The Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico has always had a unique atmosphere – a geographical remoteness from the capital (or any other major metropolis) saw to that. And while you may know that it’s home to Chichen Itza, Cuncun and lashings of Mayan culture, there are plenty of awesome things you probably don’t know about the Yucatan Peninsula. Here are some cool facts about this magical destination to get you up to speed.
An asteroid struck the peninsula more than 65m years ago
The Yucatán Peninsula is the site of the Chicxulub crater, which was formed by an asteroid about 6mi to 9mi (10km to 15km) in diameter. The impact, which struck around 65m years ago, caused worldwide climate problems and may have triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The word Yucatán may be the result of a misunderstanding
The origins of the word Yucatán are a subject of debate. According to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, a Spanish explorer had asked a native what the area was called. Apparently, he responded, “Uma’anaatik ka t’ann,” which in Mayan means “I do not understand you”. Misunderstanding his response, the Spanish named the area Yucatán.
The peninsula has the oldest church in mainland America
The Cathedral of San Ildefonso in Mérida is the oldest church on the American mainland and the second-oldest in the Americas, only behind the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor in the Dominican Republic.
It has been an independent republic on two separate occasions
The first Republic of Yucatán was formed in 1823 but rejoined the Mexican federation just seven months later. The second republic began in 1841 and remained independent for seven years, before finally uniting with Mexico.
The peninsula is famed for songs of brokenhearted love
The Yucatán is famed for troubadour music, or trova, which has roots in Cuban and Colombian rhythms. La Peregrina (The Pilgrim) is one of the most popular trova songs. Written by Ricardo Palmerín in 1923, the haunting song was commissioned by the Governor of Yucatán, Felipe Carrillo, for his fiancée, the American journalist Alma Reed. Tragically, the romance was ill-fated. Carrillo was shot dead by a rebel army while Reed was in San Francisco preparing for their wedding.
There are hundreds of Mayan archaeological ruins in Mexico, and the majority are found in the Yucatán Peninsula. Many of these impressive sites have somehow managed to stay (relatively) off the tourist radar, including the spectacular ruins of Dzibilchaltún, Uxmal and Cobá.
The only Mayan site that is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá is an incredibly well-preserved Mayan center that was once a major spiritual and economic hub. A grand stepped pyramid dominates the complex, and there are temples and Mayan ball courts.
The Yucatán is home to the longest pier in the world
The town of Puerto Progreso, in the northern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula, has the longest pier in the world. Originally just 1.2mi (2km) long, Progreso Pier now stretches more than 4mi (7km) into the Gulf of Mexico, acting as a disembarkation point for cargo and passenger ships.
Yucatán Peninsula has the largest number of cenotes in the world
A network of subterranean rivers has created incredible caves and underwater sinkholes called cenotes. Formed when limestone is eroded over hundreds of years, cenotes are a popular place to swim, snorkel or dive.