See some of the Yucatán’s most colorful wildlife and travel through time back to the days of the ancient Maya on this one-day adventure from Thomas More Travel
Are you ready for a vision in pink? That’s what you’ll see in Rio Lagartos. Although this biosphere reserve on the north coast of the Yucatán is rich in wildlife, including 395 species of bird, it owes its fame to just one: the Caribbean flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). Thousands of them gather in the shallow lagoons and they literally dye the horizon shades of salmon! To see them high stepping in search of the minute brine shrimp they feed on, preening their bright plumage or in flight is to witness one of the natural wonders of the Yucatán.
Fishermen trained as birding guides from the waterfront village of Rio Lagartos offer boat trips along the ria or estuary and through the mangroves to the flamingo feeding grounds. Keep a lookout for crocodiles or lagartos that give the reserve its name, along with an endless parade of wetland birds such as osprey, ibis, roseate spoonbills, a variety of herons and egrets, white pelicans, hawks and kingfishers, among others.
Your trip will also include a short visit to the saltpans, shallow lagoons where salt is still extracted naturally and the mud is said to have therapeutic qualities. Your tour guide will invite you to try it for yourself and you can smear some on your skin if you wish.
After lunch, it’s on to the archaeological site of Ek Balam (“black star jaguar” in Maya, star/black = ek, jaguar = balam), 20 minutes to the north of Valladolid. Excavation of the ancient temples at the site has revealed that the ancient city reached its peak between A.D. 600 and 900. During this time, it forged political and trade links with other city-states in the Maya World and the mix of architectural and artistic styles on display at the site is a reflection of its regional influence.
To date archaeologists have found five sacbes or ceremonial causeways, three defensive walls, a ball court, chultunes or Mayan wells, several stelae (carved standing stones) and over 60 structures ranging from temples and palaces to tiny shrines. Other important discoveries include a royal tomb, the city’s emblem glyph and the name of the founding father of a powerful dynasty. Known as Ukit Kan Le’k Tok, this ruler came to power in 770 A.D. and ushered in an extraordinary building and artistic boom.
The highlight at Ek Balam is undoubtedly the 31-meter-high Acropolis with its magnificent stucco façade featuring statues of long-lost rulers, hieroglyphic inscriptions, murals and masks in the form of the gaping jaws of the earth monster. Look for “el angel,” the statue of a Mayan noble in a feathered headdress that resembles wings.