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Books, Websites and other resources on the Yucatan

Last time around I did not have much time to prepare for my summer-long trip to the Yucatan. I had finals pretty much right until the day I left and, as I was already backpacking and carrying a lot of papers (this was in the pre cheap-laptop days, I had to write all my notes & reviews longhand), I didn't have much space for resource materials in my luggage. So I winged it - relying on guidebooks and the invaluable knowledge of the young people who were staffing the Tourist Information Center in Merida: they helped me visit pretty much every single interesting site in the state of Yucatan (though at the time there were many, many fewer cenotes opened to the public).

This time around, however, I had a few weeks warning before my trip and the time to do some reading on the region and the its history. I've also been aided greatly by several websites and bulletin boards that expand on the all in all meager information from my guidebook. So here is what I've used - feel free to comment and add other resources.


The Maya

For books I relied mostly in the pitiful selection at my library. I only found two books on the Maya that where somewhat recent: The Maya by Michael D. Coe and Daily Life in Maya Civilization by Robert J. Sharer. While they both contained similar information, I liked the second one much more than the first one. Sharer does not give you an iota of information about the daily life of the Maya (it'd be all speculation after all, wouldn't it?) but he does provide abundant information about the history and culture of the Maya. He is more willing than Coe to extrapolate from post-conquest records and archaeological know-how, so that you end up with a clearer picture of what Maya civilization may have been like. He is also more detailed in explaining his methods and has taken to heart the old adage that, when writing a paper (or a book), you should "say what you are going to say, say it, and then say what you said". Some may find this repetitious, but as I'm not a very careful reader, and I tend to glance rather than read some paragraphs (in particular those at the end of a section or chapter), his method is very useful to me. All in all, I enjoyed this book very much.

If you are seriously interested in reading about the Maya, however, you should get a copy of The Ancient Maya, 6th Edition (or whatever is the newest edition when you read this) also by Sharer and a co-author. This is the book on the Maya and will give you all the background you will need. Alas, they didn't have it at my public library and I was not going to spend $30 to buy it. Hmmm, maybe I should have.


My library had two guidebooks, Hidden Cancun & the Yucatan, which I didn't like at all, and the 2008 version of Frommer's Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan, which surprisingly, was better than the other book. It isn't "complete", but it has a voice and I think as much info as the book I ended buying. It also contains a map of the Yucatan peninsula, albeit a very basic one including only the major roads and sites.

The book that I, foolishly, end up buying was Moon Yucatan Peninsula: Including Chiapas. The 2009 edition was not yet out, so I got the 2007 edition instead. Back when I wrote my chapter on the Yucatan for the Berkeley Guides: On the Loose in Mexico 1993, the Moon handbook was the only guidebook to focus only on the Yucatan and it did a great job of covering most of the interesting sites in the region. Hoping that it had maintained its standards, I bought it sight unseen, and, as I said above, it was a mistake.

I'm displeased with the Moon Handook for several reasons. For one, its maps are ridiculous - there are very few of them, they don't include all attractions or even some useful roads for the car traveler (such as the shortcut from Cancun to Chiquila. Second, it has very few hotel listings (though that is less important in this age of Trip Advisor, but not everyone does their travel planning with the help of a computer) and, in particular, very, very few budget listings. Now, I'm not sure if this is because the Yucatan no longer has really cheap accommodations, though that seems somewhat unlikely. Third, but probably most importantly, the Moon handbook is no longer thorough: it does not include destinations that may not be touristy in themselves, but that are important stops in the bus-traveler route or serve as centers for visiting nearby sites (such as Hopelchen). There were other reasons why the book annoyed me, but we don't need to go into them. Needless to say, I'm sorry I bought it.

I haven't taken a look at either the Lonely Planet 2008 Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan or 2006 Yucatan nor the 2008 The Rough Guide to Yucatan 2, but I'm sure both of them are much better. I've used Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide extensively before, and I usually prefer the writing style of the Rough Guide - if I find one somewhere for cheap, I'd definitely pick it up.


There are fortunately several websites on the Yucatan that you can use to get general information as well as insider tips. And of course, you can google specific things (like "cenotes") for detailed info on that subject. The best Yucatan websites are:

Yucatan Today

a print and on-line magazine

Yucatan Living
expats living in Merida

The best discussion boards, where you can ask and browse questions and answers are:

Trip Advisor's Yucatan Peninsula Forums
Make sure to post under a specific destination, as few people read the general forum

Lonely Planet Mexico Forum

For the most useful map of the region, go to Google Maps and enter "Yucatan Mexico" in the search field. You can then zoom in to see roads.

Travel Yucatan

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 30, 2009 7:11 AM.

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