Despite the large number tour groups operating on the Yucatan Peninsula, most of which provide an exemplary service, there is a certain breed of traveller that prefers to go it alone. To this intrepid explorer, the pleasure is not in the seeing but in the doing, in shunning the safety of the crowd and carving out their own unique adventure armed with nothing more than a camera and a point in the right direction. But even these hardy souls need a little preparation if the mysteries of the Mayans are to be explored to their fullest.
- Organize your transport
For those going solo, perhaps the most independent of options is to seek out a rental car. While these can easily be obtained at the airport, more competitive prices can often be found in and around Cancun and the other resorts with all the major suppliers represented. If you are going for this option however, bring a map as Mexican road signs are notoriously sparse. Taxis and buses are also abundant and easily negotiable even without any knowledge of Spanish.
- Buy a guidebook
Whilst the majesty of the ruins speak for themselves, having a little awareness of their history only makes the trip more enjoyable. Although tour guides have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sites, they have nothing the guidebooks won’t offer and trying to locate a particular carving or sculpture without the aid of a guide can had a whole new dimension to the trip.
- Be prepared
An obvious but often overlooked piece of advice. Besides clothing befitting the energetic nature of the trip, bring the necessaries; sunblock, water, lunch, insect repellent. The sites are typically some distance from the nearest towns and with many of them lacking any kind of facilities at all, the Boy Scout’s motto is well remembered.
- Arrive early
If possible, aim to arrive at the site around 8am as this will allow some time to enjoy the quietness of the ruins before the legions of tour buses descend. Early arrival also has the benefit of the comparative coolness of the morning and the opportunity to watch the ever-enjoyable army of spider monkeys that call the ruins home.
- Avoid theft
Unfortunately, like any major tourist attraction, the Mayan ruins attracts its fair share of pickpockets. Although this should not be cause for an undue amount of concern, it is best to take all sensible precautions to avoid falling victim. Wallets and bags should be kept hidden or ideally attached to your person the attentions of any potential dishonest individual will be pricked at the sight of the lone traveller. While there are no ATMs in the wilderness, large sums of money are generally unnecessary.
- Bring swimming gear
As part of a package, many of the tour groups will offer pre-decided swimming stops at one of the abundance of cenotes that can be found in and around the ruins. Although these tours pause only for a brief time, the independent traveller, free to wander as they please, will have hours to spend cooling off in their calm waters. And, after a long morning beneath the Mexican sun, we can assure you, these tranquil green pools will seem tremendously inviting.
- Bring a selfie-stick
Although these ingenious pieces of gadgetry may not be to everyone’s taste, they are an invaluable resource for anyone travelling without the company of a tour group. While the sights of Chichen Itza and Tulum are undoubtedly breath-taking, they are made all the more special by knowing you were there.