24 Hours in Cancun for Independent Traveler

Uncle Nick: Welcome to Cancun! You might be feeling like you are in a remote US state with all that heavy-duty tourism infrastructure, but don’t be fooled. If you dare to put down your Pina Colada and step out of the bubble of all-inclusive resorts, you can peak into one of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations. Nikonia and I spent a little more than 24 hours getting to know this corner of the world and we are here to report on our adventures.

Nikonia: You can probably take your Pina Colada to go, but you definitely need to zoom in on authentic Mexico. As a telephoto lens, I know what I’m talking about!

Uncle Nick: We only had 24 hours to work with, so we tried to make the most of it by getting up early to catch the eighth wonder of the world, the sunrise. It is that special time of the day when you don’t have to worry about being blinded or burned, but simply get to bathe in gentle rays of light.

Cancun Sunrise
Cancun Sunrise

Nikonia: The sun wasn’t going to be gentle all day, so it was time to get going and hop on the highway east towards Merida and race the crowds of tourist buses to Chichen Itza. We arrived just in time to be greeted by iguanas and jaguar roars as we played “archaeologist” and “discovered” El Castillo and the Temple of the Warriors. For those who arrived an hour later, the sacred pyramid was more like a Disney ride complete with long lines and souvenirs.

Chichen Itza Pyramid
Chichen Itza Pyramid

Nikonia: As we stepped deeper into Mayan history, we started to see that nothing was accidental about this impressive architectural marvel. Each stairway of the four-sided pyramid has ninety-one steps, which together with the top platform add up to 365. The pyramid is also oriented to mark the solstices and equinoxes, so in a way, El Castillo is a giant Mayan calendar. Was it used to schedule regular human sacrifices depicted in numerous petroglyphs at these sites? Was it used to predict the end of the world? We were leaving this Wonder of the World humbled by its many mysteries.

Mayan Ruins - Skeleton Heads
Mayan Ruins – Skeleton Heads

Nikonia: As we bid farewell to Chichen Itza we found one living relic undisturbed.

Hibiscus Flower at Mayan Ruins
Hibiscus Flower at Mayan Ruins

Uncle Nick: With the sun beating down it was a great time to break for lunch and take a dip. Valledolid is a short drive west from Chichen Itza and offers a variety of options for midday fun. After a flaming meal at Maison de Marques, Nikonia and I relaxed in the tourquise waters of Cenote Zaci. Half-cave, half-pool, this sacred sinkhole was a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. The best part was at the end of the day, when Nikonia and I were the only ones there.

Cenote Zaci, Valledolid
Cenote Zaci, Valledolid

Uncle Nick: It was so easy to lose track of time in Cenote Zaci that we almost forgot about our last destination for the day. A friendly Hertz manager recommended that we visit the ruins of Ek Balam, another Mayan temple that was off the beaten path but only 30 minutes north of Valledolid.  We planned to enjoy the site at sunset, but the gates were closed by the time we arrived. I really wanted to get in at all costs, but…

Nikonia: But I am glad we didn’t act on Uncle Nick’s idea to abandon our car and jump the gate. I imagine Mexican jail is not much fun and besides, fortune had much better plans for us that night.

Uncle Nick: Agreed. As we started to trace our way back to Cancun, we came across a stunning church with festive decorations. I couldn’t take my wide eye away from it!

Church in Temozon, Mexico
Church in Temozon, Mexico

Uncle Nick: We quickly realized that we were in the middle of a genuine Mexican community and that there was a celebration going on nearby.

Temozon, Mexico
Temozon, Mexico

Nikonia: It was a town fair and it probably counts as the most thrilling thing we did all day!

Town Fair in Temozon
Town Fair in Temozon

Nikonia: We were definitely no longer in faux Florida (aka Cancun) – this was a very authentic local event with a Mexican rodeo and Micheladas!

Town Fair in Temozon
Town Fair in Temozon

Nikonia: We walked in just in time to see rancheros performing rope tricks and offering horse rides to pretty girls and kids from the audience. Somehow Uncle Nick got invited to partake in the fun too, while I watched him from a rickety platform lining the ring.

Town Fair in Temozon
Town Fair in Temozon

Uncle Nick: If I ever tire of being a photographer I always have a spot in Mexican Rodeo! I was a natural. And I would have never discovered it had I stayed on one of Cancun’s many chlorinated lazy rivers with my Pina Colada.

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