Follow the footsteps of the Mayan culture, discovering beautiful beaches, visiting old haciendas and swimming in cenotes. The state of the Yucatan offers all this and much more. The capital city of Mérida is a lively town with culture, delicious regional cuisine and beautiful colonial buildings.
Mérida, in the state of the Yucatan, is also called the white city. It is still unclear whether this is due to the white house facades, the traditional white clothing of the residents, the cleanliness or historical events. Today, it is a lively city with culture, art, excursion destinations and beautiful architecture from its colonial past.
The historic center is an ideal place to explore. Visit the Plaza de Independencia, also known as Plaza Grande, the Cathedral which was built from the stones of the ancient Maya settlements and the Palacio Municipal. On the south side of the square is the Casa de Montejo which is the oldest house in the city and was owned by the descendants of the city’s founder, Francisco de Montejo until the 1970s. Today, the building is used as a bank, but can still be visited. The Palacio de Gobierno, also has a tourist information office and large murals by a local artist on the history of Yucatan. On the Paseo de la Reforma, in the northern part of the city center, you can admire many magnificent colonial mansions. The long boulevard was based on the well-known Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. If you drive along the tree lined street, you will pass a large monument dedicated to the most important figures in Mexican history.
The archaeological site of Uxmal is on the way from Mérida to Campeche. There is no associated settlement, but if you want to stay overnight in Uxmal there are a few hotel options very close to the ruins. The main attraction the archaeological zone itself but there is also the light and sound show that takes place in the evenings as well as an interesting and interactive museum dedicated to cacao which was an important ingredient for the Maya.
The center of the archaeological zone is the Temple of the Magician. According to legend it was built in one night, however, archaeologists have proven that the current form was built in five phases, each being enlarged by a new layer. The Governor’s Palace stands on a huge platform. The upper part of the facade of the palace is richly decorated with faces of the rain god, whose main feature is a proboscis-like nose.
The archaeological site of Chichen Itza is definitely worth a visit. It is one of the most visited and well preserved Mayan sites in the country. The enormous temples and platforms, are awe inspiring. A visit on March 21st and 22nd as well as on September 21st and 22nd during the solstice and equinox is particularly worthwhile, as the lighting conditions create the illusion that a snake is crawling up or down the stairs of El Castillo. A visit after sunset is also very interesting, because this illusion is imitated by an elaborate light and sound show. The ruins are illuminated in a particularly imaginative way alongside inspiring music which tells the story of the site..
The main attraction and thus the symbol of the Chichen Itza ruins is the pyramid El Castillo. It was dedicated to the god Kukulcán which is symbolized by the two mighty snake heads on the north stairs. Another attraction is the large ballcourt just south of the pyramid which is unique in all of Mexico due to its size. This place was used for a ball game similar to football. What this game must have looked like at the time is illustrated by many carvings on the adjacent temples. Across from El Castillo is El Templo de los Guerros, which means the Temple of the Warriors. The temple is particularly worth seeing because of its magnificent wall paintings and numerous reliefs.
Celestun is a cozy fishing village west of Merida. Large colonies of pink flamingos adorn the landscape of the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is several thousand hectares in size and thanks to the diverse landscape of lagoons and mangrove forests it offers a habitat for many a variety of flora and fauna.
Most people come here to observe the fascinating flamingos in their natural habitat. The best time to admire these unique birds is between March and April as well as June and July. During the rest of the year, their numbers are reduced. A boat tour of lagoon is combined with a trip through an adjacent mangrove forest to a peaceful freshwater pond. The water is crystal clear and is ideal for a refreshin dip. The town itself is ideal to relax and enjoy a swim, the pristine nature and of course some excellent fresh seafood on the beach.
Approx. 70 km from Mérida is the small town of Izamal which is also called the yellow town because many of the buildings are painted an ochre yellow colour. The stunning Franciscan monastery dominates the cityscape and is the symbol of the town.
In the pre-Spanish period, Izamal was an important ceremonial site. In the center of town, there were large platforms with temples in which important deities were worshiped. After the Spanish conquest, they built a Franciscan monastery in the middle of the main platform. As in Mérida and Campeche, the conquerors demonstrated their supremacy in Izamal by simply building on top of the ancient Mayan temples. Explore the grounds of the Franciscan monastery, visiting the church with tits beautifully restored altar and numerous statues that represent important figures from Izamal´s history. The Kinich-Kakmó pyramid is located near the monastery and is approx. 36 m high. It was reconstructed and restored in the 90s.
Valladolid is a small, tranquil village 40 km east of Chichen Itza. Although today it is mainly a hub for trips to and from Merida, it is well worth a stay with its beautiful colonial buildings and romantic restaurants. The sleepy town comes to life especially in the evening and nighttime and exudes a very special charm.
Valladolid used to be an important ritual center of the Maya. After several attempts on the part of the Spaniards, Montejo finally managed to take over the city despite the strong resistance from the Mayans. Under the domination of the Spaniards, a new center was built in the familiar checkerboard pattern. Valladolid remained largely independent during the colonial period due to its isolated location to Merida, but the Maya population was exploited mercilessly. Even after Mexico’s independence, the Mayans were not allowed to enter large parts of the city. As a result, Valladolid was selected as the first target of the chestnut war. Many of the city’s inhabitants were able to flee, but the remaining were ruthlessly slaughtered.
The Templo de San Bernadino & Convento de Sisal are particularly worth seeing. In earlier times, this church served not only to pray, but also to protect the population from attackers. Although the inside of the building appears a bit bare, it is worth a short trip for those interested in culture due to the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the altar. Other highlights are the many cenotes that are not far from the town. The cenote Dzitnup is particularly popular. This limestone cave is illuminated with artificial light and invites you to take a bath with the picturesque stalactites. If you want to avoid a bus ride, you are invited to rent a bike from one of the local bike dealers and to explore not only the numerous cenotes, but also and the colonial flair of the place on your own.