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The Yucatan Peninsula attracts more visitors than any other part of Mexico due to it's exciting mix of ancient Maya culture and ruins, beautiful beaches, its range of adventure activities and wide choice of accommodation options. The Yucatan is known for its tropical rainforests and jungles, as well as being the home of the ancient Maya people. A significant portion of the ancient Maya Lowlands is in the Yucatan and there are many important Maya archeological sites found throughout the peninsula, the most well-known being Chitzen Itza, Tulum and Uxmal.
In the past, the Yucatan focused it's economic efforts on cattle ranching, logging and the production of chicle (a natural gum) and henequen (a type of agave) but since the 1970's it's main source of income comes from tourism. Cancun, which was once a small fishing village, is now a modern tourist city. The former fishing town of Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist destination on the Riviera Maya (the stretch of coast between Cancun and Tulum). It's attractions include the eco-archaeological park of Xcaret and the outdoor water theme park of Xel-Ha, complete with mangroves, bird watching, stingray swimming, diving and snorkeling lessons.
The natural wonders of the Yucatan Peninsula are countless, but some of the most unique to the area are the cenotes. Cenotes are created by an underground river system and are fresh water sink holes formed when the roof of a cavern collapses due to erosion. Millions of years ago, the Yucatan Peninsula was covered by the ocean. Some 15,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, the sea level descended approximately 75 metres. For thousands of years, the porous land surface, formed by fossilised coral and limestone, has filtered rainwater which dissolved parts of the subsoil. The depth of each cenote depends on the amount of natural debris that has accumulated through erosion in addition to the remains of the roof that collapsed. The stalactites and stalagmites that form inside the cenotes are true natural works of art and the water that gathers in these caverns are an amazing crystal clear, turquoise colour. Holes in the ceiling can allow sunlight to filter into the cenotes, adding to the magical scene.
The Maya considered these sink holes to be sacred and believed the cenotes were the entrance to the underworld. Quantities of ancient offerings and jewelry have been found in some cenotes. Additionally, the cenotes were an important source of fresh water for the Maya and are still relied upon by contemporary Maya people.
There are four different types of cenotes: 1. those that are completely underground 2. those that are semi-underground 3. those that are at land level like a lake or pond and 4. those that are open wells. Some cenotes are accessible for swimming and cave diving, some are not accessible at all, and some are actually dry cave systems that can be explored. An estimated six thousand cenotes have been found in the Mexican states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
Located in south eastern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico and is comprised of the three Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo as well as the northern parts of Belize and Guatemala.
The peninsula is the exposed portion of the larger Yucatán Platform, all of which is composed of carbonate and soluble rocks, most of which is beds of coralline and porous limestone, forming a low tableland that rises gradually toward the south. Where the rocky surface is perforated, there are natural sinkholes and caverns, known locally as cenotes, around which the Maya had built their cities and ceremonial centres. Yucatan lacks rivers and creeks, which makes its hydrology subterrain (cenotes and lakes).
The coast on the north and west is low, sandy, and semibarren. There are a number of openings through the outer bank upon which several small towns or ports have been built. The eastern coast consists of bluffs, indented with bays and bordered by several islands; the largest and most developed are Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. There is good fishing all along the coasts, and there are many excellent beaches, especially those at Cancún, which has become a major tourist destination and resort area.
There are so many things to see and do in the Yucatan. It's easy to see why this is one of the most popular regions of Mexico to visit, attracting travellers from all over the globe.
Swim with the whale sharks - off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula during their annual migration between mid June to early September.
Merida - Yucatan's capital, is the cosmopolitan hub of the area with museums, galleries, restaurants, music, dance, architecture, shopping - Merida has it all.
Mayan Archeological Sites - The best known and most widely visited is Chichén Itzá, the site of the Kukulcan Pyramid, the Maya Observatory, and the Sacred Cenote. A contrasting, more ornamental cultural style can be observed at Mayan sites along the Ruta Puuc. Get an early start and begin with the Lol Tun Caves and end with the Light and Sound show at Uxmal. The most famous Mayan sites in Quintana Roo are located at Coba and Tulum.
Equinox - The period when the Earth's sun is directly above the equator, around 20 March and 23 September of each year. Mayans are very dependant on astronomy as is reflected in their art and temples. At Chichen Itza, during sunset on the Equinox, the shadows of the serpent-god Kukulcan moves down along the pyramid! Other structures, such as Tulum, also have Equinox related events that take place on those days.
Ecological Parks - such as Xcaret, Xel-Há and Garrafón, aimed for the conservation of the flora and fauna of the region also serve as tourist attractions. At these parks you'll learn more about the Mexican culture and enjoy activities such as swimming with dolphins and snorkeling.
Cenotes - Some cenotes contain spectacular cave formations whilst others are important archeological sites. Several were considered sacred by the Mayans. A few are open to the public for swimming, snorkeling and diving. Tour the "tourist corridor" called La Ruta de los Cenotes along which many of the most spectacular or famous cenotes are situated.
Beaches - Mayan Riviera, the stretch of coastline between Cancun and Tulum including Playa del Carmen, is a rapidly-developing beach resort area that still maintains a relaxed atmosphere in contrast to the city of Cancun which is the biggest and most modern resort town. Progreso is a port city with beaches and good seafood north of Merida. The island of Cozumel is getting busier whilst Isla Mujeres is more laid back.
The Yucatán Peninsula has a tropical, hot and humid climate. Winters are mild and summers can be very hot. Temperatures range from between 30°C - 40°C in summer to minimum 20°C during winter, with an average temperature of 25ºC - 27ºC.
There is a dramatic wet season / dry season cycle, with rains beginning in May or June, peaking in mid-August to mid-October and waning thereafter. The dry season runs from November through April.
If visiting Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, or other sites, temperatures and humidity in the interior can be stifling from May to July. Later in the rainy season from June through November, the frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes increases. These can also lower temperatures, making climbing ruins more fun, accompanied by cool air and a slight wind. November is especially ideal for Yucatán travels.
High season in the Yucatán begins around December 20 and continues to Easter week. This is the best time for calm, warm weather; snorkeling, diving, and fishing (the calmer weather means clearer and more predictable seas); and for visiting the ruins. Book well in advance if you plan to be in Cancún around the holidays. Low season begins the day after Easter and continues to mid-December.
Just off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the few places where you can observe and actually swim with Whale Sharks during their annual migration. The encounters occur from mid June to early September.
Water temperature ranges between 26ºC - 29ºC, coolest between December to February and warmest from June to September.
Cancun and the Riviera Maya provide easy access to the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the world's second longest barrier reef, second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The Gran Arrecife Maya stretches almost 1,000 kilometres from Cancun to the Bay Islands in Honduras. The reef is home to more than 500 species of fish and nearly 100 coral species and features shallow coral gardens, deep cuts, canyons, swim throughs and an abundance of friendly hawksbill turtles. Other common sightings include eagle rays, moray eels, lobsters, spadefish, parrotfish, creole wrasse, trumpetfish, puffer fish and angelfish. There are also several wrecks in the area (mostly sunk navy vessels turned artificial reefs).
The island of Cozumel which became famous when Jacques Cousteau pronounced it to be one of the hidden gems in the world in 1961, is also a good dive base.
Dive sites range from 10 - 39 metres deep and water temperature ranges between 26C - 29C. Visibility can be up to 30 metres. Currents are generally mild and diving is possible year round, although during hurricane season most hurricanes strike between August to October.
The Riviera Maya has the world's three longest running underwater cave systems - Ox Bel Ha (146.7 km), Nohoch Nah Chich (61 km) and Dos Ojos (57.7 km). Diving in a cenote cavern is an unforgettable experience, unique to this area of Mexico. The cenotes are filled with crystal clear, fresh water opening to a vast system of underground caverns, tunnels and chambers. For thousands of years, these caves had been dry, forming stalagmites, stalactites, columns and flowstones. In some places, the land above subterranean rivers have collapsed, creating access for divers to explore these ancient passageways.
Over the past 20 years, experienced divers have explored these caves and caverns discovering more than 300 miles of interconnected passageways that make up this one of a kind eco system.
Special cave diving training is required for divers who want to penetrate the caves. However, a cave diving certification is not required for certified divers who want to explore the cenotes, since routes always follow tunnels bathed in natural sunlight.
Water temperature inside the cenotes is 25C and the clarity of the water is spectacular with visibility sometimes over 100 metres.
meaning "two eyes". The cave system was named because it is made up of two cenotes - Dos Ojos East and Dos Ojos West, connected by a large tunnel with stunning stalagmite and stalactite formations. Divers can explore almost 500 metres of the underground system in this area. Dos Ojos also contains the "Cenote Pit", the deepest passage in the state of Quintana Roo at almost 120 metres deep. There is also a "Bat Cavern" where albino bats have been sighted.
Dos Ojos has areas for swimmers, snorkelers and divers.
this crescent shaped cenote is a favourite for both snorkelers and divers with sparkling, clear water and strikingly impressive formations. Look for small fish and turtles as you descend beneath the lily pads and enter the cool world of the cenote into an exquisite ballroom which leads to endless passageways and chambers.
Between mid June to early September, Whale Sharks congregate around Holbox, off the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula during their annual migration. This presents an incredible opportunity to swim with these gentle giants of the sea