We spent three months in the Yucatán peninsula, visiting ancient Maya ruins, taking trips to the beach, learning the art of scuba, swimming in cenotes, eating incredible cuisine, and meeting some of the friendliest people we've ever encountered. Let's just say, it wasn't among our "most challenging" 91-day excursions. But it was definitely among our favorite.
Once again, another 91 days have come and gone. This time, we're saying adiós to the Yucatán Peninsula. Our three months here were amazing; an almost perfect mix of history, culture, sight-seeing and adventure. We're leaving with tanned bodies, relaxed minds, and memories that we won't soon forget.
Featuring a lot of Maya-influenced dishes that aren't found across the rest of Mexico, Yucatecan cooking was nothing like we had been expecting. From street markets to sit-down restaurants, from snacks to desserts, from breakfast to dinner, we never tired of eating, and these were some of our favorite plates:
On paper, it sounded like a foolproof plan. Pop over to nearby Tixkokob, find someone who makes hammocks, snap a few pictures, head home. In and out, 60 minutes max. But it turns out that despite Tixkokob's status as Mérida's "Hammock Central," it's not all that easy to find someone making them.
During our 91 days in the Yucatán, we spent a lot of time on the road. So whenever we were in Mérida, we tried to cook healthy meals and eat at home. Too many Mexican restaurants turn Mike and Jürgen into pudgy boys. Despite our best efforts, though, we couldn't resist visiting a good percentage of Mérida's eating establishments. Here are some of our favorites; not necessarily the city's "top-rated" restaurants, but for one reason or another, the ones we most enjoyed.
During the Yucatán's henequen boom, there were close to a thousand haciendas (plantations) in operation across the state. Today, they're nearly all in ruins. And in the area surrounding Mérida, only one still manufactures henequen: Sotuta de Peon. We joined a tour of the hacienda which led us through a mansion, the factory, a Maya house in the agave fields, a cenote, and ended at a restaurant serving up Yucatecan specialties.
Once upon a time, the Yucatán had a popular and far-reaching network of passenger locomotives. Today, most of the train stations scattered across the peninsula are little more than ruins. Mérida's, however, has been converted into a museum dedicated to the machines that once chugged through the jungles.
Of all the things Mérida has to offer -- lovely plazas, great food, fascinating museums and friendly people -- perhaps the best is its astounding cultural program. We've never lived in a city as dedicated to the arts, or as devoted to preserving its cultural heritage. Almost every night of the week, you can catch a free performance.
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.
During our stay in Tulum's Akulik Hotel, we were invited to try out the traditional sweat bath called a temazcal. "That sounds pleasant," I thought, not at all anticipating the intense and exhausting cleansing of the body, soul and mind I had just agreed to.