The Plus Tour is a well organized ten-hour tour that picks guests up from the hotel around 7:30 AM. Feeder buses pick guests up from hotels, drop them off at a meeting point near the airport and from there the tourists board their respective tour buses. This process takes about an hour and the actual tour starts around 8:30 AM. The tour is managed by four people – the driver, a bilingual head tour guide, a Spanish only tour guide, and a service person. The air-conditioned bus was comfortable for the purpose. Our head tour guide Raymundo engaged us with informational talk. On the two-hour bus ride, he held two sessions educating us about the Mayans, the local flora/fauna, and other things. The roads are devoid of traffic and the landscape itself is very barren – the entire state of Quintana Roo was sparsely populated until development for tourism started in the ‘70s. Even now, the state’s population is less than 1.5 million with the majority living in Cancun city and its vicinity. The infertile landscape is primarily because Quintana Roo and the adjacent state of Yucatan is a limestone slab with a very shallow layer of soil covering it.
The first stop was at the archeological park Cenote Ik-Kil – a sinkhole with access from the surface via steps built on the limestone slab. Cenotes are common in the Yucatan peninsula as the limestone slab just beneath the ground seeps all the water above ground to form underground water bodies. This explains the complete absence of surface water in the whole peninsula. Instead, the area reveals water bodies, caves, caverns, or cenote’s when the limestone is breached due to the dissolution of the rock. Many Cenote’s are tourist attractions. Cenote Ik-Kil is commercialized, complete with two gift shops, rental facility for swimmers, and restrooms all in a beautiful setting. The water is very deep (50 meters or so) and definitely not appropriate for novices. The tour guide suggested two unique gift ideas – a Mayan calendar inscribed with a date and name in Mayan paper (a thick brownish paper with a leathery texture) and a silver pendant with a name inscription in gold – the former is around $12 while the latter can trend upwards of $30 depending on the number of letters inscribed.
Next we stopped for the buffet lunch (included except for drinks) at the restaurant Hacienda Xaybe'h. The menu included chicken and fish (Mahi-Mahi) choices along with Mexican fare and pastas. A Mayan dance presentation was also included. The dancers in colorful outfits provided entertainment for about 10-15 minutes.
We arrived at the Chichen Itza entrance around 1:45 PM. Local artisans displayed their ware in the array of shops at the entrance while street sellers crowded the steps hawking an assortment of stuff for a few dollars. However, we did not find them aggressive. Entrance fees were included in our package – our tickets said 51 Pesos. Our tour group was split into two – Raymundo catered to the group who spoke English while the other guide led those who preferred Spanish. He spent a good hour walking with us and educating us on the history and relevance of significant structures. Some of the more amazing things he explained include:
- The most imposing structure in the whole area is El Castillo, a structure shaped like a pyramid with the top cut-off which stands 25 meters tall. It represents a Mayan calendar. The total number steps add up to the number of days in a year (365) and each façade has 52 flat panels representing the 52 months of the Mayan calendar. The most amazing aspect of the structure is the appearance of a shadow shaped like a serpent on the first day of Spring and Fall in mid-afternoon. During the Equinox sun rays hit the structure all at the right angles creating the shadow effect which lasts for about three hours. Another shadow effect is when the serpent’s head at the bottom of the pyramid appears to point to the Sacred Cenote (Cenote Sagrado).
- The ball court, the largest in Mesoamerica, is another impressive structure with an intriguing story. The game is played with a solid rubber ball, and the objective is to get the ball through a tiny circular opening high up on either side of the court. The rules, the size of the ball, and the size of the court varied. The game has religious connotations and culminated with a human sacrifice. It is not clear whether the winning captain or the losing captain got sacrificed. The current belief tends to the winning captain as the Mayans believed the winning privilege allowed for a direct ticket to heaven. Modern science is yet to solve the mystery regarding the acoustics of the ball court– directly beneath the ends of the ball court feature a “temple” structure, where a whisper can be heard at the other end 500 feet away.
- Cancun Trip Report.
- Day tour to Chichen-Itza.
- Vacationing in Cancun - Gotchas to avoid for frugal travelers.