If You Want to See an Unspoiled Yucatán, You Better Go Now

PUNTA LAGUNA, MEXICO—Howler monkeys alert the world that it’s time to wake up. It’s 6 a.m. and the jungle around Punta Laguna is already illuminated by the blazing sun. We can see them roaming through the trees, vocally making their presence known. Mist rises from the lagoon that is part of a wildlife sanctuary.  We light a camp stove and heat water for tea.

I’m with Detroit editorial photographer Jenna Belevender, whom I’ve dragged here likely beyond her better judgment. Last night, we slept in a van. Down by the lake. In the middle of the jungle. Pitch black by 7 p.m., the site seemed a bit eerie. Our guide navigated the bumpy roads to get in, and then slept atop the observatory post, in a hammock with a mosquitero “mosquito net,” of course. Mosquitoes, among myriad other insects, are mighty prevalent here. It was silent with the exception of the song of tree frogs, and we fell asleep around 9 p.m., as it would go for the next few days. The jungle never truly sleeps, but when the sun rises, it goes into full gear. And even in November, on the decline of the dreaded hot season, the Yucatán peninsula bakes under a perpetually scorching sun.

Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula makes up a large part of the ancestral home of the Mayan people. It is dotted with archaeological sites that exhibit the architectural prowess of the ancient Mayans as well as their superior grasp of astronomy and mathematics; it is said they are the culture that invented the concept of “zero.”

Below the surface, literally, is Mexico’s largest quantity of freshwater, in the form of underground rivers that pool up into thousands of cenotes: divine natural reservoirs that entice swimmers and divers alike and where ancient burial sites have been located. Adventurous (or let’s say bat-shit crazy, adrenophilic) divers follow these narrow ancient rivers from cenote to cenote. The waters are created by eons of rainwater filtration through the thin limestone crust that makes up the vast majority of the Yucatán’s geology, since it was hit with a giant asteroid, said to have been the cause of the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago, and now is known as the Chicxulub crater.

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