Rich Culture. Historic Sites.
When you arrive in Cancun, the first thing you’ll see are sprawling pristine beaches and endless bars and restaurants. But venture just outside the Hotel Zone and the rich history of this place will open up before your eyes. The Yucatan Peninsula is full of historic sites, natural wonders, cultural festivities, and so much more. Whether you’re visiting for a few days or taking a week long vacation--there’s a whole world to uncover.
Visit the Colonial City of Valladolid
Valladolid, also referred to as Sultaness of the East, is a colonial town in the heart of the Yucatan. Whether you decide to stop here for a night or spend a few days, the streets are brimming with authentic Mayan culture--from the Mayan words and phrases still spoken to the traditional Mayan “huipil”worn by local women.
La Casa de los Venados, a folk art museum in Valladolid, was started by John Venator, a collector who decided to share his love of Mexican art with the world. There are over 3,000 pieces to explore in this art gallery, including sculptures, paintings, decor, and more.
And while you’re in Valladolid, make sure to stop by Zaci, an ancient cenote located near the town. Locals and visitors alike enjoy taking refreshing dips in the crystal clear water. Because the town is less touristy than Cancun or Chichen Itza, you’ll feel like you have this cultural gem all to yourself.
Explore the Ruins
One of the best ways to experience the history of the Yucatan is to explore its ancient cities. Chichen Itza, an ancient city that was a major religious center for the Mayans, and the Tulum ruins that overlook the Caribbean Sea, are two of the most popular areas to visit. Other notable ruins include Ek Balam, El Rey, and Coba. These ruins are smaller ancient cities, but they still played a critical role in the advancement of the Mayan civilization.
Take Part in Festivals & Ceremonies
Viva Mexico en Cancun
Local and festivals and ceremonies abound in Cancun and nearby areas. They’re a great way to not only learn, but participate in the culture of Mexico. One of the most popular festivals is Viva Mexico en Cancun. Every September, Cancun celebrates the history, art, and culture of Mexico in a month-long festival filled with fiesta, food, art, and live music.
Day of the Dead
Another major festival, the Day of the Dead, is celebrated on October 31st through November 2nd. You’ll also see locals dressed in their traditional Mexican costumes as they place food, flowers, and other offerings on shrines to honor their loved ones that have passed. The festival includes artistic performances and face painting. While you’re there, make sure to taste the Mucbil Pollo, a dish that’s only served during this time of year.
Mayan Purification Ceremony
Temazcal is a traditional Mayan purification ceremony that cleanses the mind, body, and soul of all ailments. The ritual takes place in small, hut-like structures. Once inside the hut, the shaman places hot volcanic stones in the center and slowly pours water over them, which releases vapors. The Shaman chants in ancient Mayan and bangs on a drum as he cleanses your body with a special concoction, guiding you through the ritual until you’re purified. After the ceremony is complete, you can take a dive in the cenotes nearby to cool off.
Discover Mayan Culture at Xcaret
Take a musical journey through Mexico’s history from pre-Hispanic Mayan times to today at Xcaret’s Mexico Espectacular. The show features more than 300 artists in traditional costumes performing dances, reenacting historic moments, and playing live Mariachi music. You’ll also find yourself cheering at the exciting Mayan ball game that takes place on stage. The stunning visual effects, impressively detailed costumes, and skillfully played music makes this one of the best ways to discover Mexico’s history.
Another great attraction at Xcaret is the Voladores de Papantla (Dance of the Flyers) ceremony. This ritual pays homage to Mesoamerican civilization. Five flyers climb a long pole tied with ropes around them. Once at the top, four of the dancers launch themselves off the platform, while the fifth remains at the center of the pole playing music with a flute and drum.
And while you’re at Xcaret, make sure to walk through the Mayan Village and check out the show before you leave. This ancient village will give you a first hand experience of the Mayans way of life, the type of food they ate, their artistic methods, and the architecture of their homes. The villagers also perform an ancient dance with native music that includes the use of conchs and drums.
Check Out the Museum
Learn about Mayan history at the Museo Maya located in downtown Cancun. With over 400 artifacts from traditional Mayan jewelry and pottery to sculptures and carvings--there’s a lot to discover. The museum is split into two exhibits: one is dedicated to the evolution of the Mayan culture; while the second focuses on the State of Quintana Roo. If you want to get a deep understanding of the Mayan history, this place should be at the top of your list.
While on your museum tour, be sure to check out Museum Casa Maya, a Mayan style thatched cottage replica, showcasing how the Mayan people used to live. You’ll learn about the building materials and techniques that this ancient civilization once used to build their homes.
Before You Go
There’s a lot to see and do in Cancun, so plan your activities ahead of time. Start with sites and cultural experience that are close by like Cancun’s museum and El Rey ruins. Then make your way outside the Hotel Zone to see cultural shows at the eco parks and visit historic cities. Keep in mind, some activities are specific to the time of year, so plan your trip accordingly.
Tulum & Xel-Ha All Inclusive Tour$139
Coba - Mayan Encounter Tour
Coba Sunset Tour
Xichen Deluxe Tour$109
Experiencias Xcaret Package Only Entranc
Tulum Xtreme Tour$129
Experiencias Xcaret Package With Transp
Chichen Itza Light & Sound Show Tour$98
Chichen Itza World Wonder Tour
Mayan Underworld Tour$108
Admission only to Xel Ha - Xcaret withou$186
Admission only to Xel-Ha - Xplor without$178
Admission only to Xcaret - Xplor without$212
Admission only to Xcaret| Xplor and Xel-$271
Admission only to Xcaret and Xoximilco w$186
Admission only to Xel-Ha and Xoximilco w$152
Admission only to Xplor and Xoximilco wi$178
Admission only to Xcaret | Xplor and Xox$271
Admission onlyXcaret|Xel-Ha|Xplor and Xo$299