It didn’t take long before we ventured out of Playa Del Carmen, a Mexican town which draws millions of tourists each year to its white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. We loved the beauty of the ocean, but the jungle was calling.
We booked a tour through Alltournative, a tour company that gives back to the community by offering a variety of eco tours. A visit to a Mayan village and ruins was high on my list, and sounded quite a bit more interesting than lying on the beach baking in the sun.
Ma’lob Ja’atskab K’iin
The clouds had disappeared and the heat was already building up when we rose early to meet up with our driver/guide Fabian. As we drove to the Mayan village, we picked up a few more people along the way while the ever enthusiastic Fabian entertained us throughout the drive with snippets of history, personal travel stories and Mayan language. I made an effort to remember a few important words like “Ma’lob Ja’atskab K’iin”, good morning. It’s in fact the only sentence I can still remember.
The day was a perfect mix of adventure, relaxation and history. Alltournative works together with a local Mayan village, providing training, jobs and schooling for the children funded by the eco tours they organise around Playa del Carmen. Rest assured that your money is being spent on a great cause!
We arrived at the village of Pacchen, a Mayan community where we would start our jungle adventure. The story of Alltournative started here in 1999, when the Maya community partnered with Alltournative to start an eco-tourism project instead of signing an agreement for a timber logging project with another company. This way, over 2000 hectares of jungle was protected and a different type of experience was now offered to visitors to the Riviera Maya.
While getting ready to head into the jungle, Fabian announced that no cameras were allowed. He explained that as part of their goal to help the community, they provide training to students as well as adults. Photography is one of the skills they teach and a dedicated photographer would follow us on the trip. At the end of the trip, you can buy the photos and all money goes to the community, Alltournative does not take a cut.
In the end, I was kind of glad I could leave my camera behind, and just enjoy the tour instead of worrying about taking the perfect shot. It made the experience more enjoyable and I was more than happy to pay for the photos at the end of the trip.
Setting Off On Our Jungle Adventure
We started the tour with a relaxing canoe trip across the lake. Apart from the splashing of our paddles and the occasional murmurs coming from the other canoes, it was quiet around the lake. We didn’t linger too long, and found ourselves back on shore after 10 minutes.
On shore we were given a helmet and our harness for our next activity: zip lining. We walked through the jungle on our way to the first platform, while Fabian was giving us plenty of information about the jungle, the trees we should be careful of and the animals that call this place their home. The jungle looked surprisingly normal and quiet. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but all the animals seemed to be hiding from our searching eyes. I did not see spiders crawling around, jaguars lounging or spider monkeys swinging through the trees. We did get a visit from a green vine snake, and I was mesmerised by its elegant moves.
Safety briefing over and securely strapped on, I took a step forward off the ledge. There was a slight jolt of anxiety when I let myself go, but this feeling slowly dissipated as I moved through the jungle at a comfortable speed. The zipline wasn’t too fast and so perfect for beginners.
2 Ziplines later, we removed our harness and were ready to be suited up again for our next activity: Rappelling into a cenote.
Before entering the cenote, we witnessed a Mayan traditional ceremony. A local shaman performed the ritual in the Mayan language while our guide translated the words. Around 6 million Maya people still speak the language today and even though I wasn’t able to recognise any words, I loved hearing the sound of this ancient language. After the shaman blessed us each individually, we headed to the cenote.
A Dip Into the Unknown
Cenotes are found all over the Yucatan peninsula, and were formed by collapsing limestone bedrock, creating a natural sinkhole underneath the surface. This was my first visit to a cenote, and my first time rappelling down into a dark ominous looking cave. Rappelling was surprisingly easy, and on my way down, I was able to enjoy my surroundings without fear of the rope suddenly letting go and crashing into the cold water underneath. Bats were hiding in the crevices above, only giving away their presence with an occasional squeak. Instead of being enveloped by fear, I was intrigued by these animals and kept searching for them in the dark holes.
The sun sneaked through the small cenote opening, creating a beautiful ethereal beam. All around the opening, long tree roots reached out from the ceiling, thirsty for water in this dry province.
Once I plunged into the tube, I paddled towards the beam of light and searched for the small fish who call the cenote home. Floating around the dark cave turned out to be a very relaxing experience.
Crawling Out of the Darkness
After enjoying the silence of the underground world, it was soon time to return to the world above. We had the option to be hoisted back up, or take the wooden step ladder. I love a good challenge, so I chose the latter. I regretted this decision after the first few steps on the small wooden slats. The ladder was slippery and I wanted to give up after a minute of struggling, but the young boy who ascended before me kept me going. If he was able to do it, so could I. At last, I reached the top after 17 metres of short panic attacks, followed by resolve and finally elation.
Mayan Culinary Delights
Upon returning to the village, we were treated to an authentic Mayan meal. A table was set and a feast displayed for us to indulge in. I took a few handmade corn tortillas from a small colourful basket and added a spoonful of Pollo Pibil. This chicken dish had been rubbed in achiote paste and marinated overnight in sour orange juice while wrapped in banana leaves. Everyone in the group agreed that the food was delicious. We left the village satisfied and ready for a trip back in time at the Coba ruins.
Book your tour
Alltournative offers several eco tours around the Riviera Maya. We joined the Coba Maya Encounter tour, which you can book here. We were not compensated to write about our experience. We just thoroughly enjoyed the tour and Alltournative’s mission and wanted to share this amazing experience with you!