The archaeological sites in Cancun and the Riviera Maya are part of the main cultural attractions in this region, thus most of the history-culture related tours are focused on these places. However, these are not the only places of interest for tourists who are interested in art & culture.
In addition to the ancient Mayan ruins, which by themselves are worth the trip to the Mexican Caribbean, the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan have some other attractions of cultural interest.
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In this second part of our article on cultural tours in the Riviera Maya, we will tell you about museums, art trails, à la carte tours and other cultural activities in the Mexican Caribbea.
Cultural tours are a great way to learn more about this magnificent region whose history is as rich as it is fascinating, as ancient as it is contemporary.
Table of contents
The museums of art and history in the Mexican Caribbean.
- The Mayan Museum of Cancun
- A cultural immersion: Cancun Aquarium
- Cultural tour: street art in Cancun
The Mayan Museum of Cancun
After the damage caused by several hurricanes, the Mayan Museum in Cancun had a relatively recent renovation. The new museum, with a more modern architectural proposal than its previous version, was opened in 2012.
This museum was built in the hotel zone of Cancun, very close to the San Miguelito ruins with which it is connected. The admission to the museum will also give you access to the archaeological site.
The Mayan Museum in Cancun is one of the most important in the Mexican Caribbean. It has more than 3,500 items that have been found in different archaeological sites in Quintana Roo, but also in Palenque (Chiapas) and Chichen Itza (Yucatán). Jewels, crafts and ceramics make up its rich collection.
Cancun’s Mayan Museum is a very complete venue. There you will find different halls where you can learn more about the rise, evolution and fall of the Mayan empire.
The first hall of this museum is about the settlement of the Mayans in the region, the origin of this ancient culture.
In the second hall, you will find a diverse collection of Mayan items and more information regarding the different elements of Mayan culture (religion, rituals, daily life, architecture, crafts and more about the Mayan conception of the world).
Finally, there is a third hall totally focused on temporary exhibitions. Most of these exhibitions are about special topics regarding the Mayan culture and even about other cultures like the Toltecs.
A visit to the Mayan museum is a great way to get familiar with the Mayan culture and have a better understanding of it before visiting the great archaeological sites in the region.
📍 Address: boulevard kukulkan, km. 16.5, San Miguelito site, Cancun hotel zone
🚗 How to get to the Museum: Directions to the Mayan Museum of Cancun.
⌚ Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. at 6:00 p.m. (last entry at 5:30 p.m.)
💲 Admission: $80 MXN.
Website: the Mayan Museum in Cancun.
A cultural immersion: Cancun Aquarium
It is a fact that the Mayans and the ruins are the core to most cultural tours in the Mexican Caribbean, but we must not forget that nature also has a history and there is a lot to learn about the ecosystems surrounding a place like Cancun.
It is not a secret that the Mexican Caribbean is a vast and rich territory full of incredible places to enjoy nature and learn more about it. Therefore, there is a chance to mix history and nature to your experience in this region.
Let’s get a little more precise. The Natural History we are talking about is that of the oceans and, more specifically, that of the Caribbean Sea. Yes, the one that surrounds the amazing beaches in this region.
The Interactive Aquarium in Cancun will take you on a journey under the sea to discover the local flora and fauna. It is a place for the whole family.
A fun and recreational way to learn more about the marine world before getting to know it during a real life snorkeling or diving activity.
This activity is perfect for kids. The Interactive Aquarium has many educational activities for them.
📍 Address: Blvd. Kukulcan km 12.5, La Isla, Cancun Hotel Zone, 77500 Cancun
🚗 How to get to the Interactive Aquarium: La Isla Shopping Mall
⌚ Hours: Monday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
💲 Admission: $80 MXN.
Website: The Interactive Aquarium.
Cultural tour: street art in Cancun
Some will tell you, "art is everywhere"! In Cancun, this is particularly true!
In fact, many street artists have taken over the streets of this city, transforming Cancun into a true open-air museum.
Among the cultural tours in Cancun, the street art tour is one of the most prominent.
You will find a wide diversity of tour proposals to discover these works of art that inhabit the walls of the city.
Arte Ancora, Gonzalo Are Uz & Farid Rueda, Martel... all these names may not sound too familiar to you, however, they are renowned artists who have left their mark on the city of Cancun.
The guides specialized in street art in Cancun will be happy to take you to meet them and explain to you how to read and understand this street art.
Some tours are suitable for young audiences and children, which makes them appropriate for a true a family experience.
Valladolid is a must stopover when you are traveling around the Mexican Caribbean or around the state of Yucatan.
Also known as “la Sultana de Oriente” or “La Perla de Oriente (the Eastern Pearl), this "magic town" has much to offer to its visitors.
Its history, its colonial architecture, its chill atmosphere and its relaxed pace of life are some of the main reasons it is one of the most popular destinations on the peninsula.
It is common that a visit to this town is included in the cultural tours to Chichen Itza. However, under this tour packages, most of the times the visit to Valladolid is limited to the surroundings of its central square.
Although the central square (also known as “zocalo” in spanish) is quite beautiful, with its wooded park and its amazing Cathedral of San Servacio, Valladolid has many other cultural treasures to show.
📍 How to get to Valladolid from Cancun?:
Directions to Valladolid.
🚗 Distance / miles: 2 hours by car – 97 miles (156 kilometers)
The former convent of San Bernardino
With its austere fortress appearance, the former convent of San Bernardino gives its visitors an insight into the monastic life of the evangelists who came to settle down in Mexico during the Spanish rule.
A true architectural treasure, this convent is one of the most beautiful cultural places in the city.
It has a very clear Franciscan style. To understand the architectural concept of this place, it is important to remember that this monastic order had a very strong belief on poverty vows.
Inside, you will see a magnificent gilded wooden altarpiece, carved and completely painted. The baroque style on this piece of art is easily recognizable.
This place was one of the first stones placed by the Franciscans in the city of Valladolid. It was a central piece in the process of evangelization of the Mayan people. Some of the main remnants from this period that you can still find on the walls of the building are a few surprisingly well-preserved frescoes on murals.
Among the secrets of the former convent of San Bernardino de Valladolid is its main source of fresh water, a source that is hidden in the depths of the building. That's right, you’ve probably guessed what we are talking about… a cenote (sinkhole). This cenote supplied drinking water to the convent. The access to this water body is located in the basement of the convent. This is a clear proof that the convent was not built randomly on this site. The convent was well planned to be there.
Keep in mind that the façade of the former convent is the setting for
📍 Address: Calle 49 S / N, Sisal, 97784 Valladolid, Yuc.
🚶 How to get there: 10 minutes on foot from Valladolid downtown.
⌚ Hours: Monday to Sunday from 8:00 a.m. at 5:00 p.m.
💲 Admission: $30 MXN.
⌚ Show schedule: Tuesday to Friday (8:00 p.m.) Saturday (6:30 p.m.)
💲 Admission: free admission.
San Roque Musseum
It is one of the places that you should not miss if you go to Valladolid and want to do a cultural tour.
The San Roque museum is the memory of the city and the region. It contains its entire history from the pre-Hispanic period to the turbulent times of the revolutionary era, including the colonization in this part of Yucatán.
In addition to its rich collections of items, the museum is an iconic place in Valladolid.
Formerly, the church of San Roque was also the public hospital of the city, later a fortress during the revolutionary riots and, later, it would become the first power plant in the city.
It was only in 1985 that it officially became the Museum of the City of Valladolid. It has 4 exhibition halls, a garden and a room for temporary exhibitions.
📍 Address: Calle 41 núm. 193, Centro, CP 97780, Valladolid, Valladolid, Yucatan
🚶 How to get there: 3 minutes walk from the central square.
⌚ Hours: Monday to Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
💲 Admission: $30 MXN.
Website: San Roque Museum.
Cancun and Merida are located in the two ends of the Yucatan Peninsula. These cities seem to oppose but also complement each other.
On the one hand, Cancun is the standard of modernity, a city that was just founded on the second half of the 20th century. It is a place that captivates with its contemporary architecture exhibited in the tourist complexes and resorts, as well as with its dynamic and, at times, extremely bustling atmosphere.
On the other hand, Mérida is more about the nostalgia, about the charm of the old times. It resembles a historical city where authenticity emanates from the colorful alleys.
Merida is a nice city to live in but also an ideal place for those who want to enjoy cultural tours through places of art and history.
Museum of the Mayan World
This museum focused on the Mayan civilization can be proud of its world-class collections.
Open since 2012, the Museum of the Mayan World in Merida will delight you with its modern and airy architecture, inspired by a tree. It fits perfectly in this new part of the city, located outside downtown.
Its permanent collections, whose tourist trail is remarkably well designed, houses more than 1,100 pieces. Among them, a sculpture of the god Chac Mool perfectly preserved.
It also has exciting and well-documented temporary exhibitions with fun activities for children.
The Museum of the Mayan World in Mérida is one of must visit places that we recommend you make before visiting the archaeological sites in the Riviera Maya.
Museum of Anthropology and History, Cantón G. Palacio
You can't say you did a cultural tour through Merida without going through the city's Museum of Anthropology.
It is not only a place that houses amazing temporary exhibitions, the Anthropology Museum in Merida is in itself an architectural work worth seeing.
Located in a mansion from the early 20th century, the Palacio Cantón, the anthropology museum is one of the main witnesses of the city's history.
The place still carries with it the traces of the Belle Epoque and the high society of the region belonging to the period known as "Porfiriato", that is, the decades when Porfirio Díaz was the president of Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The location of this old colonial house right in the central square of Merida, makes the visit almost mandatory for any tourist.
Furthermore, its ideal location not being enough, Montejo House is truly a jewel in the history of Merida
This building, which served as a barracks for the soldiers during the time of the Conquest, was later taken over by a noble family from the city and transformed into a mansion.
The Montejo family owned it until the 19th century.
The building has now been turned into a museum of antique furniture & art. It is a must-see for art and history enthusiasts who want to explore the historical side of the city.
if you stay in Mérida, don't miss the Uxmal ruins located an hour south of the city!
Finally, an extra spot for the brave tourists who will explore further south of the Riviera Maya to the capital of the state of Quintana Roo: Chetumal.
Chetumal is located in the southern end of the Yucatan Peninsula. Beyond this small city, you will be entering Belize.
This quiet city is more of a government administrative precinct than a tourist area. However, It is located just in the route to Calakmul and, as you can imagine, it has its own Mayan Museum.
Museum of Mayan Culture
If you make a stop in Chetumal you will quickly realize that the museum is one of its main architectural treasures.
Unfortunately, the collections of pieces in this museum are less extensive than those of the The Mayan Museum of Cancun or The Museum of the Mayan World in Mérida, but hey... if you go there, take a quick tour and then continue to the next destination!
So, dear culture, art & history enthusiasts, now you have all the cards in hand to plan your cultural tours and activities in Cancun, the Riviera Maya and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula.
From north to south, from east to west, there are no more secrets about the places of art and history in this area of Mexico.
Take advantage of your vacation in the Riviera Maya to learn more!
Remember to take notes! This is just the introduction to everything you can see in the Riviera Maya. 😱 😰 😂