The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the most popular global holiday destinations with stunning scenery and history.
Anyone who has been to the area, which spans a small portion of southeastern Mexico, will attest to its natural beauty. Golden beaches, ancient temples, surfer’s hangouts and action packed resort towns… It’s a natural magnet for both the casual tourist and the ardent traveller.
Regardless of where you stay, the whole peninsula can be accessed within a few hours of driving. There are so many things to do there, but five stand out more than the others. So, here’s tour list of the 5 best things to see in the Yucatan Peninsula.
1. Tulum Ruins
The Tulum ruins are a perfect spot for any archeological buff, or even the average fan of the ocean! These ancient Mayan ruins, which date back to the thirteenth century, are astonishing to see in person. Most are off limits in terms of climbing and rummaging through sadly, but features such as the original faces off Mayan gods can still be seen carved into the old temples.
Situated directly on cliffs facing the ocean, a visit to Tulum is certainly one with great views. There’s even a beach with some of the softest sand in the world, and it’s all very cheap. Tickets are available for just 65 pesos per person. After seeing the the ruins, one can head into the town itself and eat some local cuisine or just grab a coconut to drink!
2. Mesoamerican Reef
The Mesoamerican coral reef is the second largest on the planet. Officially protected by the government, its plethora of natural coral will surely put anybody in awe. In order to swim near it, your best option is to schedule an official tour with a local company, such as Cancun Adventures. Access through a beach or the jungle isn’t possible, considering the coast is guarded in order to make sure the water is kept clean and that no human comes in physical contact with the reef. Be sure to snorkel while you’re there, as one is also able to see dozens of tropical fish, stingrays, hundreds of types of coral, and much more.
The definition of a cenote doesn’t do it justice (“deep natural well or sinkhole”, Dictionary.com). They are some of the coolest natural creations one can possibly explore. Most cenotes in Mexico are privately owned but open (with a fee) to the public. These beautiful underground caverns are filled with stalactites and stalagmites, which take hundreds of years to form. Watch out for your feet though, because they’re pointy!
There is no natural lighting and the water is often frigid but getting the chance to snorkel through the cave is well worth it. Be sure to bring an underwater flashlight as well. The swimmable area is relatively small, but just peer around. There are random trenches that extend for literally thousands of yards. If one is crazy enough, you can navigate through them with the proper scuba equipment and cave diving training.
4. Chichen Itza
Unlike Tulum, the ruins at Chichen Itza are openly climbable. Also Mayan Ruins, the ones at this archeological site date back to 600 AD. Chichen Itza receives over 2 million annual visitors, one of the highest figures in all of Mexico. The ruins extend up to 80 feet high, which can be a climb, but the views are worth it. From the highest structure, the Pyramid of Kukulcan, one can see miles of exotic jungles and local towns.
A trip here will certainly teach a great deal on Mayan gods as well as the culture as a whole. The thrones, temples, statues, and pyramids are breathtaking and completely original like nothing else. There are even ballcourts from the 13th century! Admission is cheap at M$232 (approx US$12/GB£9), and also make sure to bring a water. Venturing throughout the area is exhausting, especially on a hot summer day (temperatures can reach up to the high 40’s in celsius/over 100 fahrenheit). All in all, no visit to the Yucatan Peninsula is complete without seeing the ancient city of Chichen Itza.
5. Downtown Cancun
You’ll have heard of Cancun by reputation, no doubt, as it’s the scene of countless spring break parties, but don’t let that put you off. The food is amazing and there are dozens of local restaurants that serve some of best food in the country, including the renowned and luxurious Julia Mia dining hall (Prolongacion Yaxchilán 2-01 Local 101 Mz 1, SM 17). Or, if you’re looking for the full mariachi band experience with your food, head to La Parilla (Av Yaxchilán 51 Mz 23 Lt 51 Sm 22) or to eat with locals head to Pik Nik (Tulipanes Mzn 2 Lote 3, Sup. Mzn 22, 22). Warning, you may also see plenty of strange street food around town, including fried bugs
After dark, the city is a hedonists paradise with a ridiculous selection of nightclubs and bars to let your hair down. You can easily find somewhere quiet to sip a few mojitos in centro, but the bulk of the action takes place in the Zona Hotelera, a short ride out of town. Coco Bongo, Party Rockers Club and Mandala are all the sort of clubs full of pumping music and up for it locals and out of towners.
Getting To Riviera Maya & Yucatan
There are regular flights to Cancun from both the USA/Canada and Europe. The area is a great place to start a trip into Mexico proper or Central America and flights to Cancun are often cheaper than those to Mexico City. The winter months are the best time to visit the Yucatan Peninsula for beautiful tropical weather and plenty of opportunity for sightseeing under clear blue skies.
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