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CANCUN

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CANCUN

MAYAN RIVIERA

The wonders of Cancun are not reduced to its cosmopolitan centre, on the contrary, they are everywhere around this 160 kilometre long coastal fringe, baptised as the Mayan Riviera.
With a fantastic geography and a prodigal nature, the zone adds to its inherent attractions the magnificent constructions raised in pre-Columbian times, when the Mayans ruled over these lands.
You must visit the following places in the Mayan Riviera, which extends up to the border with Belize:

-Tulum: The Mayans built a beautiful city on the rough cliffs of the Caribbean. Its work is simply admirable, in so much that the first Spaniards who saw it compared it to Seville, and not due to homesickness for the land afar, but to praise its exultant excellence.
The city power had started to rise during the Classical period, but its beauty became perpetual during the Late Postclassical (1200-1521 D.C.), when the city enjoyed its time of splendour due to its importance as a link of the maritime-terrestrial trading chain of the Mayans.
Probably built with docking purposes, Tulum had five entrances and two towers which, according to researchers, are clear evidence of the strict control exercised at the city that was called Zama (Dawn on Mayan language) in those times, for being a perfect vantage point from where to watch the sunrise.
The name Tulum (Wall) surged in the XX century, in reference to its large walls keeping three sides of the Archaeological centre.
These walls are the best known and the best kept of the Mayan architectonic legacy.
Within the 6 kilometre long archaeological zone, the following precincts must be visited:
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    • The Castle: It juts out due to the beautiful façade of its upper temple. It is 12 metres high and at its entrance door, two serpentine columns, zoomorphic figure heads and an image of the descending god stand out.


    • Temple of the Descending God: A religious precinct wherein this divinity was worshiped; it was the equivalent of the Aztecan god Tzontemoc which represented the sun setting at dusk. It is located north of The Castle.


    • Temple of the Frescos: It is one of the most important constructions in Tulum. There are valuable murals in its interior, representing the creatures of the infra-world. The work, considered one of the most brilliant samples of Mesoamerican mural painting, shows the cosmic-vision and believes of the Mayans. It has Toltecan influences.
    Other precincts of interest are the Temple of the God of the Wind, The House of the Cenote (a wide pit-like spring), The House of the Columns and the Kukulkan Group. There is also an excellent view of the beaches surrounding Tulum, which in pre-Hispanic times welcomed the Mayan trading ships.
    This important archaeological compound is 132 kilometres south of Cancun and a kilometre away from a town holding tourist infrastructure.

    -Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an: Its name of Mayan origin is translated as "Where the Sun is Born" or "Gift of Nature", perhaps for being a temple of nature with swampy sceneries, tropical forests and sea corners, in which more than 800 plant species have been registered, along with 339 bird species, 103 mammals, and an unbelievable variety of insects, comprising 90 species of native bees, to cite an example.
    You can see part of the second largest reef barrier of the world within the reserve.
    Besides, there are breeding grounds for lobsters in its bay, attracting thousands of aquatic birds.
    Low and floodable tropical forests, mangroves and coastal meadows configure the geography of Sian Ka'an, which according to its dimensions (528148 hectares), is one of the three biggest natural areas in Mexico; an authentic blast of wildlife that justifies its denomination as a Biosphere Reserve.
    Travellers can get to this magic spot of nature through two main routes. The first one goes by the Boca Paila and Chunyache lagoons, thus allowing to appreciate mangroves and savannahs, whilst the second route leads to the San Miguel Lagoon and the Island of the Birds.
    It is recommended to visit Punta Allen as well, a small town located in the midst of the reserve, wherein you will be surprised by the peculiar way of catching lobsters. You need to be in good physical conditions and to hire a specialised guide in order to undertake this adventure.
    The Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an is located 140 kilometres south of Cancun and a few kilometres away from the pre-Hispanic citadel of Tulum.

    -Coba: It is an ancient Mayan city built in the middle of existing lagoons and at a splendid tropical site. It is characterised by the numerous roads that part from it, and which are known as sacbeob. Built between the years 600 and 800 D.C., they are part of an extensive communication web utilised not only for commercial purposes, but with an economic and political aim as well.
    Amongst its pre-Hispanic roads, the most important was the one leading to Yaxuna, a city located in the neighbouring state of Yucatan, nearby Chichen Itza, the main Mayan city. The road is the longest of them all with a length of almost 100 kilometres.
    This important city, located 47 kilometres away from Tulum, had a population of over 50000 inhabitants. The archaeologists have identified close to 6000 edifications on its 100 square kilometres, therefore it might had been the largest of all Mayan cities.
    According to investigators, the construction of Coba started in the Late Postclassical period (100-250 D.C.). Its peak was reached between the years 800 and 1000 D.C.
    While in Coba, whose name has been translated into "Place of Muddy or Shaky Waters", you must pay attention to the following architectonic groups:
    • Coba Group: It is conformed by temples, platforms, pyramidal bases, plazas and patios. A large pyramidal precinct 24 metres high, known as the church, stands out; it sustains a temple with certain Toltecan characteristics on its top.
      Likewise, it contains palaces of huge dimensions, which would put into evidence the importance this city had. Northbound roads or sacbeob part from its plaza.
      The visit is complemented going through the court of the Game of the Ball, which is north of the church. It is adorned with representations of human skulls, prisoners and hieroglyphics.


    • Nohoch Mul Group: The tallest and most voluminous buildings of Coba rest at this elevated zone. It also has patios, plazas and valuable artistic pieces such as the Stela 20, the best preserved.
      Amongst its notable structures, the Nohoch Mul - word of Mayan origin meaning "Great Hillock" - formed by a large pyramidal base of over 30 metres high, stands out. It dates back to the Early Classical period (200-600 D.C.), but centuries later a 42 metre high temple was built on its top, considered the tallest of the Mayan civilization.
      Another important precinct is the Great Platform; with its 30 metre height, 100 metre length and 25 metre width, it is the most voluminous construction in all the north-eastern part of Mexico. The Xaibe or Crossroads also stands out. It is a building with a semicircular base wherein the sacbeob (roads) 1, 5, 6 and 8 meet.


    • Macanxoc Group: Formed by a handful of low platforms on which small temples and circular altars rest. Some of these structures are preceded by stelae sculpted with inscriptions and representations related to the Mayan civic-religious festivities. A remarkable example is the Stela 1, four dates matching the final years of the VIII century D.C. can be appreciated on its surface.
    -Xcaret: It is one of the most beautiful places on the eastern coast of the state of Quintana Roo, for here the indescribable beauty of the Caribbean Sea conjugates with the leafiness of the forest and the monumentality of archaeological precincts of great historic importance.
    Its current name is translated as Inlet, though it is believed that during pre-Columbian times it was called Pole, a term related to trading deeds and merchandises, which would proof its condition as a seaport of great importance for the Mayan civilization. It was a venerated ceremonial centre as well.
    It is currently an eco-archaeological theme park in which valuable pre-Hispanic constructions are complemented by subterranean rivers, lagoons and natural pools. In addition it has a bird sanctuary, butterflies, sea turtles and trained dolphins.
    It is 55 kilometres south of Cancun and 5 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen. You need to pay an entrance fee in order to visit the park and another one for accessing the archaeological zone.

    -Xel-Ha Lagoon: Its crystalline waters host an important variety of tropical fishes. It is part of the homonymous park, which is formed by subterranean rivers, cenotes (wide pits) and forest sectors hardly explored.
    The lagoon, whose name translated from the Mayan language means "Water Entrance", is considered as one of the largest natural aquariums in the world, and a magnificent place for the practice of snorkelling.
    In ancient times this natural area was a port of call for Mayan merchants; hence it played a major role in the maritime traffic of merchandise and goods. The pre-Hispanic presence is evident on its walls, buildings, monuments (ceremonial and religious), and on a 540 metre long sacbeob (road).
    There are representations of birds and felines on the buildings, but also scenes from marine life probably elaborated during the Early Classical period (100-600 D.C.)
    The lagoon is located 115 kilometres away from the city of Cancun, at the kilometre 240 of the Chetumal-Cancun highway; whilst the archaeological site is on the western side of the Federal Highway 180, Puerto Juarez-Chetumal, and 16 kilometres away from Tulum.

    -Akumal: It is a serene bay at the Mayan Riviera; its name translated into English means "Place of Turtles", a explicit denomination due to the annual presence of these parsimonious and aged animals which come to ashore to lay their eggs.
    Its limpid waters, its cenotes (wide pits) and subterranean rivers, attract ever more travellers, especially prone to scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking. It is 105 kilometres south of Cancun and 37 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen.

    -Playa del Carmen: Due to its landscape of reveries and its tropical semblance, it is one of the places of the Caribbean Sea most sought after. You need only to imagine its turquoise waters and its extremely fine sands to think about Eden, an Eden that has turned into one of the most sophisticated destinations of the Mayan Riviera.
    Before the tourist boom, Playa del Carmen was a modest town of fishermen. Fortunately, the zone's development was well planned and it has allowed the conservation of a great part of its rustic charms. It is less than 60 kilometres away from Cancun.

    -Cozumel Island: Known in ancient times as Cuzamil, Mayan word meaning "Land of Terns", it is the largest inhabited island of Mexico. An exotic place bathed by the most transparent waters of the world, with a visibility of down to 70 metres deep. A sea that strips its depths for eyes avid for discovering its varied flora and fauna. For this reason, Cozumel is one of the best spots for the practice of scuba diving and snorkelling.
    Coral reefs and beaches of white sand complement a scenery richness that becomes imposing at natural areas such as the Chankanaab Park, housing 300 plant species native to 22 countries and a splendid lagoon with multicolour fishes.
    There are also archaeological zones in the island, such as San Gervasio, the largest in Cozumel, with temples, urns and sacbeob (roads).
    It is 68 kilometres south of Cancun, before Playa del Carmen.

    -Chichen Itza: The splendid constructions of this pre-Hispanic city reflect the genius of the Mayan architects, a dexterity that despite the passing of time keeps the world in awe, as UNESCO rightly recognised in 1988, when it acknowledged it as Patrimony of Humanity.
    Chichen Itza is a city of stones founded in the year 400 D.C., which during the years 500 and 900 D.C. turned into the most important Mayan religious centre, that reached a total extension of 100 square kilometres with an efficient water system and an excellent web of paved roads, which connected it to the rest of the pre-Hispanic settlements.
    This great historic legacy is 188 kilometres away from Cancun. You will find more information concerning Chichen Itza at the Merida destination.

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