YAXUNA, Mexico --
Adding an authentic touch to tourism on the Yucatan Peninsula,
rural cooperatives of native Mayan Indians in the region are
starting their own ecotourism efforts, including bed-and-breakfast
holiday villages and some adventure excursions.
cooperatives -- at Ek Balam, Calcehtok and here at Yaxuna, 36 miles
from the ruins at Chichen Itza -- plan to pool their resources to
market their tourism product jointly via one unified office and Web
site out of nearby state capital Merida.
ruins, such as Uxmal, Tulum and, most spectacularly, Chichen Itza,
have drawn huge numbers of tourists to this part of Mexico for
descendants of the Native American builders of the monuments
benefit less from tourism than do large Mexican and overseas
tourism entities that transport, feed and entertain
Now, local tribes
are trying their hand at hospitality -- in local style, but with a
hip, ecofriendly twist designed to appeal to environmentally minded
guide and local activist Carlos Sosa Estrada is helping the Maya
cooperatives organize and market themselves.
[There is] an
uncertain flow of tourists as the [B&Bs] are practically new
and not so well known and [the cooperatives] are not trained and
not capable of selling the product themselves yet, he
Thats why were
planning the office in Merida to promote and sell -- without a
government [aid program], he added. But we still have to look for a
place, request a telephone line, build a Web page and hire people
to staff the office.
jungle out there
The Ecological Recreation Center
U Najil Ek Balam opened in January and is composed of a village of
ecological cabins, thatched huts housing kitchens and a dining
room, a swimming pool and a temazcal, or Mayan sweat lodge,
situated 800 feet from the temple ruins at Ek Balam.
On a recent
visit, the entire complex -- a 17-mile drive north of the colonial
town of Valladolid -- had been booked for 16 nights by a 40-person
tour group from Italy.
The hosts at U
Najil Ek Balam, Mayan for House of the Black Jaguar, serve
traditional cuisine, display and sell handicrafts, and put on
In terms of
activities, guests can participate in conservation efforts or avail
themselves of jungle footpaths for walks, tours of the Ek Balam
ruins with a local guide, or bicycle rides to the nearby Xcanche
freshwater sinkholes, were both vital and sacred to the ancient
Maya of the Yucatan, a dry tableland with no major rivers or
popular with visitors. At Xcanche, accessible on foot or by bike
and bike taxi, the local cooperative has built a visitor complex
with a first-aid booth, an artifacts workshop,
shop, changing and showering rooms, a rest area with hammocks and a
kitchen and dining area.
descend to swim or snorkel in the 120-foot-deep cenote by assisted
rappelling or -- for the fainthearted -- a wooden
The price, about
$14, includes bicycle, life jacket and snorkel equipment and
assisted rappelling by multilingual Mayan guides.
tours of Ek Balam -- now considered a major archaeological site due
to carvings unearthed in 1999 -- range from about $23 for two to
four people to about $60 for groups of up to 30.
bed-and-breakfast operation at Yaxuna, on the village outskirts
near a Mayan temple excavation, was being overhauled as of
mid-September and due to reopen Oct. 21.
guest huts -- outfitted with bed, hammock, desk, chair, ceiling fan
and bathroom with toilet, shower and hot and cold running water --
were being renovated. The kitchen and dining room were also being
rethatched, cleaned and re-equipped.
furniture at Yaxuna is handcrafted by cooperative members. Other
local arts and crafts, including embroidery and wood carvings, are
sold in the village.
also keeps honeybees at the complex in hollowed-out, resealed logs,
according to Mayan tradition.
beekeeping areas, or apiarios, are connected to other local sights
-- including the Xhauil Cenote, San Bernardinos and Joyas caves,
colonial-era Hacienda Ketelak and Yaxuna ruins -- by a network of
footpaths built by members of the cooperative.
There is a
second, 200-foot-wide cenote, Lol-Ha, in the village center,
accessible to swimmers by a stone staircase.
A visit to the
barely excavated archaeological site, a half-mile from the B&B,
is an opportunity to inspect Mayan ruins largely as they were found
by 19th-century explorers -- half-buried and covered with
began only 11 years ago, and three structures have been partially
cleared. Also visible is the first stretch of a 60-mile sac be, or
raised Mayan road, that once ran from Yaxuna all the way to Coba,
in the state of Quintana Roo.
Although it was
cloudy, thanks to rainy-season storms, on a recent visit, Mayan
guides claim Chichen Itzas iconic ruins are visible from atop
Yaxunas own, smaller pyramid, on sunny afternoons.
The third such
cooperative, Parador Turistico Calcehtok, lies 30 miles south of
Merida and three miles from archaeological site Oxkintoc. It was
not visited for this report.
Its the oldest
such B&B effort, started eight years ago. However, a strong
storm in 2003 put the B&B out of commission, and Calcehtok only
reopened to guests this May.
While a stay at
Ek Balam, Calcehtok or Yaxuna can be a window into the worlds of
ecology and traditional Mayan life, it also qualifies as roughing
it. Prospective guests should be forewarned.
are basically traditional Mayan huts, but with concrete flooring
(no tile in bathrooms), bargain-basement mattresses and no air
conditioning. Guests will be living much as local Maya do, albeit
with catered traditional meals.
Those in search
of plusher digs near archaeological sites in Yucatan can find
world-class hotels and resorts in towns such as Merida, Valladolid
Nightly rates at
Ek Balam, Calcehtok and Yaxuna run from about $25 to $30 per double
room, not including meals.
B&B booking office in Merida should open by this December, said
information or to book U Najil Ek Balam, call (011) 52-999
994-7488, 986-6596, 189-2728 or 119-8242, or e-mail [email protected]
or [email protected]. For Xcanche Cenote tours, call (011) 52-985
858-6506. To book Yaxuna, call (011)
52-985 858-1482/4861 or (011) 52-999 923-9453, fax (011) 52-999 924-0933 or e-mail [email protected].
reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].