Many flock to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to relax on the spectacular beaches of Cancun or the Riviera Maya. But this region of the country also has a lot to offer for those looking for a mix of culture, nature, and adventure. A plethora of Mayan ruins are located here, the most popular being Chichen Itza and Tulum.
Venture a little further south, closer to the border Mexico shares with Belize and you will find Kohunlich. Although not difficult to get to, the nearest city, Chetumal, is still an hour away by car on Highway 186. What sets Kohunlich apart from some of the other more popular Mayan ruins is few people have made their way to these parts, allowing this archaeological site to maintain its allure.
There is always something magical about a place not yet completely overrun by tourism. Instead of trying to navigate the sites around a bevy of tourists all competing for the same photo, imagine trying to make your way through the untamed jungle to stumble upon a Franciscan convent from the time of the Spanish missions or the amazing plazas, ball courts, temples, and a staircase of stone masks the Mayans left behind, many of which are still waiting to be further excavated.
And, as development has not yet replaced the natural flora and fauna, be prepared to come face to face with giant Ceiba trees, birds, spider monkeys, snakes, insects, bats, crocodiles, and even jaguars!
Time in the jungle is definitely not for the faint of heart. More than likely you will wake up to discover a goose bump inducing looking insect that had made its way into your living area during the middle of the night and all you can think about is how to get it out as quickly as possible. But the jungle is also full of delicious secrets and awe inspiring beauty.
Like getting to try some fallen chicozapote along your hike. A light brown velvety fruit with a soft creamy flesh, the taste is reminiscent of pears stewing in sugary syrup. Addicting for the first few bites before the sweetness becomes cloying.
Or one becoming spellbound by butterflies in a rainbow of colors fluttering about and the addicting aroma of orchids and other tropical flowers creating havoc on your senses. Apart from sensory overload, getting to know the jungle will be a workout even for those who are in good physical shape. You will spend a lot of time exploring the area on foot, by bike, or in a kayak.
And be prepared for anything to happen. For example, take an abseiling trip cut short by the discovery of a huge African honey bee colony along the 225 foot wall you were attempting to descend. Or try night kayaking on the Chakambakan Lake. You wear a headlamp in hopes of spotting the glimmer of the eye of a Morelet’s crocodile peeking above the water. Absolutely pitch black, even the soft glow of the moonlight doesn’t offer much help in navigating the crocodile infested waters and preventing heart attack inducing bumper car like action.
But instead of your heart racing as a result of an accidental tap or crocodile sighting, it is because of something suspicious landing in your kayak. You try hard to not to capsize as your heart transcends leaps and bounds not being able to identify what is in between your legs with your heartbeat only recovering when you learn it is nothing more than a fish flapping about. Such experiences make for good stories when you come back home.
But not every outing necessarily elicits such adrenaline. Bacalar is a beautiful lagoon of seven colors with a nearby mudflat. After an intense kayak session, enjoy a spa like moment covering oneself in mud with therapeutic and rejuvenating properties, before washing it off in the clear waters. All in all, Kohunlich and its surrounding areas within Quintana Roo certainly offer much to one seeking to learn more about Mexico within an active setting.
Jaclyn N Lee left a great job in nonprofit to travel South America for an entire year. She has recently returned home, but still suffers from wanderlust and is planning her next great adventure. She wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in adventure travel in Mexico and beyond.