Our van passed through the small town of Temozon, and I knew we were almost there. I gazed out the window up at the old cathedral, gazed longingly at my favorite taco stand in town wishing we would stop there for breakfast, and admired the beautiful chairs sitting on the curbs of the local wood shops as we pulled out of town.

Ten minutes further into the jungle, and we had reached our destination: the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam.

I hadn't been here since 2010, when I was too scared to climb more than halfway up the main pyramid known as the Acropolis. This time, an entire group was by my side to motivate my climb, and I hoped not to get left behind.

But first, we snaked our way through the crumbled outer walls of the ancient city while our guide, Gustavo, explained how these well-preserved constructions were built so many centuries ago.

 

 

As we passed through the Mayan ball game court, I couldn't help but notice how small it was compared to the court at Chichen Itza, and wondered if they two civilizations ever existed at the same time, and if so, did they ever play against one another?

 

After walking right through the ball court, we reached the Acropolis and began our ascent, stopping along the way to admire beautifully preserved plaster murals and statues that have somehow managed to survive the centuries. The trick to successfully ascending any Mayan pyramid is simple: don't look down! And so our entire tour group made it to the apex, where we could see the rest of the city of Ek Balam and the jungle treetops for miles around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all slowly made our way back down and headed back to the van for a 30-minute ride through low jungle and tiny Yucatan villages to reach Cenote Maya, Alltournative's impressive cenote complete with an organic orchard.

The organic orchard was our first stop, taking us along a winding path as we learned about which plants grow best in the rocky terrain of the Yucatan Peninsula. What a wonderful experience to see so many fruits and vegetables growing in their true form, before being cut and reaching the market stands. Along the way, we learned that Alltournative has been working directly with local Mayan communities for over a decade, offering employment opportunities in their different tour areas, like the cenotes, the orchard, etc. Many modern-day Mayans end up leaving their communities to work in cities like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, but Alltournative allows them to earn a living without leaving their towns.

 

 

 

Entering the jungle, a Mayan elder welcomed our group to the cenote in a cleansing ceremony, saying a prayer and purifying us with nopal smoke. Once we were spiritually clean, it was time to clean our bodies: we stripped to our swimsuits and took showers to rinse off any chemicals, sunscreen, or lotions from our skin before entering the pure waters of Cenote Maya.

 

 

What I was not prepared for: our guides told us we were to rappel 22 meters into the cenote cavern. We all nervously made our way to the platform and strapped on our rappel gear. Then, two by two we trusted the ropes as we descended into the abyss. Once inside, the cavern opened up and the immensity hit me; never had I seen a cenote this size, and now I was seeing it from the top. Once I reached the water, the cool temperature immediately relieved me of the jungle heat, and the entire group was glad to spend the next half hour falling off the zipline, braving the 3-meter platform (nobody braved the 6-meter platform), or simply relaxing in an inner tube.

 

 

Upon exiting the cenote, the bartenders had a tray full of their "Mayaritas" waiting for us, a welcome refreshment after a day full of daring adventures. I indulged in two Mayaritas before changing into dry clothes and heading to the buffet, where we had Yucatecan cuisine and some other goodies awaiting us. (Word to the wise: If the staff tells you the salsa isn't that spicy, don't believe them.)

Our group took an extra long time enjoying the buffet, reliving our experiences of the day, before getting back into the van to head back to Playa del Carmen, napping the entire ride.

 

To book this day tour to Ek Balam and Cenote Maya, or to see Alltournative’s many other eco tour options, visit www.Alltournative.com They have transportation that will pick you up right at your hotel in the Riviera Maya or in Cancun.