Due to unexplained technological difficulties, Holland America Veendam arrived in Costa Maya 2 hours late. Norwegian Pearl and Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas were already at the dock. The Pearl appeared significantly plainer than when we cruised on it some years back. It still has the hull art at the bow, but the stern art was gone and as far as I could see from the dock and from the deck of the Veendam, all the artwork around the promenade deck was gone as well. I wondered if they had redecorated the inside too and got rid of all the random beds that were scattered about the ship back then.
In the port at Costa Maya there are all sorts of booths offering last minute tours. The tour booths might take your ship card for payment, but hardly anybody at the port takes cash. The shops, bars, and restaurants mostly all want credit or debit cards. There is quite a lot at the port. When you finally make it through to the far end and out of the fenced in port area you can walk right out, but there’s a gate guard checking people on the way back in. The security guard just outside the port said it takes an hour to walk to Mahahual, the closest town.
Outside the port the road you first walk down goes by a mostly abandoned shopping center, heading toward what looks like an ancient pyramid from a distance. When you get there you can see it is actually a fountain. Cabs waited alongside the road, some drivers crossing the street looking for customers among the people walking up the other side. They said $2 a person to go to town, or $50 each for 2 people to go to the Mayan ruins about 45 minutes away. We kept on walking, wanting to at least make it as far as the pyramid.
Just beyond the pyramid fountain we saw a little stand set up offering tours to Chacchoben ruins with a sign advertising the cheapest price around. They were dismantling their stand when we got there. Since ours is a small ship and got to port late, plus we waited a bit to get off to give the line at the gangway time to clear, I suppose they didn’t expect many more people to go by looking for a tour. We asked about the price anyway and they said $55 each including the entry fee at the ruins, which the cabs we passed had not mentioned in their $50 price. She also said the walk to town was just 25 minutes, and that it’s a nice and safe walk. She did not say if the tour cost any less if they had enough people to fill a van.
Turning onto the street heading toward town we saw another row of cabs. I’d have liked the walk, but John’s knee was bothering him so he wanted to just pay the $2 and take the cab. Once we got in the driver said he could take us both to the ruins for $80 total if we wanted to go there instead of town. He also must have figured he was running out of opportunities, and probably would make more money at that rate then ferrying people back and forth from town for $2. People outside the port are perfectly happy to take cash. Places in Mexico frequented by tourists normally do accept American money. So many places within the port not doing so was rather odd.
We decided to go ahead and take him up on the offer to take us to the ruins since his price was $20 less for the two of us than anyone else’s. If you go by cab they take you there and then wait for an hour to give you time to walk around the ruins and the same cab takes you back. You pay when you get back to the port, or town if you choose to get dropped off there, where you can catch a different cab back for the $2. At the lot they collect $4 for the cab to park and wait. Then at the entry you pay $4 each to get in and walk around on your own. Guides are available for an additional fee, which is more than the entry fee. The entry area has banos (bathrooms), some souvenir shops, and a place selling stuff to drink. Once you go out to the ruins it is all jungle and trails leading to several different areas with ruins. We saw some butterflies and ants, but no mosquitoes. It’s actually quite rare to see a mosquito on a cruise and we’ve never seen one anywhere in the Caribbean.
The first pyramid in is a pretty large and impressive one. From what you see from the ground up it looks like the biggest one there, but that’s deceptive because there are others on a plateau that is actually a pyramid itself so what looks like the bottom is really closer to halfway up.
We took the trail out from the back side which eventually took us to some small ruins. The tours must not go there because we saw nobody else until we were nearly back again. The dirt trails have a washed over look about them that appears as if they are sometimes under water, or at least have water rushing over them. Or perhaps they have just been worn smooth by many, many feet.
There were 2 small pyramids or perhaps portions of former residences at the end of that trail. Small and unimpressive enough to explain why the tours didn’t venture there, but it was nice to be able to explore a couple ruins without any other people around.
The trail out the other side of the big pyramid leads to a crossroad where you can go straight and see different ruins or turn right and see the same pyramid from the back. We went straight. There were a couple tour groups with cameras in the air and backs to the ruins at the end of that trail. It turned out there were monkeys in the trees above. The ruin there didn’t look all that impressive until you walk up to the top of it and find the plateau. There are 2 more pyramids on the plateau.
The smaller one has a little roof hanging off the back side. If you go over there you can walk around the back of it where the roof is. At that point you find yourself on a ledge that is one layer of the pyramid. These are all step pyramids, and what looked like the bottom of it from the other sides is nowhere near the bottom as you can see from the back where the stepped levels go quite long way down.
A large pyramid towers up from the other side of the plateau. We overheard a guide to one of the groups there saying that the top of that one was where the Mayans performed human sacrifices. Large as that one looks from the plateau, if you walk to the edge of the ground nearest to it and look down you again see the steps leading up to where you are because you are already partway up a much larger than it appears pyramid.
The trail at the bottom of those steps going to the right went back to the trail leading past the first pyramid and back to the entry, and to the left went to a trail that winds around past a group of smaller ruins and then to the trail that went by the backside of the first pyramid, leading to that original intersection and then back to the entry. The hour that the cab gives is enough time to walk around all the ruins without hurrying. We stop a lot for photos and made it all the way through in the time given, though we did not spend any time at the shops.
Our ship did not have an excursion to these ruins. Their ruin excursion took people somewhere 2 ½ hours from the port. Cruise ship passengers can book excursions to Chacchoben in advance. These tours provide transportation and their basic tour costs about the same as going there by taxi. They stay at the ruins longer, but you would be with a guide and a group rather than exploring on your own.