When people think about Mexico, most of them just picture Cancun. Beaches and margaritas come to mind. I'm writing this to tell you it is so much more than that.
Mexico is a country rich in culture, traditions and the most welcoming people. It will always be a home for expats and unstoppable travellers in search for unseen places. Just a few hours away from Cancun, you can find the beautiful and relaxed Yucatán.
Before Mexico was formed, the land in which I proudly call home was inhabited by many different civilizations. The civilization in Yucatán were known as Mayans. Since always the Mayan civilization took care of the land. They saw the beauty in it and knew the circle of life. The land to them had no owner. These people were living in a virgin paradise just enjoying the richness of the place and looking after all living things.
In 1540 Francisco de Montejo and the Spanish Conquistadors came with different beliefs from the Mayan people. They came to conquer and teach not only the Mayan population but the rest of Mexico too. The Spanish settlers taught them new traditions, religion (converted from polytheistic to believe just in Christianity) and stopped the sacrificial rituals. Nowadays Yucatán is one of the most ancient and beautiful colonial regions in Mexico. Not to forget the only one with marquesitas (just give them a chance!).
These places below are just a few of my favorite hidden treasures in Yucatán . I hope you enjoy them as I do. They are waiting for you to explore.
The reason for the name is because of the common use of limestone for building and front decorations. Also, with its fine Spanish styled porches full of vibrant colors, it has became one of the preserved colonial cities of Mexico.
Mérida has the best of both, in places it feels like a modern city but the history is just around the corner.
If you are looking for a little bit of culture, I recommend you visit St Ildephonsus Cathedral, the 'Centro Histórico' and art galleries close to the city center. Where you can appreciate first class performances for a reasonable price.
At the Centro Hisorico you can find 'Plaza Grande'. Which is one of the main squares in Merida. There you can get a nice cold drink and enjoy the folkloric dance presented by locals during the weekend.
Mérida is for me is the perfect base for road trips around Yucatán. It is also one of the hottest places I know. It has dry hot weather most part of the year. A normal summer day can be around 35 degrees, so stay hydrated. For fresh delicious fruit, go to the main local market.
Valladolid is the most charming village in Yucatán. The colors, the people, the nature and the food are just the beginning to describe this lovely town. If you are looking for an authentic experience of Mexico, then Valladolid should be on your travel list.
Located close to the ruins of Chichén Itzá and Ek Bakama. There are several clear water Cenotes around, like Cenote Zaci, Oxman, Xieken and Samula. (Have a look to My list of favorite cenotes!) If you have time my advice is to book a place in Valladolid for a night, and you can enjoy your morning with a homemade drink in a coffee shop close to Francisco Cantón Rosado square, it is the main park in Valladolid.
Even though it is a small village, it is full of history. Containing historical buildings like the mayor hall, art museums and the emblematic San Gervasio cathedral located between Calle 39 to 41.
The town was declared in 2012 one of the 111 'Magic towns' in Mexico. Which is an initiative led by Mexico's government to improve and increase the tourism in these beautiful towns. Totally worth your time.
Izamal was also named as one of the 111 'Magic Towns' in Mexico ( Pueblos Mágicos in Spanish). It's an award given to Mexican towns that bask in their natural beauty, cultural riches or historical relevance to the country.
And there is a reason why Izamal has made the list.
Located in the heart of Yucatán, 45 min away from Merida. Izamal is famously known as the 'Yellow Painted Town'. This is because in 1993, Pope John Paul II planted to perform mass at the local Cathedral. This inspired the locals to especially prepare and paint the town yellow for his arrival. Nowadays Izamal is a fantastic photogenic village, with eye-catching architecture and the most peaceful atmosphere in Yucatán.
It's perfect to explore by foot across its cobblestone streets and you can also climb the small pyramid in the middle of town. You can chill at the main square, while observing the local life around you or get a nice meal at any of the restaurants or local markets.
In regards to getting to Izamal, it's fairly simple. It can be by car, or using the local transport (colectivo) for less than $30 pesos for a one way ticket. You'll find colectivo between calle 65 and 54 at Merida.
This famous Mayan complex tends to be the main attraction in Yucatán, so is not really hidden but it can't be ignored.
Almost every tourist in Cancun or Playa del Carmen takes a 12 hour tour to the Mayan city and spends up to 8 hours inside a tour bus. Must be worth it, huh?
But if touring the Yucatán peninsula then you don't have to worry about that, as you can get a nice tour from Merida or Valladolid which are no more than an hour from the famous Mayan complex. These tours tend to Include food, cenotes and tour guide for a fraction of Riviera Maya price.
You can also make the way to Chichén by yourself, which is a great option. Rent a car and stop in the middle of nowhere to buy fresh fruit grown by the locals. Once you arrived at your destination you'll need to pay approximately $250 for your entrance to the archeological site. Much cheaper than a tour. If you can try to avoid going on Sundays, it is cheaper for Mexican nationals then, making it the most busy day of the week.
If going alone and wanting to know more about the history of Chichén. you can negotiate the price with a tour guide inside the complex or you can get yourself a tour book for a few pesos. I recommend you bring your own bottles of water and snack in a small backpack. Otherwise expect to pay a small fortune at vendors inside the park.
Repeat after me… Zi-vil-chal- tun. That's the right way to pronounce this confusing name.
The Dzibilchaltun ruins may not be as big and impressive as Chichén Itzá. But this small Mayan complex holds a few pyramids that you can still climb to see Merida's skyline. During March 21st and September 21st the door of the main temple "El templo de las 7 muecas" gets perfectly aligned with the sun during the equinox sunset. Giving a sight that's worth a visit.
Located only 30 min away of Merida, it is a really easy place to access.
You can travel there by your own with a rented car, a taxi for $250, or with the local bus for $11. Also it is actually soooo nice to visit Dzibilchaltun during a hot day! Get your swimsuit ready as inside there is a green fresh cenote. It is called Xlakah and is just a few meters away from the main temple.
Here in Yucatan you can relax on the nice beaches of Progreso.
It's a fishermens village located on the coast, 45 minutes from Mérida and is the perfect spot to run away from the unbelievable heat inland.
In Progreso you can find fresh seafood such as fish, shrimps or lobster (depends on the season) at any of the restaurants situated on the coast, facing the Gulf of Mexico.
If you like to try a different cuisine and traditional food, I recommend you to visit 'Heladios'. It is a Yucatecan restaurant really popular with locals, this is partly because as soon as you get a table and order your first drink, waiters start to serve you typical dishes in a small plate as a snack while you wait for your meal.
Nowadays everyone is dreaming about this magical place with a stunning view and its famous pink lakes.
I'm sure you must have seen this place on Instagram or in a travel video on Facebook It surely has to be on top of your list of places to go.
Las Coloradas are groups of many little lakes stuck in between salt mounds, located close to Rio Lagartos. From this town you can take the Coloradas tour and many others. To get there is quite simple. I recommend you rent a car or take an ADO BUS. You can find them at almost any town here in the Yucatán peninsula, have a look on their website.
You see, Las Coloradas are constantly changing colors depending on their salt level. It can go from the famous bright pink to a light orange, so it totally depends on nature. Don't let this fact change your plans, there are more activities to do around the area. Rent a boat at Río lagartos and take a tour around the river $1000 mx pesos, this price is divided between the number of persons in the boat. Also you can get a nice fresh meal here for as little $100 pesos.
Also known as Selva Maya, it is located 30 minutes away from Valladolid in the middle of Yucatán's jungle.
There you can find a Mexican Hacienda, now a delicious buffet restaurant. It is one of my favorite cenotes perfect for dinner, chill, and a swim in the clear blue water.
For an adrenaline rush it has a small step platform where you can jump from and a natural waterfall inside. It truly is a must see cenote.
This ruin site is located 25 minutes drive away from the colonial town of Valladolid.
Ek' Balam, which in Mayan means 'Black Jaguar', is one of the most preserved complexes in Yucatán. It has a relaxed atmosphere, and is found in the middle of the dense jungle. Rarely busy, sometimes you can enjoy the site almost all for yourself, making you feel as if you were an explorer, discovering new wonders.
Plus you can fully explore the area and still climb all the pyramids and get an amazing view. Not something that you can do at the more popular ruin sites.
Admission is $188 mx pesos. If you enjoy visiting quieter and lesser-frequented sites , then you will have a good time wandering around Ek' Balam.
The local traditional dishes are the heart of Yucatán's identity. They are a mix of native Mayan and Spanish cuisine that will absolutely blow your mind. A piece of art that you must enjoy if visiting Yucatán.
Pipián: it is a delicious cooked turkey covered with a pumpkin seed base sauce.
Cochinita pibil: it is pulled pork that has been marinated with a mix or sour oranges, local herbs and annatto (achiote). Then for this plate people dig a hole on the ground and finally cook the pork underground covered with banana palm tree leaves. This is the central dish in Yucatán.
Queso relleno: it is literally what it means. A piece of holand cheese filled with ground beef previously cooked with fresh tomatoes and onions.
Salbutes: this is handmade tortilla softly fried and prepared with chicken or pork, lettuce, beans, avocado and red onions.
Relleno negro: it is a black stew made from burnt chiles and spices that is served over pork. Personally not my favorite.
At the parks you can have your cheat day like a local. Try…
Marquesita: it is basically a hard crepe, rolled into a taco shape filled originally with holand cheese and any other sweet flavor you want. My favorite one is cheese and Nutella.
Esquites: are corns from the cob, dipped in mayonnaise, fresh cheese and lime. Served in a cup.
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