Travel: History and Mayan Mystery

Easy-to-visit Merida provides a taste of old Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula.Exploring History and Mayan MysteryEasy-to-visit Merida, Mexico offers affordable luxury

By Jack Macaleavy

So, you  want to explore the world’s ancient ruins and experience the presence of civilizations past? Well, the options for such opportunities are numbered, and often the journey is long, difficult and expensive.

Embarking on a trip to see King Tut’s treasures and the pyramids of Egypt, the Greek Parthenon, the Roman Coliseum or the Ephesus of Turkey can result in 12 to 20 hours of transportation time, an eight- to nine-hour time difference and $5,000 to $10,000 to do it right.

Of course, you can climb to Machu Picchu at 14,000 feet above sea level to see the Incan empire in Peru . . . The time difference is smaller, but you had better be in marathon shape and have big dollars to do so.

Or, in my opinion, you can visit the Mayan empire of the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico, one of the world’s most undiscovered civilizations, which is just becoming uncovered from centuries of mystery, not to mention jungle growth.

A flight from Atlanta to Merida, Mexico and back will cost around $500, making you a savvy air traveler before your plane even leaves the ground. And the trip lasts only two and a half hours, so you arrive fresh and ready to explore this amazing city. It’s worth noting that Merida is in the Central Time Zone – a bonus for jet-lag sufferers.

As with most vacations, the proper accommodations can be key to a successful outcome. I would suggest an internationally renowned hotel brand, such as the Presidente Intercontinental Hotel and Resorts, which has multiple Mexican locations.

After transitioning through the friendly and efficient immigration check, you will be greeted by a hotel representative and whisked away for the 20-minute ride to the Presidente in Merida. This 130-room, four-star facility, which opened less than a year ago, is located in the heart of the historical district known as the Grand Mansions, built by affluent Mexicans in the early 1900s.

The hotel’s impeccably trained staff will ensure that your stay will be most enjoyable. The oversized rooms are equipped with an abundance of amenities. And it seems as though every time you leave your room, even for a trip down to the complimentary wireless-Internet canopy, you will
return to find that an attendant has straightened to your room.

The in-room evening gift of a dessert-and-chocolate tray is an especially courteous touch. Another special amenity is the Presidente’s complimentary lounge, which serves a full breakfast and adult-beverage hour daily.

So, now that we have discovered the comforts of this first-class hotel, let’s explore the historical area. We suggest making contact with Arturo of Merida’s Tourism Office and allowing this gracious gentleman to share his knowledge amassed during 50 years as a tour guide. Arturo will escort you to where the Mayans erected massive stone structures as center points to their civilization and bring Mayan life alive with a well-thought-out, progressive explanation of where the amazing Mayan people came from, as well as their rise and eventual fall at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors.

The Mayans were an extremely advanced civilization in the field of mathematics and astronomy. This is demonstrated by the 2,000-year-old observatory and the precise placements of structures that cast particular shadows between the hours of 4 and 4:45 p.m. on the days of the summer and winter solstices.

During our two-day tour, we visited six of the estimated 2,500 Mayan structures. What we saw is only a small sample, as 98 percent of the structures are located within the jungles, which have been hiding and preserving these treasures for the past 1,800 years.

I do believe that if and when the Mexican government can get this civilization uncovered and restored, this area could potentially be the most impressive archaeological site in the entire world.

On to exploring the city of Merida, which is rich in history and culture. Arturo will take you to art museums located off the beaten path, invite you to weekly local gatherings and bring you to family-owned haciendas, which have been transformed into restaurants serving the finest regional cuisine available.

Another destination worth trying is a restored  factory where you can see the primitive and current manufacturing method of the export product that created multimillionaires in the early 19th century. Henequen, which comes from the agave cactus, was in high demand on the international market from 1880 to 1920, especially for the North American rope industry. The fleshy leaves produce tough fibers that were used to make various sizes of bags and ropes. This highly valued crop changed the Yucatan’s landscape into acres and acres of “green gold,” as it was known back then.

A great ending to a vacation of ruin and city exploration can include travel by horse-drawn carriage to the middle of a henequen field. While there, you can change into a bathing suit and walk down to an underground grotto the size of a civic center to swim in the most beautiful crystal-blue water imaginable with spotlights overhead.

You will feel genuinely welcomed by this historically rich city, which is one of Mexico’s cleanest and safest places to visit. And although Merida’s culture makes it feel as though it is a world away from North Florida, its climate is very similar.

With endless leisure opportunities that will please historians, extreme fitness fans and artists alike, a trip to the Yucatan offers a priceless experience. However, Merida also offers an incredible value for an extraordinary experience. And your dollar, or peso, will go far and be greatly appreciated by a people who are building a new life based on historical and hospitality tourism with a focus on incomparable service.

Categories: Archive