About two years ago, my husband and I traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. We spent four days in Cancun before volunteering in the city of Merida for six weeks. During our time in the region, we were able to discover many of the best local activities! While there are many tourist-y, fun things to do, due to our long stay we were also able to experience off-the-beaten path activities.
Here are 5 things not to miss:
If you’ve done any research regarding the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ve no doubt encountered the word “cenote.” These gorgeous, fresh-water underground swimming holes are abundant in the region.
There are literally thousands of them. Some small, some large. Some are covered and some are open to the sky. I was even able to try out a rope swing inside one of them!
I highly recommend checking out at least three cenotes during your trip. Each one is so unique that seeing only one would not give you a thorough experience of their beauty!
There are plenty of tours being offered to some of the more popular cenotes. These are beautiful and a great experience, but may be crowded.
Because the east coast of the peninsula is a huge tourist hub (home to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cozumel), many of the cenotes near the east coast will be more populated with tourists. That doesn’t make them any less beautiful, just more crowded!
There are also many not advertised to tourists, which you could visit on your own. The best way to find these is to talk to locals or connect with foreigners who live in the region.
Some of the more off-the-beaten path cenotes can be found further west on the peninsula as you make your way closer to Merida. We were able to visit quite a few less-populated cenotes near the small town of Homún.
By far one of my favorite parts of the Yucatan Peninsula was seeing the cenotes. If you only choose one activity on this list, it should be this one!
I know Chichen Itza is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and all, but trust me, if you have the chance, go see Uxmal instead!
Chichen Itza is a site of ancient Mayan ruins and home to a giant pyramid built long ago. Uxmal is a very similar ancient Mayan town with pyramids and ruins.
During our time in Mexico, we visited both Uxmal and Chichen Itza. Visiting Uxmal was so much better. Why?
For one, Uxmal is far less crowded. You have a chance to take photos without others in the background and enjoy the monuments without giant crowds.
Second, Uxmal is less commercial. At Chichen Itza, I couldn’t walk 20 feet without someone trying to sell me a trinket of some sort. Uxmal didn’t have so many vendors.
Third, you can climb a pyramid at Uxmal! About 10 years ago, Chichen Itza closed it’s pyramid to climbing. However, at Uxmal, you can still climb at least one of the pyramids (and it’s only slightly shorter than the one at Chichen). Please proceed with caution if you choose to do so, as the steps are very steep and the climb is dangerous.
Yucatecan Cooking Classes
One of my favorite parts about traveling is trying new food. While we were in Merida, we were able to experience some traditional Yucatecan cooking classes.
We learned to make empanadas, fajitas, nopales, fresh tortillas and more! It was a wonderful experience. What’s so nice about taking a cooking class versus just eating at a restaurant is that you can bring the knowledge home with you.
I wrote down the recipes I learned and brought them back with me. I still cook some of the dishes that we learned at the cooking class!
After taking the class in Merida, I think it would be amazing to do a cooking class in every country we visit!
Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
Off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula lies abundant opportunity for snorkeling and scuba diving. Some of the world’s most beautiful snorkeling spots lie on the coast of Quintana Roo.
You can snorkel directly off the coast, via boat tour, or from nearby islands. The most notable islands for great snorkeling are Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres, and Cozumel.
In addition to snorkeling or scuba diving in the ocean, many also opt to snorkel in cenotes. Even if you are not an avid snorkeler, it is worth bringing some snorkeling gear with you to a cenote to see the beauty that lies beneath the surface.
Take note that deep diving in the cenotes is extremely dangerous. There are currents and tunnels hundreds of feet down that connect cenotes to one another. Divers have been unexpectedly swept into the tunnels and some have not made it out.
La Biciruta is a community event in Merida, Yucatan in which hundreds of people come out to ride their bikes together around the city. This is one of those activities that we did not expect much out of, but ended up being one of my favorite parts of our whole trip to Mexico.
They usually have a couple of these rides going on each week. There are morning rides and night rides. We went for the night ride and it was absolutely incredible!
There was a huge turn-out of riders and fans! Hundreds of people showed up to ride. As everyone rode by, people would come out of their houses and cheer.
It is a great way to connect with locals and feel like you are part of the community and culture.
You can rent bicycles near the start of each biciruta for around 70-100 pesos. To find out when there are upcoming rides, you can visit the Gobierno de Mexico website and see their webpage “Biciruta Merida” (http://www.merida.gob.mx/biciruta/). Or simply do a web search for Biciruta Merida. Alternatively, ask locals. Most will know when and where there next one will be held.