Club Med and the
Archeological Villas at
Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Coba.

When you're done exploring the ruins, the Villas' swimming pool is the place to hang out.

Club Med operates these small hotels that allow you to sleep in the shadows of Mayan pyramids.

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The Villas Archeologicas, small hotels built on the door steps of the Yucatan’s 3 most popular inland sites: Coba, Chichen Itza and Uxmal.

The must-see complex of Chichen Itza is located about 2 hours west of Cancun. Uxmal is almost another 2 hours farther away, while Coba is only slightly more accessible from Cancun.

The Villas, however, put you right next to the archeological zones so that you’re inside well before any tour buses arrive.

Built by the Mexican government, all of the 2-story hotels are similar, built around a courtyard in the traditional Colonial style. A swimming pool surrounded by chairs, tables and umbrellas fill most of the courtyard.

Although the Villas have identical floor plans, each is decorated differently with handicrafts and artwork from its own region, so you can move from one property to the other without feeling like you’ve seen it all before.

Each hotel has only 40 rooms, all air-conditioned. A standard room contains an oversized double bed, private bathroom with tile shower, writing desk and closet. For families, a triple room offers a double and single bed; standard and triple rooms can be connected.

The air-conditioned restaurants feature buffets with a choice of French, Mexican or continental dishes. If the menu seems unusually cosmopolitan, it's because Club Med manages the hotels, though you’d never suspect it due to the Mexican staff and lack of summer camp games. However, tour buses sometimes stop for lunch, so you’ll want to dine before they arrive.

Most visitors see the Maya walled city of Tulum because it is part of the Riviera Maya, but Tulum is actually a small site compared to the other 3.

Coba, only 24 miles inland from Tulum, is massive, perhaps the largest Maya settlement in the entire Yucatan.

Uxmal and Chichen Itza nearer the center of the Yucatan are far better known and more excavated. Uxmal's impressive 100-foot high Pyramid of the Magician boasts an unusual oval-shape and a temple superimposed on 4 levels, the number of times the Maya believed the world has ended and renewed itself. We live in the world’s 5th and final period, which the ancient Maya predict will be destroyed for good on December 23, 2012.

At Chichen Itza, the 75-foot high Castle pyramid displays one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the ancient world. Twice during the year, at the spring and fall equinox, the pyramid’s 9 platforms create a series of shadow triangles that extend down the side of the pyramid to line up with 2 huge snake heads at the bottom of the central staircase.

The shadows transform the staircase into a huge undulating serpent. Chichen Itza is also known for its remarkable round-domed Observatory that priests apparently used for determining when to plant and harvest crops.

Ancient stone pyramids are places where you should be able to lose yourself in time rather than be bound by it. It’s silly to have to keep one eye on your watch and the other on your tour bus so you won’t be left behind.

The Villas Archeologicas give you all the time in the world. Or, at least until December 23, 2012.

Reservations for the Villas at Coba, Uxmal and Chichen-Itza can be made though Club Med’s central reservation office: 800-258-2633 or http://www.clubmedvillas.com/indexen.php. However, the reservations office doesn’t always have accurate information. Club Med told me that the Coba Villa was full when I wanted to visit; when I stopped by for lunch I learned only a few rooms were booked.

If you're told the place is full, better to contact the Villas directly: at Coba (985) 858-1527; Uxmal (997) 976-2019; Chichen Itza (985) 851-0180.

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