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Irene's Adventures

Mexico - Playa del Carmen

MEXICO | Thursday, 8 May 2014 | Views [219]

The winter just was not relenting, even into May. Ed had 7 days off. We decided to get away from winter and slip off to someplace warm. Mexico and Cuba are our best choices in such circumstances, due to time and price. Sunwing had a cheap last minute junket to Mexico.....

We returned to Playa del Carmen, but not to one of the big resorts. This time we stayed at The Reef Coco Beach, a small resort with only 200 rooms. It was small, more than adequate but nothing spectacular.

Reef Coco Beach   

As usual, Irene booked 2 days of diving. The first one was to the cenotes (cave diving). Although never really interested in this type of diving, it came highly recommended by a newly acquired dive instructor friend. Carole said it was one of those dives that you might never do again, but you have to do it at least once for the experience. She was right. The stalagmites and stalactite were fascinating in when you realize they only “grow” 1 centimeter every 100 years. It was truly surreal to see the jungle from underwater through an opening in the cave.

cenote diving


We entered one cave where we could remove our masks and regulators and carefully inspect the stalactite up close.


It was fascinating to see tree trunks coming from the ceiling of the cave, with roots reaching into the water we were swimming in.  

tree trunk inside cave

There were also lots of fossil sea shells, attesting to the aquatic history of these cave wonders.

  fossil sea shell

The second day of diving was to a couple of spots off Cozumel where we saw the elusive spotted toadfish. I am so happy to now have an underwater camera to share my diving experiences!

 spotted Toadfish

We rented a car and drove to Chichen Itza. We like to leave earlier than the tour buses so we can tour the sites before the heat of the day and before the tour bus crowds arrive.

 Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza (at the mouth of the well of the Itza) began to take over the power of the area from Coba around 600 AD, declining around 1250 AD. Northern Yucatán Peninsula is arid, and the rivers in the interior all run underground. There are two large, natural sink holes, called cenotes, that could have provided plentiful water year round at Chichen, making it attractive for settlement. Of the two cenotes, the "Cenote Sagrado" or Sacred Well or Well of Sacrifice, is the most famous. It is 60 meters (200 ft) in diameter with sheer cliffs that drop 27 meters (89 ft) to the water. According to post-Conquest sources (Maya and Spanish), pre-Columbian Maya sacrificed objects and human beings into the cenote as a form of worship to the Maya rain god Chaac. Archaeologists dredged the Cenote Sagrado from 1904 to 1910, and recovered artifacts of gold, jade, pottery, incense, as well as human remains. A study of human remains taken from the Cenote Sagrado found that they had wounds consistent with human sacrifice. Or it could have been a garbage pit for junk and people .....

Sacred Well

Dominating the North Platform of Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulkan (a Maya feathered serpent deity), usually referred to as El Castillo ("the castle"). The step pyramid is 30 meters (98 ft) high, has 9 square terraces and has 91 steps leading up to the top. At the base of one staircase are carved heads of a serpent. We stood in front of the massive structure and clapped our hands, which echoed back to us from the unusually shaped top as the sound of a bird chirping.

Chichen Itza

There were other magnificent structures. The Great Ball Court is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. It measures 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 ft). The parallel platforms flanking the main playing area are each 95 meters (312 ft) long. The walls of these platforms stand 8 meters (26 ft) high; set high up in the centre of each of these walls are rings carved with intertwined feathered serpents.

Great Ball Court

The Skull Platform, a long wall with skulls carved into it.

The Skull Platform

The Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars, whose sides are decorated with panels depicting eagles and jaguars consuming human hearts.

The Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars    The Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars

Temple of the Warriors, At the top of the stairway on the pyramid’s summit (and leading towards the entrance of the pyramid’s temple) is a Chac Mool, sculpture depicting a reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, supporting itself on its elbows and supporting a bowl or a disk upon its stomach. These figures possibly symbolized slain warriors carrying offerings to the gods; the bowl upon the chest was used to hold sacrificial offerings.

Temple of the Warriors  Chac Mool

The Group of a Thousand Columns, a series of what are today exposed columns, although when the city was inhabited these would have supported an extensive roof system.

The Group of a Thousand Columns

The Osario, also known as the High Priests's Temple, like El Castillo, is a step-pyramid temple dominating its platform, only on a smaller scale. Like its larger neighbor, it has four sides with staircases on each side. There is a temple on top, but unlike El Castillo, at the center is an opening into the pyramid which leads to a natural cave 12 meters (39 ft) below.

The Osario, also known as the High Priests's Temple

El Caracol ("The Snail") is a round building on a large square platform. It gets its name from the stone spiral staircase inside. The structure, with its unusual placement on the platform and its round shape, is theorized to have been an observatory with doors and windows aligned to astronomical events.

 El Caracol

Everything was very interesting. Some areas were off limits due to restorations. One should really buy a good historical account of such archaeological sites prior to visiting. Then one could quiz the guide in more detail and gain a better understanding.

 city walls of Chichen Itza


From Chichen Itza we drove to Merida, then on to Progreso. We were scouting out the area for alternate holiday destinations. Although it is supposed to be a great cultural city, it seemed very crowded (population near 1 million) with no parking spots anywhere to be found. Consequently, we did not stop in Merida, but merely drove through.

We did stop briefly in Progreso. This is a much smaller city (pop. 40,000) and is a center for both the fishing industry and the container industry. All shipping containers arrive in Progreso where they are distributed to the rest of Yucatan. Progreso is also on of the newest ports for large cruise ships. Passengers disembark at the end of the 6.5 km (4 mile) pier that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico. Progeso is also the holiday destination of choice for the local tourists and well-to-do residence of Merida.


We then decided to take the faster speed limit toll highway back to Cancun, where we could double back to return to Playa del Carmen. We were asked if we were going to Chichen Itza or Cancun. We said Cancun. The toll was 85 pesos. When we got to within a few miles of Cancun we were stopped at another toll booth and charged another 125 pesos! We were told that we only paid to go to Chichen Itza. The fellow at the car rental agency said it should only have been 85 pesos. We believe the locals had a profit at the expense of us gringos.

Unfortunately we also go ripped off at a petrol station. We pulled in, both eager to find a toilet, and told the attendant to fill the car even though it was only down ¼ of a tank. When we returned from the toilet, he asks if we wanted the car filled. Yes.... When he finishes he charged us another 100 pesos because - get this – he said he put 100 pesos in while we were in the bathroom then shut the pump off because he wasn't sure if we wanted it filled. Amazing how that ¼ of a tank cost us more than a ½ tank previously. We argued in both cases, but we really didn't have proof to back our story when confronting the managers. Both instances taught us not to let our guard down and to be very diligent when traveling. We knew better but got complacent and sloppy. We ain't in Alberta anymore, Toto!


Since we got back too late to return the rental car and had to pay for an extra day anyway, we decided to to Puerto Morelos the next day. Puerto Morelos is a coastal fishing village. It is a quiet, mixed-use neighborhood of private homes, hotels, condominiums, restaurants, and tourist shops. There was even a yoga studio for Irene. Population 10,000. We drove all over Yucatan looking for an cheap alternative to the resort holiday, and here we found it a half hour drive from our resort! Go figure....

 Puerto Morelos

We did spend a fair amount of time just lazing by the resort swimming pool, where we met two lovely ladies from California – Diane and Jeanine. We ended up sitting with them for the remainder of our time at the Reef Coco Beach. They were great fun and we hope to meet up with them in the Napa Valley.  We participated in a few of the aquatic games, as well.  It was a great way to cool off and have fun at the same time.  This game was to throw as many of the water balloons as possible over the net.  The side with the least balloons won - no prizes, just for fun.

Aquatic games

This was a much better resort holiday than the previous Playa del Carmen holiday. Maybe it was the smaller resort, maybe it was renting the car and touring on our own, or maybe it was because we were just so tired of winter. Next time we may rent a small hotel in Puerto Morelos.....

 Puerto Morelos



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