The Yucatan Peninsula

Mexican folklore dancersin Merida, Yucatan
••• Folkloric dancers in Merida, Yucatan. John Elk III / Getty Images

Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, the Yucatan Peninsula is comprised of the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo. With world-famous archaeological sites, enchanting colonial cities, romantic haciendas and resorts, beautiful beaches and a distinct cuisine, the Yucatan Peninsula is a great vacation destination.

Geology of the Area:

The Peninsula is a vast, flat limestone shelf with a thin layer of topsoil.

There are few lakes and rivers are mostly subterranean. The porous limestone of the area has created cenotes which are the main source of water for the area. The Yucatan's low elevation and tropical climate makes for hot and humid weather most of the year.

Yucatan Peninsula Culture:

This is the homeland of the Maya, who built cities and ceremonial centers in ancient times, and still give the area a distinctive cultural feel. The Yucatec Maya language is still spoken here, along with Spanish.

The Beaches:

The Yucatan Peninsula is paradise for beach lovers! Beaches on the Caribbean coast have white sand and astonishing blue turquoise water.

Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo, is Mexico's most popular destination. It has modern hotels and resorts, restaurants, nightclubs and shopping centers, as well as beautiful beaches and lots of opportunities for practicing water sports.

The Mayan Riviera stretches along nearly 100 miles of Caribbean coastline south of Cancun and offers great alternatives for folks who want a beach vacation but want to avoid mega-resorts.

Colonial cities:

  • Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan, has elegant colonial buildings and a vibrant cultural life.
  • Valladolid, near Chichen Itza, is worth a visit to see the Convento de San Bernardino which doubles as a fortress.
  • The city of Campeche, in Campeche state, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A charming fortified city, Campeche was once the principal sea port of the Peninsula and suffered attacks by pirates.

    Archaeological sites:

    The Yucatan Peninsula is home to some of Mexico's most impressive archaeological sites. The Maya built impressive cities and visitors wonder at the constructions. Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Coba and Tulum are just a few of the sites to visit. Discover the Mayan archaeological sites of the Yucatan Peninsula.

    Ecological Reserves:

    The Yucatan Peninsula abounds in wildlife parks and nature reserves. Over 450 species of birds have been identified in the area, so it's a great destination for birding.

    • The Rio Celestun park, where you can see flamingos, as well as many other birds and animals, can be visited as a day trip from Merida.
    • The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, located just south of Tulum, has mangroves, lagoons, savannas, coral reefs, rainforest and undiscovered Mayan temples to explore.

    When to visit the Yucatan Peninsula:

    The Yucatan Peninsula is pleasant throughout the year, but keep in mind that rainy season is from May to October, which may lower temperatures that are generally quite high (read about the weather of the Yucatan Peninsula). High season is from December to March, so there are more tourists around at that time, and hotel rates are higher.