Sombra (Shade House). It's located in Aventuras, which is at the south end of Akumal. The water park of Xel-Ha is about 5 minutes drive from here.

Casa Sombra comes with a Mayan couple, Dino and Artemia, who are the live-in caretakers. They actually stay in a separate cottage at the rear of the property, and they are as visible (or invisible) as you like.

The guest house is 50 feet from the ocean and has huge windows in the living room that look out on it. There are hammocks and beach chairs and a shower right outside the door, so swimming, sunning and walking on the beach is very convenient.

One of the nights we were there, some sea turtle eggs hatched right outside our door. At midnight there were almost 100 baby turtles scrambling around looking for the ocean. We gathered a bunch of them in a bucket so they'd be safe until they could be taken and released into the surf. That's something I'd never seen before; quite an experience.

-Larry Widen

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Riviera Maya Journal 2 #1 - Puerto Morelos

I took my family to the Riviera Maya on August 12 for a week-long trip. They'd never been there, so everything was brand new for them. We decided to rent a beach house rather than stay at one of the large all-inclusive resorts, just to try something different.

The beach house, called Casa Sombra, was located in the town of Akumal, which is about 60 miles south of Cancun. We also rented a car, figuring that having our own transportation would give us more freedom and allow us to see more of the area. I'll put some stories about driving and the beach house in subsequent posts.

The Cancun airport is pretty small, and the rental car agencies are located less than a block from the terminal. It's very easy to exit the airport and get onto Highway 307, which is the main north-south road that serves all 80 miles of the Riviera Maya. About 15 miles south of Cancun is a tiny beach town called Puerto Morelos. If you blink, you'll miss it. But if you're in the area, it's a great place to visit for lunch or a cocktail.

The town is only a few blocks long, and like most other Mexican villages, everything is centered around the plaza. The Blue Marlin, a little grill on Tulum Street, has great food for 55 pesos (about $5) per plate. The waitress's name is Reina. She dosen't speak English, but a little high school Spanish goes a long way down here.

Across the plaza on Avenida Roja Gomez is Iglesias de San Jose, a beautiful Catholic church that's worth a quick visit. There's a stained glass window and some religious statuary inside. Puerto Morelos is pretty laid-back, what would have been called a "hippie" town 30 years ago. Residents include businessmen, painters, artisans, marine biologists, dive masters, doctors, and local fishermen. There are also three or four gift shops that sell souvenirs at better prices than you'll find in Cancun, and book lovers will want to stop in at Alme Libre, the Riviera Maya's largest used bookstore.
-Larry Widen

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Riviera Maya Journal #14 - Getting Ready - Larry Widen

I'm in the end stages of making plans for an August 12 return visit to Cancun and the Riviera Maya region. My daughter's heading off to college in a few weeks, and we thought this would be a great place for what might be our last big vacation as a family. The kids have been wanting to see Mexico for a while now, and the timing is right. Even though we're staying in a remote area north of Playa del Carmen, we're renting a car for the week so we can visit Cancun, Chichen Itza, Cozumel and a number of attractions in the region. There's a Mayan village near where we're staying, and I plan to see that as well. It's a 45-minute drive straight into the jungle and quite removed from the modern world. I'm told the elders speak only Mayan, but the younger people speak Spanish. Should be interesting. Watch for some new posts toward the end of August. I'll include stories and photos!

Barcelo Maya resort vacation

In June my sister and I went to Riviera Maya for a 5-night vacation, and it was great. We stayed at the all-inclusive Barcelo Maya resort just to the south of Playa del Carmen. We went to the ruins of Tulum, and spent part of a day in the eco-park of Xel-Ha. We really enjoyed this hotel and would recommend it to anyone. The rooms and grounds were very clean and the shows were great.