Despite some over-zealous development, the natural beauty of Mexico’s Yucatán abides. The jungle still echoes to the ethereal coo of the motmot, while the towering temples of the Maya, Toltec and Itzá slowly yield up their mysteries. Offshore, the Mesoamerican Reef is the world’s second-largest barrier reef.
Calakmul's vast ruins, with
Mayan monuments and pyramids, are ringed by rainforest. Much of the jade
excavated here is on display in the archaeological museum in Campeche (00 52
555 150 2073; Calakmul; 8am-4.30pm; £3).
labyrinths are ideal for cave diving. Visit cavedivemexico.com
for ideas. Above ground, wooden houses and beached boats make Xcalak an idyllic
escape. Its mangrove swamps hide lagoons that invite kayakers to explore.
Offshore, you can snorkel and dive the vibrant barrier reef. Hire equipment at XTC
Dive Centre (xtcdivecenter.com;
three-tank dive £130, snorkelling trips £20).
Mérida is the cultural
capital of the peninsula. Steeped in colonial history, its narrow streets house
the region’s best museums. Plaza Grande is one of Mexico's most attractive
squares; on Sundays, meridanos promenade there.
A popular diving spot
since 1961, when Jacques Cousteau showed its spectacular reefs to the world,
Isla Cozumel is Mexico’s third largest island. Ten miles south of San Miguel is
Playa Palancar beach, where you can rent hydro bikes and snorkelling gear.
The Reserva de la
Biósfera Sian Ka’an has 2,000 sq miles of tropical jungle and marsh that is
home to howler monkeys, anteaters, ocelots and pumas. Community Tours Sian
Ka’an runs tours here out of Tulum (00 52 984 871 2201; siankaantours.org; Ave Tulum, Tulum; tours
Eat and drink
Canadian owners Marla and
Linda have turned the old Leaky Palapa in Xcalak into a dining sensation. The
menu features flavourful dishes such as lobster in caramel ginger sauce. It’s
three blocks west of the main plaza (Xcalak; dinner Fri-Mon Oct-Apr; mains from
Amaro is a romantic
dining spot in the courtyard of the house in which Andrés Quintana Roo –
statesman and drafter of Mexico’s Declaration of Independence – was born in
1787. Don't miss the berenjena (aubergine) curry (00 52 999 928 2451; Calle 59,
Mérida; lunch and dinner; mains from £3).
Tucked away between
Calle 64 and 66, Restaurante Kantún serves some of the best seafood in Mérida.
Main dishes are all prepared to order and delicately seasoned; try the fillet
of fish stuffed with smoked oysters (00 52 999 923 4493; Calle 45, Mérida;
lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains from £3).
The trademarks of
Playa del Carmen’s Restaurant 100% Natural are fresh juices, salads and organic
food. Try the guacamole and the fish ceviche (00 52 984 873 2242; cnr Quinta Av
& Calle 10, Playa del Carmen; lunch and dinner; mains from £5).
Famed more for its
setting than its food, Alux is in a cavern full of stalactites. Tables are
arranged around pools and the rocks are thrown into stark, backlit relief. It's
three blocks west of Hwy 307 in Playa del Carmen (00 52 984 803 2936; Av
Juárez, Playa del Carmen; dinner; mains from £6).
Genesis Retreat boasts
‘eco-cultural values’: its rooms are naturally cooled, insects are controlled
by a squadron of ducks and there’s a wall made of plastic bottles. It's also
beautiful, with thatched rooms decorated in Mayan fabrics – and there's a great
restaurant (00 52 985 852 7980; genesisretreat.com;
Ek’Balam; Nov-Aug; from £30).
One of Mérida’s nicest
small hotels, MedioMundo is decorated in bold, Mexican colours from its ochre
exterior to the red, blue and green rooms, all with equally bright contrasting
fabrics. Traditional blue and yellow tilework is also used throughout (00 52
999 924 5472; hotelmediomundo.com;
Calle 55 No 534, Mérida; from £40).
Casa Mexilio is a
historic house with beautifully appointed rooms. The 1930s colonial-style décor
incorporates local and Spanish antiques and artwork. There’s also a small bar
and a tiny pool with Jacuzzi (00 52 999 928 2505; casamexilio.com; Calle 68 No 495 between
Calles 57 & 59, Mérida; from £50).
Playa del Carmen’s
Kinbé Hotel has a Mediterranean- Mayan aesthetic. Designer furniture and green
and red colour schemes give it an understated, stylish feel. There’s also a
lovely courtyard garden and a rooftop terrace (00 52 984 873 0441; kinbe.com; Calle 10, Playa del Carmen; from £55).
A bright, cheery
yellow, Casa Carolina in Xcalak has four rooms, each equipped with a kitchen
and fridge, plus balconies with sea views. All levels of scuba instruction
(NAUI) are offered here, as well as recreational dives at the barrier reef (casacarolina.net; Calle Costero, nr Xcalak
Pueblo, Xcalak 77940; from £70).
The bus system is reliable and
inexpensive, with routes covering all major cities. For more remote places,
you’ll need to hire a car. Car hire outlets operate at Cancún and Mérida
airports (£25 per day; hertz.com).
When to go
The Yucatán Peninsula is hot
and humid, with the rainy season from June to October. The best time to visit
is November to March, when it is comparatively dry and cool. You can also catch
Mérida's carnival and Holy Week celebrations in February and March.
How to go
British Airways flies from
Heathrow and Gatwick to Cancún. Thomson flies from Bristol, Gatwick,
Birmingham, East Midlands, Newcastle, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow (from
£600). Flights to Mérida and Cozumel go via Mexico City or the US. A taxi from
Cancún airport to Ciudad Cancún costs £8.
The article 'Mini guide to the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.