They did not look that impressive. The handprints looked like simple graffiti on the wall of the cave, but they were painted 10,000 years ago at a time when the Yucatan had more mammoths than Mojitos.
Outside of the all-inclusive resorts of Cancun are a number of experiences missed by many of tourists. You might not get the all-inclusive hotel if you venture further afield, but you might get a better connection with past and present Yucatecans. Some of these are easy day trips from Cancun, and some can be done as a day trip but would deserve one or two nights away.
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Mayan Pyramids at Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is the obvious choice for a Mayan ruin to visit. Its best-known site is this large pyramid dedicated to Kukulkan, who was a winged serpent similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl. See the head of the serpent to the bottom of the stairs at the left and the right.
Chichen Itza gets a large number of tourists by 11 am in the morning but is large enough to accommodate the crowds. Hire one of the knowledgeable guides for a group for 600 pesos (<$60). If you like to shop, beware that the park is also filled with vendors and plan your time accordingly.
Mayan Ruins at Tulum
Tulum is another Mayan ruin with a beautiful setting on the coast south of Playa del Carmen. It is very convenient to reach but is therefore filled with tour groups and is very commercial. The site is much more spectacular than the buildings themselves.
Mayan Ruins at Coba
As controversial as this may be, I might suggest if you are in the Tulum area and have only the time or tolerance for one nearby ruin that you skip Tulum in favor of Coba. Coba is a 45-minute drive from Tulum and is a much larger site. It is so large in fact that you should rent a bike to ride through the jungle between the 3 main sites. If you are not up to a bike ride, then you can rent a pedicab and let someone else do the work. Coba also has a pyramid that you can climb that will put you above the jungle canopy.
The Yucatan looks like Swiss cheese from the air. It is dotted with numerous sinkholes called cenotes, many of which are filled with fresh water. One town south of Merida boats 150 cenotes in the area. For a fun afternoon on a hot summer day, take a swim in a cenote. One of the best cenotes near Playa del Carmen that we found was the Grand Cenote. We went to the Grand Cenote, which is just a few kilometers from Tulum towards Coba. Picture swimming into a cave complete with stalactites and stalagmites. The experience is both cool and very cool!
Playa del Carmen
Playa is an hour or so south of Cancun and is a popular destination for Mexicans and Europeans. It does not have the mega-resorts that Cancun offers but is a great place to rent a condo. Playa gets lots of tourists, so it has many restaurants on its main drag on 5th Avenue. To save money, find a restaurant off of one of the side streets.
For more ideas about traveling to the Yucatan, listen to Travel to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico – Amateur Traveler
Episode 163 which is what motivated my trip.
Grutas (Caves) de Loltun
With its 10,000-year-old cave art, Loltun has some of the oldest evidence of human habitation in the Yucatan. The Mayans also used the cave for ceremonial purposes and later as a place of refuge in times of war. Loltun is the largest of the caves on the Yucatan or at least the largest “dry” cave. Dry here is a relative term because while the cave is cooler than the surrounding jungle, it is only slightly less humid than swimming in the ocean.
Merida is a beautiful colonial city that feels oddly like a small town. Try to be in Merida on Sunday evenings when the square fills with vendors and performers. We watched local dancers perform what appeared, based on the woman in the white dress, to be dances from a traditional wedding. For dinner, stop at one of the taco vendors along the side of the central square. At 10 pesos a taco, we ate for less than $4 each and had one of our best meals in the Yucatan. Save room for dessert. Try the Yucatan version of a crepe, a Marquesita, with queso de bola. Although I am still intrigued by the vendor selling corn-flavored ice cream.
Mayan Ruins at Uxmal
Uxmal is not quite as grand as Chichen Itza but is less crowded and is interesting in its own right. It has more interesting ruins and half the crowds in more than twice the space of the more popular ruins at Tulum.
Learn more about the Yucatan peninsula by listening to Travel to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico – Amateur Traveler Episode 163