Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is a well trodden destination being home to various Mayan archeological sites, enchanting cenotes, crystal clear beaches and delectable cuisine. You could spend months here and not ran out of things to do or sights to see. Too much to see, too little time is always a dilemma for tourists on a quick getaway. In a place loaded with beautiful places, the task of choosing which sights to see can be truly daunting especially if you only have a day here. Difficult but not impossible. It's just a matter of prioritizing what you really want to see.
How to spend a day in the Yucatan Peninsula without regrets was definitely our goal having only a day to spare and I can say we pretty much achieved that. It was a fun, productive, activity-filled day but evenly spaced out that we are not running from one site to the other without enjoying it and end up exhausted.
20° 41’ 1.218” N 88° 34’ 12.12” W
Due to Covid 19, only 3000 visitor are currently allowed per day.
What better way to start your day than to visit a World Heritage Site, right?! And I suggest you do too, for sure you will be gobsmacked with awe. Suffice it to say that if I could visit only one place in the Yucatan then it would hands down be the Chichen Itza.
Photo Tip: This place gets crowded pretty fast. Even if you come during the opening hours and you are first in line, chances are you only have a few minutes to yourself to take photo in El Castillo. This is the magnificent 98 foot tall pyramid which is the centerpiece of the Chichen Itza . Once big group tours starts coming, they go really close to El Castillo and so you might think your photo sesh is finito. Don't be in despair, you can still take photos, but this time go far, away from the crowd. Sure, there might still be people in your photo but they will be micro small and the photo focus will be you and the ruins.
Twice a year during Equinox a phenomenon called "the illusion of a feathered serpent" takes place in El Castillo. When the sun dips down the horizon, the shadow of 7 triangles that takes the form of a serpent slithers down the north staircase which eventually gets connected to the head of the serpent at the bottom base of the temple. The serpent is a representation of the Mayan deity, Kukulkan. For the Mayans, this is more than just a play of light and shadow, it is a signal of land fertility that it is the most auspicious time to plant corn. What an impressive engineering feat from the ancient times, right?!
Pre-covid, this has been a well loved spectacle and witnessed by hordes of people. Last year, when Covid struck, and also during this years' equinox, Chichen Itza has been closed to the public. Let's all cross our finger that next year, we will leave the pandemic behind and experience this phenomenon. For 2022, spring equinox falls on March 20 and autumn equinox on September 22.
If you are unable to make it on that specific dated this is re-enacted artificially with the Light and Sounds show.
Cenote Ik Kil
Carretera Merida-Puerto Juarez Km.122
Tablaje Catastral 510 Xcalacoop, Yucatan
20° 66’ 09” N 88° 55’ 05” W
A stone's thrown away from Chichen Itza is the Cenote Ik kil. It's best reach by a cab (if you haven't already rented a car). What we did was hire a cab to wait for us here and take us back to Chichen Itza where we took the collectivo back to Villadolid.
While we weren't the first ones here, we got lucky and enjoy a few moments of the cenote to ourselves because the group who arrived with us wanted to swim so they are required to take a shower first to ensure that they don't have any sunblock in their body.
This cenote is surreal, guaranteed to take your breath away. Prior to going I knew what to expect and it didn't disappoint of course. As for hubs, I just dragged him there, and he really wasn't sure what he was getting into. Walking down into a slippery, dark and wet cave he wasn't really ecstatic, but when he finally saw the cenote, he was in awe to say the least. He can't stop gushing as to how unexpectedly beautiful it is, and so of course, he can't stop taking photos.
Photo Tip: While it is undoubtedly beautiful from down inside, don't forget to check out the view from the top. Ik kil is on open type cenote that have a big hole which you can see from top.
Trivia: There is a hotel conveniently located in the vicinity of Cenote Ik Il which also take on this name Hotel Ik Il. Staying here would mean easy access to the cenote and other exclusive amenities.
Carretera, Ticuch Km.8 S/n 97780 Valladolid, Yucatan
20° 69’ 89” N 88° 12’ 46” W
Mexico have hundreds of cenote, and while they all the have same main characteristic of a sinkhole, there are several types. They all look different and each have its own characteristic. Choosing which to visit is definitely challenging, but I knew that if I only get to visit one, this is going to be 'IT'! With that train of thought then, you would have think that this would be the first cenote I will visit. Well, in another site that would be the case. But for a visit this cenote to be truly special, there are some prerequisite. Meaning if you want to see and experience that magical ray of light shining down on you, there are several things to consider, otherwise it will look just like the photo below.
Make sure to come on a clear, sunny weather.
Come midday if you want the ray of light to be in the platform.
It's possible to see the light beam if part of the light is scattered by small particles like dust or smoke. This pretty much explains the reason why the path of light becomes visible after the locals performers' come holding some sort of a torch with fire. The smoke it produces releases the dispersed particles in the air causes the light to scatter hence a continuous light beam becomes visible.
Note: People who visit Cenote Suytun either hate it or love it! Those who are in the former category, dislike it because of the crowd, that its overhype and it doesn't look like in the photos. My experience with Cenote Suytun is beyond pleasant so I only have good words to say about it. Although we came midday, we got lucky that in the first few minutes of our stay there's no huge crowd. People did slowly came trickling in, and when the Mayans performs, big groups started coming. If you are not into crowds, and your visit coincides with the a big group, then this might put you off. Weather is also a big factor when visiting, the beam of light is not present all the time and when its very rainy, the platform might be submerged into the waters. With that said, for you to love this Cenote, it has to be a mindful visit, with careful consideration and planning. Also bear in mind, that currently they are imposing an hour limit of stay for every visitor.
Cenote Xkeken and Cenote Samula
Valladolid, Yucatan Mexico
20° 39’ 39.48” N 88° 14’ 35.556” W
Not as spectacular as the Cenote Ik Il or Suytun but on the other hand not as crowded. Still impressive enough to be part of your itinerary. As a bonus, its like visiting 2 in 1 Cenotes due to its very close proximity. Although you have the option to visit only one.
Note: Be wary of 'tourist traps' and 'hidden costs'. There are "tour guides" insisting that its mandatory to hire them. No they are not. One guy wouldn't leave us as we went to the cenote, and when we gave him the tip (which is supposed to be voluntary), he said its not enough and asked for more. Some would volunteer themselves to show you the cenote, you don't need them, the cenote is near and there are ample signs. If you let them guide you, you will end up paying them too. The stall sellers on the way to the Cenote can also be very pushy. We didn't swim so we didn't need a lifejacket, but if you do and need one for each cenote, unfortunately the cost is not included in the ticket. There's also additional cost for lockers and toilets.
Photo Tips: (from hubs)
Shooting photo in a cenote with a phone will not really give you the best quality photo you might want.
A tripod is your friend in this dark cave, it is not mandatory though, just shoot with a really stable hand.A tripod will make a huge difference, but to be honest if you're goal is to swim in a cenote or its only a quick stop then its not the most practical thing to be dragging around.
If you still haven't made a habit of shooting raw, then now is the good time to start. This will help in the post processing of your photos.
Reduce your ISO as much as possible to lessen the noise in your photo.
If you still have time to spare and looking for an authentic Mexican experience then stroll around Valladolid and enjoy its old colonial charm. Check out historic churches, take tons of photos from the colourful buildings and streets.
Shop for souvenirs.
And of course, Dine! We have dined only in one restaurant here, but we have been to tons of local restaurants in Mexico so we do have reference in terms of taste. So I highly recommend, Yakunaj Cocina Mexicana in Calle 41#224A x 46 y 48, Centro Valladolid.
That's it! A fun filled day in the Yucatan. I must say, that of course a day is not enough and I would love to come back again and explore it more.
Pin for Later, loves!