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After getting a taste of city life in Merida, it’s time for some exploring! We have three nights and two full days in the Valladolid area, staying at Genesis Eco-Oasis Ek Balam.

Day 3: We used our first full day to go to Chichen Itza. We originally hoped to arrive at 8am as it opened, but in reality we were way too slow so we only arrived at around 10am, just as lots of tour buses were arriving. Chichen Itza was great, and not as busy as I thought it would be. It’s a big site so everybody spreads out. We didn’t get a guide, since we enjoy just looking around and reading a few signs. A year from now, I won’t remember any history (even if I had a guide) but I’ll remember what everything looks like. If you’re the type of person who needs to know everything, a guide would be useful.

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Like every touristy site in Mexico, there are vendors selling crafts everywhere. At first I laughed at the tourists buying stuff in a super-touristy place, but we noticed that they actually had some nice crafts there, nicer than we had seen in Merida. We bought a handmade and painted (by rubbing plants on it) wood carving for 200 pesos ($16 CAD – negotiated down from 350).

After the ruins, we left to explore some cenotes! Cenotes are incredible, yet many people who have been to the Yucatan don’t even know of their existence. In the Yucatan, there are no above-ground rivers – they’re all underground. In a bunch of places, the ground has collapsed, giving us these amazingly beautiful swimming holes.
We left Chichen Itza at noon and drove to Ik Kil, which was a great first cenote to visit. It was a little busy but there was still lots of room to swim around.

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After swimming for a while and taking a hundred pictures, we drove to the lesser-known Yokdzonot cenote, about 20 minutes west of Chichen Itza. This cenote was just as beautiful, though maybe a little less photogenic. The water is a perfect blue, which somehow occurs naturally. Best of all, we had it (almost) all to ourselves. There was just us and one Dutch couple in the huge cenote (who took this picture for us).

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Speaking of Europeans, it seems that almost all gringos here are European, not American or Canadian (with the exception of Chichen Itza, where the tour buses bring in all the Americans for a day trip). Very surprising, considering that we are so close and Europe is so far. It seems that most Norteamericanos have no sense of adventure, and no desire to leave the all-inclusives!

After getting our fill of cenotes for the day we drove to Valladolid, where we had an amazing lunch at Squidz. I had the poc-chuc, which was huge and delicious, and my fiancee had vegetarian panuchos (Squidz has vegetarian options), which were also great.

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We got back to our hotel in the late afternoon, and we spent the rest of the evening at the hotel. We didn’t feel like driving back to Valladolid for dinner, so we had a great (but very expensive – 169 pesos each) 3-course dinner at the hotel.

Day 4: After breakfast at our hotel, we drove a few minutes to the ruins of Ek Balam. I found Ek Balam to be much better than Chichen Itza. There are lots interesting smaller pyramids, the site is more compact, and the main pyramid is very interesting with lots of detailed carvings and sculptures. The crowds are much smaller, and you’re allowed to climb all the pyramids!

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The mouth of a jaguar, carved into the pyramid

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After Ek Balam we drove back to our hotel, and spent an hour or so walking all around the pueblo (village) of Ek Balam. It was very interesting to see the local way of life here. They seem very poor, but everyone looks happy, nice, and they are very friendly. All the young kids are out on the street, and the adults are working inside their shacks (all of which have no doors). And they have lots of chickens, turkeys, and stray dogs, who all make lots of noise in the early morning!

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For lunch we went to Yarbuena del Sisal, which has lots of great healthy and vegetarian dishes (and also lots of unhealthy and meat dishes).

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Afterwards, we drove to see two nearby cenotes, X’keken and Samula, both of which are located in the same complex. Unlike the two from the previous day, these ones were true caves, with only a small hole (very small for X’keken, bigger for Samula) in the cave’s ceiling to let light in.

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Cenote X’keken
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Cenote Samula

After the cenotes we drove back to Valladolid and walked around the city centre, which was nice but not that interesting. We then drove back to our hotel for a small break before returning to Valladolid for dinner at Squidz, which was as good as always. Then back to the hotel for one last night before we head to the beach!

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