Art & Local Culture / Interesting Books About Yucatan

Interesting Books About Yucatan

Interesting Books About Yucatan

6 February 2016 Art & Local Culture 30

It has not escaped our attention lately that contemporary writers are starting to notice and write about the Yucatan. When we first became interested in this part of the world, we were happy to discover some of the older books that had been written in the early to mid 20th Century. Of course, there is the always interesting Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vols. I and II, which anyone with a deep and abiding interest in this part of the world will get to eventually. Beyond that, we were always excited to find old books about the Yucatan and Merida, books like The Red Tiger: Adventures in Yucatan and Mexico, which we have only been able to find on eBay. We have even found old children's books for American children, written about a visit to Merida. And occasionally we do excerpts or reprints of whole books, like One Last Effort (translated into English here only!) and Princess of Yucatan (a vintage book purchased on eBay and written in 1939).

The culture and history here is so fascinating, colorful and largely unknown, that it was almost just a matter of time that new books would be written as more and more people have moved here. Below are some of the more interesting books we have heard about lately, or books written by friends, or books we have heard of and would like to read. We're staying away from scholarly works or textbooks, though goodness knows, there are plenty of those! We plan to add to this list as we find more, so feel free to bookmark this page (at the bottom, you'll can see a way to do that) and return often.

You should also know that where possible, we have linked the books to a way to purchase them. If you buy them from Amazon, a few cents will be thrown our way... your contribution to keeping Yucatan Living free to read and going strong. Thanks in advance for that if you do!


Ten Years of Yucatan Living

Authors: Ellen and James Fields
Description: Of course, the best way to support Yucatan Living is to buy this beautiful photography coffee-table book that pulls together some of our best photographs from ten years of living in Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula. Some of these photographs have graced the banners of the website, and some have never been seen before. If you love Yucatan, you'll love this book as it will bring back a flood of memories and emotions. If your family and friends have never been to Yucatan, share this book with them so they too can see the magic, color, culture, history and wonder of this place!

Order this book directly by clicking here. We ship to USA, Canada and Mexico.


Xuxub Must Die

Author: Paul Sullivan
Description: In 1875 an American plantation manager named Robert Stephens and a number of his workers were murdered by a band of Maya rebels. To this day, no one knows why. Was it the result of feuding between aristocratic families for greater power and wealth? Was it the foreseeable consequence of years of oppression and abuse of Maya plantation workers? Was a rebel leader seeking money and fame—or perhaps retribution for the loss of the woman he loved?

For whites, the events that took place at Xuxub, Stephens’s plantation, are virtually unknown, even though they engendered a diplomatic and legal dispute that vexed Mexican-U.S. relations for over six decades. The construction of "official" histories allowed the very name of Xuxub to die, much as the plantation itself was subsumed by the jungle. For the Maya, however, what happened at Xuxub is more than a story they pass down through generations—it is a defining moment in how they see themselves.

Sullivan masterfully weaves the intricately tangled threads of this story into a fascinating account of human accomplishments and failings, in which good and evil are never quite what they seem at first, and truth proves to be elusive. Xuxub Must Die seeks not only to fathom a mystery, but also to explore the nature of guilt, blame, and understanding.

Price: $24.95, or $9.95 for Kindle edition
Buy it at: Amazon (click on the Amazon link to the right)


Yucatan, Recipes From a Culinary Adventure

Expatriate David Sterling runs the popular Los Dos Cooking School, one of the first places in Yucatan to offer cooking classes in the local cuisine. Since he came to Merida in 2002 (and before from New York City), David Sterling has been researching and learning about Yucatecan food and cooking. Last year, he published a very comprehensive book about the cuisine of Yucatan, called Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition (The William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere) (click on that link to order it from Amazon and support Yucatan Living...). We are happy to announce that Chef Sterling's book today won a very prestigious award, the Art of Eating Prize for best food book of the year. You can read more about David's book and the wonderful accolades it has received at the Art of Eating article announcing the $10,000 cash prize. Felicidades, David Sterling!

Price: $44.23 USD
Buy it at: Amazon (click on the Amazon link to the right)


The Polo Affair

Author: Sean Hennessy
Description:This fast-paced novel is written by the owner of Merida's most successful Irish pub, Hennessy's on Paseo de Montejo. The novel benefits greatly from Sean's intimateknowledge of the culture of Merida and the game of polo. The story follows an Irishman who moves to Mexico, falls in love with polo and the niece of a famous polo player, Fernando, his friend and patron and the owner of a large hacienda. Fernando takes David under his wing, giving him a place to stay and teaching him everything he knows about polo.

But there are forces at work that are conspiring to take Fernando's hacienda away from him, and with it, his family, his history and his entire way of life. As David discovers the plot leading up to an important polo competition, he comes face-to-face with corruption, dirty politics, racial discrimination and plain old greed.

David realizes he must believe in himself in order to achieve victory. The stakes are high, and the odds are against him in one important showdown... a winner-takes-all polo game, where He Who Dares, wins. The Polo Affair takes place in Cancun and around the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and if you love this area, you'll love the book.

Price: $8.99 for Kindle through the link above. Soon to be available in paperback on Amazon. Paperback: $19.95
Buy it at: Amazon or


The Sacred Knowledge of the Maya

Author:Miguel Angel Vergara Calleros
Description: In this age where technology invades almost every corner of life as we know it, we feel a spiritual urgency that grows more insistent with each passing day. There are many who are writing about 2012, a time of great change, and many who expound on this subject have an academic understanding of the Mayan codices, glyphs and cultures. Here, for the first time in print, is a teacher with a deep and experiential understanding of the Maya cosmology. Miguel Angel Vergara Calleros has lived and studied in the shadow of Chichen Itza, where he served as director for four years and where he studied for over 20 years with traditional Mayan Elders. Integration of the spirit into any life takes dedication, commitment, attention and time. This book can provide you with a core of teachings to return to, again and again... a way to share the presence and wisdom of the Mayan Elders. This book was conceived and produced by our good friend, Trudy Woodcock, who runs Casa K'in.

Price: $14.95
Buy it at: At


A Mango for the Teacher

Author: Deborah Susan Frisch
Description: With a keen eye for the natural world and an ear for the humor in Mexican speech, Frisch pilots readers through harrowing and hilarious encounters with sharks, con men, tarantulas and a president. Pen-and-ink illustrations by Frisch’s son, artist Arturo Avila, add another dimension to the story.

Frisch earned a master’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language at NYU. Then New York City’s budget crisis of the ’seventies left her jobless. In the meantime Frisch lost the three people to whom she felt closest. So the day after her last public school job ended in 1975, the 27-year-old drove out of Brooklyn and south to Cancún. There she founded and ran a popular language school for Mexican adults. Thirteen successful years later, Frisch nevertheless returned to the states with her young son. She settled in the SF Bay Area, where she continues teaching ESL. She also produces innovative language-learning materials, writes for children and adults, and speaks at educators’ conferences.

Price:$13.99 USD, $3.99 for Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon (click on the Amazon link to the right)


Tales About Yucatan Jungle: Life in a Mayan Village

Author: Kristine Ellingson
Description: Join Kristine as she recounts her journey in finding a new home and family in a peaceful village near the Mayan ruins of Uxmal. From Spanish flash cards to falling in love with a Mayan hotel desk clerk, a transformation occurs both with Kristine and the village. In spite of being an outsider and looking nothing like the Mayas - she is tall and blonde - she is accepted by the village and becomes an integral part of their community. Kristine creates multiple businesses in her village, fusing two cultures, two beliefs, two ways of life. Twenty years later, and still married to the Mayan hotel clerk who is now her business partner, Kristine shares her real life stories of love, pain, loss, and learning. Kristine is the owner of the Flycatcher Inn near Uxmal, and is not only a wonderful and knowledgeable host, but she has a way of sharing her glimpses into a sacred, rich and magical Mayan way of life.


Price:$16.99 USD or $9.99 for Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Magic Made In Mexico

Author: Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Description: As a native tour guide from Canada, Joanna van der Gracht met—and married—native Yucateco Jorge Rosado thirty-five years ago and together built a successful business and made a life in México. An “insider” with an outsider’s perspective, she gives a wonderful portrait of both the traditional and historical background of México and the interplay between the new “international” culture and the traditional way. As Barbara Bode wrote, “…in an odd way, this is a ‘How-to’ book…. If ever there were a battle cry,a leadership cheer for expats, this is it . . .Adapt!” Anyone needing to adapt, or even adjust, to life in México – which definitely includes those planning only a limited stay -- will find their experience greatly enhanced from a reading of Magic Made in Mexico. Joanne also has a blog, linked below, and has written another book, "Tomando Agua de Pozo – A Guide for the Neophyte Yucatecan".


Price: $13.46 USD

Buy it at: Amazon


2012: A Deadly Awakening

Author: Beryl Gorbman
Description: There are probably thousands of books written about 2012 by now, so we can't list them all. This one is a novel, written by a longtime resident, whose various scenarios do NOT so far seem to be playing out in the Yucatan. This is a mystery novel set in Merida and Chichen Itza Yucatan around the crucial date of December 21, 2012. The scene in Merida is chaotic and tense. People think that the world is about to end, as it is the end of the Maya long-count calendar. Other people think humanity will evolve to a higher form of consciousness. You wouldn't think these are ideals people would kill to protect, but they do. Thousands of spiritual tourists have descended upon this once-peaceful city, creating chaos. And then people start dying... very badly. New York investigator Miriam Glass teams up with Yucatecan police chief JL Contreras to solve the dramatic murders.

Price: $9.99 USD or $3.95 for Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Maya Sacrifice

Author: Grant Spradling
Description: Here's what a few Merida residents have said about resident Grant Spradling's first novel: "This novel intertwines ancient Maya rites with modern-day Merida in a cliff-hanger as sensuous as the tropical nights of Mexico's Yucatan." -M. Kehoe. "This is the most fun I have had with a book about a place I live and things I know; Grant makes it fresh!" - L.G. Dallin. "Sad, tender, funny, suspenseful and informative; a page turner. " J. Corneal

The book takes you from the ancient Maya city of Uxcob, to an archaeological dig in Guatemala, to modern day Mérida, Mexico; from a house boat in Key West, to a mansion in Cambridge, to Chichén Itza, and, of course, to a hacienda. Venus will not rise in the evening sky, the sun will not rise in the morning nor will the rains come unless a high priest sacrifices a youth the priest loves as his own son. A Thousand years later, near a sacred cenote, an ancient Maya vessel recounting the sacrifice is stolen. Seventy-six years later, the nephew of the thief drowns in the cenote. When he learns of the death of his beloved friend, a wealthy poet-opera librettist, Quincy Bruster, calls his friend David Ward, for help. They discover that the mansion in Massachusetts, the house boat in Florida and the home of the murdered man have all been victims of attempted and successful break-ins. Hackles of suspicion are raised and the pair of amateur detectives travel to Mexico to bring the murdered man's body home. In Mérida, entangled in bureaucracy, Quincy and David stumble across drug dealers, US Agents, venders of contraband pre-Columbian artifacts and the Merida gay life.

Price: $19.95 USD or $3.95 Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Xtabentum: A Novel of Yucatan

Author: Rosy and Carl Hugener
Description: According to Mayan legend, the Xtabentum flower that grows wild on the Yucatan peninsula first appeared on the grave of a free-spirited young woman who was scorned for her passion by the people of her village, but loved by the gods for her kind heart. Xtabentum: A Novel of Yucatan is a story of two young women set in the years following the Mexican Revolution in Merida, Yucatan, one of the wealthiest cities in the world at the time. Amanda Diaz is from the "divine caste," a small group of families of European descent who dominate the politics and economy of the region. Amanda's lifelong friend, Carmen, is from the opposite end of the social spectrum, a Mayan Indian who is the daughter of one of the Diaz family servants. Against the true historical background of rebellion and assassination in the unstable country, the whipping of Carmen by a Diaz neighbor exposes the sheltered existence of the two women and drives them apart. Parts of the story take place in modern times, where the discovery of an old birth certificate sets Amanda's granddaughter in search of a secret about her father's birth. Her search, told in the first person, is blended with a third-person account of the lives of Amanda and her contemporaries in the 1920s.


Price: $12.59 USD or $7.99 Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Prophecy of the Mayans

Author: Matt Rabidou
Description: Two thousand years ago, the advanced Mayan civilization suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. The cause remained a mystery to the present day. When Yale archaeologist James Knight discovers an ancient Mayan medallion, he will embark on a journey deep into the remote Yucatan rain forest in search of a mythical lost temple. Led by a beautiful and exotic guide, James and his team will awaken the evil that once destroyed the Mayans' world. As the group is picked off one by one, James must find a way to stop this horror before it takes his sister as a human sacrifice, and fulfills its malevolent destiny.


Price: $9.99 USD or $3.99 for Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Yucatán's Magic-Mérida Side Trips: Treasures of Mayab

Author: John Grimsrud
Description: The Grimsruds are that couple that seem to have made a career of bicycling around the Yucatan Peninsula. In fact, they have a website all about their adventures (linked below). The book is a compilation of some of their best adventures. "From the Puuc hills to the extensive coast of Yucatán there are thousands of kilometers of paved quiet roads through countless Mayan villages interspersed with colonial haciendas, and ancient Mayan ruins, all there just waiting for your visit. This is photo-op and bird watching country that is the very finest this planet has to offer. Over a quarter of a century of driving, busing, and cycling this unique end of the world, while living in Mérida, Yucatán, México, led the author to compile an impressive collection of outings that are the foundation for this book, built one story at a time."


Price: $12.59 USD or $6.99 Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Embarking on the Mariposa Trail

Author: Mari Pintkowski
Description: "Moe Mulrooney retired from her life's passion,teaching children in the non-profit pre-school she founded,directed and taught at for twenty-five years in Vail, Colorado to follow a dream to build a B & B with her husband on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Mari Pintkowski closed one door of her life as Moe Mulrooney and entered another with a different culture, language and environment waiting to be explored. Writing was part of her life as a teacher,journaling and documenting the children's work, so it seemed only natural to write a book about their Mexican adventures along the Mariposa Trail." -Amazon You can read more about Mari and the children's books that she has also written at her website linked below.


Price: $17.99 USD or $9.99 Kindle

Buy either book: Embarking on the Mariposa Trail at Amazon and Molly The Gecko Hunter, also at Amazon.


Where The Sky Is Born

Author: Jeanine Kitchel
Description: Jeanine was one of the first people to write a book about what it was like for her to move to the Yucatan, settle in, build a house and live here. The book has a lot of insights and might be comforting for those of you moving now... both to show you how some things have changed, and how some things remain the same. Apparently it is somewhat of a collector's item now, as the price for a used copy is pretty high on Amazon.

Price: $34.00 USD or $4.99 Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon.


Plants in the Mayan Culture

Author: Svetlana Aleksandrof
Description: Plants in the Mayan Culture: Traditional Remedies, Food and Art, by Svetlana Aleksandroff is a beautifully informative book with incredible photography. This guide to local flora is illustrated with over 1,000 photos that are so artfully and naturally done it makes each plant species easily identifiable in the field. More than 70 plant species are identified along with fascinating insights into the intricate relationship between nature and culture. Well researched and artfully presented, this book is a must have guide to plants in the Yucatan Peninsula for expats or travelers. (Thanks to Buy Playa for the tip on this book)

Price: ??

Buy it at: Alma Libre Bookstore in Puerto Morelos


Women of the Yucatan

Authors: George Ann Huck and Jann E. Freed
Description: This book was recommended to us by a reader. George Ann has been the director of the Central College (of Iowa) Study Program here in Merida for thirty years. She and her co-author profile 35 women in Yucatan history who have stood up to difficult patriarchal traditions and gender inequalities to make a name for themselves and change the culture. Sounds like fascinating reading!

Price: $35.00 USD or $14.99 Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon.


Our Yucatan

Authors: Merida Writer's Group
Description: This is an anthology published by the Merida Writer's Group. "The authors' voices are wide-ranging, but have in common the fact that they are struck by the relaxed and gentle quality of their new lives in Yucatán. Many have been south of the border for years, but still appear to be looking around in awe at the community in which they now find themselves."

Price: $14.99 USD or $4.99 Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Mexico Sunlight and Shadows

Authors: Short Stories and Essays by Mexico Writers (including Jeanine Kitchel from Yucatan)
Description: (from Amazon...) **2015 Gold Digital Award winner from Independent Book Publishers of America** This is one of the best books available about life for both expat residents and natives in villages and cities across Mexico. What sets it apart from most other books about living in Mexico is that it's a literary collection of short stories and essays, full of insights by contemporary authors who write and live full time in Mexico or who have spent a lot of time living in the country. The superb collection contains twenty two works, all but five from authors who live full time in the country. Their writing spans a variety of topics; many contributions extol life in Mexico's abundant sunlight while others examine what the shadows sometimes obscure. The anthology contains complete chapters from books and also single pieces from internationally-acclaimed authors and emerging writers: Bruce Berger, E.G. Brady, Ann Hazard, Michael Hogan, Jim Johnston, William Kaliher, Janice Kimball, Judy King, Jeanine Kitchel, David Lida, C.M. Mayo, Carol M. Merchasin, Mikel Miller, Katie O'Grady, Antonio Rambles, Daniel Reveles, Robert Richter, Lin Robinson & Ana Maria Corona, John Scherber, Jennifer Stace, James Tipton, and Candelora Versace.

Price: $9.95 USD or $2.99 Kindle

Buy it at: Amazon


Spanish Language Books About the Yucatan

Of course there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of books written in Spanish about the Yucatan.

Here are reviews of a few of those, written by one of our contributors:
Justo Sierra O'Reilly, A Novel Account
Peninsula, Peninsula

And an original translation of a book called One Last Effort. Start with Chapter One here.


Share Your Experiences!

Have you read any of these books? Have you read any others that you think we might like? If you've read a favorite book (fiction or non-fiction) about the Yucatan that isn't included here, let us know in the Comments. We look forward to learning about more books about the Yucatan!


  • Jan Villeneuve 9 years ago

    I read Xuxub Must Die, The Polo Affair, Where the Sky is Born, Women of The Yucatan and Joanne van der Gracht de Rosado's books. I enjoyed each one. But I especially recommend Xuxub must die. Interesting book of what happened to an old Plantation and it's owner and workers. Not the Yucatan as we know it now. Also The Polo Affair, reads like a biography!

  • Working Gringos 9 years ago

    Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Merida Yanqui 9 years ago

    I got "The Secret at Chichen Itza" a Landis Adventure, on Amazon as an eBook. it is a delightful young adult novel full of facts and stories about the Yucatan and Mayan culture.

  • Working Gringos 10 years ago

    Our Yucatan has been added to the list!

  • Joanna 10 years ago

    Thank you for listing my book "Magic Made in Mexico" and for mentioning my other one "Tomando Agua de Pozo" In both of these books, I have included a suggested reading list that names a few more very worthwhile books about Mexico. I'd also like to let readers know that the Merida Writers' Group has published a volume of short stories called "Our Yucatan" - available on Amazon.

  • Lee 10 years ago

    Please do not forget "Our Yucatan," a mix of fiction, poetry and observational short stories, all by the members of the Merida Writers' Group!

  • Working Gringos 10 years ago

    Thank you! We added that book to the list.

  • M J Henry 10 years ago

    I would recommend reading: "Women of Yucatan: thirty who dare to change their world" by George Ann Huck and Jann E. Freed. 2009, available through Amazon ($34.57 Canadian) and possibly at Amate books in Merida.
    This book is the culmination of research done by George Ann and her associates and provides an amazing insight in to the culture of the Yucatan.

  • Working Gringos 10 years ago

    Great Idea, Peter! If you send us the list, we'll use that to start the page (and of course, add a few of our own...)

  • peter hobday 10 years ago

    Can you start a page for non-fiction / history? I have a number of great books on Mexico and Yucatan and I think the subject is worth a separate section from the fiction books.


  • Kay Michaels 11 years ago

    Just finished Kristine Ellingson's Tales from the Yucatan Jungle. Couldn't put it down. Kristine is an excellent story teller with tales that will make you laugh and cry. Can't wait to visit the area!

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