As part of our journey around the Yucatan I had decided to stop off at a city called Valladolid. It is pretty much half way between the two coasts of the peninsula and the half way point between Merida and Cancun. Valladolid attracts tourists for two reasons, firstly it is saturated with cenotes nearby, even having one in its centre. But it is also just 40 minutes from one of the new seven wonders of the world, and arguably the best (or at least best preserved) Mayan site in the whole of Mexico – Chichen itza. Though you can stay in Chichen itza itself, or the even the actual village of Piste, Valladolid was our choice simply because Piste is surrounded by jungle and I was pissed off getting chewed on by mosquitoes.
You have to try and understand what the heat is like in Mexico, it is around 40 degrees every day and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Buildings are all small so there is absolutely zero shade, and when you do find shade, be it under a tree or elsewhere, it is insanely humid. A sauna in the UK is around 32 degrees, add on another 8 degrees, and then try and spend your day in that. Your skin burns in minutes meaning you have to have sun lotion on which in turn means that when you sweat profusely it stings your eyes constantly. In short the days are tough encounters in an unforgiving climate. I say this not for myself, but for some understanding at just what these kids put up with daily. I know people say “they’ll be used to it” but you just don’t get used to heat like this. Yes you learn to tolerate it, but it doesn’t stop every step, every day being anything other than a torturous attempt at momentum. Look in every single photo I post, you will more than likely see a water bottle thrown to the side, or clutched in their hands, it’s a constant battle of hydration and one which thankfully we are winning. I know my kids are lucky, they know it too, but I just wanted a little paragraph to highlight just what they put themselves through in the name of adventure, of fun, of excitement, of feeling alive and loving to live.
I’ll be absolutely honest, I wasn’t arsed at all about Chichen Itza. So much so I almost didn’t go. The ridiculous pricing, combined with a trillion tourists just didn’t do it for me. But given we were so close, it seemed daft not to go. I was however determined we’d get in for free and then I’d slip my adult fee in a box on the way out. I have no problem at all paying, in fact, were it free I would leave a significant donation due to the fact that archeological sites desperately need funds. I just resented paying a hundred times more because my kids were British. (As it turned out I was wrong anyway).
I mapped out Chichen Itza on a small piece of paper and knew from the start that sneaking into one of the worlds seven wonders wasn’t going to be easy. But I was convinced we’d find a way, and if we didn’t, it’d be an adventure all the same.
We got the bus to Piste from Valladolid which cost 26 pesos for me and 11 each for the kids. After 40 minutes we got off, consulted my hand drawn map and headed into the jungle. There was no path, but the ground was rocky so not too difficult to walk on. There was occasional hazards like a tree that had grown up through the rocks with its roots begging to trip Jack up, but as far as hiking in jungles go, it was pretty easy. In any case we were in the shade, though it was naturally very humid. As we trekked ,Abi was snake radar, Jack was spider radar and Charlie was on the look out for security. I knew full well all we needed to do was keep heading at 225 degrees and we’d hit the perimeter after about 2km. The walk was fine to be honest, and as I saw the fence I did a little jump for joy. The fence was heavily barbed wired and without damaging it there was just no way I could get three kids over it. I was only trying to sneak in for a laugh and had no intention of causing any damage so we re routed to the entrance and ultimately the ticket office.
As luck would have it I was talking a French woman at the entrance who had asked me to take a photo of her family, she asked how old Charlie was, I told her 12. She explained that officially all kids 12 and under get in free (which isn’t published anywhere unbelievably) but I should say he is 11 since it is common that all those 12 and over get charged full admission. Naturally I swiped a year off Charlie’s life and after paying my own 204 peso entrance walked into Chichen Itza, the kids were excited, I was just starting to feel it. But more so because kids had been free!
Expecting to wade through knee deep jungle and then brush the leaves from our faces to be faced with a stunning Mayan pyramid in the form of Kulkukan (what you see in the main photo) it couldn’t have been less natural. Immediately after entering you walk through a dense market with hawkers trying to seek crafts, arts, and jaguar heads which when you blow through make a loud jaguar noise. Seriously, you will be chilling out, squatting a fly or something and suddenly out jumps a little Mexican dude and blasts off one of these jaguar things, they seriously make you jump and so most of our time was literally spent being made to do unwanted nervous hops from the floor by dick heads who thought blowing a jaguar noise in the other wise serenity of a Mayan city was funny.
To be fair, the hawkers weren’t full on and literally a quick no thanks had them move their energies elsewhere. But it was relentless, every stall (of which there must be a thousand or more) are placed on every walk way around the site meaning you can’t have a chilled out walk between parts of Chichen Itza but instead have all sorts thrust into your face.
Our first view of Kulkukan was indeed spectacular. So big, so well preserved and so stunningly beautiful. It truly was a sight to behold and was a genuine pinch me moment despite the masses of tourists who were also sharing the same glorious sight.
Throughout the entire site you can’t climb on or walk on any of the ruins, which makes sense considering there are a million visitors each year.
We explored the whole place and literally went to ever corner, every ruin, cenote and stray brick and despite what I expected we really enjoyed it. It doesn’t of course compare to the likes of Angkor Wat and doesn’t hold the same excitement as the pyramids of Giza, but it was well worth the monies we paid and an absolute must if in the area. Would I fly to Mexico just to go there? No chance. But if in the region like us it makes for an interesting morning spent in Mayan culture mixed with market stalls and thousands of other tourists.
I had hoped that we could’ve made a day of Chitchen itza but despite it being big, the fact you can only look at things and not really explore meant we were back in Valladolid for about 2pm with not much to do (having left at 8am).
I had seen a load of push bikes parked outside a building near the main square and headed over to see if we could borrow some. Sure enough, for a dollar each bike, per hour we could have 2 normal bikes and a tandem bike for me and Jack. Armed with a tiny hand drawn map, our swimming stuff and a lot of hope we cycled off through the streets and before long were at the side of a highway headed to Dzitnup, some 7km or so away. Despite me explaining to Jack that a tandem bike meant we both peddled he couldn’t quite get past the urge to do nothing and so chilled for the duration. We had the music banging out from my phone with Mumford and Sons making the forty minute bike ride in the searing heat at least a little bearable. Funny thing was, once we got to Dzitnup I looked at Charlie and Abi who looked like they’d just run a marathon uphill. I had told them due to the heat that we’d relax en route and Charlie said to me whilst trying to catch his breath “dad, if that’s your chilling out bike ride, I’d hate to see your hurried bike ride”. I didn’t honestly think I’d gone that fast.
Dzitnup is a pair of cenotes opposite each-other, one called Xkeken and another called Samula. For the 56 peso entrance fee (kids are free) you can only visit one. I had it on good authority Dzitnup was the better of the two, though apparently both were quite amazing meaning either or would be a good choice. We chose Xkeken and within minutes were descending into the dark cave down steep steps.
Illuminated partially by artificial lighting, but mainly by a small hole in the top of the cave, it was instantly mesmerising. The thing of dreams, the water was a deep blue, bats flew around and catfish swam in the waters. Asked how they can live I explained that they must eat bat shit. Combined with that statement, the darkness and the freezing water Abi and Jack sat on the waters edge dipping their feet and convincing each other to move forward an inch a minute. Charlie on the other hand dived straight in and was in his element. He swam throughout the entire cenote investigating the limestone stalagmites in the process. He was having the time of his life whilst Jack and Abi played together knee deep in the water brought closer by their own curiosity and timidity.
The ride back to Valladolid went by quickly, but we stopped en route in a little village and had a rehydration stop which was more like a scramble for something cold and wet! We even managed to grab some habanero hot dogs which naturally blew Jack and Abi’s heads off and by early evening we were back at the hotel with a new found love for air conditioning.
I asked the kids of they’d enjoyed Valladolid and they agreed. Each one of them, myself included preferred Mayapan Ruinas to Chichen Itza, not because of the grandeur, but simply the freedom we had to do what we want. Made more amazing by the fact we had the whole Mayan city to ourselves.
That’s not to say Valladolid wasn’t a worthwhile stop on our tour of the Yucatan, not at all. We’ve had an amazing time, but as write this now on the bus to Playa Del Carmen and the Riviera Maya I look forward to what we have planned next, but equally look back on an amazing last few days with a smile – And the fact we’d now seen five of the new seven wonders of the world.