Our arrival in Cancun was marred by an unfortunate event at the airport — we were corraled by an official-looking man who promised to get us to our resort shuttle if we would give him 5 minutes. He ended up inviting us to a presentation of a time share (no pressure, he promised) which would entitle us to two free excursions. We decided to do it based on his insistence that there would be no pressure. What a mistake! More about this part of our vacation in the lessons learned section which follows the trip chronicle.
We stayed at the Royal Sands resort, one of a number of high-rise time-share complexes along the beach in the Hotel Zone of Cancun. Our place was located on the 7th floor with a breath-taking view of the ocean (Photos #1, 20, 21)and the pool area.
After our presentation on Sunday morning we basically lounged in the pool area and on the beach for the remainder of the day, soaking up the tropical atmosphere. The beach at Cancun is magnificent (Photos # 2, 3, 4), with miles and miles of pure, sparkling, white sand fringed by a gorgeous turquoise blue ocean. The resort has small thatch-roofed umbrellas and chaise lounges on the beach to make the scene even more idyllic. We had dinner on Sunday at El Conquistador, in the Royal Mayan resort. Food was very good, and the live guitar music was excellent.
Monday was another "veg" day on the beach and at the pool. We had an okay dinner at Captain’s Cove, which does have a great setting on the lagoon — beautiful at sunset.
On Tuesday we headed for Tulum (Photos # 5,6,7,8,9,10,11), considered the most beautiful of the Mayan cities because of its setting, right on the Caribbean coast. Our guided tour included much background about the Mayan civilization and its culture. Our group was small, only 8 people, so we had a chance to meet and talk with the three other couples extensively, and we saw several of them throughout the week.
Tulum is a relatively small archeological site so our tour was fairly short (which was probably fortunate because the temperature was in the 90’s and it was extremely humid). The Mayan word "tulum" means wall, and this was a walled city, built primarily for trade and as an early warning system for defensive purposes. We discussed the major buildings on the site, then returned to Cancun.
Another relaxing beach day, made notable because of our dinner and Mexican show at the Hacienda Sisal, on the Royal Sands property. We had a Mexican buffet which was very good and the show was excellent, with dancers performing many of Mexico’s regional dances in traditional costumes — very entertaining.
Our next and most-anticipated excursion was to Chichen Itza (Photos # 12,13,14,15,16,17), the huge, Mayan ceremonial center west of Cancun. Chichen Itza is the best-preserved of the Mayan sites and may have supported a population of 35,000 at its zenith. The most impressive ruin is El Castillo, a huge pyramid dedicated to the Mayan god, Kukulcan, the local equivalent to Quetzlcoatl of the Aztecs. The pyramid is 24 meters (about 75 feet) tall. Its four sides are stairways, each with 91 steps, making a total of 365 steps in all, the number of days in the Mayan year (the Mayan culture was obsessed with time and there are many examples of time related symbols on the site). The stairways rise at a 45o angle and, unfortunately, may no longer be climbed because of accidents and damage to the building.
Another structure on the premises is the Observatory (El Caracol) which was obviously used for astronomical purposes. The slits in the walls are associated with the positions of key stars on certain, important dates of the year.
The Ball Court is the largest in all of Mesoamerica with a length of about 170 meters (550 feet). The games that were played were more ceremonial and much more serious than sport, and there is evidence that the winner were decapitated (an honor, since it offered a heroes welcome into the after-life).
The Temple of the Warriors is perched on a small pyramid and is noteworthy for its snake-like columns and sculptures of Chac, the Mayan god of rain and lightening, and Kukulcan.
North of the Platform of Venus is a path which leads to the Sacred Cenote (Cenote means “well”). This well, however, was not used as a source of water, but had a more sinister purpose. Human sacrifices occurred here. Chosen individuals were thrown into the well to drown.
Our dinner (part of the tour) at La Fiesta, in the small town of Piste’, just outside Chichen Itza, was terrible, a tasteless buffet, a sophomoric dancing show, a waste of our time (and we were given 90 minutes here!). Overall, I loved the tour because of Chichen Itza but it could have been done in 5 – 6 hours instead of 12.
The rest of our vacation was spent sunning and shopping in the Cancun area. We went downtown several times but did not find it worth the time (we thought things might be cheaper away from the beach, but, except for Walmart, this was not true). The mall we liked best was La Isla which is a huge complex on the lagoon side of Kukulcan Blvd (the main strip through the Hotel Zone). It was attractively laid out with a stream running through which was designed like San Antonio’s Riverwalk (boat rides are even available). The only other notable experience in our last few days was our dinner at La Dolce Vita, an (if you can believe it) Italian restaurant, which we found excellent!
1. Unfortunately, tourists are often targeted for scams, since they typically are not in familiar surroundings and may be easily suckered in by opportunists who pretend to help them. We encountered this type of situation in the airport at Cancun. We were taken aside, promised a number of "free" things, and then subjected to an extremely unpleasant presentation from a company called the Sunset Group, who were touting their time-share complex on the lagoon. To make a long story short, our 90-minute (promised) presentation turned into a 3 hour marathon of badgering and attempted intimidation. Then when we had had enough and told them emphatically "No!", they became downright rude! Lee was really shaken by the experience.
Remedy — tourists should be on guard, especially in airports and train stations for this type of situation and should simply refuse or ask for literature instead (which can be scrutinized later).
2. Another "tourist trap" which unwary travelers may encounter involves packaged excursions, such as our trip to Tulum or Chichen Itza. Invariably, the bus stops at some local outlet for native crafts or other souvenirs. Resist the tendency to buy here. It is obvious that the tour operator and/or guide gets a kickback from these vendors, which probably means that the prices here are higher than they might be in other places. We have found this to be true in many places around the world, and we have resolved not to be tempted by these opportunities, but simply to ask for prices so that we can be sure of a better buy somewhere else.
3. Mexico provided a good example of travel to under-developed countries. We have found that poverty creates a very unpleasant environment for the traveler. People constantly have their hands out, and confront you with their need. Those selling things are thrusting their wares into your face. I guess they are just trying to survive, but they frequent tourist sites because of the large number of visitors. Some can be downright obnoxious.