Ultimate Guide: Things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that don’t include the beach
Yucatan Peninsula consists of four states, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Campeche. Quintano Roo is the most popular tourist destination which consists of Riviera Maya, Cancun & Tulum. These places have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But the Yucatan Peninsula has way more to offer than just the gorgeous beaches and all-inclusive resorts. I’m here to tell you about all the other beautiful things the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer.
If you haven’t stayed in an all-inclusive resort in Quintana Roo, I highly recommend it at some point in your life. They offer ultimate luxury and relaxation. It’s easy to let the days pass by, sipping cocktails by the beach or poolside and never leaving the resort, which we’ve done a few times. However, with those type of vacations, you don’t really get to explore the country. So after visiting Mexico and staying in all-inclusive resorts, this time, we decided to stay in an Airbnb and rent a car so we could explore the area. Renting a car was no easy task though, but you can read more about that here.Let’s get into all the things this beautiful area has to offer.
What are Cenotes? Cenotes are natural sink holes, mostly filled with fresh crystal clear water. They were discovered when limestone bedrock collapsed and the Mayan people used them for sacrificial offerings. It’s said that they were formed when the meteors hit the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. Today, they are used by locals and tourists for cooling off in the heat. There are are thousands of them all throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and the bigger ones are huge tourist destinations, but my mission was to find some off the beaten path for you guys. Here are my recommendations:
This Cenote is in the Dzibilchaltun archeological site. The entrance fee is about $150MXN/person and this includes walking through the Mayan Ruins [more on that later], a museum and a dip in the beautiful Cenote. One side is shallow, the other is deep and there are gorgeous water lilies in the middle. The water was lukewarm, crystal clear and you can see all the little fishies underneath. It was a bit crowded though, but not overly so.
This Cenote was truly magical. It was the first Cenote I’ve been to that was in a cave. It was only $20MXN/person and very secluded. There were two other people when we got there but then they left and Adnan and I had the whole cave to ourselves. They have lights in the cave to make it easier to see, but when you go into the Cenote, there’s a small hole to the ground above that lets in natural light. Definitely a great picture moment. But when you go past that, it’s literally pitch black, which was scary at first but then your eyes adjust and you can sort of see the end.
Cenote X’Keken & Samula
We drove to Valladolid, about 2 hours from Progreso. We visited an agave farm [more on that later] and two Cenotes that were within the same complex. It was about $130MXN/person for both. They are cave cenotes as well but much bigger. Deeper in the ground, more shallow, with limestone bedrock all over, hanging down. These were really pretty but a bit more touristy. There were markets on your way to the Cenote and everyone was very pushy to sell you something. It’s easy to just say no thanks and keep walking, but it was a bit weird because we weren’t used to any pushy salesy people in Merida or Progreso. Reminded me more of Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, which makes sense since it’s only an hour from there.
There are hundreds of Mayan sites all over the Yucatan Peninsula. The biggest of them all being one of the newer wonders of the world, Chichen Itza. This is probably the most touristy spot on the Yucatan so not sure if I’ll be making it over there, but if I do, I’ll update this post! However, I did visit Dzibilchaltun Ruins and Uxmal Ruins during my time in Merida and Tulum Ruins in August 2018. If you don’t know much about the Mayan civilization, I recommend taking a tour so you can learn more about the history of the people and where these ruins came from. It’s so interesting to see how advanced they were for their time.
In Valladolid, about an hour from Cancun and two hours from Merida, we found Mayapan Traditional Agave Distillery. It was absolutely gorgeous. Even though it was smaller than expected, it was still pretty cool to see a farm of hundreds of Blue Agave plants. After walking around the farm, we got to taste 5 different tequilas while wearing sombreros for just $50MXN! Definitely a fun time!
Walk around City Center
The best way to get to know a new city and its culture is by walking into city center. Mainly look for a main piece of architecture, usually at a park. Luckily in Mexico, most city centers have a colorful town sign like this one:
You’ll find signs like these in most major cities. They’re all over the Yucatan Peninsula. I’ve seen them in Riviera Maya, Cancun, Progreso and even Isla Mujeres [the small island off the coast of Cancun]. The signs are around the major parts of the city where you’ll find major restaurants and shops. In Merida center specifically, there are a bunch of little parks with beautiful architecture. I could walk in this town for hours discovering something new at every corner. The streets are so colorful, the food is amazing and theres a ton of cantinas and bars around too!
Explore the Markets
There are two types of markets around Mexico. Upscale food halls with hip vibes and then there are the authentic Mercados.
Up-scale Food Markets
After you’ve had a few drinks in cantinas and those botanas [free snacks you get when you order drinks] aren’t filling you up, a food hall is the perfect stop. You’ll find the best local restaurants in one spot with a huge variety of delicious food. They’re usually open until 1am or later so its perfect for your late night food cravings.
These are a great way to start your day and get a true feeling of the culture of Mexico. Each market has different vendors but they’re generally the same. You could find some great souvenirs here but more importantly, you’ll find the best street food. They usually close early around 2pm so be sure to go early to grab some lunch!
Mexico truly has it all.
Relaxingvacation on the beach.
Adventurousvacation exploring Cenotes.
Historicalvacation learning about Mayan Ruins.
Party vacation getting drunk at cantinas and bars in city center.
I hope you get a chance to explore this beautiful country, Leave a comment below to let me know which part was your favorite!