A quintessential day trip for anyone visiting Yucatán has to include the majestic Maya archaeological sites. By pairing this with a cenote swim, yummy local food, and a visit to a restored hacienda, the day becomes a perfect tasting menu of Yucatán’s best attractions.
If you have just one day to enjoy our beautiful state, try out this route which takes you to see some of the most iconic scenes of Yucatán. But beware, after seeing these sites, you might end up thinking about adding extra days to your trip.
For this day, renting a car is ideal since you’ll have several stops and you’ll want to be able to pack drinks, snacks, and other essentials. If you don’t plan on renting a car, you can always contact a car service.
I always recommend leaving early, that way you won’t be in a rush to get to your next destination.
Jump in the car and head to Uxmal. This is the longest leg of the trip, but is still very doable as the drive only takes an hour and a half or so (it’s about 80 km from Mérida); the rest of your stops are on your way back towards Mérida. As you drive, you’ll notice the topography changing; this is because you have entered the Puuc Region. Puuc means “hill” in Maya, and this area sets itself apart from the rest of the state, not just for having hills when the rest of the state is very flat, but also for its lack of cenotes and other waterholes which are so abundant throughout the rest of the peninsula.
Uxmal is probably my favorite archaeological site in Yucatán, but don’t just take it from me: it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1996. Its grounds are extensive and grand and the famous Sorcerer’s Pyramid greets you when you walk into the site, making for a real impact. Legend has it that this pyramid was built in a single night by the Dwarf of Uxmal, when in fact archaeological evidence indicates that it was built over three different time periods, hence its name which means “thrice built” in Maya.
You’ll see that the buildings have very, very ornate patterns. Chaac, the god of rain, was the main deity here because of the heavy reliance on rain due to the lack of cenotes and other natural water sources, so you’ll see him heavily represented on most of the buildings. You’ll also see many images of parrots, turtles, jaguars, owls, etc. You are free to explore the site on your own of course, but if you’d like to know more about all the details and the symbolism of the site, hire one of the certified federal guides at the entrance.
After Uxmal, I am confident you’re going to want a cenote swim. Head over to San Antonio Mulix for this, the drive is about 50 km from Uxmal, heading back towards Mérida.
In San Antonio Mulix there are two cenotes: Xbatún and Dzombakal. Both are about four meters deep, so don’t forget to put lifejackets on children and anyone else who is not a particularly confident swimmer. The cenotes themselves are small in size, but there’s an abundance of plant life in the area including water lilies in the cenote.
You can actually spend quite some time here because they have plenty of services available including a palapa, cabins if you’d like to spend the night, a restaurant, as well as snorkel, bicycle, and life jacket rentals.
After cooling off here, time to change clothes and go to lunch at our next stop.
Only about 15 km from San Antonio Mulix is Hacienda San Pedro Ochil. There are many haciendas throughout the peninsula, but Hacienda Ochil is truly spectacular and has been restored into an incredible restaurant and events venue.
At the hacienda you’ll first see the main gate which is a Moorish style arch with beautiful manicured gardens and a small henequén field which takes you back to the famed time of the “green gold.” As you walk through, you’ll see the main residence which now houses the restaurant and serves regional cuisine with impeccable presentation. There are several ancient trees in the surrounding terrace which makes for the perfect setting for a traditional Yucatecan lunch.
When you’re finished eating, you can walk around the grounds and explore a bit before being on your way. You can see the amphitheater, take a little ride on the “truck”, or if you visit on a weekday, you can go to the workshop for a demonstration on how henequén fiber is used in handcrafts.
As your last stop on the way back to Mérida, go to Hacienda Yaxcopoil, which means “the place of green poplars.” I know that you just went to a hacienda for lunch, but trust me, this one is a very different experience and equally worthwhile. The thing that makes Hacienda Yaxcopoil so memorable is that although it has been restored, it has been done so in keeping with the aesthetics, furnishings, and commodities of the late 19th century; it’s a total time capsule.
Hacienda Yaxcopoil was one of the first haciendas in Yucatán, dating back to the 17th century. As you enter you will see the distinctive double arch; this used to symbolize the 2000 heads of cattle which lived at the hacienda.
Recently the hacienda underwent an enormous restoration project where they redid the intricately designed paintings which resemble wallpaper in each of the rooms in the main residence. Additionally, to the furnished rooms in the main house, a tour of the grounds will take you to see the fiber extraction area, the machine room complete with original machinery, the kitchen garden, original artifacts which belonged to the different families who have owned the property, and more.
After you’ve finished visiting the hacienda, it’s time to drive back to Mérida. Now, recover after a full day of sightseeing and plan tomorrow’s adventure!
Editorial by Maggie Rosado
Photography from several sources for use in Yucatán Today
Favorite road trip snacks:
What’s a road trip without snacks? Honestly, when I’m travelling, I love to try local goodies, so here are some of my favorites:
- Charritos: These crunchy Yucatecan snacks are best with fresh lime squeezed on them but are great on their own, too. They have been a snack essential since the 1950s. Besides coming along on road trips, they are always popular at gatherings and parties.
- Soles Cookies: The Dondé cookie company has been around since 1905 and serves up some of Yucatecan’s most cherished products; including “Soles” which are thin, vanilla-flavored cookies that look like the sun.
- Fresh fruit: In Yucatán we love to snack on fruit which will vary depending on the time of year but is almost always jazzed up with chili powder. It’s very common to see fruit being sold roadside, cut up and ready to enjoy.
- Cristal Negra: This is another flavor you’ll only find in Yucatán. Black Soda was invented by local soda company Pino which has now closed, but became widely popular ever since it was released.
- Electrolit and water: Although you won’t only find these beverages in Yucatán, I can’t stress the importance of staying hydrated enough. Make sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, and drink plenty of liquids, even if you’re not thirsty.
Uxmal archaeological site
Open 365 days a year, 8 am – 5 pm
$413 pesos for foreigners and $176 pesos for Mexican nationals
Mexican nationals free on Sunday
Cenotes at San Antonio Mulix
Mérida – Uxmal highway, take the detour to the former Cacao Hacienda
Mon. – Fri. 9 am – 5 pm, Sat.- Sun. 12:30 pm – 6 pm
Entrance fee: National visitors: $25 pesos, foreign visitors: $50 pesos
Mérida – Uxmal, Km 16
Cel. 9999 00 11 93
Mon. to Sat. 8 am – 6 pm, Sun. 9 am – 2 pm
Entrance: $100 pesos
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