Cancun is home to beautiful hotels, resorts and numerous attractions, the area surrounding
the city is known for its wealth of Mayan ruins. About 2 hours south of the city rests one
of the most beautiful ancient sites in Mexico, the ruins of Tulum. This beautiful site is
one of the finest attractions for a Cancun vacation. Though smaller than the well-known
Chichen Itza, Tulums majestic setting sets it apart. Perched above the Caribbean Sea
on a rocky cliff, the ruins are simultaneously captivating and foreboding.
Founded in the early 1200s, the city of Tulum reached its
zenith in the 1400s as a port city in a decentralized Mayan kingdom. After the Spanish
came upon the settlement in 1518, the conquistadores spoke of Tulum in the same breath as
Seville. Though Tulum certainly wasnt as large as Seville, the Spaniards perceptions
speak volumes about the splendor of the site. The Spanish would later occupy the city for
70 years until the settlement was abandoned.
As the city is protected by walls on three sides, the sea
on the fourth, the approach to the site is an experience in itself. Youll enter the
site through a breach in one of these 16-foot walls. As you traverse the walkway across
the top, you will notice that the wall once separated portions of the city. Beyond any
defensive purpose, these walls divided the ceremonial and governmental sections of the
city from the residential areas.
Directly in front of you, Tulums Castillo (Castle)
towers above the other structures. Besides the remarkable view it offers, the Castillo
probably served as both the communitys primary place of worship and a type of
lookout or primitive lighthouse. At the entrance of the Castillo, a plaza dividing the
structure breaks off into a pair of distinctive temples.
Veering to the left of this plaza, you will enter the
Templo del Dios Descendente (Temple of the Descending God). The diving or descending god
depicted as an upside-down figure above the entrance to the temple appears throughout the
ruins of Tulum. Though the figures precise significance is unknown, it may be
representative of the setting sun, rain or lightning. It is also believed that the
character served as a god of bees, a theory stemming from the fact that honey was one of
the Mayan kingdoms most important exports.
On the opposite side of the Castillo plaza is the Templo
de Las Series Iniciales (Temple of the Initial Series). The name of the temple derives
from the discovery of a stela, or stone marker, bearing a date well before the foundation
of the city, presumably brought to the city from another part of the Mayan kingdom.
When youve finished exploring the Castillo, two
other temples await your visit. The Temple of the Frescoes features restored murals
depicting Mayan Gods and symbols of nature's fertility such as rain, corn and fish. North
of the Castillo, The Temple of the Winds served as a storm warning system. To this day,
approaching storms send whistling sounds through the center of the structure.
To make your visit to Tulum as enjoyable as possible,
here are some additional travel tips. The ruins are open from 8am to 5pm daily, but most
tours dont arrive until about 10am. Hence, if you are able, try to visit Tulum first
thing in the morning before it get too hot and crowded.
When you arrive at the site, here are a few things to
keep in mind to avoid any headaches. Before you get to the ruins you must pass through the
visitor's center, a collection of shops and restaurants. From the visitors center,
you can choose to take a 15 minute walk down the road or board the sites shuttle for
$2. If you have a video camera in tow, expect to pay a $4 fee. It also costs $4 to enter
the site, but the fee is waived on Sunday.
Lastly, be wary of the guides roaming the grounds. Many
may have official badges, but dont be surprised if youre subjected to strange
lines about the Mayan kingdoms connection to aliens. If you enjoy a good story,
however, it might be worth the plunge.
Though Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula are known by
travelers as premier beach destinations, the area is also one of the most bio-diverse
regions in the world. On all sides of Cancun, national parks and nature preserves provide
visitors the opportunity to see unspoiled ecosystems and all their unique species. From
observing marine life while scuba diving to bird watching amongst Mayan ruins, exploration
of wildlife has become one of the region's most popular activities. As you explore nature
in the Yucatan, keep an eye out for some Mexico's most interesting creatures.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to at least 125 species of mammals and approximately 25%
of Mexico's total mammal population. When touring the sites outside of Cancun, try to spot
some of following creatures:
Central American Spider Monkey - Some of the best sites to spot groups of
playful spider monkey are the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Coba. Each of these
popular sites is visited by numerous tours from Cancun and highly recommended by tourists
and travel experts alike.
Jaguar and Puma - There are five species of large felines native to the Yucatan.
Though these cats can sometimes be difficult to find, plenty of tourists have photographed
these beautiful animals throughout the local nature preserves.
Coatimundi and Kinkajou - As two of the region's most unique small mammals, a
chance encounter with one of these oddly-named creatures is always a treat.
Of all the mammals native to the Yucatan, nearly 25% of the species spend their lives
underwater. The warm, peaceful waters off the coast of Cancun have long had the ability to
attract scores of whales and dolphins unlike anywhere else in the world.
Whales - In the waters surrounding the Cancun area, at least 19 different
species of whale can spotted throughout the year. While there are some aquariums and
aquatic preserves that house whales, the best way to see these great open-water creatures
is aboard a Caribbean tour or charter boat.
Dolphins - Favorites of children and adults alike, 11 different species of
dolphin inhabit the Yucatan waters, including the playful Bottlenose Dolphin.
In addition to the diversity of aquatic mammals found in the Yucatan, divers and marine
experts come to Cancun to catch a glimpse of the wide array of tropical fish and unique
sea creatures. At least ten species of shark patrol the Caribbean waters surrounding
Cancun, including the peaceful Whale Shark. Here are a few of the other creatures to look
for while out in the water:
Local Freshwater Fish - In addition to the incredible diversity found in the
Yucatan's freshwater populations, there are a handful of local species sought out by
experts and curious travelers alike. Two of the most popular local species are the Yucatan
Mosquitofish and the Mojarrita. For more of a challenge, try to track down the rare Blind
Eel or Blind White Dama.
Rays - While common varieties of rays can be found near Cancun (Southern
Stingray, Manta Ray, Spotted Eagle Ray), the most interesting species is the Cownose Ray.
Known for their domed heads that split into two distinct lobes, the Cownose Rays migrate
south each year from the Gulf of Mexico in schools as large as 10,000.
The Yucatan Peninsula is also an excellent destination for bird watching as nearly half
of all Mexico's winged creatures reside in the area. One of the best sites for bird
watching is the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve, a natural area known for its incredible
flamingo population. The Isla Contoy is another favorite destination of bird watchers and
one of the best sites in the world to see nesting seabirds. At the ancient city of Uxmal,
Cave Swallows are known to take flight en masse and float above the ruins. Even if you
don't have a chance to visit any of these special sites, you will be granted excellent
bird watching opportunities wherever you travel in the Yucatan.
One of the primary reasons that the Yucatan is able to support so many diverse species
is the support of the government and environmental groups. Unlike any other region in
Latin America, the Yucatan Peninsula features an incredible number of sprawling national
parks and private preserves. Marine life is supported by sites such as Xcalak National
Marine Park and the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, part of the important Mesoamerican
Barrier Reef System. On land, plant and animal species are protected in sites such as the
1.8 million acre Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and Sian Ka'an, one of the largest wilderness
areas in Mexico.
All of the sites mentioned here can be visited as part of
tours departing from Cancun. If you have a specific wildlife interest - for instance, bird
watching or a chance to see jaguars in the wild - you can find specialized tours to fit
your needs. However, even if you don't stray far from the beaches of Cancun, you will
still find plenty of wildlife to enjoy.
About the Author
Justin Burch writes articles about travel
in Cancun and Mexico tourism for the Marriott Resorts.
ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza is located in the northern end of the
Yucatan peninsula. The site is located about a 2 ½ hour drive down the toll
way from Cancun. It is possible to see the site in a day trip from Cancun,
and most tourists tend to do just that. There is a large influx of tourist
around 10:00 a.m. as the tour buses begin to roll in. Chichen Itza is the
most visited site in the Yucatan and can get very crowded at times.
site covers approximately 4 square mile of ground, so it takes quite a bit
of time to explore all the ruins. Some guides recommend that you arrive at
Chichen Itza later in the afternoon when the crowds have begun to thin,
enjoy the light show in the evening, spend the night in one of the local
hotels, and return to the site at opening the next morning before the crowds
get thick and the sun gets hot.
While at Chichen Itza you will see the Pyramid of Kulkulkan. The Maya
believed that Kulkulkan was a feathered serpent who reigned during a golden
age and left by the eastern sea, but not before promising to return again.
Two sides of the pyramid have been completely restored while the other two
remain in the state of ruin. The Maya had an advanced understanding of
astronomy. This building is an example of their knowledge. For example,
there are exactly 365 steps to the top of the pyramid, one step for every
day of the year. And every year on both the spring and the autumn equinox
the sun hits the structure in such a manner to create the illusion of a
shadow in the shape of a serpent which winds down the stairs in a journey
toward the sacred Cenote.
sacred Cenote is in actuality an opening into one of the many underground
rivers located in the area. The Cenote is almost perfectly round, and had
very steep sides, making it impossible for anyone who falls into the water
to make their way back out. There are stories of Mayan youth being thrown
into the Cenote as sacrifices to appease the gods.
Another highlight lies at the base of the pyramid of Kulkulkan. Here you
will find an empty field where Mayan athletes competed in a game of sport
which only the noblest could play. The acoustics of the field are amazing. A
word spoken in a low voice at one end of the field can be heard distinctly
at the other end.
Chichen Itza is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 356 days a year. The light
show begins at 7:00p.m.in the fall and winter and at 8:00p.m. in the spring
and summer. Entrance to the site is 98 pesos or about $10.00 USD. Wear
comfortable walking shoes and bring plenty of water as the temperature gets
hot during the day.
Though Cancun is known for its luxurious resorts and pristine beaches, anyone who has
visited this Mexican city knows that there is plenty to explore throughout the region.
Beginning in the Hotel Zone the heart of all activity in Cancun tourists are
able to take tours to Cancuns rustic downtown area, charter scuba diving and
snorkeling expeditions and even play golf on championship courses. One of the newest
recreation options for Cancuns visitors is Isla Mujeres, a small Caribbean island
just a few miles from the mainland. Since modest development began in the 1970s, Isla
Mujeres has been gaining popularity as a daytrip destination from the resorts of Cancun.
Isla Mujeres (meaning "Island of Women") gained its name from Spanish
colonizers who landed here in the 16th century. Prior to their arrival, this small island
was an uninhabited Mayan province known as Ekab. The Mayans treated the island as a
sanctuary for Ixchel the peaceful goddess of the moon. Upon finding several
architectural and sculptural representations of this goddess, the expedition of Francisco
Fernandez de Cordoba christened the island "Isla Mujeres" in 1517. Though the
Mayan ruins of Isla Mujeres dont compare to sites such as Tulum and Chichen Itza,
the former site of a temple on the southern coast has recently become an outdoor art
museum. Punta Sur, an impressive cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, is the site of 23
massive modern art sculptures. Featuring the work of artists from throughout Latin America
and select international sculptors, Punta Sur has become of favorite destination of art
lovers and adventurous tourists worldwide.
Much like Cancun, there is plenty of natural beauty to experience on Isla Mujeres.
Visitors often start their explorations in El Garafon National Park the
islands popular aquatic sanctuary. Known for its calm waters and colorful fish, El
Garafon has become one of the most popular snorkeling destinations in the Mexican
Caribbean. The park also features a great aquarium that highlights the most interesting
species of the region and some charming cafes and shops. As visitors flock to Cancun for
the white sand beaches, many tourists also choose to visit the beaches of Isla Mujeres.
Though the beaches of Isla Mujeres might lack the grandeur of Cancun, beaches such as
Playa Norte offer great places to swim and relax. On the western side of the island,
lining the Bay of Mujeres, you will find the beaches known as Playa Paraiso, Playa
Lancheros and Playa Indios. Besides offering all the amenities and recreation
opportunities of larger beaches, this area is also a local hotspot for dining and
A large part of the expanding tourism industry on Isla Mujeres is devoted to
ecotourism, an increasingly popular style of travel devoted to the admiration of natural
beauty and the responsible exploration of unique ecosystems. One of the most popular
activities for ecotourism is Birds Island, located just a short boat ride from Isla
Mujeres. As the premier preserve for Caribbean marine birds, Birds Island offers a
rare opportunity to witness the regions most interesting species in a natural
If your day trip to Isla Mujeres becomes an overnight stay, you can dine and dance in
the village of Isla Mujeres. A walk through this charming fishing village will yield
several restaurants serving the freshest seafood imaginable and friendly bars popular with
the islands small population of 13,000. You will also notice that the island has a
very relaxed feeling in the evenings, as most visitors return to Cancun after completing
It is easier than ever to experience the unique world of Isla Mujeres as ferries leave
the ports of Cancun every half hour for the short trip to the island. If you want to spend
some time amongst the peaceful, crystal-clear Caribbean waters when you visit Cancun
make the short trip to the picturesque and historical "Island of Women."
Flowing from the jungle-filled mountains above Puerto Vallarta, the Rio
Cuale cuts right through the heart of this majestic city. Before emptying
into Banderas Bay, this river provides several unique activities to Puerto
Vallarta's visitors. One of the most overlooked sites in Puerto Vallarta is
Isla Rio Cuale, a natural island in the middle of the river near the city's
downtown area. Though Isla Rio Cuale is only six blocks long and one block
wide, there is much to do and see any time of year.
Though Isla Cuale might not receive much more than passing mentions in
travel guides, the island has become an integral part of Vallartan culture.
It is believed the island was created many years ago after a strong rainy
season caused the river to overflow and sediment to collect in its center.
As Puerto Vallarta developed in the mid-20th century, the island came to
serve as the unofficial center of the city's casual pedestrian culture.
Bridges were constructed off nearly every side of the island, connecting
Isla Rio Cuale to several of the city's most desirable neighborhoods. Today,
the island boasts numerous shops and restaurants, an archaeological museum,
a popular nightclub, miles of peaceful trails, amazing scenery and one of
Mexico's largest public markets - the Rio Cuale Flea Market. Besides being a
distinctive tourist destination, the island and its unspoiled nature serve
as an urban oasis for the city's residents.
the western side of the island, bordering the bay and Insurgentes Street,
you will find the incredibly popular Rio Cuale Flea Market. With two stories
of vendors selling everything from locally-made leather goods and blankets
to pottery and jewelry, this market is the best place to find a bargain in
Puerto Vallarta. As you browse the stalls, feel free to try out your best
bargaining tactics. You might be surprised to find that most sellers are
friendly and receptive. After you have finished shopping at the flea market,
you can dine at one of the small cafes located nearby on the island's
While the western side of the island seems to match the energy and
excitement of the city, the eastern end of Isla Rio Cuale serves as a quiet
sanctuary. The narrow paths that wind through the trees are perfect for bike
riding and peaceful strolls. Local families are known to relax and picnic in
the shade of Isla Rio Cuale's large trees. As the island also serves as a
refuge for plants and animals, tourists often try to spot the families of
iguanas that reside in the treetops. On the easternmost tip of the island,
you will find the Centro Cultural Cuale - a popular destination for outdoor
performances, film screenings and art classes.
the middle of the island's botanical garden, you will find the Museum Rio
Cuale - a charming archeological museum devoted to local cultures. If
possible, try to visit the museum on a Tuesday at 1 pm when the director
offers her free weekly lecture in English. If you are more interested in the
recent history of Puerto Vallarta, stop by the John Huston Plaza - the
city's dedication to the director of "Night of the Iguana." Credited for
putting Puerto Vallarta on the international tourism map, Huston and his
film are revered to this day, several decades after its release.
a handful of narrow suspension bridges connecting Isla Rio Cuale to the
mainland, getting to the island is considered by many visitors as one of the
most exciting activities. Beyond Isla Rio Cuale, you will find the Zona
Romantica - a popular place for upscale dining and entertainment - and the
Downtown Puerto Vallarta neighborhoods. The island also connects to El
Malecon, the city's famed boardwalk along Banderas Bay.
Besides being at the heart of the action in Puerto Vallarta, Isla Rio Cuale
is often referred to by locals as "el lugar mas bonito" (the most beautiful
place in Puerto Vallarta). Come experience the market and the cafes, but
stay for the natural beauty and solitude.