February 26, 2019

Exploring Coba, Cenotes and Mayan Culture in Mexico


Mexico is packed full of incredible Mayan ruins, beautiful landscapes, delicious food and lots of wildlife. During my trip to Mexico I booked onto lots of tours and today, I wanted to share my trip to Coba, a cenote and a Mayan village as part of the Coba Mayan Treasures tour. The tour was booked via a Thomas Cook travel agent through Online Ticket Store and although I generally prefer to organise my own travel, it was brilliant to allow someone else to be in charge for once!


[AD-Gifted] This post includes a rucksack from Simply Hike, which I was sent to review


I started the day by visiting the Mayan ruin of Coba. Coba is one of the many ruins across Mexico, close to the Cancun area, and is best known for the largest climbable ruin in Mexico. It used to be possible to climb Chichen Itza but this was stopped, as the thousands of feet every year started to erode the stone and the climb became both too destructive to the remains and too dangerous to tourists. Soon, Coba will be forced to corden off their ruins too to preserve the stones and tourists' safety and although I totally agree that this is the right decision, I am so grateful that I got the chance to climb this wonderful historical sight before it was closed to the public.

The climb itself isn't as difficult as it initially looks; yes it's steep and uneven but it's also over quickly. If you're nervous, stick to the centre and use the giant rope to pull yourself up. I quickly decided that safety was more important than appearances and climbed up like a toddler on hands and knees. When I reached the top, I turned around and realised quickly how high I had reached. The jungle spread before me as far as the eye could see and people, tiny below, milled around the ground from where I had started my climb. The tops of trees stretched into the horizon before me and it was quite mesmerising to look out across the field of green. The blinding sun beat down on my shoulders as I admired the view and caught my breath.

A top tip - make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen in a sturdy bag that you can easily carry to the top of the ruin. My Simply Hike rucksack was perfect; comfortable to carry, plenty of room for all of the essentials for a day exploring and it kept my hands free for the climb. Before I knew it, it was time to head back down to solid ground, this time sliding down whilst sitting to avoid tripping down the steps. The atmosphere is fun and full of chatter; the climb isn't hard enough to stop most people but you might need a little encouragement from your fellow tourists and everyone is happy to lend a hand! As somebody who seems to be making a habit of climbing wonders around the world (you can read about my sunrise trek up a volcano here), I loved the experience and the views were certainly worth the slightly unsteady climb!


Coba wasn't the only stop on the trip. Next, I headed with the tour group for some tacos at a local roadside cafe before continuing on to a cenote. Cenotes are one of the most incredible things about Mexico. They are natural pit or sinkhole, a result of collapsed limestone bedrock, and they are everywhere in the Yucatan peninsula - even my hotel had them across the resort. Although they are all holes, some of them have wider openings than others and this cenote was hidden below ground in a huge cavern. I got changed and tip-toed through a tiny opening, down a rickety wooden spiral staircase to the cave floor. I was greeted by the most beautiful marine blue water and walls lined with thousands of stalactites.

Tiny fish darted around my feet as I dove into the chilly water; the perfect way to cool off after the sweaty climb in Coba. I love swimming so the cenotes were one of my favourite things to visit in Mexico but they can be deep, so make sure you know what you are diving into before you take the plunge! All the cenotes I visited had life jackets available to hire if you needed them or you could simply sit on the side and watch, dipping your toes into the water instead of swimming.

After about an hour in the water, it was time for the final stop; a "real" Mayan village to learn a little more about the traditional way of life still present in Mexico today. I honestly felt quite uncomfortable about this part of the tour and it wasn't something I would have chosen to do if it hadn't have been automatically included in the Coba Mayan Treasures tour. The idea of intruding into someone's house seemed the demonstration of the ultimate "white privileged tourist," which I hated. However, the tour guide was excellent at explaining the context, how the tour companies ensure that their tours don't visit the same village every day and the groups are limited in size and time spent in the villages.

I was fascinated to learn how some of the Mayan language is still alive throughout Mexico but its various dialects are under threat, as the words are not passed on to the next generation as Mexicans leave this culture behind. A lack of government funding to preserve this culture coupled with the appeal of a more modern way of life has contributed to the loss of many Mayan settlements. Even those who are passionate about preserving this way of life, such as our tour guide, have pursued different careers and a more modern way of life so it was fascinating to almost step back in time during our trip to the Mayan village.

Although I'm still not entirely comfortable with the experience, I do believe that the family I met genuinely wanted to share their culture with the tour group and that they have wholeheartedly embraced tourism as a method to preserve their way of life. It felt a like bit like the tour was part of a "necessary evil" as our presence was clearly helping preserve the Mayan way of life whilst also inevitably disrupting it and I was so grateful for the family who allowed us into our home.

Overall, the tour was a fascinating insight into the culture of Mexico, both old and new. I was treated to a fantastic mix of traditional Mayan life, ancient ruins, incredible views and underground natural wonders - what more could you ask of Mexico?