The Yucatan Peninsula lies in the southeastern part of Mexico and has borders with Belize and Guatemala. The peninsula stretches to the northeast, on the north is the Gulf of Mexico and on the east, is the Caribbean Sea. To be honest, we didn’t originally plan to travel to Yucatan as it is a long journey from where we live. However, with the Covid-19 situation, we found Mexico as the best and most flexible destination to travel to back then. We were lucky as this came up to be one of the best places we have ever visited! We hope you’ll enjoy and benefit from our Yucatan Peninsula Itinerary.
We were always fascinated by the ancient Maya civilization, so the Yucatán Peninsula was a great way to learn more about this interesting culture. Some of the most well-known Mayan sites like Chichen Itza, Coba, Tulum, and Uxmal are in Yucatan.
Weather: Yucatán has a tropical climate. December to April is considered the dry season and are the best time to visit the peninsula. July and August are extremely hot and humid, and also very busy. The rainy season runs from June to October. We found December to be perfect to travel to Yucatan because the weather was great and the holiday spirit was a bonus.
Renting a car: As we were doing a round trip in the Yucatan Peninsula, and wanted to explore as much as we could, we rented a car immediately after landing. There are many car rental companies, and when searching about renting a car in Cancun it seems many have been scammed or at least felt that way. After some research, we decided to rent a car through Discover Car from a company called America Car Rental. We were not disappointed! Both the price and the service were great. What we have learned from all the comments we read was not to pay for the insurance in advance but to do so when we pick up the car. The insurance issue is usually the most problematic one, and we think paying it when taking the car is the best option to avoid trouble and double payments.
Sim card: One of the first things we did when we arrived in Cancun is to buy a local SIM card. We preferred to buy one from Telcel as they have the best coverage in the Yucatan Peninsula. You can find it at OXXO shops. The price was about 500 pesos for the large package (2021). The SIM card is called “chip” and you should say “recarga por favor”.
Money Exchange: We preferred to withdraw pesos from the ATM.
Parking: We usually parked in organized park lots as it is safer and very cheap.
Tips: In Mexico, it seems like you are expected to tip everywhere. In restaurants, the waiter usually asks how much you want to tip, and gives you options of percentages to choose from.
Covid Test: If you need to have a covid test done (hopefully when you read this it would not be relevant) then we recommend Amatista Centre in Av. Kukulcan 8.5, Plaza Lagunas, 77500 Cancún. It cost 1800 pesos per RT-PCR test and the result arrived to our mail in less than 24 hours.
Note: This Yucatan Peninsula itinerary was done with a rented car. This is the best option if you want maximum flexibility. However, you can still go along with most of the itinerary using Mexico’s ADO system.
Day 1 - Cancun Jungle Tour and Shopping
Jungle Tour - Speed Boat and Snorkeling
After a very long flight, we tried to have a good night’s sleep and do something fun and relaxed on our first day. We decided to go to the “Jungle Tour ” which is an adventure of speed boating and snorkeling! The best part of it all is that you don’t need to have any boating experience. The guides teach you how to navigate the speed boat. We followed the tour guides through the beautiful mangrove canals and Punta Nizuc bay.
After the speedboat ride, we got to snorkel around one of the two largest coral reefs in the world. We parked our boat, put on our masks, and snorkeled with our guide. There were colorful tropical fish swimming around us in the coral reef formations. We also visited the MUSA underwater museum which features sunken sculptures that create a habitat for sea creatures.
After that, we hopped on our boats and rode back to Cancun. This took us around 3 hours (with instructions and changing clothes). There is an option for buying photographs and a video shot by a drone, not cheap but we think it was worth it. There are several packages to choose from. For us, it was $45 for a person and an extra $15 for deck taxes. We recommend you bring swimsuits, flippers, sunglasses, biodegradable sunscreen, towels, zipper bags, and some water.
You need to book this activity in advance online: https://www.jungletourcancun.com/
Address: Jungle Tour, Boulevard Kukulcan Km 14.5, Zona Hotelera, Cancún, Quintana Roo 77500
Shopping In Cancun
After some rest, we went to do some shopping at La Isla Shopping Village and also Centro Comercial Americas. We liked the last one better, as it also had a great variety of restaurants and it was just under our hotel building.
Centro Comercial Americas
Av Tulum 260, 7, 77503 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
La Isla Cancun Shopping Village
5 Lt 18-10, Blvd. Kukulcan km 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
Day 2 - Rio Secreto and Playa del Carmen
An hour’s drive from Cancun you’ll find the beautiful Rio Secreto which has recently been designated as one of Mexico’s most distinct and alluring nature reserves. In Rio Secreto, they are dedicated to conserving beautiful natural assets. This is a stunning underground river with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites.
We took the basic tour which was great and it included access to the Nature Reserve in a group of 10 people maximum, a professional guide, lockers, a wetsuit, a life jacket, a helmet with lamp, towels, a regional buffet and non-alcoholic drinks. The prices are for adults $79.00 USD and for children: $39.50 USD (4 to 12 years old). This experience takes around 3.5 hours. There is an option for transportation with an extra fee. We need to book this activity in advance online.
Rio Secreto, Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal – Puerto Juárez Km 283.5, Ejido Sur, 77712, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Playa Del Carmen
From Rio Secreto, we headed to Playa Del Carmen (about 20 minutes drive). We parked in Parking lot Pelicanos (77720, 10 Avenida Nte. LB, Gonzalo Guerrero, Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico) and went for a stroll in quinta avenida. We felt it was too touristy, to be honest.
From there, we went for an early dinner at a great Venezuelan restaurant Kaxapa Factory. It was delicious! The owner was super nice, and the food was amazing. The arepas are just perfect. We went for a desert to the famous Amorino in Quinta Avenida, which is great as usual.
Local 7 Calle 10 Norte SN Entre Av 15 y 20 Avenues Mz 105 Lote 8, Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Day 3 - Valladolid (chocolate museum, show)
It is clear why Valladolid is considered a Magical Town. Valladolid is one of the two Magical Towns of Yucatán. It is a beautiful destination with the charming architecture of its ancestral colonial past. It is a quiet and tranquil place with culture, history, handicrafts, cenotes, and nearby archaeological sites of the Mayan culture. Valladolid is located right in the middle of Mérida and Cancún, the two most important cities of the Yucatán Peninsula. This small city has great gastronomy and the kindest people. You must include at least a couple of days in Valladolid in your Yucatan Peninsula itinerary.
Accommodation: We stayed close to the center which is Parque Principal Francisco Cantón Rosado in Hotel Boutique Bugambilias. We highly recommend this hotel which is a walking distance of the center and from many restaurants. The staff was great and the value for money is excellent.
Hotel Boutique Bugambilias
Calle 40. 233 por, C. 51 y 49A, San Juan, 97780 Valladolid, Yuc., México.
Chocolate Museum - Choco Story
The museum is located in one of the corners of the central square surrounded by beautiful colonial architecture. Choco-Story in Valladolid consists of 12 exhibition rooms with lighting and sound. The visit takes about half an hour and at the end, you can buy some chocolate from all over the world. The rooms are very informative and you can enjoy them in Spanish, English, French, German, Chinese or Russian.
You learn about traditional Mayan houses, the Mayan chocolate drink, Sacrifice, Cocoa in offerings, Cocoa trade, cocoa cultivation, its plantation, and its history until nowadays. You can get a discount if your accommodation is in Valladolid.
The museum is open daily from 09:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (with few expectations, check their website).
Calle 40 190 entre 37 y 39, Centro, 97780 Valladolid,
Adults: $165 MXN, Student and senior: $120 MXN, Children (6-12): $80 MXN
Children (-6): Free of charge.
Sound and Light Show
From Wednesday to Sunday you can enjoy a sound and light show in the San Bernardino de Siena Former Convent; “Nights from the Heroic Valladolid”.
The show gives information about the history of Valladolid and its importance for the peninsula of Yucatán. This show is free so you only need to come in time and sit in the garden in front of the convent. The show starts at 9 pm in Spanish and at 9:30 in English.
Parque Principal Francisco Cantón Rosado
In the evening we went for a stroll around the beautiful and vivid park in the middle of the city. You can find there many local foods stands with the famous elotes, esquites, marquesitas, churros, Tostilocos, and much more. The atmosphere in this place is just perfect for a little walk before a good night’s sleep.
This is a great Yucatan restaurant. With delicious food and excellent service, it’s a must-visit when in Valladolid. We booked a table for our daughter’s birthday and we weren’t disappointed. This place was great and the food was super tasty. The staff were so friendly and did everything to make us feel at home. The owner is a lovely man and he made sure we had a great time.
97780, Centro, 97780 Valladolid, Yuc., México
Day 4 - Ek Balam and Cenote
Ek Balam Archaeological Site
Ek Balam is a Mayan archaeological site in Yucatan. Its name is in the Yucatecan Mayan language which means Black Jaguar or Jaguar Star. These are the ruins of a Mayan city from around 600-850 AD. The site is close to Valladolid and definitely worth visiting. We combined it with the great cenote that is just near the ruins. One important advantage is that the place is not packed with tourists at all. You can enjoy the impressively defensive walls, ceremonial arch, and Palace without too many people around. Another great advantage of Ek Balam is that you can climb the big pyramid and see the amazing view from its top.
Ek Balam is about 30 minutes drive from Valladolid and 2 hour drive from Merida.
Opening times: Monday to Sunday from 8:00-17:00
Cenote Xcan ché
Yucatan is full of cenotes which are natural sinkholes that expose groundwater. The cenote Xcan ché is a great experience for many reasons. This is an open cenote that doesn’t give you a claustrophobic feeling. It is very quiet; we were almost alone while being there, we can say we had the cenote to ourselves. This cenote offers a zip-line as well and rope jump from a platform, so you have extra activities other than just diving and swimming. The cenote is a short drive or walk from Ek Balam. You can even rent bikes to ride there from the ruins. You get life vests (not mandatory). There is a small restaurant on site and also a hammock area. There are showers and toilets. This was a great experience with an amazing atmosphere.
Opening hours: every day from 8:00 until 17:00.
Restaurant Conato Valladolid
A unique restaurant not far from the center of Valladolid. The food and the atmosphere were outstanding. The dishes are with modern twists on classic and yucantic dishes. The place is covered with cool graphite and interesting décor. The flavors were just outstanding, and the service was great. We will certainly go back to Conato Valladolid on our next visit to Yucatan.
Day 5 - Chichen Itza and Cenote
Chichen Itza is a must in your Yucatan peninsula itinerary. It is one of the most famous archeological sites not only in Mexico but worldwide. The meaning of Chichen Itza is “At the edge of the well of the Itzaes” because it was established close to two natural cavities, cenotes. Chichen Itza was one of the most important and sacred Mayan city-states in pre-Hispanic America in the Yucatán peninsula.
The astonishing Pyramid or El Castillo, one of the seven new wonders of the world, is magnificent and makes Chichen Itza a must-see if you are visiting the Yucatan Peninsula.
Chichen Itza is open from Monday to Sunday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. We highly advise you to get as early as you can as it gets crowded fast and the temperatures rise and it gets hot. We took a guide at the entrance who was extremely nice and informative, but it is definitely optional. If you get there by car, it is around 30 minutes drive from Valladolid, 1.5 hours drive from Merida, and about 2.5 hours from Cancun. In order to get early, it is better to stay the day before in Valladolid, which is magical (as already mentioned).
You can find more information about Chichen Itza here: https://www.chichenitza.com/
Cenote Ik Kil
Not far from Chichen Itza you can find the famous cenote Ik Kil. It is considered one of the most beautiful cenotes in Mexico. The waters of Ik Kil were considered sacred by the Mayans. The cenote is deep and it is an open one, which means it is open to the sky. There is a restaurant on site.
The Opening hours are 08:00 – 17:00.
Super Pizza Valladolid
As we passed the street where Super Pizza was every day while staying in Valladolid, it was always packed and getting out takeaways. We thought we should give it a try and we weren’t disappointed. The pizzas were super yummy, especially with the garlic sauce on top. They have great deals and excellent service. If you are interested in some low price fast food don’t miss it.
Address: Calle 40 211 X 43 Y 45, Centro, 97780 Valladolid
Opening hours: every day from 11 am to 11 pm.
Day 6- Coba and Mayan Village
Coba Archeological Zone
Mexico in general, and Yucatan in particular, is a paradise when it comes to ancient Mayan cities. The Yucatan Peninsula has so many ruins of Mayan cities and Coba is definitely a must-see. The Mayan ruins of Coba are located halfway between Valladolid and Tulum.
Although the ruins of Coba have become more popular in recent years, it is still very quiet and not crowded at all. This site is different from all the others as it is inside a forest which means you have shade the whole time. Another difference is that it is spread over a big area so you have the opportunity to rent bicycles or a bike taxi (with a driver). We took bikes and explored the sites, and we have to say it was one of the most enjoyable days in our trip. It was quiet, calm, and beautiful.
Opening hour: 8 Am to 5PM
Xunáan Kab Mayan Village
About 5 minutes drive from Cobe there is a beautiful small Mayan village you can visit and learn more about this fascinating culture. In the village, you are given a tour and explanations of their way of living, a traditional protection ceremony, and a quick workshop on making traditional tortillas. There are stands where the people of the village sell their products and you get to taste tortillas with eggs and Chaya (a superfood found only in Yucatan). We liked the experience very much as it was out of the way of all touristic places and it was authentic.
There is no entrance fee, you tip or buy things from their stalls.
Aldea Maya Xunáan Kab
Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango – Coba, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Canto Encanto (Café)
An adorable café-restaurant for breakfast or brunch. Situated not far from the center of Valladolid, this place has a great atmosphere, excellent service, lovely decoration, and most importantly-delicious food! It is also vegan and vegetarian friendly.
Address: C. 44 #189, between 37 and 39, Centro, 97780 Valladolid, Yuc., Mexico
Opening hours: every day from 8 am to 3 pm except Tuesdays.
Day 7 - Merida's Mayan Museum and Escape Room
Mayan World Museum of Mérida
The next day we said goodbye to beautiful Valladolid and headed west to Merida. Merida is the capital of Yucatan and we decided to book a hotel not far from the center. After checking in and grabbing a bite, we went to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya which is the Mayan World Museum of Mérida. It is located about 30 minutes drive from the city center in a very impressive building. This museum has a variety of artifacts from all over the Mayan empire. They had explanations about the language, calendar, stories, and written literature as well as textiles, pottery, jewelry, and more. It really gives another dimension to the ruins you visit. However, if you are not a fan of museums then you can skip this one.
Gran Museo del Mundo Maya
- 60 299 E, Unidad Revolución, 97110 Mérida
Opens every day from 9:00 to 17:00 except Tuesdays.
Escape room in Merida
If you never experienced an escape room you most certainly must! We try to incorporate at least one escape room in every vacation. An escape room is an adventure game in which people are locked in a room and have to use various objects in the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, decipher codes, and escape from the room within a limited time.
The players are locked in a room and are supposed to scan their surroundings in order to find tools and clues that will lead to escaping the room. The players have to use discernment and critical thinking, analytical abilities, and strategic skills to escape the room. Escape rooms are usually organized around a certain theme. The theme is the story within which the plot of the room takes place and the participants’ progress in it along with the progress of the game and the solving of the puzzles. Usually, before entering the room, a tutorial is given that aims to tell the game participants the story of the setting. The training can be by a guide or by a short video, and in advanced rooms by virtual reality glasses.
We chose to play two rooms in Euforia in Merida. The first was “The Caveman” which was mostly in the dark but it was fun. The second one, which we enjoyed more, was the “Chimera project”; it was a bit scary but the puzzles and setting were great.
Pay attention that you’ll need to reserve the day and hour on their website.
Euforia Escape Rooms
Calle 21 (Av. José Díaz Bolio), No. 72, entre calle 12 y calle 14, Col. México, 97125 Mérida,
Accommodation: We stayed close to the historic center of Merida in Hotel Mejorada. The hotel is a walking distance of the center and from many restaurants. It included a great Mexican breakfast. The staff was great and also the value for money.
Hotel Mejorada Merida
Por 50 y 52, Calle 59 434, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yuc., Mexico
Day 8 - Uxmal
If you haven’t had enough of the Mayan culture, you will definitely want to visit Uxmal. The Uxmal archaeological site is one of the most famous and some say even the most beautiful Mayan sites in the Yucatan. The impressive ancient site, which is located about 60 km south of Merida, was an important center for trade. You can wander among the remains of the ceremonial buildings, which represent the beautiful Mayan art and architecture. Far fewer tourists come here than to Chichen Itza and some locals say that Uxmal is even better and more fascinating.
Uxmal was built between the eighth and eleventh centuries when the Mayans still lived and worked here until the middle of the 16th century. You will be able to admire beautiful stone works, several pyramids, which are about forty meters high, places of worship, temples, and large buildings, which have been well preserved.
In the beginning, we had doubts about whether or not we should visit Uxmal, but we are so happy we did! We thought it was absolutely beautiful and we recommend you to make the effort and visit this site too.
Pay attention that they do not allow to carry bags into the site, able small handbags.
Opening hours: every day between 8:00-17:00.
Day 9 -Hacienda and a visit to the city center
Hacienda Sotuta de Peon
About a 45-minute ride from Merida you will find the beautiful Hacienda Sotuta de Peon. This is a restoration project of the hacienda located in the heart of the ancient henequen zone. You can choose from different package options that give true sight of what was once a fully operational Henequen Hacienda. It brings you back in time with the style and tradition it preserved. Our tour included a great guided tour in the main house, an explanation about hand-twinning, the rope factory, a ride to a privet cenote, and a light lunch. The tour takes around 3 hours and it is well worth it. You will need to make a reservation in advance.
Hacienda Sotuta de Peon, Poblado de Sotuta de Peón s/n, 97377 Yuc., Mexico
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Language: You can choose a tour in English, French, and Spanish.
Price: Adult: $ 815.00 MXN, Children (4-12 years old): $ 475.00 MXN
Visiting Merida’s city center
We spent our afternoon strolling around Merida’s charming city center. Weekends are the perfect time to visit Merida when they close the main streets in the beautiful Plaza Grande and Parque Hidalgo. In the center of the plaza you will find lots of vendors and food stalls, everything is open and alive and the atmosphere is good.
Pita is a Mediterranean restaurant located in the center of Merida. It is a quiet authentic place with great revise and excellent food. The pita was just great! we highly recommend it.
Pita c.55 496, Parque Santa Lucia, Centro, 97000 Centro, Yuc., Mexico
opening hours: every day from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm except Mondays.
Day 10 - Driving to Cancun / visiting Tulum
We took a day to drive to Cancun. We arrived in Cancun in the afternoon and went to do some shopping and grab some local food at El Parque de las Palapas.
Don’t forget to put fuel before you live Merida as there aren’t many gas stations on the way, especially on the highway. However, if you are short on days, drive directly from Merida to the Tulum Archeological zone. This is a 3.5 hours drive but worth the visit.
Tulum was the last major city built and inhabited by the Mayans between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The city was a place of worship and it was also very important for sea trade. Tribes from all over Mexico and other Central American countries would come here to trade. The great wall around the city was built to protect it from pirates who wanted to steal and capture this central location. The ruins of Tulum are located on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. They are in the heart of the Riviera Maya in the Caribbean Sea. Tulum is about half an hour south of Playa del Carmen and 90 minutes south of Cancun.
Don’t forget to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen as most of the time you will be exposed to the direct sun without any shade. In addition, don’t forget to take a bathing suit as the ruins are located above the sea and you can enjoy it too.
An important tip for visiting the ruins of Tulum: When you arrive they will try to sell you an entrance ticket, don’t be tempted and buy only at the authorized booth and not at passers. We recommend renting bicycles as this makes the visit much more fun.
Tulum Archaeological Zone
Carretera Federal, Cancun – Chetumal Km 230, 307, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Opening hours: every day between 8:00-16:00.
There are many other attractions and places to see on Yucatan Peninsula, so you’ll have to decide what is more important or more interesting for your family to include in your Yucatan Peninsula itinerary. We wish you a wonderful time in this magical place!