From Mayan ruins to temazcals, Mexico is a place where your soul shall flourish…
Temazcal – The Sweaty Journey to the Self
With the omniscient Mayan and Aztec energy, sacred healing waters (as mentioned above), sunshine and warmth, jungle trails and lush nature as well as symbolism and strong folklore culture and history, the country is bound to attract those who are keen on spirituality. All around Yucatan peninsula you find temazcals (a form of a sweat lodge) and the number as them is rising in correspondence with the growing influx of tourists.
Temazcals are a form of a curative ceremony that purifies the body (as well as mind and spirit) from all toxins through massive sweating. In the past they were used mostly after a battle or ceremonial ball games, but also for healing the sick and for women to give birth (to improve their health). The origins of temazcals are actually rooted in the indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America that were part of the ancient Mesoamerican region.
Temazcal is usually a permanent structure, unlike sweat lodges which are to be found also in South America. It is usually constructed from volcanic rock and cement in the shape of a circular dome, although rectangular ones have been found at certain archaeological sites too. To produce the heat, volcanic stones are heated (they are safe as they do not explode from the temperatures).
The whole ceremony is a special process during which sacred chants and ícaro songs are being sung and one goes onto a great spiritual journey of the self to the self.
Mayan Ruins – Chichen Itzá, Tulum, Cobá
Obviously, the most famous sight, also one of the New 7 World Wonders, is Chichen Itzá – a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people of the Terminal Classic period. It is quite a place to see! Don’t get discouraged by the pricy entry (almost 500 pesos) or the long line of tourists waiting to get in (you might need to wait for at least 30 mins). The complex is huge and people disperse and the experience is totally worth the money. The place vibrates! Seriously!
El Castillo (Temple of Kukulcan or Kukulcan Pyramid) dominates the centre of the archaeological site and thus obviously it is hard to get a snap there with no one else nearby – but trust me, even that IS possible!
The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, is amazingly well preserved, has a cenote (which sadly is not accessible) and is renowned for the many echo spots at various locations at the site. If you clap once from one end of the Ball Court, it produces nine echoes in the middle of the court. Additionally, a clap in front of the Kukulkan Pyramid creates an echo resembling the serpent’s chirp.
Located on the north side of the Kukulkan Pyramid is a platform dedicated to the planet Venus. The Mayans were devoted astronomers and the movements of Venus held special meaning to them.
Chichen Itzá means ‘the mouth at the well of water magicians’. During the Spring (20th of March) and Autumn Equinox (22nd September), sunrays creates a shadow across the Kukulkan Pyramid that gives the appearance of a serpent slithering down the staircase – a spectacle which is watched by many with great enthusiasm.
Tulum (the city of walls) is another place which would interest those keen on Mayan ruins. The site here is located right above a stunning beach and offers some spectacular views.
Tulum itself resembles by the beach side (left of the main highway) Bali with its many boutique hotels and cool hippie cafés with artisanal foods and drinks. It is common to see people riding their bikes along the road which is lined by eco and New Age style hotels that use a lot of natural materials for their decos. It is hard to access the beaches unless you are staying in the hotels or dining at the cafés and restaurants, so those who do not stay in the area would usually opt for the beaches near the Tulum ruins or those in the Sian Kaan Reserve. In the reserve, there is also a lagoon Kaan Luum known for “alligator-watching”. It is almost impossible not to see an alligator in there.
Cobá is yet another Mayan site worth visiting. Situated in between Tulum (45 km away, with villages and road stalls where the locals sell their handicrafts) and Chichen Itzá (110 km away) the site is the nexus of the largest network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world. It contains many engraved and sculpted stelae that document ceremonial life and important events of the Late Classic Period (AD 600–900) of Mesoamerican civilization.
Cobá is unlike Chichen Itzá or Tulum mostly unrestored, pretty much non-touristy and well worth your time. The big attraction at Cobá is the pyramid. Unlike Chitchen Itzá, you can still climb the uneven steps (as unrestored) of this amazing construction. The climb is assisted by a single rope to hold onto and each step is pretty high so it is quite a workout but well worth the views from the top over lush forests (as Cobá is mostly covered in and surrounded by jungle).
You may walk through the ruins, rent a bike (for fifty pesos) or have a tricycle driver take you around. The latter two are definitely a better option since the place is huge and the sights are pretty far apart. Also to be seen are ball courts (this game was so important for the Mayans).