Valladolid, Chichen Itza and Cenotes
Valladolid is a beautiful small colonial town that is the gateway to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Ek Balam and a number of nearby cenotes. With cute squares and churches, chocolate and Toquilla museums and cenotes in and around the town, it is easy to spend a few days here.
The major attraction is Chichen Itza, a large Mayan city covering 25 square kilometres in the heart of the jungle some 45 minutes drive from Valladolid. Large structures have been excavated and tastefully restored. It is worth getting there early to avoid the bus loads of tour groups that arrive from Cancun around 11am, and the heat. A guide is recommended or at least a guide book.
The El Castilla is the pyramid and masterpiece of Chichen Itza and has some brilliant acoustics and use of light at the soloists that ensured the Mayan people believed the high priest was connected to the gods.
The nearby Ik Kil Cenote is worth a visit but you will be sharing with hundreds of others.
Transport from Cancun to Valladolid: 180/100 pesos first/second class from Cancun.
Transport to Chichen Itza: collective bus from the bus station, 50 pesos return
Entrance: 204 pesos. A guide is 750 pesos for three hours
Cenote entrance: 70 pesos.
Accommodation: Hostel Candelaria. Set on a cute quiet square in central Valladolid, it has a gorgeous outdoor communal area in the garden, chilled out vibe, cramped rooms and dated interior. Conveniently located a short walk from the bus station. Excellent breakfast and towels included.
Two gorgeous cenotes next to each other 7km from Valladolid. Dzitnup is definitely the better of the two. Set in a cave with a single two metre diameter hole in the roof letting sun stream in to light the stunning Aqua water, this cave is magical. Huge stalactites descend from the ceiling to below the water surface along with a large stalactite formation which may have been created by a weeping waterfall.
The second cenote, Xkenken, is a large cave and is rather plain compared to others. If you are visiting many cenotes, this one could be missed.
Transport: collective taxi from 44th street, 15 pesos. Collective bus to Chichen Itza also passes the road to Dzitnup Cenote. It is probably a two kilometre walk from the turn off.
Entrance: 60 pesos per cenote.
Ek Balam Ruins and Xchan Chi Cenote
This site captured my imagination, perhaps because it was my first Mayan archaeology site or because the structures rise above the jungle. Here you can hike to the top of the large Structure 1 and look across the jungle to the other buildings peeking out of the canopy and spot mounds of jungle that hide yet to be excavated ruins. Excavation on this site began in 1998 and continues.
Fewer tourists travel to this site making it a lovely place to visit. There is the nearby Xchan Chi cenote which, depending on the time of the day, you may have to yourself. As Chichen Itza struggles to accommodate the hoards of tourists, archaeologists are working to excavate more of Ek Balam in the hope of encouraging more people away from the region’s main attraction.
Transport: 70 pesos return in a collective taxi
Entrance: 120 pesos
Cenote: 30 pesos