Journey to Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

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Palenque was a major, major city-state in the Mayan Empire. It’s a day trip from San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

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Even though it’s not as photogenic as other sites, its shear size and amazing structures made it one of my favourite historical sites of all-time, and undoubtedly the best Mayan site. And this is after I’ve visited many other ones in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

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The main square – the most iconic section.

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It was the only Mayan site I wished I had more time in. The day trip included several waterfalls and it’s quite far to begin with and it closed from like 4pm.

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It was my first Maya site – very hot.

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The waterfalls were cool, but after seeing so many in Australia and China, I wasn’t too happy about all that time spent there instead of in Palenque.

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Some people swam in safer areas, and there was even a small museum.

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Mayapan, Yucatán, México

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Mayapan is a small walled Maya town in Yucatán.

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It’s not very well known, and the bus there was infrequent. I went as it ranked up high on TripAdvisor, and I understood why people liked it.

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Even though it was nice, the structures were beautiful and you got the sense that you had the whole place to yourself.

Chichen Itza / Valladolid, Yucatán, México

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Chichen Itza was a great Maya city that is today one of the top tourist attractions in the country.

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The principal pyramid, El Castillo, has been listed one of the world’s new wonders. It’s amazingly photogenic (á la Machu Picchu) even when the weather wasn’t exactly great.

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The old observatory.

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The site was filled with tourists and vendors blowing the thing that produce the dinosaur monkey sound. Scary.

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There are many, many cenotes in the region which are signs of the creator of the massive meteor that allegedly killed all the dinosaurs. People swim in them but I didn’t.

Valladolid is a city near it that’s a typical Mexican town with a cenote. Not that special.

Copan, Honduras

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From La Antigua Guatemala, I booked a a two-day trip to Honduras because I had the time.

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Central America, at least the parts I’ve been to, felt practically like Chiapas in Mexico. The site itself wasn’t that special, although they do have impressive statues that are with an elaborate back.

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The less visited part of the site was to me a more worthwhile visit. It was a bit of a walk (and it appeared that they didn’t get even 10 visitors per day), but it’s the first one I’ve been to that’s more residential than ceremonial.

Tikal, Guatemala

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Tikal is Guatemala’s most famous archaeological complex, and a major Mayan city-state back in the day.

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The state capital Flores is a small island that’s quite nice within the boundaries, but quite horrible outside. It’s not actually close to any sites but it’s possible to do a day trip.

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The Tikal pyramids are one of a kind, even though I wouldn’t necessarily count the site as one of my favourites.

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Xunantunich, Belize

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Xunantunich is a small site near the Guatemalan border, and is easily accessible from the island city of Flores by bus. Currency wasn’t an issue, as there were many, many people waiting for tourists there. It felt good going back to one of Her Most Gracious Majesty’s realms, although their English was less than stellar.

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The site wasn’t really anything special, neither was the town. One doesn’t really experience much of Belize either, as the residents are usually either Spanish speakers or immigrants from Guatemala anyway.

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Her Majesty’s ancient palace was preserved with fundings from the European Union. The most interesting thing about it was actually the boat for cars to pass the river. It didn’t have an engine or anything, but cables and it’s entirely manuel.

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There are more remarkable ruins, but a bit farther from the border and thus unsuitable for a day trip.

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Yaxha, Guatemala

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Yaxha is another main Maya site, other than Tikal, near the Guatemala city Flores.

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It’s nicer than Tikal, albeit not as unique.

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It’s peaceful, with fewer people, and it’s still rather large.

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The pyramids were preserved marvellously as well.

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The tour guides promised to take us to a spot to watch the sunset, and in the end actually took bribe to let people into a restricted area.

Cancún, Tulum, Cobá – QR, México

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Quintana Roo was clearly a beautiful place to be, but even though it’s one of Mexico’s top tourist attractions, I resisted going there.

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Even though I do enjoy swimming, and the Caribbean sea is definitely wonderful, I visited many places like this as a child with my family, to Thailand and Malaysia. 

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Although of course Mexico has what Malaysia and Thailand can’t offer – Mayan sites.

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And not just one either – Cancún has one, then there’s Tulum, and there’s Cobá (pictured here).

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In Cobá, since the main pyramid was kilometres away, visitors were encouraged to hire a bike. This trip was the most exercise I had in a while!

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Not far from the hotel zone, Cancún itself also boasts a Maya site, reasonably close to the main public beach.

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Bus is straightforward but traffic could be quite bad. There’s Uber, despite the opposite of cabbies, but relatively expensive. (Or the hotel zone is simply quite remote from the actual city centre.)

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The tours were costly, but Tulum was definitely worth a visit. I went on a tour every day, basically. I didn’t choose those adventure parks.

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The cruise tour was a total rip-off though. I suppose if you were on a cheap honeymoon (it’s not cheap tho), it’d be OK; but it’s just misleading. They didn’t have most of the things they advertised, and this was literally the “swimming with sharks” park (and not even included). It was a total waste of a day, not that I had anything else to do.

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The best thing about Tulum is the fact that the Maya town is right next to the brilliant sea. Quite packed.

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Much of the beach was private but this was public. Also had a massage.

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The small boat was extremely filled up and there’s little shelter.

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They advertised swimming with turtles but taking photos of myself was the only thing I really got to do on that tour.

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On my last day, I joined another tour. This time it was a half-day snorkelling tour, and it was much, much better. First of all, I actually saw turtles.

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I didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t allowed to use sunscreen, and I did have sunburn despite it being only several hours.

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And even though we didn’t go to the main museum site near the women’s island, we did see something! Unlike the full-day tour that likewise advertised it but never showed us anything.

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We even got to a wrecked ship.

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Even though the water was clear and appeared calm, it was in reality considerably challenging. The currents were strong and we had to be focused 100% because it’d be dangerous getting cut by the wreckage.

Campeche, Edzna, Calakmul – Mexico

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Campeche is a sparsely populated state on the coast of Gulf of Mexico. The capital is known of its walled city.

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Whilst the rest of the state is basically a biosphere and several Mayan sites.

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The state has only around 800,000 people, and the city 200,000. The walled city wasn’t big but quite nice in general. In fact, it’s one of my favourite places in Mexico.

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The archaeological sites were also nice, especially given the fact that they were big, but with few tourists. It’s quite expensive to get all the way to the other side to Calakmul though, even though Edzna was accessible (you’d need to know where to get off, though).

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There were several peaks in Calakmul and one of them contained two peaks at the same time. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to take a very good photo of it from another peak.

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Surrounding the intriguing site was acres and acres of preserved area. It was an exorbitantly long drive between the ticket office and the actual site, as a result. The most interesting thing about it, however, was the animals. One of them was the monkey that could produce the sounds of a jaguar. 

I literally thought it was like Jurassic Park at one point.

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The city itself was right next to the sea, but pretty hot. It’s nice in the evenings though, with the sea breeze.

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Not as pretty as the Caribbean sea, but with a history of piracy none the less.

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Edzna was an ancient city near the state capital, easily accessible by a minibus.

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Calakmul, you basically need to go via a tour operator. But since there aren’t that many tourists, you have to pay quite a bit to do something like a private tour.

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It’s definitely worth it though. I’ve been to many Maya sites, but this still was unique to me.

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And there’s another site nearby, too.

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