Missionaries first arrived in Mérida in 1959, offering a prayer in behalf of the citizens who welcomed them. Ever since, missionary work on the Yucatan Peninsula has flourished and Church membership has grown.
Beginning with eight investigators who attended the first Sunday service on February 8, 1959, Church membership in Mérida has reached over 13,000. Sister Raquel Pech was the first to be baptized in the Yucatan and in 1960; she also became one of the first sisters from the area to serve a mission.
The Mérida, Mexico Temple is a long awaited blessing for the members in the Yucatan Peninsula. Before the temple, the Saints had to make long, costly excursions to the temple in Mexico City, a thousand miles away. The Guatemala City, Guatemala Temple is geographically closer, but to reach it members must cross an international border, a jungle, and several mountain ranges.
The members of the Yucatan Peninsula have great strength, adding their faith and diligence to the four and a half million members in Latin America.
4 Places You Must See in the Yucatan Peninsula
The Mérida Temple, along with visits to three of the most striking ancient cities in the Yucatan, will round out your trip beautifully.
Mérida Mexico Temple
Dedicated in July 2000, the temple is located in the older section of the city and was built on the site of the first LDS chapel, built in 1968. With all the tearing down of Church buildings, city planners worried about the architectural heritage and required that aesthetic and historic consistency be maintained. The front wall of the temple features designs which harmonize with existing surrounding structures.
Uxmal is one of the most majestic of the Mayan cities. The Pyramid of the Magician is the most popular pyramid with its rounded corners. The temple at the top is the legendary home of the Dwarf of Uxmal who ruled the city. The clefts and stones of the temples are home to numerous enormous yet harmless iguanas that sit still until surprised, then dart off faster than you can blink.
Just southwest of the Pyramid of the Magician stands the ball court and the House of the Turtles—an archetype of the pure Puuc architectural style decorated in stone-carved turtles. Every night, the major buildings in Uxmal are colorfully lit up for a light show with commentary on the history and legend of the city.
About an hour and a half car ride from Mérida will bring you to Chichén-Itzá, home to some of the largest buildings of the ancient Mayan cities. Chichén-Itzá was built sometime between 550 and 900 A.D. Between 750 and 950 A.D., Chichén-Itzá’s population grew to 40,000 and became the most powerful city in the Yucatan. Two sites to note in Chichén-Itzá are the Castillo de Kukulcán and El Caracol, the observatory. Castillo de Kukulcán’s evidences of the intricate Mayan calendar are beautifully symbolized in the carvings, levels, panels, and the 365 steps. The observatory, called El Caracol (the snail) because of its odd round shape, has three slots in the top level. One points due south and the other two toward the setting sun and moon on the spring and autumn equinoxes.
Closer to Cancun, you'll want to visit the Palace of the Halach Uinic, the House of Columns, and especially El Castillo. The top of this temple-pyramid held a flaming beacon that was visible for miles.
Before you leave, be sure to take a swim in the Gran Cenote. It is a fun snorkeling hole surrounded by rock columns and beautiful flowers.
Under the Sea
Paraiso, Cozumel is one of the more ideal places to snorkel with water perfect for divers of all levels of experience. The water is clear with visibility up to two hundred feet. With over thirty kilometers of reefs and over two hundred species of tropical fish, this is one of the finest places for diving in the Atlantic.
Paraiso and the nearby Chankanaab Park are a must-see with parrotfish, silver shoals of snappers, and shaped coral just below the surface; and it is shallow enough to be safe for kids. Chankanaab Park also houses an extensive botanical garden with over three hundred plant species from twenty-two countries, a dolphin pool, an archaeological park, and reefs that are perfect for novice divers. In the winter months, the water temperature averages around seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Visit [cozguide.net/chankan.html].
Living the Wildlife
Isla Contoy is the number one place to experience wildlife reserves. This uninhabited island reserve, about eighteen miles north of Isla Mujeres, is home to a vast range of sea birds, including pelicans, boobies, and frigate birds, with mangroves, turtle-breeding beaches, and beautiful coral lagoons. This tiny island is under four miles long and only twenty meters wide as its widest point.
Over seventy species have been counted including large nesting colonies of brown pelicans and magnificent frigate birds. Bring mosquito repellent and beware of the boa constrictors and small crocodiles that live in the island’s ponds. Various companies on Isla Mujeres offer day trips.
You will not stay dry at Aquaworld, Cancun, a multi-activity fun center on Cancun Island offering jungle tours, submarine rides, jet skiing, snorkeling, diving, fishing, parasailing, dinner cruises, and tours to Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.
The jungle tour allows you to drive your own boat through mangroves and explore the coral reefs. The submarine has a glass bottom floor to complete the whole experience with a tour through a fish-packed coral garden. Aquaworld will not only take you underwater but on a ride in the sky, too. Their Skyrider is a custom-built double-seat para-chair that lifts you high in the sky for a breathtaking ride along the beautiful skylines of Cancun. Visit [aquaworld.com.mx].
Hidden in the Caves
Cenote Samula is a spectacular cavern-pool next to Cenote Dzitnup. Past a narrow entrance there’s a huge pool of cool, clear water, and in the middle of the cave the roots of a giant ceiba tree—associated with mystical powers by the Maya—stretch straight down from the surface to reach the water far below.
Do a little cave hopping over the Cenote Dzitnup when you are through with Samula. Dzitnup is the most famous cenote for swimming, with its features reminiscent of a vast limestone cathedral. Entering through the narrow tunnel, you are hit with the sight of a pool of perfect turquoise water surrounded by towers of strangely shaped rocks. The hole at the top of the cenote allows a ray of sunlight into the middle, reflecting the beautiful colors inside.
Taking Time to Get Away From It All
Nicknamed “La Joya del Caribe” (Jewel of the Caribbean), Puerto Morelos has a charming atmosphere sandwiched between the two bustling cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. This undisturbed gem of the Mexican Caribbean has kept its mellow, fishing-village feel despite close proximity to Cancun. No real nightlife, but lovely beaches and many small hotels and apartments offer long-term rates for a relaxing stay.
The reef at Puerto Morelos is one of the least disturbed sections of coral near the mainland in the northern part of the Maya reef and is not protected as a marine park. Snorkelers can see spectacular marine life—lobsters, giant sponges, luminous parrotfish, and angelfish. Dive operators in the town offer snorkel and diving tours. Visit [visitpuertomorelos.com].
The Colonial Town of Valladolid
The town of Valladolid is a delightful mix of distinguished colonial architecture and the easygoing atmosphere of a Yucatan market town. The beautiful whitewashed arcades and seventeenth century houses surround the main plaza and the fine Franciscan monastery churches. Right in the middle of the town is a huge cenote, which was once the source for all of Valladolid’s water.
The oldest permanent church in the Yucatan began as part of a Franciscan monastery in 1552 in Valladolid. It was located outside of the town to function both as a place of worship for the Spanish townsfolk and a mission for Mayan villagers.
Inside is a spectacularly painted Baroque altarpiece. The cloister surrounds an overgrown, palm-filled garden with a massive stone well that dates back to 1613, built over a natural cenote.