More Than Just the Beach: Exploring More of the Yucatan Peninsula with Felicia Moeis
By heading westbound from Cancun and leaving the state of Quintana Roo into the Yucatan, you’ll reach Valladolid in less than a 2 hour drive off the main toll road. What used to be thought as a quick stop-over for Chichen Itza daytrippers is a charming 1-2 day stay in this colonial “Pueblo Magico”.
La Flor de Michoacan - multiple locations throughout Valladolid
Try some sweet corn (“Elote”) ice cream with actual corn kernels in it - it might be hard to believe, but somehow. it. works. The paletas (fruit and cream-based popsicles) are hard to resist as well when walking around in the hot Mexican sun.
Casa de los Venados - Calle 40 #204, Valladolid
An American couple buys and restores a colonial home, and turns it into the largest private collection of Mexican folk art. The owners open up their home almost everyday at 10am for small group tours.
A trip to the Yucatan is incomplete without a dip in the refreshing, healing waters of a cenote. Cenotes are underground caves with freshwater pools; the ones at Dzitnup are enclosed caves where you can see and touch the roots from the trees above that are absorbing the moisture from the below-ground pools. Some bats and catfish may also be joining you as you swim!
Mérida is the capital of the Yucatan state, and with a population over 700,000, this city boasts a contrasted mix of nonstop in-your-face downtown street-side vendors and the majestic Paseo de Montejo boulevard home to the 19th Century mansions of the sisal rope barons.
La Chaya Maya - Calle 62 and 57, Mérida
When in the Yucatan..don’t go for the usual Mexican food. This entire region is rich with Pre-Colonial Mayan cuisine and local flavors. This busy restaurant maintains all the Yucatecan staples; Poc Chuc (grilled pork seasoned with citrus), Sopa de Lima (Lime Soup), and Papadzules (corn tortillas stuffed with eggs). I became obsessed with Chaya during my trip - a green leafy superfood similar to (and more potent than) spinach that’s perfect for juices, omelettes, and dips.
Mercado de Santa Ana - Parque de Santa Ana, Mérida
Much less intimidating than the non-stop hawkers and rush of people trying to find their colectivo (highway van system) routes near Mercado Lucas de Galvez, this smaller market in the Barrio de Santa Ana offers a number of food stands with some of the most amazing Yucatecan street food. Order a pair of “Salbutes con Cochinita Pibil” (chewy fried tortillas with Yucatecan-style slow roasted pork), or 5!
En El Corazon de Mérida/Mérida en Domingo (“In the Heart of Mérida” (Saturdays) / “Mérida on Sundays”) - Plaza Grande, Mérida
Cultural events in Mérida set up by the City Hall are a huge draw for the locals - and every weekend day & night boasts a variety of activities and dances where everyone, including numerous food carts and street vendors head into the square. Catch everything from a re-enactment of a Mayan ball game to a performance of the traditional Yucatecan Jarana and Vaqueria dances.
Continue 2 hours southwest of Mérida, and you’ll end up in the neighboring state and capital city sharing the same name of Campeche. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an impeccably well-preserved walled town with its precious signature candy-colored Baroque-style facades, protected from the pirates of the 17th Century. Yes, this treasure is where the real “Pirates of the Caribbean” took place. International tourists are still few and far between in this area, but you will see Mexicans from other states visiting for a weekend by the Gulf.
Luz y Sonido Shows - Convent de San Bernardino de Siena (Valladolid); Puerta del Tierra & Parque Principal (Campeche)
Throughout Mexico, the federal government has worked together with local governments to offer these free and elaborate “Luz y Sonido” (light and sound) projection shows that offers a decent rundown of the local culture and history.
All three cities also offer endless opportunities for day trips. Drive on the Ruta Puuc near Mérida to visit under the radar ruins such as Uxmal, where less than 100 visitors stop by in a day. Head to Izamal and Tizimin in the middle of the Yucatan for a peek into traditional Mayan life that still continues today – places where the majority of people still speak Mayan more than Spanish.
Follow Felicia Moeis on Twitter and Instagram for more on travel, food, and city/nightlife adventures: @feliciamoeis