This is a guest post by Micki Kosman of The Barefoot Nomad
Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is best known for the crowded beaches and all inclusive resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. As a family of four, with two little kids in tow, we wanted to travel at a quiet pace away from the crowds. Surprisingly, finding our own piece of fun in the sun in the Yucatan turned out to be fairly easy.
Here are five ways we found to make the most of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Take in the Mayan Ruins
Tulum’s Mayan ruins (c) The Barefoot Nomad
Tulum’s Mayan ruins are perched on a 40 foot cliff overlooking the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. The Tulum ruins are less well known than landlocked Chichen Itza and Coba, and we found them to be fairly quiet when we visited in January. We wandered for hours, as sleepy iguanas draped themselves over the sun-bleached rocks. Swimmers frolicked on a small white sand beach with Tulum’s ruins looming above.
Soak up the Sun on White Sand Beaches
White Sand Beach by Tulum (c) The Barefoot Nomad
The Yucatan’s beaches live up to every beautiful beach cliché, with their powdery white sand and azure water. While the beaches in major towns like Cancun and Playa del Carmen can be crowded with tourists, the peninsula is also filled with quieter beaches that are equally beautiful.
After a long, hot tour of Tulum’s ruins, we took a short taxi ride south of the ruins. The beaches near the Sian Ka’an biosphere are often almost empty, with seemingly endless stretches of white sand. The kids raced ahead, darting in and out of the shallow ocean, as we wandered behind, squinting our eyes against the blinding whiteness of the sand.
Go Island Hopping to Cozumel or Isla Mujeres
Barefoot on the Beaches of Cozumel (c) The Barefoot Nomad
The islands of the Yucatan peninsula are a quiet change of pace from the busy mainland resorts. Cozumel is the most visited island, seeing swarms of cruise ship tourists in the main port town of San Miguel. We visited the quieter beaches to the south of San Miguel for a quick getaway from Cozumel’s busy port.
If you’re looking for an island less touristy than Cozumel, check out the relaxed Holbox or Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres (the Island of Women) is only four miles long and easy to explore by golf cart or scooter. Holbox, known for whale sharks that visit offshore, is a true escape where you won’t find cars or even an ATM.
Sample Authentic Mexican Food
Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) manda_wong
The Yucatan is a great place to sample authentic Mexican food. We found everything from expensive, upscale restaurants to street corner dives selling authentic Mexican cuisine. This isn’t Tex-Mex, which commonly features cheddar or American cheese; instead, authentic Mexican food is often made with queso fresco. Nachos, too, are an American invention, and uncommon in much of Mexico.
You also won’t find the u-shaped hard tacos you see elsewhere in North America. In Mexico, tacos are usually soft corn tortillas filled with beef, pork, chicken or seafood. Al pastor tacos, made from meat (almost always pork) cooked on a tall skewer (similar to a donair) are found all over the peninsula. Served on fresh corn tortillas, pastor tacos and a cool lime margarita are a perfect combination for enjoying al fresco.
One of our favorite pastimes in the Yucatan was to grab a seat in one of the area’s open air restaurants. The fresh ocean air, a cold Corona or lime margarita, and traditional Mexican food made for many relaxing evenings.
Swim in a Cenote
Crystalline Cenote Near Playa del Carmen (c) The Barefoot Nomad
One of the natural wonders of the Yucatan peninsula, cenotes are pools filled with clear freshwater. They’re sinkholes formed by collapsed bedrock that exposes an underground river and cave system running under the peninsula. Sometimes used by Mayans for sacrificial offerings, cenotes were thought to be gateways to the afterlife. There are thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan, with some hundreds of feet deep and others no more than a few feet.
We decided to skip busy cenotes like Cenote Ik kil near Chichen Itza, and check out Cenote Crystalline, located just outside of Playa del Carmen. Living up to its name, Cenote Crystalline was perfectly clear, with only a few fallen leaves floating on top. As we plunged into the refreshing water, tiny fish nibbled gently at our feet.
How to get there: Most visitors enter the Yucatan peninsula through Cancun’s international airport.
When to go: The best time to visit is from November to March, when the risk of hurricanes is small.
About our guest author:
Micki and her family have perfected the art of taking long breaks from their everyday lives. They tell you how they escape from work for months at a time at TheBarefootNomad.com. You can follow them on Facebook.