Exploring the Yucatán Peninsula from Mérida to Cancún

Exploring the Yucatán Peninsula from Mérida to Cancún

Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula was the central location of the Maya Civilization which lasted from about 8,000BC to 1697AD when they were conquered by the Spanish. The Yucatán Peninsula separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, encompassing three Mexican states: Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Campeche, plus portions of Belize and Guatemala. Mérida is the vibrant capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán, and has a rich Mayan and colonial heritage.

We arrived into Mérida International Airport and it was just a short 6 mile transfer to Fiesta Americana Mérida which stands as a majestic hotel located downtown at the crossroads of the capital's main avenues: Paseo Montejo and Colón. We are greeted by the grandiose Porfirian architecture framing a huge lobby with a massive stained glass ceiling that lets in subtle natural light. There are several restaurants surrounding the lobby creating a welcoming atmosphere and a delightful shopping mall on the lower level with 26 unique boutiques offering authentic Mexican fashion and accessories. This icon of the "White City" is the meeting point of Mérida's elite and considered a coveted place by vacationers and business travelers.

Fiesta Americana MeridaFiesta Americana Mérida

We checked into a very spacious Executive Floor room on the 5th Floor with convenient access to the Fiesta Club lounge which provides continental breakfast and a variety of canapés, desserts, and drinks throughout the day.  The ultimate accommodations in the hotel include the Presidential Suite and the two Governor's Suites that have large corner terraces on the top floor overlooking the two main avenues: Paseo Montejo and Colón.

Museum of Yucateca GastronomyDinner at Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca (MUGY)

The first evening we had a wonderful dinner experience at the Yucatecan Gastronomy Museum, or MUGY, which is a unique restaurant/museum that promotes the cultural and culinary richness of the area. It is located just 1.5 miles from the hotel in the heart of downtown Mérida, and when you visit, it will take you back in time through a magical journey into the history of the area's cuisine. Here, we discover the authentic aromas and flavors of the perfect fusion of two cultures, as well as taking a guided tour through the rustic museum after dinner.

Museum of Yucateca Gastronomy bandThe cozy atmosphere of this restaurant is enhanced with music and good times!

food museumYucatecan Gastronomy Museum tour


Merida cathedral

The next morning we took a walking tour around Mérida's Centro Histórico. The focal point is the Plaza de la Independencia, which is bordered by the fortresslike Mérida Cathedral and white limestone Iglesia de la Tercera Orden, both colonial-era churches built using relics from ancient Mayan temples. There is also the Government Palace which features murals and paintings telling the historical story of the area from the Mayans to the Spanish colonists, and the Casa de Montejo, a 16th-century mansion, which is the oldest house in Yucatan and a landmark of colonial plateresque architecture named after the city's Spanish founder. Our guide told us that today at least 60% of the population here are "mestizo" -- people of mixed race, having both Spanish and indigenous Mayan descent.

Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo and named after the town of Mérida in Extremadura, Spain. It was built on the site of the Maya city of Ti'ho, which was also called Ichcaanzihó ("City of Five Hills") in reference to its pyramids. Mérida still embraces several elements of Maya culture and tradition, including customs and cuisine. The city of over a million people got its 'White City' nickname from the white limestone used in the construction of many of its historic buildings. As the capital of the state of Yucatan, it is the financial and cultural center of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Casa MontejoCasa Montejo is the former residence of Francisco de Montejo, a Spanish conquistador who founded modern-day Merida.

Like so many of Mexico's colonial cities, there are beautiful parks where residents can meet and relax. Mérida is often considered the safest city in Mexico and one of the safest cities in the Americas.

Merida park

Hacienda Sotuta de Peón

During the 1800's most of the haciendas in Yucatan were devoted to sisal production, known in those days as "green gold" which brought wealth to the region, and was exported all over the world as rope, string, or twine. A trip to Yucatan is not complete without a visit to a hacienda. Most of them have been turned into beautiful luxury hotels and museums that provide a glimpse in to colonial times.

Hacienda Sotuta de Peón

We visited Hacienda Viva Sotuta de Peon which is located in the heart of Yucatan’s henequen (agave) plantation zone, 28 miles from Mérida. Built in the mid-nineteenth century, it began operating in 1858 and after 100 years of prosperity, resulting from its original sisal production, it was abandoned for three long decades, to be later rescued from the ravages of time and became a loving restoration project that gave life to the current Sotuta de Peón Hacienda Viva, completely restored, working as it did in its heyday and rescuing the traditions of the henequen boom.

Hacienda Sotuta de Peón offers a wide range of cultural, historical, gastronomic, and lodging experiences in natural landscapes that will leave you with a memorable impression.

Hacienda Sotuta de Peón

After experiencing the captivating Henequenero tour through the plantation, we were offered a swim in the cenote, Dzul-Ha, followed by a relaxing lunch in the open-air, thatched roof restaurant.  Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula has an estimated 10,000 cenotes, water-filled sinkholes naturally formed by the collapse of limestone.


VISIT TO CHICHEN ITZA - One of the 7 Wonders of the World

Chichen Itza is one of the main archaeological sites on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It was, and is, a sacred city and Mayan pilgrimage center founded by the Itza, the so-called water sorcerers, in the 5th century AD. The Mayans developed one of the most fascinating and enigmatic cultures of humanity in the heart of the dense jungles of the area.

Chichen ItzaChichen Itza was the political, religious and cultural center of the Mayan empire

Chichen Itza, a historic Mayan city built between the 9th and 12th centuries was constructed by the pre-Columbian Mayan tribe Itzá.  The city includes a series of monuments and temples. The most celebrated is El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan. It is a huge step pyramid in the center of the city which was built as a devotional temple to the god Kukulkan. In total, the entire temple features 365 steps, one for each day of the year. Even more impressively, during the spring and summer equinoxes, afternoon sun casts triangular shadows down the pyramid’s north stairway that resemble a feathered serpent slithering down its surface, heading towards a stone snake head at the base – no wonder it is one of the seven wonders today.

temple of 1000 columns chichen itzaTemple of 1000 columns at Chichen Itza

Tip: If you want to beat the crowds, the best time to visit Chichén Itzá is first thing in the morning when the gates open, or around 3 p.m. when sunlight bathes the pyramid’s main staircase and the crowds usually start to clear out. More tips.

Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun

We cap off our exploration of the Yucatan with a stay at Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun -- an exceptional resort hotel offering ultimate relaxation as an adults-only, all-inclusive resort.  The property is located in a beautiful location with views over the turquoise Caribbean sea on one side and the Nichupté lagoon on the other.  It is also just across the street from the best shopping in Cancun at Fashion Harbour and La Isla, an open-air mall with canals and high-end shops.

Live Aqua Cancun

We checked into an Aqua Club Exclusive Level Suite. These suites exemplify luxurious living and comfort featuring state-of-the-art amenities for relaxation and enjoyment. Each suite comprises a separate living area complete with a bar for beverages and a space for brunch or snacks.

Aqua SuiteAqua Suite King Oceanfront

The master bedroom boasts a King Size bed, a fully equipped bathroom with a Jacuzzi, separate shower, and a dressing room. A second bedroom includes two Queen Size beds and a full bathroom for guests.

Aqua Suite livingroomAqua Suite King Oceanfront

The expansive personal terrace provides a unique vantage point with stunning views of both the Nichupté lagoon and the Caribbean Sea. Furthermore, exclusive access to the Aqua Club Lounge enhances the experience.

Live Aqua Cancun Club loungeAqua Club lounge

Butler Service is tailored to anticipate and fulfill every need and desire, even before arrival. The butler welcomes guests with a personalized ritual and preferred beverage, handles packing and unpacking, understands specific preferences like ice for whisky and wine choices.

multi-colored pools mimic colors of the oceanThe hotel features 7 pools along a beautiful stretch of beach, including one pool that spans across the property

Multi-colored pools mimic the mesmerizing multi-hues of the blue Caribbean Sea. You can also visit the spa to soothe your mind and body with aromatic rituals and relaxing treatments.

The resort offers seven restaurants -- all with wonderful cuisine and tropical atmosphere to make you feel like you are a world away: Varenna, Italian cuisine in a colorful garden setting; MB, Latin cuisine in a sophisticated setting; Carnivore, barbecue; Sea Corner, seafood with your toes in the sand; Siete, Mexican; Azur, Mediterranean cuisine by the beach; and Hidden Garden, Asian cuisine. Not to mention many bars throughout the property including a Sushi bar.

Hidden Garden

As night falls, you can relax your spirit in an exotic atmosphere that invites you to discover the delicacies of the East at Hidden Garden. The experience begins from the moment you walk into the restaurant. The tour is magical. For the fascination to continue, the chef will surprise your palate with an avant-garde concept that fuses exquisite Asian flavors. Your evening will be unforgettable in the shelter of a spectacular and serene garden with all the Caribbean charm. Another evening we savored an exquisite dinner at MB created with the flavors of Latin cuisine with an emphasis on local Mexican ingredients.

Sea Corner restaurantSea Corner restaurant

Lunch at Sea Corner is the perfect setting to enjoy seafood, located right in front of the beautiful beach with its powder sand and turquoise waters. This culinary experience features accents of fresh tropical fruits and the traditional flavors of the Mexican Caribbean. Savor delicious ceviches, fish tacos, and fresh tropical cocktails. Varenna Italian restaurant also provides an enjoyable setting for lunch, located under the shade of a large tree, delighting your palate with delicious pastas, panini, salads, calzoni and, of course, pizzas.

Azur restaurantAzur restaurant

Our favorite place for breakfast was at Azur - this restaurant is located in a semi-open palapa, where you can eat indoors or outdoors on the terrace. Savor dishes while you contemplate the turquoise waters of the sea and enjoy the sea breeze. Azur also serves lunch and dinner. The menu is delicious and varied: Mexican, North American and South American dishes, as well as the exclusive "olive bar", the catch of the day and the tasty thin crust pizzas. If you prefer an expansive buffet breakfast, head to Siete.


From sunrise over the Caribbean to sunset on the lagoon, Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun provides a wonderful, memorable experience that will make you love Cancun!  We definitely look forward to returning.


Additional information:

The brand-new Tren Maya (Mayan Train) now connects tourist destinations on the Caribbean with historic Mayan sites inland. This 1,525-kilometer (948 mi) railway encircles the Yucatán peninsula beginning in Palenque in Chiapas and travels northeast towards Cancún in Quintana Roo via two routes. Construction began in June 2020 and the railway is scheduled to begin operation by December 15, 2023.