Cancun: The Ruins of El Rey and Playa Delfines

Can’t get enough o’ those great iguanas, those rocky piles, those sands o’ white and waves o’ blue. We discovered that there are two – count ‘em, two – ruin sites in Cancun, one north of the city near Puerto Juarez, and the other in the southern hotel zone, across the road from Playa Delfines, Dolphin Beach. Since today was a beautiful sunny day, we opted to visit El Rey and then head to the beach.

When we arrived at the ruins, no-one was visible at the front desk, but lo and beyond the caretaker emerged from his poker game and newspaper reading as soon as he saw us heading into the site.

The structures here are quite small, built between 1300 and 1550 AD, and the main activities of the inhabitants were fishing and Mayan trading with salt. This city was abandoned after the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, and being located so close to the Caribbean sea, the area became a haven for pirates for a long time.

But what El Rey lacked in size it made up for in numbers of iguanas, many of whom emerged from their burrows and followed us around the site when they saw that we had apples for them.

At one point the lizard master was interacting with about nine lizards and a bird, and several other iguanas were streaming towards him from other parts of the ruins, all with one thing on their minds – food.

The birds and the iguanas duked it out for the bits of apple thrown by Ty and I. We saw the remains of a dead iguana, its carcass stripped almost to the bone, presumably by the other beasts.

It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of these thousand year old ruins against the backdrop of the more recent ruins of an abandoned hotel in one direction and the gigantic pyramid-shaped Iberostar hotel in the other. Ozymandias, anyone?

After our fun with iguanas, and a climb up the small pyramid,

we walked back across the road to Playa Delphines, a beautiful wide local beach with a few palapas and loungers and no hotels in the immediate vicinity (very unusual for Cancun). There are no restaurants or bars here, so I hopped aboard the bus, went to the nearest Oxxo, and returned with snacks to stave off starvation and dehydration.

There are some food vendors on the beach, including a few guys selling something called “jeebie-jeebie” or “heebie-jeebie”, small edible pouches of fish or meat carried in what look like small aquariums.

Once again the surf was up. The ocean along this coast is rough; every single day we’ve been to the beach the red flags have dominated, with the occasional yellow flag indicating caution.

Many of the people ignore the red flags and frolic in the waves anyway, even if they can’t swim. At Playa Delfines were mostly local families enjoying Fathers’ Day and big numbers of people were in the waves, keeping the lifeguards busy. Right in front of us a middle aged lifeguard with a strong freestyle stroke and a red lifesaving buoy made two saves in the space of an hour, hauling in two men who’d gotten into trouble too far out.

The currents here are very strong and it’s easy to get pulled out if you’re not careful. Many people drown along this coast every year.

Ty and I enjoyed playing in the waves but made sure that we were in the yellow flag section where the current wasn’t as strong – the waves were just as high, though – whooshhhh! Ty took a pounding surfing in on one gigantic wave, while I managed to duck down underneath it.

Our apartment in downtown Cancun is really sweet. It’s the upper floor of a two story row house in what used to be a townhouse community. The young couple who own it, originally from Argentina and resident in Cancun for the last ten years, built the structure and made all the furniture inside from hard wood, mostly with what looks like old ship’s fittings. Many beautiful shells are displayed on the shelves – Aldo is a diver and gathered these from local dive spots.

Aside from the usual insanely barking dogs, and the renovations sometimes going on next door, the place is pretty quiet.

See more pics here.