The Yucatan Peninsula is a swath of land in eastern Mexico, separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico. Rich in scenery and history, this area attracts tourists from all walks of life to both its shores and interior, as visitors can explore everything from crystal clear waters to Mayan Ruins, which cover much of the land in the core of the peninsula.
Varied in appeal to travelers of different interest, the Yucatan can present a challenge when deciding how to spend your time, as travelers may feel the call of the Caribbean as much as the call of the land’s historical history. Not to worry, however, as all can be had with a little planning and a love of wanderlust when you visit the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Yucatan is scattered with Mayan ruins, ancient waterholes known as cenotes, and tour buses crossing the terrain, but one thing it doesn’t have is a truly large, metropolitan city. The largest city in central Yucatan is Valladolid, which is a quaint, beautiful place, and not at all what one would encounter in the western coastal city of Merida, or in other large cities such as Cancun.
You can get truly lost in the Yucatan, either just by driving between historic relics of while browsing among the stones. The Yucatan is an opportunity to reconnect with remote beauty, and to reconnect with nature.
The primary draw of the Yucatan is Chichen Itza, the former Mayan stronghold and a site today that welcomes millions of tourists.
Located only 40 miles southwest of Valladolid, Chichen Itza has enjoyed an especially long stay in the limelight in the wake of the hysteria surrounding the lead up to the alleged 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. History buffs and archaeologists have known about the site for decades, however, and anyone who loves archaic structures and rich history should make their way here.
On the grounds of Chichen Itza is the Sacred Cenote, the primary cenote from which the Chichen Itza civilization thrived for hundreds of years. Evidence suggests that the Maya used this site for religious ceremonies, and today it is a primary attraction for visitors to the Yucatan due to the deep, refreshing waters and mesmerizing scenery.
This cenote is a key destination for historians, scientists, and professional divers, as pottery, tools, and even remains have been found along riveted shelves in the cenote walls!
For the outdoor daredevil, the Yucatan Peninsula is ideal. At the site of various cenotes are high, rocky cliffs where revelers can leap through from heights as much as 50 feet! Some cenotes, such as Cenote Zaci in Valladolid, attract day-long lines of divers trying to out-do one another – with GoPros in hand, of course!
One of the more shocking factors about the Yucatan was how overpoweringly romantic it was. From quiet walks to evening dinners and late nights walking in utter bliss, it’s a perfect location for couples seeking for a connective experience. Everything across the land has a deeply mystic feeling about it that calms you, calms your mind, and opens you up to listening. That’s always a great thing for a relationship!
When walking up to the ruins of Tulum, one is overtaken with the idea that “these Mayans had the right idea!”
With the crystalline aqua of the Caribbean Sea as a beautiful backdrop, Tulum stands proudly on the shores far above the powdery white sands beneath. Tulum is one of the most visually captivating locations in all of North America, and the resort town that Tulum rests within does nothing but add to the inspiring nature of the location, as revelers of fun-in-the-sun can also take a history break by walking the grounds of the former Mayan fortress.
After exploring the beautiful ruins along the coastline, take a walk down the road to any one of the local restaurants that bring you fresh food and drinks right on the beach.
The Most Delicious Mexican Food You’ll Ever Have
The freshness, boldness, and depth of flavor are stunning to any “foodie” in the Yucatan, and go far beyond any indifferently made swill you may have had outside of Mexico.
Taco and guacamole? Sure, but not like you’ve had before. You won’t have a bad meal in your time here, and the profile of the dishes is simply incredible. In addition, the Yucatan has its own identity when it comes to culinary tradition, such as the Cochinita Pibil.
A truly Yucatan recipe, it consists of marinated pork that is slowly baked and seasoned with annatto paste, bitter orange juice, and other spices. It is then traditionally baked in a pit, while wrapped in banana leaves. Lighter than it sounds and more delicious than you could imagine, it’s one of the many local dishes that truly sets Yucatan cuisine apart from the rest of Central and South American cuisine.
The ruins at Coba are truly unique, as they represent some of the lesser-known and spoken about structures in the Yucatan. Still only partially excavated, Coba stands high above the canopy of the Yucatan jungle, and one truly becomes astounded with how any civilization could thrive here.
What is more striking is the realization that mound after mound in the distance, still thickly covered in brush, all represent what scientists believe to be unexcavated ruins still waiting to be explored! In fact, less than 1% of the Yucatan is alleged to remain shrouded in its natural setting.
We were utterly stunned by Ek Balam, the sprawling complex of Mayan ruins only 15 miles north of Valladolid. With multiple temples, many of which you can climb to heights of up to more than 100 steps, Ek Balam was a central site of worship and congregation among the former Mayan civilization.
Not only is Ek Balam superbly maintained, it is also picturesque, beautiful and well-shaded among the intense Mexican heat. Much sure to bring plenty of water, however, as the intense humidity and hours it will take to see all there is to see can make for a very tiring day of excursion.
The Charm of Valladolid
If you want to be centrally located in the Yucatan, you’ll want to stay in Valladolid. It’s a truly charming, beautiful villa with excellent local restaurants, authentic bars, and plenty of shops for those looking to take home a few souvenirs.
The people in Valladolid really make the experience, as their hospitality, kindness, and humor are unable to be matched.
The Yucatan remains an underrated tourist location for anyone not familiar with the Mayan civilization, but it’s beyond worth visiting. The beauty of the landscape, history in the setting, and warmth of the people make this a must-visit location.