• Countryside Mayan ruins and maize fields
  • Country life Hammocks and haciendas

The 'hood of the Maya, the Yucatán is a flat, hot land of epic former empires, of mighty Mayan temples and sophisticated cities…

This ancient civilisation was conquered by the Spanish in 1542, when the conquistadors founded Mérida, now the state capital. They discovered beaches and azure waters first, but what the awe-struck adventurers hadn’t expected was the architectural achievement they witnessed across the Maya’s territory – comprising neighbouring Chiapas, Guatemala, and some of Belize and Honduras. The evocative ruins of their temples remain, as do many elements of Mayan culture. See its influence in everything from the fiery food to the vibrant fiestas that give the region its extra-exotic sense. There’s an aura of primeval mystery in its limestone landscape of underground rivers and sacred pools. The state’s tourist favourite, Chichén Itzá, is an extensive ceremonial centre, with its own temples, steam bath and great ball court. Post-Maya, fine colonial cities await in Mérida, Izamal and Valladolid. This vast, arid land of porous limestone sits just 12m above sea level. It’s home to more flamingos than anywhere else in North America. You’ll need plenty of time; there’s a lot to conquer.

Do go/Don’t go

The rainy season is mid-August to mid-October – expect afternoon showers. November and early December are likely to be less crowded as well as less expensive.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Cancún International is the main airport, with direct flights to and from the UK. From Miami, you’ll be able to get to Cancún via an hour-long flight with Aeromexico (www.aeromexico.com).
  • Automobiles It’s worth hiring a car to explore further afield, but taxis are very reasonably priced. Various international firms have desks at Mérida airport.
  • Taxis Make sure you establish a price for your trip before you set off as few taxis have meters. Most cities have ranks.