Travel Guide: The Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

This is the first in a series of travel guides I’ll be providing on various destinations I’ve personally visit or am dreaming of visiting! These guides will provide you with useful tips and information you can use when planning your next adventure. First in the series is the Yucatán Peninsula (Cancun, Cozumel and Tulum). Enjoy!!

Mexico is a very popular vacation destination, thanks in part to their stunning beaches, amazing food, and endless activities. While there are many different locations you can visit within the country, each of which provides you with a unique experience, the most popular destination is the Yucatán Peninsula.

Location

The Yucatán Peninsula is situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The most visited locations, Cancun, Cozumel and Tulum, are located on the Caribbean Sea side, which gives way to white sand beach and turquoise water.

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The Particulars

Below I’ve outlined some useful information you’ll need to know before planning your trip to the Yucatán Peninsula.

  • Passport/Visa: Citizens of the United States can visit Mexico with a valid passport for trips less than 180 days (contact the US Department of State to learn additional requirements for extended trips). Other nationalities may be required to obtain a visa to visit Mexico.
  • Getting There: The best way to travel to this area is by plane. The two main international airports in the area are Cancun International Airport (CUN) and Cozumel International Airport (CZM). Several airlines offer daily flights to and from these airports, which provides travelers with a lot of flexibility.
  • Language: The official language of Mexico is Spanish. One of my tour guides explained that many people within the Yucatán Peninsula mainly speak Yucatec Maya, which is a local dialect. It’s very similar to Spanish, but there are noticeable differences (at least I thought so).
  • Money Matters: The local currency used is the Mexican Peso. Many establishments in the tourist areas also accept US dollars. If you decide to pay with US dollars, make sure you know the current exchange rate to ensure you’re paying the appropriate price.
  • Climate: The weather is this part of Mexico is ideal for a beach vacation. The highs average in the 80’s and the lows in the 70’s. The summer months are considered the rainy season (May through September), but you shouldn’t let this keep you from visiting during this time. The rain usually comes and goes very quickly. The exception to this is of course a hurricane. The official hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30, but there’s no guarantee on which path they will take (Cancun and Cozumel have not been hit by a hurricane since 2005’s Hurricane Wilma).
  • Health & Wellness: The Center for Disease Control & Prevention outline their recommended vaccinations for traveling to Mexico, along with other important travel information. Please speak with your doctor for more information and guidance on what course of action is right for you.

Top Destinations

There are many great destinations to explore across the Yucatán Peninsula. Here are some of the highlights of the top destinations you should keep in mind for your next trip!

Cancun

Latitude: 21.161908, Longitude: -86.851528

Cancun’s white sand beaches draw in visitors year round. Most of the activities are centered within the Zona Hotelera, or Hotel Zone. This is by far the most popular area for tourist to stay in while visiting Cancun. Within this area you will find a number of resorts, shops, restaurants and clubs to keep you entertained during your vacation. While the area is beautiful, you don’t get a sense of the “real” Mexico while here. If you do decide to stay in this area I encourage you to venture out so you get a chance to experience the authentic side of Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula.

 

Cancun's Hotel Zone
View of Cancun’s Hotel Zone

 

Isla Mujeres

Latitude: 21.236695, Longitude: -86.735768

Speaking of authentic, a hop, skip and a jump away from Cancun is Isla Mujeres. The island is about 8 miles away from Cancun and can be reached by one of the 3 ferries (click here for more details). This little island has so much character and personality! There’s so much to see as you explore the colorful streets, which are lined with shops, restaurants and a line of golf carts (the preferred method of transportation on the island). The beaches are just as beautiful as what you’ll find in Cancun, but the entire atmosphere of the island is very different. I absolutely fell in love with this place during my the day trip I took last year and cannot wait to go back!

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At Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres
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Some of the whimsical sites you’ll come across in Isla Mujeres
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Golf cart cruising!

Tulum

Latitude: 20.211419, Longitude: -87.465350

According to my sister, Tulum is the new “it” destination for the rich and famous. After taking a day trip there I completely understand why! Tulum is absolutely breathtaking. It has the same white sand and turquoise waters, but the lush surroundings give it a magical feel. This, coupled with the ancient Mayan ruins lining the coast line, make it a must-see destination. Tulum is about an hour outside of Cancun, so it’s perfect if you want to take a day trip. Otherwise, you can stay in one of the hotels located along the beach or in the town of Tulum. Maybe you’ll see a celebrity or two 🙂

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Chichén Itzá

Latitude: 20.682222, Longitude: -88.568055

In 2007 the world voted Chichén Itzá in as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Standing in it’s shadow, wonder and amazement is all I could do. I felt like I stepped into a history book or a movie. The pyramid is just one of many intact ruins you will find at the historical park, located about 2 hours from Cancun. It is a long trip, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort it takes to get there (if you aren’t up for driving, there are many tour operators in the area offering trips there which include transportation).

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In addition to the many ruins, you can also visit the Sacred Cenote. Cenotes are natural sinkholes which allow access to underground waters. These natural wonders are breathtaking to behold! For the adventures, you are allowed to swim in the cenotes. They are living waters, so you’ll be joined by a fish or two! There are several cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula you can explore, so add it to your to-do list for your next trip!

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The Ik Kil Cenote, near Chichén Itzá

Cozumel

Latitude: 20.422984, Longitude: -86.922343

The topical island of Cozumel draws in thousands of visitors. It is stop for several cruise lines, and is one of the top destinations for scuba diving in the world. There are numerous shops, beaches, and activities for visitors to indulge in during their stay. I just recently visited Cozumel, so visit here for the recap!

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