A thin strip of land dotted with hotels and resorts on either side, surrounded by the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea lapping at pristine white sand beaches is the heart of the tourist landscape of Cancun, Mexico. Before visiting Cancun, I had heard of it because of the film festival held annually. Cancun, I discovered, had much more to offer than its beautiful setting. A three-day trip to Cancun offers great sea-side experience at all inclusive hotels where you can eat all kinds of cuisine, while sipping exotic drinks. If you decide to step out and explore there are historical Mayan sites and natural beauty to explore within two to three hours of Cancun.
For Indians, a visit to Mexico is like being in a comfort zone. People look quite the same, the landscape is similar and most importantly the food is spicy and at times quite familiar. However, it was the professionalism of the tourist machinery in Cancun that was a pleasant surprise. The hotel strip is remarkably clean, the staff in the resorts polite and capable, and even the local buses are tourist friendly.
While in Cancun, a trip to downtown is worth a visit. The local buses charging one dollar for a ride take you there. Along the way, there are huge sprawling malls, and a rotating tower that gives a panoramic view of the setting of the city.
Our first day in tranquil Cancun was spent lazing on the beach, near the swimming pool, eating all sorts of food, watching the in-house entertainment shows, including at the night club.
The next day we decided to visit the famous Mayan site, which in 2010 was selected as a wonder of the world. Chichen Itza, meaning “mouth of the well of the Itza” was one of the largest Mayan cities. It is 125 kms from Cancun and a day spent there is a walk through history and culture. We took a package tour from Cancun, and were accompanied by two guides who were witty and knowledgeable.
Chichen Itza is a sprawl of architectural remains, which are symbols of culture and history. The jewel in the lot is the El Castillo or The Kukulkan Pyramid. A square-based, stepped pyramid, it is approximately 75 feet tall, built for astronomical purposes. During the equinoxes, the sun’s shadow forms a serpent like image on the western balustrade of the pyramid’s main stairway. Legend has it that it signifies the descent of the revered Kukulkan, a feathered serpent God of the Mayans. On one side of the pyramid is the ball court, where some columns still exhibit colours. There is also a long walkway with many pillars, believed to be the remains of ancient meeting halls.
Anywhere you walk in the site, relics of a glorious civilization greet you. On the sidelines of the site, locals sell Mayan masks of great colour and beauty. Straddling centuries from 600 AD to 1200 AD, Chichen Itza stands as a reminder of the different streams that form the basis of human civilization.
From the ruins of Chichen Itza we drove to the quaint colonial city of Valladolid. A small town in the Yucatan province, it provides a glimpse of the mix of Spanish history and Mayan influence. The food is spicy delicious and heavy, while the colonnades, pastel stucco and paving-stone streets give the city an open feel.
The cathedral of San Servacio o Gervasio stands in front of a beautiful garden with charming love seats. It gives a peaceful and yet majestic setting to the central square of the city. Lots of traditional handicraft, local food and modern products are sold in the city lanes, which remind one of old Europe. You can also see many women in traditional Mayan costumes. Nearby, about three blocks east of the central square is the Cenote Zaci. Apart from man-made wonders like Chichen Itza, the natural beauty of the area is also outstanding. A cenote is a natural sinkhole, created due to the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.
The stone steps leading down to the cenote, which is surrounded by a cave-like formation surrounded by lots of green foliage is a spectacle. Birds and reptiles were hovering in the nooks and crannies of the limestone walls surrounding the cenote. Under the awnings of the cave, the water about 280 feet deep was perfect for diving. We did not go in for lack of a change of clothes, but there were others splashing in the water. The place was cool, and presented a different atmosphere from the bustling town nearby.
Exploring Cancun and its surroundings brought home the similarity of human pursuits and endeavour across continents, both in the past and present. When infused with a local hue, the tapestry becomes unique and magical.