Today, 21st December 2012, is supposed to be the day when the world ends. At least that is what the conspiracy theorists (and the Mexican taxi driver who picked me up the other day) are telling us with the Mayan apocalypse looming.

So far so good, but the 21st December 2012 has only just commenced in Mayan Mexico.

What has happened though is my Flickr account has been whacked with visits for one photo in particular. This one of what I called the Mayan Witch Doctor. It is three times more popular than my next most popular shot.

Mayan witch doctorIt is not a particularly great shot, though the guy in the get up is quite the looker. This was captured when we went to the Riviera Maya in 2006 on the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula at Xcaret Archaeological Park. He was one of the many actors who put on a performance for the guests at the park. He was the last character to get up on stage and was the best dressed. Some of the others were pretty spectacular, and mean looking, Mayan characters. Here are a couple of the other hombres.

Apart from the fantastic performance of Mexican history and culture that you can see in the Xcaret México Espectacular, the main attraction is breeding and conservation park that has all sorts of flora and fauna being bred. For me it was the first time seeing many of these beauties of nature in person, having only read about them in books. I forgot to mention that the Xcaret site is also a place of Mayan village ruins.

Parrots at Xcaret

Spider Monkey at Xcaret

Butterfly at Xcaret

Flamingos at Xcaret

The Yucatán Peninsula is quite spectacular in that it was the place where the dinosaur killing asteroid hit the earth, and there are theories that this resulted in the plethora of cenotes (or sinkholes) that pepper the landscape. This is the true land of the Maya, and for many centuries they tried to revolt from the rule of the Aztec Mexicans. My recommendation is to skip Cancun altogether, and see the real Yucatán Mexico. We stayed at a hotel on the Riviera Maya, not too far North of Playa del Carmen. While there we went swimming with Dolphins at another eco-park Xel-Há, went zip-lining in the rainforest canopy, and went mountain biking through some trails. All-in-all pretty cool!

But the sticking to the Caribbean Coast does not do the peninsula justice. We hired a jeep and trekked inland to the city of Valladolid (no doubt named after its Spanish namesake). This place had a bit more of a Spanish influence, with the town square and the Cathedral of San Servacio.

Cathedral San Servacio

Valladolid is also the perfect base to visit the large former Mayan city of Chichén Itzá. This archaeological site is just amazing! The funny thing is that I think my best photos from that trip are when we visited that site. My favourite is the shot I took of the El Castillo (or Pyramid) in the middle of the site with no-one at all in the shot. I also love the deep blue of the cloudless sky.

El Castillo - Chichen ItzaYou can walk around for hours at this site and see some eerie sites, along with the old carvings on the ruined stone walls and ramparts. The locals are a bit prickly too.

A Head on the Observatory - Chichen Itza

Lizard at Chichen Itza

I am dying to go back, and this time take the Pok there – he would love it!

There are still a few things that we did not get the chance to see and do:

  1. Visit the coastal Mayan City of Tulum
  2. Go to Cozumel and dive off the coast
  3. Lounge on the beach at Playa del Carmen – we only went through the town streets
  4. Visit Merida in the Yucatán state
  5. Go to Cobá and Uxmal Mayan sites

And if you do decide to go, here are my tips:

  • Make sure the Mexicans know if you are not from the USA. For some reason, everything was cheaper once they found out I was Australian – I wonder if that is a North American thing (I wonder if the Kiwis do the same to us when we go to New Zealand)?
  • If you are going to hire a car (strongly recommended) get a 4WD. The roads are not that great off the main highways.
  • If you do drive, then don’t drive at night. Mexico has great cerveza and tequila – get it?
  • See the eco-parks and nature sites! The Mexicans deserve more credit for the effort they are doing to keep these going, and you will be personally rewarded with an awesome tourist experience.
  • If you go to Chichén Itzá, get there as soon as the park opens. It has a very different vibe with no-one around.
  • When you do go to Chichén Itzá find the spot where your clap will resonate through the entire site. I am not going to tell you where – go there!
  • Don’t go to Cancun – if you want that experience then stay at home and go to the Gold Coast in Queensland or Miami in Florida.
  • It gets hot in the Yucatán so bring water with you wherever you go.
  • Be prepared for Mexico food belly, it is not like Taco Bell there.
  • Read up on the history of the Maya before you go. This will make the trip much more rewarding because you know what you will be looking at.

Hopefully the world will not end in a few of hours so I get to visit there again.