Mexico Travel Books: the Yucatan
Our Personal Favorites
The following is a highly personal list of Mexico travel books focusing on the Yucatan that we have found very helpful over the years.
They range from simple and straightforward guidebooks such as the Lonely Planet Guide to more esoteric titles that deal with the archeology and history of the region.
We are always interested in hearing about new Yucatan travel books—or Mexico travel books in general. If you have a favorite title you think other visitors to this site would appreciate, please let us know.
Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan
Benchwick, Greg. Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan (Regional Guide)
. Mississauga, Melbourne: Lonely Planet Wiley, 2008.
OK. Maybe I'm in denial and at 55 I shouldn't be poring through the pages of the Lonely Planet. But the LP guide to the Yuctan, as is true for all the books in the wonderful Lonely Planet collection, is just jam packed with useful information. If I could own only one Mexico travel book, this would probably be it.
This little book (312 pages) is pocket-sized, but covers all the essential sites and attractions of the entire Yucatan peninsula, and even crosses over the border into the neighboring states of Chiapas and Tabasco.
Each section includes an overall description, a little local history and culture, information about how to get there and get away, and reviews of hotels and restaurants in three categories low end, mid-range and top end.
So even if my days of sleeping in a palapa on the beach with no lock on the door (or maybe no door!) and no bed save a hammock, this book is still an essential title in our travel collection.
And who knows? Maybe those days aren't over after all!
Route of the Mayas
Antichiw, Michael, Aubry, Andre, Baudez, Claude-Francois, et al. Knopf Guide: Route Of The Mayas: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador (Knopf Guides)
. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995
It's the pictures that make this book so intriguing. Every page is a feast for the eyes: maps, detailed recreations of archeological sites, modern and archival photographs. It's so rich I find myself forgetting to actually read it.
The book begins with a discussion of the nature and history of the region and then goes on to discuss the Maya today. The remainder of the book provides more detailed information (and more fabulaous illustrations and photos) for each of the regions where Mayan culture once thrived and still alive remains today.
Not simply a Mexico travel book, The Route of the Mayas covers the entire Mayan world (the Yucatan, Belize, Chiapas and Guatamala, going well beyond the limits of a more typical Mexico travel book.
Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, unabridged edition
Stephens, John Lloyd, Catherwood, Frederick. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vols. I and II
. New York: Cosimo
For Mexico travel books, this is where it all began. In this classic work, originally published in 1847, John Lloyd Stevens records the second of his historic trips through the Yucatan peninsula. Stevens and his compansion English artist Frederick Catherwood almost single-handedly brought the news of the pre-conquest Mayan civilization to readers throughout North America and Europe, and touched off a century and a half of archeological discovery.
This is the original unabridged edition. Some readers will perhaps prefer the abridged Smithsonian Institution Press edition (see below), which is about one third as long. Peronally, I prefer to have the original and decide for myself what to read and when to skim. But certainly, I'll be packing the abridged version on my next trip to the region: a over 600 pages the original is just too big to lug around!
Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, abridged
Stevens, John Lloyd, Catherwood, Frederick, and ed: Ackerman, Karl Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan
. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996
While some may object to the trimming off of two thirds of the original, this edition of Steven's classic work (see above), editor Karl Ackerman has remained faithful to the spirit of his original. This edition moves long swiftly and is perhaps better suited to our modern time&emdash;or, rather lack of time. What I most enjoy in the Ackerman edition is its "rippng yarn" quality, which in the original is buried under Steven's conscientious documentation of detail.
Both the Ackerman edition and the orginal have the additional fascination of presenting history from a perspective that has itself now become historical. For example, Stevens writes sympathetically of the plight of the indigenous people and wonders at their complacency. He could not then have known that very soon after his book was published the Mayas would rise up in a bloody and protracted rebellion called the War of the Castes.
Incident's of Travel in the Yucatan is history within history, beautifully written by an author who is energetic, compassionate and likeable.
Whether you choose the long or short version of this landmark Mexico travel book, you can't go wrong.
The Ancient Maya
McKillop, Heather. The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives
. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2004
Professor McKillop's book is densely packed and scholarly. She provides a very helpful summary of the stages of ancient Mayan culture, enriched by a modern appreciation of the role of economy, trade and agriculture is shaping the history of the region up through the Late Post Classic period of decline just prior to the Spanish conquest. The book includes chapters on the social organization, politics, religion and ideology of the ancient Mayas as well as a review of the matieral culture.
This is an excellent resource for all those interested in learning more about this fascinating part of the world than is found in even the best Mexico travel book.
An Archaeological Guide to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
Kelly, Joyce. An Archaeological Guide to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993
The Yucatan peninsula is covered with ruins. There at least 150 known sites, only of few of which have been uncovered, and archeologists are certain to discover more in the years ahead.
Joyce Kelly's book, though not new, is a very comprehensive survey of most of the sites that have been studied so far. The writing is concise, packed with helpful information and throughout the book is amply enriched with illustrations, diagrams and (black and white) photographs.
Take this one with you. Though not a Mexico travel book, with the Archeological Guide along you will always have your own personal English-speaking authority to help you understand the significance of the Yucatan's often inscrutable ruins.
Greene, Graham. The Lawless Roads (Penguin Classics)
New York. Viking Press. 1939
The Lawless Roads, or Another Mexico, is part travelogue, part protest, and all literary masterpiece. In the 1930s, Greene, a recently converted and devout Roman Catholic, toured Mexico to investigate the suppression of the church by the Calles regime. He was appalled by what he saw, particularly in the state of Tabasco, where fascists known as Red Shirts, turned priests out of their pulpits, forced them to marry, and effectively shut down the church.
Anyone who has ever studied modern Mexican history knows that it is filled with strife and conflict. The early years of World War Two were no exception. Greene's book expresses both his outrage at the conduct of the state and his deep compassion for its victims.
This is not your typical Mexico travel book. Instead, it's a disturbing read...but well worth it.
Mexico Chic, Hotels, Spas, Hacienda, Resorts
Kastelein, Barbara, Nichols, Richard, Tan Annette, Zee Foo Mei. Mexico Chic: Hotels, Haciendas, Spas (Chic Destinations)
. Singapore: Bolding Books, 2008
Save up your money and splurge...for at least one night at any of the luxurious and stlyish hotels featured in this beautiful guide to Mexico Chic.
Unlike our other recommended Mexico travel bookks, Mexico Chic covers all of Mexico, thought the Yucatan and Cancun and the Mayan Riviera are especially well represented. The book is filled with color photos, descriptions of the hotels, rooms and nearby attractions, contact information, in short, everything you need to succumb to temptation.
And compared to what you'd pay for the same treatment at home, you should be able to convince yourself that it's almost a bargain!
Well, that's the list so far, but this library is definitely a work in progress. For example, there's an entire section on the way with books from first hand witnesses of the epoch-making encounter of European and indigenous cultures.
These titles will include the letters of Hernan Cortez, books by Bishop de Landa, Bernal Diaz, and an extraordinary text by a contemporary Aztec author.
But we aren't going to get around to reading all that's out there. If you have great book suggestions about travel in Mexico, or the history and culture of the region, please share them using the form below.
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