Both physically and historically, the three states that comprise the Yucatan peninsula - Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo -are distinct from the rest of Mexico. The interminably flat, low-lying plain is one of the hottest and most tropical-feeling areas of the country, but in fact it lies farther north than you might imagine - Merida is actually north of Mexico. Until the 1960s, when proper road and train links were completed, the Yucatan lived out of step with the rest of Mexico - there was almost as much contact with Europe and the United States as with the center. Now tourism has made major inroads, especially in the north around the great Maya sites and on the route from Menda to the "super-resort" of Cancun, and new investment has brought it closer to the heart of things. But a unique character remains, and in the south, where townships are sparsely scattered in thick, jungly forest, there's still a distinct pioneering feel.
The modern boom is, in fact, a re-awakening, for this has been the longest continuously civilized part of the country, with evidence of Maya inhabitants as early as 2500 BC, producing good pottery and living in huts virtually identical to those you see in the villages today. The Maya are not a specifically Mexican culture - their greatest cities, indeed, were not in Mexico at all but in the lowlands of modern Guatemala, Belize and Honduras - but they did produce a unique style in the Yucatan and continued to flourish here long after the collapse of the "Classic" civilizations to the south. This they did in spite of natural handicaps - thin soil, heat, humidity and lack of water - and in the face of frequent invasion from central Mexico. And here the Maya peasantry still live, remarkably true to their old traditions and lifestyle, despite the hardships of the intervening years: ravaged by European diseases and forced to work on vast colonial encomiendas, or later, through the semi-slavery of debt peonage, on the henequen plantations or in the forests, hauling timber.
The florescence of Maya culture, throughout their extensive domains, came in the Classic period from around 300 to 900 AD: an age in which the cities grew up and Maya science and art apparently reached their height. The Maya calendar, a complex interaction of solar, astronomical and religious dates, was far more complicated and accurate than the Gregorian one, and they also developed a sophisticated mathematical and (still largely undeciphered) hieroglyphic system. In the ninth century, though, the major cities were gradually abandoned - the result perhaps of revolt by a population from whom the elite had become too remote, their knowledge too arcane, and provoked by some natural disaster. Whatever the reason, in Guatemala and Honduras the sites were never to be repopulated. In the Yucatan the abandonment was less total, and in many places short-lived. Instead there was a renaissance stimulated by contact with central Mexico: initially perhaps through trade, later by a direct Toltec invasion. A new society sprang up that fused the Toltec emphasis on militarism, and new gods, with Maya traditions. Its ultimate achievement was at Chichen Itza', dominant until the twelfth century.
From the twelfth century on, Mayapan became the new center of power, controlling the entire peninsula in an era when artistic and architectural standards went into sharp decline. By the time the Spanish arrived Mayapan's power, too, had been broken by revolt and the Maya had splintered into tribalism - although still with coastal cities and long-distance sea trade that awed the Conquistadors. It proved the hardest area of the country to pacify. Despite attempts to destroy all trace of the ancient culture, there was constant armed rebellion against the Spanish and later the Mexican authorities - the last the Caste Wars of the 19th century, during which the Maya, supplied with arms from British Honduras, gained brief control of the entire peninsula. Gradually, though, they were again pushed back into the wastes of southern Quintana Roo, where the final pockets of resistance held out until the beginning of this century.
There aren't many places that you can't get to by bus on the peninsula. Sometimes the time-tabling isn't totally convenient but the service is generally efficient. The most useful services are between Merida and Cancun and those provided by lnterplaya, which run at least every thirty minutes between Cancun, and Tulum. Some places aren't served by first-class buses, but second-class buses and combis will get you around locally and to the nearest major center. Such places include: Oxkutzcab, Progreso, Ticul and Tizimin. The following frequencies and times are for first-class services. Second-class buses usually cover the same routes running 10-20 percent slower.
Campeche to: Cancun (1 daily; 8hr); Chetumal (1 daily; 6hr); Ciudad del Carmen (5 daily; 2hr 30 minutes); Cordoba (3 daily; 1 2hr); Escarcega (1 daily; 2hr); Merida (every 30 minutes; 3-4hr)); Mexico (3 daily; 22hr+); Palenque (2 daily; 5hr); San Crist6bal de las Casas (1 daily; l0hr); Villahermosa (5 daily; 6hr).
Cancun to: Campeche (1 daily; 8hr); Chetumal (5 daily; 6hr); Merida (frequently; 5-6hr); Mexico (1 daily; 30hr+); Playa del Carmen (frequently; lhr); Puerto Morelos (at least every 30 minutes; lhr); Tizimin (3 daily; 3hr); Tulum (at least every 30 minutes; 2hr); Valladolid (6 daily; 2hr); Villahermosa (1 daily; 14hr).
Chetumal to: Campeche (1 daily; 6hr); Cancun (5 daily; 6hr); Merida (7 daily; 9hr); Playa del Carmen (5 daily; 5-8hr); Tulum (6 daily; 4-5hr); Valladolid (3 daily; 5hr).
Merida to: Campeche (every 30 minutes; 3-4hr); Cancun (frequently; 5-6hr); Chetumal (7 daily; 9hr); Mexico (6 daily; 28hr+); Palenque (2 daily; 10-1 lhr); Playa del Carmen (7 daily; 8hr); Progreso (frequently; 45 minutes); Tizimin (3 daily; 4hr); Tulum (3 daily; 6hr); Uxmal (13 daily; 2hr); Valladolid (hourly; 3hr); Villahermosa (6 daily; lOhr).
Playa del Carmen to: Cancun (frequently; lhr); Chetumal (5 daily; 5-8hr); Coba (3 daily; 2hr); Merida (7 daily; 8hr); Mexico (3 daily; 30hr+); Palenque (1 daily; 12hr); San Crist6bal de las Casas (1 daily; l4hr); Tulum (frequently; lhr); Tuxtla Gutierrez (1 daily; 16hr); Valladolid (3 daily; 4hr); Villahermosa (4 daily; 13hr).
Tizimin to: Merida (3 daily; 4hr); Rio Lagartos (5 daily; 1 hr); Valladolid (hourly; lhr).
Tulum to: Cancun (at least every 30 minutes; 2hr); Chetumal (6 daily; 4-Shr); Coba (3 daily; lhr); Merida (3 daily; 6hr); Playa del Carmen (frequently; 1hr); Valladolid (2 daily; 4hr).
Valladolid to: Cancun (6 daily; 2hr); Chetumal (3 daily; 5hr); Coba (2 daily; 2hr); Merida (hourly; 3hr); Playa del Carmen (3 daily; 4hr); Tizimin (hourly; lhr); Tulum (2 daily; 4hr).
Merida, Cancun and Cozumel all have busy international airports with several daily flights to Mexico and regular connections to Miami and many other cities in the southern United States. Campeche and Chetumal also have daily direct services to Mexico. Around the Caribbean coast various small companies fly light planes - very frequently between Cancun and Cozumel, less often from these places to Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
There are frequent competitive ferry services to Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. On both routes there is a choice between a low-cost slow boat or a more luxurious fast boat, which generally halves the crossing time. Although there is a car ferry to Isla Mujeres, it is hardly worth taking a vehicle over as the island is so small.
Chiquila' to: Isla Holbox (2 daily; lhr).
Playa del Carmen to: Cozumel (every 1 -2hr; 30 minutes- lhr).
Punta Jua'rez to: Isla Mujeres (every 30 minutes; 15-30 minutes).
Chiquila' to: Isla Holbox (1 daily, except Thurs & Sun; lhr).
Puerto Morelos to: Cozumel (1 daily, 2 on Mon; 2hr 30 minutes).
Punta Sam to: Isla Mujeres (6 daily).
The Yucatan Peninsula embraces the best of both worlds, the shimmering turqouise waters and unspoiled beaches, to the ancient Mayan ruins dating back from pre Columbus time. The striking combination appeals to visitors with varios budgets, time limits and vacation needs. The Cancun/Tulum sun coast is a 100 mile corridor of dazzling Caribbean coastline containing secluded beaches and coves, quaint fishing villages and ancient Mayan ruins. Visiting these smaller, less developed sun coast cities is a far cry from the fast paced hussle and bussle of Cancun. Playacar, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal, Costa Turquesa and Tulum all have a unique identity of thier own, and can be easily visited by car or guided motor coach tour from Cancun. You can even take a ferry to Isla Mujeres (Island fo women), for a tropical diving adventure, or visit the Mayan ruins on its southern tip.
be it a sleepy native village, a tranquil seaside retreat, a secluded island paradise or a mysterious Mayan temple, you can explore it all on the beautiful, sunny Yucatan Peninsula.