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Royal Resorts joins Ciudad de la Alegria Kings Day children’s toy convoy

Royal Resorts volunteers joined the Ciudad de la Alegria Dia de Reyes convoy on January 6 to give a Kings Day surprise of toys, sandals and candy to hundreds of children in Mayan villages in Quintana Roo and Yucatan.

In Mexico, children traditionally receive toys from the Tres Reyes Magos, the Three Kings, on January 6, many writing letters saying that they have been good all year and asking for a favorite toy. The convoy was planned to reach children in remote rural communities that might miss out on Kings Day events often organized in larger villages.

The meeting point for convoy volunteers was the Ciudad de la Alegria community center on the outskirts of Cancun at 6 a.m. to load trucks with huge bags of toys, soft toys for tots, footballs, bikes, sandals, boxes of food, clothing, candy and even piñatas. Then it was time to hit the road.

There were two routes and two convoys, one to communities in the Tulum-Coba area and the other following a route through northern Quintana Roo and Yucatan, which called at tiny hamlets and villages in the Xcan-Tizimin area, accessible by single lane roads. These are communities deep in the forest that are really off the beaten track; a few homes clustered around a church, a rural school and a small grassy park or square.

The sight of the convoy drawing up caught the attention of the villagers, the word spread and there was soon quite a crowd. The children met the Three Kings and had fun with volunteers who lined them up to receive toys, sandals and candies. There were piñatas to be broken, more candies to collect and some lucky children even took home bikes they won in a raffle.

Other volunteers distributed clothes and food and there were grocery boxes for elderly residents, some of who remembered the Ciudad de la Alegria staff from previous visits. One couple of helpers had even brought biscuits for the village dogs.

In total more than 2,900 toys and pairs of sandals were distributed. Many of the toys were donated by Royal Resorts members, guests and employees and a big thank you goes out to all those who gave generously and helped in spreading happiness to so many children.

Gracias!

Help the Royal Resorts Foundation

If you missed the Royal Resorts Christmas Toy Drive and would like to give to children in need, why not donate to the Royal Resorts Foundation or bring gifts of new toys, children’s clothing and school materials all year round? Learn more about the Royal Resorts Foundation and its causes: study scholarships for children, the fight against cancer, physiotherapy for children, employee emergency relief in times of serious illness, support for community programs and conservation.

 

 

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New Government Environmental Fees for all Hotel Guests in Puerto Morelos and Cancun

Are you staying at Grand Residences in Puerto Morelos or will you be traveling to Cancun this year? If so, we would like to share information about two new municipal taxes that will affect you. As part of their work to protect the environment, the Benito Juarez (Cancun) and Puerto Morelos Municipal Governments will begin […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

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Royal Resorts joins Ciudad de la Alegria Kings Day children’s toy convoy

Royal Resorts volunteers joined the Ciudad de la Alegria Dia de Reyes convoy on January 6 to give a Kings Day surprise of toys, sandals and candy to hundreds of children in Mayan villages in Quintana Roo and Yucatan.

In Mexico, children traditionally receive toys from the Tres Reyes Magos, the Three Kings, on January 6, many writing letters saying that they have been good all year and asking for a favorite toy. The convoy was planned to reach children in remote rural communities that might miss out on Kings Day events often organized in larger villages.

The meeting point for convoy volunteers was the Ciudad de la Alegria community center on the outskirts of Cancun at 6 a.m. to load trucks with huge bags of toys, soft toys for tots, footballs, bikes, sandals, boxes of food, clothing, candy and even piñatas. Then it was time to hit the road.

There were two routes and two convoys, one to communities in the Tulum-Coba area and the other following a route through northern Quintana Roo and Yucatan, which called at tiny hamlets and villages in the Xcan-Tizimin area, accessible by single lane roads. These are communities deep in the forest that are really off the beaten track; a few homes clustered around a church, a rural school and a small grassy park or square.

The sight of the convoy drawing up caught the attention of the villagers, the word spread and there was soon quite a crowd. The children met the Three Kings and had fun with volunteers who lined them up to receive toys, sandals and candies. There were piñatas to be broken, more candies to collect and some lucky children even took home bikes they won in a raffle.

Other volunteers distributed clothes and food and there were grocery boxes for elderly residents, some of who remembered the Ciudad de la Alegria staff from previous visits. One couple of helpers had even brought biscuits for the village dogs.

In total more than 2,900 toys and pairs of sandals were distributed. Many of the toys were donated by Royal Resorts members, guests and employees and a big thank you goes out to all those who gave generously and helped in spreading happiness to so many children.

Gracias!

Help the Royal Resorts Foundation

If you missed the Royal Resorts Christmas Toy Drive and would like to give to children in need, why not donate to the Royal Resorts Foundation or bring gifts of new toys, children’s clothing and school materials all year round? Learn more about the Royal Resorts Foundation and its causes: study scholarships for children, the fight against cancer, physiotherapy for children, employee emergency relief in times of serious illness, support for community programs and conservation.

 

 

Related post

New Government Environmental Fees for all Hotel Guests in Puerto Morelos and Cancun

Are you staying at Grand Residences in Puerto Morelos or will you be traveling to Cancun this year? If so, we would like to share information about two new municipal taxes that will affect you. As part of their work to protect the environment, the Benito Juarez (Cancun) and Puerto Morelos Municipal Governments will begin […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

Cenote
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Exploring the Gran Acuifero Maya, Yucatan’s Caves and Cenotes

Cave divers, archaeologists and biologists have been unlocking the secrets of the cenotes (sinkholes) and underground rivers in the Riviera Maya for many years and have mapped an intricate network of channels hidden deep in the limestone rock. The world’s two longest underground river systems found to date Sac Aktun and Ox Bel Ha are in the Riviera Maya and the neighboring state of Yucatan has its own famous sinkholes and caves once held sacred by the ancient Maya. Amazing discoveries of Mayan offerings in cenotes and caves have been followed by finds in the Riviera Maya that cast new light on the earliest settlers of the Americas and the creatures that roamed the area in prehistoric times. Yet of the estimated 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula only a few have been explored. This is about to change with the launch of a five-year expedition called Gran Acuifero Maya funded by National Geographic, the CAF-Latin American Development Bank and the Aspen Institute of Mexico.

Expedition will Explore Cenotes throughout the Yucatan Peninsula

Expedition leader Mexican archaeologist and Nat Geo explorer Dr. Guillermo De Anda and a team of divers, archaeologists, geologists, biologists and oceanographers from Nat Geo, INAH, UNAM and the Universidad Tecnologico de la Riviera Maya will begin by exploring cenotes in southern Quintana Roo and Felipe Carrillo Puerto. They will then move north to the Coba area and explore a chain of lagoons and cenotes on the Quintana Roo-Yucatan border. Future stages of the project will take them to Yucatan and Campeche to unlock the mysteries of this secret submerged world.

Guillermo De Anda has been exploring cenotes since 1983 and led his first archaeological research expedition in 1996. Since then, he has made many discoveries in the depths of cenotes and caves.

The Maya believed that cenotes and caves were the gateways to the Maya Underworld they called Xibalba, the home of the gods. Cenotes were the source of life-giving water and a place of worship. During his research, De Anda has found offerings of ancient ceramics, human and animal bones, altars, pathways and even evidence that some cenotes were used as observatories marking the passage of the seasons.

As part of the Gran Acuifero Maya project, the team will be using 3D modeling and data sensing software developed by Nat Geo engineer Corey Jaskolski that will enable them to study and create imagery of artifacts, bones and structures without moving them.

The scope of Gran Acuifero Maya goes further than archaeological and paleontological research and mapping, biologists will be analyzing water quality and registering cenote and cave-dwelling species. The underground rivers and cenotes of the Yucatan are the only source of fresh water in the Yucatan Peninsula and the project will also make recommendations for the management of this precious natural resource and the exploitation of cenotes for sustainable tourism.

 

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Sea Turtle Season in Cancun and Riviera Maya

Sea turtle season in Cancun and Riviera Maya begins in May Sea turtle nesting season begins in May in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. All along the Mexican Caribbean shoreline, the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres, Contoy, Holbox, Cozumel, Sian Ka’an and the beaches of southern Quintana Roo, female green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, and the occasional giant leatherback turtle, come ashore […]

Painting the Phase 2 Buildings at The Royal Haciendas

As part of the Resort Improvements program for 2016, all buildings in phase II (facades and terraces) at The Royal Haciendas are being painted and work started in week 18. Work will take place from Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and all buildings are scheduled for completion by week 38, weather permitting. We appreciate […]

A New Beginning in the Maya World, December 21, 2012

December 21, 2012 marks the winter solstice, an auspicious day for the ancient Maya and one associated with the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar, a complex system of interlocking calendar wheels or periods, which recorded time as far back as a year equivalent to 3114 B.C. in the Gregorian calendar, and stretches many thousands of years into the future. Mayan scholars tell us that the day that the thirteenth b’aktun or 394-year cycle in the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar ends and a new one begins is actually December 23.

Let us put aside once and for all the prophecies of cataclysms that many doomsayers have touted on the Internet, the end of this period is not the end of all things, far from it. It is the dawn of a new era – a chance for a fresh beginning, a time for reflection and renewal. It is a time for heightened consciousness about the fragility of our planet and for us to come together to protect and cherish it and work for peace and positive change in our lives and the world during the fourteenth b’aktun.

It is also a time to visit the treasures of the Maya World and to marvel at the art, architecture and astronomical achievements of the civilization that once dominated southeast Mexico and Central America from 1,800 B.C. until the coming of the Spaniards in the 16th century. The Maya are still a thriving population today, six million strong–one million of them in the Yucatan, keepers of the old ways and proud of their heritage.

Here is a short guide to some of the major archaeological sites in the states of Yucatán and Quintana Roo to get you started and there are many more. What are you waiting for? Start exploring!

Yucatán

Chichén Itzá


Two and a half hours from Cancun, the ancient capital of the Itzae Maya, Chichén Itzá is the most famous city in the Yucatán. It was once a major power and a sacred center where rulers and astronomers once watched the heavens for portents. A masterpiece of architecture and art, the city still has an aura of power and mystery.

Archaeologists have found fragments of pottery in Chichén Itzá indicating that there was a settlement at the site as far back as 300 B.C., although it wasn’t until the Late Classic period A.D. 750-900 that the first stone temples and palaces were built and the city began to expand. At the height of its glory A.D. 800-1150, Chichén Itzá controlled the Yucatán politically, commercially and militarily. Its power began to wane around 1150 and by 1250 the city had been abandoned.

The principal buildings are the Pyramid of Kukulcán (El Castillo), the Observatory, Temple of the Warriors, Ball Court, Temple of the Jaguars, Tzompantli and the Las Monjas complex. A short walk from the central square is the Sacred Well, a huge cenote, which was the site of sacrifices to Chaac, the rain god.

The Pyramid of Kukulcán is a solar clock. It is so precisely aligned that during the Spring and Fall Equinoxes (March 21 and September 21), the north face of the pyramid catches the rays of the setting sun and triangles of light and shadow form along the staircase, creating the illusion of a gigantic serpent, Kukulcán (the feathered serpent god) returning to earth to rejoin his followers.

The magnificent buildings we see today have earned Chichén Itza a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.

Ek Balam


A 30-minute drive north of Valladolid is the ancient city of Ek Balam, “black jaguar or star jaguar” in Maya. The city flourished between A.D. 250-1200 and its crowning glory is the façade on the upper level of the Acropolis, the principal building, which features the magnificent stucco figure of an ancient lord thought to be the first ruler of the city and founder of a powerful dynasty. The figure’s ornate feathered headdress resembles wings and led many people to refer to him as “el angel” or the angel.

Uxmal


An hour’s drive from Mérida, Uxmal is one of the loveliest ancient cities in the Maya World. During the Late Classic period (A.D. 600-900), it was a regional capital, controlling southwest Yucatán and a chain of smaller cities referred to as the Puuc Route: Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labná.

Apart from location, these sites share a unique architectural and artistic style called Puuc. In recognition of their outstanding cultural worth, UNESCO declared them a World Heritage area in 1996.

Highlights at Uxmal are the Magician’s Pyramid, the Nuns’ Quadrangle, a gracious courtyard surrounded by four palace-like buildings with magnificent friezes, the Temple of the Birds, Palace of the Governor and the adjoining Great Pyramid, The House of the Turtles and El Palomar. “Uxmal” means “thrice built” in Maya.

Kabah
Thirty minutes south of Uxmal, Kabah is the second largest site in the Puuc hills and was one of its vassals. It is famous for the Codz Poop, or the Palace of the Masks, a name that does justice to its magnificent façade consisting of 250 masks depicting Chaac, the Mayan rain god.

Sayil
Seven kilometers south of Kabah is Sayil, which means

“place of the ants” in Maya. The principal building on site is the three-tiered Palace, a long building containing 94 chambers, porticos, columns, Chaac masks and sculptures of the descending or diving god, also seen in Tulum on the Caribbean coast.

Xlapak
The smallest of the Puuc Route sites, Xlapak is best known for the Palace, a tiny building covered with intricate carvings and masks depicting Chaac the rain god, in a forest clearing.

Labna
Ten kilometers to the east of Sayil, Labna is famous for its huge arch, which was the gateway between the ceremonial plaza and a courtyard surrounded by palaces in ancient times. The arch has an open work roof comb and its finely carved façade features Chaac masks, Mayan huts, nobles and geometric motifs.

Mayapan
Located 30 miles south of Merida, Mayapan was the last capital of the Maya in the Yucatan. Founded around A.D. 1250 during the post-Classic period of Mayan civilization, it was abandoned in 1450. Several of Mayapan’s most important buildings show similarities to those at Chichen Itza, leading archaeologists to speculate that it was settled by Maya from Chichen, which was abandoned around 1250.

Quintana Roo

Tulum


Perched on a rock bluff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, Tulum is one of the Maya World’s most spectacular sites. “Tulum” means “wall” in Maya, a reference to the sturdy stone barrier that protects it on three sides, the fourth being the sea, but in ancient times the city was known as Zama or Dawn.

An inscription on a stela or standing stone found at the site reveals that Tulum was inhabited as far back as A.D. 564 although it reached its peak during the Post-Classic period (1250–1521) as a port on the sea and land trade routes.

The principal building at Tulum is a temple known as El Castillo; other important groupings are the Temple of the Descending God, Temple of the Frescos and the House of the Columns.

Coba


From Tulum, visitors can head inland to the ancient city of Coba (25 miles/41 km from the coast), one of the Maya World’s largest archaeological sites.

Coba means “waters ruffled by the wind” in Maya and the pyramids and temples at this jungle site are clustered around four shallow lakes. The city reached its peak during the Mayan Classic period, A.D. 250-900, when it was an important trade center. Archaeologists believe that it may have had links with Tikal in Guatemala.

The principal buildings or groups at Coba are Nohoch Mul, at 42 meters, the tallest pyramid in the northern Yucatán, the Cobá group, La Iglesia (another pyramid), Las Pinturas, the Ball Court, Xaibe and the Macanxoc group which has nine circular altars and eight stelae.

Cobá is also famous for the sacbes or ceremonial Mayan roads that radiate from the heart of the city. The longest sacbe in the Maya World links the city with the site of Yaxuná, near Chichén Itzá and is 101 kilometers long.

Muyil
A 20-minute drive south of Tulum, Muyil (also known as Chunyaxche) is located on the shores of a lagoon with the same name and is the largest of the 23 archaeological sites found to date in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

In ancient times Muyil was a trade enclave with links to cities deep in the Yucatan and ports along the Caribbean coast and in Central America. The Maya dredged and widened a natural canal running through the wetlands between the city and the sea to create a trade route for their canoes.

Climb the waterfront observation tower for a spectacular view of the jungle and the lagoons of northern Sian Ka’an.

Chacchoben
Continue along Highway 307 and Chacchoben is the next archaeological site, look for the turn-off marked “Chacchoben” near the village of Limones.

Chacchoben, which means “red corn” in Maya, is the largest archaeological site found to date in central Quintana Roo. The buildings known as the Great Acropolis, the Vias and Group II have been restored and work is continuing at the site. Ceramic incense burners and traces of glyphs associated with time keeping, planets and the equinoxes and solstices point to its importance as a ceremonial center.

Archaeologists have discovered that Chacchoben was inhabited from around A.D. 200 and reached its peak in A.D. 700. It was abandoned and later resettled during the Post-Classic period. By studying the architectural style they deduced that it had links with cities in the Peten region of northern Guatemala.

Oxtankah
Located on the shores of Chetumal Bay, 16 kilometers to the north of the state capital, the archaeological site of Oxtankah has temples dating from A.D 200-600 and much simpler later buildings built around AD 1000. The ruins of a Spanish chapel built some time during the 16th or 17th century, also lie on the site.

Kohunlich
The most famous archaeological site in southern Quintana Roo, 60 kilometers to the west of Chetumal via Highway 186, Kohunlich was first reported in 1912 by Raymond Merwin. The name “Kohunlich” is derived from the English words “cohune,” a native palm tree, and “ridge.”

Excavation work has revealed that the city was founded around 200 B.C. and reached its peak during the Classic period of Mayan history (A.D. 200 – 1000). Building work appears to have ceased around 1200.

Kohunlich is famous for the huge stucco masks that flank the staircase of the Temple of the Masks. Archaeologists believe that they depict the city’s rulers who chose to identify themselves with the sun god, Kinich Ahau, to legitimize their rule. Other important groups of buildings are the Acropolis, the Courtyard of the Stelae, the Palace of the King, Merwin Plaza and the elite residential areas known as the 27 Steps Complex and Pixa’an.

Dzibanche
Located in the jungle 81 kilometers northwest of Chetumal via Highway 186, Dzibanche is an ancient city that is still revealing its secrets. Discovered in 1927 by Thomas Gann, Dzibanche means “writing on wood” in Maya, a reference to the calendar inscriptions found on the carved lintel of zapote wood above the doorway to Temple VI.

Experts believe that Dzibanche was the largest and most important city in southern Quintana Roo in ancient times and may have been involved in a power struggle with other city-states in the region such as Calakmul in Campeche. The city reached its peak between A.D. 300 and 1200.

The most important groups of buildings are the Temple of the Lintels; the Gann Plaza, which is flanked by the Temples of the Cormorants, Captives and Toucans; Xibalba Plaza, the site of the Temple of the Owl and the North and South Palaces.
An outlying district of the city, Kinichna (“House of the Sun” in Maya) is located about two kilometers north of Dzibanche and is dominated by a temple called the Acropolis.

More Maya World Highlights
If you are planning a longer vacation why not venture further afield in the Maya World? Not to be missed are the archaeological sites of Edzná and Calakmul in Campeche. Calakmul is a huge ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the biosphere reserve of the same name, close to the Guatemalan border, that dominated a chain of lesser sites such as Xpuhil, Becan, Chicanna and Balamku, and struck fear into the hearts of rival rulers throughout the region.

The Gulf coast state of Tabasco is famous for Comalcalco, the only Mayan city built with clay bricks instead of stone, Pomoná and Tortuguero, where the fragment of a stela or standing stone with a carved inscription referring to December 21, 2012 and a vague reference to the return of a god – the only one found to date – was recovered.

Chiapas boasts some of the most beautiful and important Mayan cities that flourished during the Classic period or Golden Age of Mayan culture. The white city of Palenque, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is nestled in the forest-covered foothills of the Sierra Norte de Chiapas; Yaxchilán is on the shores of the Usumacinta River deep in the Lacandon Jungle and Bonampak is famous for the vivid murals showing scenes of courtly life, war, prisoners, rituals and sacrifice, that adorn three chambers in an ancient temple. Other archaeological sites in Chiapas include Toniná, Izapa, Chiapa de Corzo, Tenam Puente and Chinkultik.

Palenque – Photo by Ryan McFarland

Crossing international borders, more Mayan masterpieces await in Central America. Visit Lamanai, Altun Ha, Xunantunich and Caracol in Belize. The Petén region of northern Guatemala is peppered with archaeological sites, headed by Tikal, the largest city of them all. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is famous for its soaring twin temples topped with roof crests, and for the powerful dynasty that ruled it in ancient times. Other major Petén sites include El Mirador, Uaxactún, Yaxhá, Topoxte, Zotz, Ceibal, Dos Pilas, Altar de Sacrificios and Piedras Negras. Further south, Quiriguá is another UNESCO World Heritage Site with immense stelae (one of which is 33 feet high) that was at war with the nearby city of Copán in Honduras. Copán is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and through the patient study of the hieroglyphic inscriptions on stelae, temple walls and staircases, archaeologists have managed to identify long-lost rulers and chart their fortunes.

And of course, ancient pyramids, palaces and temples are only the beginning of the Maya World’s many attractions. Take the opportunity to meet the modern-day descendents of the temple builders by visiting their rural communities and learning about their daily lives and timeless traditions. Explore colonial cities such as Mérida, Valladolid, Izamal, Campeche and San Cristóbal de Las Casas and finally, revel in nature, as wonders are all around you. Visitors to the Maya World can dive the world’s second longest coral reef, the Mesoamerican Reef, cruise to offshore islands, relax on powder-white beaches, swim with whale sharks, turtles and rays and snorkel in crystal-clear cenotes or sinkholes. In Chiapas and Guatemala they can climb mountains and volcanoes and visit spectacular waterfalls and lakes. Wherever they are, they can go in search of some of the colorful animals and birds that make their home in the area’s jungles, cloud forests and wetlands.
You’ll find additional posts on the archaeological sites and colonial cities of the Yucatán Peninsula in the History section of this blog.

Mayan Magic: Fall Equinox at Chichen Itza

The ancient Mayan capital of Chichen Itza casts its spell whenever you visit it but o

n the day of the fall Equinox, the Pyramid of Kukulcan in the Great Plaza becomes a stairway to heaven and an ancient god returns to earth.

Pyramid of Kukulcan

Also known as El Castillo, the 25-meter-high pyramid is a solar clock, aligned to catch the rays of the setting sun on the spring and fall equinoxes, March 21 and September 22, respectively. Triangles of light and shadow form along the side of the north staircase and the figure of a snake appears, merging with the head of a stone serpent at the foot of the building, creating the illusion of a gigantic serpent slithering down from the heavens and across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote, a huge sinkhole or natural well that was a site of sacrificial rites.

The shadow creates the image of a descending snake.

The snake symbolizes Kukulcan (associated with Quetzalcoatl, a god worshipped by the ancient civilizations of central Mexico), the feathered serpent god, returning to earth to give hope to his followers and heralding the spring planting and fall harvest seasons for the Maya. A Mayan chronicle called Chilam Balam mentions Kukulcan as a leader who came out of the west and settled in Chichen Itza around AD 967 or 987, however his real identity is shrouded in mystery.

The Pyramid of Kukulcan was built some time between A.D. 650 and 800, with later modifications during the Itzae period of glory, possibly from A.D. 1000 to 1150. The earlier temples are deep inside the pyramid we see today. When archaeologists dug through tons of stone and earth to reach the inner sanctum, they discovered a chac mool statue, the enigmatic reclining figure with hands cupped to receive the heart of a sacrificial victim, guarding the entrance and a magnificent throne in the form of a red jaguar with jade spots and eyes. The jaguar was discovered with an offering of coral, sacrificial flint knives and a turquoise mosaic disc.

Throne in the form of a red jaguar with jade spots and eyes.

The pyramid also represents the ancient Mayan calendar as the number of terraces and wall panels coincides with the number of months in the year (18) and years in a calendar round (52), respectively, and the number of steps in the staircases, including the top platform, equals 365, the days in the year.

A short distance from the Great Plaza is the round tower known as El Caracol or the Observatory. It has a viewing platform

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and wells, which were used by ancient astronomers to mirror starlight, and it was aligned to catch sunsets and moonsets on both equinoxes and to mark the course of Venus.

El Caracol

El Caracol

If you would like to explore one of the greatest ancient cities in the Americas and see why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site and a global poll in 2007 rated it as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, book your Chichen Itza trip now from Thomas More Travel. The snake of light and shadow is also visible the day before and after the equinox, cloud cover permitting. In 2012, it will be visible on September 22.

Chichen Itza is not the only Mayan ceremonial center in the Yucatan to have temples with solar, lunar or planetary alignments. The doorway of the Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltun (13 miles north of Merida) makes a perfect frame for the rising sun on the day of the Equinox. If you would like to see it you need to arrive early, at 5 a.m. Archaeologists also believe that El Palomar, a temple in the ancient city of Uxmal, the Yucatan’s other UNESCO World Heritage Site may also be aligned to catch the light and shadow on the spring and fall equinoxes.

Fall Equinox at Dzibilchaltún

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San Bernardino de Sisal Convent Valladolid Yucatan, Mexico
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Valladolid, a Magical Community in the Yucatan

San Servasio Cathedral, Valladolid, Yucatan

Traditionally a popular stop en route to the Mayan metropolis of Chichen Itza, Merida or the Gulf Coast biosphere reserve of Rio Lagartos, the Yucatan’s second largest city, Valladolid, is a fascinating travel destination in its own right. A civic program has restored many of the city’s colonial buildings to their former glory and the central square bustles with life. On August 30, 2012 it was declared one of the “Pueblos Magicos” by the Mexico Tourism Board and now joins another Yucatecan colonial treasure Izamal in the Pueblos Magicos listing, a collection of magical communities scattered throughout the country that are rich in history, traditions, their craft or culinary heritage, festivals or natural beauty and that no visitor should miss.

Affectionately referred to as the “Sultana of the East” by local people, Valladolid is steeped in history. Attracted by a huge cenote (sinkhole), which was the only source of fresh water in the area, the Maya first settled here during the Post-Classic period (900 – 1521 A.D.), calling the site Zaci or Saci in honor of one of their leaders. Also called Zaci, the cenote still exists and is accessible from Calle 36. With sheer rock walls festooned with jungle creepers and swallows skimming the surface of the green water to scoop up insects, the cenote is reminiscent of the much larger Sacred Well at Chichen Itza. There is a rustic restaurant overlooking the cenote and the view at the full moon is breathtaking.

cenote zaci yucatan

Cenote Zaci – Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

Photo by bryandkeith

The Coming of the Spaniards
In 1543, despite fierce resistance from the Maya, Francisco de Montejo El Mozo and his followers overran Zaci, destroyed the temples and founded their own city, laying the streets out around the main square in a grid. During the Colonial Period, Valladolid was the commercial center of the eastern Yucatan and was dominated by a handful of Spanish families.

In 1847, centuries of exploitation and social injustice came to a head and the bloody uprising known as the Caste War exploded in Tepich, a Mayan community to the south, and quickly spread to Valladolid. The Maya attacked the city with such fury that the citizens who survived the initial raid were forced to beat a retreat to Merida.
Strolling through the park in the tranquil central square, it is hard to imagine that Valladolid had such a violent past, yet the paintings by Marco Lizama, which line the balcony at City Hall, depict the Spanish Conquest and Caste War, in addition to Valladolid’s most important native sons. Behind City Hall, the tiny San Roque Museum features displays on city history, including La Chispa, a 1910 uprising against social injustice that was the spark that ignited the Mexican Revolution.

The San Servasio Cathedral (built in 1705 on the site of an earlier church dating from 1545) dominates the main square and the Valladolid skyline, its twin towers visible from every part of the city. As night falls, the bells summon worshippers to evening mass and visitors can sometimes witness the arrival of local brides. Seven other barrios or neighborhoods such as Santa Lucia and La Candelaria have their own smaller colonial chapels and a stroll through the streets and squares to visit them is highly recommended.

San Servasio Cathedral - Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

San Servasio Cathedral – Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

The city’s other major landmark is the imposing San Bernardino Church and Sisal Convent, 1.5 kilometers to the southwest of the square along Calle 41 and 41-A. Founded by the Franciscans in 1552, the San Bernardino complex was the center of missionary work with Mayan communities in the eastern Yucatán. Another cenote lies under the floor of the convent and there is also a network of tunnels from the mission leading across the city. History tells us that they were used in times of strife.

San Bernardino Church and Sisal Convent - Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

San Bernardino Church and Sisal Convent – Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

The convent is now the site of many cultural and community events during the year and the lawn in front of the building is a popular meeting place for local people.

En route to the church and convent, visitors can stroll along the Calzada de los Frailes and see some of the colonial houses that have been renovated as part of the city’s Heritage program. Other Valladolid landmarks include the exhibition of Mayan ceramics in Los Portales on the main square, a perfumery creating fragrances from native flowers and herbs, jewelry and textile workshops. You can even watch chocolate being made using traditional Mexican techniques and cacao grown in the Maya World.

Located at Calle 40, a short walk from the main square is Casa de los Venados or the “House of the Deer.” Built between 1600 and 1620, this impressive casona or hacienda-style house was once the home of the Alcalde or Mayor during the Colonial period. Abandoned since 1964 and crumbling into ruin, it was purchased by American couple John and Dorianne Venator ten years ago and has been lovingly restored. Merida-based architect William Ramirez has blended contemporary architecture with the original colonial features and facade in a way that has won the house awards in architectural competitions in Yucatan, Mexico and in Costa Rica.

In addition to being a private home, Casa de los Venados also houses a collection of Mexican folk and contemporary art, the reflection of a lifelong passion for Mexico. More than 3,000 pieces ranging from giant trees of life, ceramic jaguars and carved wooden masks to Day of the Dead art, Frida Kahlo-inspired tiles and murals by local artists are exhibited throughout the house in what is one of the extensive collections of folk art in private hands, and a joyous celebration of the creativity, color and humor of the country’s artisans. Tours of Casa de los Venados and its collection can be arranged with an advance reservation and visitors are asked to give a 60-peso donation to the owners’ charitable foundation to support local causes such as a clinic and community health programs, education and the arts in Valladolid.

Sightseeing over, spend some time sitting on a park bench or stroll through the main square for a glimpse of life in the Yucatan. Visit the market and the Craft Center to shop for locally made embroidered dresses, hammocks, straw hats, leather, gold filigree jewelry and honey. You’ll also find a good selection of crafts from other parts of the country in La Casona, another colonial mansion restored by the Xcaret Group that is now a restaurant serving delicious Yucatecan cuisine. Be sure to sample some of the city’s culinary specialties: lomitos de Valladolid (roast pork) and longaniza (spicy chorizo-style sausage).

Main Square - Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

Main Square – Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

Getting to Valladolid
Valladolid is 160 km/100 miles from Cancun via the toll road and Highway 180. Thomas More Travel offers trips to the town and also to Valladolid and Ek Balam on Thursdays. Contact tourdesk@thomasmoretravel.com for more information. If you would like to explore at your own pace, side trips to Dzitnup Cenote, five minutes to the west of town, Ik-Kil Cenote, 30 minutes away en route to Chichen Itza, and the ancient Mayan site of Ek Balam, 20 minutes to the north on the highway to Tizimin and the Gulf Coast are recommended.

Flamingos nest in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve in the state of Yucatán
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Think Pink, Flamingo Watching, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan, Mexico

Open your eyes and you’ll see clouds of pink! Thousands of flamingos nest in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve in the state of Yucatán, one of the natural wonders of the Maya World and Mexico, read more in our trip report.

Rio Largartos - Yucatan

Rio Largartos – Yucatan

The setting sun gilded the flamingos turning them to molten copper and the only sound was the whisper of their wings carried on the breeze. I was on the Gulf coast of the Yucatán and the flamingos were flying east, towards the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. These regal birds travel great distances, fanning out along the shoreline during the day in search of food and returning to roost in the reserve as dusk falls.

Early next morning, I made my way to the village of Río Lagartos in search of more flamingos. As I waited on the waterfront for the local guide who was going to take me on a boat trip through the reserve, I watched the sun sparkling on the waters of the estuary and listened to the cries of the gulls. Pelicans and cormorants were already perching on the fishing boats, waiting patiently for the chance of an easy breakfast. Nearby, a great egret stood motionless in the shallows on the look out for an unwary fish.

Rio Lagartos, Wetland Home to 365 Bird Species, including Flamingos
Rio Lagartos, or Reserva de la Biosfera de Ria Lagartos as it is officially known, is a 60,348-hectare reserve of mangroves, marshes, estuaries, salt flats, dunes, beaches, dry forest and jungle straddling the north coast of the Yucatan. It was the

first area of marshland in Mexico to receive global attention

and to be included on the UNESCO RAMSAR list of internationally important and fragile wetlands. The Mexican government declared it a biosphere reserve in 1979 to protect its incredible biodiversity: 365 recorded bird species, 58 mammals, including the jaguar, ocelot and spider monkey, 95 reptiles and amphibians and 523 species of plants. This stretch of the Gulf coast is the most important nesting site in the world for the endangered hawksbill turtle or tortuga carey, but the reserve is famous for having the largest nesting colony of American or Caribbean flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in the wild.

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Apart from Rio Lagartos, flamingos can also be seen in the Celestun Biosphere Reserve on the west coast of the Yucatan or feeding in lagoons along the Gulf coast. Elsewhere, the American flamingo is found in the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Bonaire, the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana. Three other species of flamingo are found in the Americas: the Andean, Chilean and James flamingos inhabit volcanic lakes in the barren wastes of the high Andes.

Exploring Rio Lagartos
My Rio Lagartos guide untied his boat from its moorings and we set off along the estuary and into the ria, a channel winding through the mangrove forest. There were birds everywhere I looked: a hunting osprey, a roseate spoonbill startled from its cover as we passed its roost, swallows skimming the water to catch flies and even a flock of chattering parrots overhead. I spotted ibis, a green kingfisher, frigate birds and a peregrine falcon. Herons were everywhere – there are 16 species of heron and egret in the Yucatan – and I saw green, blue and tricolored herons, reddish, snowy and white egrets along just one short stretch of the waterway.

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Heron, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

The boatman motioned for me to keep silent and gestured towards the mangroves. A Morelet crocodile was concealed among the tree roots, only its powerful jaws visible above the water. A rare sighting nowadays, crocodiles or “lagartos” in Spanish used to be so common in the area that they gave the reserve its name Rio Lagartos.

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Morelet Crocodile, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

The ria began to widen and the mangroves receded. Suddenly we were in a stretch of shallower water and surrounded by flocks of flamingos that turned the horizon pink. Some were feeding, following the flock leader in single file to the choicest spots, others were preening their feathers and wherever I looked I could see birds taking to the wing only to land in another part of the lagoon. The flamingos share their feeding grounds with flocks of white pelicans, skimmers, cormorants, herons and a variety of other waders. The view was breathtaking and the air was filled with a deafening chorus of squawks, croaks and honks.

Watching the Flamingos
You can spend hours observing flamingos. With their lanky legs, high-steeping gait and huge beaks, they are somewhat comical, but altogether fascinating. Watching them search for food is particularly intriguing. They feed with their heads upside down, underwater, moving their beaks from side to side in a sweeping motion as they walk forward. They stir up the mud, sieving it with their spine-covered tongues and extracting minute crustaceans. Sometimes they stamp their feet in a circle to stir the silt up. Biologists have discovered that the even more vivid salmon pink plumage of the Yucatan flamingos is the result of a diet based on tiny brine shrimps and crustaceans found only in this area.

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

A vision in pink, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Large flocks of flamingos can often be spotted foraging in lagoons between Progreso and Telchac, in Bocas de Dzilam, around the island of Holbox in the Yum Balam Reserve, El Palmar Reserve and especially in Celestun, where thousands of them winter. Small numbers of flamingos have also been recorded in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in central Quintana Roo and the Los Petenes Biosphere Reserve in Campeche. Several years ago, one ringed bird from Rio Lagartos was spotted in the Everglades National Park and two turned up in Cuba.

Salt from the Yucatan
We left the flamingos to their search for food and continued on our journey, as far as the boat could venture into the shallows, to the saltpans of Las Coloradas. In this barren landscape salt evaporates naturally under the fierce tropical sun, turning shades of pink, red and purple almost as brilliant as the flamingos. The ancient Maya were the first to extract salt in the area and it was one of the most important trade commodities for the coastal communities of the Yucatan in the pre-Hispanic period.

In 1946, the Yucatan Salt Company began commercial exploitation of the salt pans on a stretch of the coast to the east of Las Coloradas.

As we walked across the barren flats, my guide pointed out a horseshoe crab hiding under a rock in one pool; these strange creatures that bear no resemblance to the crabs we are used to, are some of the oldest life forms on the planet and are now an endangered species. Some guides also swear by the therapeutic properties of the salt-rich clay and encourage visitors to try it themselves and see how it softens their skin!

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Eco trip, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Caution, Flamingos Nesting
We headed back to the boat but could not go any further along the estuary on this occasion. During the flamingo breeding season, the remote nesting sites at El Cuyo in the eastern part of the reserve are off limits to visitors. The flamingo mating ritual begins in the spring with strange courtship dances and once the male finds a mate, the pair retreats to the salt flats of El Cuyo in late April or early May to build strange pedestal nests sculpted from mud where the females lay one egg. It is important that the birds are left in peace at this time, if they are disturbed when they are selecting their nest site, they may not nest at all. And they face other challenges too. Biologists estimate that up to 50 percent of the eggs may be lost during the season. Adult flamingos will abandon their eggs if they are frightened and nests can be flooded during heavy rain. Predators such as raccoons, wild dogs, birds of prey and even jaguars also feast on flamingo eggs and fledglings.

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Constant movement of flocks, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Adults raise their offspring on a soup of regurgitated crustaceans and fresh water until the chick’s salt glands are fully developed. Congregating in “nursery flocks,” for mutual protection while the adults are off foraging, flamingo chicks are grayish brown and do not acquire their smart pink plumage for months after they have begun to feed on their own. During the summer, biologists working for the Niños y Crias conservation group, park wardens and volunteers patrol the nesting areas counting and tagging the birds and rescuing abandoned or weak chicks to raise them by hand.

On the return journey through the estuary I noticed how nervous the flamingos are, the slightest noise or movement is enough to cause panic in the flock and for thousands of birds to take to the air. Low flying aircraft or boats that get too close with their motors still running frighten the birds. It may look like a great photo opportunity but research shows that this stresses the birds and disrupts their feeding habits, and for a bird that spends up to 70 percent of its day feeding this is a serious threat. Local conservationists and state officials have been working with the inhabitants of both Rio Lagartos and Celestun reserves to get them to respect a minimum viewing distance of 50 meters and to cut their motors when they pass flocks.

Back to Shore
On our return journey, my guide pointed out a reddish egret in flight, the jewel-like plumage of a shy purple gallinule in the reeds and a turkey vulture circling lazily overhead on the afternoon updrafts. A little blue heron darted out from the mangroves in front of the boat as the clapboard houses of Rio Lagartos came into view and my voyage ended.

Reddish Egret - Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Reddish Egret – Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

It was time for a late lunch of fresh fish and shrimp in a waterfront restaurant in the nearby village of San Felipe, a Gulf coast fishing community of colorful wooden houses lining sandy lanes that lead towards a peaceful beach.
Later when clouds rimmed in rose and gold covered a darkening sky; I watched a pair of black-necked stilts searching for food as flamingos dipped their wings in salute. A day in Ria Lagartos always ends the way it begins… with birds.

If you go to Rio Lagartos
Rio Lagartos is a three and a half hour drive from Cancun via the toll road (longer if you take Highway 180) to Valladolid and then Highway 295 to the coast, via Tizimín. Local fishermen offer trips along the estuary, usually lasting two or three hours. Longer trips can also be arranged.

Rio Lagartos at dawn

Rio Lagartos at dawn

Wear a hat, sunglasses and sun block and drink plenty of bottled water. Don’t forget your camera and always carry spare chips, a recharger and extra batteries! Binoculars and a bird guide or checklist will also come in handy and you can even download a bird identification app for your smart phone or tablet. If you are staying in the Yucatan for longer, you may also wish to visit Celestun, one and a half hours to the west of Merida via Highway 281

You’ll see birds at any time of the day at Rio Lagartos but remember that they are more plentiful at daybreak and also at sunset when they fly back to their roosts. If you are a seasoned birdwatcher, the best time to visit is during the winter months when the reserve also welcomes hundreds of thousands of migrant birds from the United States and Canada. Shore birds such as sandpipers, waders and waterfowl, songbirds, birds of prey and even hummingbirds make the dangerous and long Gulf crossing, which can take them up to 18 hours, to the Yucatán Peninsula. Some species spend all winter in Río Lagartos, while others stay only a few days to feed and recover from their journey before continuing south.

Protecting the Flamingos
For centuries, the American flamingo was hunted for food and its striking plumage, and captured by collectors for aviaries and zoos. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, the soldier who wrote an eyewitness account of Hernan Cortes’ campaign to conquer Mexico in 1519-1521, reported seeing flamingos in the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan where they were kept in an aviary for Emperor Moctezuma’s pleasure. Nowadays, habitat destruction, the draining of wetlands and pollution have caused a decline in flamingo numbers throughout the Caribbean, placing the bird on the endangered species list. The Yucatán flamingo population is also under threat. It rallied from a low of 5,000 birds in 1956 to 30,000 in 2002 and although more recent estimates put it at over 40,000, much remains to be done in the fight to save them.

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Stepping out, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

The problems facing Rio Lagartos include deforestation, habitat fragmentation, unregulated fishing and highway and breakwater construction. Tourist boats and low flying aircraft can disturb the birds; contaminated water, electricity pylons and hurricanes also pose great dangers to birds, feeding and nesting areas. Other endangered species such as the jaguar and ocelot also fall victim to poachers. The situation in Celestun is similar but problems there are exacerbated by greater population growth.

In recent years, Mérida-based universities, research centers and conservation groups such as Niños y Crias, Pronatura and CAPY have been working with the inhabitants of Rio Lagartos on a variety of projects ranging from reforestation, conservation of key areas, efficient land management, flamingo, turtle and jaguar research and protection, environmental education and sustainable development.

Active in Rio Lagartos and Celestun, Niños y Crias has a flamingo ringing program, which enables its biologists to study feeding migrations along the coast and breeding. An annual aerial census and monthly counts from a boat are carried out. The group also works with reserve wardens, other organizations and local people to protect flamingo feeding and nesting areas.

Environmental education with the goal of changing the mentality of residents and visitors alike is crucial. Pronatura and Niños y Crias are both working with communities in the reserve and along the coast to teach them about the importance of their environment, its fragility and the need to use resources in a sustainable way. The development of eco tourism is one way to provide the inhabitants of villages such as Rio Lagartos with an alternative source of income and in recent years many local people have been trained as birding guides by CAPY, a Mérida-based program of Amigos de Sian Ka’an A.C.

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

White pelicans, Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Thomas More Travel offers trips to Rio Lagartos (small groups only) and a day trip that combines a visit to the reserve with a trip to the ancient Mayan city of Ek Balam, information: www.thomasmoretravel.com Birding trips can also be arranged on request.

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2012 Spring Equinox at Chichén Itzá

On March 20 and 21, the period marking this year’s spring equinox, thousands of people will gather in the Great Plaza, the sacred heart of the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá, Yucatán’s famous World Heritage Site to watch the sunset. As the sun’s rays strike the massive Pyramid of Kukulcan, it begins to reveal its secrets.

Pyramid of Kukulcan

The pyramid is a solar clock, aligned to catch the rays of the sun. As it sets on the spring and fall equinoxes in March and September, triangles of light and shadow form along the side of the north staircase and the figure of a snake appears, merging with a stone head at the foot of the building, creating the illusion of a gigantic serpent slithering down from the heavens and across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote. The snake symbolizes Kukulcán (also known as Quetzalcoatl in central Mexico), the feathered serpent god and an ancient ruler of the city, returning to earth to give hope to his followers and heralding the planting (spring) and harvest (fall) seasons for the Maya.

The shadow creates the image of a descending snake.

The pyramid also represents the ancient Mayan calendar as the number of terraces and wall panels coincides with the number of months in the year (18) and years in a calendar round (52), respectively, and the number of steps in the staircases, including the top platform, equals 365, the days in the year.

In 2012, the equinox falls on March 20, but the snake of light and shadow is visible the day before and after the equinox, cloud cover permitting. March 21 is also the anniversary of the birth of Benito Juarez, one of Mexico’s most famous reformist presidents.

chichenequinox1

If you would like to explore one of the greatest ancient cities in the Americas and see why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site and a global poll in 2007 rated it as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza Trips and Chichen Itza Tours are available through Thomas More Travel, our on-site tour operator. Book now!

Favorites from the Yucatecan Kitchen

During your visit to the Mexican Caribbean or Yucatan, be sure to sample the delicious local cuisine. Although it is based on the famous trio of corn, chilies and beans, the use of which dates back to the days of the ancient Maya, it couldn’t be more different to the Mexican classics you may already be acquainted with.

A veritable fusion cuisine, Yucatecan dishes blend time-honored Mayan staples such as corn, chili, tomato, beans, squash, cacao, honey and turkey with European and Middle Eastern ingredients that include pork, Seville oranges (known locally as naranja agria) and garlic introduced by 16th-century Spanish settlers and later immigrants from the Levant. The result is a sophisticated blend of flavors.

Local chefs say that the secret is in the seasoning and they use recados or spice mixes of ground achiote (annatto) or pumpkin seeds and chilies that are sold in the markets as pastes or powders and dissolved in chicken stock or Seville orange juice to make sauces.

In Mayan communities, a pib or cooking pit is traditionally used to slow cook pork, turkey, chicken and fish (in the past the Maya also hunted wild game such as agouti, peccary and deer and in some areas they still do). The meat is marinated, wrapped in banana leaves to keep the juices in and baked underground for hours until it is so tender that it falls off the bone.

Setting up a "pib" or cooking pit

Photo: mayaculture (Flickr)

Cochinita Pibil
Pork marinated in achiote (annatto) and Seville orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves and slowly cooked in a pit for hours until it is tender. Pollo or Pavo Pibil is cooked the same way except that chicken or turkey is substituted for pork. Served with tortillas, pickled red onion and habanero chili sauce.

Cochinita Pibil

Photo: mark hollander (Flickr)

Sopa de Lima
A tasty chicken broth with shredded chicken, slices of lime, tomato, onion and green pepper and fried tortilla strips.

Sopa de Lima

Photo: dommichu (Flickr)

Poc Chuc
Slices of tender grilled pork marinated in Seville orange juice and served with a chili sauce, pickled red onions, corn tortillas and side dishes such as guacamole.

Poc Chuc

Photo: Larry Miller (Flickr)

Panuchos & Salbutes
Yucatecan finger food! Panuchos feature a special tortilla filled with refried beans. They are topped with shredded chicken or turkey, lettuce, tomato and pickled onion. Salbutes are fried tortillas topped with the same ingredients.

Chicken Panuchos

Photo: phaedra torres (Flickr)

Cochinita Pibil Panuchos

Photo: Adriana Pérez (Flickr)

Papadzules
Corn tortillas filled with chopped hard-boiled egg and topped with two sauces made from pipian or ground pumpkin seeds and tomato.

Papadzules

Photo: David Sosa (Flickr)

Queso Relleno
A dish that is proof of the Caribbean connection with the island of Curacao, once a Dutch trade enclave. It consists of a steamed Dutch cheese with a minced beef and pork, hard-boiled egg, raisin and almond filling and is served with a white and a tomato sauce. Traditionally this would have been cooked in banana leaves, but it can also be baked in the oven.

Queso Relleno

Photo: turismoyucatan (Flickr)

Tikinxic
A whole fish marinated in achiote and Seville orange juice, topped with slices of onion, green pepper and tomato wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on the grill or in tin foil and cooked in the oven.

Tikinxic

Photo: Ana Noble (Flickr)

Local Seafood
No Mexican Caribbean or Yucatan vacation is complete without sampling the local seafood. Your choices include juicy and sweet Caribbean lobster, shrimp, octopus, conch and a variety of good eating fish such as grouper (mero), huachinango (snapper) and boquinete (hogfish). Try your fish and seafood grilled, fried al mojo de ajo in garlic butter, in ceviche or in a hearty broth.

Photo: Fresh local seafood available at Captain’s Cove Restaurant

Relleno Negro
Turkey and a meat stuffing cooked in a spicy black sauce made with onions, hard-boiled egg and seared chilies. You may also come across relleno blanco on the menu.

Relleno Negro

Photo: rfung8 (Flickr)

Codzitos
Rolled tortillas which are fried until crispy and topped with a tomato sauce and crumbled cheese.

Codzitos

Photo: Alejandra Can (Flickr)

Frijol con Puerco
Chunks of pork cooked until tender with black beans, served with rice and a garnish of coriander, chopped onion and radish.

Frijol con Puerco

Photo: Alfonso Becerra (Flickr)

Pavo en Escabeche
Turkey, onion, peppercorns, bay leaves and other herbs stewed in a vinegar-rich pickling sauce.

Pavo en Escabeche

Photo: aya (Flickr)

Longaniza
A spicy black sausage from the town of Valladolid that makes a great taco filling! Try it with handmade corn tortillas cooked over a wood fire.

Longaniza platter

Photo: Ryan&Jo (Flickr)

Mucbil Pollo
Served on Hanal Pixan, the Mayan Day of the Dead (November 1 and 2), this corn tamale is stuffed with chicken, wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked in a pit.

Tamales being put in the "pib" or pit oven for cooking

Photo: Tips de Viajero (Flickr)

Cooked Mucpilpollos for sale

Photo: Maggy Molina (Flickr)

Puchero
A meat or poultry stew with vegetables. Sometimes beef, pork and chicken are used in the same dish.

Puchero

Photo: Alberto Vázquez (Flickr)

Dzotobichay
A tamal stuffed with pumpkin seeds and wrapped in chaya leaves, a native plant with more iron, calcium and trace minerals than spinach and Swiss chard.

Dzotobichay

Photo: ausmemoria (Blogspot)

Habanero Chili, a Gift from the Yucatan
Packing between 250,000 and 350,000 Scoville units on the heat scale, the habanero chili is definitely for serious chili eaters who crave its fiery yet fresh, grassy flavor. The Yucatan’s famous heart-shaped chile may be served whole, sliced or roasted in a red tomato sauce. It is also served with lime juice and chopped onion in a sauce called xnipek. In the Mayan language xnipek means “dog’s nose” and this salsa will literally make your nose run and your eyes water!

Habanero Chilies

Photo: Mario Vázquez (Flickr)

A Cool Drink to Accompany your Meal
We recommend that you try a limonada or naranjada, lemonade and orangeade made with freshly squeezed juice or an agua fresca, a water-based fruit drink made with a variety of fresh tropical fruit. Try whatever is in season; your choices include mango, pineapple, tangerine, guava, melon, tamarind, grapefruit and even more exotic fruit such as the fuschia-colored pitahaya (the flesh is actually white with tiny black seeds rather like a kiwi fruit), the guanabana or soursop and the mamey. You will also find agua de chaya on the menu, often flavored with lime juice or pineapple, this is a highly nutritious energy booster! In coastal fishing communities, you may be able to try agua de coco, literally the water inside a freshly cut coconut (a traditional remedy for upset stomaches). And Mexican favorites such as agua de jamaica (made with dried hibiscus petals) and horchata (a creamy sweet drink made from rice and water) are widely available.

A cold beer also goes well with your meal and you should try the local brand called Montejo in its light (clara) and dark (oscura) presentations. Finally, be sure to sample the Yucatecan liqueur Xtabentun, a scented drink made from honey, native herbs and aniseed.

Share your Stories
We would love to know if you have tried Yucatecan cuisine and which was your favorite dish? Why not drop us a line and let us know.

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Merida Celebrates its 470th Anniversary

Merida, the beautiful capital of the state of Yucatan is 470 years old on January 6! It is celebrating the anniversary of its foundation by Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo y Leon the Younger “El Mozo,” in 1542 amidst the ruins of a much earlier Mayan city called T’Ho. The festivities will last the whole month with the Merida City Festival, January 5 – 30.

merida | royal resorts news

Merida

The fun started on January 5 with the Alborada, a strolling serenade from Santa Lucia Park to the main square with over 100 local musicians and thousands of the city’s inhabitants, culminating with the traditional Mexican birthday song Las Mañanitas at midnight and a firework display. At 8 a.m. on January 6, local people gathered before the altar in San Idelfonso Cathedral, one of the oldest in the Americas, to offer their prayers for their city.

Festival de la Ciudad, 2012
The City Festival features more than 200 events ranging from concerts, plays and ballet and dance performances to street performances, art shows, cinema, historical exhibitions and literary workshops. This is in addition to the traditional weekly musical recitals and folk ballet events staged in the city’s parks and squares. The performers come from the Yucatan, different parts of Mexico and other countries, including Spain and Cuba. On Saturday, January 28, the National Poetry Prize Merida 2012 will be awarded at the Olimpo Cultural Center in the main square.
This year holds particular significance in the Yucatan as one cycle in the ancient Mayan calendar draws to a close on December 21 and a new one begins, accordingly, many of the festival events showcase the Mayan culture this time.

The 2012 festival program is available on http://www.merida.gob.mx/festival/index.html

Merida, a City for All Seasons
With historic monuments ranging from the impressive 16th century Cathedral and a collection of colonial churches and convents to 19th century civic buildings and the palatial residences of the henequen barons along Paseo Montejo, not to mention an ever expanding collection of museums, art galleries and craft centers there’s always something to see and do in Merida, whatever the season. The cultural scene is thriving and the city is also home to the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra (2012 season begins on January 20 – June 26, to see the concert program visit: http://www.sinfonicadeyucatan.com.mx/temporada/temporadactual.html ), several theaters, dance troupes and universities with their own community programs. Be sure to take in some of the evening concerts and folk dance performances staged throughout the year, here’s a listing.

Weekly Events in Merida

Saturday
Fiesta Mexicana
Live music and folk dances from Yucatan and other Mexican states, food and craft stalls and lots of ambiance.
8 p.m. to midnight, Calle 47 and Paseo Montejo

Corazon de Merida
Music, dance and open-air dining along Calle 60, the street leading north from the main square where the Church of the Third Order, Peon Contreras Theater, the University of the Yucatan and other landmarks are located.
From 9 p.m. Calle 60

Sunday
Merida en Domingo
The main square and surrounding streets are closed to traffic for this popular family gala featuring live music and dance performances, trio serenades, art exhibitions, handicraft and food stands.
9 a.m. – 9 p.m., main square and Calle 60. There is also a concert at the MACAY Museum next to the Cathedral from 12 to 1 p.m., a trio serenade at Pasaje Picheta at 8 p.m. and vaqueria folk dances at 1 and 5 p.m. Ask about midday concerts of classical music at Peon Contreras Theater during the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra season.

Biciruta
The streets of the historic heart of Merida, Paseo Montejo and those in Barrio San Juan and to Ermita de Santa Isabel are closed during the morning along this five-kilometer bicycle route which will take you past some of the city’s most important monuments.
8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Art on Sundays
Local and foreign artists display and sell their work on Merida’s famous tree-lined boulevard.
9 a.m. Paseo Montejo

Monday
Vaqueria
9 p.m. in front of City Hall in the main square.
Colorful traditional dances from the Yucatan, including those forming a part in village fiestas called vaquerias.

Tuesday
Musical Memories Big Band Concert
From 8:30 p.m., Santiago Park, Calle 59 & 72

Wednesday
Live music and art at the Olimpo Cultural Center.
9 p.m., main square

Thursday
Santa Lucia Serenade
Concerts, traditional dances and poetry readings
9 p.m. Santa Lucía Park

Corazon de Merida
Music and open-air dining along Calle 60, the street leading north from the main square where the Church of the Third Order, Peon Contreras Theater, the University of the Yucatan and other landmarks are located.
From 9 p.m. Calle 60

Friday
Trio Serenades in the main square
9 p.m. Pasaje Picheta

Noches de Leyenda
A two-hour walking tour and theatrical experience in one, scenes from Merida’s history are reenacted in nine different settings. At this time performances are in Spanish.
8:30 p.m., tickets available in Santa Lucia Park.
A repeat performance is staged on Saturday.

Corazon de Merida
Calle 60, the street leading north from the main square is closed to traffic and local restaurants set up tables al fresco in the squares and outside Peon Contreras Theater for an evening of dining under the stars. There’s live music at different points along the route with everything from trios and jazz to salsa on the repertoire.
From 9 p.m. Calle 60

Merida Walking Tours
Explore the historic heart of Merida on a free walking tour available Monday to Saturday at 9:30 a.m. The meeting point is the City Hall Information office on the main square.

Merida

Merida - City Center

Events are subject to change; when in Merida ask for the current program.

Merida’s Trio Tradition
Wander through the streets of Merida on any given night and you’ll discover how important music is to area inhabitants, the serenades performed by guitar-strumming trios playing in the squares and serenading diners at local restaurants are the very essence of trova, the music of the Yucatan.

Don’t miss the trio concert in Santa Lucia square every Thursday at 9 p.m. If you are interested in learning more about trova music, why not visit the museum dedicated to the history of these romantic ballads and local composers, Museo de la Cancion Yucateca, Calle 57 No. 464-A x 48. Open: Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Trips to Merida

merida

Palacio Canton, home of the Regional Museum, Paseo Montejo, Merida

Thomas More Travel offers day trips and overnight stays to Merida. If you plan to rent a car and make your own way there, Merida is 320 km/200 miles from Cancun and the drive takes around three and a half hours by car on the toll road and four hours or more depending on traffic on Highway 180. Flights also are available from Cancun.

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Sweet Beginnings, Yucatan’s New Cacao Museum

Everyone loves chocolate but did you know that cacao was first grown in southeast Mexico or that the ancient Maya made offerings of the cacao pods and a drink to their gods and used it as currency in their trade negotiations? And did you know that Emperor Montezuma drank up to 50 goblets of xocolatl (chocolate) a day and that Hernan Cortez and his band of conquistadors had their first taste of it at the Aztec court in 1519? You didn’t, then, you are in for a sweet treat! On July 5, the Eco Museo del Cacao or Cacao Museum opened at Plantacion Tikul between the archaeological sites of Labná and Xlapak on the Puuc Route, near the famous ancient Maya capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Uxmal in southern Yucatan.

cacao museum yucatan | royal resorts news

Entrance to the Cacao Museum in Ticul

In a tropical setting amidst cacao bushes, orchards and forest, and with the exhibits in traditional thatched Mayan huts, the eco museum is the brainchild of Belgian entrepreneur and chocolateur Eddy Van Belle. This is his fourth cacao museum; the others are in Prague, Bruges and Paris and all showcase the role of cacao in the Maya World and in Mexico. He teamed up with Merida-based chocolateur Mathieu Brees for his Yucatan Museum and says that the project started as all good things do “over dinner and a bottle of tequila.”

The museum galleries are located at regular intervals on a nature trail through the forest and wooden signs show native trees and shrubs exploited by the Maya for food, building materials, medicine and more. There are also outdoor displays showcasing the milpa or corn field and slash and burn agriculture, the raised seed bed or kanche used to grow herbs and delicate food plants and the traditional beehive made from a hollow tree trunk.

cacao museum yucatan | royal resorts news

Cacao beans

During your guided visit you’ll learn about cacao, the history of cultivation and the manufacture of chocolate.

The first gallery is dedicated to the origin of cacao in southeast Mexico and its role in Mayan culture. It explains the significance of the cacao pod, which resembles a human heart, and the drink a symbol for blood, its use in sacrificial ceremonies and its association with religion, kingship and everything divine. Examples of cacao plants depicted in Mayan art are displayed and there is an interesting introduction to Mayan trade. Cacao was a lucrative cash crop and the beans were the common currency throughout the Mesoamerica.

cacao museum ticul | royal resorts news

Cacao pods

The second gallery is devoted to Mayan life. You’ll learn about the foods a Mayan family would consume – apart from the sweet flesh of the cacao pod – and how they obtained them from farming, hunting and gathering; their houses, social organization, festivals and more.

It’s on to the third gallery where there are exhibits on the origin of cacao in tropical America and the history of its cultivation from the early days of the Olmecs more than 3,000 years ago, to the court of Emperor Moctezuma in the 16th century. Discover how chocolate became all the rage in Europe after the Spanish Conquest of Mexico and when cacao plantations sprang up in other parts of the world such as Ivory Coast and Brazil. The different species of cacao are shown and there are displays on cultivation and the insect pests and diseases that farmers dread.

cacao museum yucatan | royal resorts news

Mayan figurine in display - Cacao Museum

All the cacao and chocolate facts you absorb naturally makes you want the real thing and in the Tasting Hut you’ll take a break and watch as Mayan women roast cacao beans for 10 to 15 minutes. They then peel and then grind them on a metate (mortar), add water and prepare hot chocolate flavored with honey the way it is served in the Yucatan. You can experiment and sprinkle other spices such as pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and even chili into your chocolate. The ancient Maya used ground achiote seeds (annatto) for ritual purposes to give the drink a deep red color to resemble blood.

cacao museum yucatan | royal resorts news

Mayan woman preparing fresh hot chocolate

Displays in the fifth and final hut touch on cacao processing process and chocolate making, with interesting facts such as the percentages of cacao – 70 to 90 percent – needed to produce the world’s finest chocolate. The Mexican Criollo variety of cacao is renowned for its quality and is deemed far superior to the Forastero variety grown by rival cacao producing nations.

At the end of the tour, after discovering some of the secrets of cacao, you will be craving a bite or two of rich, deliciously satisfying chocolate.

Reviving Cacao Cultivation in the Yucatan
The Tikul Cacao Plantation is the first of its kind in the state of Yucatan since the days of the ancient Maya. Cacao needs fertile, well drained soil with a depth of 1.5 meters and high humidity levels to flourish and you would think that it would be impossible for it to grow on the infertile rocky landscape of the Yucatan. Yet the Maya grew their cacao in rejolladas, the hollows filled with a thicker layer of moist soil and humus found in the forest, usually near cenotes. Evidence of cacao cultivation has been found around Chichen Itza and this strain of the plant is known as sacred cacao due to the fact that it would have been used by priests in sacrificial rites and was also consumed by the nobility.

cacao museum yucatan | royal resorts news

Cacao tree

The plantation will eventually have more than 100,000 cacao trees in 289 hectares, with an estimated annual yield of 1.2 tons of high quality Criollo cacao per hectare. Sixty thousand trees have already been planted on 60 hectares and the harvest from the first 30 hectares is expected in 18 months. Traditionally, it takes five to seven years for cacao trees to bear their first fruit but thanks to the use of a sophisticated irrigation system, the growth process has been speeded up.

Organic farming methods, including planting shade plants such as yuca and bananas are employed on the plantation, and it is staffed by local people from Ticul, Oxkutzcab and Tekax. It will soon be certified by the Rain Forest Alliance for its sustainable farming practices and the developers hope that more farmers in the area will plant cacao as their forefathers once did.

cacao museum yucatan | royal resorts news

Tikul cacao plantation

Getting there
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed at Christmas and New Year) and has a small restaurant and chocolate shop. Admission is currently $80 pesos for adults and $40 pesos for children (6 – 12 years).

If you are thinking about renting a car in Cancun or the Riviera Maya and spending a couple of days in Yucatan, visiting Uxmal and exploring the other archaeological sites along the Puuc Route, Loltun Caves and the colonial churches in Mani and Oxkutzcab, do call in at the Cacao Museum. Remember that you can also organize private van trips with Thomas More Travel whenever you want to go off the beaten track.

For more information about Uxmal, Labna and the other archaeologicial sites on the Puuc Route, check out our article “Uxmal & the Puuc Route

Cacao Facts

• Did you know that in the days of the ancient Maya 10 cacao beans would buy you a rabbit?

• Did you know that Mayan traders had to be on the lookout for counterfeit cacao beans made of clay?

• Did you know that Mexico was once the world’s leading cacao producer but currently accounts for 0.3 percent of the global harvest?