Are you planning a trip to Mexico and are overwhelmed with where to start? Let’s break it down! This two-week suggested itinerary will cover most of the main attractions, cities and colonial towns along Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, covering three of Mexico’s 32 states (Quintana Roo, Yucatán and Campeche.)
Here’s a Googlemaps view of the full trip:
Cancún Airport –> Tulum –> Bacalar –> Kohunlich Ruins –> Campeche –> Uxmal Ruins –> Mérida –> Celestún –> Valladolid or Riviera Maya –> Cancún Airport
Two weeks was just enough time to get an overall sense of this beautiful region of Mexico’s Southern Peninsula, but you could easily spend months in this area alone!
Before we dive in, here are some helpful tips and things to know before visiting the Yucatán.
What To Know Before Visiting Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula:
- Cajero = ATM
- Tope = speed hump – you will find these everywhere, so don’t drive too fast because some of them are really easy to miss until you hit it and go flying. They are usually marked with a yellow sign and a black symbol with two or three humps
- An “E” with a circle around it (and sometimes a diagonal slash through it) stands for estacionar, which means “parking”
- Be careful about the bill bait and switch when paying at a gas station with efectivo (cash). Some places will try to trick tourists if you give them a 500 peso bill, they’ll try to claim that you gave them a 50 peso bill, so you can avoid this scheme by having them repeat the amount back to you and only give it to them and have them hold it in one hand whilst getting your change with the other hand. If paying by credit card, watch the meter
- Bring mosquito repellant. This area has tons of mosquitoes everywhere
- If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant in the next 3 months, check with your healthcare provider before traveling to Mexico. Zika has not been an issue since 2017, but it still exists
- Be aware of the retornos (turnaround points) along the highway. These are used instead of exits with a loop around like in the U.S. This is a common way to get into an accident, especially with buses or trucks because they stick out
- The main roads are generally in good condition, but on the smaller dirt roads towards the more remote ruins, there are lots of potholes. Don’t drive fast because there’s usually no reception in these areas if you get a flat tire or break down
- Having the T-Mobile International plan was very helpful because we didn’t have to worry about buying a SIM card
- You can bargain for just about anything sold on the street
- Stay in the old town when you visit cities such as Merida or Valladolid because most hotels offer free private parking
- Carry cash with you at all times for places like cenotes and smaller Mayan ruins. Otherwise, most establishments accept credit card and some charge a small fee
- Bring your own snorkel for cenotes, especially right now. Shared mouthpieces with questionable sanitization during a pandemic…no thank you
- Only bring natural mineral sunscreen. You are not meant to wear sunscreen in the cenotes or in Bacalar Lagoon because it kills the stromatolites and sea life. This also helps to protect the reef when swimming in the ocean / sea
- The security guards and police at checkpoints are generally very friendly, though it is very helpful to speak Spanish
- Police don’t seem to control speed on the highway; during our two weeks driving all around the Peninsula, we saw zero cops waiting on the side of the road. The only time we saw police were at checkpoints and when there were accidents
- Do as the locals do, and turn on your emergency flashers when approaching a speed hump, slow down, accident, or if it’s raining
- Carry electrolytes (such as Nuun) and activated charcoal in case you get diarrhea. There are pharamacias everywhere, but you may be unfamiliar with the language or the products that you’re used to back home, which may upset your stomach even more
- Don’t drink tap water, anywhere, ever
- Bring reusable hydroflasks or water bottles to help minimize the plastic consumption waste in Mexico
- Instead of purchasing small water bottles throughout your trip, purchase the giant 3-gallon jugs of water. We just kept it in our rental car and used it to fill up our reusable water bottles. One jug lasted us for about three days. They also give you a discount when you return it to buy another jug
- Buy a sombrero once you get to Mexico, don’t bring one from home – you’re supporting the local vendors and many of them are actually high quality and inexpensive. Our sombreros are now hanging from the wall in our living room as a memoir of our trip
- Popular artisanal locally made products from this region include: hammocks, swings, blankets, rugs, wood products, embroidered stitched purses, sombreros and day of the dead paraphernalia (small items for the kitchen such as salt and pepper shakers, bowls, etc.)
- The letter “X” is pronounced “shh” like you’re telling somebody to be quiet
- If you’re coming from the U.S., divide MXN pesos by 20 to figure out USD (for example, $80 pesos is approximately $4 USD) – good mental math
- There are 32 states in Mexico. If you do the suggested road trip below, you will visit three of them
- If you’re visiting during the winter, bring warm clothing! We visited during mid – late December and it actually dipped into the low 60’s at night! Combined with wind, we were underdressed. Bring a light sweater, a wind breaker or light jacket, a light scarf or shawl, a few pairs of jeans, and closed toed shoes. The longer clothes also help prevent mosquito bites!
Drive time from Cancún to Tulum: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time
Read More: The Controversial and Enchanting Tulum, Mexico
With its turquoise waters and powdery white sand beaches, this paradise has a certain seduction that draws you in. Visit La Zona Arqueológica de Tulum for Mayan ruins atop sea cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Discover the craziness of Tulum Beach Road where you can dine underneath canopies of human-sized birds nests, decorative of the boutique hotels which line the stretch of white sand beach, whilst sipping a craft cocktail with the smoky Mezcal. Photograph the Heart Opener Sculpture in front of the vegan restaurant Raw Love, then jump into crystal clear water at Dos Ojos Cenote.
Drive time from Tulum to Bacalar: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time
Read More: Bacalar & Kohunlich Ruins, Mexico
Discover one of the gems of the Yucatán where you can kayak or float along Los Rápidos. Enjoy a book on one of the many swings or hammocks floating above the jade-colored lagoon. Enjoy supper at Nixtamal where you can taste the flavors of the region’s cuisine. Stop at Kohunlich Ruins on your way to Campeche, which is destination #3.
Drive time from Bacalar to Campeche: 6 hours (this will be the longest stretch of driving in your full two-week itinerary.) This is why I recommend stopping at Kohunlich Ruins on the way, which is just one hour from Bacalar to Kohunlich. Then it’s another five hours from Kohunlich to Campeche.
Time Zone: Central Standard Time (you’ll gain one hour coming from Bacalar)
Read More: Campeche, Mexico
This charming colonial city is one of Mexico’s many port towns and is surrounded by a wall, which acted as a fortress against pirate attacks dating back to the 1600’s. This was our favorite place for culture and history. Walk along the cobblestone streets of Calle 59 for eateries and beautifully painted vibrant buildings. Visit the Museo de Arquitectura Maya and walk atop the wall and ring the bell. Talk a walk through history at the Museo El Palacio Centro Cultural and cool off in the shade of the Jardin Botanico Xmuch’haltun. Take a day trip to Uxmal Ruins.
Day 7 – 10: MERIDA
Drive time from Campeche to Merida: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Time Zone: Central Standard Time
Another quaint and colorful colonial town, Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán and is an excellent base for taking various day trips to neighboring points of interest. For breakfast, check out El Barrio or El Apapacho, run by a German expat and her Mexican husband. Their Aztec hot chocolate with a shot of espresso and coconut milk was a highlight. Take a day trip to Celestún to see the thousands of flamingos!
Celestún is a small sea town on the coast with a beautiful lake that runs parallel to the sea where you can find hundreds and sometimes thousands (depending on the season) of flamingos in the wild! The only way to see these beautiful pink creatures is to take a boat tour. The cost is $1,800 pesos (approximately $90 USD) for a private boat, which fits up to six people. It comes with a boat driver who is also your guide. Most guides do not speak English, so your tour will be in Spanish. This is your time to practice! In addition to flamingos, you’ll see other wildlife such as birds, crocodiles and even a boa constrictor hiding in the mangroves!
You will not be able to see many flamingos during rainy season (June-ish – September-ish) because they like low water levels so that they can peck at the krill on the lake floor. There are six species of flamingo in the world, and one species is native right here to the Yucatán. The flamingos fly between this area and La Isla Holbox (pronounced “hole-bosh”) during the summer.
Fun Facts About Flamingos:
- They lay one egg per year
- Baby flamingos are born white
- They eat pink shrimp (krill), which makes them pink, and the older the flamingo is, the stronger the pink color is
- Their life cycle is approximately 20 years
- Their predator is the cocodrillo (crocodile)
- They fly nearly completely horizontally and look like long sticks
- The tips of the inside of their feathers are black!
- They stay in groups to avoid being attacked by crocodiles
- What do you call a flock of flamingos? = A FLAMBOYANCE! (this is actually true, it’s not a joke – this was my favorite!)
DAY 10 – 14: VALLADOLID and / or LA ISLA HOLBOX or LA RIVIERA MAYA
You’ve got a few options for your last 4 – 5 days in the Yucatán Peninsula, and this will depend on your travel styles and where you’re visiting from. For example, I’m from Hawaii, so if I were visiting from there, I would desire spending more time in the colonial towns. However, because we now live in Washington State, we craved being by the sea for as long as possible. Here are some options:
- Valladolid – another colonial city and a good base for other day trips to Chichen Itza: 40 minutes, Rio Lagartos (Las Coloradas): 1 hour, 50 minutes, or the very nearby Cenote Dzitnup: 10 minutes. Stop at Casa Maca Vegan Concept where you can try home made kombuchas or enjoy a refreshing salad – a nice break from all that heavy Mexican food you’ll be eating! Walk La Calle de las Frailes, a very cute walking street with artisanal shops and coffee
- La Isla Holbox – you’ll take a 30-minute ferry from Chiquilá to a car-free island. Ferries run daily every half hour from 6AM – 9:30 PM. You can stay overnight at one of the many boutique hotels, or simply go for a day
- La Riviera Maya – if you’re more the all-inclusive resort type, you can end your two-week Yucatán road trip on a beach where you can do nothing but relax, eat and drink your merry heart away
I hope this post was helpful in getting you started on your next road trip in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula!
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