Discovering a piece of a previously unknown, and now favourite, destination is like finding a lost fragment of your soul.
By now we thought we’d had the full Yucatan experience…
Whale sharks, check.
Scuba diving, check.
Chichen Itza, check.
But when Visit.org contacted us and offered to share an isolated untouched jungle paradise, along with their local guide, we were intrigued. Not only for the chance of a new travel experience, but because of their unique philosophy.
Who Is Visit.org?
Simply put, it’s a website that offers tours and activities that benefit communities. Tours are typically rich in history and, most importantly, respect local culture. So you will always find a tour with a presentation or a genuine local interaction, such as an authentic meal.
Currently on Visit.org you can find over 320 nonprofits in 40+ countries. These organisations offer public education, economic development and, when a visitor joins these tours, they make a positive local impact. Participating local operators are carefully vetted to ensure they hold the same community-orientated standards as Visit.org.
It’s a textbook model for sustainable and socially conscious tourism.
I’ll call that a win-win-win.
So Where Did They Take Us?
We were picked up from our apartment in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico at 7am and spent the next hour or so collecting other tour guests on our way to Tulum.
Traditional Mayan Breakfast
First up was a traditional Mayan breakfast. Long tables were filled with traditional Mayan dishes consisting of corn chips, beans, vegetables, and dragon fruit juice within a local community centre.
We also used this opportunity to lather ourselves in biodegradable sunscreen.
After breakfast our small group of 12 were driven to Muyil, a World Heritage Site located in the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an. This Mayan archaeological site has not been rebuilt like Chichen Itza and the jungle still engulfs many ancient structures. But the impressive excavated pyramids hold just as much archaeological and cultural significance as the more popular Mayan sites… plus this one has a beautiful shaded walk.
Our local guide was filled with knowledge about the area and shared with us several Mayan secrets and traditional stories. Our kids were very patient as we explored this fascinating site, knowing that their fun was to come on the next part of the tour.
Floating in Chunyaxché Lagoon
As we walked through the jungle the soil turned into a raised boardwalk and we found ourselves navigating amid dense, marshy vegetation, waterlogged by a network of underground cenotes.
This wooden path led to a small boating area with one wooden jetty leading out towards crystal turquoise waters. The Chunyaxché Lagoon.
Under a shady tree, we applied more sunscreen, squeezed into our swimmers and waited for our water transport. The wait took some time, which I felt could have been planned a little better. Especially when the rain started.
But before long the boats arrived, clouds parted and the sun came back out. Our speed boat whizzed across the great expanse of fresh water to the opposite side. And then suddenly into a small man-made canal surrounded by low shrubbery. This canal was, in fact, created by ancient Mayans who used it to reach the open ocean – an important route for commerce at the time. We spotted several fish in the crystal clear water as the boat traversed the tight waterway.
Soon we reached another broad body of water, another lagoon, this time a deep azure hue. On the other size we entered yet another canal. This time we finished at a jetty where we all disembarked.
The Secret Mayan Floatation Device
It was here our local guide imparted an age-old secret. A Mayan tradition shrouded in mystery. Well, I’m not sure it was a secret or a mystery, but it was genius. We took our life-vest off, spun them upside down, and popped our legs through the arms holes to wear them like a diaper.
A giant adult diaper.
I felt very distinguished. Very fashion forward. Or maybe it was just delusion brought on by too much sun.
Either way, it was too late to turn back and too hot to care about poise, so we happily hopped into the refreshing freshwater canal and floated along the current surprisingly comfortable. Much more comfortable then wearing the life vest the way it was originally intended.
Whoever thought of this diaper was a genius!
Our journey through the canal was as relaxing as it was beautiful. Crystal clear waters, a gentle current and effortless floatation. The only downside was by the time we entered the water an hour or so had passed, but we were not permitted to reapply any sunscreen (to protect the canal’s ecosystem).
For my fair freckled skin that meant guaranteed sunburn. So I suggest bring a hat, and perhaps a long sleeve swim shirt for extra protection.
We were able to leave our camera gear safely on the boat. I brought my water-resistant Samsung Galaxy S7 in the water along with a Dri-dock for convenient portage around my neck.
Once we got out of the water it was a reasonably long hike back to the boats. The walk was on a boardwalk without shade, so again I reiterate the sensibility of wearing a hat and shirt.
At the end of our walk we had the chance to see the X-Lapak Temple and step inside, before hitching a ride back on our boat to the starting point, and awaiting bus.
Time For Late Lunch
The bus ride back to the community centre was short, which was great because we were all ravenous by this time. It was almost 3pm.
Earlier that morning, during breakfast, we had placed our orders for lunch so it was a sweet relief to arrive and have it ready and waiting. Josh ordered the traditional Mayan fish, while I ordered the same, but with Chicken instead.
Mia enjoyed grilled chicken and rice, while Caius feasted on chicken fajitas and a cheese quesadilla.
Dragon fruit and Jamaica juice were served to quench our thirst.
Full and very tired we boarded the bus for our trip home. I’m sure we all fell asleep in the air-conditioned comfort. By the time we were dropped at home it was close to 6pm, all very ready for a shower and soft, comfy bed.
The Bottom Line
This was a truly memorable day filled with beautiful nature, ancient history, fascinating culture and delicious food. Plus, our discovery of Sian Ka’an involved a socially conscious tour that supported the local community and respected the environment at every step. A win-win-win all round.
But the best thing I walked away with? I now know how to wear my life-vest the right way, thanks to the Mayans.