Published On: Mon, Mar 23rd, 2020

Touring the Yucatan

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Thousands have left home to move to what is known as the Yucatan, a peninsula off the southeast coast of Mexico. In particular, the capital Merida offers job opportunities for expats looking to settle in quickly. However, most expats don’t move to the Yucatan to end up at an office job in a mid-sized city—they’ve come for the stunning views and lifestyle along the coast in places such as Cancun, Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, and Tulum.

This should come as no surprise, as Mexico’s SEFOTOUR has reported shocking numbers for 2019 tourism, with a 90,000-person increase from the previous year that accounts for a 30% raise in visitors. However, the Yucatan hasn’t balked despite these strong increases. There haven’t been any signs of infrastructural, social, or economic issues. Actually, the region continues to redefine the tourist sector in Latin America—just take a look at the sports facility known as Camp Woodward.

One of the biggest attractions that tourists and expats alike have to this region of Mexico is its character. Not only are the beaches frequently ranked in the top lists globally, but the culture is warm and rich. The region is home to Mayan peoples, who continue to practice their culture, and the Yucatan is home to amazing archaeological sites and other natural wonders.

Sure, setting up taxes and other immigration document filings can be a nightmare, and the Yucatan does regularly see temperatures reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on season. However, the region has plenty of accountants—and air-conditioners.

The Yucatan: Mexican Perspective

Like any international tourist destination, there tends to be a tourist culture existing alongside a local culture. While both have their place, people of the Yucatan are very open, allowing both of these worlds to intersect in many ways. Visitors to Cancun can take the bus into town with residents, and restaurants that dot the road are locally-owned and happy to serve citizens, as well as tourists who crave a taste of real Mexican spice.

But on a more cultural note, the Yucatan is home to the Mayan people, a group of indigenous American people who still speak Mayan and continue traditional practices. Today, ancient remnants such as Chichén Itzá, Tulum, El Rey Archaeological Area, as well as upwards of 7,000 cenotes (underground caves, often filled with water), continue to attract tourists and teach the world about Mayan peoples ancient and modern.

Temazcal, sweat lodges, are still in use. These sites were used for purification, though their current usage is a highly intimate part of modern Mayan identity. Some tours are offered for visitors and expats that will illumine ancient practices such as the temazcal, so be sure to listen closely to guides, as much of these traditions are passed down orally. Practices such as these are preserved by local residents, who often interweave Mayan legends and language into their tours. For a more concrete look, check out the Museo Maya de Cancún.

Uniting through Sports

Aside from tourist ventures that are owned and operated to help serve and preserve culture by educating outsiders, expats and locals can find common ground beyond service-based interactions. One of the easiest ways to do this is through sports, a great unifier the world over.

The nearest stadium to the Riviera Maya, Estadio Andres Quintana Roo, is located in Cancún and capable of seating 17,000 spectators. Travelers may have heard of the hometown team, Atlante FC, who play in Mexico’s second-tier league, Ascenso MX. The US and Canada’s MLS league doesn’t travel south for seasonal play unfortunately, though expert odds on MLS picks and parlays are always available online.

But to really engage with the Mexican love of fútbol, bars like Champions Sports Bar in Cancún or the Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya will provide an exciting atmosphere to watch the reigning MLS champs, the Seattle Sounders, or Atlante FC continue their fight to return to the top league in Mexico. Just make sure to say fútbol instead of soccer.

Baseball is another great pastime and, thankfully for Yucatan residents, the Quintana Roo Tigers (Tigres de Quintana Roo) are doing much better than Atlante FC. To date, they’ve taken home twelve Liga Mexicana baseball titles. Up to 9,000 spectators can fit into the Estadio Betó Avila, and we encourage everyone take the time to purchase a ticket. The fan base is so prolific that two fan-favorites aren’t even players. Owner Fernando Valenzuela, former baseball all-star, and mascot Chacho the Tiger enjoy particular adoration as part of the franchise.

For those less interested in crowds and tiring stadiums, golf is also huge in the Yucatan. Located in Playa del Carmen, the annual Mayakoba Golf Classic brings in golf professionals and fans from the world over—though these numbers are much smaller than their baseball and fútbol counterparts. The Golf Classic is the first PGA Tour to occur outside of the US or Canada, and has garnered particular attention from spectators because of the stunning golf course.

Sure, the winnings of over $7 million don’t hurt in attracting top pros, but the fact that the champion will receive an invitation to the Masters also helps bolster the reputation. However, the Mayakoba Classic’s program Golf Para Todos (officially GOLD PARa TODOS) offers Quintana Roo residents ages 8-18 the opportunity to learn how to golf from professionals.

These sorts of programs highlight the best of international communities, where major franchises invest in the betterment of local communities—especially in a sport that can be expensive in terms of equipment, coaching, and the availability of putting greens.

Aside from these sporty activities, here are a few cultural considerations for those stepping into Mexican culture as either an expat or a tourist. First of all, the sense of time is more fluid than, say, the German or American schedule. Rushing is taboo, as is curtailing a hello and a goodbye. Social interaction takes precedence over itineraries, and using formal titles such as señorita, señora, and señor is appreciated—so is an attempt at Spanish, no matter how difficult. And, for the newest expats, keep in mind that staring isn’t considered taboo for locals. Think of it instead as friendly curiosity, which you can feel free to return.



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