Winds God temple seen from the opposite shore. Photo by Tommaso Stefanori.

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The Yucatán Peninsula, in Mexico, can be considered one of the major hubs of the ancient Mayan civilization and culture. You can still breathe the air and atmosphere nowadays thanks to the passion and love shown by the locals who still proudly preserve customs, traditions, rituals and costumes.

They really put an effort in trying to keep the memory alive as much as possible in absolute respect of the natural world within it is immersed, be it vegetation, fauna or archaeological.

The intention of this short photographic reportage is precisely to highlight how these testimonies are still important and felt by the locals, focusing in particular on the naturalistic, wildlife and social aspects.

Cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula

The bottom of cenote, an enormous naturale hole carved in the rock with spring water all around.
View from above the cenote, quite impressive. Photo by Tommaso Stefanori.

On a naturalistic level, some of the most iconic and preserved elements you can come across are the suggestive cenotes. These are enormous natural cavities carved in the rock with great ponds of still spring water on the bottom.

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Their large dimensions allow people to swim and bathing in. Cenotes were considered sacred by the ancient Mayas as these were the main source and reserve of potable water. That is why still today a soul and body purification rite is performed before descending into the cenote to enjoy its waters.

Archaeological Wonders of the Yucatán Peninsula

From an archaeological point of view, there are multiple traces of the past presence of the extraordinary Mayan people through the numerous and well-preserved, archaeological ruins kept in the various sites.

Temple of Kukulkan

East side of Kukulkan Temple at sunset. Photo by Tommaso Stefanori.
Kukulkan Temple has 4 sides. Each side has 91 steps, plus an additional step to access the temple so it has a total of 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Photo by Tommaso Stefanori.

First of all, inland, we find the ancient city of Chichén Itzà and its majestic Temple Of Kukulkan (literally ‘’feathered serpent’’), built with a squared-stepped structure. On the southern coast, as well, the remains of Tulum stand the test of time.

El Castillo

El Castillo
El Castillo (“the castle”) is the main building of Tulum and was also used as a lighthouse. Two small windows at the top allowed sailors to safely enter the bay at sunset. Photo by Tommaso Stefanori.

Another important imperial city was founded close to the shores of the Caribbean Sea and is also rich in remains of ancient buildings such as El Castillo. Here, as throughout the whole peninsula, iguanas roam undisturbed and absolutely respected. There are also many species of sea birds, in particular, the brown pelican is very popular. Watching it dive into the sea waters to fish can be very easy. 

Cultural Traditions

The Skull Platform
The Skull Platform is a great rectangular platform with reliefs carved in it. It is dedicated to the dead. Photo by Tommaso Stefanori.

People’s connection to their own origins and traditions is demonstrated by the continuous representations and masked acts carried out by the locals whom perform iconic characteristic dances, balls and rites.

A real traditional one is the Dance Of The Voladores where a group of five men climb on a 30-metre-high pole and, while one performs traditional music with flute and drum, the other four launch themselves tied with ropes to descend to the ground.

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Another impressive one is the Dance of Fuego (‘Dance of Fire’) performed on the sand of the local beaches such as Playa del Carmen. 

Immersing oneself in the past and engaging with the traditions and rituals of this region is almost inevitable. This is largely due to the deep respect the locals of the Yucatán Peninsula have for their heritage and the commitment and passion they invest in preserving and passing it on to future generations.

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Author Bio: Tommaso Stefanori, born in Rome in 1994. Graduated in Radiological Imaging Techniques at ”La Sapienza” University of Rome. Photography is my second life. The beginning of my journey in the photographic world starts at the end of 2022, initially with a self-taught approach and very street-photography oriented. Later on, by attending the Photoreportage Course at the ”Graffiti” photography school in Rome, I found my passion in documentary photography, especially in the social and travel fields, which I still practice today. Guided by the desire to tell stories of men and places, whether nearby of far away, through the photographic medium, I try to capture my personal vision of the world. Winner in the photographic section of the VII edition of International Award ”I Versi Non Scritti” 2023.

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