Dzibilchaltún covers an area of about 16 square kilometres, in which there are about 8400 structures. The central part of the site covers three square kilometres, which includes several temples and pyramids, as well as a cenote of unknown depth, one of the largest in the Yucatán. Many of the structures date back as far as 500 B.C.
From downtown Mérida, you can catch a colectivo that stops down the road from the temple. A 10 minute hike from there along a trail through the jungle gets you to the entrance to the site, where they charge 50 pesos per person ($7.50 CDN) to get in. The day we arrived, it was a scorching 40-something degrees, with 100% humidity, so the fact that the small museum on the site was air-conditionned was worth the price of admission in itself.
The site is divided into two parts, separated by a one kilometre long road. At one end is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, named after seven ceramic dolls found there as offerings to the gods. At the other end is a courtyard, a pyramid, a ball court and the cenote, as well as an open chapel that was constructed during the Colonial era, in the late 16th and early 17th century.
The cenote on the other side of the site is open for swimming, if you don’t mind thousands of little fish chasing you around the whole time. What’s curious, of course, is that there are any fish at all in the cenotes, since they’re fed by a series of deep, underwater channels of water that snake beneath the entire peninsula. There are no rivers or streams connecting them on the surface, so the fish have to descend to incredible depths (over 100m) to move between one cenote and the next. From what people have told us, the fish that live in the cenotes are blind, which is kind of cool.
We hiked back out to the road after a few hours of wandering around, the sat waiting for a colectivo to drive by and pick us up. For 30 minutes we sat around, the air totally still and boiling hot, with only the sound of the mosquitos and the cow in the field next to us. I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with it, but the way it hollered made it sound demented and insane. I honestly hope I never drink any milk from that one; no way that’s safe.
Lo que tu eres, yo fui
Lo que yo soy, luego serás
— Inscription on the pirate Mundaca’s Tomb
With a couple weeks before school and work starts, we decided to visit Isla Mujeres (lit. The Island of Women), a small island that sits about 11 km off the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, in Quintana Roo. A few hours east of Mérida, the island is surrounded by the turquoise, bathtub warm, crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, and is the site of some spectacular snorkeling and diving.
Isla Mujeres is tiny — about 8 km long and between 300 and 800 metres wide — and has a population of 7000 residents. The main part of the town sits on the north-west tip of the island, but there are some smaller colonias in the central Salinas area, as well as on the south end. Although it was once a fishing town, the main business today is tourism. Unlike Cancún, however, Isla Mujeres has a much more relaxed, laid back pace of life, and it hasn’t yet turned into a party town full of drunken gringos. The locals appear to want to keep it this way, and the local San Francisco store stops selling alcohol at 8:30 or 9:00 in the evenings.
The best times of day for the beach are sunrise and sunset. The boatloads of tourists from Cancún aren’t there, and the beach is nearly empty. The water stays warm 24 hours a day, and the sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. During the afternoons, the beach is packed with people and the sun is intense enough that if you don’t fork over the 60 pesos ($10 Canadian) for a beach umbrella, you’ll fry like bacon, even with the SPF 50 they sell at the super market. There’s a reason most Mexicans swim in shorts and a t-shirt.
There are a lot of other things to do on the island. One of the most interesting is the Sea Turtle conservation park. This is the only facility in Mexico dedicated to preserving endangered sea turtles, such as the Hawk’s Bill Turtle, which grows to over 100 kg, and lives to around 120 years old. The sea turtles have been hunted to near extinction because of world-wide demand from for their meat and shells. At the conservation facility, the turtles are bred, cared for, then released back into the wild. There are no railings on the walkways above the huge walled off section of ocean where the largest of the turtles swim, and according to the guy who showed us around, if you fall in, “te comen!”, “they eat you!”.
All in all, it was a great vacation before everything gets crazy here. We hope we’ll have time to go back at some point for another visit. The place to stay is definitely the Hotel El Marcianito; the guy who runs it is totally friendly, and gave us a ton of advice on places to see.