Last updated: 08:00 AM ET, Mon July 08 2019
An aerial view of Cancun's Hotel Zone at Playa Linda.

Yucatan

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Most famous landmark of Yucatan and iconic symbol of Mexico. Kukulkan is the name of a Maya snake deity that also serves to designate historical persons (photo via JoseIgnacioSoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Archaeological Site of Chichen Itza, Yucatan (photo via JoseIgnacioSoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The Maya civilization occupied the entire Yucatan Peninsula in southeastern Mexico before it was conquered by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. That’s why much of today’s local population is part or all Maya descent. The Yucatan is one of the richest archaeological zones in the ancient Mesoamerica world. Visitors can tour such native sites as Chichen Itza, with its 1,500-year-old pyramids, Dzibilchaltun, Uxmal and about eight others. If you only explore the ancient ruins you will miss other integral parts of the Yucatan experience, such as the local cuisine, colonial villages, restored haciendas and tequila. The region, which has a hot and humid climate, is blanketed in semi-tropical rain forest.

The popular resort town of Cancun is the primary draw to the region. Area beaches sparkle with the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. In Merida, the state capital, stroll down Paseo Montejo, the city’s main avenue lined with palaces and 19th-century mansions. Take a detour to the colonial city of Campeche or the fisherman’s resort town of Playa del Carmen. In the smaller towns of Valladolid and Progreso you’ll find local artisans selling their products, colonial and tropical architecture and subterranean sinkholes for swimming or cave diving. Visit a national park or a sacred cave with terracotta clay where you can take a mud bath and wash off under a waterfall.