The Mexican state of Yucatan concentrates great tourist attractions such as cenotes, majestic archaeological sites, nature reserves, beautiful colonial architecture and towns with interesting cultural features.
Among the things to do in Yucatan you cannot miss the following. Let’s know the 20 best things to do in Yucatan…
1. Get to know the Canton Palace
The wealthy Yucatecan governor, Francisco Cantón Rosado, built the Palacio Cantón between 1904 and 1911, a beautiful building that went from being his residence to becoming a school, a school of fine arts, and finally, home to the Regional Museum of Anthropology of Yucatán. .
The building is architecturally in the “French academicism” style, with neoclassical and baroque contributions.
Cantón Rosado, which had just sold the Mérida-Valladolid railway concession, brought from Italy, France and Germany everything that the architects and decorators asked for.
The opulence of the palace reflects the power that the so-called “divine caste” reached in Yucatan.
The museum keeps a wide collection of sculptures, stelae and other pieces rescued from the Yucatecan Mayan sites.
2. Visit Uxmal
The Uxmal site is, together with Tikal and Chichen Itza, one of the most important of the Mayan culture. It is also the most valuable site in the Puuc Zone and the most emblematic of the Mayan architectural style of the same name.
The Puuc style is characterized by elaborate ornamentation aimed at paying intense veneration to Chaac, the Mayan god of water and rain, the equivalent of the Mexica Tlaloc.
Uxmal is 90 km south of Mérida in a place where the Mayan builders took advantage of the unevenness of the land, to give height and poise to the complex.
In total there are 16 units or groups of structures, the most outstanding being the Quadrangle of the Nuns, the court for the ball game, the House of the Pigeons, the Pyramid of the Magician, the Governor’s Palace, the House of the Turtles, the Great Pyramid and the Platform of the Jaguars.
The first of these is an impressive sound and light show that tells the story, legends and daily life in pre-Columbian Uxmal.
3. Visit Las Coloradas, Yucatan
One of the special things to do in Yucatan is to visit this small town and port on the north coast of the state, facing the Gulf of Mexico.
Las Coloradas owes its name to the uniqueness of its pink waters. Its high concentration of salt promotes the growth of plankton and a red bacterial flora.
Tourists are fascinated by the color of the sea and the rich life in coastal ecosystems. Also for knowing the Río Lagartos Natural Park that attracts hundreds of people to the area.
Las Coloradas is a 12,850-hectare estuary ecosystem, a national sanctuary of the Mexican flamingo that can be seen in the lagoons, forming groups of hundreds of specimens that cover the spaces with their beautiful pink color.
The main economic activities in Las Coloradas are fishing, salt extraction and tourism.
Read our guide on the 10 best beaches in Yucatan that you should not miss
4. Beaches in Yucatan (Progreso, Chicxulub and San Crisanto)
Yucatan has beaches with warm waters and brilliant sun to enjoy the best tropical drinks and the most exquisite seafood.
The closest to Mérida are Progreso, Chicxulub and San Crisanto. The first of these is a coastal city 44 km from the city with a boardwalk, a picturesque wooden pier, a beach with wide sand and recreational activities.
Chicxulub is another Yucatecan coastal town located 8 km from Progreso. Its main beach activity is having fun and tasting its fresh seafood cuisine. At night, the clubs and bars are filled with a festive atmosphere.
San Crisanto, 78 km from Mérida, has a beautiful white sand beach and interesting places for ecotourism, such as mangroves and Cenote Bravo.
A little further from Mérida, between 260 and 300 km, are the famous Caribbean beaches of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
5. Get to know Chichen Itza
The magnificence of the architecture and the scientific symbolism of some of the buildings in Chichen Itza are unparalleled in pre-Hispanic Mexican culture.
This Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the only place in Central and North America on the list of the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World, is located in the Yucatecan municipality of Tinum, 144 km east of Mérida.
The foundation of Chichen Itza dates back to the 6th century. It was the main nucleus of Mayan power and the most important ceremonial center in the Yucatan Peninsula, as evidenced by its majestic relics and ceremonial places, among which the Pyramid of Kukulkan (El Castillo), the Sacred Cenote, the Wall of the Calaveras, El Caracol, the Temple of the Warriors and the Group of 1,000 columns.
Other buildings that add grandeur to Chichen Itza are the ball game court, the most complete and magnificent in Mesoamerica; the House of the Nuns, the Temple of the Bearded Man, the Red House, the House of the Deer, the Tomb of the Great Priest and the Temple of the Boards.
Read our definitive guide to Chichen Itza: How to get there, meaning, climate and history
6. Visit Uayma
Any trip to Uayma will be justified if you visit its original church, one of the architectural icons of Yucatan.
The mid-seventeenth-century temple of this community 13 km west of the Yucatecan Magical Town of Valladolid, was part of the ex-convent of Santo Domingo.
The convent complex was burned and almost destroyed by the Mayans in 1855 during the Caste War and it took almost a century and a half later, until 2003, to rediscover the original colors and decoration on the facade and walls of the temple.
The construction was erected with stones extracted from nearby archaeological sites and the unique ornamentation was made with stars, rosettes, borders and other details, in which red predominates and, to a lesser extent, blue.
Uayma also stands out for its pottery and hammock making. The Santo Domingo festival with bullfights, music, popular dances, vaquerías and fireworks, is celebrated between the end of July and the beginning of August.
Chichen Itza is located 52 km west of Uayma.
7. Visit Ticul
Ticul is a small Yucatecan town on the Ruta Puuc, 90 km south of Mérida. The temple of the former convent of San Antonio de Padua, built in the mid-17th century, is among its main attractions.
The church has simple lines with a beautiful stained-glass façade in the choir window and is crowned by 2 belfries with 3 openings at the upper ends.
Inside there are some architectural elements such as pilasters and stone moldings. The altar is dominated by the image of San Antonio de Padua surrounded by sculptures of 5 other saints.
Other buildings of interest in Ticul are the chapels of San Enrique and San Juan, the Municipal Palace and the house of the Tabi hacienda.
Ticul is known in Yucatan for its footwear factories with shoes and other handmade leather pieces and excellent clothing.
Clay and pottery is another of the interesting facets of this town, where you can buy plant pots, replicas of Mayan gods and carefully crafted ornaments.
8. Enjoy in Cuzamá
In Yucatan, an unusual and picturesque means of transport was installed during the henequen era, in which Decauville-type wagons moved along railways pulled by mules and horses.
Some of these roads of the thousand kilometers that were built are maintained and are used to take visitors to the beautiful nearby cenotes, such as those in the town of Cuzamá.
This means of transportation is known as a truck, and it is the most original way you can use to cross the thicket and reach the beautiful cenotes, Chansinic’Ché, Bolón-Chohol and Chelentún.
Other attractions in Cuzamá are the temple of the Holy Trinity dating from the 16th century and that of San Francisco de Asís, also from the colonial era. Nearby are the archaeological sites of Xculab, Eknacán and Chuncanán. Chichen Itza is 80 km to the east.
9. Try Temozón meats
Temozón’s specialty is the preparation of smoked pork, a delicacy worthy of the most demanding palates. It is so good that there is already a project to export it.
Temozón is a town of 7,000 inhabitants on the Valladolid – Tizimín highway, 13 km north of this first city.
The tradition of smoked pork began in the late 1960s. Now, the town’s main street is lined with butcher shops selling these succulent meats, chorizos, longanizas and other cured meats at good prices.
Another vocation of Temozón is carpentry based on cedar wood. You can order different furniture to be made according to the designs of the pieces exhibited in the carpentry shops.
Just 14 km from Temozón is the important archaeological site of Ek Balam.
10. Get to know the Magical Town of Izamal
The ex-convent of San Antonio de Padua, where the Virgin of Izamal, patron saint of Yucatan, is venerated, stands out as an architectural and religious jewel of this Magical Town.
The convent was erected on top of the Pap Hol Chac pyramid during the first century of the Spanish conquest and its esplanade is so large that it is only surpassed among the Catholic buildings in the world, by that of the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Rome.
In Izamal, pre-Hispanic, colonial and contemporary constructions coexist in harmony, for which it receives the name of the City of Three Cultures.
A tradition in this area qualified by the Mexican government as a Magical Town, are the rides in carriages, a way to take a tour to see the different points of tourist interest.
The activity of henequen or sisal, which was the economic support of Yucatan in past times, but which declined with the development of synthetic fibers, is still alive in some haciendas of Izamal.
Read our definitive guide to the magical town of Izamal, Yucatan
11. Visit Valladolid
The Sultana de Oriente is the most important city in eastern Yucatan and is distinguished by its splendid colonial architecture.
Magnificent buildings date back to the colonial era, such as the ex-convent of San Bernandino de Siena, whose temple is a fortress with 3-meter-thick walls to protect itself from the Indians; and the churches of San Servacio, La Candelaria, Santa Lucía and San Juan.
The main square of Valladolid is a beautiful landscaped area with iron works and the sculpture of La Mestiza, emblem of the city.
Other constructions that reflect the architectural size of Valladolid are the Municipal Palace, the Casa de los Venados, the Casa Cantón, the Calzada de los Frailes and the Parque de los Héroes.
The San Roque Museum exhibits historical pieces, some from the pre-Hispanic period. It works in a restored complex that was initially a church with a cloister and later the first hospital in the town.
The beach town of El Cuyo is 152 km from Valladolid and the archaeological site of Ek Balam, with its majestic Acropolis, is only 30 km away.
12. Best cenotes in Yucatan
Yucatan is land of cenotes and among the most beautiful are Ik-Kil, Lol Ha and Sambula. The first of these is 3 km from Chichen Itza, which makes it the ideal place to cool off after touring this one of the greatest archaeological sites in Mesoamerica.
Ik-Kil is a body of diaphanous water with stairs to go down and balconies to stop to admire its beauty.
The Lol Ha is another open cenote with fresh and transparent waters in the middle of a beautiful natural setting, with a diversity of birds, reptiles and mammals, such as swallows, owls, squirrels, iguanas and raccoons. It is in Yaxunah, 72 km southwest of Valladolid and 28 km from Chichen Itza.
The Sambula cenote, in the town of Pebá, 43 km south of Mérida, is a beautiful underground body of water, diaphanous and fresh, which is reached by a dirt road and a stone staircase.
Other beautiful cenotes in the Yucatan are Xkeken, Zací and Cuzamá.
13. Know the Yucatan Cathedral
The Yucatan Cathedral consecrated to San Ildefonso is the second oldest in all of America, only surpassed on the continent by that of Santo Domingo, on the island of Hispaniola.
The temple was built between 1562 and 1598. Its magnificent collection of sacred art and Walcker organ were destroyed during the Mexican Revolution. It consists of 3 naves, one main and 2 lateral; 2 twin towers of 2 bodies and Moorish style and a dome with buttress arches.
On the main Renaissance-style façade, the door of forgiveness and the coat of arms of the Spanish royal house stand out.
In the austere interior, the image of Cristo de la Unidad is distinguished, the largest in wood preserved in a roofed enclosure and some baroque altarpieces.
Other venerated images of the Cathedral of San Ildefonso are the Christ of the Blisters and that of Santa Eulalia.
14. Visit the Archaeological Zone of Ek Balam
The main buildings of the Ek Balam Archaeological Zone date from the classical period and are found in 2 large plazas, North and South.
The most important construction is the Acropolis, in the North Plaza. It was the royal palace and the highest point of the site. The Hieroglyphic Serpents stand out, stone monuments with glyphs that have allowed us to know the history of Ek Balam.
Through the glyphs and friezes with images, it was possible to meet Ukit Kan Lek Tok, the most famous ruler of the city whose remains were found in the building.
Ukit Kan Lek Tok built the imposing staircase of The Acropolis that you can climb 1,200 years later.
In the South Plaza, the Oval Palace and Las Gemelas stand out. The first was erected in 3 stages and the oval shapes from which it takes its name are from the first period of construction.
The pyramids, Las Gemelas, are next to each other and are the site’s structures that have been best preserved. Other interesting monuments of Ek Balam are the stelae, the ball court and the wall.
15. Know the Archaeological site of Kabah
This 1.2 km 2 site is on the Puuc Route, 37 km from Uxmal, a city with which it was connected by a wide and elevated causeway.
The main ruins of this archaeological site date from between the 7th and 11th centuries, with records found dating to 879 and 987 AD.
Although the reasons for the decline of Kabah that occurred before the arrival of the Spanish are unknown, it is believed that it could be related to the scarcity of water.
In the group, the Codz Poop, the Triumphal Arch and the Palace Group stand out. The Codz Poop or Rolled Carpet is called Palace of the Masks for its impressive and neat decoration with these artistic elements.
The Triumphal Arch was the starting point of the road to Uxmal and was rebuilt in the mid-20th century.
The Palace Group is the largest building and is located on an elevation of the land. It has 2 levels and its façade is decorated with small columns divided into 3 sections.
16. Visit the Park and Temple of Santa Ana
The Santa Ana Park and Temple are in the Santa Ana neighborhood, Merida’s historic center. In the first of these places, a battle between the republican forces and those loyal to Maximilian was held in 1867, which marked the end of the imperial rule of the Habsburgs in Yucatan.
The church of Santa Ana is a simple temple with 2 twin bell-towers with pyramidal tops, built on a Mayan base between 1720 and 1730. The sculptures of saints and the colored stained glass windows stand out.
The Santa Ana neighborhood was the residence of artisans and day laborers in Mérida. It was integrated into the city by a road ordered to be built in 1726 by the Spanish governor, Antonio de Figueroa y Silva.
Along with the church, the park and square were erected, as well as 2 arches demolished in the 19th century. At one end of the park there are places to enjoy some delicacies from Yucatecan cuisine, such as cochinita pibil, salbutes and panuchos.
17. Get to know the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum opened its doors in 1987 on 59th Street in Mérida, next to the Centennial Zoological Park. In its 7 permanent rooms it hosts an exhibition on natural, regional and general history.
The rooms are:
2. Paleozoic era.
3. Mesozoic era.
4. Cenozoic era.
5. Cuxtal Ecological Reserve.
6. Audiovisual room.
7. Scorpions Reef.
The latter is a national park in the Gulf of Mexico formed by an archipelago of small coral islands, 130 km from the Yucatecan city of Progreso.
The only inhabited island in the park is Isla Pérez, where there is a lighthouse built in 1901. The archipelago is the largest coral structure in the gulf and is home to a rich biodiversity of fish and birds, some at risk of extinction.
Cuxtal is an ecological reserve of more than 10,000 hectares south of Mérida, where historic haciendas, archaeological sites and cenotes are located, being a beautiful Yucatecan ecotourism destination.
The museum also has a room for temporary exhibitions on topics related to natural history and environmental preservation.
18. Stroll through the Centennial Zoological Park
Strolling through the Centennial Zoological Park is one of the things to do in Yucatan that children will like the most.
Since its inauguration in 1910, the zoo has been one of the most popular places in Mérida. It has an interesting display of animals that includes primates, coatis, ocelots, cougars, jaguars, panthers, llamas, giraffes, and hippos. It can be explored on a small train or on foot.
It also adds an aviary, serpentarium, aquarium, herpetarium, an artificial lake with boats, a fountain with jets and a cable car. Other attractions are the botanical garden, skating areas and rides.
The Parque Zoologico del Centenario is located on Avenida Itzáes. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 6 am and 6 pm. Your entry is free.
19. Get to know the Loltún Caves
The Loltún caves are 6 km from the Yucatecan town of Oxkutzcab and 110 km from Mérida. Although they have an estimated extension of 8 km, only 2 of them have been explored and can be traveled.
The caves have been a reservoir of physical testimonies of the Mayan culture, where archaeological pieces, ceramics, stone objects and other articles of the famous civilization have been found.
Remains of extinct animals such as mammoth bones have also been found, which shows the changes that the territory has undergone since the remote past.
In the caves there is a unique sample of travertine formations that have adopted capricious forms, which are now known as La Mazorca de Maíz and La Catedral.
Loltún was the scene in which prehistoric artists manifested their creative vein with cave paintings, frets and inscriptions, which show human figures, animals and plants.
20. Visit the Ría Celestún Biosphere Reserve
It is an estuary rich in mangroves that runs parallel to the Yucatecan coast near the town of Celestún, near the state of Campeche.
Its main attraction is biodiversity, especially the beautiful Mexican flamingo that has one of its main sanctuaries in this estuary.
The intense orange color of these birds in the reserve is due to the high concentration of carotenoids in the waters, which have a particular composition due to the mixture of the sweet current of the Celestún River with the waters of the gulf. Other typical species of the reserve are the brown pelican and the white pelican.
The estuary is reached by a bridge that connects it with the mainland and ecological tourists travel through it in boats.
Do not forget this list on your next trip to Yucatan. With her you will have a perfect vacation with a portion of each of her divine things.
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