Maya ruins, white sand, turquoise blue sea, coral rocks… With its lagoon on one side and enchanting Caribbean Sea and beaches on the other, Cancun being the most popular tourism center of the Mexican Yucatán Peninsula is certainly no coincidence.
As soon as we reached
Cancun, the most popular tourism center of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, we
rent a comfortable car as our intention is to explore the Yucatán Peninsula
beginning from Tulum, traveling towards the Cancun center. The Yucatán
Peninsula is famous for its cenotes especially around the Tulum region. These
are natural wells formed as a result of cave roofs collapsing. Cenotes, that
may be referred to as Mexico’s natural swimming pools, are also one of the
natural touristic beauties of the Yucatán region… After reaching the cenote Ik
Kil, our first stop, which we have been waiting for with great excitement,
studying this amazing scene with great admiration, I can understand even better
why the Mayas used the cenotes for their rituals throughout history, and
surrender myself to the freezing waters.
As we pass over to Chichén Itzá, which is on our route to learn more about the Mayas, we are confronted by El Castillo, one of the best preserved Maya pyramids in Mexico.
According to our guide, every year on the days of the equinoxes, the sunlight that hits the protruding corners of the pyramid creates a series of zigzags beginning from the top of the pyramid extending to the serpent head bust, therefore adding the body to the serpent head formed by the play of light and shadows.
Each of the four facets of the pyramid symbolizing the four seasons has a stairway consisting of ninety steps leading up to the platform on the top of the pyramid. Adding the platform on the peak to the 364 steps, totals 365 -the total number of days in a year. As I examine the pyramid that with all this detail well deserves being included on the list of the Seven Wonders of the World, my admiration increases even further.
After making my way through the surrounding peddlers and paying a quick visit the other ruins in the area like the High Priest’s Temple, the Great Ball Court, and El Caracol (Observatory), I leave Chichén Itzá.
We are having dinner in Valladolid, a typical Mexican town. The waiter asks what we want to eat from the Mexican cuisine that adds chili sauce to every meal, and even some of the drinks. As I begin to name the entire menu “fajita, quesadilla, enchilada, guacamole...” I learned from our guide, the waiter opens his eyes widely in surprise. Even though I try to hide my embarrassment by explaining how the Caribbean air increases a person’s appetite, neither my Spanish nor the time of this energetic waiter trying to keep up with this crowded touristic area is enough. I conclude the day with this pleasant meal.
Our destination on the second day is the Cozumel Island that is reached by boat from Playa del Carmen. Carmen with its restaurants, water sports, and entertainment centers is one of the most famous coasts here. Even early in the morning, the crowds on the shores are remarkable. As we wait for the boat to arrive, we tour around Quinta Avenida, a street in Playa del Carmen closed to traffic. While the surrounding shops are still quiet in the coolness of the morning, I get the chance to look at the handmade jewelry and the wooden souvenirs.
In a short time, we reach the island by boat. Cozumel is one of Mexico’s smallest islands. There are tourists from all over the world here for the sports activities including snorkeling or scuba diving, sailing, boat and even kite surfing. I visit the underwater world of Cozumel’s clear waters where I just cannot get enough of photographing the colorful reefs visible even without using a diving mask.
In the afternoon, we are moving on to Tulum that is situated on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. In this stunning region, one of the last settlement areas where the Mayas lived, we are totally surrounded by the Maya archeological areas. Hospitable traders, who are all Mexican, relate stories emphasizing the religious importance of Tulum for the Mayas. This journey into the history of mankind in the center of the vast blue seas totally captivates me.
Stopping off at Akumal, a small coastal town on my route, I enjoy tasting the homemade calamari tortillas and looking around.
Cancun’s iguanas are like the cats in Istanbul. The calm, harmless iguanas walk around freely almost everywhere. I am not scared when I see the sign on the Puerto Morelos road “Beware of the Alligators” -in fact this increases my curiosity to see the South American tropical animals, so I have to visit the Croco Cun Zoo. In this interactive natural life park, I manage to see alligators quite close up, I come in close contact with snakes, monkeys, and even deer, and experience the pleasure of feeding them. This natural life venue offers an experience much more than simply roaming around zoos where animals are imprisoned in cages -it actually makes you feel like a guest in their natural habitats.
We are traveling to Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) that is only a 20-minute boat ride away. Like everyone that visits this pleasant island, I rent a golf buggy to travel around. Swimming in famous Playa Norte covered in white sand is something quite different. Joining a boat tour of the island, we visit bays unreachable with buggies. One of the most exciting stops is the MUSA Underwater Museum. Visitors can either dive to tour the museum, or stay on the boat and capture unique photographs with their cameras. I was one of those who chose to dive. After all, these certainly are not scenes a person will come across easily anywhere else!
MUSA is also the world’s first underwater sculpture museum and all the sculptures are positioned in different places. According to our tour guide, the city government decided to establish this underwater museum as a solution to prevent excessive crowds and visitors to the area. Here, I feel like I am in such an unreal atmosphere that nothing can disturb me. At that moment, for me, the world has come to a total standstill on this tiny Caribbean island.
As my Cancun trip that has offered me much more than I imagined is coming to an end, which of the parks that I heard so much about should I visit in the limited time left? I find it difficult to decide: Xel-Há Park, Xplor, Xcaret… After all, you can dive in one, cross over the ocean and enjoy the magnificent forests full of iguanas in the other… I choose to go over to Xel-Há, rent a bicycle and take a walk in the forest. When I get tired, I rest in one of the hammocks in the park, but still I do not ignore the chance to canoe on the river and ride a pedal boat.
As you know, Cancun has a tropical climate. Even if there is not a significant change in the temperature, we do get caught in a sudden downpour of rain. So when the rain got heavier, we take shelter in the Cancun Interactive Aquarium where I feed sharks and confer with virtual underwater characters. The aquarium that is in walking distance of the Cancun Hotel Region called “Hotelier Zone” is one of the places that surprise not only children, but also adults. I am pleased that I took the advice “Be sure to see it; this is not like any other aquarium you’ve seen.” When I leave the aquarium, the rain has stopped and the sun is shining.
The shopping malls in Cancun, including La Isla, Las Americas, and Kukulcan Plaza, have an open-air concept and places with a pleasant breeze. Especially La Isla is a favorite at meal times because it’s on the shore of the lagoon. While touring the shopping area in Downtown Cancun, I get the chance to examine the adorable Mexican hats worn by musicians playing marimba in various places, and complain that they are too big to fit into my suitcase. But at least I still have room for some of the small, cute iguana statues!