The Yucatan Jungle Offers Even More Fun than Cancun
It’s just another day at the office: climbing up a Mayan pyramid, zip lining across crocodile-infested water, trekking through the wild jungle and swimming in an ancient cenote. I’m staying in a cabana on a beach in Tulum, Mexico (about 132 km south of Cancun) and decide to book an adventure tour on my last day on the Riviera Maya. I’m promised that a company called Alltournative, with local guides, leads fantastic tours that leave resort-life in the dust. So why not? I pack my bathing suit and hope for the best.
Jungle Tours in the Yucatan Hugo greets me in town with the energy of a child and enough charm to capsize the 12-person van. Eight of us pile into the vehicle with no expectations but a willingness to explore the jungle outside of touristy Cancun.
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Coba Ruins We are eased into the day gently with a visit to the Mayan ruins of Coba, with one of the only remaining pyramids you can still climb in the Yucatan. Here I hike up the tallest one in the state, Nohoch Mul’s 42 metres (and 120+ steps). That would be the last tourist attraction we would see for the rest of the day.
A Mexican Village Off we go south, passing small villages and even stopping in on a family who welcomes us to meet their pet boars, as well as watch the father weave a traditional hammock. We had been versed in the Mayan language on the way, so we were at least able to say “Hello” and “Thank you” to them as we left.
Next stop: the tiny village of Pacchén. A total of 25 families live here on close to 6,000 hectares of land. They’ve been the leaders in working on eco tourism initiatives, starting 10 years ago when the term “green” in Mexico was unheard of. Now, they’ve partnered with Alltournative to create infrastructure for the activities we’ll be doing today.
Jungle Trekking We’re all asked to get into our bathing suits and good walking shoes, as it’ll take about a half an hour of jungle walking before we hit the cliff we’ll be jumping off of onto zip lines. I’m stuck in my well-used sandals that I bought years ago in Mazatlan, but style-wise, I’m sure I look much better than those hiking in running shoes and bikinis. That’s what I tell myself, anyways.
Off we go on our trek, hearing the calls of birds and monkeys from all directions. The most important lesson we learn is to leave the trees alone, as some are poisonous. (The sap in the tree, which oozes black, can cause burns if touched.) So I keep my hands to myself and enjoy the trees from a distance.
Zip Lining in Mexico The time comes to get harnessed up for the zip line, but as I look down into the water below I see that I’m being watch by two crocodiles. Those four beady eyes track me as I walk over to the edge of the small cliff, shooting frightening thoughts into my head. The locals laugh, telling me the crocs are small, but it doesn’t ease the butterflies whipping around in my stomach. I’m then handed a wooden stick, which I’m sure is to be used as a crocodile baton when I fall in.
We get a brief lesson in how things work – jump off the cliff, hold on tight and use the wooden stick to keep you from twisting, then as a brake. There will be no croc clubbing here. As nervous as I am, the thought of walking back through the poisonous trees by myself while everyone zips across the cenote makes me nervous. Here I go.
Of course, the glide across is glorious. My mind is so preoccupied with smiling for the photographer, who we’re told is snapping pictures as we zip across, that I completely forget about the waiting crocodiles in the water. They are small, after all.
We all survive the zip line and walk another 15 minutes to another cenote, a sinkhole filled with groundwater. When we arrive, there are only two holes in the ground with a fence around each. This is where we’ll be harnessed in again and rappel down 15 metres into the cenote cave. First, though, we must be purified.
A Shaman Purification The local shaman, speaking in Mayan, comes to each one of us, chanting and anointing us with smoke. As I look around the circle of bathing suit-clad tourists, still wearing our harnesses, I realize, not only how ridiculous we look, but what an adventure we are on. I have no idea where I am in the deep Mexican jungle and I have no idea if the Shaman is putting a curse on me or keeping one away. But he looks like a nice guy, so I bow my head and am engulfed in smoke.
Swimming in a Cenote Once I’m all purified, I take the plunge. Looking down, I slowly use my feet to rappel down the edge of the cave before it expands and I’m left dangling in the open by my harness. Inch by inch I move the rope through my hands until I feel a cold inner tube beneath me.
The clear, refreshing water reveals little black fish swimming around me and the cave walls are lined with tiger-like stripes. It all somehow feels holy. Until I learn that in the nearby Sacred Cenote in Chichén Itza, human skeletons and sacrificial objects were found from the Mayan times, thought to be a pre-Columbian form of worship to the rain god Chaac. It’s time to go.
Lori Henry is a travel writer and regular contributor to TripAtlas.com based in Vancouver, Canada. She covers Cultural Dance, Outdoor Adventures, Solo Travel, and Wellness/Spa Travel, and keeps readers entertained on her blog and her cultural dancing website.