Visiting the Yucatan
Most people visiting the Yucatan Peninsula stay in the Riviera Maya. While this area is beautiful and highly adapted for tourism there are things that the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula offers. If you have visited the Riviera Maya before but not explored beyond the east coast, here are some great reasons to visit. You might also be the adventurous type or culture lover, these reasons below should appeal to you. See the end of the article for how you can start planning your vacation to the Yucatan.
The term “Yucatan” is used locally to refer to the western half of the peninsula. The Yucatan Peninsula is composed of three states, Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan. For a short while the Yucatan Peninsula was a separate country from Mexico. It still has a strong identity and rich culture to all those seeking to enjoy.
Our brief video introduction about visiting the Yucatan
1. For the cultural experience
Visiting another country is in part to experience the culture. Beaches in the Riviera Maya are similar to beaches in other parts of the Caribbean but often the deeper culture in the peninsula is on the other side. In the Yucatan you can find festivals, fairs, parades and more often with very few tourist watching them. This is because these are the traditions of the people that live there and they are not doing them as a tourist attraction.
The Maya culture can also be described as a living museum. People still speak Mayan in some towns and people wear traditional dress. This is just an example of the living culture you can experience on a day to day basis while visiting the Yucatan.
The Yucatan is a place that keeps traditions alive. You just might be surprised to see a procession or ceremony while out exploring. The people of the Yucatan are very welcoming and want to share their heritage and culture with others. This is just one of the reasons to visit the Yucatan.
2. Try the food of the Yucatan
When visiting anywhere different one of the things people look forward to is new taste. The Yucatan has been influenced by the Maya culture, the arrival of the Spanish and other Europeans, and in some way from other parts of Mexico.
Much of the Maya cuisine reflects what naturaly grows in the climate. Enjoy fresh tropical fruit in season like jack fruit, caimito, star fruit, papaya and huayas. Many towns have a local market you can visit. The best being in Merida and Valladolid. Best of all the affordability factor of restaurants in the Yucatan will make eating out easy and cheap.
3. Peaceful and safe place to visit
The state of Yucatan is known as one of the safest places in Mexico. You can enjoy the spirit of the people and relaxed way of life. Many of the nature reserves and parks are very tranquil and remove you from any stress you had before coming.
4. Lower cost of your vacation
Who doesn’t like paying less for things? Did you know you can get a decent hotel in Yucatan State for just $40 USD a night? Prices for things like hotels and restaurants are considerably less expensive than the Riviera Maya. There are less high end places but you can still find all levels of restaurants and hotels, just less expensive.
One of the reasons the western half of the peninsula is cheaper is the fact that people make almost half as their equivalents in Quintana Roo. Since tourism is a lesser part of the economy in the Yucatan, prices are more local prices. This makes eating out, hotels, transportation and tours all very affordable.
5. Unique places to stay
You might have gotten used to all inclusive resorts or hotels on vacation but there are a lot of unique places that you can stay at. Part of visiting another location is experiencing the style of housing. The Yucatan’s climate and culture mixed with some creative people have produced some really cool places to stay. We have stayed at haciendas, swam in an underground pool at a hotel. stayed in Mayan houses and a lot of other interesting places.
An online search of hotels will result in more independent hotels. You will find less chain hotels in the western half of the peninsula. If you look on Airbnb you will also see many unique homes that are opened up to visitors. Enjoy a truly unique experience and stay somewhere with local flair.
6. Welcoming people
If it is your first time to Mexico or the first time to the Yucatan you will soon learn how welcoming people are. People want to share their culture and are excited when others take an interest in it.
Even if you do not speak Spanish, a warm smile and simple greeting will get you one in return. The further you get away touristy areas, the kinder people seem.
Most people are just going about their lives and happily provide services for those visiting. Only in super touristy places, like Chichen Itza will you encounter people trying hard to sell you something.
7. Visiting the Yucatan for the natural beauty
The diversity of the peninsula will take you from beaches, pink lakes, cenotes, mangroves, to tropical gardens. For nature lovers you can indulge in the diversity of nature of the Yucatan.
Some of the highlights for animal watching are flamingos in Celestun and Rio Lagartos and bird watching in Dzlam de Bravo. For cenotes you can practically find them everywhere. You might want to check out the small town of Homun where there are more than a dozen open to the public.
8. Beaches! Yes lots of beaches
Most people think of the beautiful turquoise beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya but the coast wraps around the peninsula. This affords a lot of remote beaches, and places to visit. What is nice about the beaches on the other half of the peninsula is the fact they at much less crowded. The beaches also don’t receive much seaweed if there is some in the ocean because of the currents.
If is true that the western side of the peninsula is called the Emerald Coast because the water is less turquoise and more green. This however does not disappoint most visitors to the area.
9. Less mass tourism
Cancun is known for its Hotel Zone and massive all inclusive resorts. Thousands of other tourist transit daily between Cancun Airport and resorts along the Riviera Maya. While there is the infrastructure for the large amounts of tourism in Quintana Roo it still can seem like there are a lot of tourist doing the same thing as you. When you visit the parks, cenotes or beaches you will be around a lot of other tourists.
If you like getting off the beaten path, the other half of the Yucatan Peninsula is great for visiting. For example some of the Mayan ruins that are further away from the Riviera Maya get only a fraction of the daily visitors. You will also be hard pressed to find any large hotels or large entertainment parks. Yucatan state has a much smaller scale of tourism and often you will find yourself at a cenote or town with more locals than tourists.
10. See the architecture
The Riviera Maya is new considering it did not become a state until 1974. This is when much of the planning for the City of Cancun started and it has worked it’s way down the coast. Meanwhile the other part of the peninsula has had towns and cities from the colonial era dating back to the 1500’s. There are a lot of colonial cities and towns to visit with great architecture.
Enjoy high ceilings and decorative facades to the buildings as you stroll through cities like Merida, Valladolid, and Izamal. In Merida you can find house tours that show you the grandeur of the architecture of the time. You can also enjoy unique towns that are fishing villages that have wooden houses like San Felipe.
Have you been to the Yucatan before? What things did you enjoy? Let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.
If you are thinking of traveling around the Yucatan see some of our helpful guides below:
- The Backpackers guide to traveling the Yucatan
- Road rules for everyone that wants to drive in Mexico
- Our guide to Merida, the capital of Yucatan State.
- Our guide to visiting Valladolid