Week of October 26-November 2, 1995
Subterranean rafting in New Zealand
Hiking amidst Mayan ruins of the Yucatán
Q: I am considering visiting a friend in Cozumel and would like to spend some time doing easy hikes visiting Mayan ruins and parks. Could you recommend some hikes and points of interest in and around Cozumel and the Yucatán peninsula?
A: While you won't find too many formal hiking trails in and around Cozumel, there are plenty of walking paths that will take you through dense Yucatán jungle to Mayan ruins. Your biggest challenge, then, will be choosing which of the many archaeological sites to explore. For starters, you may want to head over to the mainland to Coba, about 25 miles inland from Tulum. With more than 100 vine-covered mounds still uncovered in this 30-square-mile site, it's easy to imagine the awe of the first archaeologists-explorers who stumbled on these ruins in the late 1890s. For a good introduction to Coba's immensity, scramble up steep limestone blocks to the top of 140-foot Nohoch Mul, the highest pyramid in the Northern Yucatán; once you're above treeline, you'll be rewarded by sweeping views of the thick jungle undergrowth some 12 stories below you. From there, pick up one of the countless paths and do your own exploring--past fallen-in tops of half-buried structures, ancient roads (sacbes), and ceremonial sites such as the enormous Temple of the Churches. Keep your eyes open for toucans, yellow-orange butterflies, egrets, and half-mile long lines of cutting ants. Getting there means either renting a car and taking the Coba Road inland from Tulum or flagging a ride in Tulum with one of the two northbound buses that make the 90-minute trip to Coba daily. After you've explored Coba, take Highway 307 south from Tulum to the Sian Ka'an Reserve, a 1.3-million acre tropical reserve that's home to Muyil, an ancient Mayan settlement dating back to 1 A.D. Walk the wide Muyil sacbe a half-mile from the site center through a mangrove swamp to the edge of the Muyil Lagoon; along the way, you'll pass six excavated structures--including a turreted castillo, one of the largest structures on the Yucatán's east coast. For more information on Yucatán-area hikes, be sure to check out "At Play in the Fields of the Maya" in the Destinations section of our October 1994 issue.