A Visit to The Sacred Pyramids of Yucatan by Bus
You don’t need a rental car to get to the ancient sacred pyramids of the Yucatan Peninsula, you can go by bus. The Mexican people are veteran bus riders, so buses go almost everywhere. And if your destination lies beyond the last stop, you can usually find a taxi-even its a one-man-powered bicycle taxi.
Let’s assume you’re in Cancun, you’ve done the beach, and you’re ready to venture into the interior of the Peninsula by bus. A visit to the very different temples of Ek Balam, Chichén Itzá, Aké, Izamal and Uxmal will take you about 5 days, and span 10 centuries of Maya culture.
First, the Cancun bus terminal is at Avenidas Tulum and Uxmal downtown, is for both 1st-class and 2nd-class buses. In general Mexican buses are a comfortable, cheap, safe way to travel. 1st-class buses offer more leg room than most charter airlines, and different companies compete for your peso with varying departure times, fares and goodies. ADO is a good one. 1st-class buses have reserved seats, a toilet, TV and A/C-bring a sweater, the drivers like it cold. They take the toll-road so they’re fast-Chichén Itzá in 3 hrs. The windows have drapes, and the seats recline, so you can cocoon.
2nd-class buses take the narrow public highways and stop every time anyone wants to get on or off, so they’re slow. But they’re fun if you have time. These are the country’s workhorses and are full of families with kids. Seats are up for grabs, but because people are constantly getting off and on, seats are always opening up, and it’s like a game of checkers as you move around until you land next to your companion. There’s no toilet and often no A/C-so bring bottled water but don’t drink too much. Bring munchies, too-you never know. But be aware that 2nd class buses are only 10 to 20% cheaper than 1st class. Basically, the buses in the Yucatán Peninsula are wholesome-not like Greyhound in the US. A drive attendant is on hand to welcome you aboard-sometimes with Coke and cookies, at the very least the captain introduces himself-bus driver is a professional job here. We’ve seen young solo American women go it alone without too much hassle, people retrieve valuable articles they forgot and left on the bus, and luggage stolen from the under bus compartment. So the key here is watchful.
If you want to take a bus when you land, but your plane is arriving too late, a good place to stay is the yellow-fronted Best Western Plaza Caribe across from the Cancun bus station (98) 84 1377. It has clean little rooms, a pool, a fairly good restaurant, and is close to grocery stores. If possible, go to the station and buy your ticket the day before you want to go. Destinations, fares and times are posted above the ticket counters, so compare different companies. The women ticket-sellers might not speak English, but they’re used to point-and-pay extranjeros and are resigned to figuring out what you want. Read your ticket while you’re still at the counter to make sure when and where you’re going. Then get to the station 20 minutes before your departure time, as the buses leave on time. They’re all swamped during Christmas and Easter holidays.
Ek Balam To Ek Balam . . .
Buy a ticket to Valladolid (vya-da-leed), a small colonial city with lots of churches, the oldest dating to 1552. From here you can hire a taxi to take you to Ek Balam for about $15US round-trip with a wait, where you can watch workers free the stones of huge pyramids from the clutches of trees and bushes. This site, under reconstruction, was a major center, and its destined to become a major tourist attraction, although for now you can sit alone on its circular pyramid. Bring Your Own Water.
Valladolid is worth a nites stay-El Meson del Marquez on the main square is good (98) 562073. Plan to swim in the cenote Dzitnup-you can rent bicycles and pedal out 1 1/2 mi.-and frolic in the crystal-clear water of an underground river. Some 60 feet beneath the Earth’s surface, it’s a fairy-land of stalactites and stalagmites, with little fish that tickle your toes. At midday, a finger of sunlight penetrates a small opening in the rock above and enters the water.
Go on to Chichén Itzá (28 mi) by 2nd-class bus.
Chichen Itza To Chichéén Itzá . . .
If you want to skip Ek Balam, buy your ticket in Cancun directly to Chichén Itzá and plan to stay overnight. You can get to Chichén and back to Cancun in a day by bus, but you’ll have only an hour or two at the site, which has one of the most spectacular pyramids, and the largest ballcourt in Mesoamerica. 1st-class buses take you directly to the park entrance, 2nd-class buses drop you at the station about 1/2 a mile away.
You can usually get a room without calling ahead, except for Christmas and spring equinox. The Mayaland hotel is practically on the ruins (800) 235-4079 US, as is the neighboring Hacienda Chichén in a 17th century hacienda (800) 223-4084 US-both are pricey. As a result, the town of Piste gets most travelers. Only 1/2 mi. from Chichéns entrance, it has many small hotels of varying prices. The best low-budget choice is Dolores Alba, a family-run hotel on the highway near the ruins, (99) 28-5650. It has clean rooms with A/C, and good food for breakfast and dinner. Ask your bus driver to let you off-if you’re on a 1st-class bus, you might have to go on to Chichén and take a taxi the 3 miles back to the hotel for about 40 pesos.
Be sure to allow time for a swim in the nice, privately-owned Azul cenote in a deep underground river. It’s on the highway outside of Chichén. And visit the nearby Balankanche cave, where the Itzá made offerings to the rain gods, Chac and Tlaloc.
Merida Map To Merida . . .
Merida, the colonial capital of the Yucataán state, makes a good base of operations-its large, crowded, noisy, interesting, charming and gracious. If you skip Ek Balam and Chichén, and go on to Merida first, take the premium class UNO bus-its seats are like a chaise lounge, and there’s on-board coffee, coke and water. Depending on your bus, you’ll arrive at either the 2nd-class bus station on Calle 69 between 68 and 70, or the 1st-class station right beside it on Calle 70.
In Merida, Hotel Caribe (99) 24-9022 is an excellent value-clean, inexpensive, downtown, yet on Hidalgo Park, which buffers the traffic noise. A block away, and more expensive but still a favorite, is Hotel Casa del Balam (800) 235-4079 US.
To Uxmal, and the Ruta Puuc . .
Buy a 2nd class bus ticket in Merida in advance for the Ruta Puuc. A round-trip Ruta Puuc bus (under $10 US) is basically a tour without a guide to the ancient, small cities of Labna, Xlapak, Sayil, Kabah-stopping at each for 35 minutes or so-and the grand dame Uxmal where you get 2 hrs. It’s a good way to get acquainted with the area.
The bus first visits the furthermost ruta city, Labna, with one of the largest and most ornate Maya arches, a nice palace, and a temple with a roof comb. Next is Xlapak, which means in Maya Old Walls. Then there’s Sayil, with its impressive palace. Even better is Kabah-its Codz-Pop building is completely covered with the their long, curved noses of Chac faces.
Finally, there’s mysterious Uxmal, which is to the northern low hill (puuc) country what Chichén Itzá is to the flatland jungle-a wonderful complex with a huge pyramid. In fact, many people prefer it to Chichén, its less touristic and gentler. Its round-shouldered pyramid is over 100 feet tall, with very steep, narrow steps, its ornate Governors Palace is the finest ancient architecture in Mesoamerica, and scholars are still puzzling over the astronomical correlations in the Nunnery Quadrangle.
If you want to stay a night or two in Uxmal and see the evening light-and-sound show, don’t reboard the bus, just get one another day. Rancho Uxmal is a good value, but a 45-minute walk from the ruins. More expensive, the Hotel Mision Uxmal is 1/2 mi. from the ruins (800) 437-7275 US. And most expensive, Hacienda Uxmal is a few feet from the entrance (800)235-4079 US.
To Izamal . . .
From Merida, take a 2nd-class bus to Izamal (42 mi.). It’s fabulous Kinich Kakmo pyramid is so big you can’t possibly fit it into a photo. Be sure to look at its huge stones. There were several other temples, one was overtaken and its stones used in the Convent of Saint Anthony de Padua. But the power is still evident. The church is dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of the Yucatán, who is said to grant miracles to the faithful. Many, many people report a cessation of their suffering after praying here. You can easily get back to Merida the same day, or try the Mechan-che Guest House for a pleasant overnight stay (99) 54-0287.
To Aké . . .
From Merida, take a 2nd class bus to Tixkokob (22 mi.), and then the Hacienda Aké bus to the end of the line. (Check to see when the last bus leaves). There’s only one temple but it’s a rare jewel-with huge gray stones and many massive columns, it’s reminiscent of Greek temples. You can climb other raw pyramids, but in fact others were dismantled to build the hacienda and its little church. A stop on Tixkokob can be fun-it’s a traditional town, famous for its hammock makers.
Weather in Nov, Dec, Jan
Weather in these months is almost perfect-warm and dry.
Month High Low
Nov. 85F 30C 70F 20C
Dec. 83F 28C 65F 18C
Jan. 83F 28C 65F 18C
A Norte, or cold front, can drop the temp dramatically, so bring a sweater and light jacket. Winter is the dry season, but rain occasionally happens.