Must See Cities & Towns In The Yucatan Peninsula

Mexico is slowly emerging to be one of the top travel destinations in the world. For one, it offers many unique and interesting tourist spots that travelers won’t find elsewhere. And with the very affordable lifestyle in the country, visitors can enjoy a one-of-a-kind travel experience without having to spend so much.

There are so many destinations to enjoy in Mexico, and here we will feature the top 4 spots in the Yucatan Peninsula part of the country you shouldn’t miss.

hotel zone beach

Cancun

Mexico is known mostly for its ancient ruins, but there’s nothing ancient about Cancun. It is Mexico’s frontier to the world, and it boasts of modern establishments and amenities that can compete with the world’s best. The Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, and Holiday Inn are just some of the hotels you can find in Cancun. Its restaurants, shopping malls, and bars are also top-notch. In fact, it is known as Mexico’s party destination. Cancun offers a mix of the ancient and the modern, creating the perfect backdrop for a once in a lifetime travel experience.

What To Do and What To See

The hotel zone in Cancun is where most tourists stay because of the great number of accommodations in the area (almost 150 hotels) and its accessibility to all other tourist spots in Mexico. But while the urban feel of Cancun might make you think that there’s not much to do here other than see buildings, then you’re wrong. Cancun offers many activities and sights right at the city center and in nearby areas.

* Cancun is a golfer’s heaven. Its golf courses are top of the line and landscaped by some of the best designers in the world. They use Cancun’s natural setting and its Caribbean backdrop and incorporated modern elements to create miles and miles of magical scenery.

* Bullfighting is an integral part of the Mexican culture, and Plaza de Toros in Cancun offers visitors a chance to see an actual bullfight. Join the locals and other tourists and enjoy watching the matadors showcase and celebrate their strength and agility in the fight.

* Mayan ruins is one of the primary attractions in Mexico. And while these ruins are mostly found in more remote areas, there’s one in Cancun that you shouldn’t miss: El Rey. This archaeological site is located in Cancun’s resort area. It is well preserved and provides a glimpse of the early Mayan architecture.

* Beaches! The Caribbean sea offers so many adventure options for travelers. Swim, dive, or snorkel to your heart’s content. Go on a cruise or boat tour. Explore reefs and enjoy looking at fishes under the sea via a submarine tour. Or, you can even parasail in the middle of the Caribbean.

Some Travel Tips

* Going around is cheapest when you ride the bus. Fare is only around 10 Mexican pesos.

* During times when you need to ride a taxi, remember that those going to and from the hotel zones charge the highest rate.

* When you need to exchange your money, here’s the best location in order: banks, exchange houses, your hotel. Although most stores will accept foreign money, they’ll most probably offer less than the current rate.

* Most establishments won’t accept foreign currency in coins.

* Many people speak basic English. Just be sure to speak carefully and slowly – some might know English but will have a hard time understanding your accent.

* Crossing streets can be a challenge. So be careful, and run fast!

* Most restaurants pay a referral fee to locals (taxi drivers, travel agents, etc.) who refer you to them. So take every recommendation with a grain of salt. After all, the referral fee will most likely be charged to your meal payment.

Leave a Positive Trail

If you want to have a more meaningful travel experience in Cancun, get in touch with an NGO called Kanche. This organization is working hand in hand with Mayans in different small villages, helping them find ways to improve farming. You can learn about what the NGO does, lend a helping hand, and even get to explore Mayan villages. Spread the word and you’ll be helping the NGO in its cause, all while you enjoy a great time. Contact: voluntariado@kanche.org

isla mujeres in mexico

Isla Mujeres

Spending most of your time in Cancun, with all the partying and the shopping and the crowd in the hotel zone, can be tiring. Sooner or later, you’ll wish to relax in a more private location and enjoy a slower pace. Well, once you start feeling that way during your vacation, Isla Mujeres is less than 30 minutes away from the city. Head to this heavenly island and enjoy this eden in Mexico.

What To Do and What To See

Although Isla Mujeres is geographically very close to Cancun, it’s a totally different world. The atmosphere is serene, the sea is calm and clear, the locals are warm and friendly, and the pace of life is way slower and more relaxed. Despite these, the facilities in the area are modern, making available the conveniences that most tourists expect during their travel. One way to reach the island is to ride a boat from Puerto Juarez. Once you set foot on the island, a wide variety of activities await you.

* Whether on the surface or under, the waters in the coasts of Isla Mujeres are breathtaking. Pristine and clean, they give swimmers a relaxing experience. The reefs are also breathtaking, and many enjoy snorkeling to see the rich marine life underwater. Those who are bolder can go diving. Punta Norte is one of the ideal diving places in the island.

* More experienced divers will surely get an adrenaline rush when they take on the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks. There are caves off the coast of the island that are visited by sharks, among which are the reef sharks which are dangerous and known to attack. However, it’s a mystery why most sharks lose their aggressiveness once they’re inside the cave – they become relaxed and ‘go to sleep’. But this is not to say they’re no longer dangerous; those who would like to try the experience should always go with a tour guide and must be extremely careful during the dive. For those who are not so experienced but would like to try, there are beaches with shark pens. You can swim with the sharks with the assistance of trainers. There are also tour agencies that offer swimming with dolphins and whale sharks, so there are many options.

* Isla Mujeres has the largest underwater museum around the world. The museum features sculptures by artist Jason deCaires Taylor, and the sculptures also serve as reefs. A few of them can be seen from a boat above, but most of the artful creations can only be enjoyed by snorkeling or scuba diving.

* The Garrafon Natural Reef Park offers a combination of water and land activities. If you want an all-inclusive experience, you can visit the area. Aside from swimming and snorkeling, you can enjoy biking and hiking. Or, ride a zipline and race across the blue water in the air. This is ideal for families because there are activities for both mom and dad and the kids.

Some Travel Tips

* Because most of the activities in the island involve water, it is very important to supervise children and not to leave them on their own.

* The same is true when it comes to interacting with marine animals. Kids may be impatient, aggressive, and may insist on holding or touching the animals, even dangerous ones. Ensure 100% supervision.

* Some activities can only be done with a guide because they require people who are familiar with the terrain and activities available. Always ask which activities you can do alone and which require a guide.

* For activities with a guide or trainer, don’t forget to give a tip. Many of them get most of their income from the tips that they receive.

Leave a Positive Trail

You can have fun and make your visit more fruitful by volunteering in the Turtle Farm. This farm is funded by the government, and it aims to protect the sea turtles that lay their eggs on the shore around the months of May until September. The eggs are looked after and protected to keep them from predators. Once the baby turtles are ready to return to their natural habitat in the sea, they are carried there by volunteers. School children even join in, as well as tourists and visitors. Join this event and take home with you a meaningful memory. Contact: turtfarm@cancun.com.mx

tulum mexico

Tulum

You can’t say you’ve visited Mexico without exploring its Mayan ruins. There are so many archaeological sites in the area, and among the most beautiful can be found in Tulum. And when you visit this area, you’ll get a travel experience that’s more than just the ruins – you’ll get to experience the rustic side of Mexico and live more like the locals.

What To Do and What To See

The beauty of Tulum can be found in its simplicity and luxury, both of which are anchored on nature. The lifestyle is laidback, and you get just the right balance of water and land. The place is two hours away from Cancun, and it’s very different – no hectic lifestyle, no noisy crowds. And even though Tulum has its own hotel zone with modern hotels and restaurants, much of the area is still rugged and raw.

* Tulum’s Mayan Ruins are a must-visit in Mexico. The archaeological sites here date back to as far as the 13th century, but many of the architectures have been carefully preserved and restored. Wonder at the beauty of the ancient Mayans ruins and let your imagination run wild as you get a glimpse of the early Mayan life.

* Tulum’s food scene is one of the richest in Mexico. Many chefs from around the world have come to this place and set up shop, bringing with them different tastes from across the globe, intermixing with the native Mexican palate and creating a unique burst of flavors that tourists enjoy.

* Spirituality plays a huge part in the life of the locals in Tulum. There are many yoga classes that you can join during your visit, some of which are conducted at dawn. You can even go on a full yoga retreat if you’re on a personal eat-pray-love journey. You can meet shamans, get card readings, or visit a wellness spa.

* Want a first-hand nature experience? Try spending a night in a hammock under a palapa, a wall-less cabin with palm roof, and enjoy being in the midst of nature, with the moon and stars above lulling you to sleep. For as low as $10 a night, you can enjoy this exciting experience.

* Of course, the beaches are lovely and the sand is gloriously fine. Enjoy lounging on the sand, sunbathing, or dipping in the water as you take in the beauty of your surroundings. If you want something more, hire a guide and explore one of the cenotes (sink-holes) deep in the jungle for a more extreme adventure.

* Another thing not to miss is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Nature Preserve. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it features a wide range of flora and fauna. Visiting this sanctuary will give you a renewed appreciation of nature and the need for its protection.

Some Travel Tips

* The weather in Tulum is generally pleasant all year round. But, there are some rains during the months of June, September, and October. Most tourists come between January to March, so it can get crowded. If you want more privacy and quiet, then visit during the last quarter of the year (October to December).

* Booking and reservation may not be as smooth as in other places. Connecting via phone can be a hassle – you may need to reserve way in advance via email to prevent problems.

* While dollars are generally accepted (though you might get shortchanged), credit cards are seldom used. Even if an establishment has a credit card machine, it can be a hassle to get a signal for a credit card transaction to be processed. So, always bring cash.

* It will be helpful if you learn a bit of Spanish. Most locals speak very little to no English, so communication can be a challenge.

* Bring anti-mosquito lotions, especially if you’re traveling in a jungle looking for a cenote or sleeping in a hammock outside at night.

* A large part of Tulum has no electrical supply yet, and most establishments have to provide for their own electricity via generators. There are solar panels, but expect low light at night because of this. Bring flashlights if you can.

Leave a Positive Trail

If you are staying a few weeks or months in Tulum and you want to make a difference during your visit, one of the things that you can do is to volunteer at the Tulum Monkey Sanctuary. The sanctuary is dedicated to protecting the monkeys, although it also houses several other animals. You can volunteer to help out in the daily work at the sanctuary and mingle with the animals, all while immersing yourself in a different world.
Website: http://www.tulummonkeysanctuary.com/

merida yucatan mexico

Merida

If you are traveling to Mexico, one place not to miss is the Yucatan State. It has some of the most beautiful ruins and cenotes in the country. And if you’re exploring the Yucatan, you’ll most probably stay in Merida. It’s the state’s largest city and capital, a beautiful town that is known for having the best historical treasures in the region.

It was once a walled community that is now a city with a rich historical background. A former Mayan region, it became a thriving community whose architectures are built from the ruins of the pyramids that used to stand in its place. It’s also called “The White City” because of the white limestones that make up its buildings, and it’s also been called the “Second Paris” because of its lovely architecture. Visitors who come to Merida get a full cultural immersion.

What To Do and What To See

Merida has a provincial and sophisticated feel. It has some of the best museums, the second largest historical center in the country, and a set of local customs and traditions unique from that in other parts of Mexico. From their language (a large percentage still speaks the Yucatec Mayan language) to their dresses and food (unique to them), it is evident that the people of Merida were able to preserve more of their Mayan heritage compared to those in other parts of Mexico.

* The best way to get a real feel of the Yucatan way of life and enjoy its distinct culture is to immerse yourself in the community and get to know the locals (they’re friendly and warm). Sample their food and join in their celebrations to really have an authentic experience.

* One of the not-to-miss celebrations that you must attend when in Merida is the Vaquerias Feast, a feast held in honor of a village’s patron saint. The celebration often involves dances and food and merriment and fireworks, and it can often last for a few days. You can arrange to attend one, or you can join in anytime in the feast that is held every Monday in front of the city hall in Merida’s central plaza. It’s one cultural event that will not cause a dent on your pocket because it’s free and open to everybody.

* Another cultural festivity that you shouldn’t miss is the Merida carnival, a celebration that spans eight days and includes interesting activities such as the ‘burning of the bad mood’, the battle of flowers, and the recreation of the burial of John Carnaval. There’s dancing, floats, parades, and fireworks display. It’s a burst of colors and energy, one that you will surely enjoy.

* If you simply want to explore Merida at your own pace, you can start by checking out the many ancient buildings in the city. Catedral de San Ildefonso is a very old church dating back to the 1500s. Casa de Montejo is another historical building, a mansion that used to house soldiers. If you’re looking for souvenirs, Casa de las Artesanias is the place to be. Vendors here are local artisans supported by the government, and they’re a good source of authentic local crafts. You can also check out restaurants offering local cuisines.

* If you want to explore surrounding areas, one that you shouldn’t miss is the city of Izamal. Named the Yellow City because of all its buildings painted with the same shade of yellow, this city houses one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in America, the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. There are also large ruins here, and you can take a tour via a calesa (horse-drawn carriage).

Some Travel Tips

* Before you start exploring the place, you better visit any of the tourism offices in the area to get some tips and information regarding tour rates. There are scammers who offer tours at an inflated rate, and you can avoid these if you know the legal rates beforehand.

* When it comes to shopping, ask around from different vendors before buying wares. This is a good way to get the cheapest value.

* The streets in Merida can be confusing because of the way they’re named. Be sure you have a map with you.

* Bus routes can also be confusing because of the street layout. The good news is that many of the attractions in the city center are walking distance.

* Be prepared to deal with crowds because this area is one of the touristy spots in the region.

Leave a Positive Trail

If you have some time to spare and you’re staying for a long time in Merida and would like to have a more meaningful travel experience, you can allot some of your time and volunteer in different organizations. International Volunteer HQ has volunteer programs that accommodate tourists who want to volunteer in areas such as English teaching, environmental research, animal care, and working with children or people with special needs. If you want to know more, you can visit their website: http://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-mexico

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