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05 December 2011

Don't leave Mexico without seeing Ek Balam and a CENOTE!

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What on Earth is a Cenote?

Thats what we were wondering when we were told that we couldn't miss them if we were visiting the Yucatan.  While in Mexico, I learned that of the 6,500 or so cenotes (sin-OH-tays or sin-OTE), 2,100 of them are located on the Yucatan Peninsula.  So I see why we were supposed to see one...

Anyway...the story behind the cenotes is that the soft limestone caves in and creates these huge caves with sunken centers in the Earth.  When it rains, the cenotes fill with water and many are connected by underground rivers.  Ancient Mayans used them for 2 things.

Drinking water.  Good.  and...
Dumping in human sacrifices.  Ummmm...not so good.
Let's just hope they didn't mix up their cenotes...

Before arriving, I was kind of scared of these cenotes.  They seemed creepy and the fact that archeologists have dredged the bottom of these pools and pulled out mass graves of bones and precious jewels and stones...well that was a bit much for me.  ...but I had agreed to swim in one if Alex really wanted to...

Cenote Zaci  |  Valladolid
So when you first walk into a cenote, it takes your breath away.  I was imagining a little pool, maybe more like a well...but it is not that at all.  The cenotes we visited were quite large, a giant cave with monstrously high ceilings and holes out to the sunlight.  The first cenote we visited had deep DEEP water.  See how black it gets?  We didn't go in, but it looked unbelivably deep.  Scary deep.  There are stairs carved out of the limestone all around the sides and down to the "shore" of the cenote.  Such an experience - go see at least 1 while you are here.  After you have seen 1, the next views are similiar, but each has it's own distinct "feel".  For example, we visited Cenote Dzitnup and there was this incredible tree hundreds of feet above the cenote (maybe 30 stories?) and the roots reached allllllll the way down to the water.  There had to be about 20-30 roots that were all around a foot wide.  Nope...no photo...I know...shameful...HERE is a decent photo - note how little the people are.  You could swim in this one, but we chose not too.  It was shallower and Alex was really keen on swimming in a super deep cenote.



One thing to note about the cenotes, or most places in the Yucatan actually, there will be little kids and sometimes adults that ask you to be a guide.  Sometimes they are real guides, sometimes they just follow you adn then ask for money when you leave.  They aren't officially with the attractions, but it doesn't hurt to give them a few pesos.  Just know what you are getting into when you accept a "guide".

The other classic attraction on the Yucatan Peninsula are the Mayan Ruins.  Chichen Itza is the ruin that is now included as one of the 7 Wonders of the World.  However, everything we read and everyone we talked to said they are overrun with tourists, climbing on the ruins in forbidden and there are no trees or jungle anywhere so it is hot and relentless.  That sounded absolutely grand spanking ridiculous to me, so we went to Ek Balam instead.  It is smaller, but newer (in terms of when it was rediscovered), so it is still being  uncovered and reconstructed in areas and the jungles still completely surround the place.  An added bonus - you can climb whatever you want which is a key attraction for grown up boys like my husband.

See these stairs?  See how they almost disappear into the clouds at the top...yeah they were THAT TALL.  The height wasn't even the thing though...they were SO STEEP.  It was quite scary going up and down them and I definitely took my time.


Ek Balam  |   Mexico
See those ramps on the sides of the stairs by the walls?  
Those were for the heads to roll down.  
Literally.  
I KNOW.

Here is the view from the top of the stairs.  It doesn't looks like much until you see how tiny alex is at the bottom of the stairs.  You can't even see those structures on the sides because the view is so steep.  Ridiculously steep.  ...oh and yes...I was still on that ridiculously steep stairway while my husband was at the bottom...

(actually...I told him to go ahead...but STILL...)

Ek Balam  |   Mexico

Here is the view of a couple other structures within Ek Balam from the top of those crazy steep stairs.  See how incredible the jungle is?  It literally just goes on and on for miles and miles and then these towers out of nowhere are all built up in the middle of nothingness.
Ek Balam  |   Mexico
SO.  Visit Ek Balam.  Maybe visit a few others (Tulum sounds pretty awesome)...but skip Chichen Itzu.  I think all of those bus loads of tourists that stop in Valladolid are headed there...ICK...so many people!

Ek Balam  |   Mexico

To read more about Mexico, read these articles about the rest of our trip!

1. Cancun Vacation Tips on a Budget
2. How to Listen to a Timeshare Presentation without Buying In or Going Crazy!
3. The Real Valladolid  |  Hotels, Ruins and the Heart of Mexico
4. Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morales  |  Snorkeling and Sambutes
5. Ek Balam and the Cenotes
6. The Municipal Market of Valladolid

Coming soon...
7. The Designs of Mexico
8. The Designs of the ancient Maya

1 COMMENTS:

Beth @ UnskinnyBoppy Friday, December 16, 2011  

That water in that cenote is incredible! Love that blue color. Wow.

You are a brave woman climbing those steep stairs. I have a little fear of going down stairs without a rail so I might have had to sit down and scoot to the bottom on my butt. LOL

Your photos are awesome.

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