The Maya Yucatan: Mexico
From lush forests to barrier reefs, and ancient Maya civilizations to modern day Maya communities, the Yucatan is a celebration of ecological and cultural diversity. Join us in the Yucatan: home to the second biggest barrier reef in the world and one of the largest and most magnificent protected areas in Mexico. Jaguars, crocodiles, spider monkeys, tapirs, leatherback turtles, hundreds of species of birds, hundreds of species of fish, and diverse human communities all call this region home. The Maya Yucatan: Mexico workshop highlights current issues facing this incredible region and provides terrific opportunities for students to engage in meaningful studies of the natural and cultural landscapes that makes this area so unique.
After a short drive, we arrive at our lodging in the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos. Set on a beautiful beach, we relax and enjoy the sunset. This evening we discuss the social forces shaping the economy and culture of the Yucatan and the critical conservation issues facing the region’s biodiversity.
We begin our day in Puerto Morelos at one of the most spectacular coral reefs in the Yucatan. Here, we learn scientific techniques for cataloging biological diversity as we explore the reef by snorkeling. In the afternoon, we visit a Botanical Garden where we learn about the diverse plants that we will see tomorrow in Sian Ka’an and have a chance to see wild spider monkeys. We spend the night in our hotel in Puerto Morelos.
Today, we wake and up visit the breathtaking ocean vistas and beachside Maya ruins of Tulum. After we explore the ruins and learn about the site’s significance, we have some time to relax on the beach and cool off in the ocean. Just south of Tulum, we enter into Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve – one of the largest protected areas in Mexico. We spend some time this afternoon kayaking in the Reserve’s brackish lagoons and mangroves. Tonight we camp at Boca Paila, a secluded and deserted Caribbean beach, and search for nesting marine turtles!
This morning we wake up to the sound of the morning’s delicate ocean waves crashing on a beach that we have all to ourselves. We spend some time cleaning up the beach and picking up items of trash that have drifted here from other parts of the country. Next, we visit the ruins of Muyil and see the archaeological remnants of the Maya trade routes that brought the treasures of the sea to inland Maya cities as we take a “lazy river” float down a wetlands channel. This area gives us a great opportunity to record data in a jungle biodiversity quadrant. Tonight, we go for a night kayak in the lagoons and camp on the same beach at Boca Paila.
Today we have a chance to explore both the unique landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula and the amazing culture of the modern Maya world. We begin by learning about Cenotes – limestone sinkholes that create brilliant freshwater pools. First, we visit Be-Ha, an above-ground Cenote surrounded by lush vegetation. Next, we have the chance to swim in the beautiful underground Tamcach-Ha Cenote. This afternoon, we have an incredible opportunity to have a personal visit with local Maya women from a handicraft cooperative in a small village called Chanchen. They’ll invite us to see how they live and work – by making traditional Huipil garments to sell in nearby cities. We also get to tour a small tortilla factory before travelling to the colonial city of Valladollid, where we spend the night in an historic estate-turned-hotel.
We are lucky to be able to visit this incredible region and we spend today showing that we appreciate being given the opportunity. The site of our service project will be a small Maya village in the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula – well off the beaten path. Alongside local community members, we work together on a project to address a need expressed by the village. It’s a great opportunity to practice Spanish and appreciate the similarities and differences of our cultures. It’s something that we’ll never forget!
This morning we head to one of the most incredible archaeological ruins in the world: Chichen Itza. Set within the tropical rainforest, the historical Maya culture comes to life as we climb temples, examine ancient carvings depicting Maya gods, and experience the famed Maya ballcourts where the price for defeat was often death. Following our visit we cool down in nearby Dzitnup Cenote and return to Puerto Morelos where we stay in a beachfront hotel for the next two nights.
Today we are truly lucky to participate in one of the most astonishing wildlife experiences on Earth: snorkeling with Whale Sharks. We will swim alongside these gentle giants as they elegantly glide through the water and fill their mouths with plankton. We also visit Xkalak reef to once again snorkel amongst the smaller varieties of fish that share these waters with the friendly behemoths. We spend the afternoon relaxing at our hotel in Puerto Morelos and have some time to write in our journals and reflect on the amazing experiences we’ve had.
Before returning, we share ideas about what we have learned about conservation and sustainable development and how it might apply to our lives back home. Finally, board our plane and begin our journey home. As they say in Mexico: ¡Que le vaya bien y regrese pronto!