During my time in Cancun, I peeled myself away from my work and the beach for one day full day of culture. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to visit such a hugely popular UNESCO World Heritage site, Chichén Itzá.
My Airbnb hosts highly recommended renting a car and visiting Chichén Itzá on my own, that way I could spend as much time as I wanted at the ruins and I could visit some of the other sites in the area like a cenote or the old city of Valliodad. I was a little nervous to do this on my own, and was kind of craving the company of random strangers.
I passed on their advice and booked a MASSIVE tour that included a trip to an “authentic Mayan village” (I’ll elaborate on the quotes later), a visit to a cenote, Chichén Itzá, and Valladolid. I was appropriately warned that this was a bad idea, but I wanted to see all of these things and I had one day to do so. Well, I actually had had a week to do so and instead opted to get a TON of work done and leave it all for one day.
I caught my shuttle at the ADO downtown Cancun terminal promptly at 7am. From there it picked up a handful of other passengers and then dropped us at a shopping center in the hotel zone of Cancun. We didn’t end up leaving the mall until close to 9am and they split us into English and Spanish speakers and plopped us on two different busses.
It was nice, after a week of pretty much only conversing with my Airbnb hosts to meet some new people for the day. It was certainly a quirky bunch and it even had the token ‘American-who-barely-ever-gets-out-of-America-who-thinks-America-is-awesome-and-everywhere-else-sucks’ type of tourist. Always and interesting time with one of those in the mix. It’s fun to see who they are going to offend first.
Anyways, I wound up calculating that we spent a total of 10.5 hours on busses out of our 15 hour tour. The car would have been better. I should have manned up and rented one for a day.
One of my favorite things about taking busses while traveling is the ability to look out the window and see the areas inbetween the major travel hubs.
These are the slices of the country that you rarely get to experience.
While staring out the windows of my tour bus I was able to watch the real Mexican countryside go by. I saw garbage being burned and sheet metal roofs. Mangled muts were wandering around picking at the garbage in the ditches next to the road. Kids that should have been in school would stop what they were doing and stare at the huge bus as it passed. These were the sights of rural Mexico that are typically passed over.
Our first stop was an ‘authentic Mayan village’. Our guide even gave us this huge shpeel about how purchasing their goods helps to give money back to his heritage etc. etc. Well, it was basically the disneyland version of a Mayan village. They all spoke English; they certainly didn’t live in the compound. Which brings me to the compound, I am assuming an authentic Mayan village doesn’t typically have a bathroom gazebo with 20+ toilets or a restaurant set up for 100. It all seemed very orchestrated. I appreciated what they were trying to do, and didn’t let it rain on the remainder of my day but I would certainly recommend skipping a tour that contains this plug unless you get a personal recommendation from a trusted friend.
The second stop was my personal favorite, the Hubiku cenote. It isn’t the cenote that is included in most tours so it wasn’t jam packed with tourist buses.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with what a cenote is here’s a little info.
The jist: it is a natural underground pool in a cave. There are 100s of cenotes throughout Mexico that are all connected by subterranean rivers. The water in them is incredibly fresh and fairly clear.
Hubiku was incredibly deep and had only a small opening above for natural light to shine in. There were ropes strung across the pool for people to stand on in the water and rest and a giant dock/platform if you weren’t interested in diving in.
It had been altered for public access (stairs leading down into the cave, a dock, lockers on the wall…) but I really enjoyed the naturalness of it. Cenotes are not something that can be easily man made. My only complaint was the lack of time, we were only given an hour at the cenote. When you factor in changing, that isn’t a ton of time.
After the cenote we were Chichén bound. We didn’t end up getting to the ruins until around 4pm and had an hour and a half tour and then only a half hour to explore on our own.
Our tour guide was the same guy we had had all day. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the ruins and all of the Mayan mathematics and hidden messages in each ruin. He was also passionate about what he was talking about. You could tell the ruins fascinated him. He was constantly drawing diagrams in the dirt or getting really excited about a story; this made people pay attention to what he was saying.
I highly recommend no matter what method you take to get to Chichén Itzá to hire a tour guide. Most of the interesting facts about the ruins aren’t seen with the naked eye.
My only complaint about the grounds were the vendors. The sheer quantity and loudness of them all took a lot away from the ruins and grounds themselves.
The vendors were selling everything from croaking wooden frogs to t-shirts to paintings to hammocks.
They would cat call you as you walked by with promises of everything being a $1 or that they had a special price for you, you know the typical calls. But the density of the vendors’ stalls made walking by them incredibly loud and annoying. OH! There was also this wooden toy that was insanely loud and sounded just like a mountain lion! It made me jump every time!
You couldn’t avoid walking by them as they were surrounding every walking path. It really hurt my experience but it’s important to remember that that is how these people make their living. It would have been nice if they were confined to one area near the entrance, though.
Anyways, back to the ruins. Unfortunately, the ruins are no longer open to being climbed or walked on. It will ultimately keep them preserved longer but it took away from the experience. I felt like I got a lot more out of Angkor Wat because I was able to actually explore the ruins there.
Another thing, it was HOT. Like, REALLY HOT. We didn’t get there until 4pm and I was still immediately sweating in the sun. Our group kept running from shady spot to shady spot during the tour. Bring a hat or umbrella or fan or personal aircon. If I’m saying was hot, it was REALLY hot.
My favorite part of the ruins were the hidden messages and formulas. I’m not going to bore you with the details, if you’re interested here is a great site that goes into this in detail. These hidden messages are exactly why you should 100% hire a guide. They will be able to tell you more about the ruins than what is visible.
After a half hour of free time we were schlepped back to the bus for a quick stop in Valliodad. I hope to get back to Mexico to spend more time in Valladolid. It seemed like a beautiful town and I would have enjoyed more than a half hour to wander. I quickly searched out some elote or corn to tide me over until we made it back to Cancun proper at 10pm!
Overall, for what it included it wasn’t a terrible decision. If I were to do it again, I would skip the organized tour and rent a car. I would want to visit the cenote AFTER Chichén Itzá to have a swim to cool down after being in the heat of the day. It was just a lot of wasted time for transit. Overall, a good day though!
Have you ever visited Chichén Itzá or a cenote? What were your thoughts?
Make sure to pin this for later!
Hubiku Cenote Location:
Chichén Itzá Location: