Are you a boomer traveler who enjoys visiting World Heritage Sites? Did you know that Chichen Itza in Mexico has recently been named to the list? In today’s guest post, Elaine Masters of Trip Wellness takes us on a Chichen Itza road trip.
There was a sweet, warm breeze flowing over the deck on our ferry ride from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen. I watched the island slip away after four days spent diving through clouds of bright fish, caves and turquoise waters. The half hour ride took us closer to the Yucatan jungle with its underground rivers, cenotes, and the ancient trade site of Tulum. The southern end of the Mexican Riviera is also dotted with modern resorts and the tourist diversions of Xcaret and Xplor, but I wanted the treasure buried deep in the jungle, the new World Heritage Site of Chichen Itza.
My partner and I planned two days exploring the ruins by driving and then flying home from Cancun. Within an hour along a nearly deserted road, we passed the entrance to the ruins of Copa. This lesser known park is a worthy site to visit but it was the hottest time of day and we decided to keep going.
Soon we were cruising through modest suburbs of small houses and stores. They gave way to the colonial neighborhoods of Valladolid. The historical city was the site of a bloody battle at the turn of the last century when the Maya rose up against the wealthy landowners. Today the graceful town square is surrounded by Spanish style banks, restaurants, shops and hotels.
Soon we saw signs to our lodging at Hacienda Chichen. It rests in a small hotel zone just steps from the southeast entrance to the archaeological site. We passed the Villa Archaeologico, which hosts a small Club Med, and the larger Mayaland hotel, then turned into our hotel driveway and time stopped.
Down a graceful, tree lined lane, we rode up to the wide stairway portico of the hacienda. A noble and ancient Laurel tree stretched its long limbs over the road. As we stepped out of the car, jungle sounds filtered through the late afternoon shade. The metallic call of cicadas heralded more dry weather to come, the Mayan concierge told us.
Our standard room was graciously appointed with wrought iron bed frames and mirrors. Dark beams were set into the arched ceiling. Outside on the veranda, two rocking chairs waited; but we quickly unpacked and slipped into the pool—a slab of cool, deep blue—simple and minimalist.
The hotel is committed to sustainable tourism and eco-friendly practices. Laid out over 300 acres, the current owners also foster the welfare of the community and children nearby with lessons in the village and a staff that is 99% Maya. A Mayan Medicine Herbal Path was cleared by the J-Men Asuncion and Idelfonso (Maya Elder Healers and Shamans) to identify and teach the healing properties of indigenous herbs and plants on the property. We found that the Yaxskin Spa had a couple’s special and enjoyed a Mayan ritual massage with local fragrant herbs.
The next morning, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast on the Hacienda veranda and then walked about five minutes to the formal entrance to Chichen Itza. At the ticket booth we hired a certified guide who spent hours walking us through the history, palaces, temples and educating us about the people who had built the stone buildings over centuries. I was so happy to have brought an umbrella for shade as hats provided poor protection from the intense heat.
That evening we returned for the nightly light show at the base of the pyramid of Kukulkan, the tallest construction at the site. While it was a beautiful spectacle, made more so for the full moon that rose as we watched, the narration was entirely in Spanish so we couldn’t enjoy the dramatic stories.
We walked back by a stone path and stopped at the Mayaland hotel for a drink. It was a large western style set of buildings and gardens. While beautifully laid out, we were very glad to return to the more petite, historical grace of Hacienda Chichen.
The next morning, we left via the sleek toll road to Cancun. While I was sorry to leave the gentle Mayan people and re-enter modern life, I’m determined to return for a longer exploration of the many delights within the Yucatan region.
Elaine J. Masters is a travel write, blogger on Trip Wellness and the award-winning author of Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga. When she’s not scuba diving through kelp forests in Southern California or exploring tropical waters, she speaks and teaches travelers to lower their stress, avoid pain and get where they’re going feeling great. Elaine hosts the popular podcast, the Gathering Road, on the Women’s Radio Network and is building a community of travelers in San Diego with Travel Well meetups monthly. Join her on Facebook and Twitter: @tripwellness