On the Road With Stephanie on the Yucatan Peninsula

Stephanie here, Senior Account Manager at McCue Communications. As a travel and tourism public relations representative, naturally one of my great passions in life is travel.

In March, my husband and I met up with friends (luxuriously without our toddler!) on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It was a welcome reprieve from the hard New York winter. Having been to the touristy, party-capital of the Yucatan, Cancun, we were ready to explore destinations a bit off the beaten path. We split our time between the city of Merida and the coastal town of Tulum, hitting up ancient Mayan archaeological sites and refreshing cenotes along the way.

Merida

We first spent three nights in the Yucatan capital city of Merida. While Merida is gaining quite a bit of tourism recognition, it still feels like an undiscovered Mexican gem. Built upon the ancient Mayan city of T’ho, Merida is a Spanish colonial city filled with vibrant colors, plenty of culture, museums, and the oldest cathedral in the Northern Hemisphere. We particularly enjoyed Palacio Canton, the Museum of Anthropology and History featuring artifacts and Mayan relics, housed in an incredible and historic colonial mansion on Paseo Montejo.

To fully immerse ourselves in the culture of Merida, we stayed at the beautiful and airy colonial Cozy Casa Koala (via Airbnb) in the residential Santiago neighborhood of Merida. The home was conveniently located near most sites in the city, within walking distance of the city center and a quick walk to the lively Parque de Santiago. The park truly came to life after dark, there’s an amazing collection of no-frills food stands catering to locals along the east side of the park. We were able to watch a dance troupe practicing their choreography for an upcoming festival while indulging in tortas and watermelon agua fresca.

Merida is knowns as a foodie-city blending classic Mexican fare, Oaxacan dishes, and Spanish flavors together for unique food offerings. The city is famous for its incredible open-air food markets. One of our favorite meals was a long, leisurely lunch at Apoala. We sat outside overlooking the hip Parque de Santa Lucia indulging in their incredible mezcal cocktails and delicious Oaxacan-inspired food.

Mayan Ruins and Cenotes

We rented a car to allow ourselves the freedom to explore the Yucatan jungle at our leisure between the coast and Merida and back. We stopped in the city of Valladolid for lunch (at a restaurant off the main city square), for some exploring and a little shopping and we’re glad we did.

Not far from Valladolid is the ruins of Ek’ Balam and X’Canche Cenote. This was, by far, one of our favorite ruin sites. The site was blissfully uncrowded (we were there later in the afternoon) and you’re still able to climb on most of the excavated ruins for some up-close inspection. A climb to the top of the acropolis, the tallest ruin, rewards with an incredible view of the surrounding jungle and even the tops of other Mayan sites in the distance.

I’d recommend renting bikes near the entrance for the short ride through the jungle to the X’Canche cenote for a refreshing dip before or after seeing the ruins. This open-air cenote is filled with cool, fresh spring water and those who run the park give you the freedom to jump in and swim around (a park entrance fee and pre-swim shower are required). People zip-line overhead while you backstroke through the clear blue water or daringly jump in from a natural platform or swing in from a rope.

The historic site of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest ruin in the city, Kukulkan, is one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s an incredible site and worth a visit, just keep in mind that it’s very crowded with busses full of tourists from around the globe. Areas of particular interest are the great ball court, the largest preserved ancient ballcourt in Mesoamerica, and the nearby cenote used for ancient human sacrifice.

We also enjoyed the ancient Mayan ruin site Coba. This destination is far less crowded than Chichen Itza and first settled between 50 and 100 AD. Visitors can still climb the steep Nohoch Mul Pyramid to be rewarded with another great view of the jungle. Just be careful climbing up and down, the stones are quite worn and smooth, they’ve thoughtfully installed a rope to keep steady. There are three cenotes near Coba for exploration. We prefered the underground cenote in which you descend a steep set of wooden stairs into a cave and, if you’re brave enough, jump into the cenote from one of the man-made jumping platforms.

Tulum

The coastal town of Tulum has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years. It seems every blogger and celebrity has a stream of Instagram images from the beaches of this gorgeous destination. There’s every reason to love this area; the soft, white sand beaches, the stunningly blue Caribbean sea, the incredible selection of restaurants, dozens of seaside wellness spas, a happening (but low key) nightlife scene and some pretty stellar shopping. There are two main sections of the town; the jungle section and the beach area. The beach area is only accessible by one (what used to be) sleepy jungle access road which is now lined with small-scale resort properties, restaurants, and beach clubs. The traffic on the road now is frustrating but once you get to your destination, you’ll forget all about it.

The beach resorts, restaurants and bars in Tulum can be certainly fashionable and hip but decidedly beach-hippy. Enjoy freshly made cocktails and umbrella service at one of the resort beach clubs or spend your day doing yoga, getting a natural healing massage, or a Mayan moon purification ceremony. Do not miss a stop at the Taqueria Honorio, it’s a small no-frills taco stand that often sells out of their food by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Every taco and torta we sampled had incredible flavors and ranks as one of the best tacos we’ve ever had.

While in Tulum be sure to stop by the Tulum Ruins as it’s one of the most incredibly picturesque ancient Mayan cities perched above the ocean. It does tend to get quite busy so I’d recommend going as early in the morning as possible.

The Yucatan Peninsula is an incredible Mexican destination filled with truly unique experiences. Do your research ahead of time and you’ll be rewarded with an affordable, authentic and culturally rich vacation in this beautiful region.

About the Author, Stephanie Goodwin

After three years spent leading Media Relations for San Luis Obispo-based agency, Verdin Marketing, and more than a decade of experience in public relations, marketing and events, Stephanie Goodwin joined McCue Communications in 2017 to launch the agency’s New York office.  Her career likewise began in New York at publishing and media company Manhattan Media and has since comprised a variety of leadership positions on both coasts, where she has directed public relations, marketing and events for clients in the tourism, culinary and lifestyle sectors.  Her tactical expertise includes developing media relations strategies, brand story development and generating earned media outreach for brands such as Ventura County Coast, Discover Morro Bay, Visit Cayucos, the Shoreline Inn, and the Cambria Inns Collection.  Stephanie has also worked with lifestyle brands such as CHANEL, Kwiat diamonds, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Bumbleride strollers, Elemental Herbs/All Good, and others.

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