While Europe languished in the Dark Ages, a great civilization arose in Mesoamerica. In addition to impressive stone cities adorned with gorgeously decorated shrines, pyramids, and apartment buildings, the Maya developed a complex written language, a yearly calendar more accurate than our own, and an advanced understanding of astronomy. On the Yucatán Peninsula, we advise venturing beyond the crowds to the less-explored regions of the Southern Lowland jungles, where the Late Classic period of the Maya (600 – 900 A.D.) offers an astounding legacy for the creative explorer. The best jumping-off point is the friendly Spanish colonial seat of Mérida, built on the site of the ancient Maya city of T’Hó, a charming and comfortable place famous for its street music, dancing, and festivals.
You may want to spend a day or two visiting the famous Inca cities of Chichen Itzá and Uxmal, in addition to lesser-known sites such as Sayil, Labná and Dzibilchaltún. Visit Maya ceremonial caves, take in the cultural atmosphere at the colonial town of Izamal, and get a glimpse of contemporary Maya life in rural villages where bicycle carts still provide the main form of transportation. Explore the cenotes, a vast interconnected system of limestone caverns where deep pools of crystalline water offer a cool counterpoint to the tropical heat. Snorkel among the stalactites and revel in rays of sunlight piercing turquoise water shimmering with silvery cave fish.
Heading south to Palenque, Calakmul, and Mayan Lowland Jungles, you can explore royal palaces and towering limestone pyramids — many of them recently discovered and still under excavation — in a rainforest alive with parrots and howler monkeys. Discover hidden glyphs and frescoes celebrating the great Maya rulers, and swim in refreshing waterfalls tumbling down from highland jungles. Search the pediments for hidden carvings at the Temple of the Skull and the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque. Travel deep into the wilderness to the remote and seldom-visited Rio Bec sites, where half-excavated palaces and pyramids emerge from the vine-draped jungle of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.
You’re likely to spot parrots, toucans, tarantulas, spider and howler monkeys, or even, with luck, a jaguar. Climb the highest pyramid in the Maya world for a 360 degree view of an internationally protected tropical forest stretching all the way to Guatemala. Sit in the shade of the ball court – now overgrown with strangler figs, ceibas, and other jungle trees – and use your imagination to reconstruct this mysterious high-stakes game, where the losers might lose their heads. Visit grand tombs and sacrificial altars and try to decipher the glyphs on the monumental columns or stelae that have given archaeologists tantalizing clues into the distant past. Ponder the causes of the mysterious collapse of this great civilization between 800 and 900 A.D.
A Yucatán trip isn’t complete without a visit to the spectacular white sand beaches and brilliant turquoise waters of the Caribbean coast. Venture deep into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve, where you can spot sea turtles, dolphins, and a diversity of seabirds and aquatic species. Snorkel in the clear Caribbean waters cradling the Western Hemisphere’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem. Explore the ancient trading outpost of Tulum, perched on a cliff above the sea, and the jungle city of Cobá. We have no trips planned to the Yucatán at the moment, but if you’re interested in setting one up or just want travel advice, please feel free to get in touch.