Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Quintana Roo

The Mayan Ruins of Quintana Roo are one of the main reasons that I wanted to visit this southern corner of Mexico. While I have learned a bit about the Mayan empire since being in school, it was hard to imagine what it would really be like to visit some of the world’s ancient pyramids. Even amidst the crowds, I think it is a spiritual experience to visit these places. Not only do they demonstrate a little about the Mayan people (who still thrive in Quintana Roo and the surrounding peninsula), but they provide a window into the past of the land here as well. So, needless to say, I think if you come down (or up) this way, you should definitely put the ruins of this area high on your list of things to do.

Following here is a quick guide to some of the more and less famous Mayan ruins of Quintana Roo. I’m hoping you can use this guide to appreciate the historic masterpieces of this Mexican state. And if you plan on visiting, that this guide will help you pick the best spots for you.

Mayan Ruins of Quintana Roo

Mayan ruins of Quintana Roo

Copa (c) ABR 2023

The Mayan people still live in Quintana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula. And there are even some great guides out there for anyone looking to explore modern Mayan culture through food, museums, and more.

The height of the Mayan Empire, which left behind the pyramids and sacred places that we can still visit today was in 200-900 AD. As you can tell from visiting and looking at the pictures of the structures that they built, the Mayan people have a complex and sophisticated legacy. They were pioneers in mathematics, science, and, of course, architecture and art.

A great way to get a glimpse of this part of historic Quintana Roo is to visit a few of the Mayan ruins that call the modern state home.

Of course, everyone will have their own ideas about which ruins are the best, and why, but I am going to provide a ranked list of the ruins that are included in my guide here. This might help you consider which ones to prioritize for your style of travel. And if your style is like mine, you might agree more. This is – if you are a hiker who prefers quieter areas, access to nature, and space to roam. And doesn’t mind a road trip!

Mayan ruins of Quintana Roo

San Gervasio (c) ABR 2023

Some Quintana Roo Archeological Sites – Ranked by Me

  • Coba – Even though Coba is very busy and sort of hard to get to, its size and beauty made it my favorite of the Mayan ruins of Quintana Roo.
  • San Gervasio – I found this sacred part of Cozumel to be very spiritual, especially as a woman. And the ancient roads, still winding their way through the thick forests, made me feel as though I might still have the chance to take the pilgrimage of people long past.
  • Tulum – The juxtaposition of the ruins along the sweeping cliffs over the sea just makes this place magical. Not even the crowds can steal that from it.
  • Muyil – This is a smaller, unassuming ruin was a nice place to escape the crowds and take in the historic beauty of the Mayan buildings in peace.

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Nature and Culture in Tulum: What to Expect

Quintana Roo is full of world-famous tourism spots, and Tulum is one. When I used to picture it, I imagined white sand beaches, lined with ladies in long, flowing dresses, with their boyfriends snapping pictures. They are framed by a lush jungle and picturesque, white Mexican buildings. I imagined that the ancient Mayans had an equal (or greater appreciation) of the brilliant blue sea here. The buildings they left behind, clinging to the cliffs, now serve as a backdrop for photoshoots and group tours.

What I didn’t expect, was the bustling, real city behind all the big hotels. A city full of stressful traffic, construction, and tasty food. And I didn’t expect how stressful it would be to visit its famous landmarks. I had no idea that there were little, beautiful places off the side of the highway that spotlighted the exceptional beauty and history of this Pueblo Mágico. I had no idea what exploring some of the culture in Tulum would be like.

This guide is meant to give you some insight into Tulum as a traveler who might be looking for a bit more than a nice spot for the photoshoot. Or maybe you are looking for luscious photos AND windows into the things that make Tulum world class. Or maybe you just want to see some sides of Tulum that you might not often get from the internet. Whatever brings you, this guide is a reflection of my experience in Tulum. And my answer the question, is it worth visiting Tulum?

Is It Worth Visiting Tulum?

There’s never an easy answer to a question like this. Everyone is looking for something different in their travels. And people have different experiences in the same places.

But I think there are a few questions that you might ask yourself when considering Tulum as a destination.

culture in tulum

Tulum ruins (c) ABR 2023

Do you mind crowds?

If yes, Tulum might not be for you. Now, some of my favorite places for culture in Tulum aren’t super busy, but generally this is a very busy place. The main sites are crowded. The city itself is very busy and can be wild. The tourism area is also notably narrow and even a few cars can feel like too many.

Are you willing to wake up early for exceptional views?

If yes, Tulum Ruins should probably be on your to-see list. Here’s the thing, yes, the ruins get almost instantly crowded, and they can be challenging to get into. But it really is a magical place. There are some really special ruins there, unlike anything else I saw in Quintana Roo. And the cliffs hung over the crystalline, blue ocean are really spectacular.

culture in tulum

Muyil (c) ABR 2023

Are you put off by “made by tourism” places?

The famous parts of Tulum, that are in all those Instagram pictures of fabulous hotels, are a little escape from reality. And it isn’t what Tulum is really like, or at least, it isn’t the Tulum that the people who live there know. And if you are put off by places like that, you might not enjoy this particular Pueblo Mágico (consider Bacalar!).

Can you brave a busy city to find its gems?

Set back from the hotel strip on the beach is a bustling town that has some really good food, shops, and lesser-known ruins. If you can brave the traffic, the real Tulum has got some great things to experience. And it shouldn’t be forgotten.

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What To Do in Bacalar, Mexico: The Pueblo Mágico of the Jungles of Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo, while the state name might not be familiar to a lot of Americans, is home to some of the most well-known tourist spots in all of Mexico. These include the likes of Tulum, Cozumel, and Cancun. Each of these places is brimming with culture and history, but in my opinion, they’ve also been paved over in a lot of ways, to create strange enclaves for visitors. Bacalar, on the other hand, is relatively far from international airports. And so far, it has retained its small town character, while continuing to showcase whst put it on Mexico’s list of exceptionally special towns – Pueblos Mágicos.

There is a long list of what to do in Bacalar. Most of the activities are linked to the Bacalar Lagoon. The town itself also has places to explore, good food to eat, and a relaxed atmosphere that makes Bacalar a great place to rest and dip your toes into Mexican culture.

what to do in bacalar

This town is a wonderful option among the Pueblos Mágicos of Quintana Roo for anyone looking for small town life, simple comforts, and lots of nature-based exploration. Whether you are considering this town as a stop on your own explorations, or you are just curious about it, let this guide be your window to the wonderous world of Bacalar, Mexico.

What to Do In Bacalar and Why Visit

Bacalar is perfect for visitors who are not looking for the big resort experience. It’s a very nice ecotourism spot, with a few historic options to explore as well. Visiting Bacalar is ideal for the polite traveler who wants a genuine experience, rather than a town reshaped by tourism. Please, come to this place with respect and support small businesses here. I would hate to see Bacalar transformed into a resort town. It deserves better.

The Lagoon

what to do in bacalar

The small Pueblo Mágico is bordered to the east by a lagoon of the same name, and much of what to do in Bacalar revolves around this multi-colored body of water. The water is so clear, and often still, that you can see a full array of colors across the lake. Brilliant blues over the sand, red reflections of the sky at dawn or dusk, and pops of green from both within and surrounding the water. And it’s ever changing, whether from the tones of the sky throughout the day, the movement of wildlife along the shore, or the weather itself. Whether you are looking for some moderate adventure and activity, or something more relaxed there are options here for you. Furthermore, the town is home to a very cool historic monument and great food. So, Bacalar has got you foodies and history buffs taken care of as well.

For the water fanatics among you, there are relaxed boat cruises that you can take to soak it all in. Or, if you are like us, and you are looking for something active, there are many tour organizers who can take you out kayaking on the water.


what to do in bacalar

(c) ABR 2023

There are also some places for loafing on the shore – drink in hand and palapa shade all around you. I must say, I was so inspired by the beauty of the jungle on the shore of Bacalar Lagoon, it has become a central piece of my retirement vision board. Specifically, I spied a house tucked among the trees, on the shore, with the perfect amount of lantern light in the early morning. And since then, I have seriously been dreaming about nestling down in the jungle somewhere in my elder years.

In any case, for those of you less interested in delving into the watery wilds of Bacalar, the Centro has plenty of great options. There is Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar, a fort and museum in the center of town. And for food, the must-visit spot is La Playita with its huge, light covered tree, and access to the lake. I’ve never eaten anywhere more magical.

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Mills Lake Trail: A Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Thousands of people visit Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) every year. So much so that getting into the park in the summer has become a bit of an accomplishment. While summer is the easiest time to hike in the park, especially if there is good weather, winter offers its own lens on RMNP. There are a little less people exploring the mountains in the winter. And frankly, the snow can create a real wonderland that is breathtakingly beautiful.

But for the hikers out there, it’s ideal to know what trails can work well for the cold (and often snowy) season in the mountains. Well, Mills Lake Trail is one good winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It isn’t easy, being about 5 miles long (round trip) and it has some consistent elevation gain throughout the inwards leg of the hike. But compared to the truly challenging trails in RMNP, it settles in the range of easy to moderate. And the track works well in the snow, particularly when other folks have already followed the route.

That, and the pay-off for the trail is a really lovely lake tucked among the shoulders of some of the most exceptional mountains in the world (the Rocky Mountains).

If I’ve sold you at this point, read on to learn more about exploring this trail in the winter. And if you aren’t a hiker, scroll down to see some pictures of this inspiring little corner of Mother Earth. Finally, if you’d like to learn more about other Rocky Mountain lake hikes, be sure to also check out my guide to Gem Lake and Lily Lake hikes.

Why Mills Lake Trail is a Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

(c) ABR 2023

Mills Lake Trail is among the moderate hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and its length, difficulty, and location all make it a great open for winter treks. Here are some things that you might consider when deciding if this trail is a good fit for your needs.

  • Mills Lake Trail is an out and back trail, which means that it makes for an easy turn around at any point. Weather can change rapidly in the Rocky Mountains, and you will need to keep an eye out for whether or not to head back.
  • This trail is long and steep enough to make for a bit of a challenge, and these characteristics of the trek will make it worth the drive and winter gear-up. It’s a solid day hike, particularly if you are going a bit slower because of the snow.
  • Mills Lake Trail is a good winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park because it is lower down in the mountains and it mostly travels through valleys. This means that the air is a bit thicker and warmer than the higher reaches of the park. The road is also open for more of the winter, and a bit easier to navigate.
  • This area is absolutely exceptional. The forests here are verdant carpets of evergreens and aspens. And the mountains that surround this area are stoney monoliths. When shrouded in snow, they rank among the giants of Switzerland and New Zealand for their impressive size and rugged, awe-inspiring beauty.

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Hiking Piestewa Peak: The Mountain at the Heart of Phoenix

If you are a hiker who has considered or is planning a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, there is a good chance that you’ve heard of Piestewa Peak. It is one of the most challenging and well-known hikes in the city. But this mile plus trek up the craggy desert peak is more than just a physical feat. Hiking Piestewa Peak is a part of Phoenix culture, and it can also be very spiritual.

This mountain, so heavily trafficked and easily accessed, still offers her visitors an escape into nature. She will test your body, your mind, and your spirit – if you let her. And while many people strive for the summit (sometimes to their own detriment), you can experience this central Phoenix hiking landmark even if you just go up part way.

There are plenty of guides to this challenging urban hike – so while I will include some trail information here, my main purpose is to remind all her visitors that Piestewa is still a mountain to be loved and respected as the heart of Phoenix.

Is Hiking Piestewa Peak Right For You?

Even though the Piestewa Summit trail is right in the middle of the city, and on paper might not look too concerning, almost every year people die on the mountain. Sometimes it is the heat, dehydration, or even a fall. And I’m sure there are times when it is totally accidental, but I also see many people approach this trail without the respect and preparation that it deserves.

I will talk more about some safety tips below, but my main question when it comes to whether hiking Piestewa Peak is right for you comes down to two questions. Are you aware of the challenge that this trail represents? And are you willing to make decisions based around that?

Questions to Consider

hiking piestewa peak

Don’t let the photos fool you – this is STEEP (c) ABR.

If so, you can ask yourself a couple of things. (1) Are you physically prepared? The Piestewa Peak summit trail may be short, but it is a steep uphill climb from start to finish. Add to that that you will likely be dodging other hikers all the way up and down. It is just that busy.

(2) Are you willing to turn around and give up on the summit if that is the safest thing to do? I’ve been hiking Piestewa Peak before during very hot days. These are days when I decided to turn around. Meanwhile, tourists from colder states kept going up, without even a water bottle to quench their thirst. They might feel ok on the way up and down, if they are lucky, but many of them will have a killer headache in the evening. It’s better to know and acknowledge your limits. If it gets too hot, or you are too tired, please turn around. The reality is, no one but us cares if we make it to the summit… including the mountain. You can get so much out of this challenging urban hike without making it to the top.

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Part 5 of Fort Collins Footrails and Food: Longmont, North Shields Ponds, Ross and Running Deer

I am back here with the fifth part of my series on hiking, food, and attractions in and near Fort Collins, CO.

This particular post is a little bit of an interesting one, because I started out with this series focusing on trails. The parks that I cover here in Part 5 aren’t my favorite, as sad as that is to say. BUT I am hoping to explore all the Natural Areas in town, so that means checking out the amazing ones and the humble ones.

Additionally, because the experiences that culminated in this post happened mostly over the winter, there is more emphasis here on food than trails. AND I have some information on some cool attractions in the Longmont area – which is just south of Fort Collins. When traffic isn’t so bad, it is about an hour drive there.

So, if you are looking for some short winter walks, and lots of good food options, this is the series chapter for you. And if you are wondering about what to do on an afternoon in Longmont, I’ve also got some ideas for you.


North Shields Ponds Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2023

North Shields Ponds Natural Area is a very small park near the Poudre River. It has tracks that circle two small ponds. This makes for a figure 8 trail of about 1.5 miles.

I must say, of the Fort Collins parks that I have been to, this was the only one that has made me uncomfortable. It’s tucked back in an area that is a little industrial, so it has a particular kind of traffic. So, I’d suggest not going here alone – at least based on my experience here.

Ross Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2022

The Ross Natural Area is a small natural area that is home to a short, 0.7 mile section of the Spring Creek Trail. While there isn’t much hiking here, it is connected to Rolland Moore Park. So, it is a nice little area to bring the family for a day outside.

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San Carlos, Sonora: Why You Should Visit and What to Do There

South of Hermosillo, where craggy mountains meet the sea, sits San Carlos, Sonora. One of Sonora’s Pueblo Mágicos, San Carlos is known for its immense natural beauty. Personally, I was shocked by how majestic the landscape is here. It captured my imagination, and I was in literal awe on a near daily basis while I was there.

So, why should you visit San Carlos? Because the natural world here is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Even as someone who grew up in the northern Sonoran Desert, I can say this. San Carlos is a world class town. And it is barely on the map for most people.

san carlos sonora

So, it’s beautiful! But what can you do in San Carlos? Well, plenty of things. There are sandy beaches to sit on. Good food to eat. “Adventure” attractions like ziplines can also be found. But most important to me, is the hiking. There is a load of hiking in San Carlos, especially by Mexico standards – where hiking isn’t the most popular of activities. I hiked nearly every day. And each trail was a unique wonder.

Now, let me give you a short guide to San Carlos. And if I can’t convince you to visit, at least come enjoy some snapshots from what I consider to be the crown jewel of Sonora, Mexico.

Why You Should Visit San Carlos, Sonora

san carlos sonora

(c) ABR 2023

I kind of spoiled it above, but if you are wondering – what can you do in San Carlos, and why should you visit, I am going to give you a short list.

  • Even if you don’t hike one bit, there are jaw dropping views all through town. Especially when I first got to San Carlos, I found myself staring outside, facing the mountains, and just… watching. Birds sang and danced through the desert. The mountains swept up from the desert like strongholds in stone.
  • For hikers, there are short and long trails. Some are quick, some are exceptionally steep, and some take wanders to places unimagined. No matter what you are looking for, there is a trail for you in San Carlos. And it will leave you in awe. (Just beware the heat).
  • There is good food to be had in town. There’s something magical about enjoying tacos while sitting on a peaceful beach surrounded by hills and mountains.

If you don’t believe me that this place is cool, remember that Pueblos Mágicos are Mexico’s most exceptional towns. And thus, the country itself marks San Carlos as one of its many treasures.

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Small Towns of Sonora, Mexico: Kino Bay, Magdalena de Kino and More

Sonora isn’t just a place of natural wonders where the desert meets the sea, and sky islands abound. It’s a place rich with culture and the diversity of art, architecture, and food that make all places the people call home exceptional. While you could explore this part of Sonora through indulging in its big cities – like Hermosillo. The small towns of Sonora each offer their own unique glimpse into the vibrant world of this Mexican state. They are the perfect destinations for a Sonora roadtrip, especially if you enjoy delving into history and culture. And if time and resources allow, they aren’t to be missed.

This guide will cover some of the small towns that I was able to check out during my time exploring Sonora, in particular, Magdalena de Kino and Kino Bay. But I would also like to point you in the direction of the other Pueblos Magicos of Sonora. Even though, I unfortunately was not able to visit them all. Come along to explore these small towns via pictures and words. And see if they might be just right for your next adventure.

Small Towns of Sonora

small towns of Sonora

An arch in Magdalena de Kino (c) ABR 2023

Sonora is home to many well-known urban areas, including its capital, Hermosillo. It is also home to the town perched on the coast that Arizonans love, Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point. But of course, it goes without saying that the people of Sonora don’t just live in big cities and tourist towns. Like all places, Sonora is home to all kinds of villages and settlements. It has historic landmarks, architectural wonders, and the unexpected.

Mexico does a nice job of pointing you towards some of its most unique towns through the Pueblos Magicos program. They designate exceptional pueblos across Mexico in this way. This helps travelers decide where to spend some time exploring. It also honors the work that local people have done to make their homes beautiful and protect the various histories of Mexico. On a Sonora roadtrip, you could try to see all of these special small towns of Sonora.

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What to Do in Hermosillo – The Capital of Sonora, Mexico

Hermosillo is a true sister city to Phoenix, Arizona, with lots of shared culture, food, and families that share members between both. It is also only a 6 hour drive from the capital of Arizona to the capital of Sonora. This city is also the heart of culture in Sonora, Mexico. But surprisingly, it wasn’t until 2023 that I finally visited this fellow, Sonoran Desert urban area – all thanks to a friend of mine who invited me to her wedding there.

While Sonora has a reputation for being dangerous, among both Americans and Mexicans, I found Hermosillo to be a fun city to visit. There was loads of good food, a very interesting downtown, and the city is also home to some impressive museums. All the good stuff for visitors and locals both. Of course, there are safety considerations (as with all cities), but with some caution, respect for the people who call this place home, and an excitement for the history and culture of this place, Hermosillo can be a lot of fun.

This guide will give you a quick taste of the city and help you figure out what to do in Hermosillo, and whether it is a good fit for you. And if it isn’t, scroll through and enjoy my pictures of this urban heart in the Sonoran Desert.

Why Visit and What to Do in Hermosillo, Mexico

This city isn’t on the top of any list of Mexican must-sees that I have ever seen, but nonetheless, for anyone interested in exploring culture in Sonora, Mexico, it should be on the top of your list. That’s because Hermosillo is the capital of the state, and it is home to lots of museums, food, and even a historic downtown. While it can’t capture all the vibrant diversity of Sonora, it is home to many of the institutions and places to explore that most cities harbor. And if you want to pack a punch into a shorter trip, this city will have you covered for the flavor of Sonora.

what to do in Hermosillo

Downtown Hermosillo (c) ABR 2023

When you are talking about what to do in Hermosillo, there is also a little something for everyone. There is a surprising amount of urban hiking in the city. There is historic architecture and big museums for the history buffs. And there is tasty food to satisfy anyone but the pickiest eaters.

Aside from safety considerations, the only immediate thing that I would say to avoid in Hermosillo is the summer. Much like Phoenix, it is extremely hot here in the summer. That makes it hard to enjoy the city, and can even add an element of natural danger if you try to hit the trails.

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Unseen Puerto Peñasco: What to Do In Rocky Point, Mexico

For the people who call Arizona home, the beach town of Puerto Peñasco (commonly known as Rocky Point in English) is a famous coastal escape. Lots of people go here to party, and there are plenty of all-inclusive enclaves in town. However, there is another side to Puerto Peñasco – a calm, natural paradise, and a small town with good food, kind people, and plenty of Mexican culture to immerse yourself in. If you are wondering what to do in Rocky Point, and looking for authentic or peaceful experiences, this is the post for you.

What to Do In Rocky Point: What to Expect in This Guide 

I spent much of my high school weekends in Puerto Peñasco, where I discovered the world of outdoor Rocky Point and got glimpses of the true town under the growing tourist destination. The beaches here are magical and dynamic. The Sea of Cortez shows off much of its biodiversity on the coasts here. And Puerto Peñasco itself is a study in the ebb and flow of local culture and international tourism. If you know where to look, the story of these tides are written across the landscape.

what to do in Rocky Point

An abandoned hotel on the beach (c) ABR 2012

This post will also be a bit of a (recent) historic peek at the town – the last time I visited was in 2014. But I photographed and explored Puerto Peñasco for more than a decade. And the time period in which I experienced Rocky Point was also a time of change. From the years of rapid growth from 2005-2007, to the Great Recession, and beyond.

All that being said, if you are looking for a guide to all-inclusive or party-town Rocky Point, this isn’t that. I’m not that kind of traveler, and I was far too young when I spent lots of time in this part of Sonora, Mexico. As a white, Arizonan visitor, I also can’t speak much to the internal culture and life of Puerto Peñasco. But I can speak to some of the ways that visitors can enjoy the vibrant Mexican spirit while visiting this popular tourist spot.

So, come along for some tips on what to do in Rocky Point and a glimpse into what the town looked like during the turbulent years of the Great Recession.

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