The State of Yucatán
If culture were money, Yucatán would be the richest guy on the block. And in a way, it already is. Yucatán is home to a stunning array of cultural treasures: ancient Maya ruins and contemporary indigenous villages; sprawling haciendas and gorgeous colonial cities; modern museums and a worldly population.
Add to that the state’s natural riches, including the world’s largest colony of the world’s largest (and pinkest) flamingos, and geologic idiosyncrasies like cenotes and a vast network of caves. There is something here for every sort of traveler and whether you have a week or a month, you’ll leave feeling like you’ve won the lottery.
Chichen Itza, world famous archaeological zone, is located 120 km from Merida via federal highway 180 in the State of Yucatan Mexico.
The name Chichen Itza is derived from the Mayan language: “Chi” – mouth, “Chen” – well and “Itza” – the tribe that inhabited the area.
Chichen Itza is the most visited archaeological site in the peninsula of Yucatan, due to its extraordinary architecture beauty and its geographical location. It was founded in the year 514 of our era by the priest LAKIN CHAN who was also called Itzamna. This is why their people were called since the foundation, chanes or itzaes.
Only 120 miles, Uxmal is one of the most well known of the Maya cities, and rated by many archaeologists as the finest. In area the site is fairly compact, though you should allow at least half a day for a first visit, after which you’ll probably want to return to go over the site in more detail.
There has been much renovation work and the grounds are well tended, but wear good shoes if you intend to do any climbing. It is currently permitted to climb the largest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician, and the view from the top is well worth the effort, though the steps are extremely steep.
The site is open between 8:00am and 5:00pm, with a sound and light show in the evening. As usual, we recommend an early or late visit to avoid the midday heat. There’s an admission fee of around $10 and a further fee for the sound and light show.
All the sites are free on Sundays From Merida, follow the 261 in the direction of Campeche. The site is about 70 miles (110 km) from Merida and it should take about an hour by car. The entrance is very well signed from the 261. We recommend hiring a car as the best way to see Uxmal and the other Puuc sites with some flexibility. Otherwise, take a tour from Merida.
Celestun is a population that is about 85 km from the city of Merida in Mexico. It is located adjacent to a river (stream) that runs parallel to the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, along the mangroves.
It is characterized by a variety of species inhabiting it which is called a micro-region and biosphere reserve. The flamingos that inhabit it are one of the biggest attractions of the place. Celestun is located at the western end of the state of Yucatan, near its border with the state of Campeche and the Gulf of Mexico.
Cenotes de Cuzamá
The cenotes at Chunkanan, better known as the Cenotes de Cuzamá (US$12 per trolley, up to 4 people), is one of our favorite non-archaeological outings from Mérida.
When the henequen plantations were functioning, the harvest was stacked on small trolleys that were pulled by horses over long networks of lightweight rails. The residents of the small town of Cuzamá have put their trolleys back to use, outfitting the carts to hold four passengers and offering horse-pulled tours to three beautiful cenotes along the rail line.
The trip to the cenotes is half the fun—there is only one set of rails and there’s etiquette as to which driver has to pull over, which entails unloading the passengers and hoisting the cart off the tracks before the other trolley clatters past. With a few starts and stops, you make it to the cenotes.
On the Gulf of Mexico, Progreso is Mérida’s closest access to the sea, an easy 33-kilometer (20.5-mile) drive on Highway 261.
Meridianos flock here in summer to escape the intense heat and sticky humidity—as many as 150,000 during July and August weekends. The whole town comes to life; all the restaurants are open, usually quiet shops hustle, and the beaches are filled with families enjoying the surf and sea.
Cruise ships also land here two to three times a week, disgorging several thousand passengers each. Many of those passengers take buses straight to Mérida and thePuuc Route, but Progreso has made a number of improvements to its waterfront in an attempt to entice cruise-shippers to stick around.
North of Highway 180 between Mérida and Chichén Itzá, Izamal is a fine old colonial city with a beautiful and famous convent, friendly residents, and a fascinating history. Most tourists arrive here on a tour bus, visit the convent and the city center for an hour or so, and then motor off again. But Izamal is a great place for independent travelers to stay a night or two, soaking in atmosphere and rich history of this classic Yucateca town.
The first thing you notice about Izamal is the color: Virtually all the buildings and facades in Izamal are painted rich mustard yellow, as is the convent.
A quick 25-minute trip north of Mérida on Highway 261 brings you to the important but somewhat underwhelming archaeological site of Dzibilchaltún (dzee-beel-chawl-TOON).
The intriguing Temple of the Seven Dolls is the only known Maya temple with windows, and its orientation suggests it was used for astronomical observations and beautiful cenote for swiming.
Most travelers are surprised to find that Campeche City has a gorgeous city center, first-rate museums, and a nascent arts and music scene. (The lodging and restaurants are definitely improving.)
Even more startling are Campeche’s fantastic Maya ruins: in the Río Bec region, a half-dozen ruins pack plenty of wow-factor, yet see only a fraction of the tourists that Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, and Palenque.
The United Nations named Campeche City a World Heritage site in 1999 and a visit here is a chance to partake in Campeche’s slow emergence from the shadow of its better-known neighbors.
Cancún and Riviera Maya
Cancún and Cozumel are places that deserve — and defy — the many descriptions given to them.Cancún is one of the most well-known vacation destinations in the world. The name alone evokes images of endless white-sand beaches, broad turquoise seas, manicured golf courses, and raucous nightclubs.
For scuba divers, Isla Cozumel is no less mythical, conjuring up dreams of a pristine coral reef, abundant sealife, and perfect dive after perfect dive. And the secret is definitely out on the coast stretching south of Cancún: Known as the Riviera Maya, it includes postcard-perfect destinations, like Tulum and Playa del Carmen, alongside numerous family-friendly and eco-minded attractions.
Tulum is justly famous for its spectacular string of beaches and bohemian chic cabañas, but southern Quintana Roo holds even more: the pristine Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve; miles of deserted coastline; quiet fishing villages; rustic beaches; and eco-friendly B&Bs along the Costa Maya; the Caribbean-like colors of Laguna Bacalar; and Chetumal, the busy state capital and gateway to Belize.
Chetumal is the capital of Quintana Roo and the gateway to Central America. Not the prettiest of towns, most guidebook-toting travelers just pass through, on their way to or from Belize or southern Campeche.
However, Chetumal’s modern Maya museum is one of the best you’ll find, and well worth a visit. In fact, many tour groups stop here just to visit the museum.
And if you’re dying to see the Guatemalan ruins ofTikal, a shuttle from Chetumal can get you there in eight hours (cutting through Belize), and back again just as fast.
The beautiful Laguna Bacalar, north of town, and intriguing Kohunlich and Dzibanché ruins, west of town, make for easy day trips (sans border crossings) too.