The west region of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula truly provides an enriching experience for its visitors. There’s a vibrancy in culture there from its food, to activities and especially historic places to stay. While most visitors choose to experience the likes of Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Cancun on the east coast, check out the west side for a less touristy and more authentic experience. Here, we’re highlighting the best experiences to be had in the West Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Read on and you’ll see why we love it so much.
The best of the West Yucatan: Where to eat, play and stay:
The closest major airport in the West Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is Merida. It’s a major city and easy to get a direct flight to its international airport. Another option is Campeche, although you may have to take connecting flight through somewhere like Mexico City.
You’re in for a treat! There are so many foods to love here from pork that cooks underground for five hours (yup, you read that correctly!) to dishes created with Chaya plant leaves.
This is a dish consisting of the slow cooked pork that gets its flavour from being cooked in a smoky of cooking ash pit underground. It’s like an original slow-cooker method! It’s marinated in local spices (like a red spice called Annatto) and citrus (like sour orange) to give it a unique, exceptionally delicious flavor. The pork is then either eaten alone, with taco shells, or on tortillas filled with beans called Panuchos. They are a local specialty and we happily tasted them when we stayed at Hacienda Temozon (read on for more on this hotel).
Another incredible ingredient of the West Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, which you’ll find in many dishes, is Chaya. Chaya is a plant whose leaves are used to flavour drinks or food. It’s used in cooking like a vegetable. The image below (with guacamole, of course) has a Chaya leaf on the plate. Look for juices flavoured with Chaya, which may have a slight or strong green hue (I saw both while I was there) and tastes very good! It’s not a strong flavor yet adds a pleasant taste.
There is just enough to do in this area to keep you busy while allowing you to enjoy time at your hotel too. I recommend renting a car. It’s safe and easy and will allow you the freedom to keep your own schedule since tours aren’t as plentiful in the area (though you certainly can find a few).
This spot, pronounced ‘oosh-mal’, is not to miss. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the year 700 CE. It’s a Mayan ruins complex less crowded than its perhaps more-famous neighbour (in the east Yucatan), Chichen Itza. It’s about an hour and a half from Merida by car (or 45 minutes from where we were staying at Hacienda Temozon). We walked around for two hours or so enjoying all of the structures. It’s incredible to see what great shape they’re in. Bring lots of water – it gets HOT there!
This attraction also has a night show with lights and a narrated story when the sun goes down. I only recommend it if you’re fluent in Spanish. It seemed very interesting and was fun to watch the buildings illuminate in colourful theatrical lighting for its hour-long duration. Unfortunately, we simply couldn’t understand it at all because we only speak English!
There is a little museum across the street from Uxmal called Choco-Story. I highly recommend a visit. At first I thought it may be a cute little museum to kill an hour while we were waiting for the night show at Uxmal but I was wrong! It’s an educational and interesting place that tells the story of the West Yucatan Peninsula and nearby regions, through cocoa plants. I didn’t know how cocoa beans were used as currency or how chocolate changed the region over time until I read all about it, thoroughly, here.
Chaman blessing at a cenote
One of the coolest things we experienced was a blessing by a Chaman. But it gets better – it was at a private cenote, with the most beautiful visuals both natural and staged by the Chaman. These two elements made for unforgettable memories. There are only 48 or so Chamans left and we felt extra special to have experienced this through our stay at Hacienda Temozon. And though it’s a private cenote it’s really quite accessible through the Hacienda.
Merida itself is a fun city! If you can coordinate the times simply spend a few hours there before or after your flight. The photo below was taken of a church in Plaza Grande, a beautiful park to enjoy people watching and architecture.
We enjoyed two incredible hotels for our four days in the region. We spent two nights at Hacienda Temozon and two at Hacienda Santa Rosa. Both were wonderful and I can’t recommend them enough.
Hacienda Temozon is about an hour from Merida. It used to be a Sisal, or Agave plant, mill where mainly rope was produced hundreds of years ago. It has less than 40 rooms so you’ll completely feel like a special visitor to this unique location. I loved the hammocks you could take an afternoon nap in or the view from the restaurant, overlooking the pool, that we enjoyed each morning. The staff were attentive, the food was delicious, and the location was wonderful. Also the private cenote, mentioned above, was very special.
Hacienda Santa Rosa
This resort boasts a large, inviting lawn within its gated driveway. It’s located in a small village about an hour and a half from Merida. It was a photographers paradise – everywhere I turned was another photo opportunity, from the church from 1903 still intact, to a beautiful pool surrounded by colourful buildings, to our suite’s plunge pool.
I loved that we stayed at both hotels so we could get a taste of two different sites in the West Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
Craving more Mexican adventure? Also check out:
- The Most Romantic Things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- Don’t Believe the Rumours: Here’s What Tijuana is Really Like
- 6 Unique Foods You Need to Try in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
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Disclosure: we thank Hacienda Temozon and Hacienda Santa Rosa for generously hosting us. All the opinions are our own.
Have you been to the West Yucatan Peninsula? Share your tips in the comments!