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Posts Tagged ‘Yucatan’

When you hear people discussing their vacations in Mexico you will often hear them describe how beautiful the beaches are, the turquoise water and white, soft sand but what you may not hear them talk about as much are the thousands of cenotes that can be explored either on your own or by joining a tour group. A cenote is simply asinkhole that is most often surrounded by rocky edges. There are above ground sinkholes as well as subterranean cenotes and the water is usually very clear. Many Mayan settlements were based around cenotes as they provided an essential water source for the people. Chichen Itza is one of the more well-known cities that settled near these natural wells. Mayans also believed that these sinkholes were gateways to the afterlife and so they played important roles in theirMayan rites.

Cenote Yokdzonot

In my 16 years in Cancun I have visited many cenotes and I continue to explore new ones whenever I get the chance to do so. I have always loved the ocean but I am particularly fond of these magical, fresh water oasesperhaps because they bring back such fond memories of time spent at the numerous lakes, found in B.C., whilst growing up in Vancouver, Canada. Some of my favourite cenotes are located close to home in Quintana Roo and some others are several hours away in the Yucatan state. Cenote Cristalino, which is about 15 minutes south of Puerto Aventuras, is probably the first cenote that I ever visited over 14 years ago. When I first started going very few people knew of its existence. In fact, on most occasions when I went there with friends we would be the only people there .It was our very own private oasis. Through the years that has changed with the advent of major development in the Riviera Maya and “cenote tours”. “Cristalino” is no longer just “mine”; however, it still remains a beautiful spot which I visit often especially when friends are in town.

In the Yucatan you can explore such amazing watering holes like the open air Cenote Il Kil and Cenote Yokdzonot as well as Cenote Dzitnup and Cenote Samula which are both subterranean cenotes. On my first trip to Il Kil we left our SUV in the parking lot just as two very large tour buses pulled in and a huge group of tourists descended from the buses, cameras in hand,rushing towards the very same entrance that we were heading to. We all handed in our tickets and were guided through the souvenir store en route to the cenote where luckily we lost about half of the people from the buses as they were waylaid by sales people trying to peddle ornaments, blankets and otherkeepsakes. We hurried along trying to lose the herd but quickly realized that the cenote was already full of people who had arrived on earlier buses.

Cenote Manati

As we approached the steps leading down to Il Kil we stopped to admire the view from above and I was left speechless, which for anyone whoknows me is quite something. I had seen You Tube videos and photos of Il Kil before but they couldn’t even begin to compare to the sight before us. The crystal blue water, surrounded by rocky edges and vegetation was truly magnificent. We made our way down the steps until we arrived at the cenote’s edge where we joined a crowd of people. We stowed our belongings and dove into the cool water. As I floated on my back I suddenly became aware of a silence that enveloped the submerged cavern. I looked around and to my delight realized that the majority of people had left to continue on their tour. I basked in the silence and swam under the small waterfalls letting the water crash down over my face. As I surveyed the area around me I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place, so serene and lush with vegetation and natural beauty-a true Garden of Eden if there ever was one.

Cenote Il Kil

Yokdzonot is very similar to Il Kil but without the crowds as it is relatively new to the tourist scene. It is run by a small group of Mayan women to help support their community of 850 people. It boasts an estimated depth of 45 meters and is 40 meters across and about 22 meters from the rim to the water. On our last visit there we were the only people in the water. Need I say more? Finally, the cenotes Dzitnup and Samula, which are by no means less breathtaking, are located in Valladolid, a quaint colonial town about 1.5 hours from Cancun. Both of them are below ground and offer a different experience than the aforementioned cenotes. LED lights enable you to navigate the stairs down to the subtlety lit caverns where you are greeted by an eerie silence with cave walls that echo your every word. Samula, though smaller, is less crowded (for now), and there is an opening above that lets in rays of light that shine down on massive tree roots, which in search of water have taken root in the small island in the center of the cenote. As you swim through the mineral infused water you cannot help but feel blessed to be a part of such relatively untouched natural beauty. I often experience a great sense of peace and feel connected to “something bigger” when I visit these places.

Cenote Samula

There are so many cenotes that one can visit while exploring southern Mexico. I have but only scratched the surface with this article. Below is a small list of some of the cenotes that I have been to over the years and which I recommend that you consider exploring on your next visit to Quintana Roo and the Yucatan.

•             Cenote Cristalino-15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, Q.Roo

•             Cenote Eden-15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen,Q.Roo

•             Cenote Azul-15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen,Q.Roo

•             Cenote Manati-40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen,Q.Roo

•             Grand Cenote-90 minutes south of Playa del Carmen

•             Cenote Il Kil- 2 hours west of Cancun (next to Chichen Itza,Yucatan)

•             Cenote Yokdzonot-30 minutes from Chichen Itza,Yucatan

•             Cenote Samula and Cenote Dzitnup- 90 minutes west of Cancun (Vallalodid,Yucatan)

•             Cenote Cuzama (3 cenotes) 4 hours west of Cancun (Yucatan)

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We hit the road bright and early and as the odometer clicked off the  kilometers, leaving Cancun far behind us, I felt that old familiar rush of excitement as we headed into the unknown. Our destination was Izamal ,which is considered one of Mexico’s 35 magical towns, but first we had hoped to explore a pair of cenotes, that I had found on a map, called  Mumondzonot and Lununchan in the outskirts of the small town of Tunkas. After what seemed an eternity of driving down a very bumpy,pothole ridden, dirt road we gave up and turned around but not before we came across an Inukshuk which seemed very out-of-place in the Yucatan. We were disappointed that we hadn’t been able to find the cenotes but without any signage and unreliable directions from the town’s inhabitants it just wasn’t meant to be.

Inukshuk in the Yucatan

We got back on the highway and enjoyed a relatively smooth drive to Izamal.I had found a great little bed and breakfast online called Hotel Macan Che, owned by an American couple,massage therapists by trade, who decided to make Izamal their home. We checked into one of their cozy bungalows with an Asian theme and noticed that other bungalows had names like “Frida” and “Selva”.The bed and breakfast is a little jungle oasis surrounded by lush plants, bamboo, with pretty little dirt walkways and bridges that lead you to the “lobby” and the natural rock bottom pool.For 500 pesos we had a room for the night and a very generous breakfast served the next day, consisting of agua de melon (melon juice), coffee or tea, a fresh fruit plate, and eggs with bacon or chorizo or a la Mexicana. A very good deal indeed.

The grounds at the Macan Che Hotel

By 1pm our stomachs were growling and armed with a map and a restaurant recommendation by our hotel we headed over to Kinich, the largest restaurant in town and by far the most charming little spot to eat in Izamal.Since we were in the Yucatan we ordered several of the house specialties and we were not disappointed. Now, normally I would go into great detail about the food, being a foodie and all, but for this particular blog I would prefer to focus more on what we did and saw in Izamal rather than what we ate there 🙂 Though I must say if you ever find yourself in this magical town don’t miss out on a great meal and friendly service at Kinich

We parked our truck and set off on foot and noticed that there was a hub of activity more than what one would expect in a town with a population of around 15,000. There were lots of stands selling food, clothes you name-it, and rides for children and adults alike. We headed over to the Franciscan Convent of San Antonio de Padua, built between 1553 and 1561, and as I was taking photos from afar of this incredibly majestic building, I noticed a gentleman hovering nearby us. I asked him a question about the history of the building and before we knew it we were being led around the convent and treated to rich, colourful explanations and stories about the history of Izamal. I asked him why there were so many people and tour buses in town and he explained that we were very fortunate as it was the festival of el Cristo Negro (black Christ) and we were lucky because the effigy of the black Christ was currently being displayed in the Convent in Izamal.As our extremely  informative tour came to an end I nudged Cesar, as it had become quite clear, that somehow this very industrious tour guide, posing as a friendly citizen, had “kidnapped” us and was now awaiting some form of monetary compensation. We gladly tipped him as he did indeed provide us with a wealth of interesting information. He was even able to explain to us why the majority of the town’s buildings were painted in a mustard yellow colour, something that I had not been able to find out beforehand with my research on the web.I had found many references to “the yellow city” and sites stating that the town was painted yellow to match the colour of the Convent but nowhere was I able to find out why yellow had been chosen in the first place. Our guide explained to us that the colour yellow in the Mayan culture represents the Maize God (God of corn) and of course maize has always been and continues to be very important in Mexico in general, especially as a food staple; however, unfortunately, I neglected to ask when the Convent had been painted yellow and just how that belief tied in with the dogma of a  Franciscan Convent?  If you have any insight about this subject please share it here.

Convent

After our tour of the Convent we decided to check out one of the 7 Mayan ruins that are located within Izamal. I will stop here and hopefully leave you “chomping at the bit” for more details of our Yucatan Adventure.

Cristo Negro

Please do click on the highlighted links scattered throughout this blog to learn more about Izamal and it’s rich history. I would have loved to delve more deeply into this subject  but as always I am conscious of keeping each blog entry “short and sweet” and besides there are already many well written informative sources “out there” for your reading pleasure.

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Continuing on from my last blog entry chronicling our trip to visit several cenotes in the Yucatan over Easter break  I will pick up where I left off. We made our way along the path to a wooden staircase leading down to the first cenote, Chelentun,where we were greeted by a huge group of people all toting their cameras and swim gear. Once down the stairs I peeled off my clothing and amidst flashing cameras I dove into the cool crystal blue water.There was a beam of sunlight shining down from an opening above which lit the cavern up and enabled you to see the bottom though the cenote was quite deep. There were stalactites hanging down from above which added to the beauty of this natural wonder.

Bolonchojool

After swimming for our alloted 30 minutes we took a few pictures and returned to our cart.On our way to our next destination we had a bit of excitement as our cart derailed and Luis and Jose quickly mounted the cart once again onto the tracks and we were off again!. We arrived at Bolonchojool unscathed and Luis told us that this particular cenote was a favourite among visitors to Cuzama. We walked to the cenote’s entrance which consisted of a small hole reminiscent of Alice and Wonderland’s rabbit hole. It had a makeshift wooden ladder burrowing deep into the earth. There were people trying to go up and down it at the same time even though there was room for only one person at a time…you gotta love Mexico! I gingerly made my way down encountering steps that creaked and buckled under my weight—eeek!Once I arrived ,again there was a large group of people but I easily ignored them as I was captivated by Bolochojool’s incredible beauty. Amidst stalactites and beams of natural light I again stripped down and swam lost in the purity of this underground world.

Going down the ladder at Bolonchojool

Our last stop on this incredible tour was centote Chak-Zinik-Che. Another beautiful spot where once again we swam and snapped a few photos. Then it was time to board our cart for the trip back which involved stopping the cart and taking it off the tracks when 2 or more other carts came our way as there were only one set of tracks going to each cenote. I was amazed at how efficient our guides were and we were quite amused by the whole experience. As the other carts sped past the Pony Express came to mind. Once we arrived at the entrance I took an apple out of my bag and offered it to Pirata who sniffed it and turned his nose up at it!! My family has a guest ranch and I have never seen a horse who didn’t love a fresh green apple. I tried giving it to one of the other horses and they too declined.Jose told me that they didn’t like apples…I imagine that they have never been offered one before that day.

Chak-Zinik-Che cenote

We thanked our guides and made our way to our truck it had been a truly amazing experience.We were hungry and thirsty so decided to look for a place to stop before driving on to Chichen. We came across a sign for a place called Hacienda Tepich. We followed the signs and were quite surprised when we arrived at an actual Hacienda. I will leave that for another day and another blog.I hope that you have enyoyed reading about our Easter Yucatan Adventure so far.I would love to hear your thoughts.

Pony Express

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As I mentioned in my previous blog my husband and I decided to get out of Cancun on Sunday and visit a few cenotes in the Yucatan. There are many cenotes scattered all over the Yucatan and Quintana Roo and gradually through the years we are getting to know them all. We had originally planned to leave Cancun Sunday morning and go to Chichen Itza to visit Il Kil cenote then spend the night in Chichen and on Monday visit Cuzama and then make the long drive home. Hubby wisely suggested that we visit Cuzama first and then drive to Chichen and spend the night and then go to Il Kil the next day.

We wanted to get an early start so we planned to be on the road by 6am and we made a quick pit stop at McDonald’s and had breakfast on the road…not a very healthy way to start the day, I know, but it was convenient. We turned on the radio and much to our dismay heard that it was actually 7am and not 6am as the clocks had gone forward 1 hour and we had forgotten–damn…one hour lost. We had anticipated a 4-4.5 hour drive to Cuzama  but we were pleasantly surprised to arrive after only 3.5 hours; however, I was none too pleased that we had already spent about $40 CDN on toll highways and consumed 1 tank of gas!

Hubby enjoying a sausage McMuffin and egg

We passed through a town called Acanceh on our way to Cuzama  hubby and I were quite amused to see  their “taxis” which were small motorcycles attached at the back to a box like structure with a seat. It reminded me of the “tuk -tuks” in Thailand except the motorcycles are in front and the ones in Acenceh were much more  primitive. http://www.into-asia.com/Bangkok/tuktuk/ Hubby was using our Flip recorder to catch all of the sights as we slowly made our way through town to Cuzama.

Once we arrived we were greeted by a gentleman who explained to us what to expect on out visit. Normally the tour of the 3 cenotes takes 2.5 hours but because there were so many people due to Semana Santa they had extended it to 3 hours. The cost was 200 pesos (about $17 )  for our guided tour on a horse-drawn cart along an old railway track. Our guide, Luis Antonio, and our “driver” Jose ushered us onto our cart to begin our journey with our horse Pirata (Pirate) leading the way. I asked Luis about the railway tracks and he informed me with a nostalgic look that when he was a young boy his father and his father’s friends used to cultivate “milpa” corn and they put the crude railway tracks down to move the corn from the fields into town. After many years of almost drought like conditions they were forced to seek work in Merida to support their families and they had to give up their families’ business. Now many years later the tracks have been repaired and the carts have been adapted in order to carry both national and foreign tourists to enjoy the natural wonders of that area.

Luis and our cart minus Jose and Pirata

We arrived at our first cenote Chelentun after a rocky ride along the tracks that involved Luis stamping his foot down along the cart at every turn to keep us on the tracks…imagine Fred Flintstone driving techniques. Luis told us we had 30 minutes to explore. We excitedly left the cart and made our way along the path to the cenote.On that note I will end this blog and continue it on another day soon.

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