Tag Archives: holiday

Bali, Indonesia – Impressions

After seven months working and biding my time in England, I’m back on the road again! This time doing the rounds of Asia.

While you’re never truly alone when travelling, this time I’m being accompanied by my brother for the first 6 months.

To get us started we’re heading to Bali for three weeks to attend a family reunion and to get to know the popular Indonesian tourist mecca.

Indonesia

Paradise in Indonesia

With just over 4 million people, Bali began to gain popularity as a tourist destination in the 1960’s when it was ‘discovered’ by a small group of Australian surfers. Only 3 hours flight from Perth, Bali’s popularity erupted and tourists swept into the island. This influx of foreign money greatly lifted the standard of living on the island.

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During the early 2000s two religious-based terror attacks in tourist areas set the industry back. But in the years that followed the island’s reputation bounced back. Australians make up a large portion of the foreign tourists on the island often giving the impression that there are more Aussies than Balinese. China has the second highest tourist count here.

A Day at the Beach

There are several main tourist areas in Bali, one is Kuta on the south-western coast surrounded by the townships of Legian and Seminyak. With beaches of golden sand, a day at the beach in Bali means hiring deck chairs and relaxing in the heat under a sun umbrella.

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With the deck chairs tended by beach bars there’s easy access to drinks, food, the warm ocean and plentiful bronzed bodies ripe for people watching. But be warned, while you’re relaxing if you should pay even the slightest attention to hawkers on the beach, they’ll appear in swarms trying to selling sunglasses, watches, sarongs, toys, hats, clothes or wanting to massage, paint nails, groom, plait hair and the like. Learn to ignore them and they’ll move on to the next target leaving you to relax in relative peace.

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As the sun sets, deck chairs are replaced with bean bags and the bars begin serving all manner of dinner and cocktails. The hawkers are still active, trying to sell glowing or sparkling light toys, while mosquitos come out dine.

Massages

Walking around the bustling tourist areas there are plentiful spas and massage houses offering all kinds beauty therapies and massages. With the prices averaging between 60,000 and 100,000 rupiah per hour (AU$6 – 10) getting one every 2nd day is easy. And yes, that was AU$6 – 10! Because of the sheer number of massage houses and fierce competition, groups of young women try to coax wandering tourists into the spas with calls of ‘massards’ and the waving of price lists.

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While I’m sure ‘Happy Endings’ can be found if that’s your thing, sticking to reputable outlets and the service will be professional.

Dental Work
Bali has many specialist dental surgeries at a fraction of the price of Australia or New Zealand, so it’s not uncommon to come here for a holiday and get some work done. The dentists are highly qualified and provide top quality services. Thankfully I needed nothing more that a checkup and clean.

Fine Dining
Bali has many restaurants offering all manner of food. This is probably the downside of holidaying on this Indonesian paradise, too much choice. While most restaurants serve traditional local foods such as Nasi Goreng, most serve Western foods too. There are restaurants that specialise in French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and American foods, not to mention Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. I particularly enjoyed the Japanese Jazz restaurant for both the food and the live band.

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Prices are close to Australian prices and can add up if eating out every night. However, it’s not difficult to locate local eateries with plentiful great food at cheap prices.

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A popular restaurant, Warung Murah, literally meaning ‘Cheap Restaurant’ in the Kuta area provides excellent food at a good price. If you go over the top and get a large plate, you could pay somewhere close to AU$6 for your meal. Be warned! There are also plentiful local street venders carrying their hot food around on the back of their scooters.

Drinking
Indonesia has an international quality beer named Bintang which is very popular among tourists, especially when served in the Bintang Tower.

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Balinese wine, in many tourist’s opinions however, isn’t up to international standards and with foreign wines being expensive, most stick with the beer. There are plentiful spirits, but only drink the known labelled brands, as the cheaper local brands may include an ethanol blend that has been known to cause death when consumed.

Next, I take a look at some of my adventures on the island paradise of Bali.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

Hoover Dam and The Grand Canyon, Arizona – Impressions

Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, is an intense place even if you’re only staying a couple of days. But if you’re planning to stay a week or more, getting out of the city should be a high priority. We did just that, hiring a car and driving to two features of the region:

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dan is situated on the U.S. state border of Nevada and Arizona, 50 kilometres from Las Vegas. The dam was built in Black Canyon on the Colorado River to prevent flooding, provide irrigation and generate power for the states of Nevada, Arizona and California. At the time of construction it was the largest concrete structure in the world.

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Completed in 1936, the dam was also used as a major highway, but due to increasing traffic concerns the Dam Bypass Bridge opened in 2010.

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The dam created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir of water in the United States by volume. The dam took only 5 years to build and during that time took the lives of 112 people. Sixteen people died in the first year of construction when temperatures in the area clocked in at close to 50ºC. Another forty-two died from pneumonia, although in later years this listing was seen as a cover-up of deaths caused by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

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The Grand Canyon
Nearly 200 kilometres from Las Vegas by car is the site of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The Skywalk is near the western end of the canyon at a site ingeniously called Grand Canyon West. There are several sections tourists can visit at Grand Canyon West; one is  Eagle Point, named after the impression of an Eagle in the ridge opposite…

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Eagle Point is also the location of the Skybridge itself, a metal framed ‘bridge’ with a glass bottom. Unfortunately use of personal cameras on the bridge is not permitted, meaning the cost of entry onto the walk plus purchase the photographs is quite expensive. Taking the Skywalk is not required as fearless tourists can walk to the edge of the canyon beside the structure.

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Another point of interest is Guano Point, literally ‘Bat Shit Point’. Bat caves were discovered in the canyon, the guano being a good source of phosphates used in farming. The mining lift building still stands at the end of the point.

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Guano Point is at the end of a thin section of a ridge line stacked high with boulders, giving great views along three separate sections of the canyon.

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The Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon over the course of two billion years. It is 446 kilometres long, 29 kilometres at its widest and is 1,800 metres deep. It is in the top five largest canyons in the world, although the term ‘largest’ can have several meanings relating to depth, width and length.

While many simply bus to the sections of the canyon, boat, helicopter and small plane tours are available for those who wish an even closer look.

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Other Places
These are not the only getaways near Las Vegas, only the two we visited. Other sites of interest are:

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Death Valley
  • Valley of Fire
  • Hidden Valley
  • El Dorado Canyon

The World Wanderer

Las Vegas, Nevada – Impressions

There’s no denying that Las Vegas is the Entertainment Capital of the World. While many cities try to match the intensity and vibrance of Vegas, only a few come close to the glamour and the hideous wealth that brings people from all corners of the world.

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Like a shining beacon in the Nevada Desert the city sparkles day and night with its brilliant lights flickering and dancing. This is especially so along the world-famous ‘Las Vegas Strip’, which dominates the southern end of the city even though it’s not actually within Las Vegas city limits, but in the cities of Paradise and Winchester that surround it.

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The wealth of the city is centred around the multi-billion dollar casino and hotels, and there are many of these block-sized behemoths owned primarily by two corporations. But if they didn’t have enough casinos in the city, more are being built. This includes completing some of the half-built skeletons of hotels left abandoned after the financial collapse a few years ago.

Even corporations that don’t have towering casinos are well represented, such as the massive Coca-Cola store and the four level M&Ms store, with one floor having an entire wall covered in M&Ms.

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Las Vegas is definitely the city of the slot machine with nearly three hundred thousand scattered everywhere, from the airport foyer to gas stations. This isn’t to mention entire floors of them in every casino. The slot machines are themed on almost anything you can think of in attempts to draw the casual gamer. But like most, they give a little enticing the player with hopes of winning, then, if you let them, taking back all that was given and more.

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There are many other attractions in the city beyond the casinos, such as the roller coaster circling the New York New York casino, the rides atop the towering stratosphere casino, the Mob Museum and the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont Street is in the centre of the Las Vegas ‘downtown’ area surrounded by older casinos. Along the covered street are many street performers, including many pop culture performers and celebrity lookalikes.

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Fremont street also has several stages along its street with various bands playing. It was St Patrick’s Day when I visited so there were many kilts being worn and irish bands playing to celebrate this ‘holiday’ that was created by the Americans. Even those without a kilt kept the green theme…

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There’s a lot of talent in Vegas with many comedians and musicians getting their start in the city. But Las Vegas is also the place where performers of old go to scrape out a living after their buzz has died down; these include David Copperfield, Celine Dion and Meatloaf, to name a meagre three.

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Alcohol laws are relaxed around the city. Almost every store sells it and some in large vessels like the daiquiri filled plastic yard glasses or the near actual sized plastic guitars filled with some alcoholic concoction. Alcohol is everywhere at all hours of the day and night. Honestly, who can resist a shot or two of the sweetest Tequila in the world, Dirty. This is especially so when the shots are twice normal size and only $2 each!

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Debauchery is rife in the city, with mobile billboards advertising ‘the classiest girls’ delivered to your hotel room within 20 minutes. Strips clubs are also heavily advertised in the evenings, with many hawkers giving out numerous business card sized cards offering special deals. There are also plenty of these…

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At a location along Las Vegas Boulevard between The Strip and the downtown is the towering casino Stratosphere. The building looks similar to the Skytower in New Zealand, and is only 20 metres taller. Atop the massive building there are four rides, a SkyJump similar to that on Auckland’s tower; The Big Shot, the highest thrill ride in the world which flings you into the air before letting you free fall down again; Insanity, dangling you over the building’s edge and spinning swiftly around; and lastly X-Scream, a roller coaster car that shoots you over the edge and stops suddenly, dangling you there.

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While visiting the city we even took in a baseball game. The Cubs versus The Mets…

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Overall, Las Vegas is an interesting place to spend a few days partying it up or throwing away your money, that’s if you can stand harassment by street hawkers or the relaxed inside smoking laws that make the slot machine floors harsh on the eyes and lungs. It’s not a bad place as long as you set a limit on everything and quit while you’re ahead.

The lights of our hotel, Excalibur…

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This is my final stop on my trip through Australia, Antarctica and the Americas over the course of sixteen months. Next I’m off to London, England, for a well deserved rest from travelling and to begin planning my next escape.

The World Wanderer

Looking Back, Central America

While it took ten months to work my way up the massive continent of South America, three months seemed only a short time to explore the Central America sub-continent even though it’s barely larger than Colombia. But since I was in the neighbourhood…

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Panama

San Blas Islands

With no straightforward bus route from Colombia to Panama, I chose a five-day cruise through the San Blas Islands, finishing in Panama City. The San Blas Islands are a glorious chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea, but make sure you do your research as the cruises aren’t always up to standard.

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Panama City

After so long in South America Panama City feels a little like home with its massive skyscrapers, malls, cinemas and fast food chains. When travelling long-term you lose the sense of time and on arrival in Panama days before Christmas I forget that it was prime holiday season for the locals. With most of the holiday destinations booked solid and long lines to get on any buses, I decided to spend the holidays hanging around the city. While there I visited the colonial old quarter of Casco Viejo, the canal and the ruins of Panama Viejo.

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Being in Panama City feels like being in the United States. There are so many Americans and I rarely needed to use my spanish skills as most people spoke english.

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Bocas del Toro

After the holiday break I headed west to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the border of Costa Rica. In the surf/party town I took the opportunity to spend a day on a catamaran snorkelling around the reefs and another sitting in a hammock at the hostel.

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Boquete

Then taking a chicken bus, I spent three days in the cooler climes of the mountain town of Boquete. While there I climbed the tallest mountain in the country – Volcán Barú. The views were wonderful from the top, but starting the 26km hike at midnight is difficult. So to recover I spent time in some natural hot springs just outside of town.

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Costa Rica

San José

Costa Rica has a reputation for being the most expensive country in Central America. From the capital, San José, I took a tour to the top of a volcano before boating along a river to see monkeys, a sloth, caimans, crocodiles and many different types of birds. It was during this tour that Iguana was served for lunch.

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Liberia

Next I headed north to the city of Liberia from where I visited the beach town of Playa del Coco and a set of waterfalls.

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Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur

My first stop in Nicaragua was the surf town of San Juan del Sur. A beautiful place to spend a couple of days with bars and beach-front restaurants aplenty. The town even has a statue of Christ atop a hill at the end of the beach.

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Isla Ometepe

No trip to Nicaragua is complete without catching the ferry across Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island with its pair of volcanos. Cruising around the volcanos on a scooter is a lot of fun, visiting beaches, cafés and thermal pools. Both volcanos are climbable and a group of us scaled the largest of the two.

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Granada

Next, I was on a bus to the touristic city of Granada at the northern end of the lake for some amazing food and a visit to yet another volcano, this one spewing smoke from the crater within its crater.

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León

Then a quick stop off on the city of Léon to go hurtling down the side of an active volcano on a volcano board.

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Honduras and El Salvador

With limited time, I set foot only briefly in both countries, mainly at customs on the borders. San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador seemed nice though for the thirty minutes we stopped there for lunch.

Guatemala

Antigua

Most travellers in Central America rave about Guatemala.  I arrived into Antigua to find another touristic city at the base of another volcano. Unlike other parts of Central America, Antigua has a lot of colonial architecture, although after numerous earthquakes over the centuries, many are in ruins.

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San Pedro la Laguna

I enjoyed a couple of days in San Pedro la Laguna on Lago Antitla with its thin streets, crazy Tuk Tuk drivers, great small restaurants and amazing lake views.

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Flores and Tikal

Then after a brief visit back in Antigua, I caught a bus to the north of the country to the island of Flores on Lago de Petén Itzá.

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Flores is a tourist destination and gateway to the great Maya ruins of Tikal, where I spent several hours exploring.

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Belize

Caye Caulker

Then on the one year anniversary of my time in Latin America I arrived in Belize, an english speaking country. Staying on the party island of Caye Caulker, I spent some time in the pristine waters snorkelling with Nurse sharks and Eagle Rays, some larger than I am.

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Mexico

While Mexico is actually in North America I included the southern portions as part of my Central American adventure. From Caye Caulker, I caught a ferry to Chetumal in Mexico and stopped for the night before heading on.

Palenque and Yaxchilán

After an eight-hour bus ride I arrived at the city of Palenque to continue The Maya Ruins Trail I began at Tikal. My first stop was the peaceful ruins of Yaxchilán and its connected site of Bonampak on the Guatemalan Border.

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Next it was to the Palenque ruins only twenty minutes out of the city.

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Merida and Uxmal

Four hours north in the Yucatán is Merida, a large and popular touristic city and the nearby ruins of Uxmal and one of its satellite cities, Kabah.

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Valladolid and Chichén Itzá

Then it was across to the city of Valladolid to see Mexico’s most visited archaeological site, Chichén Itzá, seen by more people every year than Peru’s Macchu Pichu.

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Tulum

Then it was back to the Caribbean Coastline to the town of Tulum and the Maya fortress of the same name.

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Cancún and Playa del Carmen

The final distinction in my thirteen month trip through Latin America, Cancún, where I did little more than prepare for my exit from Latin America, but managed a quick visit to the beaches at Playa del Carmen.

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Next, is a well deserved rest from travelling for six months to save and plan a year through Asia.

Adios America Latina,

The World Wanderer.

Cancún and Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Impressions

The ultra touristy Cancún at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula is the final destination of my three-month whirlwind tour of Central America and southern Mexico.

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Cancun’s main tourist area is Isla Cancún and was created in the mid 1970s by the Mexican government. The island is actually part of the second largest barrier reef in the world, stretching 1000km from the tip of the peninsula along the entire length of Belize to Honduras. Cancún is renown for being one of Mexico’s two most famous resort cities, the other being Acapulco on the Pacific Coast.

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As Cancún was my final destination, I didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the city, instead preparing for my imminent departure. But I did take a day out to travel an hour along the coast to the popular tourist beach, Playa del Carmen.

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It’s easy to see why the beach town is so popular, the golden sandy beaches and clear blue waters are beautiful. And while the beachfront restaurants and resorts are numerous, they’re not as all-encompassing as those in Tulum, and hour further south.

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It’s been a long adventure through Latin America these past thirteen months but I’m ready for a well-earned rest. While the constant traveling has been both amazing and stressful at the same time, I’ll miss the diverse cultures and the beautiful places I’ve visited, not to mention the challenges of constant change that travel evokes. I do look forward to six months of stability before beginning my next set of travels.

For those few who’ve been following my travels, I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts and photos as much as I’ve enjoyed providing them.

Until my next trip,

The World Wanderer.

Tulum, Mexico – Impressions

Just a short handful of years ago Tulum Pueblo was a quiet little town near the ancient cliff top Maya fortress of Tulum. Few visitors came to the town itself, most busing in directly to the ruins from Playa del Carmen, an hour to the north, or Cancún, a further thirty minutes beyond that.

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Over the past few years that quiet little town has begun to grow as a tourist destination with restaurants and resorts growing along the waterfront. The Caribbean coastline is beautiful to behold with its golden sands and clear waters.

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Unfortunately because of the growing number of resorts, which charge you to get access to the beach, finding a long stretch of beach to enjoy is difficult if you don’t have your own vehicle. And while bicycles are rentable everywhere in the town it’s still a long ride to a good beach.

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With the growing popularity of the area, the food and accommodation is of high quality and makes it worth staying a night or two. The area also has plentiful cenotes, with several hidden and smaller ones near the beach.

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But beyond the beach, the cenotes and the town, the ruins are the number one attraction in the area. The fortress was once called Zama meaning ‘City of Dawn’ as it faces the sunrise on the Caribbean Sea. It has since been renamed Tulum meaning ‘wall’ in the language of the Maya because of the great wall around the fortress city.

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Tulum was one of the last Maya cities built and unlike many in the region, it’s very compact and small. A tour of the complex will take only an hour if you dawdle. And because it’s the third most visited historical site in Mexico, after Chichén Itzá and Teotohuacan, the site is often swarming with tourists.

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There is access to the sea from the ruins and many tourists come to swim in the pristine waters beneath the 12 metre cliffs on which the ruins are situated.

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Templo del Dios Viendo – Temple of the Wind God.

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Next I travel north to Cancún, my final destination in Latin America.

The World Wanderer.