An Aussie Thanksgiving in the Yucatan

With everyone heading home to their families for Thanksgiving long weekend, and with my own family half a world away, I was keen to escape California for a short vacation somewhere warm.  I found a partner in crime in my Aussie friend Tanya, who I’ve known since undergrad and who just wrapped up her own MBA and now works as a consultant in LA.  Together we searched for the ultimate destination “south of the border” and settled on Tulum, a beachside town a few hours south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula.  Sun, surf, sand, palm trees and ice cold pina coladas sounded JUST the ticket!

After a relatively hassle-free trip down (minus the chaos of Mexico city airport!), Tanya and I rendezvous-ed at the airport, picked up our hire car, and raced down the highway towards the border with Belize.  After a couple of hours we arrived at Tulum and checked into our hotel room, set back just behind the beach.  And within 20 minutes we were already on the beach!

Most of our time was spent on or around the beach – not surprising, really!  🙂  Our hotel had a lovely stretch of beach with two rocky headlands at either end and some good surf, but our fave place was a short drive further south to another bungalow-style hotel which had a great restaurant and bar (complete with a night of salsa dancing!) under the palm trees.

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Our small beach at sunset.

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One of Tulum’s highlights are the dramatically located Mayan ruins along the coast just north of the town, and we took a couple of hours to wander around the site and enjoy the incredible views from the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean.

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We set aside one day and drove out to the great Mayan city of Chichen Itza.  Having previously seen other amazing Mayan ruins at Tikal, Palenque and Copan, I was keen to see how this one measured up.  It took us a couple of hours to drive north-east towards Valladolid in the interior of the peninsula, and Chichen Itza was another remote half an hour beyond that.

We were fortunate enough to arrive before the tour buses from Cancun got there, meaning we were able to enjoy the Gran Plaza (Great Plaza) in – relative – peace.  In the centre of the plaza stood El Castillo (The Castle), a giant pyramid of outstanding symmetry and scale.  Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to climb it (one recent change since Chichen Itza made the “World’s Seven Wonders” list) but it was still an incredible sight.

El Castillo – wow!

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Tanya and I spent a good few hours wandering around the complete site, including the Ball Court, Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote), Grupo de las Mil Columnas (Group of the Thousand Columns) and El Caracol (The Snail, an unusually shaped building believed to be an ancient observatory).  While I enjoyed Chichen Itza, I certainly felt it missed the remoteness and lush green tropical rainforest settings of Tikal and Palenque.

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                                                             The enormous ball court.

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(R) The circular observatory.

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(R) Noughts won.

Another highlight of the Yucatan are the many cenotes (sinkholes).  Some of these are open for swimming, snorkelling and diving in the crystal clear turquoise water, surrounded by stalactites and other limestone formations.  Over a couple of days we hit up a few of the popular ones, Gran Cenote (Great Cenote) and Cenote Dos Ojos (Two Eyes Cenote).

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(L) Gran Cenote.  (R) Cenote Dos Ojos.

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