Yucatán Peninsula

Beaches, nightlife, Mayan sites, diving, nature… the Yucatán Peninsula has it all. A vacationer’s paradise, Yucatán has something for everyone. The heart of the Mayan empire, Yucatán was flourishing during the dark ages in Europe. Today, it is a land of beaches and surf, fun and adventure for all tastes and budgets.

The Yucatán Peninsula juts out into the Gulf of Mexico on Mexico’s eastern coast. It is comprised of only three states: Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán. Each of these states has its own history, treasures, and reasons to visit.

Popular with spring breakers as well as families, Cancún, with its perfect year-round climate and white sand beaches has invented itself as one of the premier sun-and-fun destinations in the Caribbean. Located on a bay, Cancún offers numerous water sports including diving, snorkeling, sport fishing, parasailing and more. There are also golf courses and crafts markets. The city is home to some of the most important hotel chains in the world as well as budget accommodation. The Cancún nightlife is legendary: there are bars and clubs all over town and visitors like to party until the sun rises over the ocean. Not far off the coast from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a well-known resort destination.

Mexico’s largest inhabited island is Cozumel. The island, off the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, is 16 miles wide and 48 miles long. It attracts divers from around the world: there are more than twenty different reef formations off the coast. There is more to Cozumel than diving, however: it boasts a prestigious golf course (designed by the Nicklaus Design group) as well as numerous spas and resorts. In the capital, San Miguel, the traveler will find accommodations from budget to deluxe.

Playa Del Carmen is a less expensive alternative to Cancún and Cozumel. A rapidly growing beach destination, it offers a toned-down version of Cancún. Forty-five minutes away from Playa del Carmen is Xel-Ha park, known as a premier snorkeling spot where underwater rivers reach the ocean.

The main archaeological attraction in the state of Yucatán is Chichén Itzá, the Mayan “city of the water wizards”. This great Mayan city peaked between 700 and 1200 A.D. when it was the political, economic and military capital of the region. One highlight is the observatory, which was built to observe Venus, revered by the Maya as Kukulkán, one of their most important deities. Every year on the spring and fall equinoxes, thousands of visitors descend upon Chichén Itzá to watch the illusion created by the setting sun of a giant snake slithering up the temple.

The westernmost state on the Yucatán peninsula, Campeche has a long history. The state itself has beautiful rivers and beaches, and is dotted with traditional haciendas, or Spanish-style country homes. The state is proud of its Maya legacy: the archaeological sites of Edzná, Becán, Xpuhil, and Calakmul are all within range of the capital city, Campeche. Other activities in Campeche include fine beaches, golf, museums, diving/snorkeling and other water sports.

The easternmost state of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, is a lively mix of cultures: Caribbean, Mexican, and Mayan all converge in one state, possibly Mexico’s most popular tourist destination. Like the other Yucatán states, Quintana Roo is proud of its ancient Mayan heritage: the archaeological sites of Tulum, Cobá, and Kohunlich are found in this state. Tulum is particularly popular: situated on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, the site is small compared to Tikal (in Guatemala) or Palenque (in southern Mexico), but it is probably the most breathtaking of all the Mayan sites. The capital of Quintana Roo, Chetumal, is a small city that is growing in popularity with visitors.