Whilst in Tulum we booked a tour to Chichen Itza, probably the most famous set of ruins on the Yacutan peninsula (we’ve all seen pictures on Instagram!). There are many tour touts working in Tulum, but to book the tour we used a company called iTour who I found via TripAdvisor. On their website there was a whatsapp number which I messaged randomly to see if they had space for the next day. After exchanging a few messages in bad English (them) and bad Spanish (me) we booked a tour to Chichen Itza from Tulum starting at 8.30am and ending at 8pm, including transport, swim in a cenote (more on this later) buffet lunch, Chichen Itza, tour guide around the ruins and a stop in Valladolid for 900 pesos each (£40). I was unexpectedly poorly the following day so we couldn’t go as scheduled. We moved it back a day in the end, which gave us time to pay beforehand. Feeling nauseos we cycled up to iTour HQ and I’m not sure what happened but we ended up paying 900 pesos for both of us! What an absolute bargain. Felt pretty good to con the conners that tour touts are 😉
The day of the tour rolled around, and we had a full day ahead of us. We were picked up from the iTour meeting point by a mini bus that took us a few kilometres outside of Tulum to Tortuga Cenote. At 9am in the morning this place was ram packed full of mini busses and coaches. Knowing a swim in a cenote was included in the tour, we assumed this was it, albeit rather early in the day. It wasn’t, this was just a meeting point for people to change busses. It was all a bit disorganised but we were assigned coach #23 along with 3 Swedes from the original mini bus and the journey continued on towards Chichen Itza.
After a few hours on the bus we rolled up to cenote Ek-Il, a well known cenote close to the ruins. So basically, a cenote is a sink hole, a masssssiveeeeeee sink hole. Water runs underground in this part of Mexico, and these natural wells provide amazing places to swim, there are thousands of them across Mexico, each one different to the next and I thoroughly recommend going to at least one. We stripped down to our swimwear, put all our stuff in a locker (apart from towel the iPhone for some serious snaps of course) then took a mandatory shower before heading down a long flight of stairs to the cenote.
It was really beautiful and refreshing and really deep water – 50+ meters deep in fact, which meant lots of jumping and diving was going on. You could rent a life jacket if you wanted to, which isn’t a half bad idea – treading water was knackering! The water was dark green and not salty at all (although you shouldn’t drink it obvs, tourist piss yuckkk), and there were fish swimming around that nip you on your limbs every now and again. The sunshine came pouring in from the top of the well, creating a little sparkling effect across the water, little bits of magic trickling across the little waterfalls. We had about 40 mins in the water to splash around and explore before we had to get out to change and get back on the coach. 40 mins is more than enough, it really was a workout trying to swim and stay afloat for that long in fresh water but it was really beautiful and a great place to people watch.
Next stop was buffet lunch, (thank god, we were starving) which was really tasty and we definitely got our money’s worth. I’m not sure if I was deliriously hungry or something, but as I got off the bus I fell off the bottom step and sprained my ankle. Not ideal for sightseeing and hobbling seriously slowed down my pace toward the buffet too. Of ALL times to get injured and I chose that one, sheesh. The other downside to lunch was that loads of tour busses stopped at the same place, so it was mega busy and mega touristic. Local people dressed up as Mayan warriors and did a tribal dance on a stage whilst we ate lunch and some other people dressed up as Mayan villagers dancing to deafening music with bottles and shot glasses on their heads, apparently this is traditional too?! I can’t bear this type of entertainment – forced on you for tips, but I get it, everyone needs to make a living. Feeling full, slighting deaf with a busted left foot, I limped back on the bus to our next stop: Chichen Itza. We were really excited to finally see the Mayan temple, one of the 7 wonders of the world. We were even more excited to have a guide who could explain everything to us, especially as we didn’t have a guide for Tulum.
We were warned to go early to Chichen to avoid big tour groups, but we were a big tour group and it wasn’t nearly as busy as it could have been, winner. We were assigned an English tour guide and headed toward the main temple, (me limping at the back). Man the heat was intense, swelteringly intense where even shade didn’t provide much relief. The main temple was incredible, how on earth it was built without any of the technology we have now is beyond me, even though the Mayans were technologically advanced themselves. We also saw a “sports” area, where people would compete against each other to put a ball through a hoop at least 10 meters off the ground, by climbing a concrete wall without using hands or feet. The best competitor was then sacrificed to the Gods. If I’d been a Mayan, I’d probably be as crap at sport as I am as a Brit, thank god. And that’s about all we learned from the tour guide, he was completely and utterly useless and I swear he was making it up as he went along. Arbitrary comments like “this jaguar seat is probably a throne, when making the sacrifices” and “Pavarotti was here in 2007” wasn’t helpful when trying to work out what the temple at Chichen Itza was actually used for. The tour was supposed to be 40 mins long, I’d say at best it was 25 mins with 15 mins of walking so looking at around 10 mins of talking time, if that. Cheeky buggar even wanted a tip afterwards! Being truely British we passively aggressively tipped at the end, grrrr.
We left the group and went off on our own exploration of the site (limping). There were signs in front of the ruins to read, but they literally only talked about how each structure would have looked in highly technical detail, so if you were a builder or architect it was perfect. We made many mental reminders to google stuff at the first sign of wifi. Walking around the complex, it was huge – Chichen Itza even has its own cenotes (don’t think you can go in them though, was tempting to try as it was so darn hot). The site is also home to a huge amount of street sellers shouting “1 dollar 1 dollar, nearly free!” whilst holding up a trinket, trying to get you to buy all sorts of stuff that looks authentic but was probably made in China. There were some authentic street sellers selling handmade jewellery, so if you want to shop Chichen Itza is the place! We meandered through the ruins at a leisurely pace (limping along) until around 5pm when it was time to head back to the coach. We managed to squeeze in a few obligatory tourist shots too, difficult with a gammy ankle:
Last stop was a little town called Valladolid, a typical Mayan town. It had pretty little buildings lining the streets and also a crap load of tourists on coaches following the exact same tour format as ourselves. We walked around the town square before finding a pharmacy to get some painkillers for my foot. Strongest painkillers ever, over double the strength of the ones back home and no prescription required. I was right as rain in no time, skipping along like nothing had happened..
The Chichen Itza tour was a long day (over 12 hours in the end) but it was totally worth it, highlight was definitely swimming in the cenote. Top tip, definitely research the tour you want to go on and shop around. We found out whilst on the tour that everyone had paid a different price and purchased their tour from different places. Get a price and then see if you can find someone who will beat it, it’s definitely worth it!
Back to Tulum!