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Mexico

The next town we went to was Palenque, famed for the ruins of an ancient Mayan city. We stayed in the jungle near the ruins, and enjoyed the wildlife around the cabañas (cabins / huts). At night large toads and frogs hopped around croaking, while at least 2 species of firefly flew between the trees - one of them was very large and bright green/white light. Beautiful. During the day hummingbirds and other small birds sought out flowers, while we saw tucans for the first time in the wild fly between the canopy.

The ruins themselves were interesting, with different buildings having served as different functions of government and religious duty. But what was more interesting is that only a small percentage of the city had so far been uncovered and there were still acres of buildings covered in jungle.

Palenque Mexico ruins Mayan city jungle religious temple Palenque Mexico ruins Mayan city jungle religious temple Yaxchilan ruin inside carvings details preserved

The museum at Palenque was also amazing. Many artifacts including murals, pottery and tools had been recovered. Many of them very well preserved.



We also went to the ruins at Yaxchilan and Bonampak. One of the things about visiting ruins is I find the lack of information about what they must have been like frustrating. Were they painted? What colours? What did people wear? What did it smell like? And all those things that go to make up the experience of a place. Well, Bonampak helped me a little as it was the only ruins we saw with any paintings still intact in location. This site is buried deep in the jungle near the Guatemalan border and looks the least spectacular of any site we have seen from the outside, but inside one building the walls are covered in murals depicting ceremonies and sacrifice. Wonderful to see (excuse the photo, no flash or tripod allowed).

Mexico Bonampak ruins paintings detail colour intact

As many of you will be aware I love diving, so one of the joys of coming to the Caribbean was always going to be some of the World-class diving. Our first stop in my dive tour was Cozumel, an island South of Cancun made famous by Jacques Cousteau's 1960's documentary of marine life - a breakthrough film at the time. So we spent a few days diving and snorkeling. Possibly even my poor dive photos will give you a better indication than words will.

We travelled further down the Mexican coast to Tulum, a couple of hours South of Cancun. This coast has amazing beaches with soft, white sand, but the salt water diving is poor as there is little reef. However, the region has some of the most extensive underwater cave systems in the world. I was fortunate enough to do two cave dives, a surreal and beautiful experience where the clarity of the water makes you feel as if you are flying. The pictures really don't do it justice, as the first one shows us coming back to a cenote (a collapsed limestone sinkhole).

Mexico diving world-class Caribbean Tulum underwater caves cave systems cenote collapsed limestone sinkhole

I learned from another Divemaster later in Belize that the week before I went a team of divers had all died on bad air fills in the caves. Not a nice way to go. Cave diving used to have a terrible reputation for fatalities, but now it is pretty safe and the professional cave explorers are looking at going over 7 km into the cave systems.