Maya Ruins Travel Tips and Bus Info by Phil Konstantin - 2000
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The purpose of this page is to share some of the information I got from other sources, or and learned from first hand experience.
Maya Ruin site tips
Before my trip to Mexico in September 2000, I spent a fair amount of time searching through the Internet and various books trying to get information. I looked for information on places to stay, transportation, ruin site info, other people suggestions, and how much all of this would cost. I did find several good sites which offered quitea bit of information. I have three travel guides with me, and I had gone through several more at home. I had also gone through many more academic type books in order to educate myself on what I was about to see.
You will find a hodge podge of information here such as:
Maya Ruin site times
Maya Ruin site costs
E-mail, Internet and Communications info
travel guide suggestions
bus riding tips
...and whatever else comes to mind
I will also be happy to answer any questions you might have, if I know the answer.
Maya Ruins Info
This information is based on the 9 sites I visited:
Most of the smaller ruins I visited charged 22 New Pesos (NP) to enter. This is almost $2.40 based on the exchange rates I had (~ 9.2NP to $1). The larger sites charged more. All of the sites were free on Sundays and most major Mexican holidays. Here's a tip, if you do not like crowds, do not go to the major sites during a holiday. You can save some money if you arranging your schedule to include the most sites you visit on Sundays. I went on the roundtrip La Ruta Puuc bus tour offered by ATS from Merida. Had I thought about it, if I had gone on a Sunday, I could have saved myself almost $20 in entry fees. But, by going on a Monday, there were fewer other tourists there. It al depends on how you feel about crowds and saving money.
Here are some specific prices:
Chichen Itza:..Free (Sunday)
Uxmal:----------80NP (the ticket says 30NP, but I think it was 80)
Many of the sites also charge extra if you bring in a tripod or a camcorder.
8am to 5pm. Chichen Itza and Uxmal have "Light and Sound" shows at night for an extra charge. I did not attend any of the evening shows. A Mexican who stayed at a hostel with me did see the show at Chichen Itza. He was not that expressed, saying it just offered a different perspective of views he had already seen. I have talked with one other person who thought the show at Chichen Itza was very nice. Most of the tour books say the scripts are a bit out of date.
Arrive early in the morning. This way you will avoid the midday heat. If you get there when they open at 8am, you will also have smaller crowds to deal with. In Chichen Itza, many tourists come in from Merida and Cancun. They start to arive around 10am. In Palenque, many people have commented on the early morning mist being an interesting addition to the mood of the site. An early arrival will increase your chances of seeing Palenque this way.
Take lots of film, recording medium and batteries with you. While you can find film at many of the larger sites, the price may not please you. If your camera, camcorder or digital camera requires special batteries, make sure you stock up before you leave home. Not being able to take that one special picture because you cannot find that unique model XGTR-90367X1 battery would be a shame.
Read up about the place you are visiting before you get there. This is my own personal prejudice, but, I think a visit is much more interesting if you know what you are looking at. There are LOTS of websites (see my Maya links pages at: links12maya.html on the Maya. There are also lots of book. The books range from coloring books for the kids all the way up to the most detailed academic works.
Show a little respect for where you are. The Maya still exist. In many cases, the local guides are Maya. Some Maya still practice some of the old ways. I suggest the old backpacking credo: "Take nothing but pictures and memories, leave nothing but footprints."
Weather, Clothing and Insect Info
This part is pretty simple. For North Americans and Europeans, during the summer, it is VERY hot. The temperatures are usually in the high 90s (35 to 38 Centigrade) during the middle of the day. It is usually still warm in the evenings. The humidity will also be high at most Maya sites. It will often rain during the afternoon in many places. I brought a small unbrella which I could attach to the bottom of my backpack. This was a very useful piece of equipment. Incidentally, people have been struck and killed by lightning while climbing tall structures. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are not that uncommon.
The sun can be merciless at times. Bring fluids with you, or expect to buy them from the vendors. Some smaller sites will not have any fluids for sale. You do need to replace the sweat you are losing. Sunscreen is a must for most people, especially if you are fair complected.
I personally recommend wearing long sleeves. You can always roll them up, if the weather is appropriate. When the bugs attack, long sleeves can protect some juicy skin. There is also something to say about long pants. They offer some protection from the sun, the mosquitos, the plants and abrasions from rocks and temples. A bandana or extra absorbant handkerchief can be quite useful for wiping your brow during those hot moments. Covering your head can keep you cooler and prevent some medical problems.
Some people feel you must use insect repellant. Others feel that they are bad for your skin and the environment. You will have to decide. From personal experience, I know there are biting insects in the Rio Bec area. Hey, it IS a jungle! They are also supposed to be very thick around Coba. I did not see any around Chichen Itza, the Puuc sites or Palenque, but this does not mean they do not exist there.
I carried two bags: a special backpack for my photography equipment, and a duffle bag for everything else. My duffle did not make the connection between my flight from San Diego to Houston, and Houston to Cancun. This is why I suggest you carry some very basic essentials in your carry-on luggage. I only had to wait until the next morning for my duffle to reach me. Other people never get their bags. If you are going to do some exploring, I suggest traveling light. Unless you are well off, you are going to be the one who has to carry everything. I used the private Mexican bus system to get around. There is only so much room for luggage on the bus. If you are staying in one hotel, or taking a package tour, then you have less to worry about.
The Second Class bus station in Merida (I did not check the First Class station) and the station in Chetumal have lockers you can rent. Several of the larger ruin sites also have lockers or a place to leave your extra stuff. All of these were for a small charge. As I recall, it was 2NP per hour in Merida, 4NP per hour in Chetumal, and 10NP per bag at Palenque.
Another important factor in your choice of luggage is the weather. If you get stuck on the side of the road or on the top of a pyramid in the rain, will your expensive electronic or photographic equipment survive? I carry lots of resealable freezer bags. I can pop a camera (or dirty clothes) in one and keep it dry. I also do this for all the lotions, sprays and personal hygene things I carry.
Putting your name and contact information on the outside and the inside of your bags can also prevent some problems.
E-Mail, Internet and Comunications Info
During my trip, I made a point of stopping at places which offered Internet access and uploading my digital photos. I also used e-mail to contact my friends and family. In almost all cases. E-mail will be MUCH cheaper than using the phone to contact someone out of the country. ---- Most of the Internet stores I saw or contacted charged 20NP per hour. I found one in Merida which charged 30NP per hour, and one in Cancun which charged 15NP (a grand opening price). --- Finding out if there in a "Cybercafe" of "Internet Store" in your small to medium sized town can be a small adventure in itself. If you are going to ask a local stranger, I suggest asking a younger person. They are more likely to know what the Internet is. However, many people who did not know the word "internet," did know the phrase "correos electrico" (electronic mail). --- Some of the larger hotels may offer Internet access, if you cannot find a store. I do not know what the rates would be at any of the hotels. In Merida, not a single taxi driver or porter at the bus station had any idea where to find an Internet store. Then again, some of the drivers there had problems with streets which were not within a few miles or near the main plaza. There were a couple of Internet stores in the community near the Costco store on 60th street. Most of the drivers at the bus station knew where the Costco was. In Palenque, there was a nice store just a block or two from the bus station on the same street. In Cancun, I found over a dozen stores near the bus station. In Chetumal, I found one on the south side of the central market. --- One of the nice things about these places is they have air conditioning. I joked with one person it might be worth the 20NP just to sit in the cool air for an hour. I know more than one person who has gone to a movie here in the USA as much for the air conditioning as for the movie. --- If you do not have one already, I highly recommend getting an Internet-based e-mail address. This would be something like Excite, Netscape, Bigfoot or Yahoo. You can access them anywhere you have Internet access. You can send or receive e-mail there. I use one at work which can also "pick up my mail" at my home e-mail address. If you use an Internet store's e-mail account, you cannot get return mail unless you are in their office. If you an Internet based address, if no one is there, they can just mail you back later. Then when you are in a different town, you can see the reply.
Mexico has very expensive outgoing long distance rates. It is not unheard of for some companies to charge over $10 a minute for an out-of-country call. If you purchase a long distance calling card in advance, you can save some money. However, you still going to have to access the "local number" to use that calling card. Most of the public phone I saw do not take coins. They use something similar to an ATM or a credit card. I saw two different companies which had phones on the street. In both cases, many stores and pharmacies (farmacia) sell the pre-paid calling cards needed to use these phones. They usually go for 10 to 200 minutes in length. Remember, this is only to access the local phone system. Any long distance call charge will be added on to that. There are some phone which do work off of your credit card. If you can, check out the rate before you call. Some places offer phone booths. This is something I have seen in movies from Europe. You tell the person at the counter your number, they dial it, then you go to the assigned booth and talk to your party. I used one of these booths in the Chetumal bus station to make a reservation for a local hotel which my guidebook said booked up early. In this case, the person at the counter listened in to my conversation, because she started laughing, when I started laughing. So, remember this if you need to pass along some confidential information.
I do not know much about the Mexican postal system. I have heard it is slow. I did not see many "mailboxes." Granted, you cannot send a traditional postcard by e-mail. Most guidebooks will give you the location of the local post office. Even the taxi drivers at Merida's bus station knew where the post office was.
There is a scam practiced by some Mexican crooks. You may meet someone at, or near, the airport, bus station. etc. They may actually help you out in some minor way. Eventually, they will ask to exchange addresses and phone numbers with you. After they have your phone number, they will call your home. They will tell whomever answers that you have either been arrested and take to jail, or injured and take to a hospital They will ask for someone to wire money to pay the fine or the doctor bill. Then they will pick up the money and go on their way. This scam is not just in Mexico. I have also seen it done here in the USA. It might be a good idea to establish a password with your people at home. Unless they hear the password, they should try to contact the local authorities first before sending any money.
Generally, I would refer you to a travel guide you trust. Hotels can change overnight with a new owner or manager. These changes can be for the good or bad. During my stay, it was hot and humid everywhere I went. A ceiling fan can only do so much to relieve the discomfort. I actually prefer a portable fan pointed directly at me. Many of the hotel rooms I saw only had small windows with no screens. In areas with mosquitos, opening the window may not be a good idea unless you have mosquito netting. The cheaper hotels with air conditioning were roughly twice that of the cheaper fan only hotels. --- I highly recommend taking a good towel and washcloth (loofa, etc.) with you. The towels you get at the cheapest hotels are somewhat small. You normally do not get a washcloth. Each place I went, they handed me a roll of toilet paper. I carried some with me, just in case. --- Something I have noticed all over Mexico is the lack of a "liftable seat" on the toilets. In most cases, it looks like they were never a part of the toilet. This can be disconcerting for the average American. This was the case in hotels and many bus stations. When my late wife went to work in the back area of Baja California, she actually took several toilet seats with her to give away. --- Friends who have visited several hostels suggest labling everything of yours and taking a lock.
I stayed in four places during my trip. In Piste (Chichen Itza), I stayed at the Posada El Paso. It was on the main street near where the second class bus stops, just down from the Posada Chac-Mool. They charged 100NP for a one bed room. The room was very basic with just a bed and a bathroom. The owner was very helpful with the problem with my duffle bag being delivered the next day by the airlines. In fact, he was willing for me to leave my bag in his office while I went to Chichen Itza. I left him a 50% tip for his efforts. I stayed at the El Paso because the airlines needed a place to send my duffle bag when it finally arrived in Cancun. Since I normally wait until I get where I am going to see what is available, I just picked the El Paso from my guidebook.
In Merida, I found a hotel across the street from the bus station. Since I was not going to be in town long, and I had to visit the station several times, this seemed appropriate. The hotel across the street from the second class station cost 140NP. It had two beds, a table, a closet and a bath. It was very humid and the windows were quite small. The floor was wet when I came in. I had to ask them to come in and dry the floor.
In Chetumal, I decided I needed some air conditioning. Going by my guidebook, I picked the Posada Pantoja. They charged 180NP. It was a nice room with large windows. The air conditioning worked very well. It also had a color TV. The manager was very nice. The Pantoja is in a residential area, 10 blocks or so from the central market. There is a tiny market next door with reasonable prices for soda and water.
In Cancun, I stayed at a Hostel on Palmera at Uxmal near the bus station. They charge $10 a night for bed in a dormitory. My room had four bunkbeds and two overhead fans. There hostel was just opening, so they were still setting things up. They had a common kitchen with a refrigerator. This was my first experience at a hostel. I enjoyed the chance to get to meet people from other countries. I appeared to be the only American in the building. I had a bit of a problem though, because I am a light sleeper. When some Japanese women came in at 2 am to talk to two Japanese guys staying in my room, they talked for about ten minutes before someone else asked them to go out to the common room. Even if this had not happened, light sleepers might awaken each time someone else comes into the room. The hostel was nice and clean, and the staff was very helpful and bilingual. They had lockers for each of the guests.
And finally, I intentionally took two overnight bus trips. Being the penny pincher that I am, I was able to accomplish two things at the same time. I had a place to sleep, and I got where I was going at the same time. The bus was air conditioned and the seats did recline. I went from Merida to Palenque on one trip, and Palenque to Chetumal on the other. Some guidebooks warn about robberies on these routes. I have checked on several Internet bulletin boards and this seems to have been cleared up about two years ago. Granted, a crook could jump on any bus at any time, but this trip was uneventful. The one complaint I had was the bus which left Merida at 11:30pm (23:30), started a movie just after it left the station. There are speakers over each seat. There are no volume controls. It was a bit hard to sleep while the movie was playing.
It really helps if you know some basic Spanish if you are going to be traveling in this area, especially at the smaller sites. Not everyone is going to speak English. In fact, in some of the very small towns, you may find people who only speak the local Maya dialect. Many guidebooks offer some basic phrases and words. I suggest making a copy of these pages, or write up your own list. This way you can quickly say what you want to, or you can at least point to what you want to say. You might also check through these lists carefully to see if they list words which you know you will need. Does it list such words as: later, earlier, cheap, too expensive, where is the bus station, how much does it cost to go to the..., toilet paper, sanitary napkin, diabetese, where can I change money, hostel, air conditioning, pillow, soap, vegetarian restaurant, shoelace, needle and thread, bandaid, etc. If you have any special needs, it would be a good itea to learn how to say these words before you get to Mexico. There are many online dictionaries, and you can obviously buy a Spanish-English dictionary.
Travel Guide Info
I highly recommend taking a guidebook with you. Before my trip, I perused many websites and guidebooks trying to decide where I wanted to go, what I would see, and how I would get there. I carried three guidebooks with me. I had Fodor's "Cancun, Cozumel, Yucatan Peninsula 2000," "Guide to the Yucatan Peninsula" by Chicki Mallan, and Cadogan's "Yucatan & Southern Mexico."
Any prices or exact times listed in a guidebook are subject to error. Prices and times can change very rapidly. My information on bus scedules below will obviously become outdated at some point in the future. Try to keep this in mind when you are planning a trip based on this kind of information. The following "reviews" are my opinions.
Cadogan's "Yucatan & Southern Mexico" by Nick Rider was my main source and constant companion during my trip. I usually wore a vest which has dozens of pockets. One of the larger pockets was dedicated to this book. It was exceptionally good for what I was trying to do: take an economical, self-guided tour of the Maya ruins. It would have also been useful for the person with plenty of money to spend on the best hotels. It had some excellent articles on the history of the region. It also had many different articles on the unvisited local places and the tourist attractions. It seems like Nick spent a great deal of time going through the area compiling information. Its maps of the ruins were very useful. Its descriptions of the ruins were also very detailed and informative. It had very good regional and local maps. It also offered a good section on lodging and eating divided into catagories of Expensive, Moderate, Inexpensive and Cheap (for people like me). It was not as detailed on shopping as the Fodor book. It also had some good bus schedule information. I highly recommed this book for anyone traveling through the Yucatan or Southern Mexico.Click Here to Order A Copy of Cadogan's "Yucatan & Southern Mexico."
The Fodor book is good overall book. It comes with a detachable map which contains detailed maps of Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and a general map for the northeastern part of Quintana Roo down to about Tulum. The book goes into great detail for lodging, eating and shopping. It has some nice suggested tours you can arrange for yourself, with descriptions of most of the interesting places to visit. It offers some basic background information and good general traveling tips. I seldom used it, as it seemed it was really more intended for the more "upwardly mobile" vacationer. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against people who take the roundtrip luxury trip from Cancun to Chichen Itza. There is something to taking a all-inclusive tour where they worry about your luggage and food, and all you have to do is enjoy the sights you came to see. The Fodor book provides more information than you would need, if you are on an all-inclusive vacation.
Click Here to Order A Copy of Fodor's "Cancun, Cozumel, Yucatan Peninsula."
Chicki Mallan's "Guide To The Yucatan Peninsula" provides a much more detailed look into the people and places you are going to visit. It looks into some of the ecology and history of the region. It has many maps of cities, regions and ruins. It has good information on lodging, eating and shopping, although less detailed than the Fodor book. It is a somewhat physically smaller book, and is therefore easier to carry, if you are cramped for space. I used it from time to time, especially when I was on an extended stop or in my room for the night.Click here to order a copy of "Guide to the Yucatâan Peninsula"
I love maps. I have lots of them. Getting a good local road map for Mexico can be a bit difficult. If you plan on renting a vehicle and driving, check with the locals on what roads are good and which ones are bad. Many streets, and some highways, are not well marked. A compass might be a wise investment, if you plan on traveling the backroads.
There are many different bus companies doing business in Mexico. They have a wide variety of destinations and schedules. The station is often called the CAME, or the "estacion autobus." In some towns (Cancun), the companies have joined together to have one station. In other places (Merida), there may be more than one station. Any effort to list all of them would soon be outdated. However, to give you a basis to make a decision, I will list the information I learned while I was there between September 9th and 16th, 2000
ADO, ADO GL (luxury), Altos, Autotransportes del Sur (ATS), Cristobal Colon, Elite, Express Plus, Expresso, Linea Dorada, Maya de Oro, Mayab, Nuevo Horizontes, Oriente, Premier, Riviera, Super Expresso, TRP, Uno and others.
Many bus companies will accept reservations. They are highly advisable if you are raveling around one of the major Mexican holidays, or on a "must make" connection. --- Most of the major companies have the Mexican equivalent of a toll free number. These numbers only work in Mexico. I tried contacting several of the companies by e-mail, in both English and Spanish, without a single response. --- Before you get on a bus, make sure your have identification on both the outside and the inside of your lugage. This will help you claim them if they get misplaced. Many bus companies will tag your bag, and give you a claim check. --- If you have carry-on luggage which you place in the overhead bin, you might think about placing them on the other side of the center aisle. This way you can actually see them. --- Many busses have on-board television. If you travel on an overnight bus and want to sleep, you might bring earplugs. They will often play movies in the middle of the night. There are no volume controls and the speakers are over each seat. --- The drivers I met were very friendly and helpful. They might not speak English. The announcements will be in Spanish. Like most PA announcements, they might be hard to understand, regardless of language. When in doubt, ask. --- The First Class busses all have bathrooms. Only some of the Intermediate or Secondary busses have them. You might want to take your own toilet paper. --- All First Class, and some Second Class busses have air conditioning. The air conditioning keeps it cooler in the front of the bus (warmer in the rear). --- Second Class busses make lots of stops (you can flag some of them down from the side of the road) and take longer to cover the same route. The First Class busses make fewer stops, and these are only at the scheduled sites. --- Many people have heard stories of Mexican busses speeding along the roads. Most of the First Class busses now advertize they will not go over 95KPH (approximately 60MPH). There is a red light and buzzer which will go off in the front of the bus if they do go over this speed. --- The First Class fares, on average, were running about 50% higher than the Second Class fares. This is a bigger gap than in the recent past.They are both still very good rates. A taxi ride from the airport to downtown can often cost more than a First Class bus ride of over 200 miles.
Prices and Schedules:
Below you will find some of the schedules and prices I noted in different cities. They were taken between September 9 and September 16, 2000. They should be used as a guide, as they could have already changed.
Photos of Bus Schedules
I arrived at the Cancun airport. The taxis have a monopoly on trafic leaving the airport, other than private vehicles. I heard prices from $8 (per person + tip) on a shuttle taxi, up to $25 for a taxi by yourself. Most of the shuttle taxis go directly to the Hotel Zone. If you want to go downtown, you will be the last stop. Depending on how many other people are onboard, this could take an hour. A little know fact is there is a bus to downtown Cancun which serves the workers. You can normally use this bus, although you will have to put all your luggage in the overhead. This bus has no air conditioning other than open windows. It is the cheapest thing around, though. It cost 40NP (~$4.40). It does not run very frequently. It is across the street from the Budget rental car company.
Cancun to Chichen Itza (Piste): 95NP (1st), 63NP (2nd).
Chichen Itza (Piste) to Merida: 50NP (1st), 36 (2nd).
In Merida, the La Ruta Puuc tour offered by ATS is a good way to get to see five different Maya ruins. It leaves from the Second Class bus station at 8am. It cost me 72NP. The bus goes first to Uxmal and dropps off some people there. You then leave immediately for Labna, Xlapak, Sayil and Kabah. You get 30 minutes at Labna, Sayil and Kabah. It stops for 20 minutes at Xlapak. The length of time at Uxmal varies, depending on when you return. I got back there at 12:50pm (12:50). The bus leaves Uxmal (the last stop) around 2:30pm (14:30). You can also take the same bus to Uxmal, get off there instead of visiting the other sites, and then return when it leaves at 2:30pm. I do not know how much that costs.
Merida to Palenque:
ADO: 208NP - 830am, 10pm, 11:30pm
Altos: 193NP - 7:15pm
Maya de Oro: 235NP - 9:30pm
Merida to Cancun:
ADO GL: 150NP - 8:30am to 7:30pm
SuperExpresso: 130NP - 5:30am to midnight
Uno: 165NP: - 6:30am, 6:45pm
Merida to Chiche Itza (Piste):
SuperExpresso: 50NP - 6:30am, 8:45am, 9:30am, 1:00pm
Palenque to Campeche:
ADO: 138NP - 8am, 9pm
Altos: 132NP - 2:10pm
Palenque to Cancun:
ADO: 317NP - 8pm (arrived at 3:15am)
Altos: 287NP - 5:30pm
Cristobal Colon: 317NP - 7:15pm
Maya de Oro: 423NP - 9:10pm
Palenque to Chetumal:
ADO: 180NP - 8pm
Altos: 160NP - 5:30pm
Cristobal Colon: 180NP - 7:15pm
Maya de Oro: 165NP - 9:10pm
Palenque to Merida:
ADO: 208NP - 8pm, 9pm
Altos: 193NP - 2:10pm
Maya de Oro: 235NP - 10:15pm
Palenque to San Cristobal Las Casas:
ADO: 68NP - 10am
Getting information about bus schedules on the internet is improving, but is still limited.
Click Here to visit the Ticket Bus internet site. When the site works, it will list prices for several different bus companies, and the length of the trip.
Click on the smaller pictures to see a larger version of it.
Chetumal, Quintana Roo - September 2000
The following five pictures are from left to right of the Primera Clase or First Class Bus Schedules.
This is a picture of the Intermediate and Second Class Bus Scedule
Xpujil, Campeche - September 2000
Bus Info from 2001
This information is from my trip to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala in
In several bus stations, I was not allowed to take pictures of
the posted schedules. Guards told me pictures were not allowed for "security reasons."
This information was obtained in October and November 2001.
Merida - First Class Station
Merida - Second Class Station
Xalapa (or Jalapa), capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz
(More schedules were posted, but I was stopped after these pictures)
Hotel Colonial in Campeche
Hotel Rosa Mar in Veracruz
Click here for my trip in 2001 to more ruins in Mexico & Guatemala
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