Chichen Itzá - in Photos

There’s not much I can add to the reams of information on the history of the place and commentary on the pros and cons of visiting the Mayan archeological site of Chichen Itza, so I will keep the wordiness to a minimum.

I don’t often go, thanks to the horrible vendor situation and the crowds from the “Riviera Maya” and Cancun thronging to see the roped off buildings with 15,000 other people.

If you get there early enough, you can get a few shots of the site without too many humans. Click to enlarge and see the complete photo.

Enjoy!


Hacienda Chohchoh, a Dog, and some Flowers

It’s not unlike me to see a road leading off of whatever road I am driving and absolutely turn off my route to see where this new little path will take me.

On this particular occasion, after a splendid lunch at the Pueblo Pibil restaurant in Tixcocob, I saw a road but there was no sign to what turned out to be the Chohchoh hacienda, once a sisal industry plantation but now partly abandoned and partly refurbished as a cattle ranching operation.

While coasting through town, I also saw the ubiquitous street dog, in rough shape with a piece of his back leg missing, a chewed up ear and a large tick sucking on his face. Of course there was no way to get close enough to him as skittish as he was, to pull off the tick, unfortunately.

Nearby, the most amazing flowers and a flock of butterflies dropping by to pollinate or whatever it is they do on the flowers.




Wild Lunch at Codornejo - Akil, Yucatan

If you are in the area around Oxcutzcab, Akil, Tekax you might want to stop in at Codornejo (a combination of codorniz - quail, and conejo - rabbit) which features - surprise! quail and rabbit as its specialities.

The non-air conditioned restaurant is nicely set up, the service is friendly the platter with rabbit and codorniz is tasty, if a bit dry. The best part of lunch here is the natural agua de mamey, which on a hot day is superbly refreshing. You can even buy the frozen concentrate to take home.

There’s a small pool if you are with kids, so they are not screaming about how hot it is - just toss them in the water. There are tables nearby so you can eat and keep an eye on them at the same time. Coconut ice cream for dessert is served in a little jicara (gourd) which is cute.


The Church of Hoctun in June

Hoctun (Mayan hoc - ti rip up and tun, stone) is a town best known for its colorful cemetery (considered one of the prettiest cemeteries in the country) that has appeared in this blog at some point, but it also has a photogenic church located in the main square, worth a stop on the way to or from the cemetery, as you continue your trip either to Izamal or on to Valladolid and/or Cancun.

For photographers, visit early, to get the best light in the cemetery and also at the church. These photos were taken in June, when the flamboyan or Royal Ponciana trees are in full bloom and contrast spectacularly with the stone church, the yellow walls and the deep blue Yucatan sky.

Here are some photos (click to enlarge) to whet your appetite.

Los Chocantes Caves - Revisited

In my previous article on Tekax I mentioned the Chocantes caves and described my brief visit there with Pedro, the owner of the property and the most chill guide ever.

On this latest visit, with a group of Lawson’s guides, we took the entire tour, crawling inside the caves to see the magnificent crystal formations (hence its name Gruta de los Cristales) and cruising down the hillside on the Yucatans longest zip line (150 meters in 14 seconds).

Ideally, you would want to set aside 4 hours or so to visit the site completely and thoroughly. Again, like at Chacmultun, bring a cooler with lots of ice, Gatorades and water - you will need it. And while this tour can be done in a day from Merida, I would highly recommend an overnight, either in Akil, or as we did on this occasion (six people) in a lovely airbnb property in nearby Tzucacab.

Pedro and his staff are friendly, professional and the operation is supervised and safe. Guides in front and back keep an eye on the group so no one falls behind during the hiking and caving. All zip line activities are professional and done with the latest equipment so no one goes flying off into the underbrush at a 100 miles per hour.

Contact us at lawsonsyucatan@gmail.com to set up a private tour for your group to this area including lodging and meals along with the many activities.

Enjoy the photos!


Tekax - History, Nature and Mayan Archeological Sites

Tekax, officialy known as Tekax de Alvaro Obregon, after the Mexican revolutionary politician and one-time president, is next door to Akil and very near Oxcutzcab, making it another destination for those who happen to find themselves in the ‘citrus belt’ of the Yucatan.

Vegetation abounds on the outskirts, lush green and varied. Fields and orchards attest to the rich soil in the area. The town itself, a two hour drive from Merida, is historically interesting and relevant as well. Definitely worth at least one overnight stay while you are exploring the area.

You will see that the town is very colorful, with lots of colonial era constructions including the famous ‘casa de tres pisos’ a three story home owned by a wealthy property owner and the site of bloodshed during the Caste War. In fact, you can see the marks on the dilapidated wooden front door, apparently made by Mayan machetes as they tried to gain entrance to this imposing house. The place is still owned by descendants of the last owners and since it is such a huge undertaking to maintain and perhaps restore it, you might very well be able to purchase this and sink a ton of money into it.

The main square central park area, featuring a wrought iron fence, is one of two such parks in the Yucatan, the other being in Valladolid. There has been a great effort made to landscape and plant, as well as providing citizens and visitors with places to sit and contemplate life while listening to piped in music, often classical. On the morning when I was there last, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring) was wafting over the area.

Nearby is the impressive Chacmultun Mayan site, and there are a gazillion caves to explore (with a guide, por favor) the most famous of which are Sartenejas and Chocantes. The nearest known cenote is San Mateo, near the town of Peto, a bit of a drive from Tekax.

Enjoy the photos! (click to enlarge and see them completely)


Chacmultun: the last site on the Puuc Route

At the southern end of the Puuc route, which begins in Uxmal and extends through Kabah, Labna, Sayil and other less-known and some completely unrestored settlements still hiding in the jungle, there sits Chacmultun. Chacmultun means hill of red rock, which is the original name its discoverers gave it as the stone quarries in the region produce red limestone, as opposed to the whiter version in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula. In fact, many Mayan sites are known by names that probably have nothing to do with their original names; given that there is no text to consult, no stellae to interpret, no record at all. That big hill in Coba? We’ll just call it Nohoch Mul. Big Hill. OK.

Back to Chacmultun. This site is a collection of three or four settlements, with Puuc-style temples and mounds, clustered around a small, fertile valley filled with rich red earth which would have been the agricultural production center at the time (it still is used for farming now).

You will see partially restored buildings complete with friezes, cornices and decorative elements, some of which are cracked, others still intact. You can visit and clamber around most of the site, and will notice some very lame efforts by the INAH to “preserve” some of what is there. Some of the restoration is also quite miserable, the chultun in the main part of Chacmultun proper being a prime example (see photo). In one of the buildings there are paintings on the wall and to preserve them the specialists at INAH have simply plastered over them. To protect stellae on the ground, depicting hieroglyphs and carvings, they have been flipped over so the sun and rain don’t erode them. Very high tech. Parts of the structures have crumbled into ruinous but very recognizable chunks, which would not be that difficult to restore, if there were some will on the part of the folks in charge.

The view from one of the areas visited - Xet Pol I believe - a long walk on a small road through the fertile field and up a small hill, is truly stunning. You feel you can see to the end of the world from there, and the breeze under a shady tree is a most welcome sensation.

The site is stunning and highly recommended if you have any interest in the history of the Mayans in this area. My guide said that the area was populated from the year 300 BC to just before the Spanish arrived at the end of the 1400’s and commercially was important as much of the paper and exotic bird feathers came from the area.

Take a Guide and take Water on Ice

You can hire a guide locally (none at the site, check in Tekax tourism office) and you will get so much more out of the experience than if you go alone. Once at the site, note that you will be required to pay an entry fee of about 50 pesos per person and that there is NO water of any kind for visitors, which included bathroom facilities. None. So make sure you have taken care of your bathroom needs before getting there. When you finish the tour, be aware there is nothing hydrating available, so have that with you in your ice box in the air conditioned vehicle.

There is a lot of walking and if you go in June, as I did very recently, the 2-3 hour visit under a blazing summer sun which feels relentless will make your head explode. That cooler with water, Gatorade or similar and plenty of ice, a vehicle with air conditioning; these will make the trip a far better experience and possibly save you from getting heat stroke.

Lawson’s Original Yucatan Excursions can design a custom and private excursion to the area, which I suggest should be a two day trip with an overnight in Tekax. This way you can enjoy the site on one day, relax in the evening and enjoy the town of Tekax, and the next day hit some caves before returning to Merida. Contact us at lawsonsyucatan@gmail.com for more info or to book this trip.

Photos

Akil, Yucatan - Citrus Country

Tucked in between the more well-known towns of Oxcutzcab and Tekax, the former being the hub of all citrus and fruit production in the state, and the latter full of history and natural wonders, Akil is a small village with not much to offer but still a typical southern Yucatan town, with much lush vegetation, fruit plantations and the unique distinction of producing fine athletes!

In town, you will notice little in the way of colonial wealth on display in the form of crumbling mansions, but you will see never-ending sessions of kids practicing basketball in the main square. Mayan thatch roof chozas abound as do a gazillion malix street dogs.

There is a cute airbnb in town where you can set up your base camp for exploring the area, and it is much more pleasant than the rather unappealing, commercial hotel offerings in “Ox” as it is known, or even Tekax, which at this point deserves some quality lodging options along the lines of this airbnb.

Enjoy the photos!



Las Coloradas, Salt Production Center of the Yucatan - Day 2

After dinner in Tizimin at the number one restaurant on TripAdvisor, we had breakfast this morning at the number two restaurant on TripAdvisor. I liked number 2 better. Good service, good food and central downtown location. Then, it was off to the coast to meet our guide Mario aka Jacky Chan, whose nickname is inspired by the fact that he does bear a certain resemblance to the martial arts actor. He took us on a walking tour of the salt evaporation pools, with their distinct hues and also gave us background, history and scientific explanation of what we were seeing. Great guide!

Besides viewing the pink lagoon(s) there is also what they call the Mayan bath, which is a clay like sand, full of healthy minerals and no organic matter (no smell and good for your skin) that is applied to your face or the whole body if you like. Later, you wash it of a little further down the road at the “blue lagoon” which is fed by ocean water from the sea, just behind the dune on the left in the photos.

After leaving Mario, we visited doña Miguelina, who, with her family had prepared for us a delicious lunch of sikil pak, ceviche and tikin xic (grilled fish, marinated in achiote). We ate two fish: pargo and tambor. I recommend the pargo most definitely!


Las Coloradas, Salt Production Center of the Yucatan - Day 1

On a good road trip, the journey there should be as much fun as the actual destination. In this post are some of the highlights for a trip to Las Coloradas, the salt flats that are near Rio Lagartos and lately famous for their “pink lagoons” which are man made evaporation ponds vital to the production of salt. The area was used by the Mayans back in the day, and in the 1930’s a businessman from Merida bought the land and began what is now one of the country’s major salt producers, with 80% of the salt produced going to the national market. The commercial brand of the salt produced here is Sal Sol and you can find it in any local supermarket.

Starting in Merida, you can take one of two routes: the toll or free highway to Valladolid and then up through Tizimin and on to the coast; or, the back road which start by heading towards Motul, home of the famous huevos motuleños, served up by doña Evelia in the municipal market. This should be your route and Motul your first stop, for breakfast of one, two or three (or more!) eggs.

With your breakfast completed and sustenance assured for the trip, have a look at the cenote and church before leaving Motul. Definitely worth a look!

The destination on this trip, for Day 1, was Tizimin, where an airbnb rental was waiting for us. Along the way there are plenty of stops to be made here and there and your trip can take anywhere between 2 and 4 hours, depending on how much fun you are having or how many photos you feel inspired to take. In our case, it took most of the day. Notice at kilometer 61, you will feel the need, the urge, to stop and photograph this pink gem. Temax is a good photo stop as well, and Chenché de las Torres is truly out of this world, if you can get in.

Finally, we arrived at Tizimin and after some navigational challenges with Google Maps and the recently changed one-way street system, we arrived around 4 PM at our airbnb.

In the evening a little dinner, walking and exploring downtown Tizimin on foot and by car - it reminded me of Merida 30 years ago - and then back to rest up for the following day, which was to be all about the salt, the beach and a most amazing Tikin Xic lunch!

Calakmul, Campeche

One of the greatest Mayan ruins sites on the peninsula, Calakmul is also a jungle paradise where you can see many local animals; including - if you are very lucky - the elusive jaguar. If you are looking for a "lost city in the jungle" this is definitely it.

The trip I recently did was Merida - Campeche - Champoton (lunch by the sea) - Escarcega - Xpujil where we overnighted in a small but decent enough hotel. The next day was spent at Calakmul and we returned to Xpujil for the evening. On the third day, onwards to Chetumal where I left my guests to take their flight back to San Miguel de Allende via Mexico City. The drive back from Chetumal to Merida takes about 5 hours if not making any stops. 

For a future trip I would spend more time in the area, as there are many other ruins sites to visit. Perhaps 5 days total leaving from and returning to Merida, making stops here and there during the driving portions of the trip.

Art Galleries - Special Merida Tour

Besides all the usual suspects - ruins, haciendas and cenotes - that visitors to the area love to experience, there is a thriving artistic community in Merida comprised of both locals and newcomers to the area. One very special tour can be arranged to see some of these galleries and meet the artists who create pieces ranging from paint to sculpture and beyond. 

On this day, which lasted about 12 hours or so, we visited artisans in their homes and galleries, had some great food in spectacular settings and even threw in a home viewing or two. A great day out with two local experts who I shall call Lucinda and Shirley, who are extremely knowledgeable both about art and where to find it in Merida.

An architectural masterpiece in Merida; yes, it's for sale.

An architectural masterpiece in Merida; yes, it's for sale.

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The first stop on the tour was a magnificent home, now on the Merida market. A true oasis from the noise and heat outside. The attention to detail and each carefully planned square meter of this home make it really worth a visit. And if you like it enough, you can even buy it and make it your new Merida pied a terre. 

After the house tour, a look at some galleries! Some of these you would never know about, as they hide behind an unremarkable and unmarked door on a hot Merida side street, while others stand out boldly, welcoming one and all to peruse their interiors.

Of course, we had to have lunch at some point. Here, the Hacienda Santa Cruz on the outskirts of Merida. Great food, fabulous place.

Puuc Route Day Trip

There are some die-hard Maya-philes that want to see all the sites on the so-called Puuc route or Ruta Puuc en español and these generally comprise Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna, in that order as you are heading out from Uxmal. 

There is also Sabacche, which has ruins and a small regional animal preserve, including an ocelot what is friendly and will let you join it in its cage (enter at your own risk) and a really interesting feature that showcases the air currents blowing around in the caves beneath your feet. Opening times there are sporadic so it's not always a sure thing. 

If you are really determined, you can also visit the LolTun caves, which kind of make up the end of the route and take you into citrus growing country. Very scenic and photogenic around there, with lots of fruit trees from mangos to oranges to limes and bananas, due to the excellent kankab or red soil.

A day out here, including Uxmal and LolTun, can easily be a 10 to 12 hour day, depending on how interested you are and how much time is spent at each site.

Here are a few shots of the ruins of Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna, in that order.

Kabah (above) is known for it's long facade of Chaac sculptures covering one entire wall and it's beautiful arch, leading to a sacbe that once went all the way to Uxmal

Sayil (above) is stunning

Xlapak (above) has one pretty building that has been restored and several mounds. There is so little here in terms of restored or reconstructed buildings that the site has no entry fee

Labna (above) has probably the most beautiful Mayan arch in all of the Puuc. It would be fantastic if the INAH could restore the small square around it