Tony & Cheri's PlayaZone

Adventures in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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–The Mayan World

One of the great experiences in visiting Playa Del Carmen is the chance to see ancient ruins from the great Mayan civilizations of past centuries. The Maya were/are a people indigenous to Mexico and Central America and formed one of the most complex societies the world has seen. The Maya at their peak controlled much of what is now Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, along with Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. Theirs was a culture with great advances in art, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and economics. Evidence of the Mayan Empire dates back to 1800 B.C. and continues until the Spanish Conquest of Mexico in the 16th century.

It is important to remember that while the great Mayan civilization may have disappeared, the Mayan people have not. Many of the current inhabitants of Playa Del Carmen and the surrounding area are Mayan, with a different culture and language from Spanish Mexico. Treat their history with the same respect you would ask for your own. You will find many tours and activities in the Playa Del Carmen area which allow visitors to experience both the ancient ways of the Mayan civilization and the way of life of the modern Mayan people. Xcaret and Xel-ha Eco parks both offer displays and performances of this type.

There are three major ruins within easy driving distance from Playa Del Carmen: Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Cobá. Each of these archeological sites offers something unique.

Chichén Itzá
The pyramid at Chichen Itza, one of the new 7th Wonders of the WorldChichén Itzá is probably the most famous and most visited of the ruins in the Yucatan. Primarily built in the 10th century (although the city existed there in some form for centuries before) the ruins spread out over 2.5 sq. miles and include many buildings and temples which have been restored to their original state. The most popular and photographed of these is the Castillo or great pyramid, which was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World on July 7, 2007. At this time the public is no longer allowed to climb the pyramid but it is still quite impressive from ground level. In the evening the park holds a sound and light show. During the summer solstice, the main pyramid’s role as an astronomical tool comes into play. The pyramid is designed so that shadows and light make it look like a giant serpent is slithering down the steps of the pyramid. This annual event draws thousands of spectators. Chichén Itzá is approximately a 3.5 hour drive from Playa Del Carmen.

Tulum ruins, on the edge of the Caribbean SeaTulum was not a city but rather an outpost on the sea. It may have been a temple, and some suggest it also may have been an ancient light house. It has been discovered that when lanterns are placed in the windows of the main pyramid, they mark exactly an opening in the coral reef through which boats can pass. Tulum is much smaller than Chichén Itzá and can be thoroughly explored in an hour or two. Tulum’s location on a cliff overlooking the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea makes for spectacular vistas which beg to be photographed. You can hire a guide or take a self guided tour as there are signs offering information about the buildings in several languages. There is also a nice public beach within the park beneath the towering Castillo/Pyramid. Tulum also has the added benefit of being very near to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mayan Riviera. Within a half mile of Tulum is the El Paraiso beach, one of our favorites. Nearby is also the small pueblo of Tulum with restaurants and shops. Tulum is about a 50 minute drive from Playa Del Carmen and about halfway between Playa del Carmen and Cobá.

Pyramid at CobáCobá is our personal favorite of all the archeological sites. Cobá was a central trading and commercial city for the Mayans, located on the roads leading in and out of the Yucatan. Although its existence was known for years (explorer John Stephens heard of it back in the early 1800’s) it was not re-discovered by modern archeologists until the 1920’s and there was no attempt to restore it or reclaim it from the jungle until the 1970’s. As a result Cobá has a mysterious “Indiana Jones” feeling about it. Those buildings that have been restored are still surrounded by the rain forest. Birds and monkeys still cry in the branches nearby. And Cobá is the only ruin site near Playa Del Carmen where tourists can still climb to the top of the pyramid and gaze out over the jungle treetops. Cobá is about an hour and a half drive from Playa Del Carmen.

These are the three major Mayan ruins easily accessible from Playa del Carmen. However, evidence of the Mayan civilization is everywhere throughout the Yucatan. Ruins can be found on Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and throughout the area. The three archaeological zones noted above can be reached easily by rental car, bus or tour. If you are staying with us at the Luna Blue Hotel and Garden we will be glad to help you arrange a tour or transportation.

5 Responses to “–The Mayan World”

  1. Rod Glose said

    My wife and I are coming to PDC, June 4-10. We have been to Puerto Vallarta a few times and fell in love with Mexico and its people. This is our first time to PDC, and we are looking forward to it. Unfortunately we are not staying at your hotel(we are staying at the Magic Blue), as I simply booked a place before reading about your site. If are stay is as incredible as we expect, we will probably have the opportunity to stay with you in the future. Thanks for website and blog, it has been very helpful and enjoyable!

    Question: My wife is very concerned about renting a car and traveling to Coba and Tulum, concerned about local criminals taking advantage of tourists. Is this a real concern?
    Thank you,


  2. Rod,

    Thank you for the kind words, and we hope that the information from our blog and website helps make your vacation a good one.

    Tell your wife not to worry. It’s a sad fact that many North Americans have a vision of Mexico based on old Humphrey Bogart movies. They think there are bandidos waiting around every corner and that visitors are regularly preyed upon by criminals. That simply is not the case. Many of Mexico’s crime statistics show less problems than are experienced in many other countries, including the US and Canada. We have taken the road to Coba dozens of times over the years and have never had a single incident or problem. The road is modern, well-paved, and travels through a couple of villages before reaching the archaeological park. There is no reason to believe you will encounter anyone wishing to do you any more injury than selling you an overpriced hammock. Go and enjoy your day.

    Tony & Cheri

  3. Sylvia said

    Hey,was just wondering what progress is being made in Mahahua, when will it be open to the cruise ships? Any new pictures available?

  4. June said

    Tony & Cheri,

    Thanks for this great info! Right now we don’t have Coba on the itenerary. But after reading your article, we want to do it.

    How long will it take to cover Coba? We were planning to do Tulum & Coba on the same day (Tulum 1st & then Coba).. Is it doable?


  5. Hi June.

    Yes you can explore both archeological sites in one day…but don’t. There are other things to see and do on a trip to either Cobá or Tulum which would get lost if you are just racing from ruins to tuins. Cobá is about 2 hours from Playa Del Carmen. It takes about two to three hours to explore the park, including climbing the pyramid. That’s about six hours just for Cobá. Along the road to Cobá are a few little villages where you might want to stop and shop for souvenirs. Also on the way to Cobá is Grand Cenote, a beautiful natural swimming pool in the jungle which is great for enjoying the natural beauty of the area.

    Tulum is about 45- 50 minutes from Playa Del Carmen. The archeological zone is quite small and can be fully explored in an hour or so. Afterwards you can enjoy the beautiful beaches and beach clubs, of Tulum. Both sites are worth seeing and spending some time at.

    Tony and Cheri

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