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Yucatan Peninsula

Region 10: The Yucatán Peninsula

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The Yucatán Peninsula (nearly 44,000 square miles of it) in Mexico’s southeast is the ancient home of the Maya, as well as boasting the second largest coral reef on the planet. Its eastern coast is where you can find the brochure—perfect white coral sand and turquoise waves of the Mexican Caribbean. Travelers from all corners of the world are drawn here every year to immerse themselves in the resort pleasures of Cancún, the Spanish and Maya colonial elegance of Mérida, the ruins of Tulum, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and still more ancient sites, the thrills of cenote cavern diving, the stately henequen haciendas, the Mayan Express tourist train, unique cuisine, and the flora and fauna of both the jungle and undersea worlds.

Cancún, in the state of Quintana Roo, is famed for its rowdy nightlife, “spring breakers,” golf courses, towering five-star hotels, and stunning beaches. Nearby Puerto Morelos, until recently a tranquil fishing village known for its coral reefs, mangroves, and its community of bohemian expatriates, is becoming a popular destination.

This is where the Riviera Maya begins, a stretch of coastline south of Cancún that has seen phenomenal development over the last decade. North Americans, Europeans, Mexicans, South Americans, and nearly everyone else has come here to set up businesses, beach homes, and speculate in real estate. It has become an area of rapid expansion and change.

Cozumel, an island praised by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau for its clear waters, borders the Mesoamerican barrier reef and is a favorite destination for scuba divers from all over the world. It is also Mexico’s main stop for cruise ships. Those seeking a touch of the Mediterranean on the Caribbean, with sidewalk cafes and bars, great cuisine, and boutiques, adore the trendy Playa del Carmen. A short drive along the fast, modern Highway 307 brings you to Akumal, a pleasant beach town known for its large lagoon, diving, and fishing. Tulum, 81 miles (130 kilometers) along the coast from Cancún, is home to the only Mayan ruins found along Mexico’s coastline, and is a favorite retreat for many yoga and meditation groups.

Tour groups out of Cancún and Playa del Carmen offer daily trips to the evocative Mayan ruins, the largest of which is the magnificent Chichén Itzá. This is also where the country’s denser forest and jungle terrains begin, an area of interest for eco-tourists looking for off-the-beaten-path adventures.

The northwest corner of the peninsula holds the Yucatán state capital of Mérida, a proud colonial city baking in the sun. A cultural treasure trove, its architecture is French and Spanish and the food is excellent, combining local Mayan recipes and the region’s unique ingredients with Spanish tradition. This is a good point from which to visit the region’s many archaeological sites, as well as the beautiful haciendas converted into luxury hotels, many with spas and superb restaurants.

An hour north of the Gulf Coast is the quiet retirement community of Progreso. During the winter months, the population swells with Canadian and U.S. retirees and cruise ship passengers looking for an inexpensive escape far from the northern cold.

Further south, in the Gulf Coast state of Campeche, lies the old walled city of Campeche, a fascinating destination for history buffs, seafood, and cuisine. In the last few years, it has slowly made a name for itself with foreign tourists, and can be reached by the Mayan Express.

The Yucatán Peninsula – Safety

Scuba diving is one of the region’s main attractions, but tourists should be aware that medical problems while in 30 meters of sea water can be catastrophic. Lungs may collapse, intestines may pop, or the middle ear may rupture under the pressure. Sensory deprivation may lead to panic and drowning. Divers must be strong, healthy, and mentally stable in order to deal with these inherent dangers. We recommend all divers read our review of Scuba Health & Safety prior to diving and know the Medical Requirements for Diving.

One of the biggest attractions for foreign tourists in the Yucatán peninsula is the 380-mile network of cenotes (from the Mayan, meaning “sacred well”), considered some of the most spectacular underwater caverns in the world. The cenotes were formed over millions of years by limestone rock that lies under most of the peninsula, creating spectacular, interior watery landscapes. They are dotted throughout the region.

Other safety concerns in the Yucatán peninsula include tropical storms and hurricanes, sunburn, sunstroke, heat exhaustion, bites and stings (especially in jungle areas), and gastrointestinal upset from unfamiliar food, bacteria, or heat-affected food.

Some roads are excellent in the region, and most that are frequented by tourists are fairly good, although visitors still should pack water and provisions in case of a car breakdown.

The only complaints that tourists have here is that, unlike other parts of Mexico, Cancún’s hotel zone has inflated prices and few other options for lodging, which can often feel like robbery!

This aside, visitors should, with appropriate preparations, be able to enjoy their stay with full comfort and security.

Testimonial » view all

Dear Robert,

Once again you came through for me. Thank you very much and pass my thanks again to Doctor Joya. What a brilliant man you have on your team.

As a gesture of my appreciation I will give you my phone number and feel free to pass it along to any of your future clients. I would be glad to share my experience. 715 209 7268

So long for now my friend, we will keep in touch.

Tim Sullivan

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Tim Sullivan - Inguinal Hernia Testimonial