Top Photo Attractions of the Mayan Riviera & Yucatan
Although a part of our Playa Del Carmen network on YAHglobal.Com, the Myan Riviera and surrounding area (Yucatan Peninsula) deserves its own Top 5 Photo Opportunity list. It would be audacious of us to include all regions on one list and suggest any scene, structure, or attraction that was not found within the Mayan Ruins. This is not to take anything away from the fun and amazing sites one can find in the city known as Playa Del Carmen, but to exclude, lets say, the eerily mysterious Caves of Balankanche to make room for a cool looking water fountain in some Playa Del Carmen hotel/resort would render YAHglobal.Com as useful as a McDonald's Kids Map in the world of travel and discovery.
Thus we put our travel staff on overtime to deliver the goods on where to put your Sony Alpha DSLR-A900, or Kodak Max Disposable, to its best use in the Mayan Riviera and Yucatan Peninsula. Please don't report us to the Labor Relations Board for employee abuse as some of them did in fact receive minor sunburns while sun bathing atop a Mayan Pyramid. We gave them plenty of SPF-60, so it's not our fault.
Chichen Itza Archaeological Site, Yucatan
"Chichen Itza". Its the name you vaguely see in your periphery when browsing through information about attractions in the Mayan Riviera vicinity and your subconscious dismisses it as some authentic Mexican cuisine that may or may not include the use of chicken and some spicy type of salsa.
In actuality, Chichen Itza is possibly the world's most famous Mayan archaeological site, so shame on you (us). It is home to the Pyramid Kukulcan, a monolithic Mayan masterpiece of a structure seen in a variety of movies and the subject of lore and legend with respect to this mysterious ancient civilization.
Mayans, the tricky bunch that they were, built the steps of Pyramid Kukulcan in such a manner that during Spring and Fall equinoxes (March 21 & September 21) the setting sun light cascading upon the steps creates the appearance of a massive serpent descending and winding down from the top of the Pyramid. Thousands of visitors every year flock to Chichen Itza to see this mastery of illusion.
We recomend visiting once during the equinox to capture the serpentile image and another time when ancient gods are at rest resulting in less human traffic, allowing you to pose at the steps of Pyramid Kukulcan. Apparently, as of very recent times, you are no longer allowed to climb up the Pyramid although we have heard that some brave the threat of security and paranormal backlash and risk a quick jaunt up the steps. Shhhh....
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Coba Archaeocholigical Site, Quintana Roo
Nohoch Mul ("large hill") Pyramid is the tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula. To break it down, we're talking about 120 steps, 12 stories, 42 meters, or 138 feet depending on how you like your geometry. What it lacks in comparison to the Kukulcan Pyramid in design (they used a different contractor), it makes up for in size. Feel free to climb to the summit of this eiffel tower of the Mayan Riviera for a spectacular view of the jungle below, as well as the tops of the other ruins found in the area. Do your best "Top Of The World" pose at the peak, taken from a travel companion at the bottom and then grab the camera to take multiple shots of the view below, seeing it all through the eyes of the Mayans when they built this site some 600-900 A.D. years ago, give or take a century.
To get there, assuming a start in Tulum, try to find yourself at the intersection of Coba Road and Highway 37, drive west away from the coast for about a half an hour, following the signs (not created by the ancient Mayans) to the ruins.
The Castillo (The Castle)
Tulum Archaeocholigical Site, Quintana Roo
The Tulum Ruins site is within the Mayan Riviera so less of a journey assuming your starting point was within the state of Quintana Roo. However, it might as well have been the farthest because it is the most justifiable as a day trip in comparison to the other photo happy sites on this list. The ruins of Tulum are vast and an amazing scenic beach with playful waves is but steps away, providing for a perfect finish to the tour. One of the most photographed Mayan Ruins comes in the form an inspiringly positioned structure, The Castillo, on the edge of a rocky yet lush bluff over looking the ocean. A 5-Star Resort Developer could not have planned a better location. Its as if the ancient Mayans foresaw the creation of high resolution digital cameras made specifically for places such as this, in addition to predicting solar events of the far off future, and that other impending end of the world thing we keep hearing about.
Dzitnup Cenote - Underwater Sinkhole
Dzitnup. Dzitnup. Dzitnup. There, we said it three times. Usually when you read about a monicker like that the author attempts the old tired joke; "Try and say THAT three times!". Now that we got that our of systems we can move forward in discussion of this captivating cenote, cave, or underwater sinkhole (whichever description better helps you visualize the site).
Looking at the photo of the Dzitnup Cenote pretty much renders any explanation pointless. The Ancient Mayans rightfully considered this area sacred, although to them it represented a gateway to the underworld, probably in some "road to hell is paved with good intentions" kind of way. Instead, to the modern eye, the open ceilinged underwater cave appears more akin to a heavenly paradise. Visitors are free and encouraged to rope down and swim in these sacred waters. With the right equipment and steady handed cameraperson you can try and capture the perfect shot of yourself centered within the stream of sunlight at noon, so as to seem blessed from above or at least appear to be being beamed upwards into an alien spaceship.
Dzitnup is located 6km from Valladolid, a south eastern point in the Yucatan. Given the challenging conditions of the area it is recommended that you go with a guide such as Mayan Ecotours in order to enjoy his natural wonder in a worry free manner. Usually YAH encourages independent and adventurous discovery but our team learned the hard way that the alternative was the best bet. A certain "nameless" member of our squad thought he'd free fall into the pool from above only to become separated from his loose fit, velcroed shorts in front of a half dozen australians. That view wasn't good for anyone. Sorry Australia.
Caves of Balankanche
6km from Chichen Itza
The Caves of Balankanche were thought to be important ceremonial grounds (underground) for the Ancient Mayans. Stalactite and stalagmite formations are abound with the most impressive photogrpahic opportunity found approximately 650 feet inside from the entrance and comes by means of an impressive 20 foot tall stalagmite formation bearing similarity to the "ceiba", a sacred Mayan tree. Its no wonder that the Mayans were such spritual people with so much around to validate their beliefs.
The experience can come off as being too commercial at times with audio and visual presentations guiding you through the walls thus distracting from capturing the true essence of the scene. Its recommended that you try and get some alone time (with your group for safety reasons) away from the packs of tourists that can be found inside depending on the time of day and/or season. The authenticity of the ceremonial plates and bowls and such items comes into question with some items bearing a striking resemblance to Pottery Barn sku's (ok ok, not quite). We were told that replicas of course had to be made in order to prevent theft while still recreating the scene for visitors. Otherwise the Caves of Balankance still present an impressive photographic adventure and plays out well in physical form when looking at the album later in the future. It definitely has an eerie vibe to it, in a Blair Witch's home kind of way, especially if you have pictures of yourself and others, backs turned from the camera and off in the dark distance. Even scarier if you are certain that you were alone in the photo. Let your imagination get the best of you.