Guide to the Yucatan Peninsula
A coastline of white sands and azure waters compliment impressive ancient ruins and cultural traditions which have survived the force of colonization The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico juts out into the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Beach loungers and history buffs are both catered for in this fascinating region.
First thing’s first, when you set foot on Mexican soil, the sun warming your skin, you’ll want to put some time aside for visiting Mayan ‘ruins’. These mind-boggling pyramids and structures have stood the test of time and remain largely intact. Each Mayan archaeological site has unique and breath-taking sights for visitors to explore. Some of the most popular include Chichen Itza, Tulum and Uxmal.
Chichen Itza, in the east of the Yucatan was built by the Maya civilisation and was one of the empire’s largest cities in its heyday. Having devised the 365-day calendar the importance of astrology to the Mayans is evident in the glorious pyramid El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan). 364 steps make up all four sides of the pyramid with the final platform being the 365th step. Such was the Mayan’s architectural skills and knowledge of the skies that twice a year, on the spring and autumn equinox, people gather here to witness an impressive sight; the setting sun casts a shadow on the pyramid that looks like a snake slithering down the steps before reaching the stone serpent head at the end. Meanwhile, in the far south of the peninsula, the ruins at Tulum (also built by the Mayans) sit atop a cliff overlooking the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Being well preserved and protected by the surrounding wall, this city has its own beach so you can descend the coastal path and take a dip in the sea before you leave. To the west of the Yucatan Peninsula, the Uxmal ruins include ceremonial structures with impressive ornamentation.
If you want a break from walking around ancient Mayan sites, you can head to one of the stunning beaches along the coast to relax. The resort town of Cancun is a popular destination on the peninsula thanks to its soft white sandy beaches. Along with a mass of hotels you’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants and water sports to keep you entertained.
For something a bit more laid-back take the short ferry ride to Isla Mujeres. The pace of life is slow here and the best way to explore the 5-mile island is to hire a bike or golf cart to get around. Find the best snorkelling spot or book a scuba diving course because the surrounding coral reef is teeming with colourful marine life. When day is done you can settle down with a beer and watch the sunset. There are some fantastic beaches to be found in Tulum especially just north of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Boca Paila lagoon and beach is an undeveloped and remote spot where you can lay out your beach towel and sink into your surroundings.
So maybe it’s time you delved into the best the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico has to offer including history, culture and great beaches.
Mel writes for Royal Caribbean a company offering cruise holidays around the world including those to the Caribbean.
Photo by Melanie Ring at Travel Relish.