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PLAYA DEL CARMEN

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PLAYA DEL CARMEN

SURROUNDINGS

- Tulum: It is one of the most spectacular Archaeological complexes of the Mayan world. It is an imposing city surrounded by a wall that extends along 6 kilometres over solid cliffs facing the beautiful Caribbean Sea.

It comprises administrative buildings and religious temples and might have been an important commercial city during the Mayan peak, to which vessels coming from other settlements of ancient Mexico arrived. A hypothesis sustained by the finds of objects and pottery made in the Yucatan peninsula, obsidian and jade from Guatemala and copper rings made in the plateau.

Tulum, the only pre-Hispanic construction in the coast of the Riviera, reached it maximum splendour between the years 1200 and 1400 D.C. In those times its people called it Zama, Mayan word which translated into English means "Dawn", maybe because for being at the heights of the eastern coast, it allows fully watching the rising of the sun.

The first Spaniards to see it where dazzled by its superb architecture. In that time the chronicler Juan de Grijalva described it as "a city as big as Seville", and he added that it had the tallest tower he had ever seen in his lifetime.

They watched in admiration the 60 structures which where part of the ancient Zama. It also had five accesses and two observation tower, clear evidence of the control and surveillance to which inhabitants entering or leaving the city where subject.

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    The Tulum denomination - Mayan word that translated into English means "wall" or "palisade" - would emerge a time after the arrival of the Europeans, to refer to the solid 4 metre high walls that guarded the archaeological complex on three of its sides, impressing everyone who saw them.

    Likewise, the coastal zone of the archaeological complex needs to be pointed out, a place where vessels belonging to the Mesoamerican traders docked in the past. Nowadays it is much visited by travellers who do not hesitate to enjoy the coolness of its waters.

    This important archaeological zone is almost 70 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen and 128 kilometres away from Cancun, being connected to both through wide highways. The following constructions stand out at Tulum:
    • The Castle: It was the temple of the god Kukulcan, represented by a feathered snake. Its façade has three accesses decorated with serpentine columns, zoomorphic figure heads in the corners, and an image of the descending god, a figure that is always upside down and which can be found at various places of the building. It is also the tallest construction of Tulum.


    • The Temple of the Frescos: It is a two story building with four columns on its entrance. The singular frescos painted on the walls call for your attention. According to studies, they represent the Mayan deities of the infra-world, constituting a valuable example of Mesoamerican mural art.


    • Temple of the Descending God: A niche above a door in which the winged figure of the Descending god - the main religious representation of Tulum - can be seen, is all that remains of this construction. According to scholars this would be the image of Ab Muxen Cab, the Mayan bee god.
    Other constructions of interest are the House of the Cenote (big pit-like spring), which shows the importance of the cult of the water to the ancient settlers of Tulum, The Kukulcan Group, formed by minor buildings such as the Temple to the God of the Wind, a deity related to Kukulcan; and the House of the Columns and Halach Uinic, clear examples of residential architecture.

    - Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an: Beaches, reefs, pit-springs (cenotes), forests and coastal lagoons configure the beautiful geography of this "Gift from Heaven" or "Beginning of Heaven" (according to the English translation of its Mayan name), which has a 528148 hectare extension, being the third largest protected natural area in Mexico due to its size.

    Life is present in multiple shapes, sounds and colours at its humid areas. Its flora and fauna diversity is manifest in its 800 plant species, 339 birds (amongst resident and migratory species), a hundred mammals and a vast variety of insects, where the 90 types of native bees stand out. For these and other reasons, UNESCO declared Siam Ka'an Patrimony of the World in 1987.

    One of the major pearls of the natural necklace of the reserve is the extensive barrier of coral reefs that is found before the coast, with lobsters breeding grounds and keys where thousands of aquatic birds arrive. There is also an ample web of canals built by the ancient Mayas, which are utilised by today's travellers.

    Punta Allen, a modest and picturesque town located at the end of the road in the Bay of La Ascension, is the starting point of an aquatic adventure to Boca Paila and Chunyache, in which you navigate through mangroves and savannahs; or to the San Miguel lagoon and the Island of the Birds, home of hundreds of aquatic birds.

    Sian Ka'an is 140 kilometres away from Cancun, very close to the archaeological complex of Tulum. It is recommendable to be in good physical conditions in order to visit it, and to seek the company of a specialised guide.

    - Boca Paila: It is a calm and sleepy town, free of the large hotel and commercial complexes. It is a peaceful haven that is part of the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an, where the wild environment has hardly been modified by men. The lodges existing in the town are austere and of little comfort, but the lack of luxury should not intimidate the traveller, for the geographic beauty is overwhelming and makes you forget any shortages.

    The beach of Boca de Paila is extremely attractive as well. Its barrier reef, 200 metres away from the beach and a special place for scuba diving, stands out. There is also a lagoon connected to the ocean.

    The town is located in the midst of the peninsula of Sian Ka'an, at a distance of 31 kilometres from Punta Allen.

    - Akumal: It is a warm and quiet bay of the Mayan Riviera, protected by coral reefs that run parallel to the coastline, at a 300 metres distance. The presence of this barrier moderates the strength of the surf, turning it into gentle currents.

    Its name of Mayan origin is translated as "Place of Turtles", because every summer these parsimonious and aged animals arrive to is coasts to lay eggs, repeating year after year a marvellous natural, unique and moving spectacle.

    Besides its excellent and generous beaches, Akumal has cenotes, or fresh water pits, being for this reason one of the destinations preferred by snorkelling and scuba diving devotees.

    It is 37 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen and almost 105 kilometres south of Cancun. It has the necessary services to offer the tourist an agreeable stay.

    - Xcaret: It is tourist complex inspired on the philosophy of the conservation of nature. It is in one of the most captivating places of the Mayan Riviera in the middle of the forest zone, thus allowing a close contact with the flora and fauna, omnipresent at each one of its corners.

    Its name translated into English means "Inlet", though it is thought that the ancient Mayas called it P'ole, a word referred to commercial activities, because the zone was a seaport of great importance.

    But the ancient P'ole was not an important seaport only, but a venerated ceremonial centre. Nowadays, it is an eco-archaeological park which harmonizes the Mayan architectonic vestiges with splendid natural landscapes, where its cenotes or sacred pits, its lagoons and rivers (one of them subterranean), and its beautiful coves stand out.

    Scuba diving and snorkelling are practiced with assiduity in the zone. Another recommended activity is a horseback ride, though perhaps the most amusing experience might be the chance of swimming near the dolphins.

    The tour would not be complete without visiting the temples, platforms, walls and pre-Hispanic precincts located alongside the coast. It is believed that most of these edifices were built during the Mid and Late Postclassical Period (1200-1550 D.C.), though their origins might have been from the Early Classical (200-600 D.C.).

    The pre-Hispanic vestiges are administered by the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH), which entrance and functioning are independent from the park. Xcaret is 5 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen and 55 kilometres south of Cancun. You have to pay to enter the park and the archaeological area.

    - Xel-Ha: It is a lagoon of crystalline waters formed by rivers flowing into the Caribbean Sea, and by subterranean rivers of fresh waters. It is considered one of the largest natural aquariums of the planet for the great numbers of flora and fauna species it holds, being a splendid place for the practice of scuba diving and snorkelling.

    Its Mayan name is translated as "Water Entrance" or "Where the Waters are Born", denomination that might have appeared after the arrival of the Spaniards and that refers to fact that this lagoon provides with water the cenotes, mangroves and caverns that are part of the homonymous national park, a well attended recreation centre.

    During the Mayan times, Xel-Ha was a ceremonial centre and port of call for the ancient pre-Hispanic merchants who traded cacao and salt. There are still several constructions from this historic legacy, such as the Building of the Birds, probably built in the Early Classical period (100-600 D.C.), and other ceremonial and residential precincts, besides a 540 metre long sacbeob (road).

    An admirable wall built with the objective of protection against the enemies that might attack coming from the ocean, stands out as well. It belongs to the Postclassical and Late periods (after the year 1200 D.C.)

    It is located 18 kilometres north of Tulum and 115 kilometres south of Cancun. The closest access to the natural area is at the 240 kilometre signpost of the Chetumal-Cancun road; it is recommended to go through the Puerto Juarez-Chetumal route, through the 180 Federal Highway of Puerto Juarez-Chetumal, to access the archaeological complex.

    - Xpu-Ha: It is a magical corner of the Mayan Riviera, located 93 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen. It has regular surf and is much visited by divers. It has fancy hotels, cosy cabins and commercial establishments.

    - Chemuyil: It is a superb beach of the Mayan Riviera. Its calm and transparent waters are perfect for scuba diving and snorkelling, thus allowing to discover its depths and to appreciate its reefs and colourful tropical fishes from a close distance. It is 43 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen and 110 kilometres south of Cancun. It has small palapas (parasols made of wood and palm leafs), besides the welcoming restaurants before the sea.

    - Puerto Aventuras: It is a tourist complex of sumptuous hotels built facing beautiful beaches of soft and fine sands. There is a marina seaport, a golf course and a nautical museum in this place. Conveniences that enhance the placid experience of visiting the cenotes, or sacred pits of the Mayas.

    It is 30 kilometres away from Playa del Carmen and 90 kilometres away from Cancun.

    - Paamul: Its charming beaches are frequented by travellers who enjoy the calmness or wish to practice some aquatic sport, such as scuba diving or snorkelling. But what causes a major impression is the extremely singular natural spectacle that occurs from May to July, when hundreds of sea turtles lay eggs close to the shore at night.

    From the historical perspective, Paamul was a strategic docking area for ships navigating through the Caribbean Sea during the Mayan prevalence. It is located at 24 kilometres from Playa del Carmen and 85 kilometres south of Cancun.

    - Coba: On a 100 square metre area, the Mayan people built a colossal city, the largest and most powerful in the north part of the Yucatan peninsula. During its years of splendour, this city - integrated by five architectonic groups built in the middle of the foliage - housed up to 50 thousand inhabitants.

    Its Mayan name translated into English means "Place of Muddy or Choppy Waters", due to the fact that its 6000 edifices extend alongside the Coba, Macanxoc, Xcanha and Yax-Laguna or Sakacol Lakes.

    According to investigations carried out in the zone, the surging of the city remounts to the years 200 and 100 A.C. In those years Coba was a settlement of low platforms with palm and wood constructions, of which very few vestiges remain.

    Its political and social importance was increased starting the year 100 D.C., when it begun exercising an ample territorial control in the north of the current state of Quintana Roo and the east of Yucatan.

    Its primary role was sustained upon the variety of its water and agricultural resources, and on the web of roads or sacbeob, which linked it to other Mayan cities, being one of the most important the one leading to the locality of Yaxuna, neighbour to Chichen Itza. The path had a 100 kilometre extension and might have been built between the years 600 and 800 D.C.

    Its political and economic decline would occur after the year 1000 D.C., when Chichen Itza imposed itself as the main centre of Mayan power; however, Coba kept its religious importance between the years 1200 and 1500 D.C.

    To get to Coba you need to take the 180 Federal Highway up to the town of Tulum, where you have to go along a 47 kilometre deviation. Once inside the archaeological complex, you must visit the following architectonic groups:
    • Coba or B Group: It is formed by a collection of architectonic structures, where the notable building known as the church, stands out. It was built during the Early Classical period (200-600 D.C.) and has a 25 metre high tower with clear indications of Toltecan influence. Another precinct of much interest is the one known as "Game of the Ball", whose walls are decorated with figures of prisoners and shows hieroglyphics on the stands. It is the access to the archaeological complex.


    • Nohoch Mul or A Group: Of Mayan origin, its name is translated as "Great Hillock", for it embraces the tallest and most voluminous buildings of Coba, which might have been built during the Early Classical period. Amongst its valuable pieces the renowned Stela 20, kept in perfect conditions, stands out; and the Nohoch Mul as well, where the structure baptised as the Great Platform rests, a structure that due to its dimensions is one of the largest in the northeast of the Yucatan peninsula. Another spot of interest is the structure known as the Xaibe or crossroad, a place where some sacbeobs or roads come together. It is believed that the Nohoch Mul group was built to become the final dwellings for the members of the ruling class.


    • Macanxoc Group: A few steps away from the homonymous lake, it is a cluster of low platforms holding temples and altars, besides stelae with inscriptions related to the civic-religious activities of the rulers of the ancient Mayan city.
    - Cozumel: It is the largest inhabited island of Mexico. Its name means "Land of Terns" and it is said that it was inhabited by the Mayas more than 2000 years ago, who considered it the home of Ixchel, the moon goddess, representative of love and fertility.

    Nowadays, Cozumel continues to be a centre of cult, but not of the moon goddess devotees, but of the waves and aquatic sports worshipers, who gladly navigate the 18 kilometres offshore which separate the island from Playa del Carmen.

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