Yucatan is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is located in Southeastern Mexico, on the north part of the Yucatán Peninsula. Yucatán is the safest state in Mexico.Yucatán declared independence from Mexico to form a second Republic of Yucatán, but eventually on July 14, 1848, Yucatán rejoined Mexico.
Mayans flourished and established one of their greatest cities, Chichén Itzá, in what is now Yucatán. Because it was relatively isolated from the rest of Mexico until recently, the state developed its own unique culture. Today, service-based companies account for about 23 percent of the state’s economy. The Yucatán Peninsula is home to North America’s largest indigenous population, the Mayans. Yucatán has the highest percentage of indigenous language speakers in the country.
Because Yucatán has a rich history of ancient cultures, archaeological sites are active throughout the region. Mexico’s most extensively restored archaeological park, Chichén Itzá, covers four square miles. Founded by a tribe of warriors called the Itzáe, Chichén Itzá represents a melding of Mayan, Toltec, Puuc and Uxmal architectural influences.
Once a city of grandeur, Chichén Itzá’s structures include El Castillo (Pyramid of Kukulcán), Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) and Juego de Pelota (ball court). The nearby Cenote of Sacrifice provided water for the citizens and was sometimes used to sacrifice humans.
Uxmal, another archaeological park in Yucatán, is often called the most attractive of the archaeological sites. Built in approximately 700 A.D. Uxmal features the Mayan chultunes (or cisterns), which held water for the population.
Chaac, the rain god, is seen in many of the carvings as well. Within a 10-mile radius of Uxmal are four smaller ancient sites at Kabah, Sayil, Xklapak and Labna. Together with Uxmal, these ruins make up the Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), named after the hills in which they are nestled.
Chichén Itzá and the Pyramid of Kukulcán were recently named among the new Seven Wonders of the World. Amazingly, the pyramid was built so that on the spring and fall equinox (March 21 and September 21), the movement of the sun creates the illusion of a giant snake of light gliding down the pyramid’s main flight of stairs. To the Mayans, this symbolized the return of Kukulcán, the Plumed Snake.
The Rio Lagartos National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest flamingo population in North America. Established in 1979, the 118,000-acre National Park features diverse geological areas, from coastal dunes to mangrove swamps. From April to August, the refuge hosts thousands of flamingos, plus another 200-plus bird species and large populations of sea turtles and jaguars.
Nearly 140 miles from Rio Lagartos, the Celestún Wildlife Refuge spans the border between the states of Campeche and Yucatán. Also established in 1979, Celestún encompasses 146,000-acres and shelters 300 bird species. Celestún also provides winter refuge for migrating birds and is a significant feeding area for non-breeding flamingos.
An international airport brings tourists and adventurers from all over the world to enjoy the city’s colonial ambiance, ancient ruins and tropical climate. Rich in history and romantic mystique, Merida is a perfect base from which to visit the area’s many several archaeological sites, ecological parks, villages, beaches and cenotes.
In smaller cities such as Valladolid, Progreso and Tulum, tourists can enjoy the music and crafts of local artisans and dine at restaurants that serve such local delicacies as Pollo Pibil (a delicious marinated chicken wrapped in a banana leaves and baked) and Poc Chuc (tenders slices of pork marinated in sour orange juice and served with a tangy sauce and pickled onions).