How not to ruin the ruins in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Mexico is full of friendly, warm-hearted people and with an abundance of Mayan culture and ancient ruins it makes for a popular tourist destination.

But in recent times the Mayan culture has been under threat of extinction and the ruins are not standing the test of time, slowly decaying due to the thousands of tourists per year- that’s us.

So how does a country preserve its sacred sites and history? They start by teaching the Mayan language and culture in mainstream schools and unfortunately for the intrepid traveller (that’s also us) they prohibit people climbing the pyramids. You can look but you cannot touch!

Merida is the cultural heartbeat of the Yucatán, one of the major cities to fly into other than Cancun. Merida is all about food, family, music and there is a plethora of museums and archeological sites dotted around the city.

Just down the road is the renowned site of Chicen Itza, jam packed with bus tours and to my surprise several street vendors and a large administration building sit amongst the natural site.  it’s been promoted as a must-see destination, but its death by popularity with the ruins deemed unsafe to climb in 2006-due to the high volume of visitors each year.

The Mayan culture and towns surrounding the pyramids have now been carefully preserved and you are guided though the history of the ruins (look but don’t touch) on one hand it felt contrived and on the other understandable.

But it poses the question, how does modern civilization learn about ancient ruins if we have abused the right purely by over visitation? I agree that we should limit people climbing and respect the history of these sacred sites – so now that you can’t climb that may deter the average punter.

An alternative experience is to visit and swim in the open-air cenotes adjacent to the pyramids, where you get a real sense of how the Mayans lived. They held sacred ceremonies and bathed in these underground watering holes that are surrounded by striking sandstone cliffs and cascading plants.

Further south past Tulum you have the Coba ruins which are am authentic example of Mayan culture, less contrived as the villages surrounding the ruins are housed by locals, living and breathing the Mayan way. Although we were lucky enough to be one of the last to climb the Coba ruins (due to safety and erosion) Coba is my pick of ruins to visit in Mexico.

Just outside of Mexico City in the sub valley is Teotihuacan, an ancient Aztec site that houses the temple of the sun and temple of the moon. Both pyramids are open to climb and the views from the top of the summits are spectacular. They are a fine example of how to preserve a natural site, more about the visitor experience than a tourism commodity- although thousands do flock here each year.

Overall, we need to be mindful that ancient ruins are just that ancient and we need a considered approach to the overpopulation of these sites- Mexico truly is a land of wonder, spirit and culture to be preserved for generations to come.

AUTHOR: Kylie Mitchell-Smith

With over 25 years experience in PR & Media, Kylie loves digging deeper and going underground for the story. Kylie has been travelling far and wide to unique destinations all over the world.

There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new sun. This is Where Wild Things Roam.