Mexico is the 14th largest country in the world and is divided into 32 States. Cancún is in the state of Quintana Roo. Just like many popular tourist destinations, there are several tours offered in Cancún, either within Quintana Roo or to the nearby states. On the 26th of September 2018 I decided to take a break from the busy city life and went on a day tour to Chichén Itzá (pronounced tjitj’en itsa) which is approximately 200 km away from Cancún, in the state of Yucatán. The full day tour (8am – 6pm) was 36 USD (R 530) pp and included a buffet lunch with delicious Mexican food and a stop for a swim at XCajum (pronounced shka hum) cenote.
On our way to Chichén Itzá, our helpful guide informed us about the Maya culture. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from him because prior to booking the tour I did not know anything about the cultures in Mexico or that Chichén Itzá even exists.
Originating in the state of Yucatán, about 2600 B.C, the ancient Maya people were famous for their outstanding skills in agriculture, pottery, calendar-making and Mathematics. There are an estimated 7 million Maya people still living in and around the state of Yucatán.
I think the Mexican culture is similar to the South African culture because of the rich heritage and colourful artistic expressions. The love for music and dancing definitely makes me feel at home.
I’m so happy I had the opportunity of seeing Chichén Itzá, which is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and the most visited ancient ruin in Mexico. These ruins were once a large city, built by the Maya people who named the area “Chichén Itzá” which means “At the mouth of the well of Itzá.” This is because there are many cenotes (sinkholes) nearby which they used as a source of water. The main purpose of Chichén Itzá was to serve as a religious center for the people in this region.
El Castillo (the castle) dominates the center of Chichén Itzá. This 30m high pyramid has exactly 91 steps on each side leading up to the top on the temple. When you include the steps taken to enter the temple, the total number of steps adds up to 365 – one for each day of the Mayan solar calendar, known as the Haab’. The same calendar that predicted the year 2012 to be the end of the world.
One of the reasons Chichén Itzá is a world class site is because of its phenomenal architectural design. Twice a year shadows align the steps of El Castillo creating an image of a snake. Many of the sites in Chichén Itzá are known for their exceptional acoustic design. For instance, El Castillo creates sounds that mimic the chirp of a bird which resembles the sound of the Mexican Quetzal, a sacred bird in the Mayan culture. The ‘chirp’ can be triggered by a hand clap made at the base of the staircase.
XCajum is a 35m deep cenote, 116 km north of Chichén Itzá. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been struggling to deal with the heat here, so cooling off at this cenote was a great feeling especially after spending hours walking around Chichén Itzá. The average daily temperature in the Yucatán state is 32 degrees Celsius, with a real feel of 45 degrees Celsius, well, for me!
Do you remember Laguna El Dudú from the Dominican Republic? Well since then, I’ve been curious to know the difference between a lagoon and a cenote. A lagoon is a freshwater lake near a large body of water (lake or river) whereas a cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes the groundwater.
Mexico visa requirements for South Africans
South African passport holders are required to apply for a visa prior to visiting Mexico. When I left South Africa, I only got a USA B1/B2 tourist visa because I needed it to be in transit to connect to the Dominican Republic. This worked out in my favour because if you have a valid USA visa, you are visa exempt in Mexico for a maximum stay of 180 days.
Are you planning on visiting Mexico? I highly suggest that you do. I’m so excited to continue exploring this picturesque country and of course eat more tacos!
Thank you for reading!