This review covers our daylong tour to Chichen Itza and Ek Balam with Carlos. We paid $400.00 US cash (plus tip) for a private full day tour that was just my wife, myself, and Carlos.
Carlos is young an energetic and is a never ending fountain of knowledge. He is a historical art consultant for the LDS Church and art work he has consulted for is in several LDS temples and church office buildings in mesoamerica. We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Carlos and would highly recommend him to anyone looking for an exceptional experience.
The day did start off a little rocky. Carlos was supposed to pick us up at 730am at our resort. He did not show up until 8am. Apparently he was there on time but the security gate of the resort would not let him in. In any case, we were getting nervous but he finally showed up and everything went well from there on out.
While driving out to Chichen Itza he took us to a special museum/store that has reproductions of Mayan artifacts. Of particular interest is the Resurrection Plate. We were not interested in buying anything but found it very interesting to see some examples of items that help show the Mayan beliefs. They did not have any such items on display at the actual sites we visited, so this was a bonus and helped set the stage for the day.
The drive took well over an hour. During the drive Carlos had us look up scriptures that helped us have context for what we would see. So be sure to bring scriptures with you - either on your phone or your printed version. It is amazing how much detail is in the Book of Mormon - details that I had not previously paid much attention to. Some of the best parts of our day were actually the scriptural and history discussions we had in the car while driving from place to place.
Chichen Itza itself is grand. Many great details explained to us by Carlos. I had done some research on my own before the trip, so I was a little disappointed that we did not visit many parts of the complex. We did not visit the military temple, the old market area, the sacred cenote, or the caracol. We did walk around the big castillo temple, the ball court, and a couple of the sacrificial alters. I understand that our time was limited due to our long day of tours but I did feel a little regret over not seeing the other areas. If I had not done research on my own, however, I would have never known I was missing out on anything.
After Chichen Itza we stopped for lunch at a buffet restaurant that had traditional Mexican dancers performing while we ate. The dancing was fine, although at our resort they had a Mexican Fiesta night that had better and more dances. The food was tasty and we left satisfied and fueled up for the rest of the day. The cost of our meal and one drink was included with the tour. More drinks we had to pay for ourselves. Before my wife and I finished eating Carlos excused himself to leave. He told us it was up to us if we wanted to leave a tip. The servers then came by and placed a basket on the table that said "tips". Then as my wife and I were exiting the restaurant one of the dancers was standing at the door with another basket that said, "tips for dancers only". I found this mildly annoying that we were paying $400.00 for an all-inclusive tour and yet we were left alone with the tip baskets for lunch.
Then we were off to Ek Balam. Ek Balam is not as grandiose as Chichen Itza but it is more intimate and you are allowed to actually climb on and through the ruins. We enjoyed this greatly. Carlos had great insight and commentary about this site as well. We felt that seeing both of these sites on the same day complemented each other well.
As we drove back to our resort Carlos showed us examples of some of the LDS artwork he has worked as historical consultant on. He told us the prints were for sale exclusively for his tour guests if we wanted them. Unfortunately, we only brought enough cash to pay for the tour and tips so we did not have extra money on hand. If you might be interested in buying prints then bring extra cash. We did not even ask the price as we had no money left.
In the end we were very satisfied with Carlos as a tour guide. The cost was steep considering our actual time at each of the sites was limited, but we did feel the tour was worth it and having the private tour was even more special.