As Hurricane Rina churns toward the Yucatán Coast, with Cancún in its sites for a Thursday afternoon touchdown, a familiar drama is playing out up and down the glittering Caribbean coastline. Alerts are out to some 45,000 tourists estimated to be staying in Cancún, Cozumel, and along the Riviera Maya, based on careful analysis of the storm, recommending evacuation for most resort areas, and requiring it in places deemed high-risk, in this case Isla Holbox.
Splendid Chichén Itzá (600AD–1000AD), one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is quite rightly the most famous of Mexico’s pre-Columbian cities. Just two hours from Cancún, the awe-inspiring Classical Mayan masterpiece is a must on any Yucatán itinerary. Many travelers have also heard of stunning Tulúm (1200–1450AD), a Mayan resort town right on the white Caribbean beaches, famed for the lovely freshwater cenotes nearby.
Off the Yucatán Coast are some of the world’s most beautiful denizens of the deep, the colorfully “maned” lionfish. Its showy fans of brilliantly hued spines and quiet, fearless demeanor make it prized by collectors and beloved by divers, who once had to swim the Indian Ocean to enjoy resplendent specimens in the wild.
One doesn’t usually think of Felipe Calderón, the tough-as-nails president of Mexico best known for his encyclopedic policy knowledge and unflinching crackdown on borderland narcotrafficking gangs, smiling and scuba diving through the clear blue waters of the Yucatán. This month, however, he does just that, descending into the peninsula’s famous cenotes, or freshwater-filled sinkholes, considered sacred by the Mayans and spectacularly beautiful to everyone else.
Calderón took time out earlier this year to show popular travel journalist Peter Greenberg the wonders of Mexico, which include some of the Yucatán’s brilliant blue gems.
The sunny appeal of the Yucatán Peninsula isn’t just for spring breakers. Some 1400 massive and magnificent whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, arrive in these clear blue waters between May and September. Though solitary for much of the year, they spend their time around Cancún, Isla Mujeres, and Isla Holbox socializing with their own species and other cetaceans who come to dine on the plankton-rich waters.
Travelers have long made their way to Cancún and the Riviera Maya for a little rest and relaxation, recuperating both body and soul from the stress of daily grind. With Mexico’s increasing popularity as a medical tourism destination, the healing effects of a Caribbean vacation are about to diversify.
If you’ve tried to research anything online about the Mayan Empire in recent years, you’ve had to wade through pages of apocalyptic prophecies, all promising the end of the world before Christmas 2012, for the price of a few page views. You aren’t the only one who has noticed that virtual snake oil sales were eclipsing actual information about Kukulkán, the Feathered Serpent and patron of the Mayan priesthood.
Once known as Ichcaanzihó, or “City of Five Hills,” the capital of Yucatán State is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the hemisphere. The “five hills” were actually Mayan pyramids, though their stone extravagance was subsequently dismantled by Spanish settlers, and used to build the modern metropolis christened Mérida.
Chichen Itza is one of the archaeological most spectacular sites of the Mayan Culture located at a relatively short distance from Cancun and Riviera Maya. Today we can admire what was their impressive religious civic complex: a great plaza surrounded by elegant decorated buildings; to the east the “Warriors Complex”, named this way for the multiple elements in the stonework representing the two warring breeds: the jaguars and the eagles…
Want to learn more? Or just drink more? You’re in luck, as a new museum has just opened in Cancún’s Hotel Zone, the Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum. The museum was built by Hacienda San Jose del Refugio, which has produced some of Mexico’s finest tequila since 1870, using Weber blue agave grown at their Amatitán, Jalisco, estate. It claims to be “the only 100% hacienda-made tequila in the world,” and you can find out how they do it without leaving the beach.