If you want to discover Yucatan a bit more than just the beaching at the Riviera Maya, your route will probably take you towards the colonial city of Merida. And in between Cancún and Merida, there is a great deal of things to see and do. In order to balance the hot days, alter discovering of mayan and more recent monuments with chilling in cenotes.
The mayan ruins of Ek Balam are situated just 30 km north of Valladolid. It’s best feature is the 32m high main pyramid, which can be climbed and offers a great view. There is a gaping jaguar mouth and stucco skulls.
If you visit on a hot day, you can then cool down in one of the close cenotes. There is one just next to the ruins, but it seemed too touristic to us, so we went some 20 minutes away to see the cenote Dzalbay. And it was the best decision. The cenote is on a private property, you pay 75 pesos per person and the owner takes you down into the cavern with the crystal clear water, where you can swim as long as you want (and without a life jacket, unlike most other ones). He has foils there to direct the sun in the cave and so you can see all the stalagmites and other structures beautifully illuminated.
Next on the way is the colonial city of Valladolid. The Convento de San Bernardino de Siena is worth visiting. There is a cenote covered with a well, which provided drinking water. You can also have a look in the small museum, learning about the history of the monastery. The city center itself is pretty small, around the Francisco Canton de Rosado park, where you can also find the cathedral. Hosteria del Marquez offers great food, try the avocado gazpacho.
We started the next day off in cenote Ik-Kil. It is a big “hole” surrounded by lianas, with 50 meters deep water full of small black catfish. Very beautiful place, albeit a bit of touristic one.
Overshadowed by Chichen Itza are the mayan ruins Yaxunah, 600 years older than the aforementioned. Entrance is free and you can climb several pyramids and also venture further into the acropolis area, where there are decorations in the shape of men and geometric shapes still preserved.
Another cenote on the way, Yokdzonot is a bit less touristic, you still need to wear a life jacket, but you can swim around the stalagmites and even a little cave, with birds flying around you, and bees as well, season depending.
The town of Izamal is known for its beautiful monastery, whose yellow facade shines from afar. It was finished in 1561 and is still a working franciscan monastery. From its courtyard you can see the 34m high Kinich-Kakmó pyramid, just a few blocks from the monastery and free to enter.
The most important site to see in this area is of course the Chichen Itza complex. Unfortunately it was closed during the time of our visit, due to Covid19 Easter precautions.