–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 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 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.
Cobá 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.