- Mayan-Mexican medley
- In view of Papolchac’s pyramids
- Aromatic apothecary
- Colonial Calzada de los Frailes
- Secret garden estate
- Jungly heart of Yucatan
- Colonial relaxation plantation
- Sleepy Yucatan village
- Belle époque Mexicana
- Peninsular palm-tree gardens
- Luxe romantic ruins
- Concealed Campeche gardens
- Pretty in pink
- Privileged Paseo de Montejo
- Mayan ruins and maize fields
- Country life
- Hammocks and haciendas
The 'hood of the Maya, the Yucatán is a flat, hot land of epic former empires, of mighty Mayan temples and sophisticated cities…
This ancient civilisation was conquered by the Spanish in 1542, when the conquistadors founded Mérida, now the state capital. They discovered beaches and azure waters first, but what the awe-struck adventurers hadn’t expected was the architectural achievement they witnessed across the Maya’s territory – comprising neighbouring Chiapas, Guatemala, and some of Belize and Honduras. The evocative ruins of their temples remain, as do many elements of Mayan culture. See its influence in everything from the fiery food to the vibrant fiestas that give the region its extra-exotic sense. There’s an aura of primeval mystery in its limestone landscape of underground rivers and sacred pools. The state’s tourist favourite, Chichén Itzá, is an extensive ceremonial centre, with its own temples, steam bath and great ball court. Post-Maya, fine colonial cities await in Mérida, Izamal and Valladolid. This vast, arid land of porous limestone sits just 12m above sea level. It’s home to more flamingos than anywhere else in North America. You’ll need plenty of time; there’s a lot to conquer.
You won’t find so many pretty and pink flamingos anywhere else on the continent. The Yucatán’s wetlands contain around 25,000 of these nervous and dainty birds. Watch their peculiar ways in Celestún – in shallow water, you’ll see them standing on one leg. And to eat, they turn their heads upside down then drag their beaks along the seabed, inhaling mud and fish at the same time. Catch them in graceful flight at sunrise or sunset.
- Make sure you establish a price for your trip before you set off as few taxis have meters. Most cities have ranks.
- Tipping culture
- Wages are low in this part of the world and most workers survive on their tips; 10–15 per cent is the norm, although taxi drivers won’t usually expect anything.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Shops generally open early and close at around 9pm, taking a siesta between 1pm and 2pm and 4pm and 5pm. Banks often close at 1pm, but you’ll be able to change money at one of the numerous casas de cambio.
- Packing tips
- You’ll wish you had some insect repellent handy at the inland ruins. And perhaps your own chisel and trowel.
- Recommended reads
- The Lost Chronicles of the Mayan Kings by David Drew; Beyond the Mexique Bay by Aldous Huxley; The Nine Guardians by Rosario Castellanos.
- Chillies are important to Yucatecan cooking, ranging from mildly piquant to eye-wateringly ferocious, but fortunately they are normally served separately so you can choose your own level of volcanicity. Marinades of lime juice and herbs such as coriander are popular, especially with the abundant seafood. Maize tortillas are a delicious-with-guacamole staple.
- Mexican peso (the US dollar is also widely accepted).
- Time zone
- GMT -6 hours.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Mexico: 52; Mérida: 999; Campeche: 981.
- Do go/don't go
- The rainy season is mid-August to mid-October – expect afternoon showers. November and early December are likely to be less crowded as well as less expensive.
Don't go home without...
If you’ve got somewhere back at home to hang it, spend some cash on a hammock – made from fine strings, and offering opportunity for the hot summer air to circulate all around you, you’ll sleep well swinging in one of these. Hamacas El Aguacate (+52 999 923 0152) sells quality hammocks without the on-street-peddling. And if you’re still interested in swaying, breezy beds, venture to the village of Tixkokob to see the weavers in action.