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Culture and Traditions of Yucatan

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

Located in Latin America, southeastern Mexico, the Yucatan is home to a mix of ancient and modern culture. The territory has beaches on the coast of the warm Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as many Mayan ruins, making it a popular tourist destination.

Chichen-itza Yucatán

The culture of Yucatan is illustrated by the Maya culture; the Maya were a Mesoamerican civilization that developed in Mexico (in the states of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Tabasco), Guatemala, Belize and the western part of Honduras and El Salvador. Throughout more than two millennia in numerous socio-cultural aspects such as their writing, one of the few fully developed writing systems of the pre-Columbian American continent, their art, architecture, mythology and their remarkable numbering systems, as well as in astronomy and mathematics. It can be seen represented in dozens of ancient Maya temples, pyramids and caves in the area such as Chichen-Itza and Uxmal and many of them are open to the public for visits and exploration activities, in their theaters, art galleries, libraries and museums. Particularly noteworthy is the Gran Museo de la Cultura Maya.


Yucatán has a great cultural attraction that has managed to stand out thanks to governmental effort and cooperation among its inhabitants to help preserve archaeological sites and colonial cities.


In addition, Yucatecans have been responsible for highlighting their musical styles regionally and nationally. For example, the jarana is one of the native dances of the territory that sometimes accompanies them.


The mixture of Hispanic influence and indigenous origin has characterized these cultural representations for several centuries.


Traditions and customs of Yucatan:


Hanal Pixán - Dia de Muertos
Hanal Pixán - Dia de Muertos

Hanal Pixán - Dia de Muertos

Among Yucatecan traditions is the celebration of death, where the living pay homage to loved ones who have passed away.

This tradition is known as Hanal Pixán, which means "food of the souls". It is celebrated on November 1 and 2 of each year; it is a tradition to pay homage to loved ones who have died by dedicating an altar that includes the photo of the deceased and Yucatecan dishes (especially Mukbil Pollo, mukbi pollo or pib), accompanied by candles and flowers.

This celebration takes place on October 31, which is Children's Day, November 1, which is Adult's Day, and November 2, which is All Saints' Day. Merida is one of the cities with the most culture and traditions in Mexico.


Cha-chaac
Cha-chaac

Cha-chaac

Yucatan also has funerary practices that are part of the customs of the region. However, some of these customs were imposed on the indigenous people by the Church. The cha-chaac is a Mayan ceremony that has been performed for several centuries to ask Chaac (god of rain) to allow them to have a good harvest in the coming years.



Regional Festivities

In the regional festivities people usually dance jaranas and do competitions to entertain themselves.

Some of its celebrations are the celebration of guilds, vaquerías, feast of the three kings, feast of Santa Inés, carnivals and the day of the Immaculate Conception.


JARANA YUCATECA
JARANA YUCATECA

the cowshops

The vaquerías are festivals originally associated with the process of branding cattle and are now also related to religious motifs and traditions that do not necessarily involve branding cattle, but rather the traditional dance that is the jarana in the towns of Yucatan. In the vaquerías it is customary to dance the emblematic jarana, which is the emblematic dance in the region. Today the jarana has become the emblematic dance of the region and its academic theme and is used to show visitors in general the skills of the inhabitants and the typical dress of the country. In the city of Merida, capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, for example, there are a large number of groups specialized in the Jarana dance, who make their art the subject of display and pride before the population and tourists.



cowshops

In the popular celebration, the whole town or the whole group of people in the hacienda participated animatedly, to celebrate the economic boom that implied the growth of the cattle herd. The celebration was held under the religious auspices of the patron saint of the locality. Its duration was variable and depended on the economic capacity of the organizers or participants, but it could last several days.


During the vaquerías, work was completely suspended from early in the morning. The celebration took place in the main square of the hacienda or in the corridors of the main building located in what was called the main house of the hacienda and where the owners or landowners usually lived.


La trova yucateca

This music is one of the most genuine manifestations of the Yucatecan soul, an expression that, like other traditions, is the result of miscegenation. It has become a tradition to serenade a friend, a girlfriend, a daughter, a mother with Yucatecan trova. In Mérida, Yucatán, at dusk, those who want to "take" the serenade go to the Plaza Grande of the city, to find and hire the trio of their choice.


It is usually performed by trios, made up of singers who play guitars (two for accompaniment and a soloist or "requinto"); although there have also been quartets and quintets of Yucatecan troubadours. It is characterized by alternating choral singing with solo singing in the refrain, as well as by the moderation of tempi and musical accents, in contrast to the intervention of the requinto.

Among the best-known composers of Yucatecan trova are Pepe Domínguez, Ricardo Palmerín and Guty Cárdenas, among many others, who are accompanied by a group of poets who collaborate with them. Of particular importance among these are José Peón Contreras, Antonio Médiz Bolio, Luis Rosado Vega and Ermilo Padrón López, to mention a few.


Music

The music of Yucatán is known as the Yucatecan trova. It achieved great popularity at the beginning of the 20th century.

Yucatecan trova is characterized by the mixture of its rhythms, including bambuco, bolero, jarana, clave, joropo, waltz and others.


Art

The Yucatecans have kept Maya culture alive through their artistic diversity. They have been known since pre-Hispanic times for their skill and dexterity in pottery.

It is very easy to find handmade Maya art weavings, large masks, sculptures and paintings. These pieces are almost always created to venerate and honor their ancestors.

Yucatecan Architecture

Mérida was founded in 1542 by the Spanish military officer Francisco de Montejo. It was one of the first places in the country to be colonized, leaving a clear Spanish influence in its buildings that set it apart from the rest of Mexico. The result was a colonial style that has withstood the passage of time and modern architecture.


Its colonial period began in the middle of the 16th century when, at the same time the city was founded, the urban norms of Spain were established at that time, and remained so until the end of the 19th century.


The city began to be organized in a hierarchical way and one way to save was with simple architecture of smooth walls and few details.


Mérida is an incredible city that has the ability to tell history through its streets.


The European and Spanish style predominates in the architecture of Merida, Yucatan, the wisdom and art of the Maya is still used even after many centuries.


Religion and beliefs

Since pre-Columbian times, cults, religion and beliefs were a reflection of mythology in popular thought. It was a space of communication between gods and men. There are still several peoples who venerate this polytheistic belief.

At present, the Catholic religion is the predominant religion in Yucatán. However, there is also a large part of the population that is Protestant, such as Baptists and Presbyterians.

Gastronomy

Yucatecan gastronomy is based on a combination of smells and flavors of diverse ingredients such as limes, oranges, achiote, banana and pumpkin.

Among its culinary legacy are the following dishes: papadzules, panuchos, turkey in black stuffing, stuffed cheese, poc-chuc, cochinita pibil, lime soup, pibil chicken and pickled chicken, a flavor bomb! Considered one of the best gastronomies in Mexico.



Geography of Yucatan

The Yucatan Peninsula belongs to three Latin American countries: the country of Belize is located on the peninsula, as well as a part of Guatemala and Mexico. The territory is a land mass that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea and has hundreds of miles of coastline. The land of the peninsula is composed mainly of limestone that forms caves and caverns when eroded; this territory is an excellent example of how geography influenced ancient culture, because the Mayan people used the many caves for burials and sacred rituals.


MAP OF YUCATAN WITH POLITICAL DIVISION

mapa de yucatán con división política


LIST OF MUNICIPALITIES IN MÉRIDA

lista de división política y municipal de Yucatán

SATELLITE PHOTO AND MAP OF YUCATÁN

foto satelital y mapa de yucatan

CLIMATE

The climate is mainly hot and dry, but rainfall is more abundant in the south of the peninsula, where there are some tropical rainforests. The inhabitants of this area use the water resources surrounding the peninsula to their advantage; and fishing is the predominant activity. Farmers also grow corn, tobacco, sugar cane and cotton. The Yucatan Peninsula is located in the hurricane belt and is vulnerable to Atlantic Ocean storms every hurricane season, which is why throughout history, the territory has been affected by several severe storms.

HISTORY


The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés was the first of the European settlers to arrive in the Yucatán Peninsula. Before the arrival of the Europeans, this territory belonged to the Maya, who had an advanced and respected culture among the civilizations of Latin America. Cortés began the conquest of the peninsula in the 1520s and, within ten years, Spain was able to establish control over most of the territory. Mexico and the rest of the Latin American countries gained their independence from Spain in the 1800s and the dominion of the peninsula was divided among the countries that share it today.

On December 8, 1526, Charles I of Spain signed in Granada the appointment of "Adelantado, Captain General and Sheriff Major of Yucatan, Cozumel and Tabasco" in favor of Francisco de Montejo, who had participated in the expeditions of Grijalva and Cortes, the text among other things stipulated:


  1. That the said D. Francisco de Montejo would have power and license to conquer and populate the islands of Yucatan and Cozumel.

  2. That he would undertake the work within one year from the date of the instrument.

  3. That he would be Governor and Captain General for life.

  4. That he would be Adelantado during his life, and at his death he would pass the office to his heirs and successors forever.

  5. That they would give him, his heirs and successors forever ten square leagues of land, and four percent of all the profits that the conquered and populated lands would produce.

  6. That all those who accompanied him on the expedition would only pay in the first three years the tithe of the gold from the mines, in the fourth year the ninth, and so on until they paid the fifth.

  7. That all the effects that he would take with him would be free of export duties, as long as they were not to be sold or trafficked.

  8. That all the expeditionaries, would be given portions of land, and, after living upon it four full years, would be at liberty to sell it or use it as their own.

  9. That also the rebellious Indians would be reduced to slavery, being able to take or buy those that the caciques had as such, under the rules prescribed by the Council of the Indies. The tithes were granted to be used in churches, ornaments and things necessary for divine worship.

  10. That no lawyer or procurator should go to those lands of the Kingdom of Spain or any other part, to avoid the litigation and controversies that would follow from this.


YACIMIENTS

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to the Mexican cities of Cozumel and Cancun, two popular tourist destinations for the resorts and beaches they house. There are several archaeological sites scattered along the peninsula, such as the ruins of Chichen Itza and Uxmal, which belong to the official list of World Heritage Sites and Wonders of the World. There are also dozens of ancient Maya temples, pyramids and caves in the area, and many of them are open to the public for tours and exploration activities.


ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS AND CAVES IN YUCATÁN


CHICHEN-ITZA YUCATÁN

chichen-itza

The legendary Maya city of Chichén Itzá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 and a Wonder of the World since 2007, stood out as the cultural and political center of the ancient Maya civilization and was one of the largest settlements in the north-central Yucatán peninsula. At its peak, it was the most powerful city in the Yucatan Peninsula.



In Ancient Chichén, the area near the Sacred Cenote, there are buildings of typical Mayan architecture, without any mixture of foreign influences, such as the temples of the Four Lintels, the Three Lintels and the Lintel.



The solar equinox, an archaeo-astronomical phenomenon, is the moment when the earth is illuminated by the sun equally in the northern and southern hemispheres. At dusk on March 21 and September 22, the days of the beginning of the spring and autumn equinoxes respectively, a solar projection is observed on the north staircase of the Pyramid of Kukulkan, consisting of seven triangles of light, inverted, as a result of the shadow cast by the nine platforms of the building, at sunset, which creates the appearance of a snake that gradually descends down one of the stairs to the head, located at the bottom of the pyramid, to complete the emblematic feathered serpent. The process from its beginning to its culmination lasts approximately 45 minutes.



Another of the phenomena observed in the Mayan pyramid is the lunar equinox that happens during the dawn of the full moon, in which the visual game of the shadow triangles is repeated in the stairway of the pyramid El Castillo, which simulates the descent of the feathered serpent.



During the dawn of June 20, 21 and 22, the summer solstice takes place, this spectacular phenomenon causes the light to illuminate only the north and east faces of the pyramid, while the south and west faces remain in shadow. In winter the opposite happens, that is to say, the illuminated part is darkened and the dark part is illuminated, besides that it does not happen at dawn, but at dusk from December 20 to 22.



The light and sound show, "The Night of the Maya", is a narration of a part of the history of the Maya.



Location:


Chichén Itzá is located in the east of Yucatán, on the road to Cancún, 120 km. from Mérida.



UXMAL YUCATÁN

uxmal yucatan


The archaeological site of Uxmal, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, emerges spectacularly in the south of Yucatán. It is one of the archaeological zones of the Mayan culture whose architecture is one of the most majestic in Yucatan. Its beauty is characterized by low, horizontal palaces, placed around patios or quadrangles, which are richly decorated with very detailed sculptures elaborated with thousands of small stones perfectly polished and adjusted forming geometric mosaics of an unequaled perfection in the entire Mayan area.


The city of Uxmal is said to have been founded by the Xiues tribe. The occupation of the site dates back to the Upper Preclassic period B.C.; however, the greatest volume of construction work was done during the Late Classic period (600- 1000 A.D.). It had a population of approximately 20,000 inhabitants.


Political and economic control was governed by a select group of individuals since society recognized them as intermediaries between men and divinities. Thus, through religion, the ruling class monopolized the main activities in its various manifestations of the population settled in Uxmal. Little by little Uxmal was transformed into one of the main regional capitals of the northern Maya, until achieving the establishment of a political power that allowed the control of other minor sites and made it possible for Uxmal to establish itself as the regional capital of the Puuc.


The city is made up of 15 groups of buildings, distributed from north to south, in an extension of approximately 2 km. Among those that stand out: The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, with its Plaza of the Birds, the Quadrangle of the Nuns, the Ball Court, the Palace of the Governor, the Great Pyramid and El Palomar, in addition to the North Group, the House of the Old Woman, The Cemetery and the Temple of the Phalluses. The great quantity and variety of buildings speak of the social complexity in this center of political, economic and religious activities.


The most impressive structure, with a singular elliptical shape and a height of more than 35 meters, is the Casa del Adivino; according to an ancient legend, this pyramid was erected by a dwarf in just one night, although in reality it was erected in five stages and was designed in such a way that its stairway faces east, toward the sunset on the summer solstice.


The Convent, another of its great buildings, was so named by the Spaniards who, upon seeing it, were reminded of a European convent. It was probably used as a school for healers, astrologers and priests.


The Governor's Palace is an excellent example of stone mosaic work and was most likely made by hundreds of masons and sculptors. It has very beautiful sculptures of the rain god Chaac, serpents and astrological symbols. The upper facade, in all its extension, is of 100 mts. Its interior consists of 20 rooms, being twenty the sacred unit of the vigesimal system of the Mayas. It is considered the most beautiful building in Mesoamerica for its style and imposing proportions.


Another important building is the House of the Turtles, an architectural gem whose decoration is limited to the columns of the upper façade and a band of realistic turtles well spaced on the high cornice.


The Quadrangle of the Nuns consists of a central courtyard with four elongated buildings arranged around it. It stands out for its magnificent decoration, where grecas, lattices, human figures, snakes, heads of turtles, owls and masks of the god Chaac alternate.


From the Quadrangle of the Nuns you can see the spectacle of light and sound of Uxmal in which Mayan legends of the region that gave life to this mystical place are narrated.


Uxmal was abandoned around 1080 A.D., shortly after the end of the Classic period in the south. It is believed that its decline was probably due to a social revolt that brought down the ruling elite.


Location:


Uxmal is located to the southwest, in the direction of Campeche, 80 km. from Merida.



LOLTÚN CAVES, ''FLOR DE PIEDRA'', MUNICIPALITY: OXKUTZCAB.

CONJECTURES

There is a theory that connects the Yucatan Peninsula with the disappearance of the dinosaurs. Alvarez's hypothesis suggests that the asteroid that caused the end of these animals crashed in the area of the peninsula. There is geological evidence to support that theory, the chicxulub puerto crater including a formation in the territory and surrounding waters, called the Cenotes Ring, This ring, according to Alvarez's hypothesis, represents the outline of the waves from the asteroid impact. Satellite images show what resembles a crater that spans the peninsula and enters the sea. It is possible that this area suffered directly from the cataclysm that caused one of the worst mass extinctions in Earth's history.


Yucatan is amazing, if you are thinking of living in Mexico, Merida Yucatan is the best city to live, the safest in the country and with a great growth in recent years, visit our listing of homes for sale in Merida, find your ideal home in this beautiful city.

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