To gain a more in-depth understanding of all that the state of Yucatán has to offer, it’s important to make clear the distinction between the Mexican state of Yucatán and the greater Yucatán Peninsula.

Michele Fridman, Tourism Minister for Yucatán state, said she finds that this is often a point of confusion for to outsiders.

Yucatán State Tourism Minister Michelle Fridman
PHOTO: Yucatán State’s Tourism Minister, Michelle Fridman. (Photo courtesy of EnRoute Communications)

TravelPulse: What would you say sets Yucatán state apart from its neighbors?

Michele Fridman: The Yucatán Peninsula is the whole Peninsula that gathers three states: Quintana Roo, Campeche, and the state of Yucatán. The great experiences of the Mayan culture, the greatest gastronomy, the flamingo-watching, the cenotes, the haciendas, the colonial cities, the Magical Towns, the natural reserves, they are all in Yucatán state.

It’s important for us to let people know what they are missing if they don’t go to Yucatán state, because sometimes they arrange a trip to Cancún for one week and they spend the whole week inside an all-inclusive hotel; and they miss the opportunity of going to a Mayan village and, maybe, building a hammock or harvesting honey with a Mayan person; and they are missing the opportunity of [experiencing] the most amazing and important gastronomy scenes, which is the Yucatecan food.

Then, you have a lot of culture, which Quintana Roo hasn’t…Yucatán has thousands and thousands of years of history, while Cancún is a very new destination. Mérida is the largest city. We have over nineteen open-to-the-public archaeological sites and one of them is Chichén Itzá, which a lot of people think belongs to Quintana Roo—it doesn’t. It’s part of Yucatán. Chichén Itzá is right next to Valladolid, which is one of our Magical Towns—a colonial town, beautiful, with amazing boutique hotels and haciendas, and cenotes.”

We also have amazing beaches. A lot of people go to Yucatán to see the flamingos. It is amazing because it’s not the crystal-clear beaches from Cancún, but it’s an emerald-green color of the water right in front of a pink lagoon with flamingos and alligators, and, I mean, the nature is amazing. It’s a pink lagoon right in front of the sea.

Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico
PHOTO: Architecture in the colonial city of Valladolid, Yucatán. (Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus / Lev_Levin)

TP: How has the recent closure of the Mexican Tourism Board affected your state’s Ministry?

MF: Of course, it’s challenging, because we have less [with which] to do the same or even more. We’re trying to be creative and we’re trying to make the most of our budget. Of course, we wish we could have more, but what we’re doing is that we’re working together between the states.

For example, now that I’ve made the difference between Yucatán and the Yucatán Peninsula, we’ve been working together really well for the European or the Asian or the South American markets. Because when people travel from, let’s say, France to Yucatán, they don’t just want to visit Mérida, they want to visit the whole Peninsula. So, we’re putting together a budget and making efforts to do projects together.MORE DESTINATION & TOURISM

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TP: Can you tell us more about Mexico’s Magical Towns program?

MF: It’s an initiative by the federal government. I would say we have less Magical Towns than we deserve because Yucatán is beautiful and we’re working on that. There’s the Magical Town of Izamal, which is a town all painted in yellow; it’s amazing, you get lost in Izamal—everything’s yellow, yellow, yellow. You don’t get to see these kinds of houses in Quintana Roo, because Quintana Roo is very new.

In Yucatán, you don’t see these huge hotels with 500 rooms, but here you’ll find the most exclusive hotels, a lot of them inside historical haciendas. We actually have—awarded as the best hotel in the world—Hacienda Chablé in Yucatán [2018 winner of the Prix Versailles award].

We have a lot of luxury product. We have these old, historical houses rebuilt into boutique hotels. The culture, the museums, the galleries—there’s even a fashion-designer scene. There is an offering for any tourists looking for an authentic experience.”

Izamal, Yucatan, Mexico
PHOTO: San Antonio de Padua Franciscan monastery in Izamal, known as “The Yellow City”. The monastery was built in 1549 on the platform of the main pre-Hispanic Mayan pyramid. (Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus / cinoby)

TP: You’ve said that Mayans are still living and working in Yucatán. What does that look like?

MF: The thing is that the Mayan culture is a living culture in Yucatán. It’s not some sort of Disneyland thing—it’s real. People living there are Mayans, they’re talking Mayan language, they’re having Mayan traditions. For example, the Day of the Dead in Mexico, in Yucatán is totally different because it is the just way the Mayans actually celebrated; and you can go to Valladolid or Mérida or any town and you get to see people dressed up like an ‘ánima’, which is like a ghost, walking with candles all the way on the streets to the cemetery and it’s very—well, it’s almost impossible to describe. It’s very unique and it’s real.

People are really attached to their origins and, having such a strong culture as the Mayans, there’s a strong connection to their roots. I mean, it’s a healthy society, the Yucatecan. It’s a very strange blend of Mayans and the people that came with the colonies with a lot of education.

Yucatán used to be one of the richest areas in Mexico for many, many years because of the natural resources and the connectivity with Europe. For many years, there was nothing but Mérida and the haciendas in the Peninsula, and to get from Mexico City to Yucatán was even more difficult than going to Europe—I mean, there’s a lot of jungle in the Peninsula. So, you’ll see in the architecture, and the culture, and the influences in Yucatán a lot of influences from Europe…So, it is kind of a Caribbean, French, Creole, Mayan thing.

Night scene of Mérida Yucatan, Mexico. High point of view (photo via Esdelval / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
PHOTO: Night scene of Mérida, capital of Yucatán state. (Photo via Esdelval / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

TP: What can you tell us about the Mayan Train project that’s in development?

MF: It’s a Federal project. It might take a few years to actually begin. But once that happens, it’s going to be a huge project for the Peninsula because, from Cancún’s airport, which has the highest connectivity internationally-speaking in Mexico, people will be able to move around the Peninsula; from Cancún to Yucatán to Chichén Itzá, Valladolid, Izamal, Uxmal, which is the southern archaeological site, Campeche, and then to the southern part of Quintana Roo. So it’s a great project, of course. Once it’s finished, it’s going to be a great opportunity for tourists.”

Now, I need to say that Yucatán, it’s easy for tourists right now. It’s the safest state in Mexico and that’s really important to say because, for many years, we have been awarded as the number one in safety and peace in Mexico. Our safety levels are compared to Sweden and Norway, and our infrastructure is really good, and our highways are super safe, so you don’t need to wait for the train.

Actually, proof of that safeness is that we’re receiving very important events, such as the Nobel Peace Award Summit, it’s going to happen in Mérida in September, and the Tianguis Touristico, which the most important tourism fair in Mexico, is happening next year in Yucatán. This is the second time [the Nobel Peace Award Summit] comes to Latin America, the first time it comes to Mexico, and it’s been held cities such as Paris, Berlin and Rome.

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