Near Merida are many fascinating locations. Chichen Itza is the largest and most important Mayan city of the Yucatan Peninsula. It's about a 90 minute drive from Merida. Near C. Itza is the colonial city of Valladolid & cenotes - the pools of water from underground rivers that are in caves & are open for viewing & swimming. The Yucatan has limestone as its foundation. As a result, there are no above ground rivers.
In another direction is Campeche, the refuge of pirates and the paradise of fishermen, also, the Franciscan convents of Izamal, and the wilderness reserve sanctuary for thousands of flamencos & other birds in Celestun. Flamingoes live naturally in the Yucatan. We saw about 100 of them in a large wetland area on our bus ride to Progreso one day.
Also, nearby is Dzibilchaltun, a pre-historic Spanish town that means “place where there are writings on the stones.” This Mayan center that was built about 200 A.D. is one of the oldest in the Mayan zone.
We spent a day and night at Chichen Itza and Mayaland Resort and Bungalows - on the property of the ruins. I wish we would have had the time to explore ALL of the fascinating areas on the Yucatan Peninsula. Maybe some day.
There are many of these separate bungalows for guests at various places in the beautifully landscaped grounds at Mayaland. We arrived after dark after coming from Cancun and having dinner in Valladolid. We spent the evening relaxing on the porch of the bungalow while a gentle rain fell. Lights illuminate the palms and other tropical plants. It was very quiet, peaceful and relaxing.
Dzibilchaltùn is another ruin we visited -- it has fewer buildings than Uxmal or Chichén-Itzá, but has an interesting air-conditioned museum and a cenote (sinkhole) that you can swim in.
It also features flora more; you can see and identify local trees and flowers. The ruins themselves have a bit more shade, so you are less likely to melt on a day where the temperatures go up above 35°C.
Dzibilchaltùn is 15 km north of Mérida (approx. 15 minute drive).
Visit Dzibilchaltùn for more information.
Progreso is a beach town - 1/2 hour north of Mérida -- easily accessible by public transport ($1.25 each way). Most of the time it is a sleepy Mexican town (pop. 46,000). This changes during summer holidays (July and August) and over the Easter school break when Meridanos (the inhabitants of Mérida) flock to the sea shore for a break. During winter, Progreso is the home of many Canadian and American snowbirds.
Progreso locals are involved in fishing or supporting the tourist trade, and the town is a centre for supplies, for cruise ship docking, and for gringo snowbirds.
Visit my Progreso pages to learn more.
Loltun Caves are about 90 minutes south of Merida in the Puuc Hills. The Yucatan peninsula is a fascinating mass of land. A large part of it has no rivers or lakes. Underneath the ground, however, is a large underground lake, that provides water to the area. This huge underground lake, over hundreds of thousands of years, has produced a network of caves, most of which haven't even been fully explored.
These caves were home to pre-Mayan people and used as a hideout during the War of the Castes in the mid-19th century. But why am I so skeptical that I couldn't believe that the painted handprint in the cave was really made by a pre-Mayan?
Visitors must go with a guide, and while there is no set price, you will be made to feel obligated to pay $450 pesos per family. It's worth it. Our guide, Rodrigo was knowledgeable and spoke very good English. The entire tour was about 90 minutes. You'll see stalactite and stalagmite formations, bats (which was really a treat) and the infamous pre-Mayan handprint.
While the cave is cooler than the surface, it is not like visiting a cave in the US, where the temperatures are so cold, you need a jacket even in the summer. It was about 90 degrees F outside when we were at Loltun, and probably 15 degrees cooler in the cave. Cooler but not too cool.
Many people may not know of the beautiful tropical gardens and buildings on the grounds of the Chichen Itza ruins. Mayaland Resort and Bunglows is an exquisitely beautiful place. From one of the hallways in the main building on the property is a framed view of The Observatory on the Chichen Itza grounds.
This is one of the many beautiful views at Mayaland - looking out from the main dining room to the pond and a statue of a woman in the white hipil dress, the traditional dress of the Yucatan women. All of the women working at Mayaland wear them.
We took a day trip to Celestun, on the western shore of the Yucatan. Celestun is at the entrance to the Celestun Inlet, which is a migratory stopping point for flamingos, white pelicans, egrets and a number of other birds. We drove from Merida, which took about 90 minutes. Once we arrived in Celestun, we drove west on Calle 11 until we hit the beach. "Brokers" are just waiting for likely customers, and as soon as the broker spotted us, he helped us park our car and fixed us up with a boat and guide.
Even though the broker, told us we'd get an English speaking guide, our guide spoke only Spanish. No problems - our son put his Spanish studies to good use and translated for us (proving that he did learn something after 5 years of Spanish). The birds are spectacular, and so is the inlet. At the entrance of the inlet, the color of the water immediately changes from a greenish color to a reddish color, due to the algae and brine shrimp. As we traveled up the inlet, we saw flock after flock of bright pink flamingos. Interestingly, they are actually white, but feeding on the red algae and brine shrimp changes the pigment of their feathers to pink.
Our guide also took us through a mangrove forest ("manglores" in Spanish) and we stopped at a "petrified forest". It isn't really petrified, just dead, but why haggle over semantics. We were fascinated by the quicksand demonstration our guide gave us in the petrified forest.
This definitely was one of the highlights of our trip to the Yucatan!
This photo shows a very good replica of the statue of Chacmool that is located in Chichen Itza on top of the Temple of Warriors, which is off limits to visitors. I have postcards & booklets with photos of Chacmool on the Temple. For me it is a powerful work of art. This replica is in the gardens at Mayaland Resort.
I've read that Chacmool was a rain god, that he was considered to be a messenger between earth and heaven & that sacrifices were placed in the plate on his lap. This half-reclining figure with turned head & intense expression is unusual.
Uxmal is an outstanding large Mayan ruin site we visited. It is has an abundance of detail in the decoration on the buildings. Uxmal compares to Chichen Itza in grandeur; it just is not visited as much as it is quite a bit further from Cancun. The photo is a panorama of one of the building structures: the Nun's Quadrangle.
Uxmal is 80 km southwest of Mérida (approx. 1 ½ hour drive)
You will find more detail on my Uxmal page.
Celestùn is in a nature reserve where you can go on a boat tour that will feature many different birds including flamingos. I think that they promise that everyone will see flamingos. As well they have great seafood restaurants (no flamingo meat however). ;o) We went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico as well.
Celestùn is 100 km southwest (more west) of Mérida (approx. 1 ½ to 2 hour drive)
Visit my Celestùn page for more details.
Izamal is about 60 minutes east of Merida. We made a side trip there on our way back from Chichen Itza. What a beautiful town! It was built on the site of a Mayan ruin. Most of the buildings in town are painted a mustard yellow, so it is known as the "Yellow City". The centerpiece of the town is the Franciscan convent, also painted yellow, which was built in the 16th century right on top of a Mayan temple. If you look carefully, you'll find ancient carved Mayan stones built into the walkways at strategic points.
Yucatan is trying to promote tourism to Izamal - that was obvious from the brochures we saw in Merida - but the town was still extremely uncrowded. Like most towns in the area, it is very poor. However, it was the only town in which we saw a new residential subdivision being built -- several rows of mustard colored boxes. They were so tiny - about the size of my tiny office. Yet they were new and had filtered water (the tank on the roof is the giveaway), so for most in Mexico, it is an improvement.
After the hordes at Chichen Itza, and Uxmal, it was delightful to wander around these ruins WITHOUT ANOTHER SOUL AROUND! We could climb many of the pyramids and appreciate the great views they gave us of the Mayan "alps". Oxkintok is smaller and very manageable site with a lot to see. However, it is lacking the detail and intricacies of the carving that you see at the Puuc Route ruin site. This was an easy day trip from Merida.
every night around 8 pm in the main plaza or esplanade, will be a free show that captives both national and international tourist,,,the show is called Las bombas and those are folk dances mixed whith a little theater, music and the most important, traditional jokes with this heavy spanish Yucatan accent ,very funny rimes telll by funny people at the end they say bomba......and everybody screams Bombaaaa too, make sure you buy some snacks and enjoy the show..
From Merida I venture to the small town of Ticul (not Tikal in Guatemala). This town served as my home base for several days. From Ticul I was able to visit both the Ruta Puuc, composed of several Mayan sites with similar architecture, and several interesting small towns.