The big question of the day, if not the year, has been; where exactly is the Yucatan, what are the borders of the Yucatan Peninsula and really what defines the Riviera Maya. Is the Yucatan and Yucatan Peninsula the same thing?
All great questions and we do know the answer. As locals living in and traveling through these very areas we do know the difference between these very distinct and easily defined parts of Mexico. LG friends have brought this question to our attention, including sending us articles from travel magazines that seem to be a bit confused about each area in question. In these articles, Merida has said to be in the Riviera Maya, Guatemala has been positioned as part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Playa del Carmen was said to be in the Yucatan. So lets clear this all up, once and for all and just set the record or really the areas straight. If you don’t live here, it is hard to understand which area is which. But the mystery will unfold below in a very easy explanation from us locals.
In the mid 2000s the local tourism board decided to name a portion of the Mexican Caribbean coast the ‘Riviera Maya’, a catchy name that would put emerging towns south of Cancun on people’s list of places to visit. Officially the Riviera Maya starts just north of Puerto Morelos on the Mexican Caribbean coast and ends in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, cities and areas in the Mexican State of Quintana Roo. In the United States the area is known as the Riviera Maya. In other countries, Europe and Canada specifically, the area is referred to as the Mayan Riviera, the English equivalent to Rivieria Maya.
Now, the Yucatan Peninsula is an area in the south-east part of Mexico made up of three states; Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. This area is geographically isolated from Mexico and bears a cultural history very different from the rest of the country. The confusion lies in the fact that there is also a Yucatan State, but read below and all of that will be cleared up.
This is where I think it all goes awry and people are easily confused at their first introduction to the area. The state of the Yucatan holds a similar name to the Yucatan Peninsula. Confusion will arise when similar names are used for different places. But these areas, though related, could not be more different. The state of the Yucatan has a rich history, playing a monumental role in the life of the Maya and the Spanish. But it is one or three states that define the Yucatan Peninsula.
Does that help? Does this clear up the confusing information that is found on the internet? When we first arrived in the early 1990s it was important for us to be able to define, understand, and talk knowledgeably about the area. One of the first things we learned was the difference between the Yucatan Peninsula and the three states that defined this area. It was in the early 2000s that we started to hear the term, Riviera Maya, when we always referred to the area as the Cancun – Tulum corridor, but we obviously have adapted to the change.
What we love about all of these different definitions is the history that defined each area. We have learned a ton about the Maya, the Spanish Invasion, the Caste War, and more as we traveled and continue to travel through the area. The history is fascinating and I don’t think we have learned it all yet. We continue to learn more and more as we dive deeper into the roots of this incredible area of Mexico.