Yucatán offers many top sights. Since flights to Cancún are also very cheap, the city is an ideal starting or ending point for a trip through Mexico (best in combination with a cheap domestic flight).
By the way, the small state of Quintana Roo allows itself its own time zone: for the sake of the tourists, daylight saving time applies here all year round.
From Cancún, I drive straight on to Tulum. The place is famous for its Mayan ruins, which are beautifully situated directly on the sea. There is also a white beach and many cenotes in the area for snorkelling or diving, which are worth a separate article.
An hour’s drive away is the Mayan ruin of Cobá in the middle of the forest. It is not so well preserved, the combination with the forest and the view from the great pyramid is more interesting. The “Indiana Jones feeling” conjured up in the guidebook doesn’t really set in, it is far too crowded for that. The individual pyramids and temples are far apart, so many rent a bicycle. On foot, it takes me about 3 hours to see everything. Afterwards I share a taxi to Valladolid.
The pretty colonial town of Valladolid is surrounded by great cenotes and is also a good starting point for Chichén Itzá. The famous Mayan ruin (with a strong Toltec influence) was impressive and disappointing at the same time. Luckily I was there early (the first colectivo from Valladolid arrives shortly before opening), so I could enjoy the first 2 hrs. But unfortunately you are only allowed to look at everything from a distance, you are not allowed up or in anywhere. This is particularly unfortunate at the Temple of the Warriors: on the platform lies a Chac Mool waiting for victims with a plate in his hand, directly behind it are two strangely shaped pillars that look as if they have been bent twice, they represent the feathered serpent. I have seen this image so often that I associate the whole of Mexico with it, but I could not see it with my own eyes.
As time goes by, the complex fills up with crowds and along the paths there is one stand with souvenirs next to the other, so that you feel more like you are at a market. Nevertheless, the many details of the (partly bloodthirsty) reliefs, the majestic pyramid, the large ball playground (and the idea of having to carry a heavy rubber ball through the ring without using hands or feet), the playful Puuc style at the so-called monastery (elephant trunks everywhere, although the Mayas did not know any elephants! It is the nose of the rain god Chak)…
The tranquillity that Chichén Itzá lacks I find in Ek’Balam, half an hour by colectivo north of Valladolid. The ruins are much smaller and less well preserved. Besides a few temples and a pyramid, you see shapeless hills of stones overgrown with forest. The pyramid is amazingly asymmetrical. It has doors to small rooms everywhere, which are still grandly moulded with stucco halfway up. One door is a huge snarling jaguar mouth, above which are detailed figures. And nearby, once again, a cenote to cool off in…
Mérida is a lively big city that, despite its pretty colonial buildings, looks anything but museum-like. Single-storey colonial houses dominate the streets, in between a few high-rise buildings, a lot of cheap concrete, a few magnificent palaces and churches. Tool shops and shops full of junk imported from China, shabby garages, power lines knotted above the street, a hustle and bustle of people and yet quite relaxed.
Nearby, I visit the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Kabah (which was more or less a suburb of Uxmal). Both are much older than Chichén Itzá and are built in the typical “baroque” Puuc style of this area: many Chak noses, etc. Uxmal is magnificent, I like it better than Chichén Itzá and yet it is visited by far fewer tourists. It is also further away from Cancún…
The spruced-up old town of Campeche looks more museum-like than Mérida, yet hardly any tourists come. In the city gate and the bastions of the wall, pirate dolls sit next to cannons; one almost believes that the wall was built by pirates and not against them.