Chiapas Mexico Attractions: My Top 5 Natural Sites, Maya Ruins and Cities

It is shocking how underrated Chiapas Mexico attractions are. The southernmost state in Mexico is one of the most beautiful regions I have visited in North America. Not only is Chiapas home of one of the largest indigenous populations in the country, but it is also Mexico’s breadbasket. A culturally and naturally rich destination, sprinkled with high sierras, deep canyons, traditional indigenous villages, and off-the-beaten-path Maya ruins.

Of all places I’ve visited on four different Mexico holidays, this region was the most surprising. While I still have much to explore, I’m thrilled to share with you my top 5 things to do in Chiapas.

My Top 5 Chiapas Mexico Attractions

Chiapas Mexico attractions

Sumidero Canyon National Park

Known as Cañón del Sumidero in Spanish, this spectacular national park features gorges that go as deep as 250 meters – in addition to towering peaks reaching up to 1000 meters above sea level.

The 21,789-hectare protected area is a must visit in Chiapas not only because of its topography, but also due to its flora and fauna. Sumidero is, in fact, one of the most biodiverse canyons in the continent.

Its relative proximity to the Tuxtla Gutiérrez (TGZ) airport means a boat trip through this national park is doable shortly after your flight. I highly recommend it, as it was one of the highlights of my trip!

Chiapas Mayan Ruins, Palenque

Ancient Maya City of Palenque

Pre-Columbian cities such as Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza may overshadow it, but the Maya city of Palenque is impressive in its own right.

Although this ancient archaeological zone already boasts some of the best preserved Mayan ruins in Mexico, it is believed that over 90% of its total area remains either underground or swallowed by the jungle. We can only imagine what treasures still lie beneath, dating from circa 226 BC to A.D. 799…

things to see in Chiapas

Colonial San Cristobal de Las Casas

Over 90% of Chiapas state’s population may live in this picturesque colonial city, but that doesn’t take away from its intrinsic charm.

Founded in 1528 by Spanish conquistador Diego de Mazariegos, San Cristobal de Las Casas is a history buff’s dream. Its pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, Spanish-style interior patios, and terra-cotta rooftops will transport you to a different era.

I stayed at Hotel Casa Vieja, a converted convent run by a local family. I enjoyed impeccable service, a strategic location, gorgeous architecture, and à la carte breakfast. I felt like I was living in the 18th century for a few days!

things to do in Chiapas, Agua Azul

Agua Azul

There was nothing more refreshing than a visit to the rain forest after a long day of hiking.

As its Spanish name suggests, Agua Azul is a group of bright sky-blue waterfalls. They rush from the Chiapas highlands, cutting through big boulders downstream. At the bottom of the river, a few natural pools form as well, making it a safe place to take a dip.

Do keep in mind though that if you visit during the rainy season like I did, Agua Azul will be more like “agua chocolate.” Still, it is a great pit stop on your way to Palenque.

best Chiapas attractions

Misol-Ha Waterfall

Speaking of pit stops between Chiapas and Yucatán: Misol-Ha is another beautiful waterfall worth visiting. It is located about 12.4 miles from Palenque, on the way to San Cristobal de Las Casas, in the Salto de Agua municipality. The site is equipped with facilities, from cabins and a restaurant to guided tours.

I stopped at Misol-Ha on my way from Chiapas to Quintana Roo, so I just spent an hour or two there. Fair warning: don’t approach it if you don’t want to get wet like I did! You’ll be soaked after walking over the bridge leading to the waterfall.

It’s so worth it though, as you can see from the video above. Walking behind a raging waterfall is an incredible experience.

Like this Chiapas Mexico attractions mini guide? PIN it!

Chiapas Mexico Attractions Guide

Know of any other interesting things to do in Chiapas? Comment below!

Unknown Mexican Food: 5 Delicacies You’ve Probably Never Heard of

I knew Chiapas would wow me with its beauty as soon as I received my latest Mexico itinerary. What I didn’t expect, though, was to be introduced to unknown Mexican food. You know, dishes I had never seen at a typical Mexican restaurant in the USA.

I think living in Florida is partly to blame. I’m sure Southern states such as Texas and Arizona get a wider variety of Mexican dishes!

Either way, my audience comes from all over the world. So! I wanted to introduce you to five Mexican dishes you’ve probably never heard of today. These are some of my new favorites after my Chiapas tour:

Unknown Mexican Food: 5 Delicacies You’ve Probably Never Heard of

unknown Mexican food

Asado de puerco and pollo

Up until July, I thought all moles were spicy. Chiapas food proved me wrong once again!

Namely, I learned that asado de puerco varies from region to region. Northern Mexican asados, for instance, tend to be tearfully-spicy, vinegar-based stews. Southern varieties, on the other hand, are more like mole-style stews.

While “puerco” means pork, another popular spin of this underrated Mexican food is made with chicken. Then, it’s called asado de pollo. Either way, it is full of Spanish spices and flavor, typically served with a mountain of rice.

The asado I tried was made with chicken, soaking in a thick chocolate base. The dark cacao notes really stood out, blending beautifully with a chili sauce that was actually served for my nachos. Yum!

unknown Mexican drinks

Chiapas pozol by Alejandro Linares Garcia, Wiki Commons


I’ll admit: I wouldn’t have tried pozol if it weren’t for my Karma Trails guide. It is commonly sold in less-than-appealing plastic jugs, so most foreigners never dare to try it.

Made out of coarse cornmeal, sugar, and sometimes even cacao, this meal-replacement drink is a staple for farmers to kill hunger whilst on the field.

If you plan to go out and explore several Mayan ruins in a day, go ahead and have pozol for breakfast. You will thank me later!

authentic Mexican food

Chanfaina by Marbregal, Wiki Commons


I’ve never been a fan of tripes pork or cow. However, I must admit that Latinos have a special gift to turn these typically-unloved organs into something delicious.

Akin to Puerto Rican mondongo, chanfaina is a hearty, time-consuming soup made with pork liver, heart, and kidneys.

While it originally hails from Western Spain, the Mexican version is typically cooked with tomatoes, garlic, onions, potatoes, sour orange, bay leaves, sweet and white chilies.

unique Mexican food

Sopa de pan

This warming soup is a delicacy of San Cristobal de Las Casas, a charming colonial town up in the Chiapas Highlands.

Traditionally, it is made with pork lard–although it is not as common to find this hard to version and restaurants anymore.

What your sopa de pan will sure have no matter where you go, though, is hen broth, cut vegetables, plantains strips, and bread.

authentic Mexican drinks


OK, so this is not Mexican food. Still, I had to come in its defense. Why does tequila take all the glory?! Mezcal is its unknown Mexican sibling. A mellow, smoky-flavored alcoholic beverage made from the same agave plant.

Literally meaning “oven-cooked agave,” mezcal is most commonly drunk in Oaxaca. As that region is just north of Chiapas, I got to sample a few shots at Belil Restaurant. Wonderful spot for authentic, mostly unknown Mexican food by the way. I highly recommend it if you drop by San Cristobal de Las Casas!

Like Mexican dishes and drinks? PIN IT below!

Unique Mexican Food Guide

Special thanks to Karma Trails for my unforgettable 10-day press trip to Mexico this past July! I highly recommend them for any of your Mexico tour, accommodation, transportation needs. I was not paid for positive reviews however; all views set forth are product of independent research and my own opinions.

Swimming with Holbox Whale Sharks Travel Guide: My VIDEO + Tips!

One of the Yucatan attractions I was looking forward to the most was swimming with Holbox whale sharks. While I’ve been lucky to have a variety of incredible marine creature encounters as a PADI Rescue Diver, I had yet found these gentle giants in the wild–until the Gulf of Mexico called.

swim with whale sharks Holbox

Holbox whale sharks photo by

Swimming with Whale Sharks: First, My Urban Legend

I first heard story of swimming with whale sharks thousands of miles away, in Koh Tao, Thailand. There, divers daydream of meeting the elusive whale-like creatures, spotted sporadically beneath the waters of the majestic Chumphon Pinnacle, on a daily basis.

I found tiny box fishes, rare octopuses, dancing shrimp, and even several barracuda vortexes–but not whale sharks. Not even a baby one.

It wasn’t my time yet.

Back in 2015, I thought I could only encounter the largest fish in the world in deep waters. It wasn’t until I researched further that I found out these filter feeders mainly munch on plankton lurking in the surface.

I had to, literally, go with the flow.

Following the currents

That mini investigation taught me two vital facts. First, whale sharks love the tropics–they are rarely spotted in waters below 72°F. Second, their main source of food (plankton) is moved around by the ocean’s major currents.

Gee, what urban legend?! I didn’t even have to dive to find them!

It was then that Mexico called. Again.

The owner of Karma Trails was one of my partners in the first press trip I took to Playa Del Carmen. Earlier this summer, he reached out to me to see if I could explore more of the Yucatan Peninsula with his knowledgeable local guides.

“Only if I can swim with whale sharks. That’s one of your Holbox tours, right?”

I could feel him smiling from his computer monitor.

where to swim with whale sharks in Mexico

Where to swim with whale sharks in Mexico? HOLBOX!

Tale of the Holbox Whale Sharks

Whale sharks have lurked the waters around Holbox Island for many years, frightening local fishermen. We can’t blame them: it’s hard to believe the largest non-mammal vertebrate in the world, averaging between 33 to 40 feet long, isn’t a threat to humans.

Still, the Mexican fishermen didn’t bother them. Eventually, word spread out: giant creatures come to the same patch of the Gulf of Mexico between May and September (with higher concentrations between mid-July and August), every year.

Hundreds of them.

BOOM: Holbox was put on the map.

Holbox whale sharks and giant manta

Not only did I swim with Holbox whale sharks, but also beside a GIANT MANTA! 😀

Holbox Island: The Paradise I Got to Know

Going with the flow paid off. Colorful murals, charming bamboo-and-palapa architecture, scores of seafood, and some of the calmest Latinos I’ve met…Holbox is a speck of paradise I’m glad I got to know.

Despite its proximity to the Yucatan Peninsula, Holbox retains a laid-back vibe due to the lack of infrastructure. Thus, getting there can be time-consuming. A three-hour drive from most resorts to Chiquila, the only port of departure; a 20-min. ferry ride through the Gulf; and no paved roads upon arrival make it quite the journey.

Add to that a 2+ hour boat ride each way to find the plankton and pods of whale sharks…

This is where the locals’ advice really came in handy: stay a minimum of two days to make any Holbox tour worth it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Is swimming with Holbox whale sharks on your bucket list?

Special thanks to Karma Trails for booking my Holbox transfer, fabulous Holbox Dream Hotel, and unforgettable swim with whale sharks. I was not paid for positive reports, however, so all opinions and research facts on this article were independently written–on my own.

Liked this swimming with whale sharks Holbox travel guide? PIN IT:

swimming with whale sharks Holbox travel guide

My Favorite Mayan Ruins to Visit from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida

Are you wondering which are the best Mayan ruins to visit from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida? I had the same dilemma when visiting the Yucatán Peninsula for the fifth time last month. There were some Mayan cities I wanted to visit again because I loved them so much…

YET,  there were many more I had yet explored! So what to do?!

Given that I’m obsessed with carvings and ancient art, it was all about analyzing the size and amount of detail found at each Mayan site. Moreover, I had to take into consideration distances between cities I would overnight in.

After taking all these elements into consideration, I built the following list of Mayan ruins. They are in order of my personal must-sees, so add these to your Mexico itinerary first!

Top Mayan Ruins to Visit from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


If you can go on just one of the Yucatan tours I booked,  I tell you right now: make it Uxmal, one of the most important pre-Hispanic towns in Latin America!

Founded in 700 A.D., Uxmal tops the list of the most important Mayan ruins in Mexico–along with Palenque, Chichen Itza, and Calakmul. I easily compare it to Italian Florence, both because of its historical importance and beautiful art found throughout.

The intricate carvings and unique decorated moldings, roofs, and open plazas are absolutely breathtaking. So much detail and scale! It is, hands-down, my favorite Mayan city.

There’s simply no comparison to Uxmal in my eyes, artistically speaking.

Just 62 km south of Merida, I explored Uxmal with Karma Trails as one of my excursions from the aforementioned capital city of Yucatan. However, it can also be seen on a full, action-packed day from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. Prepare to walk and climb a lot!

main Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

I had visited Chichen Itza both by public transport and a big tour company in the past…and my experiences weren’t the best. Gosh, is Chichen Itza crowded–but so worth it still.

The top trick here is to book a private tour and request your operator to get you there by opening time.

Another reason I think this is the best travel hack to visit Yucatan’s most popular Mayan ruins? Neither did I nor the big tour company went to explore the central area of Chichen Itza. It wasn’t until my local Karma Trails guide took me on my third visit that I saw this beautiful, ornate area of the ancient city.

Namely, this central area became my new favorite.

Geez, what I had been missing! Third time’s a charm: I could finally appreciate the variety of architectural styles present at the impressive ruins of the Terminal Classic period (AD 800–900).

Private homes of Mayan nobility, with deep reliefs and intricate art, popped in front of my eyes. Better yet? We pretty much had the central area of Chichen Itza to ourselves, as many tourists and companies skip it altogether.

Ek Balam

You all know I have a soft spot for Ek Balam: the first Mayan city I visited that wasn’t exclusively made out of rock.

Skillfully-carved stucco, mixed with rock inscriptions and paintings, give the site a unique color palette and design I had not seen at other Mayan sites.

My second visit was equally fulfilling. It was nice to take a deeper look at the detail of the Jaguar Temple carvings and jaw-dropping jungle surrounding it.

Many travelers are surprised when they find out this was the seat of the Mayan kingdom between the Preclassic and Postclassic periods, too.

A.k.a. you can’t miss this if you are in the area!

Given its relatively-compact size, it is easy to combine Ek Balam with a visit to Chichen Itza in one day. Wake up early to enjoy these contrasting Mayan ruins–the differences are a joy to appreciate.

Alternatively, you could book the Rio Lagartos Ek Balam tour I enjoyed on my first Playa Del Carmen trip–specially if you’re a nature lover.

The coastal Mayan city of Tulum


It was tough to decide whether to recommend Tulum or Coba first. Assuming you go to either Uxmal, Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam, you should definitely head to Tulum for a change of scenery.

Not only was the pre-Columbian walled city built in a different period altogether, but it also managed to thrive approximately 70 years post-Spanish occupation!

Moreover, these coastal Mayan ruins are surrounded by the most intense turquoise-colored waters you’ve ever seen in your life.

So historical ruins AND a beach day?! These elements definitely make Tulum another fun day trip from Playa Del Carmen or Cancun!

Oh & did I mention there are many cenotes you can dive into in the Tulum region?

They look something like this:

Cenote by Mayan ruins in the Yucatan

Indeed: GO FOR IT


Lastly, you could visit the ancient Maya city of Coba. While it was the least impressive site I visited, Coba houses one of the few Mayan pyramids you can still climb in Mexico.

And that main pyramid in Coba is quite a steep, and exhilarating, climb for all.

If you have extra time or happen to be a history fanatic like myself, you will appreciate some elements. Namely, the many engraved stelae and inscriptions documenting ceremonial Mayan life in the Late Classic Period (AD 600–900).

Top of Mayan pyramid in Coba, Mexico

Which are your favorite Mayan ruins in the Yucatan?

Special thanks to Karma Trails for taking me on a deep exploration of these wonderful Mayan sites and other underrated Mexican attractions! More from this trip soon 😉

Liked this Mayan ruins travel guide? PIN IT!

Mayan ruins travel guide: best Yucatán day trips from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida

Mexican Customs and Traditions: Discovering the Real Mexico

How fun my trip to Mexico was! As expected, it was lively and action-packed. From the peaceful rural towns in Chiapas to the lively cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen--they all share a rich cultural tapestry, woven together with threads that have grown, frayed, and changed over centuries. To delve a little bit deeper, I invited guest writer Megan Taylor to describe some unique Mexican customs and traditions.

Like its people, certain foods and events can be interestingly eclectic and colorful. Check them out below while I write more articles and details about my trip to Mexico in the coming week 😉

Unique Mexican Customs and Traditions

Mexican customs and traditions, Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead bread

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a day of remembrance at the end of October, oor locals honor friends and family members who have passed away. Many events take place across Mexico during the season, but Cancun, Mexico’s party capital, puts on an elaborate show not to be missed..

In the days leading up to the celebration, families get together to make and bake pan de muerto: a sweet bread that is traditionally eaten during a picnic at a loved one’s grave on the Day of the Dead.

Family always comes first

Like in many other Latin American countries, family is extremely important in Mexican culture. The values of respect and responsibility are crucial to the way of life.

Typically, Mexican families are quite large–with the concepts of responsibility extending as far as second cousins. You will sometimes find that families live within the same neighborhood too, although this is a changing custom as people adapt to a more contemporary lifestyle.


Tequila is the drink most people think of when they think of Mexico. For once, it is a truthful stereotypes: tequila is something Mexicans are immensely proud of. Its production predates colonial rule and so it represents the very essence of Mexican culture, history and nature.

So yes, I will still preach to the choir: take a shot!

Mexican customs and traditions, hat dance

Mexican hat dance by Sage Ross, Creative Commons

The Mexican Hat Dance

Jarabe Tapatío, known as The Mexican Hat Dance in English, is a traditional Mexican dance representing the courtship between a man and a woman.

Fun fact: the dance was banned during the colonial era. Upon Mexican Independence though, many people started to celebrate it more openly by holding fiestas and performing the dance upon Mexican independence. This made the Mexican Hat Dance explode in popularity soon after.

While it may have lost some of its charm in the eyes of youngsters today, the traditional Mexican dance is still taught to children in schools–so everyone at least knows the basics!

Big lunches

Lunch is a big deal in Mexico, so loosen those belts and get ready to tuck in! As the biggest meal of the day, lunch is usually eaten any time between 1 PM to as late as 4 PM.

Work ceases during the middle of the day, so Mexicans often eat a big lunch with their families and return to work later in the afternoon. Rice, corn, beans, wheat, chorizo, tomatoes, and chilli are the traditional staples, although European and American foods can also be found.

One excellent eatery where you can fill your bellies is the Kitchen Table in Tulum. The establishment is so traditional, with an outside kitchen and no electricity. Get the classic refried beans no matter your main entree for a true taste of Mexico.


Although a 15% tax is added to the bill – that’s not the automatic gratuity that many of us assume it is! Make sure to leave a 15-20% tip, as customary in the USA, if you don’t want to appear rude.

Like this? PIN this photo and post below!

Mexican customs and traditions list

Feeling inspired? Check out some underrated Mexican attractions here

If you already have your eyes set on this region of Latin America, I highly recommend you check out the following Mexico tours I experienced myself.

I’m Heading to Chiapas, Merida, Holbox! Underrated Mexico Attractions

I’ve been to the Yucatán Peninsula three times already and can’t get enough. From the aquamarine waters of Cancun; to the vibrant, yet small town feel of Playa Del Carmen; to the majestic Chichen Itza all the way to Mexico’s own Dead Sea. Heck, I even partied with the Backstreet Boys in Cozumel! Yet, it’s time I explore some underrated Mexico attractions.

whale sharks, Mexico attractions

I want to go back to Mexico and not be stuck at an all-inclusive resort, though.

For this reason, I have partnered with Karma Trails to explore several gems that are very close to popular tourist attractions in Mexico; yet, very few tourists know about. These are all a short hop from Mexico City and/or Yucatán hotspots such as Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

Their customized, flexible trips allow you to build the Mexico itinerary you want through local Destination Experts and guides who give it a special touch. To really get to know the cultural, historical, archaeological nuances and activities that are not so cookie-cutter.

I’m heading to explore the national treasures of Chiapas, Holbox Island, and the colonial city of Merida!

Chiapas, Holbox Island, and Merida: Underrated Mexico Attractions

Chiapas, unique Mexico attractions

Chiapas: San Cristobal de Las Casas, Sumidero, Palenque, Zinacatan

I had never heard of the Mexican state of Chiapas–except in the name of one of the hot sauces I like XD Antonello, the owner of Karma Trails, strongly suggested it as it is one of the most naturally-rich, yet underrated attractions in Mexico.

When I saw the pictures, my jaw dropped as low as yours.

It looks like freaking Southeast Asia! Towering peaks and flooded canyons–sprinkled with tropical greenery–hug the Guatemalan border. Ancient Maya cities, nearly swallowed by the rain forest, abound as well.

Speaking of which: more than 80% of all vegetables and fruits consumed within the country come from Chiapas! All electric energy consumed within the Yucatan and some of it even sold to Belize Guatemala, is produced in Chiapas.

San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, off-the-beaten-path Mexico

San Cristobal de Las Casas by Sofía Martínez Parente García, Wiki Commons

What’s missing? Foreign tourists, mostly.

I will spend 2 nights at San Cristobal de Las Casas (July 20-22)–a sparsely-visited Spanish colonial town in the central Mexican highlands. As you know I’m Puerto Rican, so I’m planning to haggle it up in the markets in my native language!

From my Chiapas base, I’ll be visiting Sumidero Canyon, Agua Azul, Maya city of Palenque, and the indigenous communities of Zinacatan and San Juan Chamula.

The state of Chiapas could easily become the next ecotourism hotspot in Mexico. I can’t wait to explore its colorful culture and natural attractions before most! Expect intense goPro footage from yours truly 😉

Merida: Ek Balam, Uxmal, Coba

Merida, off-the-beaten-path Mexico attractions

Palacio Cantòn – Museo Yucateco de Antropología e Historia in Merida

Merida is the stunning cultural center of the Yucatán Peninsula. While more popular than, say, Chiapas state, it is still overshadowed by its glitzy neighbor on the east: Cancun.

Unbeknownst to most, Merida is a cheaper, better base for the history buffs and cultural explorers who wish to visit all major Maya ruins in the region.

I will spend 3 days and 2 nights based out of Merida, exploring known and lesser-known Maya cities.

While I’m visiting Chichen Itza and Coba again, I’ll do so from a different perspective (and lens!) this time. I wish to catch corners and angles I didn’t notice the first time around.

Ek Balam temple, off-the-beaten-path Mexico

Ek Balam <3

Particularly, I’m anxious to see Ek Balam again. That unique Jaguar Temple left quite an impression on me on my 2012 Mexico trip.

Then, it is off to Uxmal and Tulum for the first time. The former is swallowed by the jungle; while the latter is caressed by the Gulf of Mexico. One is fairly off-the-beaten-path; while the other is more popular than I would like. Two Maya cities, two contrasting locales.

Expect cultural video galore from the Yucatán as well! ;D

Holbox Island: Whale Sharks + Laid-Back Vibes!

Holbox Island, unique Mexico itinerary

idyllic Holbox by Dronepicr, Wiki Commons

One of the most idyllic, incredibly-underrated Mexico attractions is Holbox Island.

Did you know this is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish (and shark) in the world?!

Imagine such a creature: akin a whale, that feeds on tiny plankton, swimming nearby.

It’s been on my travel bucket list forever. I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

OMFG. I’m about to cry just thinking about it…*%$&#@! 😀

Holbox beachfront hotel, off-the-beaten-path Yucatán Mexico

Swimming with whale sharks in Holbox is definitely one of my most anticipated Mexico attractions on this trip. I will also get to explore the.island proper, just a few miles north of the Yucatán Peninsula, with its low-key vibe and virgin beaches.

I plan to mostly chill, as the unique Holbox Dream Hotel has such a character that I’m sure it will suck me in and force me to truly relax <3

This trip will be for the books!

I arrive July 19 and depart July 29. Follow me and #latinabroadMX on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter @LatinAbroad for real-time posts from these Mexico attractions!

Unique Mexico Attractions: My 10-Day Itinerary

^ LOVE this? PIN IT! ^

Again, many thanks to Karma Trails for sponsoring this epic trip <3

5 Must-See Ruins in Central America: Amazing Ancient Cities

Central America’s amazing ancient cultures, cities and heritage made a tremendous impact on this region’s people’s lives and even looks. Moreover, there are still some people who maintain their ancient ingenious religions and actually kind of look familiar to their ancestors.  But which are the must-see ruins in Central America?

Below are our top 5 ancient sites–which you can still stop by to learn more about Maya, Aztecs or other indigenous Latin American cultures. Some of the best-preserved!

Top 5 Must-See Ruins in Central America: Amazing Ancient Cities

must-see ruins in Central America

Teotihuacán, Mexico

This ancient city should probably be on top of your Central American ruins list, even though it’s technically in North America 😛 Not only because they are some of the best known, but also because they can teach us about Ancient American history like no other.

Teotihuacán is a collection of the ruins of not one, but a couple of different civilizations, all who lived here. First were the Maya and Zapotecs–ending with the Aztecs or Toltecs.

It is then safe to say that this city was a great multicultural center–making a huge influence on other cities surrounding it.

If you pay it a visit (pretty simple from Mexico City), make sure you don’t miss its most famous sites: the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

best ancient ruins in Central America

Copan, Honduras

Another important Maya city is located in Honduras: Copan. The city has a few temples and even a Royal Acropolis with a special court for traditional Maya games.

It is also fun to know that Copan was the primary residence for most rulers and even have a monument called Altar Q — the most famous site of this particular Central American site.

However, the city‘s population radically decreased during 8th and 9th centuries — slowly being forgotten. Nowadays though, it is one of the top Central America Mayan sites and was also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

best preserved Central America ruins, Tikal

Tikal, Guatemala

It is hard to find a person who has never heard about Tikal! Situated in the Peten rainforest in Guatemala, this city is yet another impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site

The whole complex is full of temples, altars, palaces and pyramids. Therefore, this was not only one of the larger Maya cities, but must have also been an important religious and political center.

Gaze your eyes upon the famous Temple of the Great Jaguar, the Great Plaza, the Central Acropolis, the North and South Acropolises, and the Plaza of the Seven Temples.

best Central America ruins

Caracol, Belize

A lesser-known Maya city is Caracol, located in modern-day Belize.

Did you know, by the way, that it used to be one of the most important cities to the Ancient Maya? And it’s outside of Mexico!

Caracol was one of the most important local political centers as well. In fact, the entire town was bigger than Belize’s current capital and twice its population. So you can imagine how big this city was.

While these Central America ruins were rediscovered in 1937, it wasn’t until 1985 that archaeologists started to work on the site. They found out that the town was abandoned in 1050 — meaning Caracol had already been unoccupied for 500 years by the time the Spanish conquistadors found it.

If you ever visit Caracol, take some time to appreciate the Sky Palace’s ruins — which happens to be the tallest building in all of Belize!

top Central America ruins

Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

Other must-see ruins in Central America include the Maya city of Joya de Ceren. It is beautifully well-preserved — and also known as the “Pompeii of the Americas”.


As you probably now, Pompeii was an ancient Italian city that was buried by volcanic ashes; sadly, Joya de Ceren had the same destiny. 

The nearby volcano Loma Caldera erupted and dumped about 8 feet of ash on the city, perfectly preserving everything that was in there – ceramics, furniture, and even half-eaten food.

Even farm fields here were preserved, so if you stop by Joya, you will get a rare chance to see how the Mayans really used to live (at least in El Salvador).

Deservedly, Joya de Ceren was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Ek Balam Mayan ruins panorama

Want to see more of my favorite ruins? Click here for Ek Balam!

So, are you inspired now!? If yes, plan your trip to Central America and stop by these five ruins!  

“5 Must-See Ruins in Central America” was a guest post. Learn more here

A year in travel (and life): My 2012 roller coaster ride

Welcome to the roller coaster ride of my year in travel — and life. 2012 was full of not only travel bucket list adventures, but also several struggles and personal growth. In fact, it was one of my toughest years to date. Let’s take a look back and breath in the positive, breathe out the negative, learn from the mistakes, and most importantly: move forward!

year in travel, my first snowfall

There’s no rainbow without some…SNOW! 😉 My very first snowfall in Frisco, Texas

Local tourism: Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras and the Dalí Museum

As I currently live minutes away from downtown, I took part of the Gasparilla Parade (Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras) on January 2012. “The Invasion” celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (better known as Gasparilla). Rumor has it that the Spanish pirate captain invaded Florida’s west coast between the late 18th – early 19th century. No evidence of such “attack” or even the capt. himself appears in writing until late 20th century though, which makes his existence dubious. But who cares? It is still a heck of a party!

year in travel, Tampa Bay Mardi Gras Gasparilla

“The Invasion”! (Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures)

Also, I finally went to the new Dalí Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. It was an amazing experience see the works of my favorite painter, in addition to having some random fun by the Tree of Wishes in the courtyard!

Year in travel, Dali Museum Florida

By the courtyard and Tree of of Wishes of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (Matthew Paulson, Flickr)

My first travel conference: The NY Times Travel Show

In March 2012, I went to the New York Times Travel Show for the first time. For being my very first travel conference period, I feel it was a success! I later contacted some of the media agents I connected with throughout the weekend — and even got some comped trips later in the year. The networking that ensued forced me to think about my brand, how I market myself, and where I want LatinAbroad to be. Professional and personal lessons.

Also, I finally got to meet some fellow travel bloggers! Including some of my “idols” 😀

year in travel, NY travel Show Expedia party

NY travel Show Expedia party with travel bloggers @CaptainandClark @MidlifeRoadTrip @live_for_travel

year in travel, New York Times travel show

Top: Woman travel session (with legendary @JourneyWoman, Evelyn!). Bottom: Asia section with lovely dancers from Sri Lanka (left) and Thai display (right)

Life after studying abroad: My post-travel depression

Around April, my life after studying abroad was starting to get to me. More often than not, I was quite sad, unable (or unwilling?) to accept my new life. This post-travel depression hit me hard. I started to fight a lot with my new beau. In fact, it was one of those fights that helped me see that I really had to improve my day by day.

While I still struggle from time to time,  I keep reminding myself that my long-term goals will allow me to travel for the rest of my life! I just have a wee-bit left to get done stateside 😉

year in travel, Tampa FL local tourism

Local tourism in Tampa! Part of my life after traveling the world

American work culture and illness: More struggles ahead

In May, even more hurdles were put on my path. I struggled with the difficult American work culture and a new illness: RSI/carpal tunnel. Due to not having health insurance, I have still not been officially diagnosed, but the pain in my hands and dainty fingers doesn’t lie. I found a way to move forward by buying voice recognition software and learning to relax. A journey, not a destination…

Year in travel, American work culture

Stressed.Out (Deborah Leigh, Flickr)

June: More domestic tourism, TBEX and my 1st Blogiversary

I define domestic tourism as traveling to states or provinces of the country you are living in. This summer, I saw more of America by visiting the number 1 beach in the USA and going to the West for the 1st time. Where to? Keystone, Colorado for TBEX!

Year in travel, Siesta Key Beach FL

Me at Siesta Key beach FL: Number 1 in the USA

While TBEX was my 2nd travel conference, it was my 1st (official) travel blogger trip. I got to meet even more of my travel blogging idols and long-time online friends face-to-face. Among them, the legendary Lola DiMarco, Jodi Ettenburg, Michael Tieso, and Stephanie Yoder. Furthermore, I got my first translation deals! They are still on the works (none have gone live), but I know 2013 will bless me in that department 😀 As a TBEX 1st timer, this meant a lot to me.

Year in travel, TBEX conference

Me (bottom) surrounded by some big names and travel bloggers! Guess who?

You know what else happened in June? It was LatinAbroad’s 1st anniversary! I can’t believe my baby travel blog is over a year old already. Thanks to YOU for all the support! This will keep going for years and years, I assure you 😉 I love it too much.

Year in travel, TBEX Colorado

Champagne and a view: Couldn’t ask for a better ride! (Photo: Jennifer Huber)

Puerto Rico gringo invasion — and partial media trip!

In July, I had the great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to my island, Puerto Rico. With my gringo in tow, we visited my family and other quirky attractions in the island. The highlights?

The sensual Hotel OK and Motel Villa Arco Iris:

Year in travel, sex Hotel OK Puerto Rico

Hotel OK suite: Complete with stripper pole, heart-shaped Jacuzzi, and the mandatory ceiling mirrors over the bed and hot tub!

Year in travel, Puerto Rico sex Motel Villa Arco Iris

Our romantic suite at Motel Villa Arco Iris. And yup, that’s a ceiling mirror over the bed — and over the Jacuzzi as well!

Going down the tallest zip line in the world:

Small plane ride over the ocean from mainland Puerto Rico to Vieques:

Year in travel, Vieques plane ride

Gorgeous views of mainland Puerto Rico! This flight was courtesy of Vieques Air Link

Laid-back Vieques Island beaches:

Year in travel, Vieques Beach Playuela

Entrance to hidden gem Garcia Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico

 …and my gringo trying to drive!

A Russian restaurant, the Olympics, and a patriot’s dilemma

The end of the summer brought an unexpected local outing. I got to travel through food and visit an authentic Russian restaurant in Florida. I drank some Soviet-era vodka and ate some interesting Eastern European food.

year in travel, Russian food

I ate the Eastern European lobster pierogi. It was an interesting cream sauce with caramelized onions, plus the perioges seemed to have been stuffed with crab too

Additionally, I got into some arguments around the Olympics due to my strong Puerto Rican patriotism and ignorant Americans’ inability to understand it.

year in travel, Puerto Rico patriotism

Who would have thought this moment would cause so much commotion — in a negative way!?

A new travel cooking series — and financial anorexia

October brought with it some exciting new plans — and some old struggles. Hostel Cooking recipes debuted thanks to my good friend Josh Snore; while the Black Dog showed its ugly face again. I even accepted I suffer from financial anorexia. However, I pulled through — and they won’t beat me!

Year in travel, hostel cooking

Never thought you could cook Moroccan chicken with couscous in a hostel, did you? Get the recipe here!

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: My 2nd trip to the Yucatán Peninsula

In November, I had another great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to check out 2 of the boutique Xperience Hotels. This time, I would be heading to Mexico for the 2nd time to check out the laid-back beach town of Playa Del Carmen! I was beyond excited, as I could not see many attractions my 1st time around.

I sampled Mayan cuisine, went rappelling and tubing in a cenote, visited the lesser-known Ek Balam Mayan ruins, and even got a 70-minute beach massage for only USD $18! Oh, and sure thing, la gente esta muy LOCAAA in Playa Del Carmen nightlife (and I absolutely loved it).

year in travel, cenote rappelling

Cenote rappelling! Don’t I look excited?!

year in travel, cenote tubing

Our group tubing in a cenote. Of course, I’m the one posing pretty haha

year in travel, Ek Balam Mayan ruins

Ek Balam “Jaguar” Temple: Mayan carvings

Christmas in Texas — and MY FIRST SNOWFALL!

Last month, my partner surprised me with tickets to go see his family in Texas for Christmas. It was a pretty laid-back trip, but with some great highlights!

Right out of the airport, I was taken to sample some good ol’ Texan barbecue. Omg.

year in travel, Texas barbecue


year in travel, Texan BBQ

Texan brisket and sausage

The Downtown Frisco musical light show and surrounding homes brought out the kid in me. I squealed like a little girl, I was so happy! 😀

The next day it was all about the spanking-new Perot Museum of Science was so much fun — but extremely crowded. I recommend you be the first through the door and have fun at the bottom floors first, as they are the most interactive. My favorite sections were the oil drilling and minerals, in addition to the human anatomy floor. There, you could see the many wonders of the human body via some excellent experiments and quirky gadgets. It was so unreal —  perfect for kids, by the way.

Then, it was Max Donuts. And family banquets. Just SO. MUCH. FOOD.

Year in travel, Max Donuts TX

Max Donuts and other delicacies

Year in travel, veal sausage

Southern veal sausage: spicy, juicy, delicious

Year in travel, southern brisket

Southern brisket right out of the oven

Year in travel, Texan bacon cheeseburger

Just look at that sexy Texan bacon cheeseburger

Year in travel, Midwestern food

Midwestern food in Texas

Year in travel, Southern biscuits

Southern biscuits: garlic, cheese, herbs, and a lot of butter!

But nothing, I mean NOTHING this year could top this one off:


That’s right: up until Christmas 2012, I’d never seen snow fall from the sky. Ever. And yes, it snowed right on Christmas Day! It was so so perfect, I even teared up a little, especially as my partner stepped outside in order to kiss me under the snow 🙂

Year in travel, my first snowfall

It started to snow! It started to snow!

Year in travel, my first snow storm

This is what extreme happiness looks like. Very 1st snowfall in my life, I even teared up!

Indeed, happiness is an understatement here. So of course, I had to shoot not one, but 2 videos. It was freezing cold, but I was so overjoyed I couldn’t even feel it!

New Year’s in Tampa Bay

In comparison to other years, the last few hours of 2012 were very laid-back. However, I spent them among friends and, most importantly, the man I love. 2012 taught me that I could love again, even though travel and a broken heart had stripped hope.

year in travel, fireworks

A great start to 2013 <3

And so, with a kiss and embrace, we said goodbye to 2012 — all while watching a good ol’ firework show over Tampa Bay:

2012 resolutions: Moving back to Egypt, Arabic degree, Oceania — FAIL

Last, but definitely not least, are my failed 2012 resolutions. Last year, I wanted to not only improve my Arabic and even earn a Master of Professional Studies degree, but also move back to Egypt. Plan A didn’t happen, as the federal government stopped funding that program and the situation in Egypt deteriorated (so did my job prospects).

What about Plan B, to become a flight attendant and fly all over the world, or even Plan C,  which involved me moving to Australia and traveling all over Oceania? Well…

I started to take my finances so seriously that I set a plan to get rid of all my debt (about $50,000 of it) in 3 years or less. I just wanted to be free, be free of all Western world strengths and the flawed American work culture.

I decided I want to be a full-time nomadic translator, travel writer by 30.

And, most importantly: DEBT-FREE by then!

It might not be a perfect plan, but it didn’t matter in my head — it still ruled out Plan B. Then, I got a promotion in Florida and decided to stay put longer, as the new salary and benefits were in line with my new financial & other important long-term goals. There went Plan C

But was my toughest year yet ruined because of all these changes? As you could see throughout this post, definitely not. Yes, I struggled. Yes, I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to.

But I grew. I learned a lot.


So: Cheers to 2013! I’m ready to learn, to be amazed, and to be blessed once more. Shall this post be a reminder of John Lennon’s words:

Year in travel, John Lennon quote

A motto to remember

How was your year in travel (and life) in 2012? Share your milestones!

Things to do in Playa Del Carmen: My adventure-packed photo essay!

Welcome to our Beach Thursday: Yucatán special! I know what you’re probably thinking: “Oh no, not another ‘things to do’ post!” But don’t fret. I am publishing an adventure-packed photo essay of things to do in Playa Del Carmen, based on my own trip and interviews with locals. I promise: you will love every single activity (and picture) 😀

If you have additional questions about a tour or accommodation in Playa Del Carmen, feel free to send me a note or leave a comment below!

thanks to do in Playa Del Carmen, Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza photo I took on my trip to the Yucatán back in 2008

 Things to do in Playa Del Carmen: Day trips

Due to my short Thanksgiving break (Thursday – Monday), I had to be very selective about the places I visited. I wanted a good mix of history, relaxation, and adventure. As I would be more energized the first few days, I decided to visit the lesser-known Maya ruins of Ek Balam and Cobá. However, if you have never visited Chichen Itza, I recommend you go there instead of Cobá on your short Playa Del Carmen vacation.

I booked my tours via Karma Trails, a travel agency that partners with local  tour companies that give back to the Maya communities. I was very happy with this practice! All tours included a short stop at a local Maya village, giving them the opportunity to sell their own crafts without a middleman.

Things to do in Playa Del Carmen, mud bath at Rio Lagartos

That’s not sand – it’s ALL mineral-rich mud!

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Rio Lagartos Dead Sea

Me floating on the Rio Lagartos Dead Sea — I mean salt flats

My Ek Balam tour included a great morning spent at Río Lagartos as well. We got to float on the salt flats holding ponds and bathe in mineral-rich mud, which brought back memories of my trip to the Dead Sea in Israel! We also got to see some crocs up close and personal (!), in addition to several other birds and PINK FLAMINGOS! 😀

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Rio Lagartos

I was not comfortable being THAT close to the croc…but I survived it!

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, flamingos

Flamingos! You can see many more of them if you visit between May – June by the way 😉

The highlight of the all-day, 13-hour tour was our guide Gianluca though — a funny, knowledgeable polyglot. It was pretty awesome that he had an iPad with many photos, maps, etc. to discuss Maya and Mexican history with us during the rides between sites. We learned not only about the Maya ruins we visited, but also got cultural tidbits from other parts of Mexico. The history buff in me LOVED this.

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Ek Balam

Ek Balam Maya temple carvings: The “mouth of the jaguar”

The second tour, Cobá Mayan Encounter, was action-packed! In the morning, we visited a Maya community, witnessed a Maya shaman perform a ceremony, drifted on a beautiful lake, and rode down several zip lines. We also got to do some rappelling down a cenote + canoeing! Travel bucket list items checked 😀

Playa del Carmen attractions

Me riding the Coba Encounter tour zip line: the best one!

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, cenote rappelling

Cenote rappelling! Don’t I look excited?!

In the afternoon, we visited the wonderful Cobá Maya ruins. I decided to rent a bike and it was the best decision I made. We had our tour guide explained the history for the first 20 mins., then we got to explore the site at our own pace for a good 45 min. It was plenty of time to leisurely cycle around the ruins, take some good photos, and even climb the main “pyramid”! By the way, that’s in quotes because apparently, we’re not supposed to call it that way 😉

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Coba Maya complex

One of my favorite structures at the Coba Maya complex. This one was used as an observatory

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Coba climbing

Atop the tallest “pyramid” at Coba. Gorgeous jungle views!

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Coba pyramid

The main structure at Coba. Don’t call it a pyramid! 😉

Other great day trips from Playa Del Carmen is the charming town of Valladolid and swimming with turtles in Akumal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to either town on this trip. I’ll definitely have to go back and experience everything else the amazing Riviera Maya and Yucatan have to offer!

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Valladolid

Valladolid, Yucatán, Mexico (Photo: Elaine, Flickr)

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Akumal Bay

Photo of Akumal Bay by Carl Hancock. Fun fact: Akumal actually means “place of the turtles” in the Yucatec Maya language! 🙂

Theme parks & reserves: Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, Sian Ka’an

As I opted to visit 2 Maya sites + adventure tours, I didn’t get to go to any of the theme parks. However, Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, and Sian Ka’an are highly recommended by several travelers and bloggers. I’m definitely checking them out on my next trip, especially the Xcaret night show (which I could have done one night, but Playa Del Carmen nightlife got me quite distracted!).

Xel-há Park (daily, 8:30 AM – 7 PM): for a close encounter with nature. Lazily float down the river, go snorkeling, SNUBA, walk underwater and even swim with dolphins here.

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, xel-ha

Xel-Ha: beautiful, natural waterpark (Kyla, Flickr)

Xcaret (daily, 8:30 AM – 9:30 PM): archaeological & adventure park, excellent to learn more about Mexican culture. Food is great, too. Dolphin/shark swims & other water activities also available here. Make sure you stay for the night show, check out the wine tasting & try out one of the semi-underground spa treatments!

Xcaret night show, things to do in Playa Del Carmen

Xcaret night show by Steve Oxenham, Flickr

Xplor (Mon – Sat, 9 AM – 5 PM): for the adventurous souls. 14 zip lines (including one through a waterfall and into a cave!), swim in an underground river, and even drive an amphibious vehicle. Enough said!

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Xplor

Xplor Zip Line Water Landing by Dtraveller, Flickr

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: located in Tulum, this  UNESCO World Heritage Site is spectacular. It is a little out of the way, but worth it. Kayaking, fly fishing, and condoning our popular here. I recommend used to spend one night at one of the cabins on-site.

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Sian Ka'an

Gorgeous Sian Ka’an by Ronald Woan

Where to eat in Playa Del Carmen

Coming soon! I still have to look for my notepad with all my restaurant recommendations 😉 I can tell you right now though: Go to Yaxche Mayan Fusion Cuisine Restaurant on 5th Avenue! Have one of the specialty Maya food mixed platters, Maya coffee (a ceremony in itself), and plantain flan for dessert (called pie de platano, with hazelnuts and cajeta, which is goat dulce de leche. TRUST me, you gotta have it).

Playa Del Carmen nightlife

As I told you on a previous post, Playa Del Carmen nightlife is ACE!

things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Coco Bongo

Coco Bongo Playa Del Carmen (Dan, Flickr)

One more thing to do in Playa Del Carmen: Beach massages!

So many Playa Del Carmen beach clubs offer cheap massages by the ocean, giving you tremendous bargaining power. I scored a 70-min. reflexiology massage for USD $18. BLISS! See if you can get one for less and report back 😉

beach massage, things to do in Playa Del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen beach massages are great value! Photo: appaIoosa, Flickr

Got more recommendations of things to do in Playa Del Carmen?

Special thanks to Karma Trails for offering a complimentary Cobá Encounter tour. I was not paid for a positive review and all comments on this article are my honest opinion, though.