jewel December 22nd, 2007
As promised, here is a more in depth posting/review of our fantastic Mexico vacation. We both really needed a vacation and we chose the perfect one. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I came back from a vacation feeling this refreshed and rejuvenated. We had a blast and we both want to go back and explore more ruins.
First, I want to say how much we liked the hotels where we stayed. While in Cancun, we stayed at the Westin Resort and Spa, which is at the far edge of the hotel zone (and only about 10 minutes from the airport). We wanted to be away from the downtown party scene as we wanted to relax a bit in between excursions. The Westin is a wonderful hotel, we highly recommend it and will definitely stay there again should we go back to Cancun.
Upon our arrival we were given warm towels to wash the travel away so to speak and the staff was very friendly and helpful. It’s a beautiful modern hotel with a fantastic view of the ocean. Being as how it is still off season for them (just, actually, one of their waiters mentioned that starting on 20 Dec they were pretty much full for the next several months) they upgraded our room to an ocean view room with a patio. It was a nice room – very Caribbean in flavor – and the view was gorgeous. Also, the staff was great. Neither of us speaks Spanish and thankfully, most of the staff spoke pretty good English. They were friendly and helpful and made us feel at home. The food was also quite good as were the cocktails.
For our overnight at Chichen Itza, we stayed at the Mayaland Hotel. We booked one of their bungalow’s for one night so that we could enjoy the archaeological park early in the morning before the tour buses started arriving. Mayaland hotel and it’s grounds are stunningly gorgeous. We didn’t see what the rooms in the main hotel were like, but the bungalow we stayed in was pretty neat. If you are expecting the Ritz, then this place probably isn’t for you. The bungalows aren’t luxurious, but are very much adequate and they are really quite neat. The woodwork on the doors, window frames and furniture is stunning. There were only a couple negatives, in our opinions; the beds were a bit hard – fine for one night, though – and the water in the shower never really got hot. Even still, we’d happily stay there again as we both loved the little bungalows.
The bungalows were built in the 1920′s for the archaeologists that were excavating Chichen Itza. They are scattered throughout the Mayaland Hotel property and are nicely private. While there we found the food to be fairly simple, but quite good and once again the staff was fantastic. Many reviews I read prior to going mentioned that the staff were terrible, but we found quite the opposite to be true. Of course while we were eating breakfast before setting out for the ruins we did see an example of Americans that give us all a bad name. Nothing seemed to be good enough for them. I guess your experience is what you make it. We even found a Mexican beer we both really liked – Montejo. It’s made by Mondelo and, unlike Corona, this beer is yummy yummy. Sadly, Montejo wasn’t available at the Westin, but I will be looking for it at Total Beverage…
Ok, now on to the really good stuff.
After arriving on Thursday, we settled in with some food and cocktails. It was certainly a lovely way to start a vacation.
Tulum is one of the newest Mayan archaeological Mayan sites. It’s right on the beach on the edge of a cliff and wow, what a view! This ruin site is much smaller than, say, Chichen Itza, but it is in some ways more impressive. First, there is the stunning view of the ocean and second, when you are outside the park you can’t really tell what’s inside. We passed through this narrow and short archway and then – wow! Also, unlike Chichen Itza, there aren’t vendors trying to lure you into parting with your cash while you are trying to enjoy a bit of history and culture (more on that later). Tulum is the first Mayan site either of us had been to. If you ever find yourself in that part of the world and both Tulum and Chichen Itza are on your ‘to see’ list, visit Tulum first. As I mentioned, it is a smaller site and it will give you an excellent taste of what Mayan culture and architecture was like. The tour was fantastic and our guide was very experienced and told us quite a lot about what we have been able to determine about Mayan history.
After we left Tulum, we were off to Xel Ha (pronounced ‘shell ha’). It’s a water park. Quite lovely, although fun in the sun isn’t really our thing. We booked an hour dolphin swim and it was a blast! Definitely a highlight. They put us in groupos of 5 and there were 2 dolphins per group. They started out swimming among us and letting us pet them and such – one of the other people in our group was terrified at first, but she relaxed a bit into it and had a really good time. The best thing about this hour was getting pushed by one of the dolphins so that you are almost flying. Wow! I’d love to do that again.
Saturday we reserved for relaxation, food and drink so we could recharge so we could really enjoy our time at Chichen Itza. It was a good plan.
Sunday, bright and early and again with Gray Line Tours, we set off for Chichen Itza. Our tour guide for this trip was Isidro. The trip to Chichen Itza took longer than did the return. On the way down they stopped off at a souvenir area so everyone could use the restrooms and, of course, shop. I could have done without the detour as I really wanted to spend my time at Chichen Itza, but several of the group seemed to enjoy their time there and they even spent some cash. Hopefully they remembered to bargain with the vendors, as the prices for things were a bit marked up because they expect people to haggle. From what I am told, if you speak Spanish you can get better deals than if you don’t.
Once we got to the Mayaland Hotel, our temporary home base, we got a buffet lunch and some entertainment before our guided Chichen Itza tour. As I mentioned above, the Mayaland Hotel and grounds are gorgeous. They even have peacocks and a couple cats – one of which was a kitten and I just wanted to take him home, he was so cute!).
After lunch Isidro gave us a guided tour of the Chichen Itza ruins. He had already warned us all about the vendors and how they will say just about anything to get you to stop and look at their stuff, and once you stop they really do the hard sell to try and get you to buy stuff. There are also people (women, mostly) that wander about trying to sell little embroidered things for a buck. For the most part, I find the presence of the wandering panhandlers (I don’t know how else to describe them) and the vendors to be quite distracting and it takes away from the overall experience. If you can tune them out and just absorb the history, it’s a wonderful thing. I think it would be better to have a section of the park that is dedicated to a marketplace where people can sell their wares. In my opinion it should be accessible and visible, but somewhere where it does not take away from the experience of the archaeological site.
During the tour, Isidro included lots of history and trivia and even showed us all just how much acoustics were important to the Mayans. If you stand at the base of the Temple of Kukulcan in front of the stairs and clap your hands, the sound that echoes back to you sounds like a bird. It’s wild! After the tour we wandered around on our own for a couple of hours and took many pictures. Then we headed back to the hotel for some food and drink and relaxation before the after dark laser show.
The narration for the laser show is all in Spanish. We opted to not get the translation headsets and that was fine. The show itself was pretty cool, although our view was kind of obstructed by people that decided to move their chairs up to the front without regard at all as to how their acts effected anyone else. We ran into quite a lot of inconsiderate people there, actually — taking pictures with flash, lighting their lighters to try and find their way around, in spite of the fact that if they would have just let their eyes adjust they would have been better off, moving their chairs, etc without any regard for anyone else. A few people even thought they would just stand in the front not caring that they were blocking the views of about a third of the people there. A park ranger finally told them they had to find a seat. Even still it was a pretty good show. I don’t think any of my pictures turned out at all, but I’ll find out soon… Another thing I found distracting, but in a good way, was the sky cleared and we could see so many stars. It was beautiful.
We got up early the next morning to get to the park when it opened so that we could get some pictures without a bunch of people about. That worked like a charm and I completely recommend doing that. In the morning it was nice and cool and there were no vendors and the buses don’t start coming in until around 10am. We spent 2 hours just walking around and taking pictures. It was the most amazing 2 hours. We went in and out of the park for awhile after that, but it did get kind of crowded and hot so we pretty much called it a day and did some shopping and had a couple beers and some lunch. In the late afternoon we headed back to the Westin to finish up our best vacation ever.
And now we are home again.
If you want to read about the places we visited:
Our Mexico photo galleries are on my main site.