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    Everything You Need To Know Before Renting A Car In Europe

    Tips For Renting A Car In Europe Europe driving guide My wife Anna and I spent a year living in Italy as expats without a car, preferring to rent cars when we wanted to go on a road trip, or for traveling to other European countries like France and Germany. Over the years we’ve rented […] More

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    Visiting The Hidden Mayan Ruins Of Calakmul In Mexico

    Calakmul Mayan Ruins in Mexico
    Campeche, MexicoCalakmul is an ancient Maya ruined city located deep within a jungle biosphere on the Yucatan Peninsula. Here’s why it’s my favorite archeological site in Mexico!
    Not many people make it down to the ruins of Calakmul compared to the other famous Mayan pyramids in Mexico like Chichen Itza or Tulum — mostly due to its very remote location near the border of Guatemala.
    Calakmul is far away from any tourist cities, requiring a pretty long & dedicated trip out there to visit the site.
    It’s a real hidden gem for those who wish to get off-the-beaten-path!
    Located in the Mexican state of Campeche on the Yucatan Penninsula, the ruins are extensive and cover 2 square kilometers (0.77 sq mi).
    Many sections have never been excavated, and because it only receives about a dozen visitors per day, it feels like a true “Indiana Jones” kind of experience.
    In this travel guide, you’ll learn tips for visiting Calakmul, along with some interesting history about my favorite Mayan ruins in Mexico.
    History Of The Calakmul Maya Ruins
    Calakmul Archeological Site
    The ancient city of Calakmul is thought to have been populated with about 50,000 people. It was “re-discovered” and named by a biologist named Cyruss Lundell, who flew over the area in 1931.
    Calakmul means “two adjacent mounds” in the Maya language — which makes sense as I’m sure the two main pyramids just looked like two mountains in the middle of a very flat jungle!
    The city was the capital of a large regional state at the time. The Calakmul kingdom included 20 secondary cities such as La Muñeca, Naachtun, Sasilha, Oxpemul and Uxul. The population of the whole kingdom is estimated to be about 1.7 million people!
    The equally large city of Tikal in what’s now Guatemala regularly fought with Calakmul — until Tikal won and took over in 700 AD. Eventually the city was abandoned and consumed by the jungle over hundreds of years.
    Calakmul’s ruins and the surrounding jungle was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
    Calakmul Ruins Highlights
    Pyramid Structure 1 View From the Top of the Pyramid
    Pyramid Structure 1
    Among the many interesting structures found there are two gigantic pyramids — called Structure 1 & Structure 2. Structure 1 is the second highest pyramid at Calakmul, reaching a height of 130 feet/40 meters. One thing that makes Calakmul stand out from other sites is that you can climb these pyramids!
    The steps of the pyramids are steep, and not very wide — maybe just the length of your foot. Some are narrower than that! You need to be careful climbing, and preferably not afraid of heights. Falling would be a disaster…
    View of Structure 1 from Structure 2 Climbing the Pyramids
    Pyramid Structure 2
    The most impressive building in Calakmul is called Structure 2. This pyramid was built up a number of times over centuries to reach a final height of around 150 feet/50 meters.
    It is the highest and largest structure in the Maya world. Nine royal tombs have been found inside the pyramid, some containing rich artifacts like jade masks.
    Mayan Ball Court
    Calakmul has its own Maya Ball Court, where athletes put a rubber ball (representing the sun) into a small stone circle perched very high on a wall, without using their hands OR feet.
    Some carvings suggest that the winning team’s captain was decapitated, which was a sign of honor. The ball game is over 3,500 years old, making it the first organized game in the history of sports.
    Games were played to resolve arguments between rival cities or as an alternative to all-out war.
    Chiik Nahb Acropolis
    The Chiik Nahb Acropolis, or “Place of the Water Lilly” is an area to the North of the site. Climbing this Acropolis gives you an excellent view of Structure 2 for photos.
    This complex is famous for incredible painted murals recently discovered inside.
    Maya Stelae with Red Pigment
    Ancient Stone Stelae
    Many great stelae can be found at this site too — large slabs of limestone that have been intricately carved with pictures and glyphs.
    Unbelievably some of them still have their original color pigments showing! It’s crazy that the color has lasted so long…
    The Biosphere Reserve
    Blue Ocellated Turkey in Calakmul Howler Monkey’s are Loud!
    The ruins of Calakmul are located inside the massive Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, 2,792 square miles of protected jungle.
    You’ll find all sorts of wildlife living within the reserve, including Ocellated Turkeys, Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Baird’s Tapir, Tucans, and if you’re SUPER LUCKY — the very elusive Jaguar!
    The best time to see wildlife on the drive up to the ruins is early in the morning, or right before sunset in the late afternoon.
    Driving to Calakmul through the Biosphere
    Getting To Calakmul
    Calakmul is much more difficult to reach than other Mayan ruins in Mexico. I’ve visited 3-times now, once through a combination of bus, taxi, and bicycle. Plus twice more with a rental car (it’s much easier!)
    Rental Car
    The best site to book your car is Discover Cars. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico.
    CANCUN – Calakmul is 464 km (6 hours) from Cancun by car.TULUM – The ruins are 334 km (4 hours) from Tulum by car.CAMPECHE – Calakmul is 300 km (4 hours) from Campeche by car.
    By Bus/Taxi
    The closest town to Calakmul is a small city called Xpujil. There are buses that run from Campeche and Tulum to Xpujil via the Mexican ADO Bus Service.
    Once in Xpujil, you can then hire an expensive taxi (the trip still takes an hour or so) to take you to the Calakmul ruins — they will wait while you explore for a few hours.
    Camping at Campamento Yaax Che
    Where To Stay Near Calakmul
    Because Calakmul is basically in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to need to spend a night or two nearby. The closest towns are Xpujil and Chicana. Here are some suggestions for good places to stay during your trip to Calakmul…

    Best Accommodation In Xpujil

    Camping In The Calakmul Biosphere
    If you’re up for an adventure, I highly recommend camping within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. There are a few campgrounds located inside, and you can even rent a tent if you don’t have your own. The place I’ve stayed during all my trips is called Campamento Yaax Che.
    Just be aware that camping overnight in the jungle is a very LOUD experience! Walking around in the dark with howler monkeys screaming at you from the tree tops is something you’ll never forget…
    Jungle in All Directions…
    Tips For Visiting Calakmul
    The ancient ruins of Calakmul are HUGE. Plan to spend at least 4 hours exploring the site, if not more.
    If driving from Xpujil, first you’ll have to enter the Biosphere Reserve. From here you still have a winding hour-long drive to the ruins.
    Yes, you can climb the ruins! This is rare in Mexico these days, but I think it’s because this site gets so few tourists.
    You can hire a tour guide at the entrance for about $600 MXN pesos who will explain the history and culture of the site.
    If you go on a weekday around 8am when they first open, you may be the only ones there!

    I hope you enjoyed my guide to exploring the remote Calakmul Mayan Ruins! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

    Have any questions about Calakmul? What are your favorite Mayan ruins? Drop me a message in the comments below!

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    The Biltmore Estate: Visiting America’s Largest Private Home

    The Famous Biltmore Estate
    Asheville, North Carolina
    America’s largest private home is located in Asheville, North Carolina. Welcome to George Vanderbilt’s incredible Biltmore Estate! Here are some tips for visiting.
    When you think of Asheville — good craft beer, bohemian vibes, and rolling green mountains generally come to mind. It’s one of my favorite small cities in the United States.
    If you’re looking for fun things to do in Asheville, visiting the historic Biltmore Estate should be at the top of your list.
    It’s claim to fame is America’s largest privately owned mansion.
    George Vanderbilt, an heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, decided to build his dream home in the Blue Ridge mountains of Asheville, and his Biltmore Estate has everything you would expect from a Gilded Age mansion.
    Sitting on 8,000 acres, this massive complex includes the 250-room Biltmore House, 75-acres of manicured gardens, the country’s most visited winery, hiking trails, restaurants, and 5-star accommodations too.
    The Biltmore is a popular tourist attraction in Asheville, but it’s easy to see why it stays busy all year long.
    Biltmore Front Lawn & Fountain
    The Vanderbilt Family
    Cornelius Vanderbilt was among the railroad tycoons that rose from rags to riches during the Gilded Age, along with the likes of John D. Rockefeller, Henry Flagler, Andrew Carnegie.
    Born in 1794, Vanderbilt joined his father’s business operating the New York ferry as a young man.
    He eventually worked his way up the ranks to become the owner of the New York Central Railroad. He would later become the wealthiest person in the United States, and the second-wealthiest person ever in US history to date.
    Building Biltmore Estate In Asheville
    His youngest grandson, George Washington Vanderbilt II, fell in love with the scenery and climate of Asheville, where he began building his summer home in 1889. He created a mountain paradise surrounded by natural forests and productive farms.
    Today, the Vanderbilt family still owns the estate. It first opened to the public during the Great Depression at the request of the City of Asheville as a way to attract tourism.
    It eventually became a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and now welcomes 1.4 million tourists annually.
    Biltmore’s Loggia (Covered Exterior Gallery)
    Fun Facts About Biltmore Estate
    The Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned home in the United States at 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m) of floor space. With 135,280 square feet of living area! How big is your home?
    The basement is the largest in the country and includes a heated swimming pool with underwater lighting, bowling alley, and gymnasium as well as a kitchen with living quarters for staff.
    The Biltmore was a pioneer in sustainable farming in 1895 and has long operated its farm-to-table program.
    Top Attractions At The Biltmore
    The Winter Garden Area
    The Biltmore House
    New York architect, Richard Morris Hunt, designed the home in the Châteauesque style, a revival of French Renaissance architecture known for ornaments like elaborate towers, gargoyles, spires, and steep roofs.
    The home has four floors, a bachelor’s wing, and a basement. On exhibit inside is the family’s original collection of art and furniture.
    HOURS: Open daily 10am – 4pm
    Biltmore Gardens & Grounds
    The Biltmore’s grand gardens are truly impressive, featuring thousands of ancient trees, rose bushes, and colorful blooms. Koi Fish swim in the lily ponds at the Italian Garden.
    The four-acre Shrub Garden has hundreds of ornamental ferns. The rose garden contains over 50 varieties of roses, maintained to look as it did when the Vanderbilts first built the mansion.
    HOURS: Open daily 9am to dusk.
    Hiking Trails
    The estate contains over 22 miles of hiking trails that wind along the French Broad River through woodlands and open meadows. You can explore on your own, or join one of the guided hikes. Stop by the Bike Barn or Outdoor Adventure Center for a trail map.
    Antler Hill Village
    Antler Hill Village has live entertainment, shopping, 7 restaurants, and more educational opportunities. Enjoy live music and dining, perfect for after a tour of the house.
    HOURS: Open daily 10am – 9pm
    The Winery at Antler Hill Village
    George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William Cecil, founded the estate winery in the early 1970s. Located at Antler Hill Village, the historic winery offers complimentary tastings and tours. An indoor/outdoor wine bar serves charcuterie and locally-made truffles, perfectly paired with Biltmore reds, whites, and rosés.
    HOURS:Monday – Thursday: 11am – 6pmFriday – Sunday: 11am – 8pm
    The Impressive Library…
    How Much Does It Cost?
    Biltmore entry tickets start at $67 USD and include a self-guided tour of the Biltmore House & Gardens and parking. For $76, you also get a self-guided audio tour of the house.
    $234 admission comes with a custom two-hour tour of the home conducted by an expert guide. Kids get in for $35 plus a free audio guide.
    Tips For Visiting The Biltmore
    Over 75,000 tulips bloom in the spring, colorful annuals in the summer, and mums in the fall. The rose garden is best to visit around late May.
    You can stay overnight at one of the on-site hotels: The Inn at Biltmore Estate or the Village Hotel.
    Stop by the library on your tour of the house. George Vanderbilt amassed a collection of over 22,000 books — including over 3,000 he read himself.
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    I hope you enjoyed my guide to Asheville’s Biltmore Estate! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

    Any questions about visiting the Biltmore Estate? Do you have any other suggestions for the area? Drop me a message in the comments below! More

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    Killarney National Park: Exploring Mountains, Lakes, and Castles

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