Fun things to do in Estado de Yucatán

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  • Refreshing swim in the cenote.
    Refreshing swim in the cenote.
    by Aafia
  • Malecon on a Mexican holiday
    Malecon on a Mexican holiday
    by Redlats

Most Viewed Things to Do in Estado de Yucatán

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    Walking up the Malecon (and beyond!) in Progreso

    by Jefie Updated Mar 29, 2015

    Progreso is a medium-sized port city located on the Gulf of Mexico, about 30 min north of Mérida, which makes it a quick and easy beach escape for visitors and city dwellers. The main attraction in Progreso is the Malecon, the beachfront avenue that stretches for about 10 blocks along Calle 19, from Calle 60 to Calle 80. The avenue is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants, many of which will set tables right on the beach. The beach was really nice, but the water wasn't quite as inviting as the one in Celestun, so for me having a drink on the beach was the best way to enjoy it! And there were plenty of places where we could do so. We ended up going to Maya Ka, a very nice spot where kids can play in the swimming pool while the parents relax and have another drink :o) At the western end of the Malecon, there is also a nice boardwalk that leads beyond the impressive 10-km bridge built to house the off-shore port and cruise ship terminal. Progreso is an increasingly popular stop for cruise ships, which usually stop in Progreso on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Since we were there on a Friday, we managed to avoid the large crowds spilling out of the said cruise ships, and after having walked up and down the Malecon, we decided to explore the heart of the city, which can easily be done by walking up Calle 80. The street leads from the beach to Parque de la Independencia, a smallish park that can still be described as the city's main plaza since that's where you'll find the beautiful, Spanish colonial-style City Hall. At the center of the plaza sits a statue of Miguel Hidalgo, leader of the Mexican War of Independence, from which the plaza derives its name. Along the way, we also walked by the city's market and lighthouse (between Calle 25 & 27). You probably don't need more than half a day to explore Progreso (which is what we had), but it'll be a half-day well spent!

    Progreso's sandy beach Maya Ka restaurant on the Malecon Progreso's lighthouse Progreso's City Hall on Parque de la Independencia
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    Plenty of fun at El Corchito Ecological Reserve

    by Jefie Updated Mar 28, 2015

    Our visit to this ecological reserve was part of our excursion to Progreso. El Corchito is operated by a local cooperative of fishermen, and the whole experience therefore had a nice local feel to it - in fact, I think everyone except us were local families out for the day, though things might be different if you happen to be there on a cruise ship day (Tuesday to Thursday). We were taken to the ecological reserve on a small boat, and landed in a beautiful mangrove forest. Some raccoons were there to greet us as soon as we reached the small dock :o) There are three natural cenotes at El Corchito: Cenote Helechos, a shallow pool that is perfect for children, Cenote Venado and Cenote Pajaros, which is the largest. There is also smaller pond full of doctor fish, the same ones you find in spas (and pay a pretty steep price for), so you can get a nice pedicure thanks to these little guys that will come nibbling at your feet. There are restrooms/changing rooms near the cenotes, and also plenty of picnic tables. Don't be surprised if you get some unexpected additions to your party: El Corchito is home to many coatis, and since visitors are invited to feed them (which I thought was slightly unusual for an ecological reserve, but so much fun!), they'll come looking for food for sure! They can be pretty insistent, but they are not aggressive at all; they'll stick around if you brought something to snack on, so just throw them scraps of food after you've taken all the pictures you want and they'll happily go away. El Corchito is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and admission only costs 25 pesos.

    Cenote Pajaros, one of the reserve's three cenotes Hungry coati at El Corchito Getting a free fish pedicure Friendly raccoon hanging out at El Corchito Boat ride to reach the ecological reserve
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    • Eco-Tourism
    • Water Sports

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    Dzibilchaltun: don't miss this unique Mayan site!

    by Jefie Updated Mar 26, 2015

    Dzibilchaltun means something like "Where there is writing on flat stones", in reference to the different stelae that were found on the site. It is believed to be one of Yucatan's longest inhabited Mayan sites. Archeologists believe that the first settlement in the area dates back to as early as 500 BC, and the city was still inhabited at the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. This long history makes the site one of the most interesting we got to visit during the week we spent in Yucatan.

    Over 8,000 structures have been found on this site covering a total area of about 19 sq. km (part of it is off-limits to visitors for safety reasons), which has led experts to estimate that Dzibilchaltun once had a population of about 40,000 people. We were led to the main part of the site by an excellent tour guide who gave us a brief but very informative introduction to the site, before leaving us with plenty of time to explore on our own. Dzibilchaltun's most famous structure is called the "Temple of the Seven Dolls". It is thus called because of the seven small clay figurines that were found when the temple itself was discovered under another building in the 1950s. Though it is not a very large structure, its architecture is quite unique and it was built so that the sun would shine straight through it at the time of the spring and fall equinoxes.

    Some other interesting features of the site include the remnants of civilian habitations, the ruins of a 16th century church built at the time of the Spanish conquest, and the cenote Xlakah. Many objects were found at the bottom of this beautiful cenote, which indicates the Mayas used it for sacred rituals. Going for a swim in the crystal waters of this lovely cenote covered with water lilies truly was one of the highlights of my trip!

    The site is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. Admission costs 122 pesos, and it includes access to the museum that was built to display some of the artefacts found on the site, including the famous seven clay dolls. There is also a visitor center where you'll find a large gift shop selling snacks, souvenirs and crafts, as well as large restrooms where you can change into your bathing suit. Dzibilchaltun is located about halfway between Mérida and Progreso, which makes it a popular excursion to go on if your cruise ship stops in Progreso. For those wishing to avoid cruise ship crowds, it is best to visit Dzibilchaltun from Friday to Monday.

    Dzibilchaltun's Temple of the Seven Dolls Ruins of a 16th century Spanish church The famous seven clay dolls in the museum Before going for a swim in cenote Xlakah Our guide leading us inside one of the temples
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    • Archeology
    • Historical Travel

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    Follow the Ruta Puuc to Kabah

    by Jefie Written Mar 25, 2015

    Managed by a local co-operative, Kabah is the second largest Maya site after Uxmal in the Puuc region of Yucatan. "Puuc" means "hill", and the "Ruta Puuc" is the name given to the road that goes through Yucatan's hill country (Highway 261), connecting several ancient Maya sites. Kabah is the first site you encounter after leaving Uxmal. The two cities were connected by an 18-km "Sacbe", the name given by the Mayas to the large paved roads that were built between cities. These roads were covered in limestone stucco that made them white, which allowed Mayas to travel at night by the light of the moon. The sacbe between Uxmal and Kabah still exists to this day; the end of the road in Kabah is marked by an impressive monumental arch (located on the other side of Highway 261). Archeologists estimate that the city of Kabah pre-dates that of Uxmal, and that although it was a good-sized city, it never gained as much as importance. The site is much smaller, and the structures haven't been completely excavated; Kabah's Great Pyramid remains buried under centuries of vegetation, although you can guess at its presence in the forest next to the Arch. The most important structure on the site is the "Coodz Poop" Palace, or Temple of the Masks. Its facade is elaborately decorated with hundreds of stone masks. The palace is dedicated to Chaac, the Mayan god of rain.

    The Mayan site of Kabah, on the Ruta Puuc, Yucatan In front of the Temple of the Masks in Kabah Arch at the end of the sacbe in Kabah Putting my hand next to a handprint on the arch View of the sacbe leading to Uxmal
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    Uxmal, the magic city built overnight!

    by Jefie Written Mar 24, 2015

    While most people know about Chichen Itza, an equally important site that doesn't get quite as much attention is Uxmal. Legend has it that the entire city, including its remarkable pyramid, was built overnight by a dwarf endowed with magical powers. Archeologists believe that Uxmal was the most important city in the area in the late classic period of the Mayan Civilization, before the power shifted over to Chichen Itza. The most important structures in Uxmal were most likely built in the late 9th century (but most likely not by a dwarf magician!), before the city was conquered by Toltec invaders around 1000 AD. While the Mayas didn't entirely abandon the city at the time, the population steadily decreased. By the time the Spaniards arrived in Yucatan in the 16th century, the site had been deserted.

    Because Uxmal hasn't received as much attention as Chichen Itza, not as many archeological excavations and restoration work have taken place, and this is exactly the reason why many people actually prefer visiting Uxmal to Chichen Itza. While I can't say I share that opinion entirely (but maybe our bad tour guide had something to do with it, see my Local customs tip), I did enjoy how accessible the buildings were. While visitors can no longer climb up the site's tallest pyramid for safety reasons, none of the other buildings are off limits. Uxmal's most important pyramid is called the "Pyramid of the Magician" and it rises to a height of about 35 m, so it's about 10 m taller than the one in Chichen Itza, and its architectural style is also very different since its base is rectangular and its sides are rounded. There are several other interesting and very impressive buildings to be explored, such as the Nunnery Quadrangle, the Governor's Palace, the Great Pyramid, the House of the Turtles and, of course, the Pok-ta-Pok ball court. I'm sure having a good guide must be a plus, but exploring one intriguing building after the other, trying to guess at what it was, also was a lot of fun!

    Uxmal is open to visitors daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a nice visitor center where you'll find restrooms, snacks, and souvenirs.

    Western side of the View of the ball court and Nunnery Quadrangle Jaguar throne in front of the Governor's Palace Uxmal seen from the top of the Great Pyramid Indiana Jones has nothing on me!
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    Relax at the beach and enjoy fresh seafood

    by Jefie Updated Mar 24, 2015

    Celestun is a delightful seaside town located about 90 min west of Mérida. We spent a few hours there after our visit to the Celestun National Wildlife Refuge, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around this quaint fishing village and going for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. The beach in Celestun in simply beautiful and, unlike most resort towns, chances are you'll have it almost exclusively to yourself! Celestun has the reputation of offering some of the best fish and seafood in the state, with octopus being a local specialty. There's no need to rush back to the city, take the time to relax at the beach, walk around the village, and enjoy a delicious meal at one of the village's restaurants!

    Calle 12 in Celestun, Yucatan Beach on the Gulf of Mexico in Celestun Proudly wearing my flamingo swimsuit at the beach
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    Flamingos at the Celestun National Wildlife Refuge

    by Jefie Written Mar 23, 2015

    Celestun's National Wildlife Refuge is a huge biosphere reserve covering about 600 sq. km. It is home to hundreds of migrating bird species, sea turtles and crocodiles, but what makes it so special is the large number of pink flamingos that overwinter in the reserve (October to April is the best time to see them). The combination of fresh water from the Ria de Celestun estuary and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico makes for a perfect habitat for flamingos and other waterfowl.

    To visit Celestun's reserve, we booked a full-day excursion (see my Local customs tip for more info). Once we got to the park, we took a boat tour out on the estuary. Our guide handled that part of the trip, but if you're going to Celestun on your own, you'll probably be glad to know that you don't really need to worry about making a reservation as there are always plenty of small boats waiting to take visitors out to sea. I enjoyed how our boat driver took us close enough to the flamingos, but always made sure to keep a healthy distance in order not to frighten them. To see thousands of flamingos at once is quite a spectacle! After we'd taken all the pictures we wanted, the tour continued with a fun, rather thrilling ride through a mangrove forest. We were also taken to a freshwater pond in which we could swim. It made for a really fun non-archeological activity!

    Pink flamigos on the Ria de Celestun estuary Crocodile at the Celestun National Wildlife Refuge Flamingos flying in the blue Mexican sky Narrow channel in the mangrove forest Children swimming in the freshwater pond
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    A refreshing dip at Cenote Ik Kil!

    by Jefie Updated Mar 23, 2015

    Because of all the clearing that's been done at Chichen Itza, there isn't a whole lot of shade on the site so it can get really hot. For this reason, a popular thing to do after visiting the archeological site is to go for a swim at Cenote Ik Kil. This beautiful open-sky cenote is located about 3 km away from Chichen Itza. It is not located in a cave, as some of the cenotes are, but the water level is about 26 m (85 ft) below ground (a stairway leads down to the water level). Because it has grown in popularity along with its famous neighbour, the site is well equiped with changing rooms and showers, and a small store where you can rent life jackets. The cenote is quite large, measuring about 60 m in diameter, and it's about 40 m deep. I doubt it ever gets overcrowded; in fact, for some reason, there seemed to be more people looking down at swimmers from up above than people actually in the water when I was there. They truly missed out for the water pretty much was at the perfect temperature: refreshing, but far from freezing, and the waterfalls and vines all around the cenote make for a beautiful spectacle as you look up to the blue Mexican sky. And in case you're wondering, Ik Kil was never used for human sacrifice; the Mayans used it to perform different rituals and for relaxation purposes - and I can't blame them!

    Cenote Ik Kil, Yucatan, Mexico Can you see me in the middle of the cenote?! Making my way down for a refreshing swim!
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    • Water Sports
    • Archeology

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    Chichen Itza, the world's most famous Mayan site

    by Jefie Updated Mar 23, 2015

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    With about 1.2 million visitors every year, Chichen Itza is the most visited Mayan site in the world. Archeologists estimate that the bulk of the city was built from 700 to 900 AD, but that there were some substantial additions made after that as the Mayas migrated up north during the 10th century. It is believed that during what historians call the postclassic period of the Maya civilization, Chichen Itza became the largest, most powerful Mayan city. However, by the time the first Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area, although there was still a small population living in or near Chichen Itza, most of it had already been deserted.

    Perhaps the archeologist who had the most impact on the site is Edward Herbert Thompson. Inspired by the book "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan" published in 1843 by John Lloyd Stephens (author) and Frederick Catherwood (illustrator), he purchased an estate located near the ruins of Chichen Itza in 1894, and spent the next 30 years exploring and excavating some of the city's temples. You don't have to wait long before seeing the ancient city's masterpiece, the Temple of Kukulkan, since the 24 m high pyramid is located near the site's entrance. It has been beautifully restored and, even though it was not my first visit to a Mayan site, I couldn't help but agree with its selection as one of the Seven wonders of the modern world. But there are many other interesting monuments on the site, which covers a total area of about 5 sq. km, starting with the great ball court. Measuring 168 x 70 m, Chichen Itza's ball court, which was used to play the ceremonial game of Pok-ta-Pok, is the largest ball court ever found. The Temple of the Warriors and its thousand columns are also very impressive. A short walk will lead you to the sacred cenote, in which archeologists found many human bones, thus indicating that it was used to perform human sacrifice.

    The site is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and admission costs 64 pesos. Even though it's fairly easy to reach Chichen Itza on your own, we decided to book an excursion led by a tour guide (see my local custom tip) to get more out of our visit. Several people will also offer themselves as guides when you walk in; they are not official tour guides, but if you're interested, you can always bargain to obtain their service. There is also a rather incredible number of souvenir stalls all over the site, which somewhat takes away from the whole experience. Finally, please note that due to public safety issues, it is no longer possible to climb up the monuments in Chichen Itza.

    Standing in front of El Castillo The astronomical observatory (El Caracol) The Temple of the Warriors Iguana ready to sacrifice itself at the Osario
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    • Archeology

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    Vallodid

    by Jim_Eliason Written Jan 17, 2015

    Vallodid is a colonial era city founded in 1545 on top of an existing Mayan city as was the Spanish custom. its on the way to Chichen Itza and if you had the time would be worth a good full day to explore all the sites.

    Vallodid Vallodid Vallodid Vallodid Vallodid
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    Chichen Itza

    by Jim_Eliason Written Jan 17, 2015

    Chichen Itza is one of the Mayan world best preserved sites due a massive monument building in the late Mayan period. As such along with it reason designation as one of the new 7 wonders of the world, it gets incredibly crowded. its best to rent a car and arrive early to see it.

    Chichen Itza Chichen Itza Chichen Itza Chichen Itza Chichen Itza
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    Izamal: Knch Kak Mo Pyramid

    by MikeySoft Updated Aug 28, 2009

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    The Spaniards did not destroy all the Mayan Pyramids around Izamal. There are 3 remaining in the area. We went to the Knch Kak Mo Pyramid. Admission is free and you can climb what remains of the pyramid and get a great view of the area.

    Please rate my tips when you find them interesting, useful or like the photos. Thanks. :)

    Izamal: Knch Kak Mo Pyramid Izamal: Knch Kak Mo Pyramid Izamal: Knch Kak Mo Pyramid

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    Izamal: Who's the Boss?

    by MikeySoft Updated Aug 28, 2009

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    Izamal is a nice little colonial town north west of Chichen Itza with a Franciscan monastery in the heart of the town. The monastery is very pleasant to walk around. There are also small restaurants around the square near the monastery where you can get lunch.

    An interesting thing about Izamal and the monastery is that it is on top of a destroyed major Maya temple. The Spaniards destroyed the Ppaoo-Hol-Chac pyramid to show the Mayans who the boss is. Many of the stones used for the pyramids are now used for the monastery.

    Izamal is also famous for the Spaniards destroying the books and literature of the Mayan people in an attempt to destroy the Mayans culture.

    Please rate my tips when you find them interesting, useful or like the photos. Thanks. :)

    Izamal Izamal Izamal

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    Chichen Itza: Everyone goes there.

    by MikeySoft Updated Aug 28, 2009

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    Chichen Itza was voted one of the NEW 7 wonders of the world and everyone goes there, from Tour busses, to independent travelers. But is not all that bad. Chichen Itza is large and the main gate is also large to allow easy entry and exit.

    Some people try to beat the crowds by coming early. We were late sleepers and got there around 10:00. We found most of the crowd was gone by early afternoon. Some people only spend an hour or two but we spend the better part of a day. We were there until closing, around 6:00 pm. We found even at peak crowd time is was not too bad. You need to come back if you want to see the Sound and Light show.

    You can save parking fees by parking where all the local venders that sell souvenirs park. It is along the side of the road next to the side walk leading to the main entrance. We even parked there when we came back for the Sound and Light show.

    Speaking of the Sound and Light show, the admission is included in the day pass. You can ask to exclude the Sound and Light show price if you will not be there for it, but I believe you are stuck paying for everything. Speaking of the Sound and Light show, see my Tourist Trap tip.

    Please rate my tips when you find them interesting, useful or like the photos. Thanks. :)

    Chichen Itza Chichen Itza's Ball Cort

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    Valladolid Market Place

    by MikeySoft Updated Aug 28, 2009

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    Valladolid's Market, Mercado Municipal, is an authentic Mexican Market and a good place to have fun.

    Everyone was very friendly and gave us fruits and things to try even when we could not speak Spanish and they knew we would probably not buy any.

    Please rate my tips when you find them interesting, useful or like the photos. Thanks. :)

    Valladolid Market Place Valladolid Market Place

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Estado de Yucatán Things to Do

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