Dense jungle, pristine beaches, Mayan ruins and vibrant culture – Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula has it all. Home to famous resort towns such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the area is a popular destination for visitors of all ages and interests and is a stop-off point on many Caribbean cruise itineraries. However, given its vast size and sheer range of sights and attractions, many visitors only begin to scratch the surface of this fascinating land. With an excellent road system and comprehensive bus network, this is the perfect area to get off the beaten track and experience the real Mexico. After all, where else in the world can you travel amongst the true descendants of ancient Mayans? Here are a few of our favourite things to do in the region…
Explore Deserted Beaches
With over 1,100km of coastline, it’s fair to say that the Yucatan Peninsula has more than its fair share of awesome beaches. Fine sand, clear water and stunning marine life are all par for the course here. What is special, however, is finding a picture-perfect beach and having it all to yourself! If time is limited, head to the Mayan Riviera, the strip of coastline that runs between Cancun and Tulum. Although rapidly developing, the area has a much more laid-back vibe than the large resorts and it’s still possible to find your own slice of paradise. If you have a little longer to explore, a trip down to the small fishing town of Boca Paila is totally worth the drive. The whole area, including the vast lagoon, is protected making this a nature lover’s paradise!
Experience Island Life
Located less than an hour’s ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, the island of Cozumel is a firm favourite amongst tourists and backpackers alike. With pristine beaches, safe streets and a thriving nightlife scene, this is a great starting point for trips to the region. The island is small enough to get around on a scooter, locally known as a ‘moto’, which can be hired from practically anywhere! While the main town of San Miguel is where the majority of the bars can be found, the west coast beaches are well worth the short drive to explore. Feeling active? Try diving the reefs at Palancar, or visiting the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio!
Snorkel & Dive
While there is exceptional snorkelling and diving to be had all over the peninsula, there are some areas that simply can’t be missed. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is one of them. Stretching over 1000km south from Belize, the Mesoamerican Reef or MAR for short is the fourth longest reef system in the world. Easily accessed by boat from both Cancun and Cozumel, there are literally hundreds of operators offering trips out for qualified divers and beginners alike. With 65 types of coral, 350 species of mollusc and more than 500 different species of fish to be seen, this is a once in a lifetime experience! Grab a mask and fins, hop on a boat and see the very best that Mexico has to offer!
Visit Mayan Ruins
Before the Spanish conquered the peninsula in the 1500s, the Yucatan was a thriving centre of Mayan civilisation. To this day, the vast majority of locals are wholly or partly descended from the mysterious ancient civilisation, making this the perfect area for your very own Indian Jones-style adventure! The ruins of Chichen Itza, Tulum, Uxmal areas some of the best preserved and most famous, although the region is scattered with literally hundreds of sites. While the most famous sites are popular for a good reason, it’s easy to explore by car so getting off the beaten track and exploring away from the crowds is highly recommended. The ruins at Coba are vast and have undergone very little reconstruction, making them a great starting point for your authentic Mayan adventure!
Catch the Equinox
The ancient Mayan civilisation placed massive importance on astronomy. Everything to do with the sun, moon and stars was sacred, and evidence of this devotion can be seen everywhere in their art and architecture. The annual equinoxes – the dates at which the sun is directly above the equator – held particular significance and are the perfect time to experience the mysteries of Mayan civilisation coming to life. The equinoxes typically fall on or around 20th March and 20th September each year, so if you happen to be in the area at that time, a visit to Chichen Itza is a must. At sunset, you will see the extraordinary sight of the shadows of ancient gods to appear move down the face of the pyramid as the sun aligns with the ancient sculptures. Clever science or ancient magic? You decide!
Drive La Ruta de Los Cenote
With an incredible network of underground rivers and waterways, the entire Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with hundreds of caves, sinkholes and lagoons. Thousands of years old and home to some incredible local wildlife, these are great places for hiking, swimming and snorkelling. The Mexican Government have put together a route for tourists to follow to visit some of the best of these fascinating sites – and the driving in between can be just as rewarding and exciting! While a lot of the sites are inaccessible without advanced equipment, a huge number are managed and maintained by locals. With entrance fees starting at as little as 10 cents, a trip along this magnificent trail is a must when visiting the Yucatan!
Kick Back and Relax…
After a hard few days of exploring ruins, diving reefs and hiking amongst sinkholes, a few days of relaxation are definitely on the cards! With everything from simple back-packer’s accommodation to 5-Star luxury resorts, Cancun has something for everyone. The fine-sand beach has a buzzing atmosphere from lunchtime until the sun goes down when the party moves into one of the numerous bars and clubs in the hotel zone. Awesome food, year-round sunshine and, of course, plenty of Tequila is a recipe for some serious fun!