Before going to Mexico, we were trying to get a game plan for what we’d do while there. For archaeological sites, we had decided on Chichen Itza (of course), Tulum (we were staying there anyway), Coba (for the bikes), and Muyil (to see the Sian Ka’an). Four ruins, eight days, that seemed to make sense to us.
We decided had room for one more though, and added Ek Balam to the list after reading about the astounding stucco frieze at the site.
From Valladolid, drive north on 295 out of the city, and continue for maybe 20 minutes. You’ll see signs for Ek Balam, turn right, and simply follow those signs. If you’re expecting the crowds and parking lots of Tulum and Chichen Itza, you might feel like you took a wrong turn. Don’t worry, you’re on the right track. Ek Balam is just a little more low key than the others.
After Tulum, we travelled northwest and inland on highway 109. Destination Valladolid, to see some of the ruins and colonial architecture . A little before the halfway mark from the coast to Valladolid, you’ll hit a rotary on 109. Take the rotary around to the third exit (essentially turning left, or southwest) to get to Coba.
Between tacos in Tulum, we had our first opportunity to really explore the beautiful Yucatan peninsula. Just a few miles south of the beachside town lies the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve.
Floating through a canal carved by the Mayans to facilitate trade between the coast and the inland settlements. Who said learning couldn’t be relaxing?
Designated a world heritage site in 1987, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve hugs the gorgeous Caribbean coastline on the Yucatan’s east coast. We didn’t have time to fully explore the Reserve, but we were able to do small trip into some of the lagoons and float through a canal carved by the Mayans. I’ll explain below..
But before we got to the Sian Ka’an, we had the opportunity to explore the Muyil archaeological zone, just off highway 307, south of Tulum.
Total trip, we were in the Yucatan for 8 nights, and the first 3 of those we spent in a great AirBnB in the town of Tulum. On a tiny side street, it was quiet enough to get some sleep or plan out our next day, but still close enough to walk into town and sniff out whatever smelled best for dinner.
Although the beachfront is dominated by hotels, similar to Cancun or Playa del Carmen, the town is pretty slow-paced. Staying in town allowed us to feel at least a bit more local, which I love. If you want a spot to take it slow for a bit while traveling the Riviera Maya, Tulum is a great option.
If going slow isn’t your thing, still stop by Tulum. It has some great ruins, beaches, and is in the perfect spot to explore other nearby sites.
Like I mentioned before, we had already passed through Ollantaytambo on our way to Machu Picchu. We took a combi from Cusco to Ollanta, and then the train from Ollanta to Machu Picchu. On the way back, we saved room for a night in Ollantaytambo, to see the ruins there and check out the town. The image above is taken at the Ollantaytambo train station around dusk.
When I told people I was planning a trip to Peru, the next question was inevitably, “Are you going to Machu Picchu?” Or for some: “There’s that famous mountain with all the ruins on it in Peru, right?”
Well OF COURSE I’m going to Machu Picchu! It’s only one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, one of Peru’s (and arguably one of South America’s/the world’s) most well known ancient sites, it’s surrounded by beautiful rain forests and mountains, and it’s covered in ancient ruins! Plus, people still don’t quite know what Machu Picchu was for, which is awesome! I love finding little pockets of mystery that still exist in this hyperconnected world, it keeps your imagination going.
If you’re in Cusco, you have to make the most of it. We didn’t just hang out at the bars. We took advantage of the area, took in the sights, and learned a few new things while we were at it. The Sacred Valley of the Incas is loosely placed between Cusco, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo. The Valley is covered with archaeological sites, places of religious importance, and dramatic natural scenery.