Welcome to Yucatán State & the Maya Heartland
Sitting regally on the northern tip of the peninsula, Yucatán state sees less mass tourism than its flashy neighbor, Quintana Roo. It is sophisticated and savvy, and the perfect spot for travelers more interested in cultural exploration than beach life. Sure, there are a few nice beaches in Celestún and Progreso, but most people come to this area to explore the ancient Maya sites peppered throughout the region, like... Read More
Top experiences in Yucatán State & the Maya Heartland
Yucatán State & the Maya Heartland activities
Uxmal and Kabah Day Trip from Merida
After hotel pickup in Merida by air-conditioned minivan, your first stop on the Yucatan Peninsula is Kabah – archeological site of a Mayan city that flourished around the year 800 AD. Situated in a series of low-lying hills, Kabah is known as the second largest religious center in the Puuc-style.When you arrive, your guide will lead your small group on a one-hour tour of the grounds and enlighten you about the significance of each feature. See Kabah’s beautiful Palace, located on a high esplanade forming a quadrangle, and visit the Codz Pop, or Palace of the Masks, famous for its impressive facade of more than 250 masks of the rain god, Chaac. Admire these figures, as well as statues of Mayan rulers, all finely cut from stone and positioned in a magnificent design. Follow your guide through the Arch of Kabah, which marks the entrance to the Sacbe, an ancient path that links Kabah to Uxmal. Then, hop back in your vehicle for a short drive to Uxmal, where you’ll spend three hours admiring impressive structures designed with geometrical figures and see more masks of the Mayan’s most significant deity, Chaac.At the Nunnery Quadrangle, whose friezes represent owls and serpents, learn about the meaning of the four multi-level buildings arranged around a central plaza. Look up at the oval-shaped Pyramid of the Magician (the Pyramid of the Soothsayer), unrivaled in the beauty of its precise design. View more than 100 images of Chaac on the façade of the Governor’s Palace, where a central doorway was built in astronomical alignment with the planets.You'll also visit the Choco Story Museum. Here, learn about the history of cocoa, its importance to the Mayas, the way it's cultivated and the traditional process to make chocolate. Then, explore the beautiful botanical gardens of the Hacienda Uxmal Hotel as you dine on a delicious lunch. In the afternoon, your guide will gather your small group for the return trip to Merida, where you’ll be dropped off at your hotel.
Merida Market Tour and Cooking Class
After you meet your guide and small group at a central location, drive by air-conditioned minivan to one of Merida’s markets less frequented by tourists. As you walk around the bustling outdoor market, your guide will explain about the origins and uses of some of the fruits and vegetables – many produced in the Yucatan region. With help from your bilingual guide, converse with local vendors as you choose seasonal produce and other ingredients in preparation for your cooking class. Take in the aromas and colors of the beautiful chilies and unfamiliar tropical fruits, and learn about such delights as achiote, chile habanero and pepita de calabaza (pumpkin seed). Next, drive to the personal home of your local host to cook and sample some Yucatecan specialties, such as salbutes (Mayan tacos), panuchos (black bean-filled tostadas), papadzules (enchiladas topped with pumpkin seed sauce) and codzitos (stuffed and fried tortillas). Under the guidance of your host, you'll have help every step of the way and learn to prepare delicious beverages like horchata (sweetened rice drink) or hibiscus flower tea.As you prepare your meal, you’ll be introduced to a few Spanish and Mayan words, and learn more about the cuisine of the Yucatan, which includes some of the most varied dishes of Mexico. Your host and guide will describe local culinary traditions, the influence of other cultures on the cuisine, and explain some of the differences between the Yucatecos and people from other parts of Mexico. Finally, taste the delicious plates you prepared and enjoy a light lunch as you chat more with your small group and host. Afterward, your guide will help you hire a taxi for the return to central Merida (an approximate USD $5 ride).
Chichen Itza Day Trip from Merida
Skip the line and gain private entry to Chichen Itza after 9am pickup from your Merida hotel by minivan. Then, embark on a small-group tour of the archeological park with your knowledgeable guide and discover this ancient capital of the Mayan Empire, founded in 514 AD.Follow your guide to the Great Plaza, the heart of Chichen Itza, to see the excavated temples of the Yucatan’s most important archaeological zone. Explore El Castillo (the Castle) and the Pyramid of Kukulcán, which reveals an astronomical phenomenon each equinox when shadows resembling a serpent project over the architectural features of the building.Your guide will regale your small group with stories of priests and Mayan kings who once stood atop the pyramid overlooking the entire city. Then, head to the Great Ball Court, the largest in Mesoamerica – 537 feet (164 meters) long and 224 feet (68 meters) wide – with perfect acoustics. Walk to the Temple of the Jaguars at one end of the ball court, where a steep stairway leads to the second story.Next, visit the Sacred Cenote, where sacrifices took place, and see Tzompantli – Wall of Skulls – a Toltec structure where the heads of sacrificial victims were displayed! Your guide will take you to a set of buildings constructed during the Mayan classical period, including the nunnery, La Iglesia (the Church) and Akab Dzib, meaning ‘The House of Mysterious Writing’ in Mayan. Admire the circular observatory known as El Caracol, and view the Temple of the Warriors and the Thousand Columns.After your small-group tour, you’ll have extra time to explore the site on your own. Then, head to Mayaland Hotel for a delicious buffet lunch, featuring traditional Yucatan dishes, and watch a regional dance show accompanied by folklore music. Enjoy all of the Mayaland Resort facilities, including the swimming pools, lounge chairs, botanical gardens and access to the resort’s sacred Xtoloc Cenote.Be ready to depart by minivan at 3:30pm, arriving back in Merida around 5pm.
Uxmal and Kabah Early Access Tour from Merida
After hotel pickup in Merida, start your drive to Uxmal. Once there and accompanied by a professional guide, you'll get to visit the Maya-style temples where the Maya civilization left its mark in the area. Enjoy the tranquility of this early-morning tour without the huge crowds. Visit the Temple of the Magician, which according to the mythology of this place was built by a dwarf king. Then, see the Nunnery, which highlights the Puuc style, this style is characterized by smooth walls and decorated frieze. Finally, visit the Governor’s Palace, with a façade of more than 20,000 tiles considered the most beautiful in the Maya area. After visiting Uxmal, you will drive to Cananah’s restaurant and enjoy a delicious 3-course lunch. Then, you'll go to the archaeological site of Kabah. This area has two important buildings of the Mayan culture. First, you'll see the Codz Pop (Carpet funky) temple belonging to the God of Water Chaac, in this building seven sculptures of Mayan rulers were found. Then, you'll visit the Palace Teocalli. Once you are done with the tour, you'll head back to Merida.
Merida Street Food Walking Tour
This 3-hour guided tour is for serious foodies who want to taste the best authentic Yucatecan street food. Meet your guide at 10:30am at Hidalgo Park and walk through the busy streets of Merida to the main market. Learn about the local produce and how Yucatecans use them in their native dishes. At your first tasting spot, choose between empanadas, polcanes (masa stuffed with lima beans, chiles, and pumpkin seeds), panuchos (fried tortillas filled with black beans), or salbutes (deep-fried tortillas with toppings). Then, move on to a taco tasting where you can try the two most famous varieties in the Yucatan: cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) and lechon (suckling pig). Move on to “El Marlin Azul” and sample two types of seafood tacos. On the way, visit the main square and take a look at the beautiful colonial buildings overlooking it, while your guide provides historical and cultural context.Finally, walk to a gelato store, where you can choose between dozens of local fruit flavors.
Day Trip to Celestun: Flamingos, Mangrove Boat Ride and Beach Break
Drive to the village of Celestun, located just 60 miles (98 km) southwest of Merida, after morning pickup from your hotel by your guide. Get acquainted with your small group aboard the comfortable minivan before you reach Celestun Wildlife Refuge. From the port, embark on a boat ride down the Celestun estuary – where stream currents meet the ocean tide on their way to the sea – inhabited by some of the most diverse bird species of the Yucatan! Cruise through the mangroves on a 1.5 hour boat ride and witness a spectacular show of pink flamingos – also called Caribbean flamingos – as they fly overhead. Watch thousands of the birds flock on shore as they eat the shrimp-like crustaceans that give the flamingos their unique pink color. The declared Biosphere Reserve is one of the only places in the world to view such numbers of these fascinating birds in the wild! The estuary is a natural breeding ground for the flamingos and other birds after their long migrations along the eastern coast of the Yucatan. Keep an eye out for the American white pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, with a wingspan reaching up to 9.5 feet (3 meters). Along the way, your guide will inform your small group about the more than 230 mammal species of the region, including ocelots, spider monkeys and jaguars. Then, stop for a refreshing dip in the ojos de agua (eyes of water) – deep spring-fed pools hidden among natural tunnels of the estuary, formed among the mangroves. Complete your day tour at a beach in central Celestun, where sand and sea of unrivaled beauty await you. You'll have time to swim and enjoy lunch (own expense) here before heading back to your Merida hotel.