Surroundings, Chichén Itzá
Balankanché ('throne of the Jaguar Priest'), 5km/3mi east of the excavation zone on the Valladolid and Puerto Juárez road (MEX 180), is a fascinating cult and burial site in a stalactitic limestone cave discovered quite by accident in 1959. It had evidently lain undisturbed for many centuries, its entrance blocked with rough hewn stone. The cave is almost certainly part of an extensive labyrinth of underground caverns and waterways yet to be investigated. Artificial lighting has been installed allowing the visitor to see the numerous clay dishes and jars, 'metates' (stones for grinding maize), copal burners and other objects still lying where the priests using the site left them. Many items are decorated with the mask of the Toltec-Aztec Rain god Tláloc, suggesting that the cave was an exclusively Toltec burial place. The focal point of the cave is a chamber containing an altar and a limestone formation reminiscent of the sacred Mayan ceiba tree. A narrow passageway leads to a deeper-lying stalactitic chamber, at the end of which crystal-clear water surrounds another altar also dedicated to the Rain god Tláloc. Tiny shrimps and blind fish live in the pool.
Church of San Bernardino, Valladolid, Mexico
Valladolid (population: 60,000), the second largest city in Yucatán, is situated 42km/26mi east of Chichén Itzá. Its church of San Bernardino, founded by the Franciscans in 1552, is one of the few colonial buildings to survive the civil war which caused such havoc in the first half of the last century. The Cis-ha and Zac-hi cenotes are well worth visiting, a gangway leading down to the water's edge some 45 m (147 ft) below (bathing possible). On the right some 5km/3mi before Valladolid is the 20 m (66 ft) deep Cenote Dzitnup, a really delightful spot with warm, cobalt blue water.
From Valladolid, the MEX 295 makes its way north for 52km/32mi to the small town of Tizimín. Here, from December 30th to January 6th, a major festival is held in honour of the Three Kings, celebrated with much pomp and ceremony.
Rio Lagartos, Mexico
52km/32mi to the north of Tizimin on MEX 295 the little seaside town of Río Lagartos (Nefertiti) lies amid delightful scenery. 16km/10mi away, at Las Coloradas on the estuary of the Río Lagartos, there is a large breeding colony of pink and red flamingos and colonies of other protected birds (boat trips cater for sightseers). Further east still, Chiquila boasts what for Yucatán is a rare source of pure sulphur. West of Río Lagartos is the fishing village of San Felipe.From Valladolid a new road runs via Nuevo X-can to Cobá.