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Yucatán : tourism
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Around Mérida and in the state of Yucatán


Burial chambers in Dzibilchaltún This Mayan archaeological site was discovered after the ones of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal (open daily from 8AM to 5PM, $55 then state tax : MXN$115 for foreigners and MXN 89 for residents).
Twenty kilometers from Mérida, the ancient Mayan city of Dzibilchaltún is located in a National Park which protects the cultural, natural and historic heritage of the area while providing information about it. The Museum of the Mayan People displays the aspects of a living culture, faithful to its ancestral traditions. It has been continuously inhabited since 300 B.C. to the Conquest and was mainly devoted to the salt trade. During its splendor peak (800 A.D.), its population reached 25,000 inhabitants. They then built 25 monuments, administrative buildings and palaces for the elite, around two main places.

On the Main Place, by the cenote of Xlacah, the open chapel shows evidence of evangelism.

    Right picture : Burial chambers in Dzibilchaltún

At the end of a 500m (1640 feet) long white trail (sacbé, in Maya), is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, named for the seven statuettes excavated. The architecture is not common : the temple is like a calendar: during the equinoxes, the rising sun shines, with an astronomic exactitude, directly through the door and windows. It is the big attraction of this archaeological zone. It is wonderfully restored and shows unique pieces in Mayan region, pieces that are still unexplained like the 4 faces of the temple, unique in the area. It is also the only temple with windows. Very primitive Chaac masks are above the doors and corners of the building.

Map of the site :

the cenote of Dzibilchaltun The cenote of Dzibilchaltún is also worth the visit. Even if it is twice smaller than the one in Chichén Itzá (30 m (98 feet) of diameter), it was also a place for sacrifices. The frogmen of the National Geographic Society estimate the depth of water at 44 m (144 feet), meaning 30m (98 feet) deeper than Chichén Itzá. And, because of the numerous human bones found among the 30,000 objects removed from there, we can say that human sacrifice was practiced on a large scale in this cenote. All the excavated pieces are displayed in the museum (museo del Pueblo Maya, open 8AM-4PM, closed UFN).

Left picture : the cenote of Dzibilchaltun

Located 45 km (27 miles) south from Mérida, on the Convents road, Mayapán was built in 1221, after the rout of Chichén Itzá by Hunac Ceel, one of its governors. Under the power of the Cocom family, the new capital of the Itzaes dominated the northern and western provinces of Yucatán during 250 years. The architecture of Mayapán is reminiscent of the grandeur and prestige of Chichén Itzá, its predecessor : the Kukulcán temple and the round building are the smaller replicas of El Castillo and El Caracol. The archaeological excavations engaged by the Carnégie Institute of Washington showed a walled city protected against any military attack. Inside, there are civil administrative and religious buildings, as well as the residences of the governors and a spring. Nice murals show warlike scenes and the death worship.
At mid fifteenth century, a rebellion against the governing family led to the looting and abandon of the city of Mayapán (open daily, 8AM-5PM, MXN$35).

Map of the site :

Biosphere  reserves
Thanks to the huge biological richness, several parts of the littoral were named biosphere reserves and are internationally recognized. They house more than 580 species of vertebrates, 95 species of reptiles, 71 species of fish and 388 species of birds, including 40,000 pink flamingos. They have nice beaches and spectacular scenery. The fishing villages offer the essential tourist services.

Reserve of Celestún (west coast)
At the west of the state, 92 km (57 miles) from Mérida, the Ria Celestún Biosphere Reserve is made by a 20 km (12.4 miles) long estuary that can been visited by boats with authorized guides waiting for the tourists at the entrance of the reserve. To the very north, there are many colonies of pink flamingos looking for food.

The Caribbean pink flamingo is one of the largest, most colorful and most beautiful birds in the world. Visitors come from far away to admire this fabulous ancient bird in its natural environment and to get excited watching a flock of pink flamingos flying in the sky. Celestún is a paradise for birdwatchers and photographers of nature because it is the habitat of many species of endemic and migratory birds.

flight of pink flamingosThe boat tour in the mangrove swamps allows you to watch grey herons, egrets, ducks, white pelicans and pink spoonbills. While navigating in the estuary and the canals winding among the mangroves, you will reach Valdiosera and Venecia, two fresh water springs where the clear water is good for swimming or apnea diving. The petrified forest of Tampeten, with strange shaped trees and a ghost atmosphere, is another attraction of the area (open daily, 8AM-5PM, entrance fee: MXN$ 33; 2 hour boat ride : MXN$550 for 8 persons). Close to the harbor, there is a quaint beach where you can find picturesque restaurants specializing in fresh fish and seafood.

     Right picture : flight of pink flamingos

Log on to the website about ecotourism in Celestún reserve :


You can go to Celestún from Mérida, Terminal del Sur y del Noreste, calle 67, corner 50 and 52 (Second class Terminal) at the rate of MSN 46 single way. Schedules : 5h15, 6h,8h then every hour. Last departure from Celestún at 8:00PM. Celestún is a small village with a few hotels, market and Bus Terminal.

ria lagartos Reserve of Ria Lagartos (north-east) : Located at the other end of the state, this reserve is also a natural sanctuary where the birds take refuge. Before travelling above the Gulf of Mexico, the migratory birds rest a last time there. More than 330 species of aquatic birds, including the pink flamingos, reproduce there too. El Cuyo basin shelters a unique reproducing colony in North-America. Travelling the estuary, you can admire the landscape made of mangroves, marsh and low vegetation and you can observe the abundant fauna : a crocodile gliding smoothly through the water, a majestic jabiru stork, a white-tailed deer, a small tiger or an imposing jaguar.
You can go kayaking along the mild-waves littoral. During the Summer full moon nights, the sea turtles – called white turtles and hawksbill turtles- come there for nesting (open daily, 8AM-5PM, entrance fee : MXN$ 25; 2hour boat ride: MXN$850 for 6/8 persons).

You can go to Rio Lagartos from Mérida, Terminal del Sur y del Noreste, calle 67, corner 50 and 52 (Second class Terminal). Rio Lagartos is a small village with a few hotels, inns, restaurants. You can book Tours and accomodations with www.riolagartosnaturetours.com, cel. 986 100 83 90.

In front of Puerto Progreso Coast, the reef of the scorpions (alacranes) is a new place to explore. Despite it is far from the continent, this beautiful 29 km (18 miles) long reef, with five sandy islets, is worth the adventure, especially for the divers.

State map of Yucatán :

Convents Route
South of Mérida, the Convents Route is a day trip leading to some out-of-the-way places in the heart of the state. The convents were built just after the Conquest. It is easier to visit them by car.
UMAN, convent dating from the sixteenth century (18 km or 11 miles from Mérida, open 7AM-12noon and 5-8PM).
MUNA, convent dating from the seventeenth century (64 km or 40 miles from Mérida, open 7AM-1PM and 4-8PM). There is an interesting celebration on August 15th, with folk dances. Local craft for sale (same opening hours).
OXKUTZCAB, founded by the Xius after the abandon of Mani, from 1581 to 1699 (109 km or 68 miles from Mérida, open 7AM-1PM and 4-8PM). Fruit Capital of Yucatán with a huge daily fruit market.
MANI, with an open chapel and the temple of the convent of St. Michael the Archangel dating from 1549. It is where Fray Diego de Landa ordered the destruction of the Mayan documents and statues. (96 km or 60 miles from Mérida, open 6AM-12noon and 5-7PM).

TEABO, famous for its two sacred buildings , the Parish and ex-Convent of San Pedro and San Pablo built in the seventeenth century (84 km or 52 miles from Mérida, open 7-10AM and 5-7PM).
CHUMAYEL, convent dating from the sixteenth century (temple of the Immaculate Conception with a black wooden Christ) -80 km or 50 miles from Mérida, open 7AM-12noon and 4-8PM).
MAMA, Franciscan temple and ex-convent built in 1612, surrounded with a nice garden displaying saints in niches (71 km or 44 miles from Mérida, open 6AM-2PM and 5-7PM).
TEKIT is a prosperous city where the church of San Antonio de Padua displays saints in every corner. The church looks like a museum. (64 km or 40 miles from Mérida).
TECOH, convent and church dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption. The church was built on top of a Mayan pyramid. Many paintings are still visible. Local craft for sale too. (34 km or 21 miles from Mérida).
ACANCEH is famous for the Plaza of the three cultures. The temple dedicated to “Our Lady of Nativity” and the chapel of the "Virgin of Guadalupe" are unique because of the pure Franciscan style (26 km or 16 miles from Mérida).

Haciendas  route
The city of Mérida is surrounded by low vegetation, uniform landscape broken by high brick-red chimneys. These chimneys indicated the presence of ancient Haciendas of sisal.
The Haciendas of sisal started in the mid nineteenth century thanks to a specific plant, variety of agave, the henequen, better known under the name of sisal. The extraordinary high demand of hard fibers on the international market, mainly for the American industry of ropes, brought, from 1880 to 1920, the henequen in the industry of Yucatán. This region was converted in an area of “Green Gold”. The henequen declined after World War II when it was replaced by synthetic fibers.
The thick leaves of this plant produce hard fibers used for making bags and ropes of every size, from the thin cords to hang the hammocks to the cords to tie the wheat bunches and big ropes for mooring the boats.
indian women leaving the market Nowadays, the numerous haciendas are the witnesses of this period of wealth. Most of them became villages; some are still working the henequen in a small scale while other are converted to luxurious hotels, tourist places or museums. They all were restored in the best historic and architectural way.

     Right picture : indian women leaving the market

Originally, many haciendas were farms dedicated to the culture of corn or cattle raising. They were then converted to sisal plantations, with diverse styles. The entrance of a hacienda is often marked by picturesque Moorish arches. The thick plastered stone walls of the main buildings as well as the steep roofs with tiles imported from Europe protected the people from the heat. The house was oriented according to the winds, in such a way that the air could circulate through the house.
Every Hacienda comprised the same outbuildings set around the main central courtyard: the main house, the chapel, the store, the machine house, the administration building and the jail constituted the economic and social center. Within the thick walls, there were also a well, the orchard, the poultry-yard, the esplanades for manoeuvre and areas for hanging out the fibers to dry.
The Haciendas were administrated by butlers who were in charge of the finances, brought goods and dictated the rules.
Cutting the agave leaves was hard work and needed many men. Despite the local people, Chinese and Korean workers as well as northern Mexican Yaqui Indians were hired. The trucks (small flat wagons), riding on some kind of railways called decauville, carried 2.5meter ( 8 feet) long leaves from the huge sisal fields to the machine house for peeling and drying stages. The long railways led also to the main villages and the other haciendas.
Several Haciendas preserve the essence of the glorious days of the henequen. Recently renovated, they are an ideal alternative for safeguarding an essential part of the historic heritage of Yucatán. The Haciendas, with their elegant arches, fresh verandas with wicker rocking chairs, marble floors and sepia portraits, offer a romantic trip in Yucatán back in time.
Some Haciendas are nowadays luxurious hotels welcoming people in an intimate and pleasant atmosphere. It is the best place for resting and tasting Yucatan cooking.
You can visit the Haciendas SAN JOSE in Tixkokob, SANTA ROSA in Maxcanú, TEMEZÓN in Abalá, UAYAMON in Chiná (Campeche State), YAXCOPOIL in the village with the same name, SOTUTA DE PEON in Tecoh, TEPICH in Mayapán or OCHIL in Abalá.

Progreso near the cruising ships bridge Progreso : It was a small fishing village located 36 km (22 miles) north from Mérida. It now has more than 50,000 inhabitants. Take the road to the long sandy beaches of Progreso. Have a look at the 7 km (4.3 miles) long pier, the longest in the world. It was built mainly for the cruising ships. You can swim and enjoy the excellent seafood. Departures every fifteen minutes from the Autoprogreso Terminal of Mérida.

City map of Progreso :

Left picture : Progreso near the cruising ships bridge



Yone of Progreso beachesou can go from Mérida to Progreso : Terminal Autoprogreso de Mérida, calle 62 #524, corner 65 and 67, departures every 15 minutes from 5:00AM to 10:00PM (around MXN 30 R/T).


   Right picture : one of Progreso beaches






Diving in the "cenote" What is a "cenote"? This come from the Mayan word "Dzonot" meaning "water sinkhole". There are unique in the world. They were both a way to obtain fresh water in a forest and a sacred place : For Mayan people, they were the gateways to afterlife.
With a calcareous and porous soil, the peninsula has almost no river. This kind of soil often collapses creating open water pools. It is the opportunity for discovering a spectacular landscape made of a network of underground clear, green and turquoise waters. The formation of stalactites and stalagmites, true art works, and the daylight going through the interstices of the rocks and shimmering on the clear water offer a unique visual show to the visitors.
The cenotes have different shape and size depending on their location. Many offerings, jewels and human bones, thrown by the ancient Mayan people, were discovered there.
There are many "cenotes" distributed in the whole State. The most famous are the ones in X'Kekén (Dzitnup), Ik'kil, Bolonchocol and Kankirixche.

There are also many underground caves beneath Yucatán. There are linked with a net of tunnels. These caves were and still are sacred places for Mayan people. The most important caves are in Loltún, Calcehtok and Balamkanché; they are part of the "archaeological routes" such as the Puuc Route (Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, X'lapac and Labná) and the Eastern Route (Izamal, Chichén Itzá, Valladolid, Ticopó, Yaxunah and Ek'Balam).


Diving in the "cenote" Dos Ojos
The "cenotes" and the caves of Yucatán offer a unique experience, a dive into a magic world whose beauty seems unreal............ A gift from the Gods.

The "cenote" Dos Ojos is located 1 km (0.6miles) south from Xel-Ha (QR).

pink flamingos in the reserve of Celestún





     Right picture : pink flamingos in the      reserve of Celestún





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