Whether you are the type of traveler who plans every day of your vacation in advance, or you are the spontaneous make-it-up-as-you-go-along type, there are certain things you simply cannot miss on your visit to Yucatán:

Teatro Peon ContrerasMÉRIDA – Yucatán’s capital, with a population of 828,000 (2010 census) is the cosmopolitan hub of the state. Museums, galleries, restaurants, music, dance, architecture, shopping…it’s all here. Take a tour with Carnavalito bus tour at 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, or 7 pm from Santa Lucía Park, or the Turibus red double-decker tour bus that stops every two hours at the Plaza Grande.

ARCHAEOLOGY – The site of Chichén Itzá is world renowned, but that is only the beginning. The ancient Maya left behind many cities with buildings, pyramids, and temples, with new discoveries being made all the time. Like the pyramids of Egypt or Machu Picchu in Peru, no visit to Yucatán would be complete without seeing the remnants of this amazing civilization. Don’t miss the Ruta Puuc, a perfect day trip…get an early start and begin with the Lol Tun caves, and end with the new Light and Sound show in Uxmal.

HACIENDAS – There are haciendas all over Mexico, a testament to an earlier time when landowners lived in lavish splendor, surrounded by their acres of whatever crop they were growing, and the staff who worked those lands. In Yucatán, the product was henequén and the legacy is immense. Today the haciendas range from restored boutique hotels and restaurants to museums to henequen-producing facilities. No two are alike and their elegant splendor must be seen to be believed. Visit Sotuta de Peón for a full tour of a live hacienda.

Tacos de Cochinita

Tacos de Cochinita

GASTRONOMY – Surely you will taste many Yucatecan gastronomic delights, including Panuchos, Sopa de Lima, and Poc Chuc. But if you only had time for ONE meal in Yucatán, it would have to be Cochinita Pibil: the pit-roasted pork which is marinated in achiote paste (made from annatto seeds and other spices) and sour orange juice. Served with pickled onions and hot tortillas, you will see it on every menu…and after you return home you will dream about it! You will find it everywhere, from markets to sophisticated restaurants in town, and haciendas. And if you want to learn about Yucatecan cuisine, take a cooking class at Los Dos Cooking School.

CENOTES – Yucatán’s unique geographical environment, situated on a limestone shelf with waterways underground, provides it with an equally unique phenomenon: cenotes, or sinkholes…thousands of them! Several have been opened to the public for swimming and diving. Sacred to the ancient Maya, you will feel transported in time when you swim in one of these magnificent, crystal-clear pools…with birds singing and swooping overhead, tiny fish darting around you, and dragonflies fluttering above the surface.

Valladolid1COLONIAL CITIES AND MAYA VILLAGES – To really see the people of Yucatán up close, visit any of the numerous colonial cities, magical towns, and Maya pueblos scattered around the state: Izamal, Valladolid, Ticul, Muna, and more. Better yet, visit when they have a special festival or celebration, and you will become a part of an event that you will never forget. The guild processions in each village are true fiestas of color, music and traditions. Click here for festival schedules.

BEACHES – The Gulf of Mexico has beaches of every shape and size…except one: there is nothing with the high-rise hotels you will see on the Riviera Maya, and that suits Yucatecans just fine. The biggest beach community, Progreso, has 54,000 inhabitants, and the rest are mainly fishing villages with spacious beaches and plenty of fresh seafood. What could be better than grilled fish and a cold beer at a table on the sand under the swaying palms!

FLAMINGOS – The coasts of Yucatán are home to several flamingo colonies, not to mention hundreds of other bird species. Visit Celestún or Río Lagartos and take a boat tour to see these magnificent bird colonies amidst the mangroves…a unique event that you will always remember.

Maps:

– Península of Yucatán
– Puuc Route
– Convent Route
Izamal
Valladolid
Mérida
Progreso
Dzibilchaltún
Chichén Itzá
Uxmal
Celestún
Río Lagartos