Beyond the Beach in the Yucatan

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A short trip east of the beaches of Cancun and miles from cosmopolitan Mexico City, the quieter Yucatan state is easy to overlook. But on a recent visit, I learned that for sophisticated travelers seeking to explore and to be inspired, the state of Yucatan is a playground for discovery.

The Yucatan peninsula is one of Mexico’s most iconic regions and famous for its long stretches of coastline, dynamic heritage, delicious cuisine, and relaxed atmosphere. Travel away from the beaches and into the dense mangrove forests, cenotes, and cities and the heart of the ancient Mayan heritage may be revealed.  

I flew in to Merida International airport, a small and comfortable airport with a Customs line so short it’s easy to miss. Modern glass doors opened onto the Arrivals hall, where travelers pass a few small shops, a Johnny Rockets, and the token airport bar before another set of doors opens on to a warm and balmy jungle climate. I took a swig of water and set out for Chable Resort & Spa

Nestled in the lush jungles of a region that once produced the vast majority of the world’s supply of hennequin, a natural fiber essential for early shipbuilding, the award-winning Chable Resort & Spa honors the unique heart and heritage of the region while boldly embracing contemporary Mexican culture and design.

Upon arrival, Mayan purification rituals are performed before formal check-in is held inside the chic main house. It’s hard not to feel a strong sense of place and deep relaxation as herbs burn and prayers are sung amidst a juxtaposing backdrop of colonial mansion and modern art.

 The all-villa resort offers guests one, two and three bedroom villas, each one complete with its own private pool and secluded entrance.

The all-villa resort offers guests one, two and three bedroom villas, each one complete with its own private pool and secluded entrance.

Chable Resort & Spa offers the perfect balance of wellness, adventure, and indulgence. The heart of the hotel is centered around a cenote, a sacred site and source of restoration for the body and soul. The Mayan culture has a deep respect and reverence for cenotes, believing that cenotes are entrances to the Mayan underworld, portals to the subconscious and afterlife and means of communicating with their gods. Continuing the tradition of honoring the mind, body, and spirit, Chable incorporates these ancient traditions, teachings, and gastronomy into its guest offerings. 

The Spa at Chable is surrounded by the rainforest and overlooks the sacred cenote. Treatments are entwined with traditional ritual elements and advanced therapeutic modalities, leading guests into a world of ceremony for the soul and indulgence for the senses. Treatments are given in small standalone cabins, each one overlooking the sacred cenote. For guests seeking the ultimate cleansing experience, Chable offers the temazcal, a traditional sweat lodge believed to be deeply cleansing.

Beyond the spa, there is so much to do in the surrounding area. A trip to the Yucatan would not be complete without visits to some of the most spectacular landmarks in the area. A short drive from Chable is Uxmal, the greatest ancient Mayan city you’ve probably never heard of. Equally as spectacular as some of its neighbors, Uxmal is far quieter and offers a more exclusive experience that is truly enjoyable for families and crowd-averse travelers. Climb to the top of the Great Pyramid for a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the extensive city. Just keep an eye out for the elusive aluxes, the mischievous mythological spirits that roamed the ancient Mayan world…and which are known to leave candies and sweets for young visitors (compliments of yours truly!).

 The Yucatan Peninsula is geologically one of the most unique destinations in the world. Believed to have been a coral reef in prehistoric times, the region sits atop an intricate underground river system. As time passed, limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing the groundwater underneath and creating  cenotes . Today, thousands of cenotes dot the peninsula and provide residents and guests fertile ground, fresh water, and a glimpse into an underground world yet to be discovered.

The Yucatan Peninsula is geologically one of the most unique destinations in the world. Believed to have been a coral reef in prehistoric times, the region sits atop an intricate underground river system. As time passed, limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing the groundwater underneath and creating cenotes. Today, thousands of cenotes dot the peninsula and provide residents and guests fertile ground, fresh water, and a glimpse into an underground world yet to be discovered.

After visiting the ancient city, travelers can easily stop in the colonial city of Merida for lunch and to explore. Once an important trading hub, Merida feels like stepping back in time: dramatic buildings line imperfect cobblestone streets while the spectacular Monument to the Homeland sits at the end of El Paseo de Montejo, the Champs d’Elysee of the Yucatan. The city center is bustling, especially late into the evening when families, friends, and young lovers enjoy games of checkers and fruity, sweet paletas while live music tinkers in the background.  

The cuisine is complex, delicious, and local. The Yucatan is rich with local farms, and the produce from the communities has a rich gastronomic heritage. Different foods and styles often come with legends and stories relating back to the ancient heritage of the region.

 Warm, earthy tones and comfy interiors characterize accommodations at Chable.

Warm, earthy tones and comfy interiors characterize accommodations at Chable.

 Exploring the ancient city of Uxmal.

Exploring the ancient city of Uxmal.

 Locally made soft goods are thoughtful touches providing a unique sense of place.

Locally made soft goods are thoughtful touches providing a unique sense of place.

One of the most exceptional dining experiences I had was at Ixi’im, Chef Jorge Vallejo’s fine dining restaurant at Chable. The menu showcases an innovative blend of modern and local influences, integrating fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables harvested and gathered from the resort’s traditional Maya Garden.

Light glitters off floor to ceiling cases of tequila, a fraction of the property’s collection, the largest private tequila collection in the world. The meal began with scallop “tiraditos” with citrus, smoked avocado, cabbage, and dehydrated chia. The main course featured baby Mayan octopus with lentils “tocsel” and longaniza from nearby Temozon. Even vegetarians were accommodated. I enjoyed “Xilotes” salad with “recado negro” vinaigrette green pea purée and confit tomatoes as an appetizer, before I moved on to a delightful main course featuring roasted cauliflower with kohlrabi purée and Simojovel chili sauce. Dessert was a phenomenal chocolate ganache with a white chocolate crust, topped with avocado ice cream and cinnamon. 

The Yucatan is an extremely diverse and culturally rich destination, offering ancient ruins, rainforests, underwater caves, traditional haciendas, colonial cities, offshore islands and natural wonders that will satisfy even the most seasoned travelers. It would be easy to spend a week or more exploring the Yucatan, followed by a visit to the beach or cosmopolitan Mexico City. What’s more, the destination is painless to get to…with direct flights into Merida (MID) from Houston, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, and Tampa, you can leave your door and arrive with a margarita in hand by lunchtime!

Ready to go? Contact me at Lswanson@departurelounge.com to start planning.