For most of us, a real natural environment apart from human influence isn’t something we can find next door. The more our cities and suburbs expand, the more difficult it is to escape humanity’s zone of activity. Even seasoned travelers are hard-pressed to escape the endless tourist circuit of cities, resort-lined beaches, and mountaintop spas that pamper plenty, but don’t put a premium on the ability to really interface with nature outside of our methods of building right over it. Luckily, even for those who aren’t experienced jungle-trekkers, there are some areas of unblemished nature still within reach; and what’s more, they can be explored without harming these precious environments in the process. Central America’s Yucatan peninsula contains over 100,000 acres of the planet’s lushest, thickest, most isolated tropical rainforest. A series of hiking trails, graded over several levels of difficulty, wind through the heart of the jungle. With trails designed specifically for the novice explorer, virtually anyone in good health can walk in awe through a ceaseless panorama of pristine natural ecology at work.
Trails Tailored for All Trekkers
Prior to your journey into the Yucatan rainforest, have a glance at the map of available trails, as each is graded so you can assess the difficulty level and length of the hike. All trails, even the easiest, take you deep into the jungle’s dense habitat, rubbing shoulders with animals and plants who rarely if ever have a glimpse of the human race. Less experienced jungle trekkers will want to stick with the lower-difficulty paths like the Rota por Chichen Itza trail, which provides a low-impact trip through the misty jungle and a chance to observe the wide variety of wildlife which inhabits it.
Totaling about four miles in length, the Roten por Chichen Itza trail is on the easier side of the difficulty gradient, but it’s accessibility certainly doesn’t translate into a lack of natural beauty. You can complete the circular trail in about two and a half hours, and at the terminus of your trek you’ll find yourself right back at your initial starting point, making the logistics of getting to and from the area a snap. You’re certain to encounter an impressive range of species even on this short hike, including huge monarch butterflies and inquisitive spider monkeys. Watch out for the latter, by the way, as their curiosity regarding shiny objects often leads them to snatch any keys, watches, or other bobbles and trinkets you might leave inadvertently exposed. And of course the jungles are teeming with a splendid variety of tropical birds, plumed in bright colors and each with their own distinct call. You might even learn to tell a few of them apart just by the sound!
Hike to Enrich Body, Soul, and Planet
One of the best parts of participating in a jungle hike is that your footprint remains low throughout your trek. Instead of opting for an automobile-driven trail, you’ll be able to experience nature in the raw, using all five senses, while being as sure as possible that your presence brings no deleterious effects.
The Xel-Ha Eco Park (pronounced “shell-ha”) is a lighter destination for those seeking more of a theme park experience. Xel-Ha is situated on the coast amidst verdant jungle scenery, with white beaches lapped by sparkling sapphire ocean waves. The jungle itself surrounds the ancient ruins at Xel-Ha, and the park area is an opportune spot for hiking, beachcombing, or watersports, including swimming with dolphins. Much like Rota por Chichen Itza, the area is full of incredible wildlife such as eagle-hawks, iguanas, and other startlingly-colored specimens of the bird and lizard families.
Whichever path you choose to follow, the signature aspect of jungle treks is your constant communion with the natural world, the unshielded and uninterrupted ability to sample the jungle through physical contact. When running your hard over a fern, or your fingertips on the rough bark of a towering tree, smelling the fecund tropical heat rising from the forest floor, you’ll feel alive in ways that may surprise and shock you. The ancient Maya and other pre-Columbian civilizations that dwelt in these forests maintained a powerful and spiritual connection to the natural world, and after even the shortest sojourn into the Yucatan jungle, you too will understand what they, surrounded by it, held in such continual awe.