“You’re itinerary includes rappelling, zip-lining, kayaking, swimming in a cenote and climbing the tallest Mayan temple in the state.” When I received this email from the marketing staff at CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort, I felt a brief moment of baby boomer self-doubt. Climb Nohoch Muul’s 192 steps? I’m afraid of heights. Jump off a cliff from the end of a rope? I’ll be traveling solo in Mexico without Alan to gently coach me over the scary parts. What’s a travel writer who specializes in active travel for baby boomers to do? Go for it.
Along with writer Patty Hodapp (read her 21-year-old take on our adventure), I spent 12 hours on the Coba Maya Encounter Expedition ($119 U.S.) with Alltournative Offtrack Adventures. We joined a van filled with eight other clients—all Spanish speaking. However, Israel, our guide and driver, made the tedious task of communicating in two languages look easy.
The two-hour ride to the Yucatan Peninsula provided glimpses of poor, rural life in small villages with ramshackle housing, a stark contrast to the luxury resorts lining the beaches near Cancun. Topes, or speed-bumps, were effective in forcing traffic to slow down in each village, giving me the time to watch villagers buying breakfast at the corner food truck or glimpse a scrawny dog crossing a dirt side street.
More than an adventure travel company, Alltournative works with Mayan communities, assisting them with economic, social and cultural development. The result? An income source for Mayan residents that also helps them preserve their culture and environment.
Gliding across a lagoon in a two-person kayak, the first adventure on the list, proved to be easy. From there, the group hiked up a jungle hillside to a small clearing, where we were purified in a Mayan ceremony (you may opt out of this part) before descending into a cave to swim in a sacred cenote. I was nervous about the climb down into the cave but the fact that we entered it backwards, placing our feet on ridges in the rock until reaching the ladder, made it less scary for me. And, handrails offered support. I took it slowly, giving a sigh of relieve when I reached firm ground. And the “whoop,” I yelled as I jumped into the cenote? That was pure joy at accomplishing something new.
After walking along another jungle trail, we reached the van for the drive to the Mayan Village for the next part of our adventure. As guests geared up to rappel down the cliff into another cenote, this one included dry land as well as a small lake, my fear of heights began to kick in. Israel gently instructed this panicked baby boomer as he checked out my safety harness, told me to stand with my back to the opening and issued instructions on how to work the rope. After assuming a seated position, Israel pushed me out into the open air. I slid down the rope, opening and closing my fists until I reached the Alltournative guide at the bottom of the cenote. Yes! I did it. And so can you.
I climbed another hilly jungle path before reaching the zip-lining platform. Zipping back across the opening to the cenote was an easy task.
After turning in hardhats and zip-lining equipment, our group walked to an area of thatched roof platforms, where the local Mayan villagers had prepared lunch. Vegetable soup, rice, pasta, a spicy chicken dish, empanadas stuffed with mashed potatoes and homemade soft tortillas were washed down with cooling glasses of hibiscus or tamarind juice. Of course iced tea or water was available for non-adventurous diners.
The day’s last adventure, introduced us to the 1,500-year-old Mayan ruins at Coba in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Certified archaeological guides explained the intricacies of Mayan life as we walked beside a small temple and the ball game area where sacrifices were commonplace. From here, guests had the choice to take the 20-minute jungle walk to Nohoch Muul, the Yucatan’s tallest pyramid, rent a bicycle or hire a pedi-cab ride to the temple.
Patty and I chose to walk to Nohoch Muul before our paths diverged—she climbed to the top—I stayed at the bottom. Although climbing the temple’s stairs was no problem, my fear of heights would have made the journey back down a slow, arduous one that might have ruined the day for me. I know my limits. Instead, I lingered at the foot of the pyramid, taking photos and observing other tourists. On the return walk through the jungle, I occasionally found myself alone on the path, making it possible to hear birds overhead or listening to the rustles in the jungle’s undergrowth. And I thought about the thousands of footsteps that had preceded mine on this very road—from today’s tourists to the ancient Mayans who once lived in the bustling city of Coba.
On the way back to Cancun, the van stopped by the Alltournative office. As our group sat at a table in the courtyard, Israel brought out a round of tequilla shots. My last baby boomer adventure of the day was learning to pour salt on my thumb, lick the salt, toss back the tequilla, followed by sucking on the lime. Saluté
Are you a baby boomer reading this from the family room couch thinking, “There’s now way I can do what she did?” Yes, you can. This adventure doesn’t require an athlete’s prowess, all it takes is a willingness to try a new activity. Oh, a little bravery helps too.
Baby Boomer Travel Tips
- Wear a bathing suit under your clothes
- Pack a small camera. I tied mine through a belt loop in my shorts, then tucked the camera into a side pocket while I was rappelling and zip-lining
- Bring an extra shirt for the ride back to your hotel
- Wear sturdy water shoes or tennis shoes
- Bring a towel for drying off after the cenote swim
- Pack sunscreen to reapply after the cenote swim. You will be required to shower off any sunscreen before the cenote swim.
- Bring extra cash for souvenir purchases at Coba, plus tips for guides
- Leave jewelry and credit cards back in the safe at your hotel