5 reasons to go on a Caribbean adventure in Yucatan, Mexico

Features of vacations in Cancun

Cancun is the most famous Mexican resort, which is worth a visit. Arriving in a new country, it is important to know the basic laws, social norms of behavior, the main attractions to make the trip interesting and incident-free. Tourist area of Cancun is called the Hotel Zone, that is a zone of hotels. There are always on guard specially trained police officers who speak English. They will always tell you where and how to go, where the nearest bus stop, ATM or store. Travel around Cancun is recommended either by bus or by official cab. It is prohibited to walk far from the Hotel Zone in the evening. And given the “hot” temper of the inhabitants of Latin America, you should not wear large and expensive jewelry, and carry large sums of money. There is a special attitude in Mexico and to alcoholic beverages – do not drink them on the streets.

The main street of tourist Cancun is boulevard Kukulcan. Here you can walk endlessly, admire the stunning views, luxurious hotels and have fun visiting entertainment venues and stores.

La Isla Shopping Center provides endless shopping and shopping opportunities. La Isla joins not only world famous brand stores (Swarovski, SOHO and many others) but also a cinema with a dolphinarium, ATMs, exchange offices, many cafes and restaurants. Thus, you can spend the whole day in the mega-complex: swim with dolphins, feed a variety of fish in a special aquarium, have a delicious Mexican tortillas and choose souvenirs for your family and friends. And as gifts from Mexico are traditionally brought: sombrero hat, woolen cape serape, silver jewelry, honey liquor and tequila, the favorite drink of all Mexicans.

The “competitor” of the shopping complex La Isla is Plaza Las Americas. In addition to the standard set in the form of stores, currency exchange offices and snack bars, it has two cinemas with the ability to watch movies in Spanish and English. For those who like to save and haggle, there is a Market28 market in the center of Cancun with a wide range of handicrafts at prices lower than those in the major megamalls of the city. There are many nightclubs, bars and discos on Kukulkan Boulevard that are worth visiting. The palm of the palm among the clubs deservedly holds – “Coco Bongo” with its exciting show programs. Tequila is flowing, and salsa and reggae tourists are dancing until morning.

It is impossible to visit Cancun and not try the national Mexican cuisine (burritos, quesadillas, tortillas). The best place for this would be El Mexicano restaurant, nestled in the tourist area. The place is full of people who come not only to enjoy the gastronomy but also to watch the mariachi, the national Mexican singers. In the Plaza las Americas there is a similar restaurant, La Gracia, where you can learn how to drink tequila with salt and treat yourself to corn tortillas with meat, avocado, and hot sauce.

Excursion program in Mexico is rich in adventures and thrills. Isla Mujeres near Cancun will be of interest to amateur and professional photographers, because the best views of tourist Cancun and the coast opens from here. The Women’s Island has a beautiful lighthouse, a unique Mayan temple and a farm raising huge sea turtles. A must-see item on your sightseeing program should be Chichen Itza and the Scaret Park. Chichen Itza is a unique archaeological site, a Mayan heritage site, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The place is mesmerizing and allows you to touch a little bit of Mexican history.

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The natural amusement park of Schcaret will leave neither adults nor children indifferent. Abundance of exotic animals, colorful Indian village, a variety of shows, performances, journey on the underwater river – this is just a small part of what awaits tourists in Shkaret. And fans of extreme recreation can go on a journey through the jungle, plunging into the mysterious world of bushes and vines. Do not forget that Mexico has the best dolphinariums, where the boundaries of communication between man and dolphin are completely erased.

A visit to Cancun will remain in your memory for many years, and the memories of a unique, beautiful place will be calling back for a long time.

Yucatan

The Yucatan is a peninsula in Central America which separates the waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea. The northern part of the peninsula belongs to Mexico, while its southern lands are in Belize and Guatemala. About 2.5 million people live here, a third of whom are Indians – descendants of the bearers of the great Mayan civilization, which flourished on the Yucatan Peninsula in the 4th and 10th centuries.

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Video: Yucatan Peninsula

Highlights

In the northwest of the peninsula is the ancient Chicxulub crater, one of the largest craters on the planet. It is 180 km in diameter and was formed by the impact of a large asteroid 10 km in diameter on Earth. A powerful impact occurred about 65 million years ago and may have been one of the reasons why the dinosaurs became extinct on the planet. Curiously enough, no one suspected the existence of a giant crater. It was discovered only in 1978, when conducting geophysical studies of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, the Yucatan Peninsula – a popular vacation spot, and it likes to come here those who like active tourism. Travelers from all over the world are attracted by the unspoiled beauty of the Yucatan, its comfortable sandy beaches, lush mangroves, rich history of ancient civilizations and Mayan pyramids and cities preserved in tropical jungles.

There are no major rivers on the Yucatan. However, there are many underground springs and caves. There is a system of branching canals and cavities filled with the clearest, clearest water under almost all of the peninsula. Outlets from the underground cavities to the surface are in the karst sinkholes – cenotes. The ancient Maya worshipped these places as sanctuaries, used them as sources of drinking water and performed sacrifices here.

Recently on the peninsula has been actively developing cave diving. Diving in the caves is very interesting. During underwater trips you can see spacious halls and vaults, swim under the roots of tropical trees, and get acquainted with ancient artifacts preserved since Mayan times.

The discovery and conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula

The Yucatan Peninsula is known as a place where ancient civilization flourished, and that is why it is called the “Mayan country”. Even in the 3rd century A.D. the natives had a written language and used a calendar. In the X century they were squeezed by the Toltec tribe. Maya were forced to leave most of their land and settled in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Historians believe that before the development of these territories by the Spaniards, there were more than a hundred large urban settlements.

In February 1517 three ships of the conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba set sail from the shores of Cuba, which was one of the overseas provinces of Spain at the time. They were the first Europeans to reach the island of Cozumel, near the eastern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula. Then the Spaniards sailed to another island, Isla Murejes, and found statues depicting women there.

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The islanders greatly surprised the conquistadors. The Maya had an advanced culture and wore gold jewelry. Their chief, Moch-Chowo, was hostile to the newcomers, so armed clashes broke out between the Mayans and Spaniards. Avoiding bloodshed and not wanting to lose his men, Cordoba decided to sail on.

In March 1517, his ships reached the western part of the Yucatan Peninsula and docked at the spot where the Mexican city of San Francisco de Campeche would later be built. From there the conquistador decided to return to Cuba. It is known that about half of the members of the first expedition – 110 people – died on the way.

Despite the setback, Cordoba’s sea voyage did its job. Rumors quickly spread among the Spaniards about the wealth of the Mayans, which gave rise to a real gold rush. A year later, the Spanish governor of the island of Cuba found money and sent new ships to the Yucatan Peninsula under the leadership of Juan de Grillhava.

The second expedition involved between 170 and 300 men. They were sent with the specific purpose of establishing trade relations with the natives and learning as much as possible about the people. The conquistadors succeeded in their mission. In 1518 they discovered the coast of Mexico and traded with the Aztecs there much precious stones and gold.

The conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula took place 10 years later. The Spanish made the capital of the new province the city of Tijo, which was later renamed Merida. History has left a sad fact: until 1570, while the Spaniards were actively capturing the Mexican lands, they exterminated about 12 million Indians.

In the ensuing time, control of the peninsula shifted several times from Mexico, then called New Spain, to Guatemala and back again. And from 1841 to 1848 there even existed here a separate state – the Republic of Yucatan, separated from the Mexican territory.

Geographic location and climate

The Yucatan Peninsula is located in the southern part of North America. It stretches from southwest to northeast towards the island of Cuba and is located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The Yucatan has an area of 180,000 km², and its coastline stretches for 9.65,000 km.

The flat peninsula lies not far from the equator and is in a hot tropical climate zone. The average annual temperature stays within the limits from +24 to +26 °С. The rainy season begins in May and lasts until October.

In the southern part of the Yucatan, where the dense equatorial jungle grows, it is more humid. However, as one moves north, the climate becomes drier and the rainforests give way to savannahs. The only exception is the sea coast, where there is as much forest as in the south of the peninsula.

Yucatan Cenotes

A characteristic feature of the Yucatan Peninsula are considered karst sinkholes inside the rocks or so-called cenotes. In Mayan the word “cenote” means “well”. Cenotes are gaps in the vaults of underground caves, filled with pure fresh water, which has a temperature of +24. +25 °С. The Maya used them as sources of fresh water and places for sacrifices. They believed that the cenotes were passages from the world of the living to the world of the dead.

On the Yucatan Peninsula is best known for the Sacred Cenote, which is located 300 meters from the main building of the ancient city of Chichen Itza. It is a round sinkhole with a diameter of 60 meters. According to Maya beliefs, the sacred cenote was home to the rain god Chan, whose mercy depended on the harvest and prosperity of all people living on Earth. In times of drought the Maya used to offer human sacrifices near the cenote and throw the unfortunate into the water. Historians believe that the last sacrifices came at the beginning of the 16th century, when Spanish colonizers appeared on the peninsula.

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In 1885 at the bottom of the cenote conducted the first research and found human skeletons, obsidian knives, jewelry, pieces of natural resin – copal, spearheads, vases, as well as bowls of pottery, jade, gold and copper. It was a most valuable treasure, not inferior to the treasures found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The study of the Sacred Cenote continued in the 1960s, using more modern equipment. Scientists were able to raise from the bottom of a natural well two thrones made of wood, many clay pitchers, human and animal bones, objects of jade, mother of pearl, onyx, amber, copper and rock crystal, gold bowls and jewelry.

These days, some of the cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula are popular with the fairy divers. Fans of the underwater world are attracted to the opportunity to admire the stalactites and stalagmites, swim in the clearest water under the roots of the rainforest and watch the beautiful light effects.

Dos Ojos, which is located north of Tulum, is considered the most interesting cenote for a key dive. In Spanish, its name means “two eyes. The underwater caves of Dos Ojos are 213 km long. Another popular diving cave is Chac Mol.

Video: Cave diving in the Yucatan

Nature of the Yucatan

As it happens, the nature of the Yucatan Peninsula evolved rather isolated, so the local flora and fauna differs from other parts of Central America. Biologists have counted 8,000 species of flowering plants here. Yucatan is home to 1,200 species of butterflies and over 600 species of birds. And that is much more than in all of Europe. Many people compare the animal world of the peninsula to a zoo. Long-legged pink flamingos live here next to bright tiny hummingbirds and noisy parrots. And cougars, jaguars, and ocelots live next door to crocodiles.

To preserve the unique biodiversity of the Yucatan Peninsula, several natural areas have been created. The Rio Lagartos Park studies the populations of feathered birds. It occupies a lagoon in northeastern Mexico of 60,000 hectares. Mangrove forests and coastal thickets are home to pink flamingos, and you can see these graceful birds during a tour.

In the east of the Yucatan Peninsula is the Tanque Ecological Park. People come here to see the exotic nature of the Mexican jungle, taste tropical fruits, go canoeing, and visit a Mayan village.

One of the popular ecological reserves – Shel-Ha Park – is located 110 km south of Cancun. It is interesting because here the underground waters of the Yucatan Peninsula meet the Caribbean Sea. This creates a unique ecological system, often referred to as the largest natural aquarium in Mexico.

Mayan Cities

As paradoxical as it sounds, the ancient Mayan civilization has not gone anywhere. About a third of all the inhabitants of the Yucatan Peninsula are their direct descendants by blood. Away from the big cities, many Maya continue to live in villages and preserve their age-old ways and traditions.

After the excavations, archaeologists came to the conclusion that the ancient inhabitants of the Yucatan were very skilled builders. They possessed the technology to create a multilevel roof, were able to build multi-storey buildings without the use of machinery and special mechanisms, and even made suspended ceilings.

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Most tourists are trying to visit the cultural center of ancient civilization – the city of Chichen Itza, which is located 120 km east of Merida. The territory of this archaeological reserve has been perfectly restored. It has World Heritage status and is protected by UNESCO.

The city of Chichen Itza was founded in the middle of the 5th century A.D. In X century the Toltecs came here and made Chichen Itza the capital of their state. For some unknown reason, at the end of the XII century people left these places, so when the Spaniards appeared on the Yucatan Peninsula, they found only the ruins of the ancient city.

The surviving buildings can be divided into two groups. These are buildings erected in the VI-VII and in the X-XI centuries. Traveling through Chichen Itza, you can see the 9-step pyramid – the temple of Kukulkan and the temples of warriors and jaguars, where the ancient wall paintings were preserved. In the ancient city there are seven stadiums where the Maya played ball, the Caracol Observatory, as well as the remains of colonnades, statues and reliefs.

Chichen Itza is not the only place where tourists interested in Mayan culture come. Many travelers visit the archaeological complex Cibilchaltun, created on the site of large-scale excavations. The Temple of the Seven Dolls, built of massive limestone blocks, is considered a local landmark. The unusual name the building got after researchers discovered seven small stuffed animals inside its walls in the mid-1950s. When the city flourished, the Maya used its Xlakah spring to draw water and conduct religious ceremonies.

Tourists also come to the Calakmul Museum of History and Nature, which is located in the dense jungle at the southern end of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is very interesting to look at the ancient pyramids 40 and 45 meters high, the top of which offers a great panorama of the old buildings and the surrounding forest. In addition to the pyramids, the archaeological complex contains several Mayan palaces and a ruined ball field. Dinosaur skeletons found during excavations are also on display here.

Beaches and Resorts of the Yucatan

The turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and snow-white beaches attract as many tourists to the Yucatan Peninsula as the ancient Mayan pyramids. The main beach resort is Cancun. It was built in the 1970s and is now considered the hallmark of tourist Mexico. It is popular with tourists from different countries because of the mild sea climate, a good level of hotel service, clean sandy beaches and picturesque coral reefs.

Hotel area of Cancun from a bird’s-eye view looks like a giant number “7”. More than a hundred first-class hotels have been built along this stretch of coast, and most of them serve tourists on an all-inclusive basis. A big plus of the resort is that more than 80% of its hotels are on the beachfront, right next to the sandy beaches.

Relatively recently started developing the resort of Playa del Carmen. Unlike Cancun, its beaches are located next to the urban development. The southern part of the resort town is called Playacar or Playa. This is the tourist mecca of the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Many nightclubs, restaurants, bars, souvenir galleries and boutique hotels with themed decorations have been built in Playa.

The stretch of coastline that stretches from Tulum to Cancun is called the Riviera Maya. In addition to excellent places for beach holidays, this area is famous for its long coral reefs stretching along the coast for 1000 km. The coastal waters have rich flora and fauna and are extremely popular with divers around the world.

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Some diving enthusiasts go to the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula with their equipment, but most prefer to rent the necessary equipment on the spot. The best diving spots are considered to be Garrafón Beach on Isla Mujeres, Chinchorro Coral Bank, and Alacranes and Palancar Reefs.

Merida

The cultural capital of the peninsula is the Mexican city of Merida, capital of the state of Yucatan. The city was founded by the Spanish on the ruins of the Mayan settlement in 1542. Curiously enough, the ancient rectangular layout, which was used as far back as the Mayas, has been preserved to this day. Merida is often called the “white city” because most of its buildings are painted white. Now it is home to about 800 thousand people.

Tourists come to Mérida to admire the narrow streets along which colonial buildings and 16th- and 18th-century temples have been preserved. The Yucatan capital is also loved for its colorful festivals and shady parks. On Sundays, the central part of Merida is closed to vehicular traffic. Folk groups begin to perform in the streets, and a traditional Mayan ceremony is held near the city hall.

Many travelers specifically come to Merida to visit the local museums. The Great Museum of the Mayan World was opened here recently, and it was immediately beloved by the residents of Merida and guests of the Mexican city. The four exhibition halls house about a thousand artifacts found during excavations. Here you can see the dishes used by the Maya, and their jewelry.

Those who want to learn more about the past, traditions and rituals of the Maya and Aztecs should check out the National Museum of Anthropology and History. Some of the exhibits of this museum are housed in a beautiful, richly decorated building, and some are on display in the open air.

A rich collection of objects possessed by the ancient Maya is also kept in the Cantona Palace, an elegant mansion built in Merida at the beginning of the last century. The halls of this museum exhibit pottery, knives, arrows, and carved stones found by archaeologists on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Other museums are located in the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan. The City Museum tells the history and culture of Mexico. Also open in Merida are the Yucatan Song Museum, the Cocoa Museum, and the Masau Museum, dedicated to the work of contemporary Mexican artists.

How to get there

Many tourists who want to explore the Yucatan Peninsula come to the administrative center of the Mexican state of Yucatan, the city of Merida. The local airport “Manuel Cressencio Rejón” is located in the southwest of the city. It receives flights from several cities in Europe as well as from Miami, Houston, Mexico City and Las Vegas. From Moscow, you can fly to Merida with a connection in Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt-am-Main. In addition, Merida is connected by bus to Mexico City and Cancun.

To get to the Yucatan Peninsula, you can also fly to the most popular local resort, Cancun. Cancun International Airport is 16 km from the city center. Planes fly to the Mexican resort from some cities in Europe and North, South and Central America.

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