World ? Caribbean & Central America ? Mexico

Mexico: In Two Weeks

La Ruta Maya

This route, which connects all the major Maya sites in Mexico, could be done quickly in 2 weeks, or more slowly in a month, or perhaps broken up into two trips. There is a slight risk of overdosing on ruins by seeing too many in too short a time. I give you the fast-track approach, but that doesn't mean that I am encouraging you to move through this area that quickly. The best mode of travel would be a rental car: The highways are not terribly busy and are, for the most part, in good shape.

Day 1: Arrive in Cancɐn

After you arrive, enjoy the remainder of the day with a swim in the Caribbean or a relaxing afternoon poolside.

Day 2: Ek Balam & Chichȳn Itzȥ

Get on the modern toll highway that heads toward Mȳrida and take the exit for Valladolid. Head north, away from the town, to visit the ruins of Ek Balam. Highlights include a sacred doorway richly decorated with vivid figures of gods and men. Then it's back to the town of Valladolid for lunch before driving the short distance to Chichȳn Itzȥ on the old federal highway. Just outside of town, stop to see the cenotes of Dzitnup and Sammulȥ. Farther on is the cave of Balankanchȳ. When you get to Chichȳn, check into your hotel, and then go to the ruins later in the evening for the sound-and-light show.

Day 3: Continuing to Uxmal

Spend more time at the ruins of Chichȳn Itzȥ in the morning, then continue west on the toll highway toward Mȳrida, and turn off at TicopɃ. Head south toward the town of Acanceh and Highway 18. Stop to see the small but interesting ruins in the middle of town, then proceed down Highway 18 to the ruins of Mayapȥn. Afterward, continue through Ticul to Santa Elena and Uxmal. Experience the sound-and-light show.

Day 4: Edznȥ

Visit Uxmal in the morning, then drive back toward Santa Elena and take Highway 261 south to Hopelchȳn and on to the impressive ruins of Edznȥ. Nearby is a fancy hacienda turned hotel called UayamɃn or drive into the town of Campeche and stay at more modest digs.

Days 5 & 6: Palenque, Bonampak & Yaxchilȥn

Stay on Highway 261 to Escȥrcega, then head west on Highway 186 toward Villahermosa, then south on Highway 199 to the town of Palenque with its magnificent ruins. The next day, go to the ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilȥn using one of the local tour operators.

Days 7 & 8: San CristɃbal de las Casas

Keep south on Highway 199 toward San CristɃbal. On the way, take a swimming break at Misol-Ha, and visit the ruins of Toninȥ outside of the town of Ocosingo. From San CristɃbal, go with one of the local guides to see the present-day Maya communities of Chamula and Zinacantan. Spend some time enjoying the town.

Day 9: En Route to Calakmul

Retrace your steps to Escȥrcega and continue east on Highway 186. If there's time, visit the fascinating sculptures of Balamkɐ. Spend the night at one of the hotels in the vicinity of the turnoff for Calakmul, one of the prime city-states of the classic age of the Maya, and not often visited.

Day 10: Calakmul & Becȥn

Get to Calakmul early. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as you drive along a narrow jungle road. All the area surrounding the city is a wildlife preserve. For most of the city's history, Calakmul was the main rival to the city of Tikal, which is present day Guatemala. It eventually defeated Tikal and subjugated it for a hundred years. Calakmul's Structure 2 is the highest Maya pyramid in Mexico. Afterward, continue east on Highway 186 to see the ruins of Becȥn, a large ceremonial center with tall temples. Also in the vicinity are Xpujil and Chicannȥ. Spend the night on the shores of Lake Bacalar, where you can cool off in its blue waters.

Days 11 & 12: Tulum

Drive north on Highway 307 to Tulum and settle into one of the small beach hotels there. In the morning, walk through the ruins and enjoy the lovely view of the coast.

Day 13: Back to Cancɐn

Drive back to Cancɐn. Depending on your schedule, you can enjoy some more beach time or simply head to the airport (25 min. south of Cancɐn) and depart.

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