MERIDA, Mexico — For the majority of travelers to Mexico, the first (and sometimes only) encounter with the state of Yucatan is a daytrip from Cancun to Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza provides a solid introduction to Yucatan, for sure, but it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding this state on the Yucatan peninsula, tourism officials will tell you. As was made clear at the 45th Tianguis Turistico, which was held here in Yucatan’s capital city in mid-November, the state has much to offer visitors beyond the world-renowned archaeological site.

Hosting Tianguis gave Yucatan a chance to show off a little bit for the roughly 4,000 people who attended the event (the pandemic postponed the original plans to hold it in the spring of 2020).

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What has Yucatan’s tourism officials most excited is Tren Maya, which they envision as the literal vehicle that will introduce thousands of tourists to everything the state, as well as the rest of the peninsula, has to offer. Unveiled at the last Tianguis, held in Acapulco in early 2019, the rail line is designed to give greater exposure to the peninsula’s Mayan roots. It will run from Cancun in Quintana Roo to Palenque in Chiapas state in the south.

The project had to be paused during the pandemic, but Yucatan Gov. Mauricio Vila Dosal told Tianguis 2021 attendees it is now taking shape and is going full steam ahead.

“For us here in Yucatan, and for my fellow governors in Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas and Quintana Roo, it is a great opportunity to attract tourism,” Vila said. “The economic spillover will be over $40 million pesos, which will go to roads and will generate 1,000 forms of employment.”

Train service could begin next year

The first leg of the rail line is expected to be running by sometime next year, linking the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Campeche; the entire line could be completed by 2024, although that target has changed several times since the project began.

Tren Maya’s objective is to provide a safe, convenient and comfortable way for travelers to explore all of the Yucatan peninsula, beyond the ever-popular daytrip from their Riviera Maya resorts to Chichen Itza.

The Malecon in Progreso, Mexico. Yucatan state tourism officials are hopeful that the creation of Tren Maya will encourage more tourists to visit places like Progreso, a port city on the Caribbean coast.

The Malecon in Progreso, Mexico. Yucatan state tourism officials are hopeful that the creation of Tren Maya will encourage more tourists to visit places like Progreso, a port city on the Caribbean coast. Photo Credit: State of Yucatan Ministry of Tourism

As travelers ride the train south into the peninsula, they’ll encounter not only rich archaeological sites but also an abundance of Mayan cuisine; idyllic beaches along the Gulf coast, which is being branded as the Yucatan Riviera; and places like the city of Progreso, a burgeoning cruise port.

Tren Maya will offer a variety of experiences. The most basic is clean, comfortable passenger cars for commuting locals and others taking a short excursion; a second will offer access to dining cars, where guests will be able to enjoy regional cuisine; and the third will be cars with sleeping compartments for overnight trips.

A new theme park from Group Xcaret

Tianguis also saw the unveiling of Grupo Xcaret’s newest theme park, Xibalba. Named for the Mayan underworld, the featured attraction of the Xibalba theme park will be a subterranean nature reserve circuit that takes travelers through several interconnected cenote caves.

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Each cenote affords a different experience, like ziplining, hiking, swimming and snorkeling. Two restaurants will open at the park, as well, serving Yucatecan food. The project is expected to be completed in June 2022 and will open just outside of the Yucatan city of Valladolid.

Grupo Xcaret also told Travel Weekly that a new sailing division of the company is in the works. Xailing, which will offer sailing tours from Cancun to Isla Mujeres. That project is coming in 2022, as well.

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