Our third and final stop on our cruise was Mexico. For our excursion here, we were off for a full day of adventure, starting with climbing the Mayan ruins at Coba and ending with a swim in a nearby cenote!
Nancy Drew and the Mayans
I’ve been wanting to see Mayan ruins since I was younger and started playing the Nancy Drew computer games. I bet you didn’t even know those were a thing, but they are and they’re wonderful. And they’ll give you a lot of random knowledge about a lot of different topics, like Mayan culture. In the game, Secret of the Scarlet Hand, you get to solve the mystery of a stolen artifact at a Mayan museum exhibit, which means you get to dig around in all the museum display cases and in the replica of a Mayan temple. A character even falls down the steps of the temple, which I’m surprised was not a regular occurrence after having climbed one myself.
And since Kevin likes gaming and mysteries, I of course had to introduce him to Nancy Drew as well. So we played the game together and now we’ve gotten to climb an actual Mayan pyramid together!
Cozumel to Playa del Carmen
We were up with the sun when the ship docked in Cozumel. As with all of our excursions on this trip, we booked through Royal Caribbean, so they took care of getting us from Cozumel to the mainland for our tour. Once off the ship we were ushered onto a ferry to take us to Playa del Carmen. It was a rocky ride, but thankfully the cruise line had given us sea sickness medicine before we got off the ship. I managed to fall asleep for most of the way there and Kevin, even though he was feeling a little sick, still managed to take pictures of me as he had every other time I’d fallen asleep on our vacation.
On the Road to Coba
Once off the ferry, we found our tour group and were taken to the buses. We were given sack lunches and put on a small van, which unfortunately made for a very terrible trip. We were crammed in the back seat of the van without any air conditioning reaching us, and it was a very long and hot ride. From my middle seat, I couldn’t even see out the window to watch the scenery go by. But bad transportation does not make for a bad trip! We were soon able to escape the van for a little while in favor of the Mayan ruins at Coba.
Climbing Coba’s Pyramid
Coba was an important city for the Mayan people. It is unique in that it was an urban hub of different settlements laid out in one area, connected by 50 sacbes, or “white roads,” made of stone that connected the different communities to the center of the site and the surrounding lagoons. These are the paths visitors take to tour the site, either by walking, biking, or riding in a bicycle taxi. Coba doesn’t see as much tourism as Chichen Itza because it is in such a remote location and because it’s not so picturesque, but at Coba you are still allowed to climb the main pyramid, and that’s what really cinched the deal for us.
Near the entrance of the site is the Coba Group structures that include the church, called the Iglesia, and a ball court with two slanted stone walls on either side. In this Mayan ballgame, players would have to bounce a rubber ball through stone rings on the slanted walls. The game had a ritualistic aspect where they would often sacrifice members of the losing team. Further on, we passed another of these ball courts. This one had the Mayan numbering system on one of the walls.
There were still many more sites at Coba that we didn’t see, but after a long walk through the jungle, we came to Ixmoja, the largest of the Nohoch Mul Group of pyramids. At 138 feet tall, it’s a long climb to the top, and a steep one as well. They have a rope going down the middle of the steps for people to hold on to, but it’s really easier just climbing hunched over and keeping your hands on the steps above you to keep you steady.
It’s 120 steps to the top, and it can be a rough climb in the Mexican heat and humidity. You’re out in the middle of a jungle, hours away from any hospital, so you might as well take it slow so you don’t fall or get hurt in any way. There’s no shame in taking a break on the steps and looking out at the jungle. Halfway up the pyramid and you’re already over the treeline, so there’s always a good view.
But the best view is from the top. The lush green jungle spans out for miles in front of the pyramid.
The climb down the pyramid is the tricky part. The best way seemed to be just scooting down on your butt, taking it one step at a time. We stayed close to the rope, but mostly I was fine without it. I only used the rope when there was one large uneven step to get down and wanted something extra to hold on to.
Back on solid ground, we took the sacbes back to the van where we ate our lunches before piling back inside car.
Cooling Off in the Cenote Multum-Ha
A cenote is a natural sinkhole, created when the roof of a cave has collapsed, revealing a swimming pool of clear water beneath. In Mayan culture, they were used for sacrificial offerings. The Cenote Multum-Ha was about a 15 minute drive from Coba and down a 60 foot spiral staircase. A wooden platform juts out into crystal clear water. Ropes span the cave for you to hold on to while you swim.
Since we were a small group in our tiny van, we had the place all to ourselves until the larger tour groups arrived, and it was one of the best swimming experiences I’ve ever had. The water was so clear and fresh and cool, and you could just float around on your back staring up at the cave ceiling.
When the larger group showed up and intruded on our tranquility, it was time for us to go. The van ride back wasn’t nearly so bad after having relaxed and cooled off considerably in the cenote. We were back in Playa del Carmen and boarding the ferry for Cozumel and the ship in no time.
What’s your favorite Mayan site? Let me know in the comments!