Chacchoben Mayan Ruins and Bacalar Lagoon Excursion - Our Experience
This past winter we needed to get away from the cold weather, so we took a cruise on the Norwegian Dawn from Tampa through the Western Caribbean (see prices here
). Overall, it was a terrific and fun experience!
One of the ports of call was in Costa Maya, Mexico
, which is also known as Mahahual (the name of the actual town). This cruise port offers access to a number of interesting excursions in the southern region of the Yucatan such as snorkeling, relaxing on the nearby beaches, and of course visiting the nearby Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
We opted to take an excursion to the Chacchoben ruins
that was not provided by the cruise line. Instead, we booked it separately (here
) so that we could have a more authentic experience, save some money, and make sure that our money went to a locally owned company.
The idea of visiting the ruins was intriguing to me, my wife, and my daughter. We have never seen any ruins like this before. I've seen plenty of photos of the Mayan ruins at various locations, and I've read about their history, but seeing them in person was something that we've never had the opportunity to do. We were excited and had some very high expectations for this excursion, indeed!
In addition to visiting the ruins, several other options were offered as part of the tour. We would be able to visit the Chacchoben ruins in the morning and then visit another destination for lunch with an afternoon activity. We chose the visit to Bacalar Lagoon
with the tour, partly because we were curious about this famous 7-colored lake, and party because our daughter is only 5 years old. She would likely need some physical activity after the tour of the ruins. Swimming and snorkeling in the lake seemed like the right choice for all of us.
And it was! Ultimately, we were thrilled with both parts of the tour. It ended up being fantastic! We saw the ruins. We had a great lunch. We swam in the lake. And we were comfortable and well taken care of on the entire trip.
Details about the excursion, along with our personal thoughts and experiences are below. Oh, and we've got plenty of photos, too!
Arrival at Costa Maya Cruise Port
The Costa Maya cruise terminal is not overwhelmingly large, but it contains many shops, restaurants, and other activities. Upon arrival we left the ship, walked down the long pier, and made our way past the many tour and excursion companies that have set up their booths right at the entrance. Not only are these companies more expensive than the tour we booked, but they are also owned by a combination of the cruise lines and international tourism companies. If you haven't booked a tour by this point, it's absolutely possible to just walk off of the ship and do so upon arrival, but the prices will be steep and the experiences less authentic.
We made our way around the shopping area of the cruise terminal to find the exit into the town. This shopping area includes a swimming pool, a dolphin pool, and a few restaurants. Of course, plenty of shops selling a variety of goods and souvenirs can also be found here.
In order to get to our tour, we needed to walk a few blocks away from the port. The neighborhood was not only safe, but a variety of taxi drivers and other tour company employees helped us to find our tour. The town itself is not very large. In fact, it seems that the majority of this town is dedicated to the port and the business of taking passengers on excursions.
Departing on the Excursion
After we found the building for our company, they provided us with a free bottle of water. They then sorted us into the various tour vans, and after a few minutes, we were on our way. The van was very new, modern, and comfortable. It had terrific air conditioning!
The name of the company was Native Choice. Our guide explained to us that the company is managed entirely by locals and all of the money stays within the region. Our guide was actually of Mayan descent himself, and he gave us a very thorough explanation of Mayan culture and the history of the ruins while we drove to the site. The ruins themselves are about an hour from the port, but the ride was comfortable and entertaining because of the terrific conversations with our guide, driver, and other passengers.
The Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
Upon arrival at the entrance to the ruins, we had a few minutes to use the restroom and gather our belongings while the guide took care of our tickets. The tickets were included in the price of the excursion. We had read that we might have to pay $5 to use our camera at the site, but this was never discussed or asked for. (We ended up taking plenty of photos and were never questioned about it.)
We started the tour by walking along a wide gravel path until we came to the first of the pyramids. Our guide gave us a historical overview for a few minutes and then let us explore on our own. Then we proceeded to the next section. Again, he gave us an overview and let us explore. This happened several more times as we worked our way through the beautiful ruins set in their raw jungle surroundings. His descriptions of the ruins and the culture were very insightful, and the pyramids themselves were very beautiful and well preserved. His discussions were part humorous, and part serious. His English was excellent, too.
Some of the structures we could climb on, while others we could not. Apparently the entire area is still being excavated as archeologists look for clues and evidence to try to understand why this entire area was abandoned so long ago.
Our daughter loved the pyramids. She wanted to climb on all of them, and had a blast exploring the areas that she was allowed to touch. She felt like a young Indiana Jones working her way around the large stone structures. Some of the pyramids are on a higher hill with views overlooking the surrounding jungle, while others are hidden within the trees. The overall atmosphere of the site was a major part of the appeal.
On our way back to the van, we also saw several monkeys climbing in the nearby trees! We ended up spending nearly 2 hours at the archeological site, and it was worth the trip.
Next we were driven to a small and private resort on the shore of a nearby lake known as Bacalar Lagoon. As it was time for lunch, the small staff of the resort was ready for us. One of the best parts of booking with this particular tour company was that we were taken to an area of the lake that was not very busy. Only the two vans that were part of our tour were brought here. It was a nice escape from the crowds at the Mayan ruins and the even larger crowds of the cruise ship.
A buffet lunch of soft tacos along with rice and beans was provided. While it was casual, the food was absolutely amazing. The meat was perfectly seasoned and cooked, and even the rice and beans, an otherwise basic side item, had me going back for more. And did I mention the open bar? At a small counter, the bartender was making pina coladas out of fresh pineapple and young coconut. He had to chop open the coconuts to put the shavings into the blender. The flavors were rich and fresh. They also had various types of beer and liquor available, and it was all included in the price! Our meal was eaten outside under a large cabana structure where we could stay cool and enjoy the breeze and views of the lake.
And after lunch it was time to get into the water! Some changing rooms and modern bathrooms were provided so that we could change into our swimsuits.
The clear water was like getting into the tropical sea, except it was a freshwater lake. The water was shallow and we could see a number of fish around us, and even more in the nearby mangroves. The lake was fairly warm, even though it was December. The resort also provided kayaks and some of the visitors paddled their way further out onto the lake.
After around 2 hours here, it was time to head back to the port. It was hard to leave paradise....
Back to Port
On the drive back to the port, our guide gave us even more insider knowledge about the region. He pointed out the numerous pineapple farms along the way, as well as some of the smaller villages supported mainly by agriculture. He also showed us some small arrowheads and other preserved items found at the Mayan ruins. Finally he described more of how the Mayan culture was essentially consumed into the European culture when the Spanish arrived. Despite popular belief, the Mayan people did not vanish, but are very much alive today. They have become a minority of Mexico's population with their own language and culture.
Upon arrival at the port, we made our way back through the shops and restaurants towards our ship. But first we wanted to see the dolphins at the dolphin pool. One of the trainers was tossing fish to a dolphin while it did flips and other tricks in the water. We also walked by the large swimming pool again. It has a swim-up bar and restaurant, and is large enough to accommodate the crowds coming off of the ships. Plenty of other restaurants can be found here at the port, too. Naturally, shopping is a popular pastime. The Costa Maya port had no shortage of shops selling everything from t-shirts to diamonds.
Finally, our day was done, and it was time to head back to the ship.
We had a great time on our trip, and we highly recommend this tour
(or a similar tour) to anyone looking to visit the Mayan ruins or Bacalar Lagoon.
If you're interested in something similar, in addition to visiting the lagoon after the ruins, it's also possible to visit a local family for a native cooking demonstration after your visit to the ruins. And as always, if you want to skip out on the other options and just spend the entire day at the ruins, you can (details below).
Also, some other Mayan ruins are in the area, and are good options for excursions. These include the Dzibanche archeological site and the Kohunlich site. They are further away than Chacchoben, but are equally as impressive.
Furthermore, if you're not interested in ruins at all, plenty of local companies will take you snorkeling, scuba diving, or to nearby beaches for a day of relaxation. It's also possible to go on an ATV adventure, take a cooking class, do some stand-up-paddling, or go bird watching. We've listed some of these options down below as well.
Details on the various tour options are below. Happy Travels!
This is the tour we took, which was an excursion to the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben. Then we went to nearby Bacalar Lagoon for lunch and swimming and kayaking.
Approximate Price: $119.00
Similar to the tour above, this exursion takes you to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins and then to a local home for lunch and an authentic family visit.
Approximate Price: $119.00
This is a full-day excursion to Chacchoben, which does not include any other destinations. On this trip, you spend a lot more time at the ruins.
Approximate Price: $64.11
If you want to go scuba diving among the coral reefs near Costa Maya, a number of fantastic dive excursions are available.
Approximate Price: $100.00
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