My first impression about Cancun was that it was so blocked by buildings and hotels that for a day visitor it was almost impossible to see the sea. For another time, I would definitely give it a second chance and stay at one of the resorts by the beach to enjoy the Mexican sun and sea.
Our plan at first was to hang out at the beaches of Playa del Carmen and Tulum before heading north to Chichen Itza however the weather wouldn’t let us. Although this was supposed to be the dry season, it continuously rained so we decided to change the plans and go north for Chichen Itza. I would rather visit the site in a cloudy or maybe a rainy day than being under the stirring Caribbean sun. The plan worked. From Cancun we took a bus to Valladolid with ADO, the most popular, comfortable and reliable bus company of Mexico. The journey took approximately 2 hours. The Ado terminal at Valladolid is just two blocks from the main plaza of the town so even if we pre-booked our hotel, it is also possible to go without a hotel reservation and find it when you are there.
Valladolid is a typical colonial town with a great church at the main plaza, the numbered streets at a grid plan makes it easy for the traveler to find one’s own way. It is a quiet town, surprisingly with not many tourists. I guess most people stay at beach towns and take a day tour to Chichen Itza. I am glad we stayed at Valladolid as this was the least touristy town among all other towns and cities I visited in Yucatan.
There are several hotels for every budget. We discovered nice restaurants with good tacos and fajitas around the main plaza. The main square of the town is where life is, especially after sunset. Locals walk and sit at the park at the main square and spend the night eating and drinking from ice cream and juice stalls. For a visitor, sitting at the stone love seats facing each other, people watching accompanied by a very good coffee purchased from Oxxo supermarket by the main plaza is a good option to spend the evening.
Valladolid is not only famous for being the closest city to Chichen Itza (only 40km away) but also there are lots of cenotes ( sunken limestone pools ) where you can swim. For beginners, the Zaci cenote which is right at the city center (200mt from the main plaza) is great to have an idea for what a cenote is.
At Valladolid, there are a few travel agencies offering tours to Chichen Itza and they usually include a cenote visit and lunch. We decided to do it on our own. The day before C.I, we found the stop of the collectivos; the shared minibuses to C.I. They would start at 7:30am and depart every 30min until 3 pm. The locals recommended that we went early as the tour groups from Playa and Tulum would arrive at 10:30.
The next day started early at 7am with a snack and coffee from Oxxo as our hotel did not include breakfast. At 8am, we took the collectivo to C.I. Our driver Ernesto who was very friendly and informative recommended us to visit the cenote Ik-kil after Chichen Itza. He even went out of his way and made a quick stop at the ticket office of the cenote so that we could beat the crowd on the way back.
After a 40 min drive, there we were at Chichen Itza, one of the new wonders of the world. We took our tickets 232pesos per person and they gave us a map. After a minute walk through the Jungle, the big pyramid El Castillo welcomed us. The locals were right, it was not so crowded at that time so we were able to take as much pictures as we liked from every angle without any disturbance. The pyramid was built as a Mayan calendar with each staircase on four sides consisting of 91 steps in addition to the single main step at the entrance. If this is not amazing enough, stand right across one of the staircases, clap your hands and listen to the eco in the sound of a quetzal bird.
To the left of El Castillo, we saw the ball court where they used to play their favorite ball game. As the tour groups started to fill the grassy plaza, we headed to the “sacred cenote” and took our pictures.
Inside the archeological site, there are stands with locals selling colorful and tempting souvenirs from tshirts to masks, obsidien knifes to wood carved jaguars. My favorite was the small jaguar face shaped pipe with the sound of a howling jaguar when you whistle. However I would prefer all these little souvenirs to be outside the exit not by the ruins.
As it started to get hot and sunny, we left the site, took another collective and visited the Ik-Kil cenote. I still regret not carrying a swimming suit with me so that I could cool down after touring C.I.
From cenote Ik-kil, it is very difficult to find a public transport back to Valladolid. We waited for about 30min and finally decided to hitchhike which usually I would not recommend in a country that I don’t know much about. However I found Yucatan area really safe and saw lots of visitors with rental cars. A German couple who were visiting the area with rental car gave us a ride back to Valladolid. The next day, we travelled together to Tulum, with a stop at the beautiful archaeological site Coba.
Chichen Itza also offers a free sound and light show at night. At the tourist office by the main Plaza in Valladolid, they give the visitors who show their tickets of Chichen Itza a free entry to this show. Then you have to find an internet café, register online to the show and print out the confirmation. The show starts at 7pm at winter and 8pm at summer and busses are available to take you there and back in the evening. However, as it was rainy in the afternoon, we skipped the show.
Chichen Itza was in my bucket list and I am glad I did it. The site is easy to walk around with grass everywhere. However there are no trees by the ruins so it is highly recommended to wear a hat or carry an umbrella for sun.