Earth : North America : Mexico : Yucatán Peninsula : Yucatán
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.
Yucatán is home to the Chicxulub Crater; geologists say that this crater dates back approx 65 million years from the Earth's collision with a meteorite, and it is implicated with the extinction of the dinosaurs. In early historic times, Yucatán was one of the centers of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization and the Maya people still form a significant part of the state's population. The Spanish came to conquer in the 1500s, "conquering" the Maya people and replacing the Maya city of T'ho with the capital city, Merida. Spanish conquistadors stayed and intermarried with the local Maya population, becoming a part of the historic heritage of Yucatán. In the late 1800’s, henequen, a plant grown for its strong fibers that were turned into twine, became known as the “green gold" of Yucatan. The sale of "sisal rope" (named for Sisal, the port from which this rope was shipped around the world) became responsible for much of the wealth of Yucatan. Henequen made Yucatan into one of Mexico’s richest States, and turned Merida at the turn of the 20th Century into a city with more millionaires than any other city worldwide. Today, one can still visit henequen-producing haciendas, though they are few. Other haciendas, many of them abandoned and neglected in the mid-20th Century, are today private homes, hotels, meeting places and museums.
Yucatan is a place of peace and friendly people, a place to explore the Maya culture, enjoy beautiful sandy beaches, underground rivers and cenotes, ancient Maya archaeological sites, or the flavor of a Yucatecan meal. Most people speak Maya and Spanish; English and German are also commonly spoken at tourist sites. Bird lovers will find Yucatan a great place for bird-watching. Those that enjoy romantic places will find many in the Colonial cities, where people gather at night in parks and plazas to enjoy a free concert of music or dance.
Spanish is the official language. Knowing at least a few simple phrases of basic Spanish is helpful, but locals are very forgiving of visitors who are not fluent as long as you make an effort to be polite. In much of Yucatan some Maya is spoken. Except in a few small villages, almost everyone will have at least a working knowledge of basic Spanish. The younger people are now learning English and will enjoy trading a Spanish lesson for an English lesson. English, at least simple English, is widely understood by merchants and guides at major tourist destinations and in more upscale hotels.
The major airport in Yucatan State is located at Merida (Rejon) International Airport (IATA: MID). Another point of access to the State might be though Cancun International Airport (IATA: CUN), located at Cancun, Quintana Roo State, to the east of Yucatan State.
The main option for approaching the Yucatan Peninsula by boat is cruise ships serving Yucatan State or the State of Quintana Roo. Most cruise ships drop anchor to the east in Cancun or Cozumel. Some cruise ships anchor at Progreso, in Yucatan. Progreso has one of the longest causeways in the world.
Yucatan has extensive well-built highways, as well as rural, state and federal roads that are safe for tourists. When driving the "libre" roads, keep an eye out for speed bumps, called "topes". They are numerous, and found at the beginning, end, and middle of most villages. Bus lines offer inexpensive first-class air-conditioned bus trips.
Renting a car is highly recommended. Main roads are in good condition and state maps are easily available at any tourist information kiosk. There are many bus routes and one can get around by bus, though not all are air-conditioned or run at convenient times. No train service is offered to this State. There is limited air service to outlying communities from Merida.
The fastest route across the region (Cancun--Valladolid--Chichen Itza--Merida) is the divided four-lane toll road, the cuota (Highway 180). The toll between Cancun and Chichen Itza is approximately US $45 each way. The road is well-maintained but does not have nighttime lighting. Occasional bicyclists and pedestrians create some road hazards, but fewer than on most other Mexican roads. Still, it is not advisable to drive the road at night if you are unfamiliar with it. There are few services available along the road--very few gas stations, few vendors or services, etc.--so plan accordingly. Restrooms are available at toll booth areas and in most Pemex (gas) stations.
Yucatan offers many areas of interest to visitors, including famous Maya archaeological sites, sandy beach towns, colonial cities, ecological reserves and adventure loaded trips to'Cenotes' (fresh underwater sink-holes), caves, haciendas and small towns.
Yucatan is a great place to visit for those that enjoy birdwatching. Places to visit for that activity are: Celestun, Rio Lagartos, El Cuyo, Chichen Itza, and Uxmal.
Things to Do
Merida. Each night the City Hall sponsors many cultural events and regional dances throughout the Historic District (centro historico) in downtown; most events are free and scheduled to start after 7:00 P.M. Carnival in Merida has evolved in recent years from a Maya/Catholic indigenous celebration to what can be describes as "The party of the Year". For a week, Paseo de Montejo, the main street, is closed most nights and some days, for parades of costumed dancers and floats. Lodging reservations suggested during Christmas, New Years, Carnival, Easter and Day of the Dead.
Archaeology. Yucatán is home to several famous Mayan archaeological zones. The best known and most widely visited by tourists is Chichén Itzá, the site of the Kukulcan Pyramid, the Maya Observatory, and the Sacred Cenote. A contrasting architectural style can be observed at Mayan sites along the Ruta Puuc. There are many minor sites, not as well known, that are enjoyable to visit as well. These include Labna, Sayil, Kabah, Ek Balaam, Dzibilchaltun and Edzna.
Cenotes. These natural underground lake and cave formations, found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, are especially concentrated in the state of Yucatán. The highest concentration is to be found in what was once an ancient meteor crater. Many that can be toured are located along La Ruta de los Cenotes, an official network of secondary roads that is promoted by regional governments and tourist authorities.
Spas. Massages and treatments based on Mayan ritual practices are available at spas such as Yaxkin Spa at Hacienda Chichén,  near Chichén Itzá. Other haciendas, such as Hacienda Petac  and Hacienda Xcanatun  also provide spa services.
Museums. Many cities and towns in Yucatan have small to medium-sized museums. Chichen Itza has a small exhibit at the main entrance of the site, within the Cultur complex. Hacienda Chichen has the Merle Greene Gallery and museum . Merida has many museums, including the new Gran Museo del Mundo Maya  which has extensive exhibits on Maya history and culture. Downtown Merida houses the MACAY , a contemporary art museum. Outside of Merida, near Ticul, is the Cacao Museum  where visitors can learn the process of making chocolate and sample the results. In Valladolid, a local couple has opened their house as a museum of Mexican arts and crafts called Casa de los Venados .
Mayan Sacred Ceremonies. There has been worldwide interest in the Maya cosmology and Maya spirituality since before 2012. Local tour companies, such as Casa K'in, offer Maya spiritual tours where guests can participate in and learn ceremonies . The Mayan Priests and Elder Healers' civil association: Kuch Kaab Yeetel J-Men Maya'ob A.C. offers a variety of sacred Mayan rituals and mystical ceremonies throughout the year at their Sacred Mayan Ceremonial Center within the Maya Jungle Reserve at Hacienda Chichen.
Haciendas. The Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with haciendas. Some are abandoned and beautiful in their decay. Some, such as Hacienda Yaxcopoil  are run as museums, while others are private homes. Many of them have been renovated and are run now as hotels or B&B's. Hacienda Chichen  is close to Chichen Itza. Hacienda San Jose Cholul, Santa Rosa, Temozon and Uayamon  are part of the Starwood Luxury Collection. Other independent hacienda hotels include Hacienda Santa Cruz , Hacienda Misne  and Hacienda Xcanatun  (which also has one of Merida's best restaurants). Hacienda Ochil  is a great place to stop for lunch. And others, such as Hacienda Sac Chich  and Hacienda Petac  are available as vacation rentals.
Yucatan is well known for its exquisite and embroidered "huipiles," silver "filigrana" jewelry, traditional "hammocks", and for fine replicas of ancient Maya ceramic vessels and masks. A fine arts boutique in Valladolid's main square, is Yalat which specializes in Mexican fine arts and unique Maya art-crafts. Merida also offers some good shopping at places like Alma Mexicana  and the gift shop at Hotel Mediomundo . Many arts and crafts are sold on the streets of Merida at night as well. And the Plaza Grande in Merida is filled with puestos (small shops) every Sunday (9 am to 5 pm) for Domingo en Merida.
Yucatan makes excellent summer hats of the "Panama" or "Jipijapa" style. Even the highest quality fine mesh hand woven hats are fairly reasonably priced compared to what similar hats go for in most other countries.
Yucatan cuisine is well known throughout Mexico. Try the traditional Pollo Pibil (tender chicken) and Sopa de Lima (chicken soup with lime juice). Poc chuc is a tender slow cooked pork dish. Chilmole is turkey in a dark spicy sauce. Venison is no longer so common in Yucatan as it was a generation ago, but still sometimes appears on menus and is usually of good quality.
If you are lucky enough to be discovering Yucatan by automobile or even bus, a travel cooler of decent size comes in very handy in this climate. You will have opportunities to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables along the road. Honey can sometimes be found for sale along the road in used whiskey bottles, and can be found in most local markets. It is safe to eat and delicious.
Bottled water is available in most places and is the safest choice for drinking.
Yucatan has some decent bottled beers. "Montejo" is a light pilsner; "Leon" is a Munich style dark. Some places you may see "Michelada" offered -- that is a specialty of this area of Mexico. It is a cold beer with lime juice and spices. Yucatan makes a local liqueur called "X'tabentun". It is made with anis and honey and is hard to find (practically impossible) in most parts of the world, so if you like it, buy it when you visit. "Crema de nance" is a tasty distinctive liquor made from a local fruit.
Fresh fruit juice and aguas (fruit with water) are very popular in Yucatan and fresh squeezed OJ can be found in most markets.
The lodging in the Yucatan varies widely. If you are traveling on a budget, there are places where you bring your own hammock (good quality inexpensive hammocks can be easily purchased at markets in Merida or larger towns). Sleeping in your own hammock is common for budget accommodation, often in rather primitive lodging with three walls, a ceiling and an open air front. Even some higher priced hotels in the cities have a floor of rooms that only accommodate hammocks. Other more conventional sleeping choices are also available. In the moderate range, there are decent hotels or pensions with basic but clean rooms with the simple luxuries of bed, air conditioning, and private bath, often only a short distance from historic sights or beaches. Of course the larger cities and most popular attractions have luxury hotels with amenities and attentive staff that understand English and other languages. For a different type of Yucatan experience at the high end of the spectrum you may want to look into the numerous haciendas that are scattered throughout the State, and have been renovated into (usually high-end) hotels. Merida and the beach communities also have a wealth of vacation rentals available .
Yucatan is a safe place to visit... statistically safer than most cities in the United States. Nevertheless, normal caution should be taken as you would take in your home town. Always keep your vehicle locked and valuables out of sight. In the larger cities, parking is somewhat limited and it may be best to find secured parking. Never photograph military installations, Police, Federal police or children without permission. Keep your passport or other ID with you at all times. The biggest danger to visitors may be on the roads. If not on toll roads, you are likely to encounter large buses, trucks, pedestrians, animals and such. Driving after dark can be dangerous, as visitors are unfamiliar with the customs and area and many places are not lit. In the tourist areas you may encounter some "machismo". It is best dealt with by pretending not to notice.