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Yucatan: The Scenic, the Scintillating, and the Sacred

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to the stunning beaches of the Maya Riviera, the deep cultural heritage of the Maya civilization, and the glitz and glamour of Cancun, the most visited city in the Caribbean. From eco-tours and jungle adventures, to five-star spa resorts and Cancun nightclubs, to Maya sacred sites and ancient ruins, you can experience it all on the Yucatan Peninsula, the scenic, the scintillating, and the sacred.

The Scenic

Merida cathedral, Yucatan Mexico
Merida cathedral, Yucatan Mexico by Naticastillog/DepositPhotos

Merida is one of the most beautiful colonial cities of the Yucatan. Founded in 1542, Merida was built on the site of the Maya city, T’ho from the ruins of the ancient city’s five pyramids. Known as “the white city,” it got the nickname from the prevalence of white limestone buildings in the city. The second biggest historic district in Mexico boasts an array of chic restaurants, upscale boutiques and shops, art galleries, museums, and cultural centers. Take advantage of the city’s extensive Maya heritage, Yucatecan cuisines, and traditional Vaqueria music and dance. Visit Catedral de San Ildefonso and see the Christ of Unity, a symbol of oneness between the Maya and Spanish. Check out the Casa de las Artesanias the local artisans’ market.

Xel-Ha on the Riviera Maya is a one-of-a-kind ecosystem that boasts jungles, cenotes, caves, and a unique combination of freshwater springs and underground rivers with ocean waters to form the largest natural aquarium park in the world. You can snorkel, Sea Trek (walk underwater), dive, swim with dolphins, manatees, or stingrays, explore caves, and swim cenotes. Whether on land or under the sea, the astonishing array of flora and fauna, and the many ways you can interact with them, will thrill and inspire you. Xel-Ha is a nature lover’s paradise.

Nothing says scenic like the fabulous beaches of the Yucatan. Playas Mujeres in Cancun is lined with all-inclusive resorts along the pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres along the cove features shallow, tranquil waters that are crystal clear and perfect for swimming or learning to snorkel. The most stunning beaches of Riviera Maya are Paraiso Beach, Akumal, Mamita’s, Xpu-Ha, and Maroma. While each has its own personality and amenities, they all share the same white powdery sand and sparkling turquoise waters. Across from Playa del Carmen is Isla Cozumel. The prettiest sandy beaches on the island are on the south side. Cozumel is the perfect place for snorkeling vibrant underwater coral reefs.

The Scintillating

Kayak on Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen by Mustang_79/DepositPhotos

If you’re looking for the glitz and glamour of Playa Del Carmen, look no further than 5th Avenue also known as “La Quinta.” This pedestrian street has exceptional bars, restaurants, specialty and souvenir shops, and quaint cafes. It is a place where you can enjoy a day of luxury while bathing in the gorgeous sunshine, overlook the clear blue ocean, and be kissed by the Caribbean breeze. Of the multitude of things to do in this beach-front town, one of the top attractions is Casa Tequila where you can taste several different tequilas and learn the basics of this Mexican mainstay. If you’re looking for some authentic Mexican crafts then a visit to Pachamama is a must. Ah Cacao Chocolate Cafe is perfect for lovers of sweet decadent treats. Lastly, make sure you grab a bite to eat at one of the various luxurious restaurants or hit one of the lounges and beach clubs for a night of dancing and socializing.

The scintillating Yucatan starts with the five-star resorts along Playa Mujeres. The Beloved Hotel on Playa Mujeres, Mexico is the perfect location if you enjoy the finer things in life. Surrounded by crystal clear water and the plush white sandy beaches, you will experience incredible views from almost any spot within the resort. It is the perfect haven for taking refreshing dips in the warm soothing waters after lying out on a comfortable lounger. Several pools are sprinkled across the resort, one of which has a swim up bar perfect for relaxing with a fruity cocktail and a gourmet sandwich, burger, or even pizza. There are many dining options that offer various cuisines from sushi to vegetarian options. Take in the live music at many resort venues from a breakfast pianist to a deejay at the sushi restaurant at night. Beloved caters to their customers with gracious dedication, ensuring each guest has a pleasurable stay and all needs are met.

The Sacred

Maya Ruins at Tulum, Mexico
Maya Ruins at Tulum, Mexico by elnavegante/DepositPhotos

The ancient Maya culture blessed the Yucatan with innumerable sacred places. A must-see among them is the ancient Maya city of Tulum, unusual because it is a walled city and it is also the only coastal Maya city. The former seaport, trading in jade and turquois, sits high above the beach on a limestone cliff, and served as a stopping point on pilgrimages to Cozumel. Take in the view from the Castillo (castle) and check out the well-preserved Temple of the Frescoes. The cenotes surrounding Tulum were also places of worship. Diving the cenotes, particularly Cenote Dos Ojos, the world’s second largest cave system, is a magical experience.

While the crowds are at the famous Chichen Itza ruins, make your way over to the quieter and architecturally prettier Uxmal ruins south of Merida. The site features Pyramid of the Magician that according to legend, was built in one night by a magical dwarf. The step pyramid has five temples, with Temple I being dedicated to Chaac the god of rain. Temple V is the House of the Magician, built on top of the pyramid; the Western Stairs lead to a sacrificial alter. The pyramid is unique because of its extraordinary height and rounded walls. A Pyramid of the Magician sound and light show is presented each evening in both Spanish and English.

The island of Cozumel was holy to the Maya who built a shrine there to IxChel, Goddess of the Moon. Maya women from all around the Yucatan made pilgrimages to the San Gervasio site on Cozumel to pay tribute to IxChel, who ruled over love and fertility. According to legend, IxChel had an indomitable spirit and refused to be oppressed. She spent nights protecting women during pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and nursing on her sacred island. IxChel encourages women to assertively face down emotional and physical violence. Visit IxChel’s Temple, Ka’na Nah, at the San Gervasio ruins on Cozumel.

The Yucatan Peninsula has a little something for everyone, whether you enjoy scenic, scintillating, or sacred experiences you can find them in this part of the world. One of the best perks to this region is that U.S. citizens do not need to have a visa to travel here; simply having a passport will get you exploring this wondrous peninsula. For people who like variety the Yucatan is perfect for you, you could be dressed to the nines at a Cancun nightclub hot spot one night and wandering the ruins of an ancient sacred city the next day. If like to mix it up and enjoy an array of unique experiences, then the Yucatan is your Caribbean travel destination.

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