"It’s just like being on a luxury cruise, except we’re on land," commented a fellow passenger as the Expreso Maya train chugged slowly across Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. We were just finishing a generous lunch in the comfortable dining car, as we watched the villages and semitropical rainforest pass by.
The train was a highlight of our visit to the Mayan world. The previous
day, we’d visited amazing ruins at Palenque, and spent a lively
evening enjoying live music and dancing. Then, this morning, we boarded
the shiny red and white train. It was still quite early, so with brand
new pillows and blankets, we took a short nap before our sumptuous breakfast
Each car on the train is air-conditioned and beautifully appointed, and
each is named for a Mayan ruin (Uxmal, Tikal, Clakmul, Palenque and
Chichén-Itzá) and uniquely decorated in a Mayan theme.
The seats are comfortable to relax in, and the club car has a lounge
with a library to peruse and games to play. Occasionally, the conductor
comes by to announce a lecture by a local professor who, with maps and
anecdotes, leads an interesting discussion on the history and culture
of the Mayan people, adding greatly to our appreciation and enjoyment
of the sites we visit.
This first afternoon of rail travel, we step off the train to view a cenote,
a deep, water-filled sinkhole formed by water coming through the soft
limestone which underlies the Yucatan peninsula. These underground bodies
were extremely important to the Mayas and figured prominently in their
ceremonies. Back on the train, we enjoy a cold drink at the bar, and
settle in again. After a delicious onboard dinner, we arrive at Campeche
and check into our comfortable hotel. A short walk leads us to the old
city walls, which remind us of Disney’s "Pirates of the Caribbean" and
promise us an interesting day tomorrow.
After breakfast, we visit the Mayan ruins at Edzná, located just
outside of Campeche. Edzná was occupied from around 600 B.C.,
but didn’t develop into a major city until 800 years later. We
return to Campeche"s plaza, where real buccaneers did attack, and
explore the protective walls and battlements which surround the city.
After shopping for local crafts and enjoying a fine supper in the plaza,
we are "captured" by "pirates" and taken to the sound
and light show where the pirate days are recreated along the ramparts
and old stone walls of the fort.
The next morning, back on the train, we head north towards Mérida,
the capital of the Yucatan. At our first stop a luxury motorcoach awaits
to drive us to the early Mayan ruins of Uxmal, one of the most well known
of the Mayan cities, and considered by many archaeologists to be the
finest—an incredible site. In the late afternoon our train arrives
at the city of Mérida, where we spend the night in a lovely hotel,
enjoying the local food and entertainment, and strolling around this
beautiful colonial city.
Enjoying our last breakfast in the dining car, with the new friends we
have made, we look forward to this day’s visit to Chichén
Itzá. Arriving at the station, we say our farewells to the train
and its crew, who over the past few days have become almost like family.
The extensive and amazing ruins at Chichén Itzá are the
icing on the cake of this fabulous journey and to describe them would
require a whole other article. Finally, tired and awed, we board the
motorcoach for the ride to Cancun, where we will be pampered on this
world-famous tropical beach, an appropriate ending for a trip that is
first class all the way.