Best things to do in Yucatan
Find out more about those top places in Yucatan
The most enchanting of all Caribbean destinations, Yucatan wonders visitors with pristine beaches, diverse coral reefs, vast Mayan ruins and gilded colonial cities all in one go. Yucatan is most famed for the resorts of Cancun and Tulum, which draw millions of tourists per year searching for sun, sea and sand. While the resorts are the perfect place to unwind, authentic Yucatan experiences can be had in the colonial-era city of Mérida, which is notable for its blindingly white limestone architecture. Beyond the peninsula’s de facto capital are the jaw-dropping Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá, which are peppered with well-preserved stepped pyramids. What is more, if history is not your thing then the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún is a sea of pink, as it is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of flamingos. In short, the tropical peninsula of Yucatan has something for everyone.
One of the world’s most popular attractions and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá are the Yucatan Peninsula’s crowing gem. Given the near constant throngs of tourists, the best way to visit the Mayan ruins is with an early morning tour, as you can see the dazzling array of temples, stepped pyramids and palaces in relative tranquility.
The ruins of Uxmal are second only to those of Chicén Itzá in their grandeur. Towering over the jungle is the awe-inspiring Pyramid of the Magician but the site is also home to numerous other buildings of worldwide significance, including the Pigeon House and the sprawling Governor’s Palace.
Home to the tallest Mayan temple still existing, the ruined city of Calakmul is one of Yucatan’s hidden gems. Set deep in the rainforest – so deep that it was not ‘discovered’ until 1931 – the city was once home to well over 50 000 people but today most of its buildings have been swallowed up by the dense foliage. For the best experience, take a local guide who can reveal the site’s immense history.
Although less grandiose than the Mayan temples built at Uxmal, Chichén Itzá and Calakmul, the ruins at Tulum are some of Yucatan’s most breathtaking. Set high on a cliff above a dazzling white beach and turquoise waters, it is doubtful whether any archaeological site on earth has a better setting. Given its proximity to numerous beach resorts, make sure to head to the ruins early in the day to see them at their least crowded.
Deep beneath the dense rainforests of Yucatan lies the Río Secreto, a phantasmagorical world of stalagmites and stalactites framed by an underground river. To experience this subterranean wonderland, guided tours let you swim, wade and climb through nearly one kilometer of underground passageways where you will be awe-struck by the cave system’s geological wonders.
Close to the party town of Cancun but a world away in spirit, the Parque Nacional Isla Contoy is a dream for birdwatchers. With more than 170 types of colorful birds packed onto a series of small tropical islands, you are guaranteed to see some spectacular species. What is more, if you look out at sea you can spot whale sharks, which feed offshore between June and September.
One of Yucatan’s most underrated attractions are the sprawling ruins of Edzná where you can see the remnants of a Mayan city that flourished between 600 BC to the 1500 AD. Like most of the peninsula’s Mayan ruins, it is best to arrive early in an organized tour before the day-trippers from the coastal resorts arrive.
For visitors fed up with the resorts of Yucatan’s coast, head inland and discover the majestic colonial-era city of Mérida. With some of Mexico’s best Spanish architecture, including the 16th century Casa de Montejo and Catedral de San Ildefonso, the state capital has more than enough history to merit a few days stay. What is more, Mérida is famed for its traditional Mexican street life that goes on well into the night.