Quintana Roo is an eastern Mexican state on the Yucatan peninsula and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. From Cancun to Cozumel, you will find resort towns dotting the entire length of the Caribbean coast. It’s not all sandy beaches, there’s a ton of historical Mayan settlements and various ecosystems.
Costa Maya is basically a Disney-fied version of a Mexican port. Legit, it literally looks like the same developers who build the attractions at Disney built it – from the colorful plaster/stucco walls to the just-so perfect vibrant décor. El nombre real de esta area en del este de Mexico es Mahahual. I guess they figure that’s a little harder to pronounce than the more Anglicized Costa Maya. It is basically the southern most point of the Mexican seaboard and is a stone’s throw away from Belize.
My oh Mayans…
Now, you’re on a cruise, they will try to sell you a lot of things. Excursions to snorkel and shop and visit Mayan ruins. These are all worthwhile things to do, and if you want to play it safe and pay an inflated price, then sure, go ahead. There’s certain security in going with a big group. If you’re traveling with a large party, family or if you’re looking for more reasonable options, there are tons in Mexico! They are reputable and have very smooth operations. Estan mas experimentado con turismo en Mexico.
Just outside the very colorful theme park is the town and you will find different tour operators. We chose Toucan Tours because of timing and price. It’s not too far of a walk from the port where they’re not allowed to set up shop. Here’s the thing, if you didn’t see some Mayan ruins, did you even go to Mexico?
J/k. I know Tulum is super hot right now; I mean, Chip and Joanna were just there with their entire brood. For good reason, it’s a beauty because it’s near the beach, there’s caverns in their secret river and it’s very doable in a short time. But, I implore, a really unexpectedly cool Mayan ruins site is the more overlooked Chacchoben. Obviously if you’re in Playa del Carmen or even Cozumel, Tulum is fairly close, but Costa Maya is only about 35-45 minutes from Chacchoben which has remarkably well excavated temples.
The Mayans were the ancient people of Southeast Mexico and Central America who were advanced as can be. We’re talking thousands of years BC. They had their own calendars, mathematics, astronomy and architectural technology. We think we’re innovative in these times, but we ain’t shit compared to the Mayans. Their sophistication is marvel enough, we’re lucky to be able to visit these sites that have stood the test of weather and time due to the sound engineering employed in building these structures.
Eventually, the civilizations died out from warfare and conquests by the Spanish, but remnants of their large scale villages/plazas have been found all over this region. Guatemala has a ton of Mayan sites, as well as Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and of course, along Quintana Roo in Mexico. Tchichen Itza gets a lot of the love, but I’m here to fight for Chacchoben.
The first temple you see on arrival is the temple dedicated to Venus, who was the protector of war and merchants. The ancient peoples believed in dieties that embodied all the facets of life, from the mundane like preparing food to the omniscient, your creator dieties. There were shamans and what most people have heard of, the more lurid practice of human sacrifice. Our tour guide explained summarized it well. The people believed that in order for the gods to be able to do their jobs (create sun, moon, life, etc), they had to eat, so what better than feasting on body and blood? Of course, the best blood comes from the royals or the highest castes, and so war was waged and prisoners of war from those high positions were sacrificed, keeping the gods full. Que tiene sentido, verdad?
Next you’ll encounter temples dedicated to the Sun and the Moon. The amount of archeology and research that goes into excavating and preserving these monuments is grand, but to think about the ingenuity to build large scale structures that have lasted this long is ever more immense cuande piensas sobre estas gente mas inteligente.
The best is that you do have to drive through the local towns to get to this site, so you can actually interact with locals instead of the sterile setting of the tourist area. Visiting this site is enough for a half-day adventure and the sun will beat on you so hard you’ll feel like you traversed a scorching hot desert. And this was in their cool winter season, too! So what better way to relax than to grab a refresco at Starbucks? Just kidding, there’s not a real Starbucks here, but there is a purveyor that sells Starbucks coffee which should tell you how much of a tourist destination it is (just wait until Cozumel).
There are tiendas and tienditas and mas tiendas that will try to sell you anything from Tanzanites to bamboo bedding. There are also showcases of Mayan culture, such as danza de los voladores (flyers) where you can see the human representations of earth, wind, fire and water repel themselves off a very high pole.
There’s also a dolphin encounter very close to the port, and you can watch these cuties pull tourists through the water. I’ve always wanted to do this, but have a fear that one would bite me. No joke, that’s what’s kept me from doing this, not the fact that these animals are in captivity being used for monetary gain. Maybe that too, but they are adorable as hell.
There’s a big pool area if you are sick of the pool on your cruise ship, a huge cantina and an area with flamingoes and macaws. What more could you possibly want in a theme park cruise port? Instagrammable bathrooms and décor? Check and check. Costa Maya tiene lo todo.
I’ll say, I don’t love the master planned amusement park vibe of these tourism vortexes, but they serve their purpose for those who like comfort. It’s also a nice area for families to relax in the background of a tropical oasis without having to wander far from the ship or spend a ton of money. Definitely a little bit for everyone. Hasta luego, amigos!