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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Monument: Free; Transportation up the mountain: $9 (100 MXN); )

"Christ King" at the top of Cubilete Mountain.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

NOTE: Guanajuato is the capital city of the state of Guanajuato within Mexico. “Leon” is the largest city in Guanajuato state. Unless otherwise specified, when referring to Guanajuato, we mean the CITY.

1) By Plane:

Take a flight from where ever you are to Leon/Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) [The 2 cities share an International Airport]. From here, sadly, there is no option (as there are no buses) than to take a taxi, which will run you $33 (400 MXN) from the airport to downtown Guanajuato. Ask them to leave at whatever hotel you reserved (suggestion on a cheap one below). If you stayed in our recommended hotel (below), it is next to the marketplace, the center of the entire “historic downtown” area. While you COULD drive to the Cubilete mountain yourself, it is about a 90-120 minute drive through mountains and not really worth the gas, the rental, or the risk. The more economical and sensible thing to do is go with a tour, which charges 100 pesos to take you up there. There are many competing companies that go up every day (info below).

Skeezy Tip #1: Some of these, including the one I went on, take this trip rather late in the day in order to maximize their profits. They run a tour of the city in the morning, and then this tour in the evening. If you want to take decent pictures, it is best to go in the summer when there is more sunlight, OR demand that you go as early as possible or you wont pay. As the city is moving from arts and crafts to a tourism economy, competition is tough, so they will budge. It really helps your case however if you have a large enough group to make it worth their while.

Skeezy Tip #2: Apparently everyone in Guanajuato works for free. This is mentioned because at the end of any tour, any museum, or any insignificant walk thorough, they will mention this “fact” and ask for a tip. Don’t feel obligated if you don’t think the service was worth it as it is not a widespread custom in Mexico as it is in the US. However, most people will tip, so to show your appreciation / save face, you might want to carry some 10 Peso coins (short things), or some 20 peso bills (long tours).

Skeezy Tip #3: As a result of this being a relatively new industry, none of the services I came across had English Guides. While it is possible they exist, it is likely you will be stuck paying 2-3 times the cost of a normal tour. For this one, you really don’t learn anything too important besides the fact that the monument has been rebuilt 5 times. However, you might want to invite a bilingual CouchSurfer and get a free translator.

2) By Bus:

Take a bus from anywhere in Mexico to the Guanajuato Bus depot (the default of anyplace that says Guanajuato). As you get off the bus, there will be people selling tours to this monument, as well as hotels. The tours are identical in price to the ones found in the city, and the hotels are surprisingly amongst the most economical. Once you purchase / skip the tour to the monument, go outside and take a cab to your hotel/hostel for about $4 (40MXN). If you scheduled a tour, just wait for the bus to pick you up on time. If not, find a tour service (you can find them walking around the single main street of the city) that takes you there. They are all 100 pesos (you can get a deal if they are desperate, and departing immediately).

Skeezy Tip: It is recommended that (if they have a convenient schedule) you buy the tour when you get to the city (or at least get their info), so you don’t have to worry about finding a tour company as they are all the same price.

Golden Crown on the inside of the Pedestal

Story:

Almost everyone has heard of “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which is one of the 7 new world wonders. While that is a larger site, this one comes pretty close. Counting the mount, this monument is about 33 meters (108 ft) and is claimed (by the people of the city) to be the second biggest in the world. It is a testament to human architecture and the Mexican faith in the Catholic Religion. It stands on a huge mountain called “El Cubilete” making people often ask if you are going to see “El Cubilete” but really asking about the monument. It has been rebuilt 5 times on the same mountain, making constant upgrades, and additions. The current one has 2 angels next to him. One is smiling, giving him the crown of the king, while the other one looks away in shame as he is giving him the crown with spines. Unlike some other monuments to Jesus Christ around the world, the pedestal of this one is not solid. You can enter it, to view quite an impressive temple shrine, with a large golden colored crown on the top, an even larger spines crown surrounding the entire room, and a solid gold star which is only shown on special occasions.

Skeezy Tip: Plan to stay at least a few days in Guanajuato, as it has a lot to offer, at a surprisingly economical price which is not common anymore in Mexico. The food is also really cheap here, especially in the marketplace with 6 Peso (50 cent) Tostadas!

From the back of the monument.

Logistics:

Airplane: Fly into Leon/Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) and follow the instructions above. Use Kayak.com, or if possible vivaaerobus.com as they give you the best rates.

Lodging:

1) Posada San Francisco: 011-473-732-2084 (No Website)

We got this one as we entered the city. No reservations were needed at the time, but we did notice other people getting turned away because they didn’t have any more rooms.

2) Hostelworld Rooms as low as $10 Shared (120 MXN) $18 Private room (220 MXN)

You could move to this one night, then more to option 1 the following nights. While this is cheaper, Posada San Francisco is where tour buses drop off people, and the exact center of town.

3) Hostelbookers Rooms as low as $7 Shared (80 MXN) $8 Private room (100 MXN)

4) Couch Surfing FREE

While the couch surfing community does exist in Guanajuato, don’t be fooled. Most people life in “new Guanajuato” which is a 20-40 MXN ($2-$4) cab ride from the historic downtown. Just be advised you will be a bit far from most things to do in the city.

Tours:

Sadly, most don’t have set offices beyond the tour company in the bus depot. Go with that if you arrived by bus. You will see them (since they crowd around you) as you exit the bus (but still inside the bus depot). If you arrived by plane (or missed this company), follow the map below, as it is centered where many Tour Company Kiosks are. Many other Kiosks exist if you walk along Juarez Street towards the market place (and past it) from where the map is centered below.

MAP: Centered at Posada San Francisco, which is also the exact center of the city and where many TOUR service kiosks are.

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to the ruins: $5 (51 MXN) [Sian Kaan Reserve Entrance: FREE!!!], Bus from Merida to Tulum $12 (146 MXN) one way, $24 (292 MXN) round trip.)

Tulum archaeological site overlooking the ocean.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) Combining your visit with a stop at Chichen Itza (recommended):

Take a flight from where ever you are to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico [Visas are not required for Mexico from most countries] (airplane info below). Then take a cab outside the airport (see logistics and skeezy tips below) to your hotel or hostel (see suggestion on hostel below). Then use the google map below to guide yourself to the bus depot. Its walking distance from the suggested hostel. Take a bus to Chichen Itza (leaves hourly). They drop you off literally in front of the site. Go in, take your pics, absorb the culture. Buy a bus ticket to Tulum from a bus retailer inside the official gift shop (its directly across and to the right from where you paid for the entrance). Go to the exact point you were dropped off (a little courtyard) to wait for the bus (dont panic if its late… its ALWAYS late). Once you arrive in Tulum, go outside and take a taxi (expensive, no going around it) to whatever hotel/hostel you made reservations (recommended to make reservations ahead of time, see suggestion below). Once you settle in, you could put your luggage down and go rent a bicycle, motorcycle, car or take a taxi to the ruins and to the biosphere reserve (see map below).

Skeezy Tip #1: If you arrived in the morning to Merida you could skip the whole hostel in Merida and go straight from the airport to the bus depot. This will save you time, and one night lodging in Merida. Tulum is much prettier since its on the beach. Make sure however that you leave early to Chichen Itza as it is 3 hrs away, it takes about 2.5 hours to explore and 3 additional hours to Tulum.

Skeezy Tip #2: As mentioned in the Chichen Itza article, there are 2 bus depots next to each other in Merida. One is 1st class (named “CAME”), the other is 2nd class (No name, just called “central de segunda clase”). The service is almost identical, except that you aren’t guaranteed a seat in 2nd class. Arrive early enough and that isn’t a problem. 1st class costs 40% more and departs more seldom (big downside). From Merida there will always be seats in 2nd class (since most originate there), but from Chichen Itza, its a toss up. (Map Below)

Skeezy Tip #3: Taxis are extremely expensive in Tulum, approx $7-9 (80-100 MXN) from the city to the archeological site and an insane amount to Punta Allen inside of Sian Kaan $36 (400 MXN). Do yourself a favor and use them as seldom as possible.

2) Going STRAIGHT to Tulum:

Same instructions as above, but instead of getting a ticket to Chichen Itza from Merida, get one directly to Tulum. Keep in mind that the 2nd class bus depot only goes to Tulum at 5Am and at 9PM. The ride takes 6 hrs in second class, and about 4 in first class.

Story:

Mayan Ruins of Tulum: During the height of its power (13th-16th centuries), Tulum was a very important city for the Mayans. It served as a trading post and fortress due to its location adjacent to the Caribbean sea. It started to collapse decades after the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico due to spreading disease across the continent. Tulum however has a very interesting recent history as well (which you wont find on wikipedia!). During the Mexican Revolution (1910) the indigenous people of the area saw the conflict as the perfect opportunity to attempt to secede from the Mexican Republic. They formed an alliance of Native Mexicans (Mayan, and other native descendants), and made Tulum their capital. As with the Mayans, these descendants were defeated by the now Mexican Army.

Main structure of Tulum. Just like Chichen Itza, this is also called "El Castillo" (The Castle).

Library of Tulum. There used to be guided tours until people started tagging inside.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere: Sian Ka’an is a wildlife reserve, one of the largest in all of Mexico. It is home to many large species such as Jaguars, crocodiles, white sea-turtles, dolphins, and racoon-relatives. Since it was set aside as a reserve in the 1980s, human development has been very limited by the Mexican government. This has allowed this hidden treasure to be very raw with virgin beaches stretching for about 30 miles from Tulum to Punta Allen (a small town and farthest reachable point inside Sian Ka’an from Tulum, see map). The other charm of this site is that its largely unknown by the general public, probably due to lack of advertisement. You could stop for 30 minutes on the single road and not see another human around the whole time. From Tulum, the reserve is on a single road along an extremely thin peninsula, with a fresh water lagoon to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the East. The welcome center is about 10 km into the reserve and offers some (expensive $70 a person) tours. In Punta Allen, the tours are far more affordable ($25 a person) (tour info below).

Skeezy Tip: Under no circumstances try to swim in the fresh water side of the reserve. This is a crocodile infested area. On the beach side however, there are no dangerous animals.

Dolphins playing around the boat.

Lagoon to the west of the peninsula road

Bird's Eye View from a watch tower in the welcome center. You can see nothing but palm trees and beach.

Logistics:

Airplane ride: Use cheap websites like Kayak.com, cheapoair.com, or directly from Aeromexico,com, volaris.com, or vivaaerobus.com. The Merida Airport is about 15 minutes from the bus depot/hostel.

Skeezy Tip: The airport offers taxis for $13 (155 MXN). This is an outrageous rate. If you walk straight forward from the airport then take your first right on the major street until you hit an intersection, you can hail a cab for 1/3 the price. Taxis in the city are metered and costs about $4 (50 MXN) to get to the hostel zocalo (zocalo is a town square, which is usually analogous to “downtown”). They are also abundant and you shouldn’t have a problem finding one (even at 4 in the morning).

Lodging in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

1) Hostel Zocalo , $12 a person (140 MXN):

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-Zocalo/Merida/10630

Best spot for 2 reasons; a) Its walking distance to the bus depot, and b) Its the cheapest find in Merida.

2) Hostelworld.com (Search Merida city, Yucatan, Mexico)

Lodging in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico:

1) Cenote Encantado, $16 a person for a tent (180 MXN)

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Cenote-Encantado-1320/Tulum/42352

Since this is a very touristy area, all hotels are in the $50+ range. There aren’t many hostels but this one stands out. It is not only cheap, but the location is impeccable. It is on the beach (just cross the street, isolated and almost to yourself), and it is 500 meters from the entrance to Sian Ka’an. In addition there is a network of small lakes or lagoons connected by underground rivers, geologically unique to this area of the world called “cenotes” (sinkholes). This hostel has one such lagoon connected to it. You could either swim, or the owner will let you borrow his kayaks or inflatable rafts free of charge to explore this beautiful lagoon where you will likely be the only people there. The actual hostel is a set of tents, with beds inside of them. The bathrooms are also waterless holes, and the showers might or might not have hot water (the peninsula is always hot though, but their heater was broken when I arrived). Despite this, it is actually quite comfortable and the owner (a conservationist hippie) is super nice.

Cenote (sinkhole) behind "Cenote Encantado" from inside an inflatable raft. Crystal clear warm fresh water.

2) Cabanas Costa Del Sol: 200 MXN for campsite, 400 MXN for a dormroom, 800 MXN for a bungalow. Prices explode during high season.

www.Cabanascostadelsol.com

This place is one of the only isolated hotels allowed within the reserve that doesnt have many tourists. It is just outside of Punta Allen, and has many services such as tours on boats, bicycle rentals and so on. It also has a really good restaurant.

Skeezy tip: Since you are far from society, it is highly recommended you rent a motorcycle or car if you stay here to see some of the more isolated spots.

3) http://www.hostelworld.com or pricetravel.com It is suggested you read the reviews before booking as the cheapest place in Tulum “Lobo Inn” has a terrible reputation of being flea infested and having leaky roofs.

Transportation:

This is one of those places where you will need it. Bicycles are 100 MXN ($9) and motorcycles (scooters) are 400 MXN ($36) in high season. Cars are in the 500-650 MXN ($45-60) range. If you only visit the archaeological site, the bike is good enough, however you will need a car, or a motorcycle (only if you have experience, as the road is made of dirt, and it is uneven) to reach Punta Allen in the Sian Ka’an Reserve. Keep in mind, you dont have to REACH that town to enjoy the reserve so you could just bike 10 km into the reserve and enjoy.

1) Punta Piedra Hotel and Bike Shop: (011)-984-1574-248 // (011)-984-1153-710 (location on the map below)

-Scooters (motorcycles): $36 (400 MXN) in high season PER 24 HOURS

-Bicycles: $9 (100 MXN) high season. MUST BE RETURNED BY 6PM (lame)

-Other services: Life jackets (40 MXN, $4), snorkel gear (call for price). PER 24 HRS

-Hotel and tour services are also offered.

Skeezy Tip #1: Especially during high season, scooters and bikes sell out. RESERVE yours before arriving (have to give a deposit) as you are soooo screwed without one of these in Tulum (taxis are mad expensive).

Skeezy Tip #2: If you rent a scooter, you will be asked to leave your passport as collateral, no exceptions. This might make a few people uneasy, but I have done this here, and in Cambodia, and have never had a problem getting my passport back. Just make sure the place is in an established location. Just in case, find out where your nearest embassy is.

Skeezy Tip #3: Scooters have insurance, but only in a 20 km radius, anything else, you go at your own risk. If something breaks in the scooter when you’re far inside of Sian Kaan, you will have to pay for the scooter. Thus, take a car if you don’t have experience as it is a rough road. I had a hard time for a good 10 km of the trip, and have been riding motorcycles for 4 years.

Skeezy Tip #4: I recommend a scooter (or car) over the bike because of 2 reasons.

Skeezy Tip #5: Despite this being a very touristy place, most places do NOT accept credit cards (same goes for most places in Mexico). You will need cash. If you need an ATM, you will most likely have to head into the city. There is a bank very near the bus depot where you were dropped off.

a)  If you return a bike at 6PM (a must, you cant keep it overnight), you will need a taxi back to your hotel and back to Punta Piedra to re-rent it in the morning (and you really need 2 days in Tulum to do both). With a scooter, you don’t have to worry about this. Furthermore, unlike in other countries, there are only few places that rent bicycles and Punta Piedra is THE ONLY PLACE as far as I know that rents scooters.

b) If you decide to go to Punta Allen, you will never make it there and back in a bike, as it is uneven dirt road for 50 km (30 miles) and once sundown hits, its pitch black. 2) Car: To get a car, ask your taxi, right after you arrive at Tulum to take you somewhere that rents cars. They will all be in the city, so go straight from the bus depot as you save on taxi rides.

Other Services:

1) Boat Tour from Punta Allen (to see dolphins, sea turtles, crocodiles, and more):

email: info@puntaallenalianza.com (no website yet as its new)

As soon as you enter Punta Allen, you will see signs telling you to go to a tourist center. Follow them. This is actually a boat tour company (but thankfully worth it). They charge 1410 MXN ($125) for a 3 hr tour, or 1200 MXN ($100) for a 2 hr tour. However, this is per boat, and they will wait until they have enough people if you want to split the cost. When they get a maximum of 6 (30 min wait), it is 235 MXN ($20) a person for the 3 hour tour, and 200 MXN ($18) for the 2 hour one. The long one is well worth it because you get to see crocodiles in addition to the rest. The tour includes seeing dolphins, sea turtles, crocodiles, diving eagles, lagoons, large nesting birds and snorkeling along the coral reef (sadly, its bleached). They also take you to a natural pool (very shallow beach) to swim for a bit. This is worth it but keep in mind, you will need to come early to Punta Allen (arrive before noon) if you plan to leave the reserve before sun down.

Giant White Sea Turtles

2) As soon as you enter Punta Allen, ask around and you will find more boat tour places, if the one suggested above is not to your liking. There are more boat tours in the lodging place cabanas costa del sol suggested above.

Bus Depot from Merida to Chichen Itza/ Tulum:

This is a bit tricky. There are two bus depots and are across the (small side) street from each other. There is the Second class Depot  (No name, just called “central de segunda clase”) and CAME which is a 1st class service. Note that 2nd class buses take 3 hrs to Chichen Itza, while first class take 2 hrs. You are guaranteed a seat in 1st class, but not in 2nd class. The rates listed above are for 2nd class. 1st class costs on average, 40% more. They are both on the intersections of 70th street and 69th street (see map).

Skeezy Tip: Arrive early, and try to be one of the first ones on the bus to claim your seat. A seat number does not guarantee you a seat, as they sell more in the 2nd class buses to make more money. In 1st class this isn’t a problem.

Map of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

IMPORTANT: I know on the location for Zocalo Hostel, on the actual google map, it shows it as if its on 65th street. ITS NOT. Its on 63rd street in front of “Plaza Grande” (Zocalo) as I have shown on the map below

(A=Zocalo Hostel, B= 2nd class bus depot, C = CAME 1st class Bus Depot)


Map of Tulum:
Click on the link below. The bus Depot is where is says “ADO” in the CENTER of the city. Punta Piedra is along the coast (marked). The Archaeological Zone is where it says “Tulum A.Z.”. Finally, the Cenote Encantado is along the coast down south almost near the “Arco de Sian Ka’an” which is the entrance to Sian Ka’an.

Map of Sian Ka’an: In this case, a satellite map was more appropriate:

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By: Julio Moreno ( Tour to all 3 sites, $25 per person [includes buffet, and entrance to all sites, and personal driver] varies depending on your hotel)

The Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

 

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) By Plane:

Take a plane from wherever you live to Phnom Penh international Airport. When you arrive into Cambodia, you will be required to pay $20 for an entry visa to be processed. You will also be asked to bring with you 2 passport sized pictures with you [tip below] (you do not need to pay or prepare or pay for ANYTHING else before arrival). When you leave, you will have to pay another $25 as an “exit visa”. If you arranged somewhere to stay (look below) they might be able to pick you up from the airport, ask. Otherwise, there are many taxis right outside the airport. You should arrange ahead of time with your hotel as to a tour including these places (if your hotel doesn’t provide this, call the “Indochine 2” hotel, they do, info below). Often if the hotel is unable to provide tours themselves, they know someone who does, just ask (or take a taxi). Cambodia tends to be very hospitable to tourists and can accommodate your interests. The tours usually start very early, and the one in the hotel listed below, includes a buffet. Our hotel was also able to combine the tour with bus tickets to Siem Reap (for an additional $7).

Skeezy Tip #1: While the passport pics are “required” my friend lost hers on route. Apparently, its only a $2 fine if you forget. That is cheaper than the $9 I paid in Korea and probably cheaper than passport pictures in most countries. They instead just make you take a picture with a digital camera they have.

Skeezy Tip #2: Some websites promote an “on-arrival” visa verification for $10. This is a SCAM! The sites look very official, but was told upon arriving that the “verification form” they sold me for $10 was useless. When I confronted the website on this and told them I would report them, they refunded my $10.

2) By Bus:

There are many direct bus routes from Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, Vietnam, or Thailand. Ask your hotel and they will most likely know. Keep in mind, you will have to pay some sort of fee if you enter by land. Just like by plane, your hotel might be able to pick you up from the bus depot, or you could easily get a cab.

Skeezy Tip #1: If you arent carrying a heavy load and are alone, motorcycles are about half the price of other taxis.

Skeezy Tip #2: You will also likely get swarmed with many taxi drivers trying to get you. Walk where more than one driver can see you, they will try to haggle with you for the best price.

Skeezy Tip #3: This applies to all of Cambodia. The US dollar and the Riel are used interchangeably with no problem at a street rate of 4000 Riel to 1 USD. If you are American, dont bother trading for Riel as you can consider the dollar  the actual official currency, and the Riel as coins or change.

Story:

Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields): This is one of the over 20,000 mass graves found all over Cambodia where Pol Pot (ruler of Cambodia 1975-1979) ordered the genocide of the Cambodian people. Anyone who spoke up against the government was eradicated, along with any family they may have had. As seen from the picture below, no one was spared. This truly remarkable and obscene era in recent world history is largely unknown and the museum at the entrance tells part of the tale. From 1975-1979 anywhere from 1.7 – 3.5 million Cambodians were killed as a result of direct murder or massive famine. Given the population of Cambodia was around 7 million at the time, this is around 21%-50% of the population destroyed in 4 years. Pol Pot sought to bring a radical form of Communism called “Agrarian Socialism” where many forms of technology, most formal education, and city live would be abandoned to allow for mass farm cultivation. He effectively reduced the population of Phnom Penh in 1975 from 2 million, to virtually ZERO.

A testament to the brutality of the Pol Pot Regime. The sign on the right really says "Juvenile Female Kampuchean (Cambodian) 15-20 yrs old".

The center of the memorial, where the skulls found have been collected.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison): This was a high school which was converted into a prison during the era of Pol Pot. Tens of thousands of prisoners were held, tortured and eventually killed. Prisoners were often sent from here, to the killing field (mentioned above) to be buried or killed. As seen from the pictures below, age wasn’t a factor for determining an enemy of the state, as even children were murdered. In this prison, it is said that a little over 20,000 prisoners were held during its tenure, of which only 6 survived. The killing didn’t end until 1979 where another Communist nation (this is why you don’t see it too much in American taught history), Vietnam, invaded Cambodia and ousted Pol Pot, ending his Khmer Rouge regime.

The interior of S-21 shows the pictures taken of all the prisoners. This gets sadder as you move along the museum and see the prisoners get younger and younger.

The upper levels of S-21 have barbed wire to prevent prisoners from attempting suicide.

One of the larger individual rooms. They were however, only large for the comfort of the torturing guard as the prisoner was bounded to this chair at all times.

The Royal Palace: This is where the King of Cambodia resides. However, much like the queen of England, he doesn’t have any real administrative power. However, UNLIKE the queen of England, you are required to respect the king at all times as he is highly esteemed by the Cambodian people and badmouthing the king can result in negative repercussions. Rumor has it, one particularly unfortunately drunk foreigner forgot this rule and was send to prison for 3 months for cursing at a picture of the king.

One of the towers of the Royal Palace. The architecture is unique of Cambodian style.

Skeezy Tip #1: Many of the tourist spots around Phnom Penh are very sad to see, however keep your guard up. As the country relies heavily in the tourism of these spots, people will be out trying to make an extra buck on your lowered guard. In all 3 sites, you will see people selling books on a number of things including the S21 prison, Pol Pot, or a lonely Planet of numerous countries. However the price for these re-sellers is around $6-$10 a book. In the market place, you can get them for less than half. Furthermore, don’t make the mistake I did and carry books your whole trip, they actually sell the same books almost everywhere.

Skeezy Tip #2: At first glance, 4000 Riel (or $1 which is the equivalent) for 1/2 liter of water seems like a fair deal. However, this is an enormously inflated price, as they charge 500 Riel to a Cambodian. While it is unlikely that you can bargain them down to 500 Riel (which is 12 cents) it is very easy to get them to sell it for 2000 Riel. While this seems minor, trust me, you will be buying a LOT of water.

Skeezy Tip #3: The poverty in Cambodia is obvious. With that, come a lot of beggars. While seasoned travelers might now have a problem saying no to people asking for money (as parents often send their children to beg instead of to school) Cambodia’s begging can be different. You will often see children beg for some of what you are eating, chips, or even something as basic as water. This will break your heart, especially if you don’t have anything to give them and might be tempted to give them money. Do yourself a favor, pack plenty of snacks, or food and don’t hesitate to share with them. It is a lot better than giving them money, and cheaper too. They also get very talkative if you’re sharing snacks.

Skeezy Tip #4: Tour guides are available for these 3 places, but in reality, it is most worth it at the S21 prison. Like Siem Reap, there are no plaques or signs telling you the story of the prison. Furthermore, most guides inside are middle aged, who actually lived during that era. They have insider information and their own story to tell if you ask (as politely and delicately as possible of course).

Other places to go to / things to see:

The Central Marketplace: Cheap place to buy memorabilia, books, souvenirs, and jewelery.

Skeezy Tip #1: Tours, like the one I took are more time based than location based and are very flexible. With that said, it is possible for you to ask the driver for a detour to the market place. While you could always go yourself, you save yourself the taxi to and from the marketplace.

Skeezy Tip #2: This applied to more than just Cambodia. Jewelery is a huge scam here, in Thailand, and in Vietnam. Jewelers will try to show you how authentic and high quality their jewelery is using some “stone detection tools”. While they might have authentic stones, they are hardly the bargain they claim. It is a huge business to try to sell mass amounts of jewelery at very inflated prices, and fact of the matter is, unless you are an expert, you really cant tell the difference between high and low quality stones with the naked eye OR with tools. If you just must have jewelery, don’t buy too much.

Logistics:

Airplane: Fly into Phnom Penh International airport, and follow the instructions in the intro. Use sites like Kayak.com Airasia.com, Cheapoair.com, or Ctrip.com as they consistently give the cheapest rates (over sites like cheaptickets, and expedia.com).

Lodging:

1) Indochine 2 Hotel, as low as $17 a night for a single person.

http://www.indochine2hotel.com/accommodation.php

This is a recommended hotel because of the location, cleanliness, and services. They can make a tour package with a driver to take you to all three (or 4 including the marketplace) listed above, which includes a buffet for $25 a person, or $32 with bus to Siem Reap. The hotel has computers with internet in the lobby, and complimentary water bottles in your rooms.

2) Hostelbookers.com has private rooms as low as $4 a room/night.

3) Hostelworld.com has private rooms as low as $3 a room/night.

4) Couchsurfing.org is free, if you find someone who is willing to host you.

In addition to a free room, couchsurfing hosts might also show you around their city for free, as an exchange of cultures. Beware of creepers and do at your own risk.

Map:


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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Site: $10 (116 MXN), Bus from Merida,Yucatan $6 (65 MXN one way, 130 MXN round trip))

The main Pyramid of Chichen Itza, The old Mayan Capital

 

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Take a flight from where ever to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico (see airplane info below). Then take a cab outside the airport (see logistics and skeezy tips below) to your hotel or hostel (see suggestion on hostel below). Then use the google map below to guide yourself to the bus depot. Its walking distance from the suggested hostel. Take a bus to Chichen Itza. They drop you off literally in front of the site. Go in, take your pics, absorb the culture. Buy a bus ticket back to Merida from the counter in the official gift shop. Go to the exact point you were dropped off (a little courtyard) to wait for the bus (dont panic, its ALWAYS late).

Skeezy Tip#1: What many people usually do is fly to Cancun, then take a bus to Chichen Itza. However, Cancun (as seen by the map) is farther than Merida. Also, if coming from N. America, Merida is closer and flights are usually cheaper. In addition hotels in Cancun are considerably more expensive than those in Merida. If you also want to see cancun in this trip, it is Easy to continue from Chichen Itza to Cancun  by bus. Just bring all your luggage, there is storage for a fee at most bus depots (Merida’s included) and its free storage at Chichen Itza.

Skeezy Tip #2: There are 2 bus depots. All prices stated are for the 2nd class bus depot (“central de segunda clase”) and not CAME which is the 1st class bus depot. They are also confusingly in front of each other. See the map at the very end of this article to see where they both are.

Story:

Chichen Itza is the most well preserved Mayan site and one of the 7 new wonders of the world. The most famous  artifact is “El Castillo” (the castle), a pyramid that triggers an interesting shadow effect that resembles the diamond back snake on its side. HOWEVER, this effect only happens on the equinoxes, twice a year on March 21st, and Sept 21st. It happens a few days before and after too. Regardless, its still an amazing site to visit any day. Mayan civilization was known for advanced knowledge of astronomy and natural phenomenon (unlike the Aztecs) and predicted events such as eclipses and planetary wobbles. However, despite popular belief, it does NOT predict the end of the world on Dec 21st 2012. The date does mark an important new era, but nothing so drastic.

An ancient stadium of the "ball game" which only used your hips and other joints to hit the ball. The hoops on the sides are where you score.

Skeezy Tip#1: See everything first before trying to buy anything. While many arts and crafts are impressive, and hand made, the site is large so you dont want to carry things for hours before you leave.

Skeezy Tip #2: Bargain, hard! Rule of thumb, as a Mexican, I find that the lowest someone will go, in general is about 20-45% below the initial asking price. If you get the full 45%, great job. Its a bigger difference on the higher priced items of course. I also noticed the asking price is bigger for foreigners( maybe 10-20% more), who are usually too shy to bargain. Claim to be a poor exchange student and that you know you are being high balled. Never be rude however, as bargaining is a fine art and they appreciate a good bargainer.

Skeezy Tip#3: Some items, especially T-shirts wont be bargained for. However, keep shopping around. I asked about shirts to about 5 vendors before one said he would sell them for 40 instead of the asked for 50 MXN.

This is where the Mayans sacrificed people. Although it is dirty now due to dirt clogging the porous bottom, it is part of a massive network of sinkholes all over the Yucatan Peninsula.

Logistics:

Airplane ride: Use cheap websites like Kayak.com, cheapoair.com, or directly from Aeromexico,com, volaris.com, or vivaaer0bus.com. The Merida Airport is about 15 minutes from the bus depot/hostel.

Skeezy Tip: The airport offers taxis for $13 (155 MXN). This is an outrageous rate. If you walk straight forward from the airport then take your first right on the major street until you hit an intersection, you can hail a cab for 1/3 the price. Taxis in the city are metered and costs about $4 (50 MXN) to get to the hostel zocalo (zocalo is a town square, which is usually analogous to “downtown”). They are also abundant and you shouldn’t have a problem finding one.

Lodging in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

1) Hostel Zocalo , $12 a person (140 MXN):

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-Zocalo/Merida/10630

Best spot for 2 reasons; a) Its walking distance to the bus depot, and b) Its the cheapest find in Merida.

2) Hostelworld.com (Search Merida city, Yucatan, Mexico)

Bus Depot to Chichen Itza:

This is a bit tricky. There are two bus depots and are across the street from each other. There is the Second class Depot (just called “central de autobuses”) and CAME which is a 1st class service. Note that 2nd class buses take 3 hrs to Chichen Itza, while first class take 2 hrs. Also you are guaranteed a seat in 1st class, but not in 2nd class). The rates listed above are for 2nd class. 1st class costs on average, 50% more. They are both on the intersections of 70

Skeezy Tip: Arrive early, and try to be one of the first ones on the bus to claim your seat. A seat number does not guarantee you a seat, as they sell more in the 2nd class buses to make more money. In 1st class this isn’t a problem.

Map of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

IMPORTANT: I know on the location for Zocalo Hostel, on the actual google map, it shows it as if its on 65th street. ITS NOT. Its on 63rd street in front of “Plaza Grande” (Zocalo) as I have shown on the map below

(A=Zocalo Hostel, B= 2nd class bus depot, C = CAME 1st class Bus Depot)


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