Yucatan is a world apart from the rest of Mexico. Colonial towns lie a short drive from luxurious hotel zones. Mayan ruins fill the desert-like landscapes. Most tourists start their vacation along the Riviera Maya. You’ll find several stunning resorts in Cancun and plenty of Playa Del Carmen villas | Luxury Retreats to choose from as well. If this is your first time to the region, check out these top spots to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan.
Cancun is usually the first stop. The international airport serves flights from around Europe, the United States and Canada. When you arrive at the airport, you’ll head straight to the hotel zone. Cancun’s hotel zone extends for several kilometres along a spit on the eastern part of Cancun. Dozens of hotels and vacation rentals are everywhere. Stunning sections of white sand beaches line both sides of the hotel zone. After you check into your resort or vacation rental, the fun begins. Tour operators can take you out into the warm sea to nearby islands including Isla Mujeres. Others will rent jet ski equipment and kayaks. Spend your mornings relaxing under the sun and afternoons in the beachside bars. If you have the time, head across to downtown Cancun. This is completely different to the hotel zone. You’ll find plenty of Mexican restaurants serving tacos, tostadas and burritos. Get a taxi and stroll around the market to find souvenirs and Mayan handicraft.
Chichen Itza is the world’s most famous Mayan pyramid. Located a few hours from Cancun, it’s a popular day trip from the resort areas. The pyramid itself is one of the seven modern wonders of the world. And when you arrive you’ll understand why. Chichen Itza soars over 30 metres and once served as a calendar. Each of its four sides has 91 steps equalling 364 steps in total with a raised platform on the top acting as the 365th. These represent the days of the year. All the sides are perfectly aligned with north, east, south and west too. If you arrive during either the spring or fall equinox, you’ll witness a once in a lifetime spectacle. The sun creates a shadow on the side of Chichen Itza which looks like the mystical serpent the pyramid represents crawling down its side. Aside from the pyramid, you’ll find a series of other ruins including temples, ball courts and exquisite carvings and hieroglyphics.
The small colonial town is just two hours from Cancun. Colourful low-rise buildings stand next to each other around the grid-like town. A grand park stands outside the central church creating a majestic atmosphere. One of Yucatan’s famous cenotes (a type of sinkhole people swim in) is right in the heart of the town. Stroll through the colourful streets and photograph the elegant buildings. Open your eyes and notice the intricacies that exist all around you. If you spend longer than the afternoon, head down to the monastery and watch the light show which takes place at 8.00 pm every evening. Valladolid offers a slice of the real life in Yucatan away from the flashy resorts.
Merida is the capital of Yucatan, and is a cultural centre for Mexico. The small-sized city consists of colourful houses – like Valladolid, but on a larger scale. Explore the backstreets and you’ll find something different down every street. Bring your camera and expect to stop every few minutes to photograph something interesting. But the highlight of this cultural capital lies in the events that take place every evening. There’s always something happening in the city. And it’s free. Come down on Saturday and watch a game of Pok ta pok. This traditional Mayan game once entertained thousands in the ancient cities. Remember to stick around the end – the players light the ball on fire. Sundays are fiesta day in Merida. A market opens and sprawls across the central square before live bands play music. Join the locals and dance in the street.
The small beach town of Progreso sits an hour north of Merida, and is a popular day trip from the capital. You’ll have a nice beach facing Yucatan’s northern coast. Massage tables line the beach and restaurants overlook the coast. This is a typical stop on cruise ships. Try to plan your time to avoid the days the cruise passengers stop by because it gets extremely crowded. When you arrive, book a tour to the nearby mangroves. More adventurous travellers can visit the partial crater of the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen offers a high level of luxury along the Riviera Maya. You can reach the resort area in just a few hours south from Cancun. Regular shuttles take tourists between both destinations. When you arrive, the first stop is usually the beach. Compared to Cancun, Playa de Carmen resembles a Caribbean getaway. And you can find a wider variety of luxury vacation rentals to have your own slice of paradise for a few days. If you want to have a beach holiday, head to Playa de Carmen.
Where to visit in Yucatan
Depending on your interests, you could spend your time relaxing on the beaches of Cancun, Progreso or Playa del Carmen. Or get out and explore the Spanish colonial centres in both Valladolid and Merida. No trip to Yucatan is complete without stopping by Chichen Itza. You can visit these other places on a day trip from the resorts. Or be more adventurous and spend the night.