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Satellite image of the Yucatán Peninsula
|Adjacent bodies of water|
The Yucatán Peninsula ( // , also UK: /-/ , US: /-, / ; Spanish : Península de Yucatán), in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northeastern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America. It is approximately 181,000 km2 (70,000 sq mi) in area, and is almost entirely composed of limestone.
The proper derivation of the word Yucatán is widely debated. 17th century Franciscan historian Diego López de Cogolludo offers two theories in particular.In the first one, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, having first arrived to the peninsula in 1517, inquired the name of a certain settlement and the response in Yucatec Mayan was "I don't understand", which sounded like yucatán to the Spaniards. There are many possibilities of what the natives could have actually said, among which "mathan cauyi athán", "tectecán", "ma'anaatik ka t'ann" and "ci u t'ann". This origin story was first told by Hernán Cortés in his letters to Charles V. Later 16th century historians Motolinia and Francisco López de Gómara also repeat this version. In some versions the expedition isn't the one captained by Córdoba but instead the one a year later captained by Juan de Grijalva. The second major theory is that the name is in some way related to the yuca crop, as written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Others theories claim that it is a derivative of Chontal Tabascan word yokat'an meaning speaker of the Yoko ochoco language, or an incorrect Nahuatl term yokatlan as supposedly "place of richness" (yohcāuh can't be paired with tlán).
The Yucatán Peninsula is the site of the Chicxulub crater impact, which was created 66 million years ago by an asteroid of about 10 to 15 kilometres (6 to 9 miles) in diameter at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
The Yucatán Peninsula comprises a significant proportion of the ancient Maya lowlands (although the Maya culture extended south of the Yucatán Peninsula, through present Guatemala and into Honduras and highland Chiapas), and was the center of the Mayan civilization.There are many Maya archaeological sites throughout the peninsula; some of the better-known are Chichen Itza, Coba, Tulum and Uxmal. Indigenous Maya and Mestizos of partial Maya descent make up a sizable portion of the region's population, and Mayan languages are widely spoken there.
In 2020, an underwater archaeological expedition led by Jerónimo Avilés again excavated the cave and revealed about 30 years old female skeleton lived at least 9,900 years ago. According to craniometric measurements, the skull is believed to conform to the mesocephalic pattern, like the other three skulls found in Tulum caves. Three different scars on the skull of the woman showed that she was hit with something hard and her skull bones were broken. Her skull also had crater-like deformations and tissue deformities that appeared to be caused by a bacterial relative of syphilis.
According to study lead researcher Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, "It really looks as if this woman had a very hard time and an extremely unhappy end of her life. Obviously, this is speculative, but given the traumas and the pathological deformations on her skull, it appears a likely scenario that she may have been expelled from her group and was killed in the cave, or was left in the cave to die there”.
The newly discovered skeleton was 140 meters away from the Chan Hol 2 site. Although archaeologists assumed the divers found the remains of the missing Chan Hol 2, the analysis proved that these assumptions were erroneous in a short time. Stinnesbeck compared the new bones to old photographs of Chan Hol 2 and showed that the two skeletons represent different individuals.
Due to their distinctive features, study co-researcher Samuel Rennie suggest the existence of at least two morphologically diverse groups of people living separately in Mexico during the transition from Pleistocene to Holocene.
The peninsula comprises the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo, as well as large parts of Belize and Guatemala's Petén Department.
In the late historic and early modern eras, the Yucatán Peninsula was largely a cattle ranching, logging, chicle and henequen production area. Since the 1970s (and the fall of the world henequen and chicle markets due to the advent of synthetic substitutes), the Yucatán Peninsula has reoriented its economy towards tourism, especially in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Once a small fishing village, Cancún in the northeast of the peninsula has grown into a thriving city. The Riviera Maya, which stretches along the east coast of the peninsula between Cancún and Tulum, houses over 50,000 beds. The best-known locations are the former fishing town of Playa del Carmen, the ecological parks Xcaret and Xel-Há and the Maya ruins of Tulum and Coba.
The peninsula is the exposed portion of the larger Yucatán Platform, all of which is composed of carbonate and soluble rocks, being mostly limestone although dolomite and evaporites are also present at various depths. The whole of the Yucatán Peninsula is an unconfined flat lying karst landscape.Sinkholes, known locally as cenotes, are widespread in the northern lowlands.
According to the Alvarez hypothesis, the mass extinction of the dinosaurs at the transition from the Cretaceous to the Paleogene Period, the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary (K–Pg boundary), 65 million years ago was caused by an asteroid impact somewhere in the greater Caribbean Basin. The deeply buried Chicxulub crater is centered off the north coast of the peninsula near the town of Chicxulub. The now-famous "Ring of Cenotes" (visible in NASA imagery) outlines one of the shock-waves from this impact event in the rock of ~66 million years of age, which lies more than 1 km below the modern ground surface near the centre, with the rock above the impact strata all being younger in age. The presence of the crater has been determined first on the surface from the Ring of Cenotes, but also by geophysical methods, and direct drilling with recovery of the drill cores.
The Arrowsmith Bank is a submerged bank located off the northeastern end of the peninsula.
Due to the extreme karst nature of the whole peninsula, the northern half is devoid of rivers. Where lakes and swamps are present, the water is marshy and generally unpotable. Due to its coastal location, the whole of the peninsula is underlain by an extensive contiguous density stratified coastal aquifer, where a fresh water lens formed from meteoric water floats on top of intruding saline water from the coastal margins. The thousands of sinkholes known as cenotes throughout the region provide access to the groundwater system. The cenotes have long been relied on by ancient and contemporary Maya people.
Short and tall tropical jungles are the predominant natural vegetation types of the Yucatán Peninsula. The boundaries between northern Guatemala (El Petén), Mexico (Campeche and Quintana Roo), and western Belize are still occupied by the largest continuous tracts of tropical rainforest in Central America. However, these forests are suffering extensive deforestation.
Like much of the Caribbean, the peninsula lies within the Atlantic Hurricane Belt, and with its almost uniformly flat terrain it is vulnerable to these large storms coming from the east. The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season was a particularly bad season for Mexico's tourism industry, with two forceful category 5 storms hitting, Hurricane Emily and Hurricane Wilma. The 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season was a typical year which left the Yucatán untouched, but in the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane season Yucatán was hit by Hurricane Dean (also a category 5 storm), nevertheless Dean left little damage on the peninsula despite heavy localized flooding.
Strong storms called nortes can quickly descend on the Yucatán Peninsula any time of year. Although these storms pummel the area with heavy rains and high winds, they tend to be short-lived, clearing after about an hour. The average percentage of days with rain per month ranges from a monthly low of 7% in April to a high of 25% in October. Breezes can have a cooling effect, humidity is generally high, particularly in the remaining rainforest areas.
Yucatán, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Yucatán, is one of the 32 states which comprise the Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided into 106 municipalities, and its capital city is Mérida.
Chetumal is a city on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo and the municipal seat of the Municipality of Othón P. Blanco. In 2010 it had a population of 151,243 people.
Quintana Roo, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo, is one of the 32 states which comprise the federal entities of Mexico. It is divided into 11 municipalities and its capital city is Chetumal.
Coba is an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatán Peninsula, located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The site is the nexus of the largest network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world, and it contains many engraved and sculpted stelae that document ceremonial life and important events of the Late Classic Period of Mesoamerican civilization. The adjacent modern village bearing the same name, reported a population of 1,278 inhabitants in the 2010 Mexican federal census.
Cancún is a city in southeast Mexico on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is a significant tourist destination in Mexico and the seat of the municipality of Benito Juárez. The city is on the Caribbean Sea and is one of Mexico's easternmost points.
Tulum is the site of a pre-Columbian Mayan walled city which served as a major port for Coba, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The ruins are situated on 12-meter (39 ft) tall cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya; it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have resulted in very high fatalities, disrupting the society, and eventually causing the city to be abandoned. One of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites, Tulum is today a popular site for tourists.
Chicxulub Pueblo is a town, and surrounding municipality of the same name, in the Mexican state of Yucatán.
The Riviera Maya is a tourism and resort district south of Cancun, Mexico. It straddles the coastal Federal Highway 307, along the Caribbean coastline of the state of Quintana Roo, located in the eastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. Historically, this district started at the city of Playa del Carmen and ended at the village of Tulum, although the towns of Puerto Morelos, situated to the north of Playa del Carmen, as well as the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, situated 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the south of Tulum, are both currently being promoted as part of the Riviera Maya tourist corridor.
A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.
Costa Maya is a small tourist region in the municipality of Othón P. Blanco in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, the only state bounded by the Caribbean Sea to its east. This municipality is close to Chetumal on the border with Belize. The area was generally undeveloped but has been growing rapidly since construction of a large pier to accommodate cruise ships. Costa Maya is also the name of a subdivision near the village of Mahahual. The beach extends from Xcalak in the south to the southern border of Sian Ka'an in the north, a distance of approximately 100 kilometers (62 mi).
Dos Ojos is part of a flooded cave system located north of Tulum, on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. The exploration of Dos Ojos began in 1987 and still continues. The surveyed extent of the cave system is 82 kilometers (51 mi) and there are 28 known sinkhole entrances, which are locally called cenotes. In January 2018, a connection was found between Sistema Dos Ojos and Sistema Sac Actun. The smaller Dos Ojos became a part of Sac Actun, making the Sistema Sac Actun the longest known underwater cave system in the world.
Sistema Ox Bel Ha is a cave system in Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is the longest explored underwater cave in the world and ranks fourth including dry caves. As of May 2017 the surveyed length is 270.2 kilometers (167.9 mi) of underwater passages. There are more than 140 cenotes in the system.
Xcaret is a Maya civilization archaeological site located on the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. The site was occupied by the pre-Columbian Maya and functioned as a port for navigation and an important Maya trading center. Some of the site's original structures are contained within a modern-day tourism development, the privately owned Xcaret Park.
Sistema Sac Actun is an underwater cave system situated along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula with passages to the north and west of the village of Tulum. Discovery of a connection to the Sistema Dos Ojos in 2008 made it the longest known underwater cave system.
The Quintana Roo Speleological Survey (QRSS) was established in 1990 for the safe exploration, survey and cartography of the underwater and dry caves and cenotes of Quintana Roo, Mexico, supported by the National Speleological Society.
Eve of Naharon is the skeleton of a 25- to 30-year-old human female found in the Naharon section of the underwater cave Sistema Naranjal in Mexico near the town of Tulum, around 80 miles (130 km) south west of Cancún. The Naranjal subsystem is a part of the larger Sistema Ox Bel Ha. The skeleton is carbon dated to 13,600 years ago, which makes it one of the oldest documented human finds in the Americas.
Tulum is one of the eleven municipalities that make up the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It became one of the newest municipalities in the country when it was formed on March 13, 2008, when it was separated from Solidaridad Municipality.
Chan Hol, part of the Toh ha cave system, is a cenote and submerged cave system in Quintana Roo, Mexico, of interest to paleoanthropologists. The remains of three prehistoric human fossils were discovered within the cave system. Along with Eve of Naharon, Naia, the Man of El Templo and the Woman of Las Palmas, the three fossils at Chan Hol are among several ancient Paleoamerican skeletons found in the submerged cave systems of the Yucatán Peninsula around Tulum, Quintana Roo.
Panthera balamoides is an extinct species of big cat in the genus Panthera that lived in the Yucatan Peninsula during the Pleistocene. Recent studies suggest it is a type of a climbing cat. The fossil was found associated to 13,400 year old human remains and it was found by underwater cave researcher Jerónimo Aviles, a local scientist in 2011.
Hells Bells are hollow bell- or cone-shaped structures of carbonate that can reach lengths of 2 metres. They are found underwater in El Zapote cenote in Quintana Roo, Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula; similar formations exist in other caves. In a certain depth range, such structures cover the entire surface of the cave including submerged tree trunks and other Hells Bells, although they never touch each other.