Beyond Chichen Itza: Less traveled Maya sites
For longtime travelers to the Yucatan, the 2012 mythology that has taken hold brings a delicious irony: Worldwide attention is finally turning from the Yucatan's white-powder beaches and sequestered all-inclusives to the remnants of the "lost civilization" buried under the jungle that drew the first travelers to Mexico's mysterious southern peninsula after New York writer John Lloyd Stephens and illustrator Frederick Catherwood recounted their explorations in the mid-19th century.
It's a good bet that most tourists will still confine themselves to Cancún and the Riviera Maya, with a foray to Chichen Itza. On the Riviera Maya, scrubbed and manicured Tulum, Mexico's third most-visited ruin, is worth seeing more for its stunning seaside setting than its architecture or historical significance; it was a coastal lookout on a busy trade route. Coba, well worth the journey 40 miles west from Tulum, is older than Chichen Itza and the least reconstructed of Maya cities, with 95 percent of the site still swaddled in jungle growth. Its quiet, shady depths and a largely intact network of the raised limestone causeways called sacbeob (singular: sacbé) that linked Maya cities all over the peninsula make it the Riviera Maya's most effective time machine to the ancient Maya world. Coba's own El Castillo tops Chichen Itza's famous pyramid by 60 feet and is still open to climbers.