After the mega metropolis of Mexico City and the colour and enchantment of Havana, it was back to Mexico for a few days of beachside R&R mixed with some day trips to a couple archaeological ruins in the Yucatan.
Perfect Caribbean waters lapping the pure white sands of the Yucatan shores have turned the once sleepy and remote part of the Mexican coast into the playground of well-off Americans who pop down south for a Spring break, or even better-off Europeans who hop the Atlantic for cheapish resorts or cruises, top quality diving, and guaranteed good weather (hurricane season permitting).
We managed to avoid the worst excesses of all this by staying in a lovely house just a small walk from the centre of Playa del Carmen, itself an hour south of Party Central, Cancun. Playa still features what seems mile after mile of tourist shop after restaurant after tourist shop, but is a little less full on than it’s cousin up the coast and retains some small town Mexican charm away from the tourist strip.
It wasn’t all well-deserved beach and pool time however. From Playa we took day trips to two sites of Mayan ruins. The first, Tulum, was a fortress city sitting right on a cliff, dominating the coast. The old ruins (abandoned in the 16th Century) are set against the most beautiful background of pristine beach and sea. And best of all, given that it was getting up above 35 degrees with high humidity, we could climb down for a dip mid-way through our visit. So while we appreciated the history, the swim was pretty good too.
Our second day trip was to Chichen Itza, the most famous of the old Mayan sites. Now, let me say at the outset, that it was a difficult day. Chichen, being three hours inland, was incredibly even hotter and more humid than Tulum, and unfortunately the Mayans – despite all their wonderful predictive calendars based on an understanding of the movement of the stars that we in the West were thousands of years from achieving – rather selfishly forgot to think ahead and incorporate the beach/sea thing which made Tulum so popular with the 21st Century tourist. That said, the huge Pyramid that dominated the site was awesome.
Even more impressive was the ball-game court, where thousands of years ago the Mayans played their own version of a kind of handball/basketball game with the losers, er, being ritually sacrificed. Something perhaps the England Cricket Team could ponder on.
So with the historical sites done, and the tan topped up, we prepared ourselves for the main part of out trip – the USA….