When the Spanish first arrived in Mexico in the 1500’s they did so with a plan. While they may have had more need for machetes and pick-axes than for iPhone chargers and Satnavs, it is essential that even present day explorers take measures to ensure their trip is as enjoyable as possible.
With the vast majority of Mexico’s Mayan ruins falling slap-bang in the middle of some of the planet’s most tropical climates, it is important to time your visit so as to avoid the most extreme elements of the weather. The Yucatan Peninsula is perhaps best visited between the months from November to April, during which time rain remains unlikely and the temperature stays around the hot but manageable 30 degrees Celsius mark. Whilst there may be slight differences throughout the country, the weather in this region is fairly predictable but be sure to check forecasts before booking.
Whilst scanning the guidebooks and photographs of the historical wonders that await you on your trip to Mexico, it can be tempting to create for yourself a rather over-ambitious itinerary. Of course you will want to see and do as much as much as possible on your trip but it is important to remember that taking in each and every one of these thousands of years of history is simply impossible and to really get the most out of the experience it is essential to plan not just thoroughly but realistically. In addition to the must-see sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza, try to choose destinations that do not necessitate lengthy de-tours or flirt with treacherous looking shortcut as time spent stuck in traffic jams or studying a map is time out of your hard-earned vacation.
- Going it alone or on a tour
Each and every visitor to the Mayan ruins has his or her own idea of how they will make the trip special. Before you go decide what is important to you; comfort or adventure, security or freedom. While tours will offer you the peace of mind of an air-conditioned ride back to your hotel and complementary sandwich, they require you to stick to a pre-determined schedule, something that is not for everyone. Travelling independently on the other hand, allows for a lingering visit to a cenote or time for an extended lunchbreak but all at the expense of a helping hand should something go wrong.
- Think what to pack
While this may seem obvious point, no trip to the Mayan ruins would be complete without the inevitable cherry-red tourist desperately seeking shade and furiously guzzling water, all because they forgot to pack their sunblock. Water, insect repellent and a fully-charged camera are all universal musts but of particular importance are medicines, anti-histamines and other personal requirements that are not readily available in the Mexican rainforest. Remember also to bring something to eat as many of the destinations are not equipped with food stalls.
- Wear sensible clothing
One of the great joys of a visit to Mexico is the shopping. Vivien Westwood, Dulce and Gabbana; all the high-street names are represented. But while it can be tempting to wear those recently acquired heels, it is important to remember that a trip to the Mayan ruins in not a catwalk. The ground is uneven, the walkways steep and with some of the best views lying at the summit of a hundred foot pyramid, comfortable footwear is non-negotiable.
- Bring Plastic bags
The Mayan Ruins are the pinnacle in Mexico’s rich and varied history and with archaeologists working tirelessly to preserve the remnants as best they can, it is the duty of visitors to do their part too and clean up after themselves. After all, these sites embody not only a huge part of the country’s cultural heritage but also the primary income for much of the population and it is everyone’s responsibility to keep these treasures for future generations.
- Arrive early
Between 8am and 8.30am is generally recommended. An early bird approach will not only ensure you avoid the worst of the crowds and heat but will also permit you the opportunity to meet some of the wildlife before they scurry off into the undergrowth.
- Be wary of the animals
Whilst most of the nature you will see is entirely harmless, Mexico’s rainforests are home to much more than the cute and cuddly. Snakes and tarantulas can be difficult to spot beneath cracks and crevices whilst swimming in an unmarked and unpeopled lagoon can attract the attention of crocodiles. Jaguars are highly elusive and a true privilege if you are lucky enough to spot one but be sure this encounter comes from the safety of your tour bus and not whilst seeking a secluded substitute for a bathroom.
- Avoid scams
Whilst the ruins around Mexico are generally safe, nowhere is immune to dishonesty. From photographs with “authentic” Mayans to souvenir stands filled with “artefacts” there is seemingly no lengths to people won’t go to make a buck. So just remember, keep your eyes and ears open and if something seems too good to be true, it most probably is.
- Don’t stray
Although sticking to the tourist trails may seem out of keeping with the adventurous spirit of your vacation, there is a reason why these tracks are so well-worn. There is more than enough to marvel simply by sticking with the crowds and with the density of the jungle and the seemingly endless blanket of leaves it presents, a night alone with Mexican rainforest could be a long one.