From eating traditional Mayan food and learning about the ancient culture and history of Maya to meeting a 97-year-old Mayan elder and watching him leap from his hammock to show us photos, we were hooked. Our tour of the Mayan communities of Mexico was simply unforgettable.
Mayans. Apart from that terrifying scare-monger calendar of theirs, I didn’t know much about them. I certainly didn’t realise there were still Mayan people in existence or that there are over 2 million of them.
All that changed when we visited the Yucatan Peninsula, Southwest Mexico.
Our tour of Mayan communities, Yucatan, Mexico
It’s a bit of a drive from our hotel in Tulum – Casa de las Olas, but the road going east into the jungle is exciting and full of ancient promise and mystery.
We’re travelling with Marion from Home in Tulum, who organises this tour out into the Mayan villages. It’s supported and promoted by an NGO which is trying to help the Mayan population maintain its self-sustainability.
The whole of the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo region was once a Mayan stronghold – a society that flourished then foundered over a period of 4000 years.
As we stretch our legs after the drive to Señor, the first village we visit, we can feel all the history of this once powerful civilisation. And it’s clear this place has very little to do with modern Mexico.
Even the people from the NGO who we’re on the tour with seem out of place. It’s a very interesting situation.
To start with
To get things started, our Mayan guide, Marco tells us a bit about where we are and who lives here. Marco is Maya but can speak Spanish. The majority of the community here, and in other Mayan villages, only speak Mayan.
We try some traditional Mayan food – a curious yet satisfying breakfast of tiny sugar bananas, eggs, chaya (a kind of spinach), corn tortilla with veggies and black beans, and a sticky fruit that tasted a bit like caramelised pumpkin.
Exploring the gardens further, we meet a village elder who teaches us how to shred the fibres from a plant to make twine, which is then used for things like hammocks and slingshots and rope.
It’s hard work – yes, he got me doing it – but he makes it look so easy. This guy’s in his 90s but is still incredibly agile. He’s a regular height Mayan too. They’re all so small!
Meeting this ancient entity is a remarkable experience in itself. Just by being in his company, looking into those eyes, you feel the magic of the Maya and it’s liable to send you into goosebumps.
The medicine woman & the gentleman
Travelling by tuk tuk taxi, we race to our next appointment. We meet a local medicine woman who shows us her pharmacy – her garden. Every plant she has here has a medical property; from headaches to ‘male health’ she’s got it covered.
Ironically, the old lady’s feeling a bit under the weather, but it doesn’t slow her down.
The rest of the family are at the house too. The kids are either just sitting with each other or with their mothers. The ladies are all working on their embroidery – some of which is amazing.
While we’re here, we go into another hut – all Mayan buildings are oval by the way – to visit another fascinating man.
At the tender age of 94, he reclines on a hammock while chain-smoking Marlborough Reds and regaling us with tales of his time and his father’s time. His father, who lived until he was 120, fought the Spanish, and the story he tells is incredible.
This is all done via Marco, who translates into Spanish. This gentleman also only speaks Mayan.
At one point, this man decides he needs to show us some photos and his passport, so, carefully balancing his smoke on the floor, he flips backwards out of the hammock better than I could do. He’s amazing – a real character.
The only Mayan museum in the world
From Señor we drive to another village called Tihosuco. Here we receive a Mayan blessing from a priest or perhaps a village elder. A really special experience, it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap exercise, it really feels like the man is blessing us and meaning it.
We visit the museum here, which is the only museum in the world dedicated to Maya, and get a glimpse into the true history of this fascinating people. At the front of the museum is a small wooden statue, which turns out to be a two-tone drum the Mayans used to use to communicate over large distances. We all get to have a go at using this ancient Mayan ‘telephone’. Mrs Romance is pretty good at it!
We’re taught how to spin cotton by the sweetest old Mayan ladies – one of whom can’t be any taller than a 7-year-old child if that.
We also visit an old Spanish church. It’s half in ruins now – quite literally – with the ceiling at the southern end completely collapsed. But people who have turned to Catholicism still worship here in the section that’s under cover.
The church doesn’t seem to make any sense in this realm of an all-but-forgotten people. A community whose history is set way before Europeans even knew about this part of the world. Still, in its dilapidated state, the church has a humbled yet grand presence to it.
We finally have lunch with another Mayan family. It’s quite similar to breakfast but with a pumpkin stew and the most amazing eggs and fried crispy choya.
We’re sad to say goodbye to this side of Mexico. We’re pretty sure not many people know much about them – though perhaps they should. It’s such an interesting culture, full of magic and ancient mysteries.
Our drive back to Tulum is quite subdued. I don’t know whether it’s because of everything we’ve experienced today or simply because it’s been such a long day. Either way, it’s an experience I know neither of us will ever forget.
As a side point, we were the first to try this tour out, so there were teething problems. We also had car issues, which slowed the day down a bit. It is a long day, so bring your best energy levels with you.
It wasn’t until we got back to Australia that we realised we’d missed an opportunity for a jungle swim. From the main crossroads on El Señor, the road east takes you 25 minutes into the jungle to a 2-kilometer track that looks easily passable for a car.
This track will take you to Laguna Azul, a cenote in the middle of the jungle. I’ve got a feeling that would be the most incredible way to end a tour like this you can imagine.
But even without this natural wonder on our itinerary, this tour is really something you should include in your travel plans if you’re anywhere near Tulum.
Home in Tulum
Travel planning, house or hotel rentals, airport transportation, tours and eco-tourism excursions.
Tel: +1 (561) 247 8289
Mobile: +521 (984) 1080 543
Have you ever been on a tour that gave you an insight into a culture that was a complete mystery to you before? Tell us about it in the comments!