Chichén Itzá and Tulum

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula doesn’t exactly fit our globetrotting theme of hard-to-reach places. It’s home to Cancún and Cozumel, two of Mexico’s biggest draws for beach resorts, and is pretty easy to get to for a long weekend from the States. Even further south where we are staying in Tulum, the area is rapidly becoming more developed and mainstream. So why are we here?

Tulum coastline

Well touristy or not, it’s still a pretty delightful area to be. The winter weather is perfect, food is cheap and delicious (if you eat like a local), and the beaches are indeed lovely. And there’s diving! We’d briefly been to Tulum before and thought it would be a good place for us to unwind and gear up for getting back into the real world, polish up the resume et cetera – so when Elaine became interested in a yoga instructor course here that sealed the deal.

watching pelicans fishing is (for me) endlessly entertaining

Tulum isn’t perfect: the area is undergoing rampant development and unfortunately not all of it is done responsibly. Garbage and wastewater management are big problems. Being here a little longer, and seeing dramatic changes from just 15 months earlier, has helped me understand how easily the situation could be spiraling downward; it’s a problem shared with many other beautiful places around the world as more and more people – like ourselves! – find the means to travel. There are lots of strategies to try avoiding being part of the problem and that’s not my topic here, but certainly awareness is a big first step.

OK rather than talk about issues of modern society, let’s talk about the ruins of old ones! The Yucatán was home to the Mayans who along with their calendar left some pretty cool stuff to see. Last time we were here we visited Cobá, a former city not far from Tulum, and Tulum has ruins all of its own, but the big name in the area is Chichén Itzá. It’s only a couple hours outside of Cancún so it’s pretty touristy, but with time to spare we definitely wanted to make sure we saw it this time.


Most people shuttle back and forth on long day trips, spending the hottest and busiest parts of the day at the site. We opted to stay nearby which was a great idea. We were there when the gates opened and headed straight for Chichén Itzá’s most famous structure, the step pyramid now called El Castillo – which we had all to ourselves!



A better name for the pyramid is the Temple of Kukulcan, to whom the temple was dedicated and who’s feathered snakelike visage adorns the staircases. Like many sights we’ve seen while traveling, images of this temple had already been burned pretty deep in my head; yet up close the real thing quickly tops any photos. It’s very aesthetically pleasing and I especially liked the rounded corners of each tier which make the steps appear much more natural.





There’s a lot more to Chichén Itzá than El Castillo. Unfortunately access is a lot more restricted here than to other sites we’ve visited so it’s hard (or impossible) to get up close looks at a lot of the structures and carvings. But there’s still plenty to see! I won’t regurgitate everything from Wikipedia here though. Here are some photos instead.

Temple of the Warriors (who are carved on all of the columns)



The Osario Temple, a smaller pyramid, is built over a cavern where human remains were found



El Caracol or The Observatory



carvings at the entrance to the Great Ballcourt, where the Mayans played their ritualistic sport which sometimes culminated in beheadings
goal ring in the ballcourt. It’s pretty high up…
temple at the end of the ballcourt with paintings surviving inside
Tzompantli (rack of skulls)
Eat your heart out! Carvings of jaguars and eagles eating, yup, hearts
iguana basking on a Chac Mool rain god statue
back to the main plaza to watch the tourists all take the same tacky photo


That’s it for this post! Hope it brought you some sunshine and enough – but not too much – of a dose of ancient civilization. And now, a photo of a far more ancient lifestyle and a pretty good job location to boot: fishing in the surf!


Snapshot of Valparaíso

Our route from Punta Arenas at the bottom of South America up to Mexico’s Yucatan Penninsula gave us a couple extra nights in the Santiago area. Rather than stay in the capital, we decided to take the 2 hour bus ride to the coastal city of Valparaíso.


Valparaíso is a hillside maze of colorful corrugated-metal houses wrapped around a busy commercial harbor. Late 18th/early 19th century funiculars – called “ascensores” here – are scattered around the steep inclines and most are still operating: a lift costs a mere 20 cents.





One of the city’s claims to fame is as a gallery: the walls everywhere are covered in top tier street art. We wandered around for miles and found unique paintings around every corner, along with admirable views of the city and bay.







Dining in Valparaíso was a welcome respite after a month of the Patagonian white bread diet. We found excellent Thai, seafood, and – most exciting – really good falafel!



The poet Pablo Neruda – who I confess I hadn’t heard of though Elaine had – kept one of his homes in Valparaíso and we made the short tour. This guy really had life figured out! He was a lover of good food, good whiskey, naps, and his comfy lounge chair. The house isn’t huge but it’s thoughtfully laid out, has amazing views of the city and bay, and is decorated with some of Pablo’s amazing collection of maritime and other antiques. It’s like how I’d like to live someday – just without the poetry bit.

La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s Valparaíso home
our hillside hotel

All told we were really happy that we took the extra ride out to Valparaíso. Really it deserved more time than we had – there are some nice areas just outside of the city including wineries that we didn’t get to see. If you’re in Santiago, go catch a bus – there’s one literally every thirty seconds, no excuses!