The key to a successful expedition is planning. Due to time and budget you should organize your adventure so you can see and experience as much as possible. This section, groups sites together that are within close proximity helping you to create your itinerary.
Chichen Itza – Coba – Tulum – Xel Ha
If it is your first trip to the Yucatan then you are probably going AI [all-inclusive] or thinking about just flying in. The place for you is the Mayan Riviera. Stay between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Every resort has package trips for you. From the Riviera you can visit Coba, Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Xel Ha. Or you can rent a car or take the bus to these sites.
For Chichen Itza you need a day. Coba can also take a day with travel included. You can visit Coba AND Tulum in the same day or Tulum and Xel Ha or even all three if you start early. Muyil is in the region south of Tulum. This is a small site and well worth visiting if you can fit it in.
Climbing to the top of the Coba pyramid is an exhilarating experience, as is climbing to the top of the great pyramid at Chichen Itza, however, the Coba pyramid is higher and the steps are somewhat deteriorated and much harder to climb.
Xel-Hais a minor site but worth the visit. If you stay anywhere in the Riviera you are a simple bus ride away from this site. You can also walk to Xel-Ha the water-park and swim there which is a great place to view marine life. You only need an hour or two to visit this site. You could spend a day at the park.
Tulum is a unique walled city right on the ocean. Take your bathing suit because the beach there is great. There is also, depending on the season, a number of craft booths along the road to the ruins and if you are lucky the Maya Flyers will be performing. These are the guys who climb up a pole and fly down it.
These sites [except Xel-Ha] are well visited by tourists from all over the world and can be quite busy some days. Many ruin site explorers dislike these sites for this reason. These sites are not good for meditating and depending on the season, arrive early to avoid tourists if you want to shoot structures without any people in the picture.
Kohunlich – Dzibanche – Kinichna – Oxtankah
There are 4 excellent sites to visit near Chetumal as well as a good museum in Chetumal. To get to Chetumal you are either heading south from Cancun by car or bus or east from Campeche. If you are traveling south on highway 307 from Cancun you could stop at Tulum and Muyil on your way. Allow yourself 1 hour per site for a quick visit to each. It takes around 4 – 5 hours to drive from Cancun to Majahual.
There is also a new site opening up very close to the turn-off to Majahual off 307.
The best place to set up your base-camp to visit these particular sites is Chetumal or Laguna/Lake Bacalar. You can also stay at Majahual however you will have to do a lot more driving if you stay there.
To visit each site without rushing through you would need 3 days.
We found the best site is Kohunlich. It has a spectacular Plaza but what we found interesting is the large number of residential living quarters, assumed to be for nobles and priests. The core of this once magnificent city is still pretty intact. The vegetation is rather unique here as well and a departure from any site north of it. You need a day to visit this site.
Dzibancheis also another large fascinating site. It was apparently the capital city for the region in its heyday. You can easily spend a day there. Kinichnais close by and contains a single large temple. This temple is unique as it has a giant base for a foundation. There is a large structure as you drive up the road to get to the site, which is under reconstruction. Kinichna is not listed on some maps.
Oxtankahis close to Chetumal. This is a medium sized site which contains a number of structures with one interesting temple which is round and has a sort of spiral ramp to reach the summit. You can visit this site and the museum in Chetumal in 1 day.
Uxmal – Sayil – Kabah – Labna – Xlapak – Mayapan
Uxmalis a grand empire type city with many impressive structures. There is an enormous amount of carved rock at this site. Sayil, Kabah, Labna, Xlapakare all very close to each other and near Uxmal.
You can visit all of these sites in one day but this is not recommended as you will be overwhelmed and generally fatigued at the end of the day. You could spend at least a day at Uxmal then a day visiting the other sites.
Mayapan is also in the vicinity however this enchanting city requires a day of exploration and meditation to fully grasp its intensity. It is sort of off the beaten path and there is not much near it. You could, if you were in a hurry visit Mayapan and Sayil, Kabah, Labna, Xlapak in 1 day if you had a car. You should consider spending a 1/2 day or full day at Mayapan.
You can stay in Merida or even as far away as Progreso however if you stay up near Progreso you will have to do a lot of driving which does have its benefits as you see an enormous amount of the countryside.
There are some hotels near Uxmal if you choose to make a night of the visit.
Chichen Itza – Izamal – Dzibilchaltun – Extempo
The 3 sites you should visit in this area are: Chichen Itza, Izamal and Dzibilchaltun. If you stay near or in Progreso, [Reef Club], then you should visit Extempo.
Chichen Itza is by far the most popular and most visited of all the ruin sites. This is due to its proximity to Cancun and the Riviera. Bus loads of people pull into this site hourly. It is however an extraordinary site. You need a full day to see everything.
Dzibilchaltun is also a good medium sized site to visit. This site has a very ceremonial style to it. There is no ballcourt here which leads one to contemplate that the inhabitants of this city were not involved in the politics of the region. Dzibilchaltun has a cenote you can swim in so take your bathing suit. There is also a small museum. You need at least a half-day here.
Izamal is a ruin site which has a colonial city built over it. The buildings are mostly painted yellow which gives the city a unique glow. Here you can visit the ruins and explore this colonial city. It is also a good place to shop, as things are less expensive than Cancun or Playa del Carmen. You only need a couple of hours for the ruins.
As a base-camp you can set up at either Chichen Itza, Izamal, Merida or Progreso to visit all of these sites.
Many people feel that they must see as many ruin sites on a visit as they possibly can. This can turn out to be counter productive, as we have experienced.
It becomes apparent when you return home and have trouble organizing your photos. If you visit too many sites in a single period then you will get things mixed up.
The combination of heat, sleep deprivation, new surroundings, different food, confusion and sheer amazement can lead to memory loss. If you do a 2 week excursion and visit ruin sites every day and do not keep a diary to go along with your photos then by the end of the 2 weeks the first day will feel like months ago, not days.
Of course you can run a hectic schedule but you should have a strategy. We recommend this: Make an itinerary so you can visually see your expedition. Block in your activities:
Ruin Site Exploration
Other activities: Caves, Cenotes, Eco Parks, Shopping, Snorkeling/Scuba
Attempt to schedule 1 day of relaxation after 2 days of ruin exploration. Use this day to reflect and review the previous sites, read materials you may have collected and simply relax. You can also use this day to review the next leg of your journey and study any material before hand. Use a system for your photographs. Number the film containers and keep a record of what you are shooting.
Keep a journal of your wanderings and make notes about each site you visit.
Try not to buy anything until the last couple of days so you do not have to lug it around with you but also know that many items you see you may only see once and if you do not buy it right there on the spot you may not have the opportunity to purchase it anywhere else.
Have a packing and unpacking system. Bag everything so you just have to pull out a minor bag to get at a bunch of things. Repacking simply becomes throwing a bunch of bags together. We recommend resealable zip-lock bags with the sliding closer.
Keep in mind that it can take 12 – 24 hrs for cloths to dry if you hang them in your room.
Keep a conservative number of sites on your list to explore per visit. It is better to take the time to truly see each site and not quickly run through it just so you can say you were there.
Edzna – If you are heading off to Chiapas by way of Campeche or simply visiting Campeche then you could visit Edzna which is a little over an hour drive away. There are no other sites in the area.
Old Chichen Itza – Located near Chichen Itza ruins this site is not listed on any maps. It is deep in the jungle and you need a horse to get to it. You book tours for this site at the Mayaland Hotel only.
Punta Laguna – This is a private ruin site not under the control in INAH. At the fork in the road, instead of going to Coba, you go north. Keep your eyes peeled for a small sign. There is a small grouping of farmhouses and a local museum. There is also a lake to swim in. The ruins here have not been renovated and lay as they are. You absolutely need a compass or GPS at this site. There are also lots of insects.
Chacchoben – This is a recently opened site located near Majahual in the southern end of Quintana Roo. It is a small site but if you are in the area it is worth checking out.