Two weeks from Jan 6
The capital of Yucatán’s cattle country hosts one of the region’s biggest fiestas featuring a stock fair with traditional music, dancing, colorful parades, and plenty of eating and drinking.
12 days around Feb 2
Valladolid’s main fiesta, Expo-Feria centers around the Feast of the Virgin of La Candelaria. Local girls show off dazzling embroidered dresses in the opening parade, followed by dancing and free concerts and shows. Campeche has a smaller celebration.
About one week before Lent
This is the biggest and brightest celebration of the year in the Yucatán. In Cancún and Cozumel the streets fill with music, dancing, food stands, and a little Río-style parading. The biggest Carnival in southern Mexico, though, is in Mérida.
Mar 21, Sep 21
The visual effects integral to these Mayan cities – such as the “descent” of the sun down the serpents on El Castillo at Chichén and the striking of the rising sun through the Seven Dolls temple at Dzibilchaltún – were timed to happen on the spring and fall equinoxes. Today, some 80,000 visit Chichén Itza for the day; the crowds are smaller at Dzibilchaltún.
Cozumel’s most important traditional fiesta takes place in honor of the island’s patron saint, St. Michael. Over the 9 days that precede his feast day, religious processions are held in town, and there’s entertainment for children, plus free music and dancing.
Check website for festival dates (www.cancunjazz.com)
A mix of young artists from Latin America, the U.S., and Europe – often playing Latin Jazz and contemporary fusion rather than strict jazz – features in this festival. Several acts play for free in Parque de las Palapas in Ciudad Cancún.
Week before Oct 13
More solemnly religious than most fiestas, with processions culminating on October 13, when the figure of “Christ of the Blisters” (Cristo de las Ampollas), kept in Mérida Cathedral, is carried through town before a Mass.
Oct 31–Nov 2
Sugar skulls, dead bread (pan de muerto), zempazuchitl flowers, and coffin-shaped decorations are the mark of Mexico’s most famous celebration, when people party to honor the dead on Halloween and All Saints’ Day (Todos Santos), and families visit cemeteries to picnic by the graves of their departed relatives.
Every week, Mérida hosts a free fiesta, “Mérida on Sunday,” when the Plaza Mayor and Calle 60 are closed to traffic to make way for strolling crowds and a range of events. There are displays of jarana dancing in front of the City Hall and concerts up and down the street, and anyone can dance.
Every village and town in the Yucatán also has its own fiesta, when the streets are covered in bright garlands, work ceases, and music is heard non-stop. To find out if and when any are due to take place near you, ask in tourist offices, look out for posters, or check local papers.
Huge numbers of earthenware pots are made in Ticul, sometimes using pre-Conquest techniques.
Lush flower designs are made by Mayan women on traditional huípil blouses, handkerchiefs, tablecloths, and other linen.
The best palm hats are said to be from northern Campeche, and the place to buy them is Mérida.
These are light, elegant shirts. They are accepted as tropical formal wear and bestow instant dignity upon men (of any age).
Huge racks of traditional leather huarache sandals can be found in all Yucatán markets.
Many Mayan villagers carve wooden figures based on ancient images.
Dried natural gourd bowls, brightly painted, are a specialty of Chiapas, but they are often seen in the Yucatán.
Fine silverware from Taxco in central Mexico is found in Yucatán stores, as well as amber from Chiapas.
Brightly painted wooden parrots, toucans, and boxes provide some of the prettiest images of tropical Mexico.
The traditional place to sleep is so much a part of the Yucatán that local poets have even celebrated it in verse.