Yucatan Peninsula attractions
Chichén Itzá is the largest of the archaeological cities of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It is one of Mexico’s most visited tourist destinations. It was granted World Heritage Site status in 1988 by UNESCO and was recently selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Take a day trip or plan an overnight stay at one of the nearby hotels so that you can enjoy the night show. Admission covers both of your visits. Plan on arriving early in the day when the ruins open to avoid the heat and the crowds. The tour buses start arriving in droves by 11am. The nearby town of Piste is nice place to visit and there are restaurants and several hotels in the area. Reservations are highly recommended if you are traveling during high season.
Mérida, a city of about 828,000 people (2010 census), is a wonderful mixture of colonial city and cosmopolitan destination. You can visit cathedrals and churches, Mayan archaeological sites,museums, haciendas andcenotes. There’s a large market downtown that you can’t miss. You’ll also find movies, theaters, important hospitals, public and private schools, four universities, shopping malls with such stores as Sears, and chain stores such as Sam’s, Costco and WalMart as well as the Mexican chains of Liverpool, Comercial Mexicana/MEGA, Soriana and Sanborn’s. Sunday is a great day to be in Mérida, where you’ll find traditional dancing at the Palacio Municipal with food and craft vendors lining the sidewalks of the zocalo.
Valladolid is another colonial city, though much smaller in size it’s beauty and grace are immense, is located inland on the eastern side of the state of Yucatan. It is known for the architectural beauty of its colonial buildings such as the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, the Municipal Palace, the Iglesia de San Servacio, and the Museum of San Roque, among others; as well as for its architectural inheritance of the XIX and early XX centuries; the Ex Telar de la Aurora, the Parque Central Francisco Cantón de Rosado, and the train station. Hotels are quite reasonable in Valladolid making it a good place to use as a base for going to Chichén Itzá 28 miles away and the Balankanché Caves 22 miles away. Consider staying for two nights so you can really get a feel for the place.
Valladolid also has very important cenotes, like Dzitnup, about 5 kilometers west and Ik-kil, 30 mintues from Valladolid and 5 minuntes from Chichén Itzá. Both are good for swimming with the latter being the most impressive. (Cenotes are sinkholes.)
Ek Balam is located 20 minutes north of Valladolid. The enormous elaborate Acropolis pyramid, located inside the Mayan site of Ek Balam, is a striking sight after driving miles through the surrounding jungle. Ek Balam, which means black jaguar, was at the height of its importance as a city during the Late Classic period (600-900 AD). When the Mayas abandoned the site, it went under cover, literally, as the dense low-lying jungle of the Yucatán engulfed it. As with all of the Mayan pyramids, these were discovered when archaeologists and adventurers saw a group of hills with trees and brush growing out of them. Digging in the mounds, they uncovered treasures of buildings and artifacts hidden for hundreds of years. At Ek Balam, restoration has been ongoing since 1997.
Cobá is a large ruined city of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, located in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is located about 90 km east of the Maya site of Chichen Itza, about 40 km west of the Caribbean Sea, and 44 km northwest of the site of Tulum, with which it is connected by a modern road. This is a very easy day trip from the casa. Drive south to Tulum and turn right at the San Francisco grocery store. This is known at the Cobá road.
Cobá is located around two lagoons. A series of elevated stone and plaster roads radiate from the central site to various smaller sites near and far. These are known by the Maya term sacbe (plural sacbeob). Some of these causeways go east to the Caribbean coast, and the longest runs over 100 kilometres (62 mi) westwards to the site of Yaxuna. The site contains several large temple pyramids, the tallest, in what is known as the Nohoch Mul group of structures, being some 42 metres (138 ft) in height.
Add to your day trip to Coba and visit Punta Laguna. Tucked away in the jungle where Yucatan meets the neighboring state of Quintana Roo near the Gulf Coast, sits this a small Mayan village where roosters and pigs have the right of way and the smoke from women making tortillas over an open fire filters through the thatched roofs of their houses. Guided tours through some of the jungle trails reveal a wealth of exotic plants and animals, as well as partially buried pre-hispanic ruins.