It is no surprise that over 5 million tourists visit the beaches of Cancún each year. The color of the sea is extraordinary. It exhibits infinite variations of blue, from aquamarine to cobalt, and every shade in between. Stepping onto the bleached white sand is like stomping on pure all-purpose flour, and plunging into the clear temperate water feels like slipping between cool silk sheets on a warm summer night.
After breaking one of our month-at-a-time travel rules by visiting a touristy resort, we will violate another by not staying for an entire month in one place. The Yucatán Peninsula is too vast and varied, and its inland treasures too alluring to skip over. As such, after a couple of beautiful beach days in Cancún, we started inland on a month-long counterclockwise loop to circumnavigate the peninsula.
Gazing expressionless out the bus window, we now understand why the limestone surface of the Yucatán is considered one of the most monotonous landscapes on earth. The terrain is covered in a thicket of dense vegetation, and appears as flat as a tortilla. Just below the surface; however, the landscape got a lot more interesting.
Thanks to the underground movement of freshwater, the porous limestone of the Yucatán is perforated by an extensive network of subsurface caverns and is pocked with over 10,000 surface sinkholes called cenotes. On our first day inland, we found three cenotes, and descended long stairways into these underworld marvels. For the full experience, we boldly dove into their chilly crystalline waters.
Floating on our backs inside the water-filled caverns, we passed beneath dripping stalactites, nesting swallows, and a colony of circling bats. Beams of sunshine infiltrated the grottos through small holes in the natural limestone ceilings, illuminating the blue-green waters and the stratified walls of the cylindrical cavities. Trees on the rims of the cenotes let down their roots to the groundwater surface like Rapunzel and her long braids.
Back above ground in the colonial town of Valladolid, we found Spanish-style buildings with ornamented facades painted in a variety of vivid pastel colors. As we continue across the Yucatán Peninsula, we also plan to visit the other colonial cities of Merída and Campeche to better appreciate their places in the history of the region.
Before the conquest and colonial era, the Yucatán Peninsula was home to the great Mayan civilization. Today, the Mayan language is still commonly heard on the streets, and Mayan ruins continue to vastly outnumber living towns. On a short half-day trip from Valladolid, we visited Chichén Itzá, the largest and best-preserved ancient Mayan city in the Yucatán.
Our visit to this Mayan masterpiece revealed the skilled masonry and architectural mastery of this advanced civilization, and introduced us to their progressive use of calendars, mathematics, astronomy, and linguistics. As we slash our way through the dense Yucatán territory, we hope to find several other Mayan archeological sites and secret ruins concealed within this jungle forest domain.
On the last leg of our month-long Yucatán circuit, we will climb back up the Caribbean side of the peninsula, to discover the relatively unexploited Costa Maya and the more heavily developed Riviera Maya coastal areas. By the end of the month, we hope to return full-circle to Cancún, for one last walk on its pure white sands, and a final swim in its infinitely blue waters.