It’s dark outside the four-wheel drive, Mexico’s highways are quiet at 4am, there’s just us and a few passing cars on the road for the two and a bit hour drive. The sky hasn’t started to lighten as we hop out of the car, stretch our legs and slowly walk into the park.
Passing through the empty entrance gates and closed ticket counters, we feel our way over gravel and the occasional tree root, the glow of a phone lighting the way. Suddenly we stop, and our guides make it even darker – we’re told to close our eyes, put our hands on each other’s shoulders and slowly shuffle forwards.
Once we’re in position, we open our eyes, and the mighty form of the pyramid of Kukulcan, Chichen Itza’s famous stepped pyramid, looms in front of us. It rises out of the darkness, up into the sky. Piercing through the clouds, reaching towards the full moon, the 24 metre high pyramid and the surrounding ruins make up one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The Bushman Photography Chichen Itza sunrise tour is a tour like no other.
Normally, visitors to this mysterious ancient civilisation view the pyramid with the company of thousands of others. From standard opening hours until closing, there are crowds of people lining up to buy tickets, take tours, walk through the ruins and in particular take a photo in front of the mighty Kukulcan pyramid.
However, with Bushman Photography’s private sunrise tour, just a lucky handful of people are here to see the ruins. We have the place to ourselves. No one else is in sight. We walk past a few groundskeepers quietly sweeping and setting up for the day on our way in but that’s it. In front of the pyramid, we have the entire forecourt to ourselves, so we set up our cameras for long exposures and test out the pyramid’s otherworldly acoustics – if you stand right at a certain spot, and clap your hands, you’ll hear the sound echo back through the pyramid.
Our private guide takes us through a brief history of the region and the mysteries, like the acoustics that you’ll find here. In the dark, it’s even more mysterious – and marvelous. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we soak up every second. Okay, we spend a few minutes posing for photos in front of the pyramid – we take eerie silhouette shots, selfies and happy shots. And then the serious photography begins.
Bushman tours are run by photographer Mario Dib, and here’s why they’re the far superior way to see this rare sight:
- Mario is passionate about giving guests to Mexico truly unique experiences, away from the crowds.
- He provides each guest with a DSLR, a handful of lens and a memory card to use for the duration of the tour.
- For anyone with an interest in photography, or even just someone with an appreciation for getting the right shot, this is the perfect tour. You don’t need to lug a DSLR around Mexico with you, especially if you might be flying to flop at one of the many Cancun resorts or all inclusive hotels that are a few hours drive away.
- You’ll get into locations when the lighting is best and when the crowds are quiet.
- Mario gives you all the top tips to photography Chichen Itza so you can get the perfect shot.
- Top notch guides are brought in to share information at sites.
We spend the last 20 minutes before sunrise exploring the Great Ball Court that’s adjacent to the pyramid, and then settle in to watch the sun’s rays creep up the steps of Kukulcan.
Now here is a big distinction that sets Bushman’s tour apart from other Chichen Itza tours. There are a few ‘sunrise’ tours – but you arrive almost at the end of sunrise. And by the time you’re finished, and start exploring the other ruins, the crowds have started to congregate. We were finished at the pyramid before the sunrise tours started to arrive, and had a private tour of the rest of the ruins while those tours headed towards the major ruins.
Mario’s tour doesn’t end there. It’s back in your private transfer to the beautiful historic town of Valladolid. We have breakfast in the heart of the town, eating traditional eggs, drinking coffee, before heading out for a stroll along the streets. The colonial Spanish architecture is great photography fodder – the bright, pink coloured walls of Valladolid Museum in particular are beautiful at every angle. Mario knows all the local hotspots – including hidden perfumeries, chocolateries and day spas. We peer our heads into each one before heading back to the car for another stop.
The day continues with a dip in a private cenote. There are hundreds of cenotes, underground sink holes, around the Yucatan Peninsula. However, big tours often go to manmade or crowded cenotes. We stop in at a family owned and run cenote, where a little puppy keeps us company as we head down into the underground. We gasp as the crystal clear water appears and spend around an hour cooling off with a dip.
The drive back to our hotel in Playa Del Carmen is around two hours, plenty of time to scroll through our images, choosing our favourite ones, discussing editing techniques and how we might have taken different photos.
We’re returned to our hotels with memories only a few people in the world will ever have, and the photographs to prove it.
Lisa was the guest of Bushman Photography