The Spaniards may have conquered the Yucatán with relative ease, but destroying the spirit of the Maya proved a far more difficult task. From the very beginning of the conquest and up into the twentieth century, the Maya fought back against their oppressors, bending but never breaking. The stories of their struggle are told in the Museo de las Guerra Casta, in the village of Tihosuco.
After visiting the ruins of Mayapan, we made our way south to Maní. This tiny town is famous across the peninsula for its cuisine, but it was also the scene of one of the Yucatán’s darkest moments.
An expansive city with soaring buildings that have somehow retained much of their detail, Uxmal is among the most important Maya archaeological sites. It’s about an hour south of Mérida in the Puuc Valley, and we showed up early in the morning after spending the night in nearby Santa Elena.
The third ancient city which we visited on our trip along the Yucatán’s Ruta Puuc was Sayil. Long since abandoned to the jungle, this extraordinary site is still paying silent testimony to the magnificence of the Maya civilization.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the Eco-Museum of Cacao, found between the archaeological sites of Labná and Xlapak. Apart from a flier we’d picked up in a tourism office, we hadn’t read a thing about it, and that’s usually a bad sign. But the museum turned out to be excellent, with nicely-presented information, a chocolate-making demonstration, animals and even a re-creation of an ancient Maya rain ritual.
When preparing to explore Cozumel, a logical place to begin is the Museum of the Island, found near the ferry pier. I know, I know… the weather is great, the water is crystal blue, and the amount of things to do outdoors is overwhelming. Who wants to spend time in a museum? But the overview of Cozumel’s history, geography and ecology is brief and well-presented, and afterwards you can reward yourself with an excellent breakfast in the museum’s restaurant.
The longest continuously-inhabited Maya city on the peninsula, the site of Dzibilchaltún is found just a few minutes outside of Mérida. The Maya occupied this spot from roughly 500 BC to AD 1500, and left behind ruins which, though badly eroded, are a wonder to behold.
A few blocks west of the Plaza Grande and across from the Iglesia de Santiago, you can find the Casa Catherwood. Hanging on the walls of this gorgeous old home are the drawings of Frederick Catherwood, an English artist who was one of the Yucatán’s first modern-day explorers.
The phrase “Yucatecan History” inevitably conjures images of the ancient Maya, who constructed out of limestone and ingenuity one of the most fascinating civilizations mankind has ever known. The Maya might be the most brilliant piece of the puzzle, but there are others. Here’s our concise rundown of the peninsula’s story.