During a recent trip to Cancun, my best friend and I had the pleasure of enjoying a 12 hour guided tour through the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was by far the best day of our weeklong stay in Mexico! Our itinerary first included a stop in a traditional village to meet descendants of the Mayans. Next we took a dip in a cenoté (underground cave) to cool off and purify our bodies prior to visiting Chichén Itzá–which was recently designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. We finished the day by visiting the city of Valladolid.
Since we fit so many activities into one long day, I'm going to break the trip up into a few different posts. Today's will be about our trip deep into the Mayan jungle to meet and dine with the Mayans.
Our tour guide, Navarro, was very friendly and knowledgeable. He looked out for us as if we were family (in fact, he deemed those of us on the tour “mi familia” for the day) and made us feel very safe during our journey. He used the 2 hour (approx.) drive from Cancun to first explain that he was of Mayan decent, and then he shared a vast array of interesting facts about the Mayan culture with us.
Upon entering the jungle, it became apparent we really were in the middle of nowhere (although, much to my surprise, I had cell service and was able to text). I still don't know the name of the actual village we entered, and I'm unable to find it on Google maps. It wasn't Rancho San Felipe or COBA, which are two of the more popular ones. Navarro explained the rules of the village to us (use common courtesy and watch out for snakes), then a Mayan warrior in full war paint greeted us with a long blow on a conch shell. There were a couple of huts with authentic Mayan souvenirs on display and available for purchase, and they included certification papers for customs. Navarro explained that obsidian was used to create knives in the village, how silver jewelry was hand-stamped, and he told us about the symbols used in the Mayan calendar. The villager's homes were made of sticks and palm tree fronds, and there were dirt paths connecting each one.
The young boy pictured below worked in the Mayan village as one of the tour guides and was my favorite person I met this particular day. He was so kind and polite to the visitors, and he offered to shake each hand as we walked past him. I think we had a special rapport, because he insisted on kissing me on the cheek–not once, not twice, but three times–before he finally let go of my hand. What a cutie! He was full of smiles, too. Through my broken attempts at Spanish, I learned he was 9 years old and attended school outside the village.
His smile disappeared, and he became oh so serious when I asked him to pose for a photo:
He looked very sharp in his crisp white linen shirt! I was very impressed with his manners.
My friend, Christopher, and I did a bit of shopping in the jungle after Navarro assured us the money went directly to support the Mayans living in the village. That isn't always the case! For example, if you wait and make purchases at the ruins of Chichen Itza instead, that money doesn't go to the Mayans. Fortunately for all involved parties, there was a credit card machine in the jungle. 🙂 However, the service was a bit spotty, so I recommend taking pesos for payment. The mask I purchased was around 600 pesos, or approximately $35 US dollars. Our guide informed us that all payments/tips are split evenly amongst the villagers at the end of the day.
I ended up purchasing an authentic mask, crafted by one of the men in the village. I was happy to be able to shake his hand and compliment him on his work. There was a village shaman who blessed our purchased items prior to the tour's departure.
Christopher purchased an intricate Mayan calendar that was painted on deerskin, plus additional gifts for his family.
After shopping, we detoured into one of the huts, where we discovered this beautiful Mayan woman making tortillas from scratch. The hut was very sparse and filled with smoke. Her husband sat behind her, perched on a colorful hammock in long pants and a straw hat. I assumed he was supervising the cooking, as many men in the US tend to do. Hehe 🙂
This is one of my favorite photos from the trip! Note: It is customary to request permission prior to taking a photo, which I did, and I also tipped. This was how she posed for my camera.
Next we were served a buffet lunch in the center of the village atop a small hill. The lunch was included in our original trip fee, minus the drinks. I had water with me, but couldn't resist the lure of a bottle of extra sweetened Mexican Coke, so I purchased one.
The lady to the far left stood at the hut's entryway and offered hand sanitizer to each person entering the restaurant.
Christopher couldn't resist the lure of a Mexican Coke, either. He looks so serious here, but the food was actually quite good. (We weren't sure what to expect out of a lunch served in the depths of the jungle.)
While dining, we were entertained by dancers and music that was piped through speakers.
I noticed the men of the Mayan culture dressed in all white linen, while the women were typically in colorfully embroidered outfits.
I was drawn to the colorful flags hanging from the ceiling of the huts. The women's outfits and the flags made for very colorful photos.
This man danced with a bottle balanced on his head the entire time. Impressive!
If you're headed to the Yucatan Peninsula anytime in the near future, I highly recommend you take a day or two of your vacation to admire the Mayan pyramids near Cancun. You can choose Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Cobá or a Cenotes Tour with deluxe transportation and bilingual guides. Click on the XICHEN ad below to schedule your tour in advance, and please let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the trip!