Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mexico: Xel-Ha and Tulum!

One day, during our trip, we booked a tour that took us to both Xel-Ha and then Tulum. A nice air-conditioned bus picked us all up right next to the open-air hotel restaurant where we'd just finished breakfast.

In the Mayan language, Xel-Ha is pronounced SHEL-ha and means "where the water is born." And it almost seems like it when you visit this beautiful eco-park. It is called the largest natural aquarium in the world. It's a water paradise! And Xel-Ha's all-inclusive package means you pay one price and receive not just your admission, but all your activities, snorkeling gear, towels, locker storage, deck chairs, hammocks, lifejackets, inner tubes - everything you need to have fun in and out of the water is included.

Oh, and I forgot one more minor thing: all your food, snacks and drinks (even alcoholic) are also included. If I remember correctly, there are about 5 restaurants/bars in the park with a wide variety of foods to savor. The one where I ate had a HUGE buffet, with table after table of pasta dishes, fish, burgers and hot dogs, tacos, salads, fruits - I'm sure I didn't see it all. The outside of the restaurant had spigots so you could pour your own lemonade or beer or other beverages. You could even make your own ice cream cone. Compared to Disneyland, where the price of admission and the cost of the food in the park is astronomical, this was a bargain and a delight!

You can spend the entire day in this biological preserve, exploring the jungle, snorkeling with brightly colored fish – it’s water, water, everywhere, lagoon, cenotes, caves. And everywhere you sense the deep commitment to preserving this beautiful natural wonder where Mayans once lived and thrived.

The family spent most of their day snorkeling and I wandered the park by myself. I stopped and watched a family swimming with the dolphins for a while. Pretty amazing what they've trained the dolphins to do. My favorite was when the dolphins pushed a person like a speedboat across the water: one dolphin would push on each foot, making the person rise up out of the water, arms wide open like a cross and they'd be pushed forward with amazing speed, laughing/screaming with delight.

I visited the nursery, too, with its array of tropical plants. Bonus: I got a nice cool-down standing under the sprinklers in one area. Do you see the big red iguana on the rocks above?

Meandering along one of the many paths, I hiked out to an out-of-the-way finger of land called Lighthouse Point, right on the edge of the Caribbean. Under a loosely thatched roof, there were several hammocks hanging in the gentle breeze. There was absolutely no one else around, so I just laid in my hammock enjoying the waves exploding on the rocks, the sunshine, the breeze. So beautiful, I could have stayed right there the entire rest of the day! I happily laid in my hammock, watching the waves and enjoying the amazing blueness of the Caribbean.

After that delightful respite, I spent a long time exploring along a long narrow jungle path that wound throughout the park. There were a couple of points where I thought I might be lost; I hadn't seen another soul in quite some time, and it seemed the rough jungle trail was endless. There were markers along the way to describe trees and caves and cenotes, along with ancient Mayan tales. A long hike, but so worthwhile. Then it was time to board the bus and head to Tulum!

Tulum - the Walled City - is the site of ancient Mayan ruins located on a high bluff above the ocean. The views of the Caribbean are spectacular here. Standing on the bluff, you get a sense of what it must have been like to be a part of this dynamic area. Because of its location, Tulum was a thriving trading site, with access from land or sea.

We were especially lucky to have an amazing guide for Tulum, Javier Savala, whose mother is Mayan and father is Basque. His first language was Mayan and he is an authority on the history, science and archaelogy of this area. His passion for the Mayan culture and his extensive knowledge of the scientific, mathematical, political, architectural and cultural details were contagious. A brilliant man!

Before heading up to the ruins, we enjoyed a performance by Mayan Flying Pole Dancers. With one Indian at the top beating a drum, four others, wrapped in rope, dropped down from the top of the pole, upside down, unwinding and swirling round and round. Amazing! (I couldn't help but think they must have been incredibly hot in their red velvet pants.)

Javier picked some hibiscus blossoms before we took to the tram to the ruins, promising he'd show us a surprise. At the site, we gathered round as he told us of the symbolism of different buildings, of how they were sited to the sun's path and guided the days for planting and harvesting. He explained mathematical equations that had my head spinning but that the Mayans used in the construction of the site and placement of windows and doors. Vastly interesting!

As in most every place we went, there were iguanas up here, too. With a bright, pink hibiscus blossom in hand, Javier lured an iguana to come over and take the flower from his hand. "Your turn, Princess!" he called out to Brianna, my youngest granddaughter, handing her a flower. Looking both excited and a little nervous, she bent down, and bravely held out the flower to another iguana. Gently he took it from her hand. Another beautiful Mexico moment, another beautiful Mexico memory.

Thank you for letting me share our Mexico trip. Now it's your turn to go and enjoy. I can't wait to return again soon. There's a little casita in Akumal that I'm going to book for my next vacation with a yoga studio nearby. Perfect. Adios!


Erin said...

You're killing me with all this gorgeous pictures!!!! I have GOT to go there...NOW!

Rose - The Center of My Self said...

Erin - With that water, you'd be in turquoise heaven!

Kelee Katillac said...

Rose--I have wanted to go to the ruins for SO log!
Thanks for giving me the inspiration!

love, kelee

Mike said...

What a wonderful place! Wish I was there ;)

kahlanne said...

Thanks for taking a look at my blog. These curtain rods are terrific but they aren't spring tension like most. They have to be screwed into the wall. Or at least the one I have is. Still, so worth it!

Britt-Arnhild said...

Paradise :-)

rebecca said...

Rose, you're killing me here! I'm ready to sell my house and move to Mexico! Xel-Ha looks awesome and that water, OMG, this is the thing with going to places like this where the water is so crystal clear that if you're a New Yorker you will never step into the waters here ever again! I've been to Cancun twice and my heart wants to so badly return there soon! Hopefully next year. I have to get caught up with your other posts as well and daydream a little more.

On another note, I'm listening to Salma Hayek sing Siente Mi Amor...I'll have to add that to my playlist. Didn't know she could sing so well. Quedate Aqui I remember from Desperado. She was on the bed, strumming a guitar to Mr. Hot Stuff Antonio Banderas! That was a good movie and it was really difficult watching these two trolls in the movie...couldn't they have chosen a more attractive pair? Really! LOL!!!!


for the love of a house said...

Rose, these photos are beautiful- the colors, the peacefulness....
The big red iguana I could do without though;) as I am deathly afraid of lizards! Made gardening in Texas a challenge, but I won! I might have to become a Mayan performer- that looks like so much fun!
I'm loving all your vaca pics!

Carol S. said...

Such sweet memories and vivid stories. The pictures are excellent as well. Who did all the planning for the excursions? Seems like you really hit some wonderful highlights of the area. Enjoyed your post. Thanks,


Kat said...


Hi! Thanks so much for your recent visit to my blog and your sweet comment. I'm not sure how you found me, but I'm so glad you did. It's always fun to meet other bloggers. I've sure enjoyed my visit here. I've loved seeing the photos from your trip and the music has been great!


Rose - The Center of My Self said...

Rebecca - "trolls" - lol! Desperado is a fave of mine.

Carol - I took my daughter to Cancun for her graduation so we already knew to go to Xcaret, Xel-Ha and Tulum, as we'd done before. Akumal was new to us; the timeshare agent at our resort turned us on that little spec of paradise.