By now, you probably know that the Riviera Maya is home to some of the best beaches in the world, but you may not realize that it also lies right next door to Yucatan State, which offers so much to do and see that you might just forget about the Caribbean Sea for a few days of your next Mexico vacation! Here’s a brief overview of the region and some of the best things to do on a vacation in Mexico to the Riviera Maya and Yucatan State:
“Yucatan is the heart of the Peninsula, with colonial cities like Merida, Valladolid, Izamal and more”, Minister of Tourism Michelle Fridman told Travel Weekly in a recent interview about the many exciting activities available in the region. “There are 19 archaeological sites open to the public. There are cenotes, haciendas, cultural cities, virgin beaches and nature”.
Most travelers enter the state of Yucatan by flying into the Cancun International Airport, which is located in the adjacent state of Quintana Roo and also serves as the gateway to Mexico’s magical Riviera Maya region. Home to popular beach vacation destinations like Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras and Tulum, this 80-mile corridor of the Mexican Caribbean has plenty to offer sun worshippers, divers and the like, but it also provides easy access to the many adventures and activities of Yucatan.
Perhaps one of the most exciting things about visiting Yucatan is the extraordinary experience of exploring Mexico’s ancient - and modern day - Mayan culture. With many local Mayan villages to explore and dozens of unforgettable archaeological sites like Chichen Itza and Ek Balam to discover, the peninsula’s cultural offerings are among the world’s most exotic and mind-blowing excursions. Chichen Itza is located just over two hours inland from Tulum and Puerto Aventuras, while Ek Balam is only two hours from Cancun and downtown Playa del Carmen.
When visiting Chichen Itza, be sure to make time for a stop in the charming colonial town of Valladolid, which has a gorgeous town square, interesting shopping and fantastic places to dine. If Ek Balam is your ancient Mayan destination of choice, consider traveling on to the colonial city of Merida, which lies near the Yucatan Peninsula’s northern coast and is known worldwide for its vibrant arts and cultural scene. On your way back to Cancun or Playa from Merida, you can also visit the ancient ruins of Izamal, where you’ll find Kinich Kakmó, which has one of the largest footprints of any pyramid in the region!
Like most of the Peninsula, Yucatan State is also home to a large number of stunning freshwater cenotes (pronounced say-note-tays), which are perfect for taking a dip and cooling off after a day of exploration. Considered sacred entrances to the underworld by the ancient Maya, today these underground rivers and sinkholes offer a surreal place to swim, snorkel and dive. If you visit Ek Balam, the incredible Cenote Maya Park is just one of the excellent options nearby, or if you are headed to Chichen Itza, Cenote Zaci offers a memorable experience in Valladolid, just a 10-minute walk from the main square!
Most recently, a new cenote was discovered in Yucatan State, just an hour and a half from downtown Playa del Carmen, where local eco-friendly tour operator Aventuras Mayas has just completed a 131-acre adventure park. While the cenote itself is gorgeous, lying 70 feet below the surface with clear, brilliantly colored turquoise water and three natural openings allowing sunlight to reach the pool, there are also diving platforms, ziplines and a 50-foot rappelling experience available for travelers to enjoy.
Finally, consider heading to some of Mexico’s more pristine beaches in Yucatan, like Progreso and Celestun. While these areas are not as developed as towns in the Riviera Maya, therein lies their unique charm! Progreso is an idyllic tiny port town located just north of Merida, while Celestun lies on Yucatan’s western coast and is a small fishing village perched on a beautiful lagoon that offers incredible mangrove tours and is home to thousands of flamingos.
These are just a few of the many exciting activities for tourists in Yucatan, so be sure to branch out on your next Riviera Maya Caribbean beach vacation and see more of the peninsula’s incredible destinations.
Do you have questions or comments about vacationing in Mexico? Post them the comments!
Want to see more of what Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has to offer? Check out our blog, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres or Holbox: Best Yucatan Peninsula Beaches to Visit Right Now!