Back in February of this year, I took a quick trip down to Playa Del Carmen to use as my launching point to visit some Mayan ruins. It’s a 45 minute drive south from the Cancun airport, a total tourist destination lined with beach loving all inclusive resorts. However, it’s the perfect spot to launch any adventure to the Mayan ruins. Of course the easy way to do this is via a tour company but you can easily do this on your own and you’ll be able to go to site off the beaten path and a little more remote.
The trip started with me renting a car which is something I hardly ever do. I typically rely solely on trains and subways when I travel but in this instance, getting to the sites was impossible without the use of a car.
I try to be the first one at popular tourist sites to avoid the crowds and have the freedom to walk around and pretty much do what I want. Yes, that meant hitting the road at 5am while on vacation. The great thing about the drive is that it’s a straight shot from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza on a newly constructed toll road. Admittedly I did get a little side tracked on the way and ended up in a quaint little town called Valladolid which allowed me to drive around if only to see the quiet town (it was still early). About a 2.5 hour drive from Playa del Carmen is Chichen Itza. With the detour and slow start, I actually got there to what I thought was 8:30 (30 mins after opening) only to find out that there is a time change somewhere so I was actually 30 mins early. Perfect!
After spending about 1.5 hrs wandering around the site, it was time to leave. I felt like all the hassle of waking up early was worth it when I saw hoards of people just waiting to get in. Then it was about an hour drive to another site Ek Balam. The drive is painfully unassuming with nothing to see and you’re driving through a radio dead zone of sorts so it’s doubly painful. Of course, once you’re there, you’re treated to a site that is relatively untouched by most tourists since it is out of the way and it’s much easier to get a more hands on experience of the site.
Another early day and it was off to Coba. This site is a little more popular with tourists since it’s easy to get to so again, arriving first was great. The main attraction is the large pyramid that you can climb for a view that seemingly goes on forever. The entire site is fairly large so you can rent a bike or hire a pedicab if you’re really not in the mood to walk. It can be a bit of a walk to the different sites but with no people to contend with, I was perfectly happy to walk.
Finally, it was a pick stop at Tulum on the way back. This site is probably the most picturesque of all the sites since it’s on the coast but it’s also the least rewarding. The parking fee was well more than twice the price of admission and it’s a very small site. It’s also extremely popular with tourists since it’s the easiest site to get to so sadly the crowds were unavoidable.
This was a really quick getaway during the President’s Day weekend but it’s great to just get away. Going in the off season kept the cost low, the weather was prefect, and I wasn’t fighting tour groups that would otherwise be there during the high season. These short trips just give me enough of a taste to suppress my appetite while fueling my plans for a longer trip I usually take in November.