Yucatán – The Basics

By: Lisa Coleman

Ahhhh… Yucatán… Where do I begin?  Having just returned from a magical week in what I consider to be one of Mexico’s most beautiful states, I thought I would cover some of the basics. In the weeks to follow I will be delving deeper into the state’s archeology, history and the culture, but in the meantime, here are a few things you need to know. First, Cancun is not in the state of Yucatán and Yucatán is not in Cancun. All too often everything on the Yucatán Peninsula gets lumped together and travelers think (possibly) it’s all one “big place.” Don’t be embarrassed if you secretly thought it too… you’re not alone! Take a look at the map below for some orientation as to what is what and where is where.

A quick overview: The Yucatán Peninsula is located in southeastern Mexico and separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico and is comprised of the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo (as well as the northern parts of  Belize and Guatemala). This is the heart of the “Mundo Maya,” and one of the most culturally rich regions in the world. According to El Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (www.inah.gob.mx), there are 29,000 registered archaeological sites in all of Mexico, of which 180 are open to the public. A significant number of these sites can be found throughout the state of Yucatán and the Yucatán Peninsula.  Merida, Yucatán’s capital city, is surrounded by one of the richest collections of ancient archaeological sites found anywhere in the world thus making it an excellent jumping off place for exploration.

Merida is a true colonial gem… It was once the henequen capital (a plant used to make rope) of the world, spawning an enormous number of grand working haciendas. The exportation of this natural fiber (or “green gold,” as it was called) brought tremendous wealth to Merida throughout the late 1800s and what remains are fascinating remnants of an important time in Mexico’s history.  Merida was essentially “cut off” from mainland Mexico (rail and road links to Mexico City were not completed until the 1950’s),  so it was easier for the city’s wealthy land owners to travel by boat to the US, Cuba, and even Europe rather than trying to go to other parts of Mexico. The result: a very strong European influence and feel throughout the city that is clearly seen in the local architecture.

Unique and spectacular, the state’s geographical features alone are worth the trip. The entire Yucatán Peninsula has a porous limestone surface, so there are no above ground water sources, meaning no lakes or rivers. However, a network of subterranean rivers make a web beneath the peninsula, and fresh water is found in hundreds cenotes (say-no-tays), or sinkholes. These were the wells of the ancient Maya and exploring them is one of the most rewarding adventures you can imagine.

The coast doesn’t host the glorious beaches of the Caribbean, but there are still long stretches of uninterrupted sandy beaches, plenty of coconut palms, mangrove-laced estuaries and lagoons filled with enough exotic bird life to keep watchers busy for a lifetime.

There is so much more… so keep tuned in over the next few days and weeks to read more details of my exploration of Yucatán.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination