Spending two weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula guarantees lush tropical rainforests, ancient ruins, bright blue cenotes, and over 1,100 km of glorious coastline. This part of Central America has long enticed travellers, with easy connections to Cancún International Airport and a whole host of fantastic beaches, towns, and natural sights.
The Yucatán Peninsula sits between the Gulf of Mexico to the west and north and the Caribbean Sea to the east. In its entirety, it spans 197,600 square kilometres, including the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán in Mexico as well as parts of Belize and Guatemala. This itinerary focuses on the small region that covers the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan in Mexico.
While many visitors head to the resorts of Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, there is so much more to see in this diverse part of Mexico. Travelling around the Yucatan Peninsula for two weeks is a great way to see the range of cultural, historical and natural attractions that make this region a totally unforgettable place to travel around.
From Cancun International Airport (CUN) it's easy to rent a car or catch an ADO bus to all of the major tourist destinations. Though it’s straightforward to travel via buses, taxis and colectivos (local shared vans), hiring your own car means that you can have a lot more independence and get around more easily. It’s not too expensive and the roads and driving conditions are generally of a good standard.
Visiting Chichen Itza is one of the main reasons that people head to the Yucatan Peninsula, and if you haven’t been already, it should be on your list.
Chichen Itza is one of Mexico's most visited tourist destinations and the largest archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 by and was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Go outside of the peak times to avoid the crowds and street sellers. Depending on what time you arrive in Cancun, I would head here as a one to two hour stop on the way to Holbox Island.
You can stay overnight in nearby Valladolid, but journey times are short if travelling by car and you wouldn’t miss much by skipping this night to spend more time elsewhere.
Instead of the well-known Isla Mujeres, head to the small island of Holbox just off the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. This car-free island is the perfect place to recover from your flight and get into the Yucatan way of life. If you’ve rented a car, you can leave it in a parking lot in Chiquilá (around $5 for 24 hours), then hop on one of the ferries that run every half hour to the island.
Holbox has stunning beaches, boutique hotels, amazing restaurants and street food, and is full of epic wildlife experiences. Visit between the months of May and September to swim with gentle giants - whale sharks.
If you’re here at another time of year you can instead swim in the shallows of a bioluminescent beach, take boat trips to snorkel nearby islands, or explore mangroves full of crocodiles and exotic birds.
Stay: Hotel Para Ti (Adults Only) Calle Lisa, 77310 Holbox, Quintana Roo. This central hotel is close to all of the amenities on the island, with a top-end restaurant, an outdoor pool, free continental breakfast, and free WiFi throughout.
Make your way from Isla Holbox to Merida, with optional stops at Rio Lagartos, the Ek Balam ruins or Cenote Sac-Aua. After catching the ferry from Holbox to Chiquilá it’s around a 4 hour drive to Merida, so there's plenty of time to add in a stop or two along the way.
Merida is an often overlooked town in this part of Mexico that offers authentic Mexican charm, affordable stays, and some of the best food in the region. Check out El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, experience a Mayan ancestral ceremony, and in the evenings, visit the lively local cantinas.
There are many great day trips from Merida, including the Uxmal ruins, and various cenotes. For a really easy day trip from Merida head on the hour long drive to Izamal, one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos which is famous for its bright canary yellow buildings.
Stay: Viva Mérida Hotel Boutique 553 Calle 59 Centro, 97000 Mérida, Mexico. This brightly decorated Yucatan-style hotel oozes luxury but remains affordable for those on a budget. It’s in a great location too, just a few blocks from Mérida’s zócalo and the centre of town.
Next, head to the vibrant east coast and the state of Quintana Roo to see some of the Yucatan Peninsula's most famous sights. On the way, stop by Akumal (meaning “Place of the Turtle” in Mayan), a small beach town where you are almost guaranteed to be able to go for a swim with a friendly green turtle.
There’s also the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary where you can meet rescued and rehabilitated monkeys and Aktun Chen. The 400-acre preserve of virgin forest is a Mexican-owned enterprise where 90% of land is left for nature. It’s a great place to experience the Mayan jungle, and you can also go zip-lining, explore the area on ATV tours, and visit a cavernous underground cenote system with thousands of limestone stalactites.
Tulum town needs little introduction as it’s a popular destination to stay in for backpackers, digital nomads, and expats. It’s a great place to visit cenotes from, explore ruins, or simply relax and enjoy the multicultural culinary scene. The beach-side Tulum Ruins were part of an ancient Mayan port city from around 1200 AD to 1521 AD. Though not the largest Mayan site, the ruins have amazing views over the large coral reef as well as the Caribbean Sea.
There are plenty of cenotes to visit near Tulum too. Around a 30-minute drive from Tulum is Cenote Dos Ojos - one of the best cenotes to visit on the Yucatan Peninsula. Gran Cenote, Cenote Azul, and Cenote Calavera are other great options to dive and swim in too.
Stay: Either opt for a luxurious beach resort or stay in Tulum town for easy access to the sights. BAU Tulum (Calle 2 Poniente, Tulum City Centre, 77760 Tulum, Mexico) is a sustainable hotel in the heart of Centro with an outdoor swimming pool, free private parking, a garden and a terrace.
The wild Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. It was made into a Biosphere Reserve in 1986 and was later named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It offers protection for thousands of species of flora and fauna unique to the Yucatan, covering tropical forests, dense mangroves, saltwater marshes, and expansive barrier reefs.
There are two main entry points to the park. From Punta Allen experience Sian Ka’an’s marine life, coral reefs, and beaches, or start from Muyil to explore freshwater lagoons, canals, and Mayan sites. In terms of activities, there is everything from wildlife encounters, to snorkelling trips, to boat tours of Mayan ruins and birdwatching.
Stay: Get away from it all with a stay at Hotel Cielo y Selva (Carretera Tulum - Punta Allen Km 42, 77768 Punta Allen, Mexico). The sustainable hotel offers glamping on the beach or ocean-view rooms in Punta Allen - a spit of land just off the coast of the reserve. There’s a restaurant, a garden, a terrace, WiFi and free parking.
Book: Take a group guided tour to minimise your impact on the delicate ecosystem. Day trips to Sian Kaan from Tulum are available, but to really immerse yourself in nature stay in one of the nearby lodges.
Another well-known spot in the peninsula, Cozumel Island is just a short ferry ride from the accessible Playa del Carmen (an hours drive north of Tulum). While it’s true that cruise ships frequent the port for shopping and sightseeing, the island still has a lot to offer for the more intrepid visitor. There is a laid back vibe, especially on the eastern coast away from the main town.
Cozumel is best known for its world-renowned scuba diving, as a gateway to the second largest barrier reef in the world - the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Also popularly known as the Great Mayan Reef, it stretches from Isla Contoy on the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula for over 1,126 kilometres to the north-east corner of Honduras.
Diving trips in Cozumel offer vast coral reef caves and drift dives that promise exciting marine-life encounters. It’s also possible to dive with bull sharks between the months of November and March.
Stay: Hotel B Cozumel Carretera a Playas San Juan Km 2.5, 77600 Cozumel, Mexico. This eco-friendly hotel is located a short drive north of town and offers ocean views, a seafront hot tub, an infinity pool and a private beach. There is also an on-site dive shop, restaurant and spa.
The shoulder season months of December and April are the best months to visit the Yucatan Peninsula, with warm (but not too hot) temperatures of around 26°C during the day. The dry season runs from December to April, with the peak tourist season around January to March.
The rainy season runs from May to November, with a risk of hurricanes in the wet season between September to November. But if you are looking for a budget destination, there are lower prices in the wet season, fewer tourists, and downpours are often only short-lived.
Two weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula is enough time to explore some of the area's most well-known and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Distances aren’t far, and with your own rental car, getting from place to place is quick and hassle-free. While places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen can feel overcrowded during peak season, there are many alternative places to visit in the Yucatan where you can completely immerse yourself in nature and local culture.
This part of Mexico has a lot to offer, but there are some tourist traps and places that sustainably-minded travellers should try to avoid. By focusing on tours and activities that support the local people and the ecosystem, visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula can help to protect this beautiful part of the world - and have an absolutely amazing trip in the meantime.
The Yucatan Peninsula also incorporates most of Belize and the entire northeastern region of Guatemala, so there is a swathe of places to add to your list if you have a little more time. Stop for a night in Bacalar on your way south, known as "the Maldives of Mexico" stilt houses line the edges of Laguna Bacalar, known locally as the ‘La Laguna de Los Siete Colores’ (the lake of 7 colours).
In Belize, islands like Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye offer the chance to relax, while Mayan sites like ATM Cave and Caracol offer another perspective on the culture that once dominated these lands. Across the border in Guatemala, the lost city of Tikal is one of the most evocative Mayan sites in Central America.
Far from the crowds of Chichen Itza, Tikal is shrouded in dense jungle, with some temples that have yet to be excavated to this day. Instead of the faux jaguar calls of the local sellers at Chichen Itza, you are surrounded by the sounds of toucans and the cries of howler monkeys, amongst other mysterious rainforest noises.
Last Updated 3 November 2023