Are you wondering what to see and do on your upcoming trip to the Yucatan? The whole region is so jammed full of wonderful sights, activities and beaches, it can be hard to know what should make the cut.
I’ve complied a two week itinerary to serve as some kind of guide. Its a bit busy and most people will want to tweak it and spend longer in some places, cutting others off the list.
I’m making various assumptions: that you arrive and leave from Cancun airport, that you aren’t keen on Cancun’s particularly hideous model of concrete and fake-moustache-sombrero-wearing tourism and that you want to see a mixture of all that Yucatan has to offer, not just the beaches.
All of the journeys mentioned here can be made by public transport but renting a car in Yucatan is straightforward and gives you much more freedom whilst cutting down drastically on your travel time.
Here is the overall route. In two weeks you will complete a circuit which takes you from the pristine Caribbean, inland, over to Merida, the Gulf coast and back up to finish the trip on two stunning islands.
Stage 1: The Riviera Maya – sandy white beaches, turquoise Caribbean sea, snorkelling, diving and relaxation.
A slow-paced beach town South of Cancun. Go snorkelling/diving on the reef. Relax on the beach. Get your first taste of real Mexican food at the market and buy some colourful souvenirs in the artesian stands.
To see incredible marine life, take the ferry from Playa del Carmen to the island from where you can explore a spectacular coral reef from one of many beach clubs. For a fun night out stay overnight in Playa del Carmen.
Further South from Playa you’ll find Tulum. White sand beach paradise and a beautiful Mayan archeological site, side by side. Tulum has become very trendy in the last few years and you’ll find loads of places to eat, drink and enjoy your stay. You could also take a tour of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, just South of the town, if you stay an extra day.
Stage 2 – the Maya heartland, the interior of the Peninsula.
- Travel to Valladolid
Stop off at the archeological site of Coba and feel like Indiana Jones, lost in the jungle discovering Maya treasures. Continue on to the pastel coloured, colonial delight Valladolid to while away the evening in the main Plaza.
In the morning, rent a bicycle and visit some stunning cenotes: Zaci, Oxman, Samula, Xkeken. Go further and visit the pretty Mayan villages, such as Uayma, as part of your route. In the afternoon head to the amazing archeological site Ek Balam to see the impressive tombs and get a great view over the jungle from the top of the pyramid.
You can’t come to Yucatan and not see this fantastic Wonder of the World. Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Continue on to Izamal, a beautiful, yellow town full of tradition. Sample traditional Yucatecan food at the famous restaurant Kinich. Arrive in Merida in the evening.
Stage 3 – Merida and around
- Explore beautiful ‘la blanca’ Merida
Visit the markets, the museums and murals around the central Plaza, feast on delicious Yucatecan cuisine, stroll around and discover hidden corners of the centre. Spend the afternoon at La Negrita Cantina. Try and be in the city on a Sunday – when the centre is closed to traffic and there is a lot of fun to be had.
- Day trip to Celestun
Take a trip to nearby fishing town Celestun, in a protected wildlife park. Get a boat tour out to see the thousands of flamingos, the mangrove forest and the natural springs. Eat amazing sea food on the beach.
- Day trip to Cuzuma
Head to the charming town Cuzuma and take a horse-pulled cart into the jungle to find some more beautiful cenotes and gorgeous surroundings.
- Visit an Hacienda
Learn about Yucatan’s colonial past and henequen industry by visiting one of many Haciendas – the equivalent to Plantations in the Southern USA or stately homes in the UK. Hacienda Yaxopoil, Hacienda Sotuta de Peon and Hacienda Ake are all beautiful examples of Yucatan’s Haciendas, with museums, cenotes, food, lovely architecture and gardens.
Stage 3 – Gulf coast and Island Paradises
Rio Lagartos/Las Coloradas
Travel 2.5 hours up the Gulf Coast to find the colourful, sleepy seaside town of Rio Lagartos and see a huge variety of wildlife on a boat tour with a local fisherman: birdlife, flamingos, jaguars, rare white turtles etc. Be daring and do a night tour to see the crocodiles! Take a ‘Mayan Bath’ in the mud.
Go on to nearby Las Coloradas to see the pink salt lakes and relax on white sand beaches.
Drive to Chiquila and cross on the ferry to this stunning island. Get to know it in its unspoilt and bohemian state before the developers arrive. If its the season, swim with the whale sharks. Go to Punta Mosquito and watch the sunset. Sip a mojito on the beach. Take a boat trip out to nearby islands and enjoy the wildlife. Enjoy the famous lobster pizza.
Make your way to this beautiful island, across the way from Cancun. Rent scooters/golf carts and make your way around the island, stopping off to swim, eat great fish, visit the turtle sanctuary, and the far East tip for the sunrise in the morning.
Ferry back to Cancun
Leave paradise and plan your next trip back to see everything you had to miss out this time round…