It’s rarely a difficult thing to title a post, all in all it’s a pretty basic task; where were we, and what did we do. Oddly enough that is not the case when it comes to this post. Intrigued yet? Well even if you’re not I’m going to tell you why! Despite every single one of our cruise documents stating that we’d be stopping at Costa Maya. Mexico prior to leaving on our little adventure we couldn’t find Costa Maya on a map, anywhere. Matter of fact if you attempt to look up the weather for Costa Maya Mexico you will get a whopping zero results. Wondering why? Oh, us too, turns out its because Costa Maya doesn’t exist. Seriously.
Our experience cruising with Norwegian Cruise Lines was pretty darn fantastic, even as self proclaimed, “non-cruise people” we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. However, I will say learning that Costa Maya, Mexico is a made up town thanks to the cruise line’s efforts to create a place that could comfortably encourage their patrons to drink all day while simultaneously re-naming the area something those of us who are less talented spanish speakers can easily pronounce really rubbed us the wrong way. If you are planning to take a cruise with a scheduled stop in Costa Maya, Mexico be prepared for the most inauthentic experience of your entire life. If that’s what you’re into, cool. If not we have an alternative for you…
When we first spotted Costa Maya on our itinerary we had no idea it wasn’t a real place, or that it was basically a cruise ship plopped on land( all the oversized drinks and cheap souvenirs included), so our decision to not spend time in the town wasn’t intentional. When we saw Mexico on the list, we both instantly thought, ruins. We’ve been to Mexico more times than we can count, and the one experience that seemed to slip through our fingers each time was a visit to one of the many Mayan Ruins sites, that was most definitely not going to happen on this trip.
We pre-booked a trip out to the ruins of Chacchoben with The Native Choice, a local guide company that operates in the village a short walk past the gates of Costa Maya, which are intended to keep the tourist dollars in and any local riff raff out- totally unnecessary in our opinion. Once you step out the gate you find yourself in Mahahual, Mexico. Real Mexico, dusty sandy streets included.
When booking our tour we had a lot of options to choose from but ultimately settled on the Mayan Experience. Not only did we have the opportunity to wander around the incredible ruins of Chacchoben, and learn more about the Mayan ways of the past, we also had the opportunity to be invited into a modern Mayan family’s home and experience life as it now is for these amazing people. Did you know people still speak the Mayan language? We didn’t, but we do now!
The ride out to the ruins of Chacchoben takes about 50 minutes on a long, long, like super long straight road sandwiched on both sides by jungle and occasionally spotted with the small roadside village and locals selling their wares. The drive is long but the experience once you arrive is well worth it.
The Mayan word Chacchoben literally translates to mean the place of the red corn, a name given the site after small flecks of red paint made from corn were discovered on several of the ruins. The site itself dates back to 200 BC (you can pick your jaw up off the ground now, it amazed us too) and was occupied up until approximately 700 BC. Chacchoben was discovered when an American Archeologist flying above the flat lands native to the region noticed what appeared to be large hills among the jungle- those hills eventually turned out to the the numerous pyramids of Chacchoben hidden beneath the dense jungle foliage. The discovery took place in 1974 and even today 44 years later most the of the site remains unexplored.
After exploring the ruins, we made our way with our small group of 6 to the van and a short few minutes later found ourselves arriving in the neighboring village of Chacchoben, yep same name. And although we had both been dreaming of visiting Mayan ruins for a very long time, we both agreed that having the opportunity to spend real time in a place with locals, and having the chance to experience the culture of this region Mexico as it truly is not through the lens of the world renowned Senor Frogs was our favorite part.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon in the small home of a local family who still speak the Mayan language and uphold many of the same traditions. We were treated to a tortilla making class- turns out if your tortilla bubbles with air when it hits the heat of the fire as a woman you are ready to move out of your family’s home and marry. If you marry and cannot make a proper tortilla your new mother in law will send you home to your family in disgrace and you will not be welcomed back until you perfect the art. Turns out if we were both eligible women, based on our tortilla making skills DJ would be snagged up by a lucky bachelor while I would be doomed to be a spinster for the rest of my days! Sorry, mom!
After our tortilla lesson, we were served the most incredible meal prepared by our hosts. I honestly could not tell you what all we ate, cause we blindly delved into it, savoring every bite, but I can tell you it’s a meal I will never forget! The portion of that meal that does stick out in my mind was the pumpkin salsa; I know it sounds weird but it wasn’t. That salsa easily lands on the list of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Leaving our gracious hosts and piling back into the van was a bittersweet experience. I don’t think either of us will ever forget our time in Chacchoben, and that magical afternoon making new friends in the Yucatan.
This experience in Mexico was incredible. Have you ever had an experience that surprised you or changed your perspective on a place? We’d love to hear about it. Also, hey there internet universe, please tell me one of you have a recipe for Mayan Pumpkin Salsa!