“I’m interested in new worlds, new universes, and new challenges. I always said the only reason to make a film is not for the result but for what you learn for the next one.”
– Alfonso Cuaron (world renowned film maker from Mexico)
Last 2017, I challenged myself to complete the 7 New Wonders of the World before my 40th birthday in September. Chichen Itza in Mexico is my 7th wonder.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete it because I chose to prioritise other trips – one to be with my girl friends in French Riviera and one to be with my husband and his family for Christmas in England. So I ran out of budget too, haha! But who is rushing anyway? So I am just happy that I was able to complete my challenge last summer of 2018, just before I turned 41! Lol!
I wasn’t really planning anything but when I found some time off work and no other travel plans scheduled, I saw this as an opportunity to make this Mexico trip happen. The problem was I only have 2 months to plan it and it was too late already to invite friends to come with me (because husband was not available again) so I knew then that this might be a solo travel, again.
I was sceptical to go alone because I am not really familiar with Mexico and have not done any research yet. I only know one girl friend, Kat, who went there on alone, so she was the one who encouraged me to push my plans, she said Yucatan is very touristy so I will even meet a lot of solo travellers there as well.
When I told my husband that I was going to Mexico alone, he was very worried, too. So I just reassured him I am not joining any cartel anyway, haha! Kidding aside, I never felt unsafe during my entire trip in Mexico. Perhaps because the places I went to anyway are quite the safest in all of Mexico – Yucatan and San Miguel de Allende. Yucatan is very touristy and SMA is a popular retirement place for Northern Americans. Even in Mexico City, I only stayed in Coyoacan, the safest area in the city that I even wander at night!
So coming from my trip in Cuba, I flew to Cancun. But as recommended by my friends who have been there, I skipped the more popular “romantic” holiday destination Cancun to a more laidback part of the Mayan Riviera, the Playa del Carmen.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Playa del Carmen is the centre of Mayan Riviera. It is between Cancun and Tulum along Caribbean Sea. The ferry terminal going to the popular cruise destination Conzumel is located here, reason why it became more popular now than before. It was used to be a fishing village but it is now the more laidback option and there are just so many things to do. It is a good base point when you plan to travel around Yucatan as it is very central and not as crowded and pricey as Cancun.
It was very easy to get there, I just took the ADO direct bus from Cancun airport going to Playa del Carmen. I stayed at 3B Chic Hostel which is very close to the ADO Bus station, I just walked with my luggage for 5 minutes and was very safe because it was around the shopping main road 5th Avenue. The receptionist was very friendly, helpful, and can speak good English.
I have my own double room and is located at the 2nd floor, so I could hear the loud music at the rooftop party. It didn’t bother me though as I had a slight fever so I slept like a baby. But I go to the rooftop bar every breakfast whilst watching the 2018 FIFA World Cup with the other guests. I should’ve tried the pool though but didn’t find the time for it.
The day I arrived, I just went to the beach to relax and stayed there until sunset. The beach is nice and has a very soft ivory sand. After sunset people gather at the park to watch some acrobatic show (forgot what it’s called!) then after having my churros, I just walked along the 5th Avenue to shop some souvenirs, Playa is very walkabale and easy to navigate because of the grid system.
Then I had dinner at Aldea Corazon at 5th Avenue because from my research it says it’s underground cenote that they turn into a restaurant. I am not sure if it’s just man-made but the food is definitely the best I had in whole Yucatan region.
The next day, I visited the cenotes. One of the reasons why I chose to stay in Playa del Carmen was the several cenotes you can visit around the area. Cenotes are natural sinkhole used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings. I took the collectivo or mini-van to the 3 closest cenotes that are just few steps from each other from the main road.
I started from the farthest cenote among the 3 cenotes, which is the Cenote Azul. Among the 3 cenotes in this area, this is my favorite. It was in an open layout with a low cliff where you can watch people jumping off it and there are parts that are not so deep and rocky.
The 2nd cenote I visited was Cenote Eden, I just walked from Azul. It’s larger than Azul and very deep that you can scuba dive. It will be good to experience diving in a cenote but I didn’t dive though because, well, it has been ages ago since I last dive! I don’t even remember hand signs anymore to warn them if I’m dying! Lol!
The 3rd and last cenote I visited for the day is Cenote Cristallino. It’s just few steps also from Eden. I didn’t like the layout of this cenote but this is where I already braved the cold waters and finally dipped in to relax.
I initially planned to visit TULUM the next day on my way to Piste (Chichen Itza) but since I still have more time that day, I went to Tulum already because I can just hail a collectivo from the main road to get there in less than half an hour only. Then I took the tram to get to Tulum ruins.
I went specially to Tulum to see Mayan ruins located at the cliffs along the coast of the Caribbean Sea.
The next day, I left Playa del Carmen and headed to Piste. Piste is the very tiny town where Chichen Itza is. It is more known as Chichen Itza that even locals in Playa del Carmen does not even know where Piste is. I wanted to stay at Piste so I can get in the Chichen Itza before tourists flock at around 10am coming from Cancun or Playa del Carmen or Merida.
At Piste, I chose to stay at Piramide Inn. Of all the accommodations I’ve stayed in Mexico, this is the funniest and scariest one, lol! When I travel alone, I don’t splurge on my accommodations and I usually prefer Airbnb or hostels so I won’t feel alone. But there are no Airbnb and hostels that is within Chichen Itza and this hotel (that looks like dodgy motels in horror movies!) is just few steps from the main entrance to the park and I want to be there as soon as the park opens.
I also planned to stay in Piste because I want to spend longer time in Cenote Ik Kil. Ik Kil is the cenote I saw on one photos before that I promised myself that I have to see when I visit Mexico. Because it was so stunning!
Cenote Ik Kil is the most sacred as it’s the closest to Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. It was my 7th and last wonder to visit so I really pushed this trip to happen. And yes, before I turned 41, at least I was still 40 when I visited it! Lol!
Chichen Itza is the 2nd most visited attraction in Mexico. It’s an archaeological site of the ruins of the Mayan civilization. The civilization who predicted that the earth will end last 2012! Well, I guess their calculations were wrong :P
Chichen Itza is close to Cancun and Merida airports, so you can fly directly there and take the day tours from these cities. However, since there were lots of tour buses coming from these places, it is always packed at around 10am-3pm. So it is really advisable to get there around 8am or after 3pm so you can enjoy the site more and take more beautiful photos without the crowd.
Indeed, I was one of the first ones to get in the site, a young couple beat me to first and second, dammit! Haha! Yet, I was still fortunate enough to walk around this site with less tourists like me! And also, it wasn’t that hot yet at 8am so it was really good decision to stay at Piste for a night.
It only took me 2 hours to go around the site, it is the largest Mayan ruins in the world but I didn’t hire a guide so it was quick for me. The places I’ve visited at the site are the following:
- The Pyramid of Kukulcanor El Castillo – it is the most famous icon of Chichen Itza that you see mostly in any photos because this is the largest temple-pyramid on site. This is the temple of Kukulcan or the serpent god.
- Temple of the Warriors Chac Mool – used for sacrifice at Temple of Warriors
- Great Ballcourt– the largest ballgame court in all of ancient Mesoamerica. It is also where the oldest game or sport was ever played.
- Temple of the Jaguars– Attached to the ballcourt complex with stone jaguar.
- Cenote of Sacrifice – not swimmable apparently
- High Priest’s Grave– a smaller version of the “Castillo”
There is also a regular Light & Sound Show every night and it’s free! However, I didn’t have time to stay one more night in Piste as my flight from Merida going to Mexico City is already on the following day. If I didn’t screw up my bus schedule the previous day, I could’ve seen it. This will probably the same as the Light & Sound Show in Pyramids of Giza that I’ve seen when I visited it.
See my trip to Giza, Cairo Egypt HERE.
Merida is the capital of the Yucatan Peninsula. I wasn’t expecting much to do and see in Merida as I only planned to stay here for a night before my flight to Mexico City.
But it surprised me with a vibe that for the first time I felt I was already in Mexico! It was a Sunday so I was very lucky that there was a Zocalo on the day I arrived there! Zocalo is like a street party, where bands play whilst people dance.
I stayed at Casa Jade Hostel because it is centrally located in the old town, and just few steps from the main plaza. And since I am alone, I was expecting to meet other travellers if I stay at a hostel. But there were none! Even the receptionist left after I checked in, haha!
Anyway, I just went alone to the plaza to find something to eat and I quite enjoyed the atmosphere because of the Zocalo going on. There were lots of locals dancing in the street wearing their traditional clothes and lots of Mariachi (again!). It rained but the people continue partying in the street.
After the rain, I saw my first and only rainbow for this trip! I love rainbows, it always send me a message for me every time I see one (which is very rare for me). I stopped by a restaurant, ordered my dinner and Michelada, then I just stare at the rainbow and reflect on my own.
The rainbow reminded me of this recent achievement I’ve done for myself. My challenge to complete the 7 New Wonders and pursuing it despite knowing I will be travelling alone in Mexico. It also reminded me of the new challenges I encountered on this trip that managed to get through alone.
I’m interested in new worlds, new universes, and new challenges. But the result of completing my challenge is not so important at all, what’s important is what I have learned overcoming the obstacles on this trip that can help me for the next adventures in the future.