Yucatán is a state in the north western part of the Yucatán Peninsula, with its coastline facing the Gulf of Mexico. To the east is the state of Quintana Roo, home of Cancun and Cozumel; Campeche is to the south.
Yucatán is home to the Chicxulub Crater; geologists say that this crater dates back approx 65 million years from the Earth's collision with a meteorite, and it is implicated with the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The Spanish came to conquer in the 1500s, conquering the Maya people and replacing the Maya city of T'ho with the capital city, Merida.
Spanish conquistadors stayed and intermarried with the local Maya population, becoming a part of the historic heritage of Yucatán.
In the late 1800’s, henequen, a plant grown for its strong fibers that were turned into twine, became known as the green gold of Yucatan.
The sale of sisal rope,named for Sisal, the port from which this rope was shipped around the world became responsible for much of the wealth of Yucatan.
Henequen made Yucatan into one of Mexico’s richest States, and turned Merida at the turn of the 20th Century into a city with more millionaires than any other city worldwide.
Today, one can still visit henequen-producing haciendas, though they are few. Other haciendas, many of them abandoned and neglected in the mid-20th Century, are today private homes, hotels, meeting places and museums.
Mérida - the state capital and largest city.
Izamal - Small city with a rich ancient Maya and Spanish Colonial past. Known for its yellow-painted walls throughout the city.
Motul - Small city, origin of a Yucatecan dish called Huevos Motulenos, birthplace of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
Progreso - Port City on Gulf of Mexico, known for fresh seafood and beaches.
Valladolid Spanish Colonial era architecture dominates this small city close to Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza Yucatan's largest and most famous ancient Maya ruins. One of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Cuzama Home of three beautiful cenotes
Ek Balam Maya ruins just north of Valladolid
Lol-Tun an underground cave system, two hours south of Merida
UxmalMaya site south of Merida. Near Uxmal are a collection of smaller but impressive Maya ruins: Kabah, Labnah, and Sayil.
Yucatan is a place of peace and friendly people, a place to explore the Maya culture, enjoy beautiful sandy beaches, underground rivers and cenotes, ancient Maya archaeological sites, or the flavor of a Yucatecan meal.
Most people speak Maya and Spanish; English and German are also commonly spoken at tourist sites. Bird lovers will find Yucatan a great place for bird-watching.
Those that enjoy romantic places will find many in the Colonial cities, where people gather at night in parks and plazas to enjoy a free concert of music or dance.
Spanish is the official language. Knowing at least a few simple phrases of basic Spanish is helpful, but locals are very forgiving of visitors who are not fluent as long as you make an effort to be polite. In much of Yucatan some Maya is spoken.
Except in a few small villages, almost everyone will have at least a working knowledge of basic Spanish. The younger people are now learning English and will enjoy trading a Spanish lesson for an English lesson. English, at least simple English, is widely understood by merchants and guides at major tourist destinations and in more upscale hotels.
The major airport in Yucatan State is located at Merida (Rejon) International Airport (IATA: MID). Another point of access to the State might be though Cancun International Airport (IATA: CUN), located at Cancun, Quintana Roo State, to the east of Yucatan State.
The main option for approaching the Yucatan Peninsula by boat is cruise ships serving Yucatan State or the State of Quintana Roo. Most cruise ships drop anchor to the east in Cancun or Cozumel. Some cruise ships anchor at Progreso, in Yucatan. Progreso has one of the longest causeways in the world.
Yucatan has extensive well-built highways, as well as rural, state and federal roads that are safe for tourists. When driving the libre roads, keep an eye out for speed bumps, called topes. They are numerous, and found at the beginning, end, and middle of most villages. Bus lines offer inexpensive first-class air-conditioned bus trips.
Renting a car is highly recommended. Main roads are in good condition and state maps are easily available at any tourist information kiosk. There are many bus routes and one can get around by bus, though not all are air-conditioned or run at convenient times. No train service is offered to this State. There is limited air service to outlying communities from Merida.
The fastest route across the region,Cancun--Valladolid--Chichen Itza--Merida is the divided four-lane toll road, the cuota (Highway 180). The toll between Cancun and Chichen Itza is approximately US $45 each way. The road is well-maintained but does not have nighttime lighting.
Occasional bicyclists and pedestrians create some road hazards, but fewer than on most other Mexican roads. Still, it is not advisable to drive the road at night if you are unfamiliar with it. There are few services available along the road--very few gas stations, few vendors or services, etc.so plan accordingly. Restrooms are available at toll booth areas and in most Pemex (gas) stations.
Yucatan Today has lot of info and tips online. Pick up a copy of their monthly periodical when in Yucatan for maps, information, and lots of articles.
Yucatan Living is an online magazine for English-speakers who live, work or travel in the Yucatan. Check it out before you travel for details on driving, destinations and culture. There is also a weekly English Events listing and a News synopsis.
Yucatan offers many areas of interest to visitors, including famous Maya archaeological sites, sandy beach towns, colonial cities, ecological reserves and adventure loaded trips to Cenotes, fresh underwater sink-holes, caves, haciendas and small towns.
Yucatan is a great place to visit for those that enjoy birdwatching. Places to visit for that activity are: Celestun, Rio Lagartos, El Cuyo, Chichen Itza, and Uxmal.
Merida. Each night the City Hall sponsors many cultural events and regional dances throughout the Historic District,centro historico in downtown; most events are free and scheduled to start after 7:00 P.M.
Carnival in Merida has evolved in recent years from a Maya/Catholic indigenous celebration to what can be describes as "The party of the Year". For a week, Paseo de Montejo, the main street, is closed most nights and some days, for parades of costumed dancers and floats.
Lodging reservations suggested during Christmas, New Years, Carnival, Easter and Day of the Dead.
Archaeology. Yucatán is home to several famous Mayan archaeological zones. The best known and most widely visited by tourists is Chichén Itzá, the site of the Kukulcan Pyramid, the Maya Observatory, and the Sacred Cenote.
A contrasting architectural style can be observed at Mayan sites along the Ruta Puuc. There are many minor sites, not as well known, that are enjoyable to visit as well. These include Labna, Sayil, Kabah, Ek Balaam, Dzibilchaltun and Edzna.
Cenotes. These natural underground lake and cave formations, found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, are especially concentrated in the state of Yucatán. The highest concentration is to be found in what was once an ancient meteor crater.
Many that can be toured are located along La Ruta de los Cenotes, an official network of secondary roads that is promoted by regional governments and tourist authorities.
Spas. Massages and treatments based on Mayan ritual practices are available at spas such as Yaxkin Spa at Hacienda Chichén,near Chichén
Itzá. Other haciendas, such as Hacienda Petac and Hacienda Xcanatun also provide spa services.
Museums. Many cities and towns in Yucatan have small to medium-sized museums. Chichen Itza has a small exhibit at the main entrance of the site, within the Cultur complex. Hacienda Chichen has the Merle Greene Gallery and museum. Merida has many museums, including the new Gran Museo del Mundo Maya which has extensive exhibits on Maya history and culture.
Downtown Merida houses the MACAY, a contemporary art museum. Outside of Merida, near Ticul, is the Cacao Museum where visitors can learn the process of making chocolate and sample the results. In Valladolid, a local couple has opened their house as a museum of Mexican arts and crafts called Casa de los Venados.
Mayan Sacred Ceremonies. There has been worldwide interest in the Maya cosmology and Maya spirituality since before 2012. Local tour companies, such as Casa K'in, offer Maya spiritual tours where guests can participate in and learn ceremonies. The Mayan Priests and Elder Healers' civil association: Kuch Kaab Yeetel J-Men Maya'ob A.C. offers a variety of sacred Mayan rituals and mystical ceremonies throughout the year at their Sacred Mayan Ceremonial Center within the Maya Jungle Reserve at Hacienda Chichen.
Haciendas. The Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with haciendas. Some are abandoned and beautiful in their decay. Some, such as Hacienda Yaxcopoil are run as museums, while others are private homes. Many of them have been renovated and are run now as hotels or B&B's. Hacienda Chichen is close to Chichen Itza.
Hacienda San Jose Cholul, Santa Rosa, Temozon and Uayamon are part of the Starwood Luxury Collection. Other independent hacienda hotels include Hacienda Santa Cruz, Hacienda Misne and Hacienda Xcanatun which also has one of Merida's best restaurants. Hacienda Ochil is a great place to stop for lunch. And others, such as Hacienda Sac Chich and Hacienda Petac are available as vacation rentals.
The guayabera shirts for men and huipil blouses and dresses for women are attractive and great for the climate and can be purchased throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
Yucatan is well known for its exquisite and embroidered huipiles, silver or filigrana jewelry, traditional hammocks, and for fine replicas of ancient Maya ceramic vessels and masks. A fine arts boutique in Valladolid's main square, is Yalat which specializes in Mexican fine arts and unique Maya art-crafts. Merida also offers some good shopping at places like Alma Mexicana and the gift shop at Hotel Mediomundo .
Many arts and crafts are sold on the streets of Merida at night as well. And the Plaza Grande in Merida is filled with puestos or small shops every Sunday 9 am to 5 pm for Domingo en Merida.
Yucatan makes excellent summer hats of the Panama or Jipijapa style. Even the highest quality fine mesh hand woven hats are fairly reasonably priced compared to what similar hats go for in most other countries.
The Maya hammock is a very light and sturdy resting instrument or piece of gear, considered a gift of the Gods by the Maya. Used as a hammock or backpack, a Yucatan hammock is strong enough to haul a monkey! Hammocks come in a variety of colors, sizes and materials. A well-made matrimonial version will easily hold up to 600 pounds or more due to the unique Maya diamond-like weave.
A tighter weave will give more comfort and support. In times past, hammocks were made from fibers of the local henequen cactus, a strong but somewhat coarse material. Today, hammocks are handmade using over 2 miles of soft cotton or nylon, and can give more than two years of continuous service when not exposed to sunlight for long periods.
Hammocks should be hand washed and hung to stretch and dry. Hammocks should not be hung directly on hooks, as the friction will break down the woven loop. Loop a rope or a hook from a chain or rope and loop it through the loop end of the hammock and attach that to the hook. Be mindful of the instability of a hammock until you are used to it. Children should not be left unattended in a hammock.
Yucatan cuisine is well known throughout Mexico. Try the traditional Pollo Pibil or tender chicken and Sopa de Lima or chicken soup with lime juice. Poc chuc is a tender slow cooked pork dish. Chilmole is turkey in a dark spicy sauce. Venison is no longer so common in Yucatan as it was a generation ago, but still sometimes appears on menus and is usually of good quality.
If you are lucky enough to be discovering Yucatan by automobile or even bus, a travel cooler of decent size comes in very handy in this climate. You will have opportunities to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables along the road. Honey can sometimes be found for sale along the road in used whiskey bottles, and can be found in most local markets. It is safe to eat and delicious.
Bottled water is available in most places and is the safest choice for drinking.
Yucatan has some decent bottled beers. Montejo is a light pilsner; Leon is a Munich style dark. Some places you may see Michelada offered, that is a specialty of this area of Mexico. It is a cold beer with lime juice and spices. Yucatan makes a local liqueur called X'tabentun. It is made with anis and honey and is hard to find or practically impossible in most parts of the world, so if you like it, buy it when you visit. Crema de nance is a tasty distinctive liquor made from a local fruit.
Fresh fruit juice and aguas or fruit with water are very popular in Yucatan and fresh squeezed OJ can be found in most markets.
The lodging in the Yucatan varies widely. If you are traveling on a budget, there are places where you bring your own hammock or good quality inexpensive hammocks can be easily purchased at markets in Merida or larger towns. Sleeping in your own hammock is common for budget accommodation, often in rather primitive lodging with three walls, a ceiling and an open air front.
Even some higher priced hotels in the cities have a floor of rooms that only accommodate hammocks. Other more conventional sleeping choices are also available. In the moderate range, there are decent hotels or pensions with basic but clean rooms with the simple luxuries of bed, air conditioning, and private bath, often only a short distance from historic sights or beaches.
Of course the larger cities and most popular attractions have luxury hotels with amenities and attentive staff that understand English and other languages. For a different type of Yucatan experience at the high end of the spectrum you may want to look into the numerous haciendas that are scattered throughout the State, and have been renovated into usually high-end hotels. Merida and the beach communities also have a wealth of vacation rentals available.
Yucatan is a safe place to visit, statistically safer than most cities in the United States. Nevertheless, normal caution should be taken as you would take in your home town. Always keep your vehicle locked and valuables out of sight. In the larger cities, parking is somewhat limited and it may be best to find secured parking. Never photograph military installations, Police, Federal police or children without permission.
To the south of Yucatan is the state of Campeche, with more Maya ruins and the charming namesake capital city Campeche.
East of Yucatan is the state of Quintana Roo, home to the popular tourist destination of Cancun, the ancient ruins of Tulum and Coba, beautiful beaches, and other attractions.
Farther south is the country of Belize
Enjoy your holiday in Yucatan.