Traveling for me is more than visiting a new place and relaxing by the pool. Don’t get me wrong – I like hanging out by the pool with friends and enjoying a couple of drinks while on vacation. I also want to get away from the hotel or resort where I’m staying. I enjoy learning more about the local community that I’m visiting. When I’m visiting a different country, I feel a good way to do that is to take a tour. I was very interested in going out with Alltournative while I was in Mexico.
Disclosure: Alltournative provided me with a complimentary tour. All opinions are my own.
A Mexican-based tour group that offers an authentic cultural experience, Alltournative is committed to saving Mexico’s natural beauty and is very much into sustainability.
They have a gold level certification from EarthCheck, so you know when you take an Alltournative tour, you’ll be providing minimal damage to your surroundings.
What To Bring
Since Alltournative is a sustainable tour company, you’re not permitted to wear sunscreen or bug spray that isn’t bio-degradable or friendly to coral reefs. I’d suggest an all-natural sunscreen brand such as Black Girl Sunscreen or Alba Botanical and a bug spray like Buzz Away. The reason for requiring all-natural sunblock and bug repellant is because products with additives can contaminate the water. Be sure to put your sunscreen and bug spray on before you get on the tour bus as well – you’re not allowed to apply them while you’re on tour for the same reasons. If you think you’ll need a snack, bring that too because you won’t be enjoying your meal until the end of the tour.
Wear comfortable shoes and a bathing suit under your clothes. Bring a towel, a water bag for your phone, a small backpack and a hat if you need it. Alltournative does provide water. You’ll be visiting a few places where you can purchase souvenirs. Bring cash, although some of the vendors accepted credit cards.
Coba Mayan Encounter Tour
My group went on the Coba Mayan Encounter tour. This tour took us to many places, including Coba’s ancient city, into the jungle where we received a blessing from a Mayan priest, kayaking, ziplining, rappelling, swimming in a sinkhole and at the end enjoying a Mayan lunch prepared by women of the community. Alltournative’s van picked us up at our hotel, so we didn’t have to figure out how to get anywhere, making it even more comfortable and relaxing. It was quite an adventure!
Visiting Ancient Ruins of Coba
Our first stop was visiting the ruins of Coba. Home of Nohoch Mul, one of the tallest pyramids in the Yucatán peninsula, you also explore other ruins on the large site. Our tour guide, Rebecca, was excellent in her knowledge of the area. We learned that 1% of the Mayan ruins had been located. The foliage of the jungle has consumed the rest.
All the rocks of the ruins had to be brought in by hand. Jaguars are the largest animal in the jungles, so humans had to move them all. Rebecca educated us on the ruins’ religious aspects, slight markings on the ruins and the traditions of the ancient people who resided there.
Climbing Nohock Mul
Once we got some background, we made our way to Nohoch Mul. At around 140 feet tall and with 128 steps to the top, it was a sight to see. Unlike the more famous pyramid at Chichen Itza, Coba still allows climbing. The climb isn’t for the faint of heart – it seems as if the climb is almost straight up, and the rocks are weathered and uneven.
I only made it about halfway up because I made the mistake of looking down. But young and old around me made it to the top and said the view was spectacular. If you make it to the top and see ‘bumps’ in the jungle, those are more ruins that the jungle has overtaken!
Getting to Nochoch Mul
There are three ways to make it to Nohoch Mul from the front of the ruins: you can walk, rent a bicycle or pay to have someone ride you in a bicycle rickshaw. The path is a little bumpy so if you’re not a comfortable bike rider, get one of the men there to give you a lift. I wouldn’t recommend walking – it’s quite the hike, and after the climb up the structure, it would take a lot of energy to walk back.
Another great thing about going with Alltournative: they make Coba the first stop on the tour so that you get there early enough to beat the crowds. As we rode our bikes back to the entrance to meet Rebecca, there were swarms of people coming towards us, making trying to climb the pyramid even more difficult.
Once you’re back at the entrance, you have an opportunity to use the restrooms at the shops (they were clean and had toilet paper, but no toilet seats and throw your toilet paper in the trash bin) and also explore the shops themselves. I didn’t find many things that seemed handmade, but the shop owners will bargain with you.
After a short van ride, we made it to the jungle area, where we had to kayak from the parking area to the jungles we’d be hiking in. Rebecca told us that there were crocodiles in the water, but I’m not sure if she was pulling our leg or not. Erroring on the side of caution, I made sure to keep my fingers inside the kayak. It was a short trip, but a beautiful way to see the landscape.
Mayan Ah-Men Blessing
After our short hike towards the top of the mountain, Rebecca introduced us to Humberto, a Mayan ah-men, or religious man. Humberto didn’t speak English, but Rebecca told us about his history and the blessing he would bestow on us. Out of respect, the attendees weren’t allowed to take photos while Humberto was giving the prayer, but it was very moving, and you could feel him welcoming us to his and his ancestors’ home.
Another exciting aspect of the tour was swimming in a cenote, an underground sinkhole filled with water. All the water in the cenote comes from rain and is part of the Mexican aquifer. Because of that, we rinsed our bodies and hair completely off before going down.
The descent into the cenote was steep but worth the trip. The water was crystal clear, and the stalagmites (which are the rock formations that come from the ground up) and stalactite (which are the rock formations that come from the ceiling down) were terrific. The water was a little chilly, but it was so warm outside, it felt nice.
After we got out of the cenote, Rebecca told us that there were animals in the water. I never saw anything (the water is crystal clear). Our noise might have scared them off. As we walked up, we saw many bats in the ceiling, but they weren’t that interested in us.
Zip Lining and Repelling
A part of the tour included zip lining and repelling into an empty cenote. Two things I had never done before and was nervous about doing. The first zip line took us from the area where we had met Humberto and gotten the blessing back over the water back to the parking lot. The same water that Rebecca had said had crocodiles! All I could think of was the scene from the Disney movie Peter Pan where the crocs tried to bite Captain Hooks behind. I won’t lie – I was petrified. But the system seemed very safe and had two safety hooks. And I let almost everyone else go before I did, just in case. Once I went through, it was terrific, like flying through the air. By the time we got to another location and had the opportunity to zip line again, I was all for it.
Another thing I had never done was to rappel. Hooked onto a levy system, you walk your way down the cliff wall into the bottom of the empty cenote. Again, I was petrified. But there were two people at the bottom controlling the ropes, so after taking a literal leap of faith, I made my way down. It was great!
Surprisingly these parts of the tour, along with meeting Humberto, were my most favorite parts just because I was able to conquer my fears and have a great time.
Mayan Community Meal
The end of our tour took us to a small village where Maya women had prepared lunch for us. Part of Alltournative’s goal is to include the local people in the tours, photography, and meals, allowing you to meet the people and learn from them. Our meal had chicken, corn, black beans, handmade tortillas, squashes and other delicious items. It was the perfect way to end the tour, fill up after a day of adventure and get to enjoy the company of our tour mates.
small shop was in the village where you could purchase things made out of the local resources. One thing I loved was seeing old helmets like the ones we had worn for ziplining and rappelling that someone repurposed into planters. What a great way to be resourceful with unusable products and to help with sustainability!
Taking the Coban Mayan Encounter tour with Alltournative was one of the highlights of my trip to Mexico. Meeting the ah-man and receiving a blessing, seeing the ancient structures built by hand, hiking through the mountains, and enjoying the modern Mayan community’s hospitality helped me understand more about the country I was visiting. I’d recommend this tour to anyone visiting the Riviera Maya of Mexico.