Mani Yucatan is a historic city and pueblo magico in the southcentral part of the Yucatan state. It sits approximately 100km southeast of Merida and 16km east of the city of Tikul respectively.
The name ¨Mani¨ actually means ¨peanut¨ in Mayan. This area has been inhabited for over 4,000 years and was the home of the Tutul-Xiu Mayan dynasty who moved their civilization here from Uxmal in the 13th century.
For the time being, Mani Yucatan remains largely off the beaten path. It is typically only those that live in the Yucatan or who take time to explore the Yucatan state in depth that care to venture here.
That is a shame as Mani Yucatan has a lot to offer and is certainly worthy of a day’s exploration during your Yucatan itinerary. But it also means that traveling here feels like you are going on a real adventure.
Mani is a true Mexican hidden gem. This article has been written by a British Travel Writer based in the Yucatan (me!) I live close to Mani, in the city of Merida, and feel well poised to advise on how to explore the area and go off the beaten path.
Visiting Mani Yucatan
Mani Yucatan is one of four pueblo magicos in the Yucatan state. When you see that somewhere has been identified as a Pueblo magico, it is usually a good indicator that it is a worthwhile place to visit.
Pueblo magicos are Mexican towns and villages that have been identified by the Mexican tourism board as possessing a particularly interesting culture, gastronomy, or history. The others in the region: Izamal, Valladolid, and Sisal attract a steady stream of tourists every year while Mani is often forgotten.
If you are interested in history, you will find Mani fascinating because of the important role that it played during the days of the Ancient Maya. After King Kukulkan II and his people left Chichen Itza and moved to Mayapan, their civilization was already in decline.
Mayapan was essentially an inferior copy of Chichen Itza. Eventually, it fell and became abandoned at which point the Xiu founded a settlement at Mani.
So, Mani was essentially the final settlement of the Ancient Mayans. The city was tragically also the place where Spanish colonizers burned a lot of indigenous texts and icons.
Things to do in Mani
There are enough things to do in Mani to make the city a worthwhile day trip from Merida. You could also pass through here on your way to the Ruta Puuc and its Mayan archaeological sites or while exploring the nearby Homun cenotes.
There are a couple of hotels in the area if you want to stay overnight. There are also some affordable yet excellent accommodation options in the nearby town of Sacalum.
I stayed at hotel Saak Luum Ruta Puuc which has rooms for just $25 USD per night and an outdoor swimming pool.
Mani, Sacalum, Muna, and the surrounding settlements provide a much more authentic look at life in the rural Yucatan. They have been in no way changed or gentrified by tourism.
Posters for curanderos (witch doctors) adorn the walls and lampposts and locals cook pollo asada at the side of the road.
Buy honey at local meliponarios
In the Yucatan, Mani is particularly famous for its meliponarios. In these places, local beekeepers harvest honey from the stingless melipona bee that is native to this region.
This bee is known as ¨Xunan kab¨ in Mayan.
You will find several meliponarios marked on the map in and around Mani. Of those, arguably the best experience is to be found at meliponario “U Naajil Yuum K’iin”.
A rocky dirt trail through the jungle leads you to the facility. You just need to follow the signs marked ¨honey¨.
In a small clearing, you will find “U Naajil Yuum K’iin” owned by former priest and local beekeeper Father Luis Quintal Medina. Father Medina is one of less than 100 people who still harvest honey from this bee in the Yucatan today.
Centuries ago, the Mayans harvested this same bee and believed its honey to have magical healing properties. Today, it is endangered.
When you arrive, Father Medina and his staff will provide you with an explanation of how they care for the bees and create the little wooden houses they keep them in. You will immediately note that he is someone that is passionate about his craft and will share stories about how he used to teach beekeeping in Brazil.
You can sample the honey and if you want to buy some, you can. Yucatan honey is famous around the world and has a somewhat sweeter taste and runnier consistency than European honey.
It is great for pouring on pancakes and sweet Mexican breakfast dishes!
Admire the incredible Convent of San Miguel Arcangel
The central square of any Mexican town or city is usually known as ¨the Zocalo¨ and Mani´s is a beautiful one. Its main focal point is the 1549 Franciscan convent at the center of Maní (Parroquia y Exconvento de San Miguel Arcangel).
The faded red church was originally constructed between 1548 and 1557. It was made up of a two-level cloister, an open-air chapel, a church, a portico with four chapel shrines and living quarters for the monks.
One of its buildings was used as a hospital and one became the first-ever school for Yucatán natives. The convent is free to enter and its Interiors are every bit as spectacular as its exteriors.
The remnants of faded frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible still adorn the walls and ceilings. The Convent of San Miguel Arcangell contains a fascinating and vast selection of intricately designed statues and religious icons that were built in the region between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Although there are many churches, cathedrals, and convents scattered around the Yucatan peninsula, non contain the same types of icons and imagery as this one. During the 16th century, the convent was one of three of the most important centers for Franciscan activity.
Several small shrines to the Virgin de Guadalupe can be found around the convent complex and the wider zocalo. Directly opposite the convent is the Mani Municipal building.
You will also find the name ¨Mani¨ written in larger-than-life colorful letters for you to take photos. (As you will find in most towns and cities in Mexico).
Take the time to get lost in Mani
The main attractions in Mani Yucatan are around the zocalo and the little side streets that veer off from it. The narrow streets filled with colorful houses here are a photographer’s dream and there are some street art murals around the municipal building that depict scenes of traditional life in the Yucatan.
Many of the people of Mani live in palapa-style houses. These are traditional Mexican houses made with thatched roofs which are commonly made with dried palm leaves.
You will see them as you meander around the town. Many have been painted bold shades of orange, blue, and basically all the colors of the rainbow.
At the intersection of Calle 27 and Calle 27a, you will see a small shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe labeled ¨Capilla de Guadalupe X-Cabachen¨. Here, locals leave candles and offerings for the virgin in the hopes that she will answer their prayers.
Many restaurants and coffee shops can be found scattered around the same intersection. Nearby, you will find the charming pink and blue ¨Capilla de Santiago¨.
Sample local cuisine
Yucatecan cuisine is very different from the food that you will find in other parts of Mexico. Many of the recipes that you will see on menus here were invented by the ancient Maya many centuries ago.
Today, the same recipes and traditional cooking methods are used. Many meat dishes involve cooking pork or chicken in an underground oven known as a ¨pib¨.
Yucatecan cuisine uses a lot of pork. However you will also find many vegetarian options here too, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to find something suitable.
There are many Yucatecan delicacies that you can choose from when visiting Mani Yucatan. However, the local specialty is a dish called ¨pok chuk¨.
To create it, pork is drenched in a citrus marinade overnight. Then, it is cooked to perfection on a grill.
Pok chuk is often served with a side of rice or in a flour or maize tortilla with a few vegetables, onions, and spicy salsas. There are plenty of restaurants in Mani.
In the evenings and it weekends you’ll often find street food trucks around the zocalo. Prince Tutul Xiu ( C. 26 1190, Centro), Los Frailes in the zocalo, and iCafé Restaurant (C. 30 221) are great restaurants to add to your radar in Mani.
Visit the Mani cenote
The local cenote has a dark place in Mani history. There are more than 7,000 cenotes scattered across the Yucatan peninsula.
These are natural sinkholes filled with water that were formed when the Chicxulub meteor smashed into the earth near Progreso some 65 million years ago. A local legend states that when the end of the world approaches, water will not be found anywhere on earth except for at the Xcabachen.
It is said that if locals head here as the apocalypse is approaching, a guardian will appear holding a snake, representing the God Kukulkan and demanding a human sacrifice. Once the sacrifice is made, the locals will be offered magic water to drink and will never feel thirsty again.
However, the entrance to the cenote was also the place where Franciscan Friar Fray Diego de Landa ordered the destruction of a large number of books, manuscripts, and icons from the ancient Mayans. The Friar had arrived in New Spain and was tasked with converting the indigenous people to catholicism.
He observed their religious beliefs and sacrificial rituals and didn’t approve of what he saw. He claimed that the local religion was ¨lies of the devil¨ and was troubled by what he saw.
On the steps leading down to Xcabachen cenote, he ordered the mass burning of all Mayan files and important objects. This colonization, in an act known as auto de fe, is the reason that there are so many gaps in our knowledge of the ancient Mayans today.
Shop for handicrafts
There are several great stores in Manny where you can shop for local handicrafts and Mexican souvenirs. A couple are in the Zocalo and there is a small artisanal shopping center at the intersection of Calle 26 and Calle 27.
You can purchase things like weapons and other traditional Mexican clothing, wood-carved Mayan masks, sculptures, and cooking utensils. Many of the stores also sell honey from the local meliponarios.
Final thoughts on visiting Mani Yucatan
Do you have any further questions or concerns about visiting Mani Yucatan? I have lived in Merida for the past couple of years.
You may also be interested in reading this post on the best places to visit in the Yucatan. This guide on safety in the Yucatan may also be useful.
So too, may be this post on the best time to visit the Yucatan. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything else!
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico!