I’m a sucker for history. I always have been. Not in a “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can” sort of Great Gatsby way. I’m more of a let’s learn all about the past so that we can actually learn from it and also keep a portion of it alive sort of girl. When I was a kid and we went to DC, I was mesmerized by Ford’s Theater and later Gettysburg, even though I am profoundly anti-violence and anti-war. Even as an adult when I found myself visiting a friend in DC and realized he lived a few blocks from Ford’s Theater, I dragged my best friend who was visiting with me over for a tour.
So when we were considering shore excursions on our most recent Royal Caribbean Cruise, I really wanted to visit Mayan ruins during our time in Cozumel. I visited different Mayan ruins on my honeymoon cruise and found them beautiful and fascinating. When I found out that we could explore the ones at San Gervasio on this trip, I definitely wanted my kids to be able to see them. It didn’t hurt that the trip to the ruins was combined with a stop at the Mayan Cacao Company.
We got off the ship and headed down to find our guide. His name was Edwin and he was spectacular! Since not only lives in Cozumel but also works in the archeology department at one of the colleges, he was full of great information. He was also funny and just so nice! We all loved him, which was good since we spent about 3 hours with him.
To get to the ruins we went on a scenic drive which took about 20 minutes. I’m not sure if it was the most direct path to get there, but it did allow Edwin to tell us quite a bit about life in Cozumel. I had no idea that basically everything in Cozumel has to be shipped in from the mainland and that tourism is basically the only industry on the island. I was also amazed that such a small island (you can drive from tip to tail in about an hour) has three universities/colleges. Even more amazing is how much of the island is uninhabited because it is covered by lush mangrove forests. There are parts of the island that humans aren’t allowed on and that is pretty cool.
We arrived at San Gervasio, which didn’t initially look like much. Edwin gave us our tickets and we headed in. There is a very pretty little courtyard at the entrance. There are some fountains, a small restaurant and a few shops selling mostly jewelry and native crafts. Edwin was leading our tour and wanted to get us in before larger tour groups came through, so there wasn’t really a chance to look around. He did point out the people offering to spray visitors with bug spray for $1 each. I thought this was a bit strange…until I got into the ruins and got more than my share of bug bites. We went in December when Edwin said the bugs weren’t too bad. I cannot imagine what it would have been like had it been June! If you ever visit the ruins, either bring bug spray OR pay the $1. It would have been money well spent and it is my only regret from my day in Cozumel.
The ruins themselves are interesting. They aren’t as complete or elaborate as the other ruins I visited in Mexico, but this was a much smaller Mayan settlement, so that makes sense. We did see what would have been the king’s palace, the well where their water came from, the altar, the plaza, the big house, the arch, the small house, and the tall house. Of course, we only got to see a portion of the actual ruins. There are actually four “districts” that the ruins are in and only portions of one of the districts is open to the public. The ruins are also part of a wildlife sanctuary and full of iguanas and other lizards. We saw tons of small lizards roaming around the ruins.
You can watch a video of our exploration here.
My favorite part of the ruins was a structure that I think is referred to as the Murals because it used to have murals decorating its walls. Although these are no longer visible, what I liked was the really cool tree that is growing up through the stone and has burst through the thatched roof overhead. There is just something so beautiful about nature reclaiming something man made.
I also really like the Las Manitas, which was the residence of the Mayan ruler. It gets its name from the red handprints that are visible on the back wall of the structure. Originally it was an outer room that served as the ruler’s home and an inner sanctum reserved for his personal shrine. Visitors can still make out the two different areas and it’s pretty cool.
Another really cool part of the ruins is the original stone road that runs through it. Edwin told us that the road actually many miles not only through all of the ruins, but out into the city itself. Apparently it is about 12 miles long and there are people who try to follow it (and sometimes get lost) every year.
We also learned some cool information about why the steps on the altar are so skinny. It’s not that people’s feet used to be smaller. You were not meant to walk up the steps the way we walk up them–forward facing the top of the altar and our back toward the space we left. Instead, you were supposed to walk up them sideways (and at an angle) so that you would always be facing where you were going as well as never turning your back on where you’d been. For the Mayans, it was a sign of respect. When walked the correct way, one foot perfectly fits the steps.
Despite visiting during the “cold” season, it was still in the mid-80’s and since the ruins are largely unshaded, it was hot! We were all withering a bit by the end. Thankfully we got a bit of time at the end to explore the shops. The older I get, the less I want to fill my house with little objects de art, so I don’t really buy souvenirs much. I skipped the stores and went straight for the small restaurant. I needed some more bottled water (we’d exhausted the two bottles we brought in with us). On our arrival, Edwin had mentioned that if we were looking for some authentic Mexican tacos that the restaurant’s were great.
Now, it wasn’t much of a restaurant. It was open-air with a roof to shade the five or six tables, cooler with drinks, and small counter to order from. There were only two people working. One took orders and one made tacos on a small griddle-like cooking service right behind the counter. The choice was chicken, pork, or the special. I figured I had to go for the special. It turned out to be a combo of egg and pork with some pico-like veggies on top. You could get one taco or three. My son and I were the only adventurous ones in our group. I added some of the green tomatillo sauce to mine and he ate his two just the way they came. They were absolutely delicious and if you get a chance to visit San Gervasio, I suggest you try them.
Heat and bugs aside, this was a great excursion and I cannot recommend it enough. My family learned so much, we got some wonderful pictures, and got to try some truly delicious food.
Oh, and while I was in the restroom, the rest of my family ran into a man with a GIANT bird who was offering to let people take pictures with it for a small fee. Both of my kids had to do it, so my husband paid the fee and our kids got to play with the bird. I am not really a bird fan, but my kids adored it and love to talk about their friend the parrot.
If you are looking for a truly fantastic shore excursion in Cozumel, I highly recommend the Mayan ruins and Mayan Cacao Company combination.