The peninsula is made up of three states: Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. This Italy-sized territory is home to North America’s largest indigenous Indian group, the Mayas. Thousands of pre-Columbian ceremonial sites and yet-to-be-excavated Mayan cities give the Yucatán a reputation as one of the world’s richest archaeological zones. It is no exaggeration to say wherever one turns in the Yucatán, an ancient ruin is near at hand.
For the traveler, this broad, box-shaped peninsula offers a distinct contrast to the rugged topography and varied cultures of mainland Mexico. In fact, the local people think of themselves as Yucatecos first and Mexicans second. The differences between the Yucatán and Mexico aren’t just superficial. Virtually everything about the peninsula, from its ruler-straight highways to its quiet, gentle people, is distinctly Yucatecan.
Though Spanish is the official language, many Yucatecos, especially farmers and rural people, speak Mayan at home. Even the food is different. Visitors are often surprised to find that instead of tacos and enchiladas, Yucatecan fare relies heavily on pork, venison, black beans, pickled onions, lime soup and chile habanero, the legendary, thermonuclear Mayan pepper that makes a jalapeño taste as mild as a jelly bean.
(The above paragraphs are excerpted from The People’s Guide to Mexico; all rights reserved.)