Where and who to dive with in Playa del Carmen (2)

Although we have talked about them before but there is no harm in reminding you here of the existence of two big natural theme and archaeological parks where you can dive in the Mayans cenotes. These are the Xel-Há Water Theme Park and the Eco-Archaeological Park of Xcaret.

Altournative is one the companies based in Playa del Carmen that organizes all kinds of adventure routes; several of these routes include diving in the cenotes On their Website they claim to be a socially responsible company which respects the people and the Mayan culture and whose trips have the least impact on the environment, two things that are always good to be taken into account. The information on the site is in English only and the picture of this post is taken from the site.

The journey to the cenote and any other route is by quad, a four-wheeled motorbike. It is organized by AVT Explorer, which offers tours in the jungle in these vehicles including snorkeling in different cenotes. They also have an office in Playa del Carmen and their Website is in English.

Opposite the watchtower of Playa del Carmen are other centers like Jaime’s Marina, from which you can make routes including snorkeling: you can take your own equipment or rent one there. They are specialized in diving in the coral reefs and their Website is also in English.

If apart from visiting the cenotes, you want to do specific diving courses, one of the practical possibilities is to do it with Labna-Ha (Español, English and Deutsch). Labna-Ha in Mayan means “old house in the water”. They offer many courses and also organize routes to practise diving and snorkeling. Besides, they manage Magic Mayan World Eco-park where the cenote Caracol, one of the famous cenotes of the area, is. Since they are also very strict with the protection of the environment, the groups are very small so you have to book in advance. The second photo is taken from their Website.

Scuba Libre has been working in Playa del Carmen for ten years and has two centers. They organize diving courses certified by international institutions. They have many diving spots opposite the coasts of Playa del Carmen. They also organize snorkeling in six different cenotes not very far from Playa del Carmen and visits to several places of the western coast of Cozumel Island.

Yucatek Divers (Español, English, Français, Deutsch), are specialized in services for physically disabled people. But, of course, they also offer a lot of activities: starter courses, diving on the coasts of Playa de Carmen or in several cenotes. One of their specialties is diving with sharks on Hotbox Island, and their tours start from Playa del Carmen. Their other two specialties are snorkeling at the same places and a specific program for children. They organize guided tours around Playa del Carmen and the surrounding jungles and to several archaeological spots, and curiously, also offer Spanish courses.

And, to finish this review, here are three other centers in Playa del Carmen specialized in diving in its several specialties: Aquanauts, Dive Mike (English, Dansk) and Akumal Dive Adventures.

Francisco Cenamor

(Click here to read (in Spanish) the first part of this post and also click here to read this in English).

Where and who to dive with in Playa del Carmen (1)

Diving in its different forms is one of the main activities in Playa del Carmen that we have talked about during all these months that our blog has been created. So here are some reliable companies with whom you can dive in Playa del Carmen and its surroundings.

Maybe the most accessible activity to the majority of people is snorkeling (we have already talked about it), and Mayan Adventure is a specialized company, located in Playa del Carmen. They offer seven-hour diving tours in caverns and cenotes, which start from the time they pick you up at the airport in a van till they drop you back. Apart from transport, these tours include snorkeling, specialized guides, lunch. Noteworthy is the determination of this company to practise an ecotourism really respectful with the environment in which they work. They also offer another extreme tour that includes the visitor to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Their Website does not have the price list.

Hidden Worlds Cenotes Park is a park specialized in water activities related to the cenotes. It is located half an hour from Playa del Carmen and offer several types of guided visits with snorkeling and scuba diving. The Website is in English only, but they have a good photo gallery that makes you green with envy (the photo of the head of this post is taken from their Website).

There are also many companies specialized in diving activities which are certified by international diving institutions. And, although they mainly give services to expert divers, they also offer diving courses, initiation tours and snorkeling. Among these companies are Scuba Playa (Español, English, Français), which offers a wide range of places where to dive or snorkel: from the most famous and beautiful cenotes like the Gran Cenote or the one of Nohoch Nachich, to several spots of the marvelous coral barrier that runs along the coast of the Riviera Maya. The site includes some videos which are a good reference of the places where you can practise immersions.

Dressel Divers International is a company also certified by international diving organizations based in Spain and in America which has two branches in Playa del Carmen. They offer certified courses and activities for experienced divers, but they also offer tours for amateurs and novice divers as well as several snorkeling routes in open sea, reefs (in the photo) and cenotes. The company was created by one of the greatest diving experts worldwide, Javier Ibrán Pardo, a Spaniard who is the current president. Their specific diving program for children is quite interesting.

Phocea Riviera Maya (Español, English, and Français) is more than a diving center because they also help you to prepare your own routes within the Yucatan Peninsula in order to travel independently but with information. As for diving, they have a French-Mexican team, highly specialized and offer immersions for experts as well as courses for amateurs and novice divers. Their head office is located in Playa del Carmen. The most interesting specialty of this company is diving with whale sharks on Holbox Island.

This post falls too short for all the information on the many other companies devoted to diving and snorkeling in Playa del Carmen or its surroundings, so we will continue writing on this topic.

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

Flights to the Riviera Maya

There is a vast choice of flights to the Riviera Maya, as well as the prices. Needless to say that it also depends on the season, which is why this is the time for good offers and discounts on the ticket prices. And, although there are many packages which include hotels, we will take a look at the airfares. A round trip, of course.

For example, if we leave on the Friday 5th October to come back on the 12th in tourist class, we can choose between three flights of Iberia to Cancun, where the airport to the Riviera Maya is. Depending on the travel agency, there might be a difference of 30 euros more or less, including taxes and this is about 740 euros, almost the same as travelling with Air Europa, but this company only has one flight on this date.

It is a good idea to check if it a direct flight or not, although it doesn’t seem to be a direct flight for that day. And it is also important to check the duration of the flight since there big differences of up to 5 hours within the same company and between 15 to 20 hours. It is also common to change the company during the stopover. Iberia for example, almost always entrusts Aeroméxico the second part of the trip.

If we left on the 8th October to come back on the 15th, we can find a wide range of flights and prices. Curiously, the cheapest company is the Dutch KLM, which offers flights (two on this day) with a stopover in Amsterdam, of course. But there are also other companies: American Airlines, Aeroméxico, Cubana, Air Europa, Delta, Iberia, Continental Airlines, British Airways or Mexicana. Air Europa and Aeroméxico offer direct flights.

If, on the contrary, we want to leave on Tuesday 9th October and come back on the 16th October, we will be saving 50 euros on the airfare travelling with Aeroméxico in tourist class with a stopover.

When surfing the internet in search of air tickets there are tens of sites where we find flights: Rumbo, Easy Viajar, Destinia, eDreams, Muchoviaje, Viajar… it is always good to have references of the airlines we are flying. A good way is to visit the Internet forums where travellers share their experiences. One of the negative experiences most commented on of these forums is the change of the schedule of the planes, which normally happens after we have paid for the ticket and is always for worse: suddenly there is a technical problem that will make our flight last three hours more. But, the most successful are the packages that include the flight and the hotel. Paying for packages is almost the same as paying for the flight alone.

And, although there is a huge difference and we have spent a lot of time and money, reaching the Riviera Maya and discovering its marvels is quite compensation.

Francisco Cenamor

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

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