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Experience ancient culture with three day hikes at the Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula.
By Karen Kefauver
Are you ready to relax in the sunshine and experience the pura vida (pure life) of the sea and sand? If so, it's time to head to Mexico's tranquil town of Tulum, with its miles of palm-lined beaches, warm turquoise water and a laid-back atmosphere.
Famous for its Mayan archeological sites, Tulum lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula, just a 90-minute drive south of Cancun. It is a peaceful oasis where you can unwind-and also maintain your fitness with day hikes at the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Coba and Chichen Itza.
Mexico's largest coastal ruins are in the Tulum Archeological Zone, a lO-minute drive from the town of Tulum. Perched above the sea, the ruins-including 60 well-preserved structures-were part of a series of Mayan forts and watchtowers built along the coast. The site was occupied from 1200 AD on.
Take time to wander amongst the ornately carved stone buildings and examine the gargoyle faces. As you walk, imagine what day-to-day life was like back in 1450, the time when many of the buildings were constructed in what later became a prosperous trading community. Particularly impressive is HEI Castillo" (the castle], a towering pyramid on a limestone cliff overlooking the sea. From the ruins, a steep stairway leads down to a small beach, full of pristine coves, so bring your bathing suit and pack a picnic. For relaxed exploration, spend half a day at the Tulum ruins. Arrive in the morning, before the tour buses, and walk around the cliff-top ruins. It's an easy walk among the various buildings and structures, but do wear sturdy shoes and a hat.
Northwest of Tulum, approximately a 40-kilometre drive inland, lies Coba, another impressive Mayan ruin. Coba is believed to contain up to 6,500 structures, of which only a small fraction have been excavated and restored. With many big structures still covered by tangled vegetation, Coba is a wild place with birds and butterflies in the jungle canopy.
Dating from the Classic Period,
600 to 900 AD, after which it was abandoned for unknown reasons, Coba supported up to 45,000 inhabitants at its height and is thought to have been an important trading post. Coba contains the greatest number of remaining ancient, stone-paved roads (sacbe) and is also known for a number of elaborately carved vertical stone tablets (stalae). Most of the stalae are found at the Grupo Macanxob, a beautiful one-kilometre walk from the entrance.
Meaning "big mound," Nohoch Mul is a 42-metre pyramid that rises even higher than the more famous El Castillo in Chichen ltza. Those who climb, stair by stair, to the top will be rewarded with stunning views of the jungle and lakes.
Set on a sprawling 50 square kilometres, allow a day for exploring the area by foot or by bicycle. Rental bikes and bike taxis pedaled by guides are also available at the ruins.
The famous Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza are over 1,500 years old and are the best-known Mayan ruins in Mexico. The site is divided into sections: The north grouping of structures is distinctly Toltec in style; the central group appears to be from the early period; and the southern group is known as "The Old Chichen." Allocate a day or two to visit all three sections.
The main attraction is the central pyramid, El Castillo del Serpiente Emplumado, which means "Castle of the Plumed Serpent." After a 15-minute walk from the park entrance, you emerge from a small wooded area to behold the famous pyramid in a grassy field. From a distance, the pyramid
looks small, but as you walk closer, its massiveness grows intimidating. You can climb the 91 steps to the top of the temple and survey the panoramic view. It is a steep and demanding climb but well worth it.
Just beyond El Castillo you will find a large ball court where Mayan men played a game called pok ta pok. Anthropologists believe that the object of the game was to hurl a ball through a ring that was mounted on a wall, seven meters above the ground.
Try to visit Chichen Itza early in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid the hot midday sun.
Halifax Stanfield International Airport has direct flights to Cancun on Air Canada, Conquest Vacations, Signature Vacations and others; check out www.flyhalifax.com. For Tulum and
Coba ruins, there are a variety of beachside lodgings, plus yoga classes and spas offered at www.ecotulum.com. There are hotels in Chichen Itza, including Mayaland, Club Med and Hacienda Chichen, next to the ruins. There is also lodging in Piste, a village one mile beyond the ruins, and Valladolid, which is 25 miles beyond. Z
- Freelance writer Karen Kefauver specializes in writing stories on adventure travel and endurance sports. [email protected]