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Articles Blog

Costa Maya, Mexico

Karyn Planett

What To Do? What To Do?

That’s a tough one. Your options on this glorious day are to: (1) channel Indiana Jones as you clamber about ancient Mayan ruins; (2) discover this planned destination with its full complement of activities and distractions to fill your time ashore; or (3) do absolutely “nothing” the entire afternoon at the ship’s pool as a smiling steward serves up frothy something-or-other’s. What to do? Oh, what to do?

Let’s Discover The Basics

Costa Maya is found in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (QR to those in the know), one of the nation’s 32 states. The area’s unique name is derived from Andrés Quintana Roo, one of the Mexican Republic’s celebrated patriots who played a critical role in the War of Independence from Spain in 1810. It’s Mexico’s only state flanking the Caribbean and sits astride one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s once practically-deserted stretches. As part of the “Maya Coast”, development since approximately 1955, it has been undertaken under the watchful eye of the Mexican government. They were intent on protecting the ecology as well as the archaeology.

So, now, you’re here. Others will be, as well, because Costa Maya claims to be the very first Caribbean port developed with only cruise ship passengers in mind. Period. That’s the claim. And the Mexican government has allocated significant resources for the infrastructure of this vibrant tourism destination with all the luscious offerings .. beaches, boutiques, folklorico shows, cantinas, mariachis, margaritas and the promise of adventures beyond.

With vine-draped Mayan ruins, important archaeological sites, and the world’s second largest coral reef system nearby, what’s not to like? The underwaterworld is quite content here. In fact, some 500 different fish species and approximately 60 varieties of coral call the Meso-American reef home.

These clear waters and calm seas offered earlier people a simpler but very good life as fishermen. Though those days are a fading memory, you can still get a hint of their lifestyle in the village of Mahahual, no longer the simple sleepy little village it once was but now a destination ready to welcome visitors.

Carved In Stone and Stucco

The Mayan people still exist here and are eager to introduce you to their traditional ways, their cuisine including buried earth-cooked chicken, and their music with emphasis on flutes, whistles, rattles, and drums. They’ll also boast about their ancestors who carved vibrant cities from the steaming jungles, cities that flourished for centuries.

Dzinbanche is one such city, an imposing remnant from the past. This ancient Mayan community, whose name translates to “writing on wood”, is worthy of a visit for it’s believed it was once the capital of the Kan (“Snake”) Dynasty. You were wrong if you guessed Dzinbanche is the newest, hottest designer coming out of all Asia. You were right if you guessed it was the Kan capital in the 5th and 6th centuries. Designed in the “Peten” architectural style, it features something called the Temple of the Captives and the Temple of the Owl. Among its many important structures is the most powerful pyramid of all, the Cormoranes Pyramid. Experts believe this was Sky Witness’s funerary pyramid. He was one of the Kan Dynasty’s kings.  

Kohunlich is another important archaeological site, lined with 40-foot-tall cohune palm trees for which it was named. These majestic palms provided ample shade from the burning sun for residents and travelers alike. The former resided here from 200 BC until 600 AD. The latter were those who passed through on the well-worn trade route. Mayans traded their fabrics, jade and obsidian objects, salt and shells. All the while everyone was under the watchful eye of Kinich Ahau, the sun god, whose 10-foot-tall mask is one of the most important artifacts among so many. Important, too, is the Ball Court home to the Mesoamerican ballgame that dates back centuries. A brutal sport, this, it resembled a gladiator version of racquetball, played against long stone walls, occasionally with some sort of human sacrifice as part of the half-time entertainment. Today’s gentler version, more like volleyball, is called ulama and is played even by children.

Back At The Beach

The biggest game here is bargaining. English is spoken everywhere though some visitors are surprised to discover the local people still speak the Mayan language. Perhaps you’ll find a colorful poolside cover-up or some hand-tooled cowboy boots. The local people are masters at their crafts, be it silver jewelry or hand-thrown pottery including the Mayan whistles already mentioned. There are jade carvings, hand-woven huipils (those beautifully-embroidered white blouses), and thatch handbags.

As the sun arcs slowly overhead and you grow weary from the day’s running about, sink low into a colorful string hammock swinging between two shady trees and enjoy a time-honored tradition, the afternoon siesta. Now that is the right answer to the question, what to do, what to do?