“Must-do’s” in Yucatan

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Merida Market

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:

MÉRIDA – 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 Lucia Park, or the Turibus red double-decker tour bus that stops every two hours at the Plaza Grande. And from November to March you can take a tour of Mérida's homes and gardens every Wednesday.

ARCHAEOLOGY – The site of Chichén Itzá is world renowned, but that is only the beginning. The ancient Mayas 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.

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 Mayas, 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. 

COLONIAL CITIES AND MAYAN VILLAGES – To really see the people of Yucatán up close, visit any of the numerous colonial cities, magical towns, and Mayan 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.





Magical experience, desolate looking area, see a sign CENOTE, stop -pay fee-climb down rickety ladder to paradise



is there a must see cenote while in the chichen itza area?
we have 2 nights nearby, and figure in the heat of the day it might be nice to take a cooling dip....any advice you can give is appreciated! Mahalo


re. cenotes


Habla Center for Language and Culture, Merida

I was already excited about my trip to Mérida, Mexico to study Spanish. And if I had known what I would find this July, if I had known more about Habla: The Center for Language and Culture, and its dynamic founders – María del Mar (“Marimar”) Patrón Vásquez and Kurt Wooten, I would have arrived at the school’s doorstep with even greater joy and anticipation. As it was, I had chosen Habla as my destination rather by chance, using a Google search for Spanish schools in Mérida. I was most intrigued by Habla's website, with its emphasis on art and literature as well as on community involvement and its workshops for teachers with both local and international participants. Little did I know that I had made exactly the right choice of language immersion programs – that my experience at Habla would prove to be both personally and professionally fulfilling.


Sotuta de Peon

Whenever we have visitors - especially new and short term visitors, we find that Sotuta de Peon is a must-see. It encompasses almost everything about the Yucatan in a 4 hour tour. It has a Hacienda tour; the working henequin machinery, the old time machinery to allow old and young to participate in the making of a piece of rope; a great Mayan character who loves to show you his lifestyle - especially if you have a camera; a cenote, a donkey train ride through the fields; a restaurant that serves regional food & drinks and of course, a gift shop.


Maya Planetarium Show at Chichen Itza

The Mayaland Hotel just opened a new planetarium building on their grounds at Chichen Itza. They are showing the dome planetarium show "Tales of the Maya Skies" produced at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California.

"Maya Skies" explains the connections between the Mayan creation story and their advance astronomy. The new building is designed to look just like the artist's conception of "El Caracol," the Observatory building in Chichen Itza.

Mayaland shows "Maya Skies" alternately in English and Spanish, so contact them for the schedule.

If you're visiting Chichen Itza, don't fail to see the show! You will come out with a deeper understanding of the Mayan people.

There is more information at http://mayaskies.org .

(Full disclosure: I am a volunteer guide at Chabot, and was surprised and thrilled to find the show playing at Mayaland when we visited on 12/21/2012!)


re. planetarium

Thank you so much for this information! The Mayaland Hotel did not notify us!

We are trying to get the schedule and cost. As soon as we do, I will publish it here. Meanwhile, visitors can call them directly: US & Canada toll-free: 1 (877) 240 5864. Mexico toll-free: 01 (800) 719 5465 .

Juanita Stein, Editor YT


Lots more on Maya Skies

I'm glad I was able to bring this information to you! Was a total surprise to me (although we were wondering why the Olympo in Merida was not showing "Maya Skies;" the show being at the Mayaland answers that question).
There is much more info about the program at the mayaskies.org Website. But there is also another site, at www.mayaskies.net, that is full of technical information about the production of the show. This may go beyond what YT readers are interested in, but emphasizes the fact that "Maya Skies" is way more than just a movie.


sundays in the square

My favorite is Sunday in the square in front of municiple and cathedral. We arive in late morning and walk the vendors, and talk to the locals who will guide you to anything you are looking for. We have eat at a different place each time and have never been disappointed. Go to the outdoor show dance and song with strong pride in their culture is seen. Many outdoor concerts, a symphony that is wonderful . Ask for what events are going on and you could end up at a small festival to a small gathering with locals enjoying the day playing music with their freinds! I enjoy the family atmosphere, and how locals are friendly and enjoy talking about their city! If you can't speak spanish try to learn and speak as much as possible then start by letting them know you don't speak much spanish and not very good, but you try I have found interest with the conversation and someone always will help with your words, and this is how I am still learning but getting better with my spanish, learning more on each visit. I enjoy the day and always meet new freindly people!


Scooter Rentals

We'll be in Progresso for February and March of 2014 and wondering if there is a place to rent scooters there. We may elect to rent a car but scooters may well suffice and make it so much easier to get around/park. Does anyone have insight into whether these are rented in Progresso and where?


re. scooter rentals

Yes, I have heard of a couple of places on Calle 80, but cannot say whether they are reliable (condition of equipment, insurance, etc.) If you see someone riding one, just ask them. And please let us know what your experience is so we can pass it on!


Re: scooter rentals

Thx very much Juanita...we'll indeed post as we get answers.... :o)


Visiting the Mayan sites

I wrote some posts about the Mayan sites on my blog Amazing Temples. Be welcome to visit it: http://amazingtemples.com

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Yucatan Today is the leading tourist guide of Merida, Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula and was recently voted the best tourism website in all of Mexico! In our companion monthly magazine, we bring you the information you need to enjoy your experience while you are here. Read more