The first two days were spent doing almost nothing but lying on the beach, eating and reading. Perfect. On our third day we decided to check out the Tulum ruins. The city of Tulum, where we were staying, is located on the Yucatan peninsula, which was occupied by the Mayans for a few thousand years. The Mayans were skilled at constructing buildings out of the native limestone, and thus there are many ruins that exist to this day. The Tulum ruins are only a couple miles north of where we were staying and were great. The ruins are now a park and very well maintained. The grounds are beautiful, perched high on a cliff above the Caribbean.
Later in the day we took a drive south from Tulum towards Punta Allen. The road was one of the worst gravel roads that I have ever driven on. The map deceived us in terms of the distance to Punta Allen so we drove and we drove without ever getting anywhere. Finally we turned around and headed back. The road was entirely within a biosphere reserve whose visitor's center we stopped at on the way out. The man we met while there would lead us to one of the greatest tourism experiences of our lives. His name is Aldo and he owns a small business that runs tours through the reserve. We made plans to go on a 5hr tour with him the next day.
We arrived at 9am and readied our things. After a short walk through the forest we arrived at the dock where the tour boats are kept. The dock is placed on the inland side of a narrow peninsula between the ocean and a freshwater lagoon. Withing 2 min of casting off we had seen two crocodiles. Shortly thereafter we passed an island with a female osprey at her nest. From there we cruised through a narrow channel lined with mangroves that opened up to the sea. I've always been fascinated with the interactions that occur when rivers meet large bodies of water and this spot did not disappoint. From there we turned around and went north directly up the middle of the lagoon to a channel entrance. The system of channels is naturally occurring but was widened by the Mayans over a thousand years ago for trading purposes. The canals range in width from about 6 to 20 ft and the sides are vertical limestone. They are also incredibly long. We rode through the longest stretch for about 9 miles. It was amazing to think that these were all widened and maintained by hand with nothing but very hard wooden tools. We drove through one more lagoon and docked at an entrance to another set of ruins named Muyil. These were "off the beaten path" and so there were very few other tourists around. Aldo pointed out an impressive amount of the native flora and fauna and it's significance to the Mayan people. The information signs were all printed in Spanish, Mayan and English. To our surprise Aldo was nearly fluent in Mayan as he demonstrated the Mayan pronunciation of the descriptions. We then boarded the boat to make our way to our flotation. We were both somewhat unsure of what this would entail until we reached the place on the canal where the flotation was to take place, he handed us a couple life jackets and told us to jump in. The term flotation was quite literal, and the objects floating were us. The current was running at about 5 mph and we floated down the canal for about 25 min. It's very difficult to describe how enjoyable the experience was. After that Aldo served us a traditional Mayan lunch of Yucatan style tamales. They were delicious. And finally we headed back to the dock to end our awesome 7 1/2 hr tour.
The next day we started with our traditional delicious breakfast on the beach. My favorite was the chilaquiles and Leah wavered between the huevos rancheros and the huevos mexicanos. Matched with homemade tortillas and fresh squeezed orange juice our days started off great without fail. Our goal this day was to tour some more Mayan ruins. We set off for Coba, one of the more popular destinations, behind Chichen-Itza. The ruins themselves were spread out over a large area throughout the forest. There were three primary areas and we visited each one. As soon as you walk through the entrance you must pass through a literal tunnel of guides offering you their services. We opted to forego as the Tulum ruins had signs that were very informative and we expected the same from Coba. Unfortunately Coba had very few signs and so we were left primarily to our imaginations. That was not all bad though as there seems to be a lot of overlap of buildings and their respective purposes amongst the multiple ruins.
We had considered going to Chichen Itza that afternoon but deemed it unnecessary and headed back to town for some lunch. We reverted back to reading on the beach for the remainder of the afternoon.
Friday we felt a little urgency to get going on a couple of activities that we had wanted to do, namely a cenote tour and snorkeling. Cenote is a term used for an opening to the below ground portion of an extensive freshwater river system that traverses the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cenotes are more commonly known as sinkholes. After driving a couple of miles into the jungle and taking a short walk with our guide, we arrived at a fairly non-descript hole in the ground. This hole was different in that it had stairs leading to a large cavern filled with beautiful freshwater. The three of us jumped in and our guide motioned for us to follow him. The cavern appeared to be just a simple space, no exits or entrances, but suddenly our guide had ducked into what appeared to be the wall of the cave. Once upon his exit place we realized that there was just enough room to squeeze under the wall into a very low and narrow cave that brought us into another cavern. Throughout the entire tour the caves were filled with stalactites and stalagmites, remnants of the last ice age when the Yucatan was more dry. Another cool feature were tree roots that extended from the roof of the caverns all the way to the water's surface, 15 ft in some cases. After waking up some bats with his spotlight and showing us just how dark it is with no spotlight, he gave us some time to swim around and enjoy the place. Definitely a good experience, but not a place either of us would want to spend too much time.
In the afternoon we drove to Akumal and took care of the last thing that we had wanted to do while there. Akumal is a small coastal town on a sheltered bay where diving and snorkeling are very popular. The weather had been very windy while we were there so we figured that with the protection of the bay we would be able to go snorkeling. Sure enough, we joined a group and swam around for about an hour and a half. We saw 5 sea turtles, squid, a barracuda and numerous brightly colored fish.
By this time our trip was nearing a close so we headed to Zama's for dinner as it had become our favorite restaurant in the area. There was live music on the beach, a light breeze blowing and a strong feeling of not wanting to leave.
The morning did come and we did go for a swim at sunrise and we did eat one last ridiculously decadent breakfast before checking out and heading for home.