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Why You Should Visit the Yucatán Peninsula

May 2, 2019

Located at the southeastern tip of Mexico, the beautiful Yucatán Peninsula is hugged by the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Caribbean to the east. This 200-mile-wide peninsula has 700 miles of stunning coastline, UNESCO World Heritage sites, breathtaking geological formations, colorful towns, and much more.

Here are several reasons to get yourself to Yucatán now.

Dazzling Beaches

With hundreds of miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, the Yucatán Peninsula offers some of the best beaches in Mexico. The most famous beach destination in the Yucatán may be Cancún, and while this resort town is definitely worth a visit, there are dozens of other beaches on the peninsula that are equally (and sometimes more) beautiful and less touristy. Some of the best beaches in Yucatán are found along the Riviera Maya, located on the Caribbean side of the peninsula. Among the best here include Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Akumal, and Tulum. For those who want to get off the mainland for a bit, there are stunning beaches on the islands of Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Isla Holbox.

Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort in Akumal, Mexico
Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort in Akumal, Mexico. Photo credit: Scott Web / Unsplash

Important Historical Sites

The Maya people have inhabited the Yucatán Peninsula for over 1,000 years, and there are numerous Mayan ruins in Yucatán that are well worth a visit. One of the most important historical sites on the peninsula (and in the world) is Chichen Itza. Completed in around 900 A.D., Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities. El Castillo, seen in the photo below, is one of the surviving buildings.

Today, Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New7Wonders of the World. Other notable Mayan ruins on the peninsula include Zona Arqueologica Uxmal, considered one of the most important archaeological sites of the Maya; Calakmul Archeological Zone, a large site located deep in the jungle; and Ek Balam, a striking site with a large pyramid that visitors can climb.

Chichén Itzá in Mérida, Mexico
Chichén Itzá in Mérida, Mexico. Photo credit: Marv Watson / Unsplash

Colorful Towns

There’s more to Yucatán’s color palette than its turquoise waters and green jungles. The peninsula also has several colorful cities that will brighten your day (and get you a lot of Instagram likes). Mérida, located on the western side of Yucatán, is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. In addition to rich artistic and cultural offerings, Mérida has a ton of brightly colored buildings to gawk at, particularly in the downtown area. The third-largest city in Yucatán, Valladolid, has been designated a “Pueblo Mágico” by Mexico’s tourism board, an honor granted to cities and towns that offer unique historical, cultural, or natural attributes.

Valladolid is known for its charming Spanish colonial buildings painted in a range of hues. Another must-see city in Yucatán is Campeche, whose walled historic district is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Campeche’s walls protected the city from pirates, a major threat at the time; these walls also helped preserve the city’s colonial buildings, many of which are brightly colored. Lastly, don’t miss Izamal, known as the Yellow City. This small colonial town is located about 70 kilometers east of Merida (about an hour’s drive). Like Valladolid, Izamal was designated a “Pueblo Mágico” and features a beautiful convent and narrow cobblestone streets lined with yellow buildings.

Izamal, Mexico or commonly referred to as the "Yellow City".
Izamal, Mexico or commonly referred to as the "Yellow City". Photo credit: HCariou / Pixabay

Jaw-Dropping Cenotes

Cenotes are natural water-filled sinkholes in limestone that are formed when the roof of an underground cavern caves in and subsequently fills with rainwater and water from underground rivers. The water in cenotes is often fresh, cool, and incredibly clear.

In Mayan, cenotes are called dznonot, or “well,” and they were critically important to the Mayan people. Not only did they provide the only source of fresh water in the region, but they held great spiritual value. Mayans believed the rain god Chaak lived in cenotes and they sacrificed objects and humans to cenotes to appeal to Chaak.

There are over 6,000 cenotes on the Yucatán peninsula (more than anywhere else in the world), and many are open to tourists. Some of the most famous cenotes include Cenote Ik Kil, Gran Cenote, Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Samula, Cenote X’Canche, and Cenote Suytun.

Cenote Ik Kil in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
Cenote Ik Kil. Photo credit: KoiQuestion / Flickr

Buen viaje, everyone, and enjoy Yucatán!

Written by Whitney Currier for Knockaround.

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