Our family's exploration of Yucatán takes us to the lively Valladolid and the beautiful Izamal, two colonial towns with different charms. We enjoy the Mexican atmosphere that we love so much. Chichén Itzá, the most famous and iconic Mayan city, has a different atmosphere, and we come out with mixed feelings. Let us tell you about it!
Friday, March 24th, 2023
From the mangrove of Rio Lagartos to our first cenote, we arrived in Valladolid at sunset when the city cools down and comes to life. Like any respectable colonial town, the atmosphere is lively, festive, and relaxed. We stroll through the zocalo, where dancers are performing. The houses are colorful, music resonates at every street corner, street vendors call out to us, and the smell of fried food and churros fills the air. Mom and Lucas immediately fall under the spell of this typical Mexican atmosphere, which Rémi and I enjoy rediscovering. We love this Mexico!
We stroll through the streets and alleys until we reach the Zaci cenote, which is hidden in the heart of downtown, nestled in a green setting among homes and shops. Night falls and this deep body of water that must be so lively and crowded during the day is now dark and silent. We go in search of a place to eat while visiting souvenir shops. As often happens, the restaurants lining the zocalo are expensive and trendy, so we turn to the market to taste our first carne tacos. It's cheap and very good! We end the evening watching the dancers, still performing, while eating fresh churros with dulce de leche 😋
Saturday, March 25th
Chichén Itzá was one of the largest Mayan cities of its time. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 and has been one of the New Seven Wonders of the World since 2007. If it had been just Rémi and me, we wouldn't have gone there because of the large influx of tourists on the site and especially because of the very high entrance fee. But we can't miss Chichén Itzá for mom and Lucas. To avoid the crowds and the crushing heat, we arrive at the opening. Already, a line has formed at the ticket booths. We wait, then we pay 614 MXN per person, more than 30 € each! 🤑 Our wallets are much lighter as we enter the site. We immediately find ourselves facing the famous Kukulcán pyramid, also known as El Castillo.
Chichén Itzá is a very large site. We wandered around for more than 3 hours, under increasingly suffocating heat. The further we got from the main square, the fewer people there were. We discovered the secondary temples, the imposing observatory, the residential quarters, the iconic Temple of Quetzalcoatl, and the cenotes, which were essential sources of water for the Mayas. Some were sacred: young girls were sacrificed to the gods by being thrown into the water hole at dawn, and at noon, those who had survived were retrieved and considered sacred. Most of the buildings are partially restored, sometimes not at all. It is also at Chichén Itzá that we find the largest ball court in all of Mesoamerica. And it is true that it is huge compared to all the others we have seen so far!
There are hundreds of small vendors all along our route. We are constantly accosted, sometimes with great persistence. They all sell the same things but all claim that each item is made "at home, by the family". We don't know if we should believe them... One thing is for sure: they all sell souvenirs for 4 or 5 times their base price. After many negotiations, we buy a souvenir for 200 $MEX that the vendor initially wanted to sell us for 800 $MEX. A nice negotiating performance! 🥵
Summary of our visit to Chichén Itzá? A lot, a lot of people. Hundreds of unscrupulous vendors ready to rip off ignorant tourists who pass by. You can even pay in US dollars and euros (and change is given in pesos, to the detriment of tourists!) and also by credit card at some stands... We never felt so little in Mexico, in Mexico. And above all, the entrance fee to the site is extremely expensive. Chichén Itzá is a beautiful site, but 30 € is clearly a prohibitive entrance fee.
We stop to eat at a roadside eatery, then hit the road to Izamal. Riddle time in the car: what is the peculiarity of this colonial town? By the time we reach our hostel in the city center, everyone has figured it out: in Izamal, everything is yellow! 💛
Izamal is said to have been painted in yellow, the color of the Vatican, for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1993. But other theories exist: the walls may have been painted in yellow to combat mosquito invasions. Yellow may also be a reference to the color of corn, considered sacred by the Maya. Whatever the reason, the result is very harmonious and vibrant.
There are several small Mayan pyramids around the center of Izamal. They allow you to climb up and get a view of the city. However, deciding to climb a pyramid in the middle of the afternoon is not the best idea. We all feel very hot and tired, especially mom. We quickly come back down to our hostel to cool off in the pool. The place is beautiful!
After resting for several hours and regaining our strength, we went back to the city center to fill our stomachs. Tonight, by stroke of luck, we stumbled upon a street vendor that had just opened for the evening and specialized in tacos and tortas al pastor, a type of veal meat cooked with pineapple in a kebab style. Rémi and I have loved it since Puebla, and Lucas and Mom are also enjoying it. We ate as a group of four for the equivalent of 200 MXN, which is 10 €! And for dessert: more churros! They were fried in the same oil as the fries and little sausage-like snacks, which gave them a strange taste 😅
It seems like you had a real crush on the beautiful city of Izamal and its bright yellow color that gives it a lot of charm. It will remain one of your favorite colonial cities! However, there is still a lot to discover, and you will hit the road tomorrow towards the state of Campeche!