When most of us hear "Yucatan," we immediately think of the peninsula on Mexico's east coast that is home to popular tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, etc. But Yucatan also refers to a separate state, one that shares the peninsula with the states of Quintana Roo and Campeche. Unfamiliar to many, the state of Yucatan is a microcosm of the very best that the entire peninsula has to offer.
"There are many tourists arriving to Cancun every day, and they are spending their whole vacation in one single hotel, mostly an all-inclusive. They are missing the experience of Mexico," said Michelle Fridman, minister of tourism for the state of Yucatan. "They are missing the gastronomy, the Mayan culture, archaeological sites and more."
Most travelers come to the state of Yucatan from their Quintana Roo hotel, visit a site like Chichen Itza and return immediately to their hotel. But what exists right under their noses in this vibrant part of the country is everything a Mexico vacation is made of.
Chichen Itza is the biggest tourist draw in Yucatan state.
"Yucatan is the heart of [the Yucatan Peninsula]," Fridman said, with colonial cities like Merida, Valladolid, Izamal and more. "There are more than 19 archaeological sites open to the public. There are cenotes, haciendas, cultural cities, virgin beaches, and nature."
Tianguis Turistico 2020
Most recently, Yucatan's capital, Merida, was named the host city for the 2020 Tianguis Turistico. There was some uncertainty about the event actually taking place, following the dissolution of Consejo, the Mexico Tourism Board, earlier this year, but officials insist the show will go on.
"This will allow us to show the media and the trade industry what Yucatan has to offer. We want to show the historic culture as well as Merida as a contemporary yet classic city, with museums, galleries and boutique hotels," said Fridman.
Hosting Tianguis could not have come at a better time for Yucatan, considering the dissolution of Consejo. "We're facing a huge challenge. We are dealing with a lot of things with a much smaller budget. We have to get more creative," said Fridman. "That's one of the reasons we wanted to bring Tianguis [to Merida]. We want to promote Yucatan through this huge event."
Yucatan has been seeing positive growth since October. Last April, the state saw a growth of 27% in arrivals compared with the same month the year before. The state has launched more air connectivity, though it has been mostly domestic. Still, there are direct flights from Miami, Houston and Toronto, and the tourism board is working on making connectivity even stronger.
Currently there are 13 hotels being built in Yucatan, and new attractions are on the way. Grupo Xcaret, for example, will be opening a cenote park near Valladolid and Chichen Itza. The tourism board is also working to add a video and sound mapping show to the Uxmal archaeological site. "We want people to not only go to Chichen Itza. We want them to explore all of the archaeological sites," said Fridman.
Fridman also said that Yucatan is working to highlight a unique Mayan experience, where visitors can experience one, two or three days immersing themselves in the Mayan culture. More details on this program will emerge, but it is expected to launch next year.
Most travelers flock to the beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya when visiting the Yucatan peninsula, but the state of Yucatan has some of Mexico's most pristine beaches, especially in towns like Progreso and Celestun.
"Our plan is to develop [along] some of these beaches, but in a very specific way," said Fridman. "We want to remain an example of sustainable development." First the government will begin investing in Progreso, the main beach, and then move on to Celestun, with the idea that hotels will be small, ecofriendly boutique hotels.
"We invite everyone to visit Yucatan and to understand the difference [between the peninsula and the state[," added Fridman. "When booking a trip to Mexico [your clients] can spend some days on the beaches of Quintana Roo and then the Yucatan, knowing it's not the same place, and they can make a whole circuit, knowing this is a safe, friendly, and comfortable destination."