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Hundreds of ancient Maya structures still lie buried beneath the thick jungle vegetation of the Yucatan Peninsula, and a jungle tour is an ideal way for anyone who has ever had Indiana Jones fantasies to get a feel for what it was like for early archaeological explorers who discovered sites such as Coba and Tulum. After leading us up a large earth mound in Otoch Ma’ax Yetel Kooh Nature Reserve, our guide, Carlos, pointed out the entrance to a Maya spiritual site. The rest of the structure was buried by earth and vegetation, but when we looked inside, we could see a blue tinge to the walls, which meant that it was likely built between 250-900 A.D. Carlos bent down and picked up a small piece of broken red pottery lying in the rocks at the top of the ruin.
“These pottery pieces are hundreds of years old,” said Carlos of tour operator, Make Your Own Tour. “You can find them all over the ruins in this jungle. There are so many Maya ruins that archaeologists have not had time to uncover them all.”
The Mayan name Otoch Ma’ax Yetel Kooh means “House of the Spider Monkey and Jaguar,” and the trees in the preserve are teeming with spider monkeys and a small population of howler monkeys. Our guide said that jaguars can also be found in the surrounding jungle but are not typically seen during daylight hours — though he pulled out his cell phone and showed us a jaguar photograph he had taken while camping overnight in the area last year. In the nearby lake, there are also crocodiles. Suffice it to say, I was glad we were on a guided tour.
Not all tours of the nature reserve are the same as local companies offer different versions. Our full-day, private tour included transportation to and from our resort, a bicycle tour of the ruins of Coba, swimming at the Tamcach-Ha cenote, a Maya lunch, a Maya village visit and a tour of the nature reserve. Other tour companies may include different attractions or modes of transportation, such as ATVs or speedboats.
Established in 2002, the approximately 13,260-acre preserve protects a wide variety of rare plants and animals and provides a source of employment for locals. The monkeys are the real highlight of the jungle tour for most visitors, including our teenage son and daughter. Eulogio, our other guide, taught them how to do a monkey call, and our kids practiced their new skill as we watched a spider monkey moving gracefully through the upper level of the forest canopy high above us. To their disappointment, the monkey did not respond until Eulogio called him. They also took turns looking through binoculars at a family of howler monkeys high in a tree across the other side of the lake.
Eventually, our guides led us to a lake shore where we boarded canoes to paddle across to a zipline on the other side of the lake. Another short hike up a mountainside led us to a zipline where we put on helmets and harnesses and prepared for a wild ride back to the boat dock. As I snapped my carabineer into place, gripped the brake firmly and leaped from the platform into the air, I couldn’t help thinking that I would prefer facing any other jungle hazard besides that zipline — maybe I am not as much like Indiana Jones as I thought.
Make Your Own Tourwww.makeyourowntour.com
Prices vary depending on the number of tour participants and the attractions visited. The private tour mentioned here costs $100 per person for a family of four.
Another popular local company is Alltournative (www.alltournative.com), which offers group jungle tours for about $100 per adult.