03/15/2021

What to do in Yucatan

Yucatan is one of the 32 states which make up Mexico. The state is located on the Yucatan peninsula and edges the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Merida is the capital city, located within reach of Progreso, the major port serving the region. The climate is sub-tropical and the area is prone to hurricanes which leads to vulnerability with the almost uniformly flat terrain. Due to the geological composition of mainly limestone, the state is home to numerous cenotes.

Cenotes

Cenotes are sinkholes in the ground. They are formed when the limestone collapses due to erosion, exposing the freshwater underground. Dive teams have explored the depths of some sinkholes and have noted they are partially connected through complex underwater cave systems. Most of the cenotes popular with tourists are either fully open or only partially covered, while there are other cenotes which are accessible only through narrow cavelike entrances. Most visitors coming to Yucatan will travel to Valladolid for the cenotes located near, and within, the city. You will see an endless stream of photos taken at Ik Kil or Suytun on Instagram. While these cenotes are absolutely beautiful, I recommend Homun for a more unique experience to enjoy cenotes with the locals. My favorite cenote was Yaxbacaltun which required a small drive through the jungle on a dirt road to reach, but was totally worth the adventure. Cenotes have been an important source of freshwater and served as a site for sacrifice for the former Mayan empire.

Cenote Yaxbacaltun located in Homun
Cenote Yaxbacaltun located in Homun

Mayan Ruins

Temple of Kukulcan, Mayapan
Temple of Kukulcan, Mayapan

Yucatan is home to several notable ancient Mayan cities as the area was the center of the once great empire. You can even find remnants of ruins in one of the parks in Merida. The most well known of these sites is Chichen Itza with Uxmal being a close second. Both are UNESCO heritage sites today and are visited by millions of people each year. Other notable sites within the state include Ek Balam and those along the Ruta Puuc (Labna, Xlapak, Sayil and Kabah). Unfortunately, during my stay the sites along Ruta Puuc were closed due to the pandemic. I highly recommend taking the time to visit Mayapan, which is located about 45 minutes driving time south of Merida, near the town of Telchaquillo. Mayapan was the political and cultural center of the empire after the fall of Chichen Itza and the other cities to the south. A visit to Mayapan is unique as you are still allowed to climb the various structures, including ascending the stairs of the Temple of Kulkulkan. The site is not as well-known as others which means you will not encounter the same crowds and overwhelming push of vendors looking to sell you souvenirs at every corner. A full write-up comparing Mayapan, Uxmal and Chichen Itza is coming soon.

Pueblos

If you are renting a car and driving yourself, or have the free time available, I highly recommend staying off the bigger highways and taking the smaller roads which connect the many small towns along the way to each destination. You will not be disappointed by the quaint charm of each town with their unique churches overlooking the respective town center. Stop off and talk with the local people and try some of the regional cuisine at the stalls set up along the roadway. Fresh fruit and juices are always available for refreshment while tacos, tortas, panuchos and salbutes are a perfect snack. Plus you will be helping the locals and what a perfect opportunity to practice your Spanish speaking skills! The local people are always friendly and seem excited to meet visitors with inquiries to your origin and what you think about the state. Personally, this was one of the highlights while I was exploring the state.

Each pueblo has a centrally located church which shows its unique charm
Each pueblo has a centrally located church which shows its unique charm

Beaches

El Faro, Progreso at sunset
El Faro, Progreso at sunset

Yucatan borders the Gulf of Mexico on its northern edge and the beaches do not disappoint. There are countless seaside towns offering white sand beaches, nature reserves in the mangroves and plenty of water sports to entertain anyone. The climate is always suitable for a day of soaking up the sun and surf and the water in the gulf is rarely too cold or too warm to enjoy. For anyone looking for a developed town on the beach with a boardwalk lined with restaurants, cafes, bars and souvenir shops all overlooking the beach, Progreso is the place for you. Home to the longest pier in the world, Puerto Progreso serves as the primary shipping port for the region. It is a very popular location for locals on holidays as well as tourists and expats throughout the year. For anyone looking for a more tranquil experience, El Cuyo is located at the edge of the state near the border with Quintana Roo (the state which hosts the most popular destinations such as Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Tulum). El Cuyo is a small sleepy town where Wifi is non-existent and cellular service is spotty and slow at best. The town is home to some of the friendliest people and a huge expanse of white sand which might be for you to enjoy alone. Be sure to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets on display every night.

Conclusion

No matter what your interests are while traveling, Yucatan has what you are looking for. The state is rich is culture and history bringing to life a delicious cuisine unique to the region. The locals are very friendly and always willing to lend assistance or information to ensure you love your experience here. Yucatan boasts a safety record and low crime rate not seen in other places, with Merida being notably the safest city in all of North America. I hope you will enjoy your time in Yucatan as I have.

A Perfect Sunset in Progreso
A Perfect Sunset in Progreso
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