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The Yucatán Peninsula is a study in dichotomies. While Cancún is known for its all-inclusive resorts, powdery beaches, and college kids getting sloppy on Spring Break, Mérida is famous for its culture, history, and Mayan hospitality. On the coast, development is booming around beaches known in tourist brochures as the Maya Riviera, where scuba and sun worshiping rule the day, while inland, awe-inspiring Mayan sites like Chichén Itzá and Uxmal evoke the great civilization that once ruled the peninsula. It's precisely this combination of archaeology and beach - so eloquently embodied by Tulum, the small Mayan ...

The Yucatán Peninsula is a study in dichotomies. While Cancún is known for its all-inclusive resorts, powdery beaches, and college kids getting sloppy on Spring Break, Mérida is famous for its culture, history, and Mayan hospitality. On the coast, development is booming around beaches known in tourist brochures as the Maya Riviera, where scuba and sun worshiping rule the day, while inland, awe-inspiring Mayan sites like Chichén Itzá and Uxmal evoke the great civilization that once ruled the peninsula. It's precisely this combination of archaeology and beach - so eloquently embodied by Tulum, the small Mayan site on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean - that makes the Yucatán Peninsula such a popular (too popular some would argue) destination. In the cultural and historical annals of Mexico, the Yucatán has always been an anomaly. Determined and intelligent (the Maya invented the concept of zero and were cracker jack astronomers), the Yucatecan Maya valiantly fought off would-be Spanish conquerors, including the ignoble explorer Hernán Cortés, who landed in Cozumel in 1519. Ultimately, though, the Spaniards proved too powerful and the Yucatecan Maya eventually succumbed to foreign domination by 1546. Resistance ran deep however and the Mayan fought fiercely against oppression perpetuated by the ruling classes during the War of the Castes (1847-1901) - a murderous affair that cut the Mayan population here in half in under a decade. This independent spirit is retained in the area's modern Mayan culture and historical and archaeological sites strewn throughout the peninsula.

Conner Gorry
About the Expert

Conner Gorry is a contributor to more than a dozen Lonely Planet guidebooks and is the lead writer for Lonely Planet's Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala guides.

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Conner Gorry for Triporati

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Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    November to April when temperatures are slightly cooler