The Pre-classical Mayan period

We have to bear in mind several aspects when trying to discover the history of the Mayas. Here we are going to talk about the periods in which scholars have divided this History. The first one is the Pre-classical period and, although it seems that there is no agreement as for the duration of this period, it seems the common dates are between the year 1000 before our era and the year 320 of the present era. Before this period, there are also evidences of human activity, mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula, were as we know, the Riviera Maya is.

The Maya empire covered the northwest of El Salvador and Honduras, Guatemala and Belize and the present states of Mexico: Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen is located) and Chiapas.

According to recent studies, the Maya civilization originated from a migration of the inhabitants of the Pacific coast in the year 1220 before our era, who headed to the Yucatan Peninsula. They were the Olmecs, but their settlement and mixing with the inhabitants of the areas they were reaching gave rise to the people known as Protomayans or the ancestors of the Mayans. The Olmecs had a great influence on the first settlers and there was no fully autonomous and established Mayan culture at least until the first Century of our era.

During this period of the Maya History, the area that had the most influence was situated in El Petén, at the north of present-day Guatemala. There, they settled cities such as Nakbé, El Mirador, Cival and San Bartolo. It is worth mentioning that most of the original names of the Mayan cities are unknown and most are known with their present names.

The social organization of these first Mayan cities was stable and organized. Obviously, the western concept of city has nothing to do with the one of the Mayas of that period and the cities were perfectly integrated in the jungles were they were built, since the Mayas, at least during that period, professed a sacred respect to nature, on which their gods were based.

A more and more complex social and political organization started to develop in answer to the growth of the population and urbanization. A strong internal hierarchy appeared with priests and the nobles gaining more authority. This period is also known as the Agricultural Period, due to the important development of this human activity, mainly based on corn, beans, cacao and pumpkins. Other activities such as hunting, fishing or harvesting were then secondary.

As far as architecture is concerned, they started building the first temples and the origins of the future pyramids: some mounds used to bury the dead. Religion was very simple and was based on the belief in life after death and a great cult and veneration to the dead.

Little by little, at the end of this period, in the Late Pre-classical period, other important Mayan cities started to develop such as Santa Marta and Tonala in the Mexican state of Chiapas; Edzna and Xicalango in Campeche; Acanceh and Dzibilchaltun in Yucatan; El Trapiche and Casablanca in El Salvador and Kaminaljuyu in the south of Guatemala.

Francisco Cenamor

Aktun Chen y Kantun-Chi, two small ecological parks to visit from Playa del Carmen and enjoy the cenotes

On the way to Tulum, some 31 miles from Playa del Carmen, is the Eco-park of Aktun Chen (English Website). It is not difficult to get there by bus, van, taxi or a rented car. We can also contract a one-day visit at the reception area of the hotel or through Lomas Travel (English Website), the tour operator.

The name means “cave with an underground river inside” in Mayan language and this is precisely the main attraction of this park, since there are three caves with cenotes inside. The park has an area of 988 acres of unexplored rainforest; visiting them is another attraction altogether.

But it is undoubtedly an ideal place where to visit the caves, since one of them, has been enhanced with indirect lighting for a better view and enjoyment of the wonders inside. The caves are millions of years old and we can watch the fanciful shapes the passing of time formed with the stalactites and stalagmites.

Besides, the park offers a program of reproduction of the local wildlife and when strolling through the jungle, you can easily watch several endangered species such as the spider monkey, the white tail deer, the collared peccary, the wild boar or the wild turkey. There is also a snake observatory where to watch more than fifteen species of the region.

It opens from Monday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm and until 7 am in June, July and August. It costs 260 pesos (aprox. 24 dolllars/16 euros), half the price for children between 3 and 10 years.

Kantun-Chi (English website) is located hardly 14 miles from Playa del Carmen on the way to Puerto Aventuras. You can get there using the usual means of transport. They open from 9 am to 5 pm, and until 6 pm in summer. They have two types of tickets: the first one which costs 23 euros for adults and 20 for children includes a diving tour in the grottos and the cenotes with all the necessary equipment and a guided visit through the jungle. The second one only includes a route through the jungle and a visit to the cenotes; it costs 14 and 7 euros.

Kantun-Chi means “yellow stone mouth” in Mayan language. There is a rich variety of the flora and fauna common to this region. Once again, you can let yourself be impressed with a walk through the jungle, but the main attractions of this park are undoubtedly the grottos and the cenotes.

The main route is through one grotto that was formed over millions of years between two of the main cenotes of the park. The boat trip in the subterranean canals brings us close to marvelous formations of stalactites and stalagmites and the wide range of colors the few sunrays that are projected on the water and the walls of the caves. In some parts you can dive and snorkel.

In order to protect the endangered species, only four of the many cenotes of the park are open to the public. And, for this reason, the use of any kind or water-based sun block or lotions is not allowed. Kantun Chi is the cenote which gives its name to the park and the first one you encounter as you begin your adventure. The next one is Sas ka leen Ha, “transparent water” and resembles a crescent moon and was probably used by the ancient Mayans for the purification of their souls. Uchil Ha, “ancient water” has the shape of a ring and is the most unusual to be found on the Yucatan Peninsula. Lastly, Zazil Ha, “clear water” is the ideal place to watch the effects of the light at noon when sunrays cross through the small holes in the roof of the cenote.

Francisco Cenamor

Gods and Goddesses of the Mayan civilisation

Like the majority of civilizations that have existed on out planet, the Mayans were polytheist. Their Gods derived directly from their relation with nature and the stars, which the Mayan used to observe in detail.

Although the type of beliefs was more or less constant during the Mayan history, we have observed that some researchers of the Mayan religion establish a period previous to the influence of the Toltec and a subsequent one.

But, generally speaking, it can be said that the most important god would be Hunab Kú (which means in Mayan language “only god”), a powerful god that governed the planet and was helped by several secondary deities. This is apparently a contradiction a unique god accompanied by a cohort of gods. Hunab Kú built the world three times. The first time it was inhabited by genies; the second time by an evil and dark race called dzolob; and the third and last one by the Mayan. There are proofs that they believed in other creator gods such as Tepeu and Gocumaz, surely related to the first one.

But the most well known name of this god is, undoubtedly and surely due to the archaeological discoveries, that of Kukulkán, which in Maya “plumed snake”. This caused to relate him to the Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs. They started using this name under the strong influence of the Toltec. Apart from the name, it is believed that the faith in this god is previous to the Mayans and can be found in other cultures of Central America. The Mayans believed that his heart and his mind were in the center of the universe and that he was the creator of the universe and the human beings.

The names of other gods of this era were derived from the stars: the sun, Kin; the moon, Uh; Venus, Noh Ek; the star of the north Xaman Ek…; and other of less importance. Natural phenomenons also gave their names to new gods: Chaac, the god of the rain; Ik, the god of the wind; or Yum Kak, the god of fire. Human activities also had their own gods such as Yum Kax the god of agriculture; Ek Chuah, the god of war; Itzamná the god of wisdom; Ix Tab the goddess of suicide, which curiously refers to the sacrifices, since it was thought that those who committed suicide when directly to heaven; and Ah Puch the god of death. Maybe apart from Kukulkán there were other two important gods. Itzam Ná, the son of Hunab Kú, was the god of the sky, the night and the day and was represented by an elderly kind-hearted and toothless man. It was said that he invented the books and writing and is considered to be the first priest. Ix Chel or Ixchel was the wife of the previous one and was closely related to the moon and was venerated by women and on isla Mujeres there are remains of a temple where women went on pilgrimage to celebrate the passage from teenage to youth.

But, despite she was given positive attributes, she was represented by an angry old woman surrounded by symbols of destruction and death; what is more, she is considered as the goddess responsible of floods.

Francisco Cenamor

Chichén Itzá: a compulsory visit from Playa del Carmen to one of the most important archaeological centres in the world

Chicén Itzá photo. A master piece of the Mayan ruins. Mayan archaeological.

Chichén Itzá is located at 133 miles of Playa del Carmen, but it is almost compulsory to find a way to visit this impressive Mayan city which is possibly the best preserved. In Playa del Carmen there are several agencies that organise the tours. For example, the company Cancún All Tours offers trips from Playa del Carmen on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 54 euros for adults and 45 for children (plus 10% for taxes). This trip include transport in a luxury bus, breakfast, lunch, water and other drinks, the tickets to visit the sites…

Cancún Travels also offers trips from Playa del Carmen, with a wide range of several ways of travelling, so we recommend you to visit their website for more information. And, surfing the Internet, we can find loads of offers to get to Chichén Itzá from Playa del Carmen. We can even rent a car or go on our own. There are also buses from the station of the Fifth Avenue.

Chichén Itzá is situated on the Yucatan Peninsula, southeast of Merida, the capital of the State of Mexico. Its name means “at the mouth of the wells of Itzá”. This archaeological site has been declared World Heritage by the UNESCO in 1988 and, recently, in a private survey on the Internet, with no official value, was voted as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. Until the year 325, Chichén Itzá was a small village with structures made of straw and wood, but it started to get rich and be fuelled by people from other villages till it became one of the most prominent Mayan cities in its history. The first big monuments were built dispersedly and when the city was organized they were connected by a wide network of stone ways that can still be admired nowadays.

The majority of the most important monument is found in the Gran Explanada ( ) of Chichén Itzá, in the middle of which stands the impressive Kukulkán’s Pyramid, a four corner pyramid, possibly built around the year 800, on which there is a temple; and is sustained by a square base measuring 60 yards by side and 78 feet tall. In the center of each side rises a monumental stair way leading to the top of the structure. The stairways are flanked by stone balustrades and the stairway on the northern side we can admire two enormous and beautiful plumed serpent’s head, which are the effigies of the god Kukulcán.

Some experts agree on saying that these ruins, although clearly Mayan, show the remarkable influence of the Toltec, who were their neighbours from the north. The best periods to visit this impressive monument are the equinox of March and September, at specific times of the day; the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid’s main stairway. This causes seven isosceles triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent 37 yards long that creeps downwards, something which those who built the pyramid had in mind and that shows the surprising level of mathematical knowledge for that period.

Francisco Cenamor

The Fives USA blog about Playa del Carmen & the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Coba, located about 100 kilometres of Playa del Carmen. A new archaeological centre to be visited

Coba, a photo of Mayan city. Riviera Maya, Mexico. By The Fives Resort.

The first news of the discovery of the ruins of the Mayan city of Coba dates back to 1842. From then on, researchers have been recovering its marvels little by little. Presently, it is one of the many archaeological centres that can be visited on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Coba is located at only 62 miles of Playa del Carmen, which makes it easy to be reached from there. The means of transportation are the usual ones: van or bus from the station of Fifth Avenue, or by a rented car. Hotels and agencies also organise all in one package tours. Once in Playa del Carmen, it is very easy to get there. The entrance fare is 45 pesos (about 3 dollars).

It is situated east of Tulum which gives us a good excuse to stay there for at least two and visit both places and spend the night in the modern Tulum. Coba in Mayan language means “the place of ruffled waters”.

It is possibly one of the Mayan cities to have reached its maximum magnificence quite early. There are vestiges that in the years 200 and 600 A.D., this city-state had an influence over all the northern part of the Peninsula of Yucatan, due to its location which made it the crossroad of countless commercial routes. Its power even reached some commercial ports such as Xel-Há. The result of this wide network, today we can enjoy the pictorial remains of Coba which clearly show the influence of the Teotihuacán’s, who came from the central part of Mexico.

But this supremacy of Coba will start decreasing with the rise of the area of Chichén Itzá. After a first period of confrontation, the supremacy of the latter Mayan city started from the year 900 or 1000 A.D. following territorial and commercial disputes between the two cities. When the Spanish people arrived in the area, the city of Coba was uninhabited. The consecutive necessities of the city throughout its history have left a set of areas very different chronologically as well as functionally, up to a perimeter of 43 square miles packed with archaeological remains. All the zones discovered cannot be visited, due partly to deterioration and partly to the fact that the discoveries are quite recent and there is still more to be investigated.

The visit starts by Grupo Coba, is composed by residences and palaces. The most important is the building devoted to cult, which in the zone is called Iglesia, (church) and is 82 feet tall. Another group that can be visited it the Nohoch Mul, which is older than the previous one. The height of its buildings is quite surprising especially the tallest of all those found in the several Mayan cities, is also called Nohoch Mul (which in Maya means “large hill”); the lowest plinth and the temple is about 138 feet height. Other two groups can also be visited: the Grupo de las Pinturas (Temple of the Paintings), in reference to the remains of mural paintings that are still preserved in some structures; and the Macanxoc, with remarkable steles in remembrance of the achievement some of the queens who governed Coba.

One of the added interests of the visit to Coba is that all the buildings are in the middle of luxuriant jungles where we can delight in the marvellous flora and fauna.

Francisco Cenamor

The Fives USA blog about Playa del Carmen & the Riviera Maya, Mexico

We can visit the Eco-archaelogical park of Xcaret situated some miles aways from Playa del Carmen

Theme Park of Xcaret in Playa del Carmen, Rivera Maya, Mexico

We have already talked about the Theme Park of Xela-Há. Well, it is time now to talk about another theme park that is also as spectacular and situated only 3.7 miles from Playa del Carmen. It is the Eco-Archaeological Park of Xcaret, which means, in Mayan language “little creek or cove.”

From Playa del Carmen we can take a Park bus at 9 am and entry fee is included in the entrance fee. The bus Station is beside the ferry dock and is very well known. From the downtown station, located in Quinta Avenida, there are also public buses for 2 Dollars every half an hour and they leave passengers 0.6 miles from the entrance, but the park also has a free service combined with the arrival of buses. And if we go by taxi, it will cost approximately 11.5 Dollars. Most hotels also offer visits to this Park.

There, we will enjoy the typical water activities: snorkel, scuba diving, visit to the coral reef and sliding in the subterranean rivers. Here the tube, the flippers and the glasses for snorkel are not included in some of the entrance fees; you can take them or hire them for approximately 7 Dollars.

One of the main attractions of this Park are the different Mayan pyramids and buildings that have been restored with the help of the Instituto Nacional de Arqueología e Historia (the Mexican National Institute of Archaeology and History); and the shows recreating sports, parties and traditions of the Maya in their impressive amphitheater for 6,000 people. More than 250 actors work daily in Xcaret.

Among the interesting installations we can find an aquarium, a bird and a butterfly site that shows us the natural fauna living in this zone. There are also guided tours to the jungle from where we can see –using binoculars- the fearsome jaguar in its natural habitat.

In order to enjoy the visits and shows, you must hire the services in advance; some of them have an additional price.

And if you want to tie the knot and give a sublime night to your family, you can get married in this Park, where magical moments are prepared for this ceremony.

The list of water activities, ecologic routes and shows included in the entrance fee seems to be endless, I can’t be visited in one day only, this may be the reason why they are offering a new product: a two-day ticket (to be used in six days starting from the first visit). It is free for children under 3.28 feet, 50% for children from 3.28 to 4.59 feet; and the fee for adults is 59 Dollars.

But there are other options. The normal ticket is 41 Dollars and 21 for children. The night ticket to attend shows is 30 Dollars and 15 for children. And if you buy Xcaret the Plus ticket, sodas, food and snorkel equipment are included for 63 Dollars for adults and 32 for children.

Entry for children of less than 3.28 feet is free and all the ticket options have a 10% discount if hired by Internet.

From Playa del Carmen those who love comfort have a special tour that will pick take them back to their hotel after the beautiful day at Xcaret for 63 Dollars and 32 for children.

Francisco Cenamor

The Fives USA blog about Playa del Carmen & the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Tulum, an archaelogical and ecologic marvel in the south of the Riviera Maya

At approximately 38 miles from Playa del Carmen we can find the antique and modern city of Tulum.

If we rent a vehicle to be on our own it is useful to know that road 307 crosses the modern city. Getting there in taxi from Playa del Carmen costs approximately 294 Mexican pesos (19 dollars). The bus station of Quinta Avenida has a bus line departing every half an hour to Tulum and costs 29 pesos, only (2 dollars); the journey by bus takes one hour and a half. Vans and all inclusive guided tours are also offered in Playa del Carmen and can be hired on arrival.

The antique city can be visited any day of the week all year round from 8am to 5pm. The entrance fee is 45 pesos (3 dollars). It has a parking lot and sanitary fittings.

The modern city of Tulum has all the necessary services and if we wish to stay for more than one day, we have many lodging offers as well as houses for rent. One of the peculiarities of this tourism region, where the environment conservation is important, is that they use power from solar energy and wind farms.

Regarding the antique city of Tulum we know that its name is new and in Mayan language it means “fence or wall”. While inhabited, it was called Zama, “dawn”. Getting to the ruins is impressive since they are in the highest part of a cliff dominating the Caribbean Sea (from where dawn can be seen) and the archaeological remains are placed in almost 4 miles through the coast

Even tough some discoveries, as the one of a document dating events in year 565 (Classic Period of the Mayan History), tells about a zone inhabited long ago, most recent research affirms that this city reached its splendor only in the Late Period (1200-1521), when it was surely densely inhabited. We can also visit some buildings with architectural features of the Classic Period.

The central part of this antique city is protected by a wall where there are remains of administrative and religious public buildings. Outside the wall were the apartments of these antique Mayas.

During its best period, Tulum was an important Mayan port devoted to trading products from the inner lands and the coast in the whole Riviera. Some archaeological remains recently found show how this port would be trading with more distant regions, as the ones situated in the present day Guatemala or the Mexican high plateau.

It also had much religious importance since the gods had a great relationship with stars and Zama-Tulum was a privileged place where they could be observed.

Tulum was an independent State city until the arrival of the Spaniards when it was abandoned by its inhabitants who were running away from the new invaders.

Francisco Cenamor

The Fives USA blog about Playa del Carmen & the Riviera Maya, Mexico

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