Lined with giant swaying palm trees and white sandy beaches, the Yucatan’s coastline is perhaps what this part of Mexico is most famed for. However, the neighbouring inland city of Merida and the state of Campeche bring an aura of old Mexican character, lush jungle and wildlife, and a wave of traditional Mayan communities.
Previously part of the sea-bed and Atlantic coral reefs, the Yucatan remains one of the most archaeologically interesting sites this side of Latin America – visitors will encounter fossils, shells, twinkling cenotes and large ancient Mayan ruins, allowing visitors to combine their beach break with a healthy dose of fascinating history and culture.
On the coast, travellers can indulge in luxury resorts that sit right on the beach, for a relaxing and rejuvenating few days of frolicking and snorkelling. The super-resort of Cancun boasts some of the largest hotels in Mexico, but its touristy persona shouldn’t be taken at face value, as the downtown districts provide wonderfully traditional Mexican markets where you can pick up beautifully handcrafted gifts, woven fabrics or perhaps even some incredibly sweet fresh fruit or warm tostadas. You’ll find Playa del Carmen and Tulum further south, with fewer crowds and beaches just as wonderful as Cancun, if not better. Tulum can be visited on a day trip from Playa del Carmen, but we suggest staying a few days to make the most of the beautiful landscape; charming ancient ruins against a backdrop of white sand and multi-coloured sunsets. Isla Cozumel and Akumal are also worth visiting on a day trip, but are perfect for a longer stay if you’re looking to escape the bustling towns of Playa del Carmen and Cancun – turtles also nest here during the summer months, and its recently been acclaimed the best destination to swim with green turtles!
Further inland, the cities of Merida and Campeche sit longingly for a return of eager visitors. The buzz is increasing, the city has regained a level of elegance and character and the world of travel is beginning to recognise these two cities for their incredible beauty. In Merida, every street corner boasts a lovingly restored colonial building and the plazas are alive with music, excited children and fancy street performers. Previously built as a walled city, some of the gates can still be visited and you’ll instantly identify how the city still embraces its rich heritage. Ideal for visits to the Mayan site of Chichen Itza, Merida is also a cultural destination for the discovery of Spanish colonial influence and cosmopolitan treats.
On the southwestern edge of the peninsula, Campeche is blanketed with verdant jungle. Home to the Mexico’s largest biosphere reserve, the state has become an attraction for visitors looking to escape the crowds of Quintana Roo and seek beach resorts on the Gulf of Mexico. Having undergone a major restoration, the town of Campeche is now one of the prettiest colonial cities in all of Mexico, and definitely a place to be ticked off on your adventure to the Yucatan Peninsula.
When to go: Temperature wise, the best time to visit the Yucatan is during the dry season, between November and March, as heat and humidity levels reach dramatic heights during the summer months. That said, whale watching is spectacular in this region, and the season doesn’t begin until May. The turtle nesting season is also between May and October.