Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico, Central America)

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Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico, Central America)

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 16:52

The Yucatán Peninsula is the exposed portion of the more extensive Yucatán Platform and lies between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. It includes the Mexican states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán, as well as parts of Belize and Guatemala.

Yucatán Peninsula

The Yucatán Peninsula lies between the Gulf of Mexico to the west and north, with the Caribbean Sea to the east. It encompasses approximately 197,600 sq km (76,300 sq mi).

The peninsula is approximately 320 km (200 mi) across and has a coastline of about 1,100 km (700 mi). It includes the Mexican states of Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán; in the south, it contains large parts of Belize and Guatemala.

Stretching across the Yucatán Peninsula, the Maya Forest is Central America's largest tract of forest. At over 5 million ha (13.3 million acres), it is second in size only to the Amazon Rainforest in the Americas.

The low northern coast is sandy and semi-barren. The eastern coast consists of bluffs indented with bays and bordered by several islands; the largest and most developed are Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. Many famous beaches are on the eastern coast, including Cancun, a major resort area.

Many archaeological sites are found in the Yucatán, including Chichén Itzá and Uxmal (designated UNESCO World Heritage sites) and Tulum in Mexico.

The majority of the population in Yucatán consists of Maya and mestizos. Corn (maize), sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, coffee, and henequen (for sisal hemp) are cultivated throughout the peninsula. In addition, oil has been discovered in several parts of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Yucatan Peninsula relief map

Political map of the Yucatan Peninsula


The Yucatan Peninsula belongs to the Yucatan Platform, a large chunk of partially submerged land. The Yucatan Peninsula is the portion that is above the water. The peninsula is the exposed portion of the larger platform composed of carbonate and soluble rocks, mainly limestone.

The peninsula is almost wholly composed of beds of coralline and porous limestone rocks, forming a low tableland that rises gradually toward the south. It is covered with a layer of thin, dry soil formed through a slow weathering of the coral rocks. Where the rocky surface is perforated, there are natural sinkholes and caverns.

Due to the extreme karst nature of the whole peninsula, the northern half is devoid of rivers. Instead, the water is marshy and generally unpotable, with lakes and swamps.

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.

It is believed that an asteroid's impact in the Caribbean caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Scientists have discovered the large Chicxulub Crater just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The impact shocks shown on the Yucatan's rocks are likely to be evidence showing where the asteroid hit.

Relief Map, Yucatan Peninsula

Relief map of the Yucatan Peninsula


The climate of northern Yucatán is hot and dry. High temperatures range from about 24 to 38 °C (the mid-70s to 100 °F). Toward the south, moisture increases from 460 mm (18 in) to a maximum of 2,000 mm (80 in) annually, and the scrub forest gives way to tall trees.

Like much of the Caribbean, the peninsula lies within the Atlantic Hurricane Belt. Its almost uniformly flat terrain makes it vulnerable to these large storms coming from the east. However, intense 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.


Short and tall tropical jungles are the predominant natural vegetation types of the Yucatán Peninsula. The boundaries between northern Guatemala, Mexico, and western Belize are still occupied by Central America's most extensive continuous tracts of tropical rainforest.

Animal life includes deer, jaguars, wild boars, monkeys, snakes, and iguanas. In addition, bird life abounds, especially turkey, quail and parrots.

The Yucatán Peninsula is home to a variety of ecoregions, including:

  • Yucatán Moist Forests: characterized by its dense, humid forests. It is home to various plant and animal species, including the great curassow, a threatened bird species.

  • Yucatán Dry Forests: characterized by its open, grassy landscape. It is home to various cacti, other succulents, and some animals adapted to living in dry climates, such as the collared peccary and the white-tailed deer.

  • Yucatán Peninsula Freshwater Marshes: characterized by its wetlands, which are home to various birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

  • Yucatán Peninsula Mangroves: characterized by its mangrove forests, which are found along the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Mangrove forests provide essential habitats for a variety of marine and coastal species.

  • Yucatán Peninsula Coral Reefs: characterized by its coral reefs, which are found in the waters off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Coral reefs are home to marine life, including fish, coral, and sponges.

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