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Introducing the Yucatan Peninsula

Bordering Belize and Guatemala, Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula hosted the Maya civilization for more than a thousand years before conquest by the Spanish in the 1500s. Maya and Spanish heritage have combined to create the new culture of Yucatán. Note that until the mid-20th century, there were no railways or highways linking the Peninsula to the rest of Mexico, so most commerce was by sea.

This long-term comparative isolation of Yucatán helped make it one of the most culturally distinctive regions in Mexico. Present day Yucatán maintains its close Mayan ties, most of Yucatan is still predominantly Maya and is observed in its The Yucatan Peninsula boasts one of the most culturally and ecologically inhabitants dress, language, religion and cuisine. Referring to locals as Mexican rather than Maya risks offending them.

The Yucatan Peninsula boasts one of the most culturally and ecologically rich regions in the world. A vast variety of flora and fauna can be found in the biosphere reserves, the lakes and the coral reefs, while Mexico's Mesoamerican culture is present in the abundance of archaeological sites ripe for exploration

Perhaps its most famous site is Chichén Itzá. The largest and most restored site and also the most visited, it is a day trip from Cancun 160 kilometres/100 miles away. It is also an hour and a half away from Merida, the capital of Yucatan. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza was one of the great cities of the Mayan empire from 750 to 1200 A.D. Climb the 365 steps of this UNESCO World Heritage Site to view this astounding remnant of an ancient civilization. At sunset on the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow of a serpent falls on the pyramid and slithers down to join a stone serpent head at the base of the structure. The Maya could predict solar eclipses and an ancient observatory remains on-site.

Another significant Mayan site can be found at Uxmal, located 62 kilometres/40 miles south of Mérida. The city, following an extensive restoration programme, is the best preserved of all Maya sites, possessing some of the most outstanding examples of Terminal Classic architecture anywhere.

First settled in the 6th century, possibly even earlier, it was between 850AD and 925AD that Uxmal fully established itself as the capital of a collection of lesser cities in the eastern Puuc region. Along with other northern sites like Chichen Itza, Uxmal survived the collapse which affected most other Maya cities around 900AD. Indeed, the city embarked on a new round of monument building in the 9th and 10th centuries and became by far the largest in the region.

Notable structures within the Uxmal complex are the Pyramid of the Magician, a three-level pyramid, the Nunnery Quadrangle, whose use in the past is still argued over and the House of the Governor, a 24-room building constructed in the 10th century to commemorate the reign of Lord Chahk, the last great ruler of Uxmal, whose portrait is placed above the main entrance.

Swathed in morning jungle mists and echoing to a dawn chorus of howler monkeys and parrots, the mighty Maya temples of Palenque are deservedly one of the top destinations of Chiapas and one of the best examples of Maya architecture in all of Mexico. Located deep in the interior of the Lacondon jungle, a trip to Palenque is indeed an adventure to be remembered for many years.

Vast, mysterious and enchanting, the ruined city is considered to be the most beautifully conceived of the Mayan city-states and one of the loveliest archaeological sites in the world. Its geographic setting is splendid beyond words. Nestled amidst steep and thickly forested hills, the ruins are frequently shrouded in thick mists. A cool stream meanders through the city centre and from the temple summits there are stupendous views over an immense coastal plain.

Here and there, piercing the dark green forests, soar great pyramids, towers and sprawling temple complexes. In its period of cultural florescence Palenque was even more beautiful, for then its limestone buildings were coated with white plaster and painted in a rainbow of pastel hues. Hidden deep in the jungle, the ruin's existence was unknown until 1773. Even then, Palenque was rediscovered and lost several times until 1841 when the explorers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, with their evocative writings and drawings, introduced this jewel of Mayan architecture to the world.

The Maya ruins of Tulum are perched right next to glimmering turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Roughly a one hour thirty minute drive from Cancun, because of the location the area can get very crowded and there is arguably much less to see than the aforementioned locations.

There is however far much more to the Yucatan Peninsula than archaeological sites - vibrant colonial cities are dotted throughout the peninsula. A colonial walled city with pastel buildings and cobblestone streets awaits in Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the 18th and 19th century. Mérida is the capital and largest city of the Yucatán Peninsula. Once the weekly home of many Spanish hacienda owners, the city is rich with 19th-century architecture and palatial mansions. The main passage through the city, El Paseo de Montejo, was fashioned after the Champs-Élysées in Paris and much of the city boasts a colonial European feel.

Founded on the abandoned Mayan metropolis of Ichkaansihó, Merida has a burgeoning contemporary design scene and is home to a number of art galleries, boutique hotels and modern restaurants. Old colonial buildings are being renovated in fresh and exciting ways putting Merida's architecture and design well and truly on the map.

Merida is a vibrant city, so an exploration through the streets on foot or by horse-drawn carriage could easily see you stumble upon traditional music performances and dances as well as live outdoor theatre. Recommended is a visit to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya which houses a collection of Maya artifacts - a great starting point before carrying on to see the ruins sprinkled throughout this region.


Ponart Collection Yucatan Peninsula departures

title departs returns days
Mayan Treasures of the Yucatan 28 December 2019 4 January 2020 8 details
Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Caribbean 4 January 2020 11 January 2020 8 details
Mayan Treasures of the Yucatan 11 January 2020 18 January 2020 8 details
Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Caribbean 18 January 2020 25 January 2020 8 details
Mayan Treasures of the Yucatan 25 January 2020 1 February 2020 8 details
Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Caribbean 1 February 2020 8 February 2020 8 details
Mayan Treasures of the Yucatan 2 November 2019 9 February 2019 8 details
Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Caribbean 9 November 2019 16 November 2019 8 details
Mayan Treasures of the Yucatan 16 November 2019 23 November 2019 8 details
Mayan Treasures of the Yucatan 30 November 2019 7 December 2019 8 details
Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Caribbean 7 December 2019 14 December 2019 8 details
Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Caribbean 7 December 2019 14 December 2019 8 details
Mayan Treasures of the Yucatan 14 December 2019 21 December 2019 8 details
Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Caribbean 21 December 2019 28 December 2019 8 details