The Yucatan Peninsula on Mexico’s eastern coastline is one of the most popular destinations for American tourist looking for an affordable tropical vacation. While the beachfront photos and spring break stories have always caught my attention, the region has never been on my radar for places I’d like to visit.
I’ve just always envisioned massive resorts, overcrowded beaches and drunken tourists disrespecting locals – a place I could live without.
Luckily, last month my father and I had a chance to spend 10 days traveling through the Yucatan Peninsula and put my preconceived notions to the test. While I wasn’t completely off in my assumptions, I was pleasantly surprised at all the great things there were to do and see in the region.
Once you escape the overwhelming mega hotels, food chains and nightclubs of Las Vegas Cancun, you can catch an ADO bus or colectivo(mini-bus) and cruise up and down the main highway finding one great adventure after another.
My dad and I established our home base in the beautiful community of Puerto Aventuras and set out on a different adventure almost every day. Below is a list of my favorite experiences while visiting the picturesque Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
Snorkeling with Sea Turtles
Take a trip to Akumel where the sea grass grows and the sea turtles glide through the crystal clear water like an eagle soaring across the open sky. For a couple bucks you can rent snorkel gear and swim out from the beach to where the break gathers an abundance of sea life.
We were lucky enough to find a few turtles cruising around away from all the other snorkelers and it made for a special moment as we just swam along side them and admired their beauty.
Exploring The Mayan Ruins
The 3 most popular Mayan ruin sites in the Yucatan Peninsula are Tulum, Chichen Itza, and the Coba Ruins. We managed to hit two of the three and were pretty impressed by what we found. Tulum was beautiful because it was right along the coast and our bus driver told us the beach next to the ruins was where you would find the best booties in the area. The beaches were beautiful (lead photo) but the booties were few and far between unfortunately.
We also spent a day at Chichen Itza exploring the incredible ruins that was once a central commercial and spiritual landmark for the Mayan tribes who lived in this region. Thanks to Catherwood Travels who supplied us with a very knowledgeable archeologist we were able to learn so much about the site, history and significance of many of the ruins. If you make the trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, I would definitely take the time to explore these great sites.
Cliff Diving into Cenotes
A cenote is a deep natural pit, or sinkhole resulting from a collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. In translation, they’re awesome swimming holes with cliffs and caves that you can jump off, swim under and snorkel through. There are hundreds of locations along the main highway from Cancun to Tulum that any colectivo will drop you off and pick you up.
Cenote Recommendations: Dzitnup (from Valladolid) Cenote with rope swing at Ek Balam, Casa Cenote, Gran Cenote, Heaven’s Door, Dos Ojos Cenote and Cenote Jardin del Eden.
Scuba Diving in Tropical Water
I’ve never been scuba diving before so Dad and I decided to get our “resort certification” and go explore the great deep blue sea. We did our dive certification at the hotel pool nearby and within an hour and a half we were all suited up and heading out to sea. We made our way down to about 45 feet where we skimmed over the incredible coral and admired the badass fish.
I can definitely see how people could get addicted to scuba diving – the incredibly intimidating and fascinating ocean and all its magical bits lures you in while keeping you at bay with what you might see next. I’d definitely like to get my official scuba license and travel deeper more often.
A Deep Sea Fishing Workout
I felt bad going deep sea fishing after the scuba dive excursion the previous day. After swimming around and introducing myself under water I was now back on a boat hunting my new friends. I’m just glad we didn’t go fishing first because I’m sure they would have been pissed.
Within the first 20 minutes of being out on the boat I had my first fish on the line and spent 15 minutes of nonstop reeling to try bringing him in. It was a good size Sailfish (looks like a sword fish or marlin) that leaped from the water and gave me a hell of a time. With one giant leap and crash into the water he managed to cut himself loose from my line and I lost him. I was exhausted.
Thankfully, we had a couple other guys on the boat, including my father, who were more successful. We ended up catching 3 big Sailfish, which are catch and release, however one swallowed the hook and died so we had to bring him on board so the sharks wouldn’t gather. It made for a great dinner.
The moral of the story is, get off your ass and step away from the piña coladas and wet t-shirt contests long enough to go explore all the amazing things to see and do in and around the Yucatan Peninsula. I’d recommend booking a beach holiday through The Ultimate Travel Company and then taking a bus from place to place, avoiding all the overpriced package tours.
After this trip, I’ve realized this is a region I’d definitely like to revisit down the road because there is still so much I haven’t done. I’d like to visit some small towns like Merida, Campeche, Cristobal and Valladolid and explore some of the popular islands like Cozumel and Isla de Mujeres. Next time.