Category Archives: Activities

Explore the various activities you can participate in around the world – from the adrenaline fueled to the laid back.

Chacmool at the National Anthropology Museum Mexico City

National Anthropology Museum Mexico City

The National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is an excellent way to discover the human history of Mexico. From the dawn of the human species until the modern day, it covers everything. It was for this reason – that it would inform our travels – that I insisted the museum be one of the first places we visit during our trip to Cuidad de Mexico.

Getting to the Museo Nacional Antropología

Chapultepec Park

The National Anthropology Museum is in the Chapultepec Park district of Mexico City. It is on the north side of the park, above Lago de Chapultepec and Paseo de la Reforma. Its location makes it an opportune destination for entire day’s outing – we combined our day with Chapultepec Castle.

Statue of a Runner

Need to Know:

  • Address: Av Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Gandhi S/N, Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
  • Hours: 9 am – 7 pm (Closed Mondays)
  • Entrance Fee: $70.00 MX pesos. (~$3.70 USD)

Finding Your Way

The museum is very large and has a large avenue leading to it. There are also signs throughout Chapultepec Park that will direct you where to go. Opposite the museum, is a large pole and demonstration ground. Here we witnessed an indigenous ceremony where drum and flute players hang by their feet upside down while spinning to the ground.

Musicians Dangle While Playing

Upon entering the front building you have three options:

  • Left: Gift Shop
  • Right: Special Exhibition
  • Center: Permanent Exhibition

You cannot have backpacks, bags, etc – luckily, the museum provides a “coat storage” for you just behind the gift shop. After that, you can proceed towards the right side of the entrance building where you can purchase your tickets and receive a map.

Entry Building

The Museum

Designed in 1960, the museum is – to say the least – huge. With 23 rooms, each covering a distinct aspect of Mexican heritage, culture, and history, the establishment is the most visited museum in Mexico.

The museum began in 1790 and expanded and moved numerous times over the following centuries. For a while, the collection was housed in Chapultepec Castle, before settling at the current location.

The current design is that of a horseshoe around a large central pond. The buildings are two stories with a courtyard accessible from the bottom floor.

Anthropology Museum Courtyard

Inform the Rest of Your Travels

As I stated above, a big reason I wanted to do the museum, and to do it early, was to inform the rest of our time in Mexico. Our plan was to visit Teotihuacan the following day and Templo Mayor sometime soon after. These massive archaeological sites, I thought, would be better appreciated if we knew about them beforehand. I was right.

Teotihuacan Scale Model

When we entered, the ticket master handed us a map, and circled a few key exhibits. As it was a little bit later in the day, we would not have the time to see the whole museum. You will need at least a whole day to see everything – however, you can still get a great experience even if you only see half. If you have the time and interest, you could spend a second day there too!

We spent around 4 hours in the museum. All the exhibits were kept in top shape, and were highly informative and interesting. One aspect that we particularly enjoyed was how the bottom floor exhibits had their own outdoor exhibit portions as well. These gardens gave fresh air and a more authentic presentation of the artifacts.

Cave Paintings

We put our focus on the Mayans, Olmecs, Aztecs, and Teotihuacan, as well as on the Oaxaca region. Though, we did still manage to see the majority of the museum. It does not disappoint at all.

Exhibition

Human Sacrifices With Jawbone Necklaces

These human sacrifices were found at Templo Mayor. Their hands were bound behind their backs, and were wearing necklaces made of human jawbones.


Temple Reconstruction

A reconstruction of an Aztec temple in one of the many outside exhibits. This is a part of the Tenochtitlan exhibit.

Statue of a God

A stone carving of an Aztec God.

Aztec Sun Calendar

Arguably one of the most recognizable artifacts from the Aztecs – the great stone sun calendar is a huge monolithic carving.

Scale Model of Templo Mayor

A scale model replica of the Templo Mayor complex. The ruins of the complex can be seen in Centro Historico.

Jaguar Statue

The Jaguar is an important animal in the mythologies of the Aztecs.

Stone carving

The Mesoamericans were highly skilled stone workers.

Textiles

Second-floor exhibits display more modern items. Here, we viewed the traditional dress and textiles of the region.

Skeletons

Death was a very important part of the cultures of Mexico and Central America.

Do Visit The National Anthropology Museum

Olmec Stone Head

I really don’t think I can emphasize enough, just how impressive the museum is. It’s excellently curated and should keep you occupied the entire time you are there. The displays are in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl – so don’t worry about understanding if you don’t speak Spanish.

Kyle and Bri
~K~

Rio Secreto : Playa del Carmen Mexico

There are numerous activities to enjoy while in Playa del Carmen. It has essentially been turned into a tourist playground of Mexico. Swimming, snorkeling, diving, ruins – you name it you can find a way to do it within close vicinity.

Where does Rio Secreto Operate?

Rio Secreto is situated directly across the street from the massive eco-park Xcarat. Whereas Xcarat has transformed into a massive waterpark, Rio Secreto retains more of its natural charm. We found Rio Secreto to be a great balance between campy fun, and authentic experience.

With that being said, Xcarat is a completely awesome experience, and I highly recommend it. I have been there many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it will be far more crowded and developed – though still loads of fun.

Benches at Rio Secreto

Rio Secreto Entry Sign

You can find it at:

Puerto Juárez, Km. 283.5, Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal, Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico

Ticket Booth at Rio Secreto

It’s hours and prices can differ by the season, and so you should check for you specific times at: www.riosecreto.com. However, it always operates at least:

Sunday – Monday: 9AM – 2PM

While we can’t say that Rio Secreto falls into the category of budget travel activities – it is still certainly on the cheaper side for the region. If you can, try to arrange for your own transportation to cut costs.

Parking lot of Rio Secreto

A Recent Discovery

Rio Secreto speaks to the mystery of Riviera Maya. It was only discovered in 2006 when a landowner was chasing after a lizard and accidentally discovered the opening to a cave. What he discovered was a vast underground river and cenote complex.

Researchers and explorers then entered the caves and began mapping what would turn out to be an immense system. It was quickly developed into an ecological preserve and attraction. Tourists are able to visit about 10% (don’t worry, it’s huge!) of the cave complex, while the other 90% is preserved. All proceeds go towards further protection and understanding of the cenotes and underground rivers.

I’m In! So What Is Rio Secreto?

Rio Secreto is Spanish for “Secret River”, and it is exactly that. The whole of the Yucatan is made of very porous limestone and has no surface rivers. However, it is filled with thousands of cenotes, which are sinkholes that open to underground rivers.

In the native Mexica cultures, most notably the Maya and Aztec, the cenotes were the openings to the underworld – Xibalba. And here, you get to enter the underworld and explore the flooded rooms and rivers beneath the surface.

The Experience

Our experience was pretty awesome. We were in Playa del Carmen for a family wedding, and we went with my parents, aunts, and uncles. It begins with the standard tourist fare type stuff. We checked in, had a video introduction that went over the basic history of the place, and then we were divided up into small groups for our guide.

Our Guide Starting the Tour

A roughly twenty minute bus ride deep into the jungle brought us to the main entrance to the caves where we were then given the run down.

Rio Secreto Bus

First thing, no sunscreen or lotion of any kind. This is important for the ecology of the river system. Lotions introduce chemicals to the environment and can damage the cave formations. Plus, you’re underground – so it’s totally unnecessary.

To ensure there are issues regarding this, you have to take a quick shower to rid your body of any chemicals and oils. The shower is water taken directly from the river which also gives you a quick feel for the temperature. It’s cold.

Equipment

No worries though, you are provided with a wetsuit. The water is around 72F, so it’s certainly chilly. And the tour lasts about an hour and half underground so you will most likely want it. If you have your own wetsuit, you might as well bring it. My aunt had one, and doubled up, which allowed her to stay quite warm.

As for us, we were still chilled at the end. Our issue lies in the fact that we’re both pretty thin. Because of this, the wetsuits didn’t fit perfectly and allowed for cold water to get in. But, it still works.

You are also provided with water shoes – a must. And of course, a helmet with lights – another must. If you wish, you can also take a walking stick. I did not, but was one of the only ones who did not. If you are not comfortable with your balance, you should take the stick. However, it can be very nice to traverse the caves without carrying anything.

You can put all your stuff in a locker, and all of this comes complimentary with your tour ticket. So you don’t need to worry about paying extra for storage or gear.

Changing Rooms

A Mayan Ritual For Safety

Once we were fitted, we were led into the jungle and brought to the first stop. A local man, who spoke Mayan (Nahuatl) gave us a traditional Mayan blessing. The blessing is meant to provide safety for those who enter the underworld.

In the blessing, we were taught how to say good day, or rather “good sun” in Mayan. I forget what it is now, sadly. But the meaning is important to the Mayans, as the sun was an important deity.

The man then burned sap from a local tree that gave off a sweet fragrance and signaled that we had been blessed. Now, we were ready to enter Xibalba.

Entering the Caves

A short walk further into the jungle, and we arrived at what appeared to be a small depression in the ground. However, once stepping into the hole, it becomes apparent that the cave is much more than it appears.

The path winds down until it meets a slowly flowing body of water. Stalactites and stalagmites stretch down and up respectively and create an enticing invitation to the wonders within. Our guide, instructed us to turn on our headlights and enter the water.

Into Xibalba

Our guide expertly took us into the caves and gave a thorough tour. He explained the hydrology and ecology of the region as well as it’s historical importance.

An interesting, yet important thing he showed us was our impact on the environment. By simply being there, we did contaminate the region. This was demonstrated by rubbing our noses to get naturally occurring oils from our skin, and touching the water. Immediately, the limestone particles repelled away from where we touched, and altering the chemical makeup of the cave system.

It was explained that we would only interact with a small portion – less than 10% – of the cave system. The money brought in from the tourism, would help protect the greater water system and further fund research and conservation. An unfortunate price to pay to protect the system.

As we swam, floated, and waded through the caves, a photography took many pictures. We did not get any though, as the price is expensive. Unfortunately, this means that we couldn’t get any pictures while in the caves themselves.

Rio Secreto

Courtesy: The Mayan Gate

A highlight of our cave experience was a moment of zen. We were instructed to lay back in the water, staring at the ceiling, in a circle. All the lights were then extinguished and we were left in complete darkness, with nothing but the sound of the water. We laid here here for several minutes before coming back to ourselves.

Back to the Surface for Food and Drink

At this point, we were all getting pretty cold. It was time to make our way back out. We exited via the way we came in, and the warmth of the jungle air was welcome. Upon exiting, we were given a taste of the local liquor, an anise flavored liquor to warm our bodies and spirits.

Rio Secreto Liquor

After changing back into our clothes, we then proceeded on to a complimentary lunch. It was nothing special, but better than I was expecting. Rice, beans, chicken, soup, tortillas, and a few sides were offered. While not amazing, it was hearty and satisfactory – and the hot sauce was certainly hot.

Buffet at Rio Secreto
Soup and Pasta

Once finished with our food, we pilled back into our van, and proceeded back to the entrance.  All in all, a great excursion. We would certainly recommend this for anyone in the region looking for a little adventure, history, or nature. It’s great for adults, families, and kids. And while not budget, it is certainly a cheaper alternative to the more expensive options in region.

~K~

Mexico City Tenochtitlan Mask Wall

Templo Mayor – Tenochtitlan Ruins – Mexico City

In the heart of Mexico City’s Centro Historico district, the ancient Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, lies the ruins of Templo Mayor. Today, what remains is only ruins, but the site was once one of the most important temples in the Aztec Empire. It is now a great look into Aztec and Mesoamerican culture and history in the center of the now bustling Mexico City.

Templo Mayor Ruins and Metropolitan Cathedral

Getting In

Our path to visiting Templo Mayor was part of a much longer and bigger day. Because of the way that we went, it seemed to be far more complicated to get into the archaeological site than it actually is.

We had approached from the west, on the north side of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Zocalo Square. There is an elevated walkway that goes around the north side of the site and offers decent views of the ruins – but it didn’t seem to offer any actual entrances.

We walked the entire outer boundary of the ruins, but with no luck. At one point, we thought we found the entrance, but it actually turned out to be the exit. The exit is surprisingly more elaborate and conspicuous than the entrance. Most likely, it served as the entrance at one time.

Not the entrance to Templo Mayor

Regardless, the actual entrance to Templo Mayor is on the south side of the compound, and can easily be accessed via the east side of the Metropolitan Cathedral.

We were wearing shawls and hoods, not because it was cold – but because of pretty bad sunburns we received the previous day at Teotihuacan.

Kyle at Templo Mayor
Briana at Templo Mayor

Need To Know

  • Address: Seminario 8, Centro Histórico, Cuauhtémoc, 06060 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
  • Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 09:00 – 17:00 / Closed Mondays
  • Cost: $70 Pesos (~ $4 USD) for adults. Free for children under 13, Mexican students and educators, and seniors.
  • No food, water, or umbrellas are allowed – free stowage is provided at entrance.
  • Photography is allowed.

Entering the Ruins

Templo Mayor archaeological site

Once you exit the entry building, you arrive to the ruins of Templo Mayor itself. We broke this up into two different viewing times: once before, and once after visiting the Templo Mayor Museum. This may not seem intuitive at first, but it actually does serve a purpose.

We entered a small, elevated walkway and explored the ruins some. There are plaques, but upon initial viewing, you don’t walk away with much understanding. But this is okay! It piques your interest for the monster to come that is the Templo Mayor Museum.

Kyle and Briana at Templo Mayor

History of Templo Mayor

Legend says that the Aztecs were in search of a location to build their city. In a vision, the king was told to found their city when they found an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake. The next day, that is what they saw. The city of Tenochtitlan was founded sometime around 1325 CE with the main temple built at the site the eagle was seen.

Rediscovery

The site is a very large and robust archaeological site, still undergoing excavation today. On some days, you may even see archaeologists hard at work to recover more artifacts. Much of the site is buried beneath the Metropolitan Cathedral, Zocalo Square, the Palace, and other colonial buildings.

Archaeologists Working at Templo Mayor

However, in 1978, electric workers came across the massive stone monolith while digging. Work stopped, and a special study ensued from 1978 to 1982 to determine if the site was worth studying. At the end of the study, it was deemed a very well preserved and intact site, which lead to the demolition of 13 buildings. The ruins remain as found, with small artifacts housed in the adjoining Templo Mayor Museum.

Modern sewer pipe in the ruins of Templo Mayor

The coup-de-grace of Templo Mayor is the massive pyramid that once stood 200 feet tall. It went through seven different construction phases, each phase building a new pyramid atop the old.

Staircase ruins at Templo Mayor

Spanish Conquest

When the Spaniards arrived in 1519, lead by Hernan Cortes, they saw the seventh phase of the pyramid. It was topped with two temples: one to Huitzilopochtli – the god of war and sun; and one to Tlaloc – the god of water. They were impressed at the number and grandeur of the temples, but were revolted at the beliefs of the Aztecs and human sacrifice.

Ruins of Templo Mayor

In 1519, the Spaniards began a war against the Aztecs that would rage on in bloody conflict until Tenochtitlan fell in 1521. Cortes ordered the destruction of the city – and of the temple – and began the construction of a Mediterranean style city built in its place.

The site of Templo Mayor quickly fell to nothing more than memory as the Spanish and later Mexican governments continued to build atop the site. It would remain mostly forgotten until its rediscovery in 1978.

Templo Mayor Museum

Templo Mayor Museum Entrance

We entered the museum, not knowing what to expect. We had thought it would be rather small – but we were wrong. The museum is rather large, although compact, and is very well curated. You can easily dedicate 2 – 3 hours wandering it’s four floors and eight exhibition rooms. It even has a small gift shop.

Room 1: Historical Background

This room provides an overview of the history of the site and it’s discovery.

Tlaltecuhtuli monolith on display at Templo Mayor Museum
Model of Zocala Square and Templo Mayor

Room 2: War and Sacrifice

This room showcases artifacts relating to the violence of the Aztecs. Funerary offerings, skulls, and weapons adorn the room.

Skulls and Bones at Templo Mayor
Stone Carved Skulls at Templo Mayor Museum

The fired clay statue of Mictlantecuhtli shows the god of the underworld with his liver hanging out and skin removed.

Mictlantecuhtli statue recovered from the ruins of Templo Mayor

Room 3: Tribute and Trade

This room covers the important role of trade and commerce throughout the Aztec Empire. Merchants were extremely important in the Mexica culture. They would often serve as communication links between cities, and assault of a merchant was seen as an act of war.

Aztec ceremonial mask found at Templo Mayor

Room 4: Huitzilopochtli

This room is dedicated to the god Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and human sacrifice.

Huitzilopochtli statue recovered at Templo Mayor

Room 5: Tlaloc

This room is showcases the god Tlaloc, the god of water. It was believed that rain was the result of breaking pots in the heavens. The shattering of ceramic was believed to be the sound we know as thunder.

Room 6: Flora and Fauna

Animals and plants were an important part of Aztec and Mexica life. This room covers the different species of importance in the cultures of the regions including: jaguars, dogs, eagles, crocodiles, and hummingbirds.

XOLOITZCUINTLI taxidermy dog at Templo Mayor

Room 7: Agriculture

Part of the success of the Tenochtitlan was the innovative agricultural practices. The city was built on a lake, and food was grown on chinampas. Chinampas were floating platforms built of reed, wood, and filled with soil.

Important plants grown were:

  • Maize
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Chili
  • Tomato
  • Amaranth

Room 8: Historical Archeology

The final room documents the colonial times of city, and it’s transition from Aztec to Spanish to Mexican.

Each room had an interactive video display. However, most were not working when we went – much to the dismay of a security guard.

Interactive Templo Mayor Museum Display

Returning to the Ruins, with New Understandings

After completing our long run through the museum, we returned to the ruins outside. With a now far greater understanding of the site, we could now better appreciate what we were looking at.

Cat walk through Templo Mayor Ruins

Most of the ruins remain open to the elements. But a few sections have permanent roofs. These sections contain important relics or areas such as rooms.

The walkways in this area are far longer and more extensive than the initial ones. As well, they get lower, so you can start to get a better scale of what it was like to walk among the temples.

Chacmool at Templo Mayor Ruins
Covered Ruins of Red Room at Templo Mayor
Carved Snake Head and Eagle at Templo Mayor

After many hours, we made our way out of Templo Mayor. If you didn’t leave anything at the entrance then you can simply exit through the main exit – otherwise, just backtrack to the entrance to gather your things!

Carved Snake head at Templo Mayor
Templo Mayor Ruins with Metropolitan Cathedral in Background