The Yucatán Peninsula will dazzle you with ancient Maya ruins, azure Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters, and colonial cities all in one fell swoop. The Yucatán Peninsula includes three separate Mexican states: Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Campeche. Quintana Roo is probably the best known thanks to the tourism of Cancún, Tulum and Playa del Carmen, where millions flock annually to get their share of vitamin D on brochure-perfect beaches or resort infinity pools. But head just a couple of hours west and you hit Mérida, capital of Yucatán state, with contemporary restaurants and a satisfying change of pace, not to mention the many cenotes (freshwater springs) nearby. Neighboring Campeche state is home to mind-blowing Maya ruins galore. This entire peninsula holds wonderful, varied and accessible travel surprises. The Yucatán Peninsula Mexico is a destination for any beach lover, history buff, or just for those who want to enjoy the cuisine and culture.
There are oceans that are many shades of blue, long stretches of pearly white and chlorophyll green jungles. Plus swimming in a limestone sinkhole (cenote), diving in coral reefs, and exploring ruins that are thousands of years old. The people of Yucatan are among the friendliest and warmest people around. They will welcome you and proudly show off their regional cuisine and culture. While you might come for history and a beach, you’ll leave with a lot more. You can also visit our Cozumel Travel Guide, or the Cancun Travel Guide to start making your plans today. Read more now on the Yucatán Peninsula Mexico.
Life’s a Beach
Without a doubt, this corner of Mexico boasts some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline you’ll ever see. On the east coast you have the famous coral-crushed white sands and turquoise waters of the Mexican Caribbean, while up north are sleepy little fishing villages with sandy streets and wildlife-rich surroundings. For the ultimate beach-bumming experience, you can go to one of several low-key islands off the Caribbean coast, where life moves at a slow pace.
You’ll feel awestruck when standing before the pyramids, temples and ball courts of the most brilliant pre-Hispanic civilizations of all time. The Mayans knew a thing or two about architecture and they used astronomy, science and mathematics when building. Witnessing their achievements firsthand will leave a lasting impression on any traveler. The peninsula is chock-full of these Maya archaeological sites, a few of which were built right on the coast.
The Yucatán will keep nature enthusiasts thoroughly entertained. There is colorful underwater scenery like no other, and offers some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world. There are also many biosphere reserves and national parks that are home to a wide array of animal and plant life. You can swim with whale sharks, observe crocodiles and monkeys, help liberate newborn sea turtles, and see hundreds upon hundreds of bird species in mangroves and jungles.
Culture & Fun
For those who need more than just pretty beaches and ancient ruins, there are plenty of cultural and recreational activities in the Yucatán. On any given day you may come across soulful dance performances, free concerts, interesting museums and art shows – especially in Mérida which is the peninsula’s colonial cultural capital. For some fun in the sun, the Yucatán has thousands of underground natural pools (cenotes), parks with subterranean rivers and all kinds of thrilling boat tours.
Experiences Not to Miss
Cenote Santa Barbara
From the large and smart reception, you can take a bike or horse and cart on a trip following the narrow-gauge railway-cart trail to the three cenotes. Walking is an option too, but be aware that the trail follows a circuit, ending back at the restaurant, which extends the distance. The hours are from 9:30am to 6pm. For more information, you can visit the Santa Barbara Facebook page.
Isla Holbox has sandy streets, colorful Caribbean buildings, lazing, sun-drunk dogs, and sand so fine it’s texture is nearly clay. The greenish waters are a unique color from the mixing of ocean currents. On land there’s a mix of locals and tourists, with the tourists hoping to escape the hubbub of Cancún. It’s a fantastic spot for wildlife. Isla Holbox is in the Yum Balam reserve, and home to more than 150 bird species, including roseate spoonbills, pelicans, herons, ibis and flamingos. In summer, whale sharks congregate nearby. To plan your beach vacation to Isla Holbox, read our Isla Holbox Travel Guide.
The ruins of Tulum,over a rugged coastline, is a strip of brilliant beach and green-and-turquoise waters that’ll leave you floored. Tulum is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city serving as a major port for Coba. The ruins are situated on 39′ tall cliffs, along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya; it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Tulum is one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites. They are open from 8am to 5pm.
Laguna Bacalar, the peninsula’s largest lagoon, which comes as a surprise in this region of scrubby jungle. More than 60km long with a bottom of sparkling white sand, this crystal-clear lake offers opportunities for camping, swimming, kayaking and simply lazing around, amid a color palette of blues, greens and shimmering whites that seems more out of Photoshop than anything real life could hold.
Edzná’s massive complexes, that once covered more than 17 sq km, were built by a highly stratified society that flourished from about 600 BC to 15th century AD. During that period the people of Edzná built more than 20 complexes in a melange of architectural styles, installing an ingenious network of water-collection and irrigation systems.
Three Mexican States of the Yucatán Peninsula
Yucatán is a state in the north western part of the Yucatán Peninsula, with its coastline facing the Gulf of Mexico. To the east is the state of Quintana Roo, home of Cancun and Cozumel; Campeche is to the south.
Part of Mundo Maya, Quintana Roo is one of the best tourist states across the country. Its Riviera is known worldwide for its idyllic landscapes, activities of all kinds, cuisine of great proportions and its incomparable beauty of Mayan monuments. Quintana Roo has options for all kinds of travelers, from those who expect the ultimate in luxury to those who prefer the simplest places in contact with nature. Cancun and Cozumel are the most popular destinations in Quintana Roo. To start planning your vacation, visit our Cancun Travel Guide, Cozumel Travel Guide, Isla Holbox Travel, or Isla Mujeres Vacations Guide.
Campeche is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful capitals in the country. UNESCO named it as a model of a colonial baroque city planning. Additionally, it was declared a World Heritage Site. It has 17 archaeological sites including Calakmul, the largest Mayan city that has ever been discovered. If you’re looking to escape from the tourist crowd, its Pacific beaches are for you. Campeche has charming corners that you’ll love including the beautiful colonial port, various Mayan ceremonial centers and majestic nature reserves. When you visit Campeche, you have to take a stroll along the Fort of San Miguel, San José el Alto, and the Door of the Earth; their buildings will carry you and will tell the story of this beautiful city. To begin planning your vacation to the Mexican state of Campeche, visit Campeche Vacations.
Yucatán Peninsula Beaches
World renown as a spring break hotspot, the Yucatan Peninsula is a prime location for anyone looking for some time at the beach. Ranging from urbanized shores in the center of Cancun to nearly empty stretches in the south, the Yucatan will not disappoint.
Since the Yucatan has such a long coast, you can expect there to be a number of natural beaches that are empty of visitors or lifeguards. While this will offer a great deal of privacy, you do take a risk when swimming in unsupervised water. The more urbanized area of the Yucatan have developed a color system similar to that of beaches in the US. Visit the best beaches in the Yucatán Peninsula.