Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is an exciting mix of dense, humid sub-tropical jungle, endless Caribbean coastline, and a fascinating array of pre-Columbian archaeological treasures that dot a landscape inhabited by the Mayan people, a culture that is currently undergoing a tumultuous transition from their ancient traditional way of life to a more modern Occidental lifestyle due to the constant encounters with vacationing and resident foreigners.
While this rich history, both pre-Hispanic and colonial, and the fascinating modern Mayan culture are both fascinating to explore, it is Yucatan’s natural environment that offers visitors a wonderful world of great options to discover and enjoy. “Cenotes” (in English “sinkholes”), are geological formations that result from the collapse of limestone bedrock thus exposing groundwater underneath, are abundant and afford explorers the opportunity to swim, snorkel and scuba dive in their crystal clear fresh water. Solution caves, formed by the slow dissolving of limestone by natural acid in rainwater that seeps through faults or fractures, are filled with calcium carbonate formations (stalactites, stalagmites) produced through slow precipitation, and are also abundant and easily accessible.
In particular, when considering things to do in Merida, a captivating colonial city, a visit to the Celestun Biosphere Reserve is obligatory. The fishing village of the same name is is a picturesque coastal traffic port inhabited by mostly fisherfolk whose primary economic activity is the seafood industry (mainly octopus, grouper, dogfish and king crab), and to a lesser extent, salt extraction, agriculture and ecotourism.
The reserve itself covers an extensive area of approximately 145,000 acres and includes coastal dune scrub, estuaries, mangrove forests, “petenes” (in English “hummocks”) and marshes. Many reptiles, including boas and crocodiles, are common as are 4 species of turtle, the Green Turtle (Chelonia Midas), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).
The big attraction however is the huge population of American flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) that inhabit this region. This wading bird is the tallest of its kind in the Americas and depends on the saline mudflats which provide an abundant food supply all year round. Most of its plumage is pink, with red wing coverts, black secondary flight feathers and a bill that is pink and white with an extensive black tip.
This flamingo feeds in flocks that number several thousand birds either huddled together in knee-deep water or wading along muddy salt flats. Their spectacular colors, huge flock numbers and calm receptiveness of human observers make this bucket list experience one that will live on in your memory forever.