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Yucatan Treasures – Mayan, Colonial, Natural

Yucatán. The name conjures up images of Spanish colonial cities,

magical cenotes, ancient pyramids and vast haciendas Boutique hotels, expert guides, a taste for culture and adventure equals a vacation that requires the expert touch of a travel advisor. Big adventures usually mean big profits.


While everyone knows that the Yucatán has  colonial cities, most North Americans are not necessarily familiar with Yucatán’s best—Valladolid, Mérida and Izamal.


Valladolid is structured around the Parque Francisco Canton Rosado, the central town square, which is surrounded by colonial buildings that maintain a classic feel. On the south side of the square sits the magnificent Catedral de San Gervasio, and only a few hundred yards from the square is the Cenote Zací – a spectacular sinkhole located in a public park. This cenote is traversed by a walking path that passes under a curtain of stalactites.


Mérida is the state capitol city and was founded by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1540s on top of a centuries old Mayan city called T’hó. The home of conquistador leader Montejo is still on the main square. The main plaza is anchored by a large central market, and small local shops abound. Evening is the best time to find locals out and about, when cool breezes from the Gulf of Mexico help alleviate the tropical heat.


Izamal was sacred to the ancient Mayans—a place created to pay homage to the Creator God Itzamna and to the Sun God Kinich Ahau.What sets Izamal apart from other colonial cities is that the conquistadors deviated from their normal practice of destroying and then rebuilding atop existing Mayan cities. In Izamal, because the Mayan structures were so massive, the Spanish contented themselves with putting churches and convents on top of them. The result is that the Mayan ruins are right near the center of town. Kinich Kakmó pyramid is to the north of the main square, Pap Hol Chac to the south, Itzamatul to the east and Kabul to the west.


The colonial Franciscan monastery of San Antonio de Padua in Izamal was completed in 1561. It looks like it’s atop a natural hill, but the base is really an ancient Maya acropolis.


The Next “IT” Destination
As amazing as the colonial cities are, they still present only a niche tourism market, dwarfed by the likes of nearby Cancun in Quintana Roo. However, Mexico’s Yucatán state wants to transform this traditional niche market and make it the next “IT” travel destination in Mexico. According to Michelle Fridman, Tourism Secretary for Yucatán State, a host of developments are already under way. These and  future plans for this culturally rich and rising destination will highlight the features that make it a perfect microcosm of Mexico. “Our governor has just launched incentives for investors,” said Fridman. “Our plan is to develop some of the beaches, but in a very specific way. We want to remain an example of sustainable development,” she added. “We’re taking a lot of care in having the right development, which takes care of locals.”


The first spot to be invested in will be the cruise port Progreso, since it is home to the best beach in the Yucatán state. The government will soon begin investing to make it a more easily accessible experience for tourists. Celestún will follow.


Progreso is famously known for its 3.7 mile long pier, the longest in the world. Yet, Progreso is potentially so much more than a port city with access to great archeological sites. The city has great beaches, and in the winter months is home to dolphins that hang out at the entrance to the city’s lagoon. The lagoon is also home to a colony of flamingos, and for divers, there is a nearby shipwreck that is in about 45 feet of water.


Celestún is famous for their mangroves and especially for their flamingos. Celestún is home to a small village on the Atlantic coast of Yucatán (about an hour west of Merida). The main attractions are a bio-nature reserve and fresh seafood. Many tour operators offer excursions that include an hour and a half small boat ride through the mangroves in search of flocks of flamingos. At the entrance to the Celestún Reserve there are many boats waiting to take guests on a ride in search of wildlife.


Looking Forward
While Yucatán is looking to expand tourism, there is no need to fear that this will become the next Cancun hotel zone. “We do not want huge, 800-room resorts,” said Fridman. “We want the eco-friendly and small luxury boutique hotels that are part of our essence.”


It is important to note that the state of Yucatán is not the same thing as the Yucatán Peninsula. The Yucatán Peninsula is a region of Mexico comprising three states: Quintana Roo, home to popular resort cities such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen; the state of Campeche, known for its colonial cities and rich history; and the state of Yucatán, which sits between the other two.


Yucatán tourism is experiencing an infrastructure development phase, with 13 hotels currently in the works and new attractions coming online as well. Grupo Xcaret is expected to open a cenote park near the colonial city of Valladolid and Chichén Itzá, one of the state’s most important and beloved Mayan archaeological sites.


It is easy to take clients right into the heart of Yucatán as Merida has non-stop flights from both Houston and Miami. To learn more how travel advisors can benefit from the changes happening in the State of Yucatán, plan on attending Tianguis Turistico (Mexico’s largest annual tourism event) which will be hosted by Merida in 2020.

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