Whether you're scaling ancient Mayan ruins, diving into the crystal clear waters of a cenote or wading into the mesmerizing turquoise Caribbean Sea -- Mexico has a magical adventure waiting for you.
Located just 72 km from the state capital of Merida, Izamal is recognized as the "Yellow City" for buildings painted in a warm golden yellow, signifying the town's will and determination. Its name translates into "dew that falls from heaven," referring to the Mayan god of wisdom.
Once one of the most important ceremonial centres of the Mayan region, Izamal has flourished amid the backdrop of majestic ruins in the northern Yucatan Peninsula.
Towering above Izamal is the ancient Mayan pyramid of Kinich Kakmo, which has withstood the test of time in a destination designated as one of Mexico's "Magical Towns" for its historical relevance. Scaling the ruin, which covers four hectares and soars 34 metres, you trace the paths once walked by Mayan people and behold breathtaking views of the yellow city below.
In the town, you can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through quaint cobblestone streets, visit the historical Franciscan convent of San Antonio de Padua, marvel at the city's striking architecture and visit numerous artisan shops and museums.
It appears time has stood still in Izamal, holding close to its heart its ancestral traditions, while celebrating and sharing its unique and magical heritage with the world.
Following a day of exploring, visitors can re-energize at Restaurante Kinich El Sabor de Izamal with some authentic Mexican fare. Here women dressed in traditional local clothing prepare hand-rolled tortillas, which are cooked over a wood-burning fire in a small hut. The tortillas are then presented in a unique container accompanied by the restaurant's exceptional regional fare.
If a journey into a magical underground paradise entices you, head for Rio Secreto along the Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo.
This spectacular underground river flows within caves that are ornately sculpted with dramatic, glistening stalactite and stalagmite.
After changing into swimsuits, guests are fitted with wetsuits, life vests, swim shoes and lighted helmets to follow their tour guide on a short journey through the lush, tropical jungle. At the entrance to the caves, guests are greeted by a Mayan shaman who performs a brief ritual and offers prayers for a safe journey below.
Descending into the subterranean universe, adventurers are awestruck by impressive geological formations. They slip slowly into the crystal clear waters and follow their guide through a maze of ancient caverns -- at times swimming through deeper water and climbing rock formations to access various canals.
Once the tour is over, guests change out of wetsuits and meet again for a toast to a successful journey with a shot of Xtabentun (anise liqueur with honey syrup).
No cameras are allowed, however, a Rio Secreto staff photographer is on hand to document the adventure.
Back on solid ground, Green Gold is the sought-after harvest at Hacienda Sotuta de Peon near Tecoh.
This living henequen plantation takes visitors back in time as they ride a small cart -- pulled by mules over rails -- like hacienda workers did many years ago.
Guests learn how the henequen/sisal plant is harvested, processed for its fibre and woven into different products including rope, hats, handbags and other items.
During the tour, the wagon stops near a simple Mayan house to greet Don Antonio, a former hacienda worker who draws the crowd in with his captivating stories about the early days on the henequen plantation. Through a translator, he describes life on the plantation, demonstrates the harvest and recalls the long, tiring days in the fields working under a burning sun.
"Now I don't have to do any planting, picking or cutting," he says with a sparkle in his eye. "All I have to do is sit here and my picture goes around the world."
After the group bids farewell to this great Mayan ambassador, they have the chance to visit a cenote on the property for a refreshing swim in the underground paradise.
Just 2.5 hours from Merida, the cultural capital of the Yucatan, is the city of Valladolid, known as the Sultaness of the East.
The capital of the "Mayan Orient," Valladolid features a bustling central park that offers a view of the regal San Servacio Cathedral. The city's municipal buildings, art galleries and museums are open for public tours. While shopping in the artisan markets, you can see women working on the intricate stitchery of their fine handicrafts.
Another focal point in Valladolid is the breathtaking Casa de los Venados (House of the Deer), an 1,672-sq.-metre home dedicated to showcasing a private collection of more than 3,000 intriguing Mexican folk and contemporary art pieces.
If you have a penchant for skulls and the macabre, Casa de los Venados delivers on some extraordinary rare finds. Owners John and Dorianne Venator have graciously opened up their museum-like home for public viewing.
On a recent tour, Dorianne was seated casually in a room, barely noticeable among the intriguing decor.
"We especially love Mexican folk art because of its strength and artistic simplicity and integrity," she said. "We have acquired most of our collection directly from the artists, and have established a bond of friendship with many of them over our 35 plus years of collecting."
About 30 minutes from Valladolid is the magnificent, walled Mayan city of Ek Balam, meaning Black Jaguar or Bright Star Jaguar.
On this archeological site, dating from 100 BC, visitors discover some of the secrets of the pyramids and scale the well-preserved ancient ruins.
Following a day of adventure, there is a chance to cool off in the private cenote of Xchen.
NEED TO KNOW
For vacationers seeking adventure as well as sand and sun, Transat Holidays offers two packages: The Experience Collection Duo Cancun and Merida, and the Experience Collection Escapades Mayan Treasures. Hotels and resorts in the packages include Casa del Balam, Hacienda San Jose, Grand Sirenis Mayan Beach Le Mirage and the Moon Palace Golf & Spa resort. For information, see transatholidays.com.