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Yucatán Adventure: Valladolid and Chichén Itzá


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Valladolid is a small colonial town in the state of Quintana Roo whose main draw for tourists is its proximity to the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam. Our Airbnb was a surprisingly modern and chic villa in a rather nondescript residential neighborhood several blocks from the city center. Our host was very kind in helping us locate an ATM but we were completely unable to withdraw cash no matter how many we tried thanks to a scratch on the magnetic strip of our debit card. Eventually we were able to get a cash advance on our credit card which came with an irritatingly large fee.
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We spent our first evening in Valladolid strolling around the town. On the way to the center we passed by Cenote Zaci, a huge sinkhole right in the middle of town where many locals were still swimming. Next door was a touristy restaurant where they had dancing waiters and a lady making tortillas at the entrance.
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The Zócalo, or central square, was a grassy space with some kiosks selling street food, toys, and crafts. Surrounding the square were the main church, city hall, and several upscale hotels. We ate at one of the hotel restaurants where we had a good meal of Yucatan standards such as cochinita pibil accompanied by mezcal cocktails.
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In the morning we went directly to the municipal market. Valladolid had a typical mid-sized produce market where we were never far from the smell of freshly-slaughtered meat. There were plenty of food stalls lining the outer wall and we had an excellent breakfast of empanadas and tamales. Something about being around all the raw ingredients in a market makes the cooked food taste even better.
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We had thought Chichén Itzá was just outside town but it was actually a forty-five minute drive. As we neared the ruins traffic slowed to a crawl and it took us another half hour to reach the entrance. The parking area was blocked off and we were directed further down the road which was lined with parked cars. Eventually we arrived at the last car and walked about a half mile back in brutal heat. Long lines of people snaked everywhere and I took my place at the end of the one that seemed to be for the ticket window. For about ten minutes we stood around and nothing moved. Mei Ling went to the front with the boys and did her Jedi mind trick, and then brought me up to a security guard who showed me directly to a ticket window. The river of humanity passing through the entrance was pretty ridiculous.
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Chichén Itzá is by far the most celebrated of all the Mayan ruins and I'm sure there's a very good reason for that in terms of historical significance. However the reason was lost on us and I'm sure on 95% of the other visitors. Some of the buildings were impressive to look at, especially the Pyramid Of Kukulcan. Fortunately climbing was not allowed on the pyramid so we could see it in its original form rather than blanketed by people in their bright vacation outfits. However there were still thousands of people scattered around the large clearing in which the ancient buildings were situated and the setting was nowhere near as interesting as Coba or even Tulum. Hawkers were selling drinks and knickknacks everywhere and some people in indigenous oufits were performing a dance of very questionable authenticity. This was the fifth of the "Seven Wonders of the World" I had visited and the atmosphere was very similar to the other four - the Great Wall, the Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, and Christ the Redeemer. I have Petra and Macchu Picchu still to go. Hopefully I'll find them more worthwhile.
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As we walked out of the entrance to begin the long trudge back to our roadside parking spot, we noticed that cars were being waved through into the lot. Except for having jumped the line it didn't seem to have been our day. We hadn't spent as much time at Chichén Itzá as we anticipated so there was plenty of time to visit the local cenote Ik Kil. From above Ik Kil looked just as scary as Zaci and much more crowded, but there were plenty of life jackets so we climbed in and hoped no one would jump on top of us. It was quite different from Cenote Carwash which had been at ground level in a wooded area. Here we could look up and see sunlight streaming in from above as though we were in a stadium with a retractable roof. The cave walls were festooned with green plants and long vines hung down from the surface like the tentacles of a jellyfish. It was a very beautiful and refreshing experience despite the crowds.
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In the morning we trooped back to the market which we were pleased to see was in full swing despite it being Sunday. We had breakfast of roast chicken and tamales and took a short detour north to the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam.
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Ek Balam was as quiet and peaceful as Chichén Itzá had been chaotic and crowded. There were a few other people around but we often had an area to ourselves. I made up for leaving Ian out of the pyramid climb in Coba with a trip up to the top of the structure called the Acropolis. It wasn't as steep or slippery as the Coba pyramid but we still had an awesome view of the surrounding forest. It was funny that after I had resolved not to make any effort to see any Mayan ruins other than Chichén Itzá, we had already seen three other sites that we liked better. I didn't know it then but the best was still to come.
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About halfway between Valladolid and Mérida is the "Yellow City" of Izamal. The town gets its nickname from the yellowish-brown color of almost every building in the town center. We had a refreshing lunch on the outskirts of town and then drove into the center. The Zócalo was surrounded by buildings of different shades of yellow and gold including the Convent of San Antonio. There were a few food carts in the square and we got a dessert of marquesitas, crunchy crepes with caramel filling. Afterwards we walked up the hill to the convent and admired its colonial facade which looked from the front like it had been cut out of clay with an Exacto knife. Once back on the road we set a course for Mérida, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Yucatán Peninsula. It was New Year's Eve and we were ready to party.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 12:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged valladolid chichen_itza izamal

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