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  • The Anonymous Hungry Hippopotamus

Tulum-inous Day Four

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

*Yucatán (Chichén-Itzá ), Tulum (Cenote Calavera, El Asadero)

I woke up before the sun so I could reach Chichén-Itzá (approximately 2.5 hours from Tulum) when it opened and beat the traffic, the crowds and the heat. My efforts were rewarded because I accomplished all three.

One of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Chichén-Itzá welcomes 2,500,000 visitors each year. At its peak in roughly 600 A.D., it was a Mayan city of 35,000 by some accounts, and 50,000 by others. At that time, it was one of the largest cities in the Mayan world and a religious, military, political, and commercial center.

Its ruins are located in the arid climate of south-central, Yucatán, Mexico. The only source of water there is from underground rivers and two cenotes (natural sinkholes created by the collapsing of a cave ceiling), which is likely why the city was named Chichén-Itzá meaning “at the mouth of the well of the Itza” in the Mayan language. The "Itza" refers to the Mayan tribe that settled there.

Almost immediately after entering the grounds at Chichén-Itzá, you encounter a wooded garden sanctuary with the sounds of birds chirping and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. And then, suddenly, there it is; El Castillo, standing almost 100 feet tall in the Yucatán sun.

El Castillo

El Castillo (“The Castle”), also known as the Temple of Kukulcan (snake god), is the main attraction at the ruins. El Castillo has four sides, each with 91 stairs for a total of 365 steps to represent the number of days in the solar year.

The Temple of the Warriors

The Temple of the Warriors stands 40 feet tall and was named after the surrounding columns, carved with images of warriors.

The Temple of the Thousand Columns

Though there are only 200, The Temple of the Thousand Columns (named so to inspire greatness) contains columns once supporting a frieze and a ceiling that have since collapsed. When Chichén-Itzá was inhabited, these columns would have likely supported that extensive roof system and connected this temple to the Temple of the Warriors.

I returned from Tulum much earlier than expected with plenty of time for another adventure. After visiting an ancient Mayan city built around cenotes, taking a swim in a cenote felt like an ideal next chapter in my Tulum story. So, I headed to Cenote Calavera but not before having some lunch at my hotel.

Nachos de atún

Tuna marinated Hawaiian style with wonton chips and a Mexican touch

Entrance to Cenote Calavera.

A cenote is a natural, underground limestone cavern, filled with groundwater and rain. When the cave ceiling collapses, it reveals these beautiful pools of clear water with an average temperature of 75 degrees. They are perfect for a refreshing swim or snorkeling. The Mayans believed that they were passages to the underworld and named them Dz'onot meaning "abysmal and deep." This word later evolved to "cenote" which is how we reference them today.

Cenotes can be found all over the Yucatan Peninsula. I chose to visit Cenote Calavera in Tulum. Calavera means "skull" in Spanish. The cenote is named as such because it has three openings which look like two eyes and a mouth, resembling a skull.

The way to the cenote is marked by a gravel path and plenty of lush vegetation.

(When you visit, I would suggest bringing water shoes, which I wish I had done, due to the gravel, slippery rocks, and moss-covered ladder at the cenote.)

This cenote is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, lounging or cenote jumping, which is what I did. I was not brave enough to jump through the smaller holes, as they seemed quite narrow but, I did take a leap off the rocks and into the large hole (the mouth). The blue water was warm and perfect for swimming and a few swings on the swing set.

After a long day of travel and swimming, I was ready for a delicious dinner. I headed back to Tulum Centro to visit El Asadero, reputed to have the best steaks in Tulum.

El Asadero means "the barbecue" in English and this restaurant is indeed the place to go for Mexican barbecue in Tulum.

Locals love this restaurant and I could see why from the moment I walked in. Adjacent to the front door is the kitchen where scrumptious food is prepared.

The sights and smells entice you, and build anticipation, from the moment you cross the threshold.

Inside, the dining area is warm and inviting with dim, overhead lighting, live music, and comfortable seating.

The chips, which they bring to you upon arrival, are fresh and served with 5 different kinds of salsa (all of which were great). Don't fill up on them too much however, as the main attraction is well worth saving your appetite for.

Ribeye Con Papa Rellena de Queso

(Ribeye Steak and grilled potato with cheese)

Steak is star at El Asadero. A variety of cuts are grilled over an open flame at the front of the restaurant.

The ribeye was a perfect, medium rare.

Arrachera Angus con tortillas maiz, chile toreado y salsas

(Barbecued Angus Flank Steak, with corn tortillas, grilled jalapeño, and spicy sauce)

The house specialty is the Arrachera, or flank steak, and this was the best one I have had. Whether it is the meat, which they source from Monterrey, Mexico in the state of Nuevo Leon, the barbecue technique, the marinade, or a touch from heaven, this steak was amazing!

You can eat the Arrachera on its own or you can create your own taco and stuff one of their soft, fluffy tortillas with guacamole, pico de gallo, and your choice of salsa. Either way, it's impossible to go wrong.

This restaurant is a must-try if you are in Tulum. It is indeed a carnivores paradise but there are vegetarian options as well. And, if it's dessert you like, they do that very well also.

Pastel de chocolate

(Chocolate cake)

And that was the perfect ending to my fourth day in Tulum.

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