Where and who to dive with in Playa del Carmen (and 3)

As I was surfing the Internet, looking for information about diving in Playa del Carmen, I found new centers where to enjoy this beautiful water activity. Here are the new diving centers.

Go Cenotes (Español, English, Français and Deutsch) is a new PADI certified center that operates from Playa del Carmen. They offer diving and snorkeling in the reefs of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and Tulum, as well as night immersions. The diving and snorkeling routes can be guided or not, and, the truth is that the prices seem quite affordable. They also offer good programs for certified and experienced divers. Moreover, they can record your immersions so that you take with us a beautiful memory of our stay in Playa del Carmen.

Phantom Divers offers almost the whole range of PADI courses, from beginners to advanced divers. From this center in Playa del Carmen we can dive in the pristine waters of its coasts and the reefs of Cozumel Island. Their routes to the cenotes, with all the necessary equipment and guides have quite affordable prices and also a wide range of schedules. They also offer long visits and diving of seven to ten days.

On their part, Sealife Divers, which Website the photo of the head of this post is taken from, offer several water activities in Playa del Carmen, such as: cheap diving programs if contracted for days with the possibility of choosing which days to enjoy them. The diving spots are the usual ones and they are also officially certified.

Scuba Caribe has branches in several places in the Caribbean, among which Playa del Carmen, where they offer certified courses and an interesting family program. The picture of the fish is taken from their Website. Diversity Diving, offers a wide range of prices as well as specialized and certified courses together with excursions to the most popular reefs and cenotes. All these websites we have talked about include photographs and videos, which undoubtedly, are an invitation to immerse in the reefs and cenotes of the Riviera Maya.

To close this series of articles, here are links to companies that do the same activity, but in other places. As you can see, Cozumel Island, the diving paradise in the Riviera Maya, is just opposite the coast of Playa del Carmen.

Cozumel Island: Aqua Safari, Blue Angel, Deep Exposure Dive Center, Del Mar Aquatics, Blue Bubble Divers, Sand Dollar Sports, Studio Blue Cozumel, Dive College, Deep Blue, Dive Palancar, Dive Paradise, Dive With Martin, Dressel Divers, Scuba Clun Cozumel, Scuba Du.

Puerto Aventuras: Aquanauts, Pro Dive México, Scuba Caribe.

Akumal: Akumal Dive Shop, Bahia Dive Center.

Puerto Morelos: Wet Set.

Tulum: Maya Diving.

Cancun: AquaWorld, Manta Divers, Scuba Cancun, Scuba Caribe.

Isla Mujeres: Aqua Adventures, Coral Scuba Dive Center.

Francisco Cenamor

Maya writing: a historical wonder to be discovered when visiting the Riviera Maya

The written language of the Mayans is, up till now, the only Pre-Columbian language of Mesoamerica that researchers have been able to decipher. One of the main problems this study poses is that some Spanish conquerors, mainly the members of religious orders, destroyed all the books that existed against the opinion of other Spanish people, also belonging to religious orders, who wanted to know this culture. So, the only possible way to study this language has been through the inscriptions preserved in the monuments and objects that can still be admired.

Presently there is some proof of the existence of three codices, the so-called Dresden Codex, Madrid Codex and Paris Codex, where they are kept. From these codices and the Maya writing in Latin characters, emerges the knowledge of an extremely developed culture that had books on the principal subject matters in human writings of that period: nature, science, religion and politics. A culture which is being made popular in the last years and we undoubtedly can observe in Riviera Maya.

The first inscriptions, in which we can talk about the Mayan language, date back to the third Century before our era. This writing system, with its evolutions, survived till shortly after the arrival of the Spanish. Tayasal, in present-day Guatemala, was the last redoubt of Maya writing till its collapse in 1697.

Maya writing is based on two types of glyphs (carved or painted characters), some of them representing whole words, and some representing syllables. It used 800 individual signs. At the beginning and due to the comparison with Egyptian writing, the first European explorers of the XVIIIth and XIXth Centuries thought this writing to be Hieroglyphics. Later they discovered that there both writings were not related at all.

During the Classical Period of the Maya civilization (approx. 320 to 987 after our era), a moment of great importance of the Maya writing, the writing system was divided in two sub-groups: the Ch’olan, in the south of México, Guatemala, Belize and the north of Honduras; and the Yucateca, in present-day Yucatan Peninsula, where the Riviera Maya is located. In spite of being different, both branches influenced each other.

The Maya language was still used after the conquest, but adopted Latin characters. Thanks to this, we can now read abundant Maya literature, among which many books on legends, histories and Mayan traditions. Nowadays, there are six million Mayan speakers in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, although they use the Latin alphabet for writing.

One of the curiosities of history is that, the man who boasted to have destroyed all the Mayan books, or at least the majority of them, the Spanish bishop Diego de Landa was the person who gave one of the clues which helped discover its meaning. This book entitled Relación de las cosas del Yucatán (there is an edition by Dastin Publishers, 2003), included a wrong catalogue of the Mayan glyphs, which considered each glyph as representing a letter and assuming that Mayans used an alphabet. So he asked a native speaker about the Spanish equivalent for ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’… Later on, he discovered that it was a spelling book and some of the glyphs Diego de Landa pointed out were equivalents of the following syllables: ‘a’, ‘be’, ‘ce’.

By the way, I must thank the website of the Fundación para el avance de los estudios mesoamericanos (The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies) for offering those who are interested in this language, a complete and free study manual. It can be downloaded here.

Francisco Cenamor

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).

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

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