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The 35 Best Things to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula in 2022

Traveling in Southern Mexico? You have landed in the right place. In this exhaustive list of the top things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, you will learn about all the most unmissable places to visit and how to plan an epic trip in the region.

I have lived in Cancun for 12 years and traveled all over the Yucatan Peninsula more times than I can count and I am still doing it.

I enjoy driving around the small towns and villages, exploring its archaeological sites, discovering new cenotes and caves, Pueblos Magicos, and local

Things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula

I have personally seen all the things and places in the Yucatan Peninsula that I mention in this post and I hope I will be able to convey all my passion and love for this region of Mexico and offer useful advice to help you plan your own trip.

At the end of this comprehensive list, I will also share a few more tips to help you travel this part of Mexico like a pro!

Not only is the Yucatan Peninsula one of the safest areas in the country, but it also has some of the best beaches, archeological sites, unique natural wonders, a profound cultural heritage, delicious food, and beautiful people.

BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

Where is The Yucatan Peninsula?

Before moving forward on the best places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula let’s put it on the map.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a geographical area that encompasses three states—Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche.

It’s located in the southeastern part of Mexico that separates the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Yucatan Peninsula is very popular for its beautiful coastlines on the Caribbean side, boasting white-sand beaches, resort towns, diverse cuisine, and stunning nightlife.

But there is so much more to explore, starting from its well-preserved Mayan heritage with the spectacular Mayan ruins that take you back in time, and the Mayan culture that it’s still well alive in the local traditions, food, and architecture.

My list of the 37 things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula and places to visit, cover a little bit of everything including secret places in the Yucatan Peninsula that you have never imagined existed.

So, without any further delay, let’s get into it!

Bacalar Cenote Azul aerial view
Bacalar Cenote Azul aerial view – Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2
THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

37 unmissable places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula

SIDE NOTE– since there are so many things to do in Yucatan and many places to visit I have grouped the things to do into smaller areas, and I have included a useful navigational map to help you find the places that caught your attention.

Table Of Contents
  1. Where is The Yucatan Peninsula?
  2. 37 unmissable places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula
  3. Map of the Yucatan Peninsula Top Places
  4. Best Places to Visit in the Yucatan Peninsula: Quintana Roo
  5. Best Places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula: Yucatan
  6. Best Places to Visit in the Yucatan Peninsula: Campeche
  7. How to Move Around the Yucatan Peninsula
  8. When Is the Best Time to Visit the Yucatan Peninsula
  9. Is It Safe to Travel in the Yucatan Peninsula
  10. What should you not miss in Yucatán?
  11. What is one city tourists travel to in Yucatan Peninsula?
  12. Is Yucatan expensive?
  13. Is Merida worth visiting?
  14. Things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula: Final thoughts

Map of the Yucatan Peninsula Top Places

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

Best Places to Visit in the Yucatan Peninsula: Quintana Roo

1. The Beaches

Seeing the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula is a must and the main reason to visit for many.

And even though it’s not the only beautiful thing to see in the Yucatan Peninsula, the endless beaches are one of the most popular attractions of the region because of their crystal-clear waters and pristine white sand, just the way you picture a tropical paradise.

Cancun and the Riviera Maya have some of the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula.

The beaches in Mexico are all public and although in Tulum and Cancun you may find some difficulty in accessing them because the only way is to go through private property, mainly hotels, there are many ways to get around it.

Cancun playa Langosta by drone
Bacalar Cenote Azul aerial view – Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

Here are my related posts on where you can get specific information on the best beaches in the different areas.

The 9 Best Beaches on the Riviera Maya

The 21 Best Beach Clubs in Tulum

The 11 Best Beaches in Cancun

Some of the beaches get more crowds, but there are also hidden gems like El Cuyo, where only a few people come to enjoy a peaceful beach trip, so you won’t have to worry about crowds there.

On some days, you can also spot stingrays and dolphins by the shore, which is one of the reasons I love this magical place so much. (more about it later in this post)

But the Caribbean beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula are not the only beautiful ones. If you are visiting Merida and you need some beach time you can check out some of the Beaches Near Merida which are just as beautiful most of the time.

Tulum Beach aerial view
Bacalar Cenote Azul aerial view – Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

2. The Mexican Cenotes

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to some of the most incredible natural attractions in the world. The incredible Mexican cenotes are definitely among these natural wonders and are a must-see if you’re visiting the Peninsula.

These underground limestone sinkholes were formed millions of years ago and were once considered sacred by the Mayan people. Nowadays, they make for refreshing stops in the Yucatan Peninsula, with almost 6000 of them scattered around.

Cenote Corazon - aerial view
Cenote Corazon – Bacalar Cenote Azul aerial view – Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

You will find plenty of amazing cenotes near Tulum, Cancun, and in the Riviera Maya. There are also some off-the-beaten-path spots that you can drive to for a memorable trip! If you don’t know much about the Yucatan cenotes, read some of my posts on them to get started.

Check out the above-linked posts and the below ones to learn more about all the most beautiful cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula.

The top 25 cenotes near Merida

The best 9 cenotes near Valladolid

The best 5 cenotes near Chichen-itza.

3. Swim With the Whales Sharks

Whale sharks are truly a marvel of the underwater world, and swimming with these gentle giants is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you’re up for this unforgettable adventure, you will easily find so many tours to enjoy a dive with whale sharks.

Just keep in mind that joining a tour from Cancun, Isla Mujeres, or, Isla Holbox is the only way to swim with them.

However, it can only happen from June through the end of August. So keep that in mind when you are planning your trip to the Yucatan Peninsula if this is your priority.

You can check out my post on swimming with whale sharks in Cancun for further information.

4. Sian Ka’an Lagoon

Siaan Ka'an water channel

Another Yucatan destination famous for its natural richness is the Sian Ka’an Lagoon. Many people visit here every year, and the most famous way to explore the area is definitely jeep tours offered here.

Not a lot of people know about it, but, apart from the jeep tours, you can also take a boat ride in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, from Muyil, at only 30 minutes drive from Tulum.

They have organized boas tours that will take you through the canals in its mangroves and river to enjoy the natural beauty from a unique perspective.

You could also drive through Boca Paila ( the Tulum hotel area) all the way to Sian Kaan town where you can find lovely hotels where to stay in and enjoy the spectacular surrounding nature.

The road is quite bumpy but if it hadn’t rained it’s accessible for regular cars as well.

5. Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen beach crowd
Playa del Carmen – Photo from Canva

Playa del Carmen is one of the most touristy cities on the Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo. From a small fishing town, it grew exponentially over the years with more additional restaurants, nightclubs, apartments, and hotels for all budgets.

Although for some people it may be too noisy and overwhelming, and I cannot agree more, Playa del Carmen sits in a strategic position from where you can easily move around and explore.

Located on the Caribbean coast halfway between Tulum and Cancun and at only 1 hr and 30 minutes from Valladolid, and very close to many cenotes and other incredible attractions of the Riviera Maya.

Besides, it offers a lot of culinary choices and party venues, great beaches, and a 30 minutes ferry distance from Cozumel.

So if you are into exploring and scuba diving but you don’t want to go on a road trip, Playa del Carmen could make a great base for your daily tours.

6. Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres aerial view
Image from Canva

Isla Mujeres island is located just 30 minutes ferry from Cancun, and it’s the perfect place to spend a relaxing day on its beautiful beach (Playa Norte) or spend a couple of days and explore the island by golf cart.

The things you can do here include going to the beach, admiring the Ixchel temple and other statues on its southern tip, having lunch by the seaside, and topping the day off with a breathtaking sunset at Playa Norte.

The top 13 things to do in Isla Mujeres

The best hotels in Isla Mujeres

7. Bacalar Lagoon and Magic Town

Kin Ha Colors Xul Ha bacalar
Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

Warning: you will never want to leave! so prepare to extend your stay there!

Bacalar is one of the Pueblos Magicos in Quintana Roo and there is indeed a lot of magic in it!

The pretty town is becoming cuter and cuter with the increasing number of tourists flocking every day, but what makes this place magical is its lagoon.

It is called the lagoon of the seven colors because on a bright sunny day ( but also when the sky is cloudy) the lagoon shows the best of itself with its many shades of blue, which I believe are even more than seven.

Along the coast of Bacalar Lagoon from Bacalar town all the way to Xul-ha (Ha meaning source of water in Mayan Language) where the lagoon ends, you will find a lot of incredible places where to enjoy the spectacular lagoon, kayaking, swimming, paddleboarding or simply relaxing by its soothing blue waters.

Bacalar Lagoon travel guide: everything you need to know about traveling to Bacalar

Los Rapidos Bacalar: is it worth visiting?

How to get from Tulum to Bacalar

8. Tulum

Tulum Beach from a drone
Tulum Aerial View © Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

Tulum is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, and not exactly for its beauty since the town itself is everything but charming.

It’s more about the boho culture that has been built around Tulum and the type of people it has been attracting over the years.

Definitely, the endless beach of white soft sand flanked by a lush jungle, and the blue Caribbean sea had much to do with the tremendous growth of this old fishing town.

And that’s what made Hollywood stars, and NYC artists of all sorts choose Tulum as their paradise on earth to escape from the rushed life of the city. They came and never left and the rest is history.

Now Tulum is considered one of the most laidback chic and trendiest destinations in Mexico attracting all sorts of artists, yogis, sun-seekers, and style-conscious travelers from across the globe looking for the boho life on the beach, healthy living during the day (or not), and beach partying in the night.

However, there is much more than fancy hotels and world-class cuisine in Tulum.

There is a word that has been recently created to mock the people from Tulum: “Tuluminati” which comes from the word Tulum and Illuminati (=enlightened).

Tulum at sunset

It’s funny and kind of accurate but besides the new elite residing in Tulum, this Magic Town continues to thrive also for those “ordinary” travelers like us, who enjoy exploring natural wonders and historical places, learning about the local culture, and its food.

So among the things to see in Tulum, some of which you will find in this list, make sure you check out Tulum’s ancient Mayan ruins (the only ones you will find by the sea) Coba’ ruins at only 1-hour drive from Tulum and it’s cenotes.

Tulum is also surrounded by many incredible natural wonders just a few miles away.

Among the top cenotes and places to visit near Tulum here are a few worth mentioning

Kaan Luum lagoon
Akumal Beach
Casa Cenote
Cenote Corazon

If you decide to spend a week in Tulum (and you should) you can read my Tulum Travel Blogs section where I talk about absolutely everything you need to know before traveling to Tulum.

9. Cancun

If you’re looking for a splendid vacation filled with vibrant nightlife and all-inclusive lodgings, Cancun is the place where you will find it.

The city was founded as a tourist destination by the Mexican government back in 1970. It’s insanely popular now because of its world-class beaches, luxurious hotels, and excellent weather.

Cancun blue sea
© Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2
Cancun playa Langosta by drone
© Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

Spending a few nights in this magnificent resort town is highly recommended.

If you don’t know where to stay, I have a few suggestions in my post on the best hotels in Cancun, and you can also find things to do besides the nightlife and beaches in my Cancun Travel Blogs where you will find unique things to do in Cancun that you don’t see anywhere else and get my tips from my time as a resident there.

10. Isla Holbox

Isla Holbox is a tiny island north of the Yucatan Peninsula, separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon.

It’s a protected area and nature reserve for different types of birds that are nesting among the mangroves, on the northeast side of the island called mosquito point, including pink flamingos.

In fact, you are not supposed to fly the drone although many do it anyway. Please don’t. You will disturb the birds and their routine.

holbox beach

Being a protected area there are not supposed to be big hotels that are higher than three stories. Let’s hope they keep it that way. But you will find a lot of lovely boutique hotels from the most luxurious to more affordable ones.

You can reach Holbox island by ferry from the port of Chiquila just at the border with the Yucatan coast.

It is an easy reach from the main cities of the Yucatan Peninsula, connected by bus with Merida, Valladolid, Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen.

Holbox beach

The ferries run every 30 minutes.

To move around on the island you can rent a bike or a golf cart or you can just walk. It’s all dirt road and when it’s not raining it can get very dusty, and when it rains, muddy!

In Holbox, you can relax on the beach, walk on the bank of sand when there is a low tide all the way up to Mosquito point, or bike all the way to Punta Coco and if you are in luck you will see the gracious pink flamingoes hanging out in the sea.

Take a boat tour, and watch the bioluminescence at night. Read about all the things to do in Holbox and more travel tips in my thorough guide to Holbox.

11.  Coba archeological site and cenotes

Coba lagoons

The Coba Archeological Site is one of the most famous Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s located just an hour away from Tulum, so you can easily drive to it or jump on a bus.

On the plus side, you will also get to see the spectacular cenotes near the site.

Both the archeological site and the cenotes in their scenic surroundings are worth visiting.

You can read more about them in my dedicated posts for Coba Archeological Site and the cenotes, and also find out how to get there, the best hotels if you want to stay for the night ( which I recommend), and the best restaurants.

Coba ball game picture

You can also get to Coba with organized tours from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya, and Tulum.

If you are planning a road trip to the Yucatan Peninsula you should definitely include a couple of days in Coba in your itinerary and visit Coba ruins and the cenotes early in the morning on two different days to avoid crowds.

12. Archeological Zone of Kohunlich

Nestled in the jungle before you arrive in Calakmul, this archeological site is a delightful surprise that many travelers don’t know about.

It’s a remarkable place to see, and if you’re driving to Calakmul, do take this detour, you won’t regret it.

The road that leads to the Kohunlich Archeological Zone is really nice, and it’s a straightforward drive to this tranquil escape in the jungle.

There is also a lovely hotel halfway on the road to Kohunlich, where you can take a relaxing break on your way.

13. Siijil Noh Ha in Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Siijil noh ha lagoons aerial view
© Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

A friend recommended I should stop and check out this place and I cannot thank her enough. It’s an eco-hotel by a lagoon and a cenote, right after Felipe Carrillo Puerto on your way to Bacalar from Tulum.

You will see a sign on the road and you cannot miss it. Keep in mind that it’s 2 km of a dirt road in the jungle with no phone reception.

Once you arrive you can enjoy a full day by the lagoon, kayaking or swimming, you can take a walk in the jungle and swim in the nearby cenote.

sunrise on a lagoon
© Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

If you have a drone, which is the main reason why I went, wait until the sun is up and fly it over the lagoon, you will see a complex of 7 lagoons one after the other.

Those are not reachable by land that I know of but are a spectacular sight from the drone. Here is a picture for you to check out.

If you stay for the night, which I recommend, the light goes completely off after a certain hour and it’s pitch dark, which is perfect for night photography, but watch for the mosquitos because they are famished.

You can also enjoy spectacular sunrises and sunsets because they are on both sides of the lagoon.

The bungalows are basic but very clean and comfortable. You will need to book in advance especially if you want to eat because their restaurant only works upon reservation.

14. Mahahual and Xcalak

Mahahual snorkeling

Mahahual is a port town especially popular for the beautiful barrier reef and pristine waters. For some reason, every time I went it was rainy and the sea was rough and murky so I cannot exactly rave about it but people love it, especially divers.

In fact, there is not much else to do rather than swimming, snorkeling, or diving.

Mahauhual is located between Sian Kaan and Bacalar and you will find a detour on your way from Tulum to Bacalar. Busses from Tulum or Chetumal go there as well but it’s definitely more convenient to go by car.

Further south of Mahahual, at a 1-hour distance, you can appreciate the little port town of Xcalak which is definitely only for divers who should go to the XTC diving center, super professional and organized, though understandably expensive.

They also organize snorkeling tours as well, they rarely have groups so if you travel alone you won’t be able to snorkel there unless you pay for 2 people.

If you are a diver that’s the place you want to go.

15. Learn about the Mayan culture in the Eco Hotel Selva Bonita

Right after Felipe Carrillo Puerto, which is actually the cradle of the Mayan culture in Quintana Roo, on the way to Merida, you will find this Eco Hotel managed by an extended Mayan family.

Here you will meet Don Severiano, an icon there, a funny and super healthy 80 yrs young man who will give you a tour around their property through all their wild plants that they use as natural medicine.

While walking around Don Severiano and a guide will tell you about their multigeneration story and will show you how he climbs the Chico Zapote tree barefoot to cut the resin out of the cortex, something that they used to live on in the past.

In this ecolodge, you can also have delicious meals and a number of other amazing tours in the nearby communities.

16. Dive in the spectacular underwater museum MUSA (also for first-time divers)

MUSA underwater museum

Located between Cancun and Isla Mujeres in the turquoise waters of the Mexican Caribbean water the MUSA underwater museum is definitely a MUST visit if you are in the area.

About 400 sculptures have been created and transported there by Jason deCaires Taylor, an award-winning sculptor, environmentalist, and professional underwater photographer.

The initiative came from the Mexican government with the purpose to create awareness about the fragile marine life and build new habitats where the marine life could thrive despite the increasing number of visitors that could damage the underwater environment.

And that actually happened. In just a few months the statues were covered in algae, and corals attracting fishes of all sorts, turtles, and starfishes, and becoming a natural habitat for all sorts of sea life. 

Needless to say, it has become one of the top attractions in the area and definitely one of the unmissable things to do in Cancun.

You can either snorkel or do a shallow dive, which is suitable also for non-certified divers. 

It is preferable to do it in the summer as the water is warmer and more pleasant but you can check it out all year rounds.

Boat Tours are organized from Cancun as you cannot reach the MUSA museum from the shore.

17. Swim with sea turtles in Akumal

Akumal turtle

Among the numerous beaches of the Riviera Maya, Akumal stands out not much for its beauty but because it’s one of the few places where you can swim with sea turtles in their natural environment.

Unfortunately, it has become quite a crowded beach and not as pleasant as it used to be but if you are there you should stop by for a swim with these prehistorical marine creatures.

PRO TIP – If you love snorkeling you should check out other beaches in the area further down beyond Akumal beach.

If you continue driving onto the residential area you will be able to see some other spots where to snorkel, including the spectacular Laguna Yalku.

For further reading

The best snorkeling spots in Tulum

The best snorkeling spots in Mexico

18. Cozumel

Cozumel at sunset

Considered the mecca for scuba diving lovers, Cozumel is much more than that. There are many reasons to love Cozumel. This island is first of all at easy reach from Playa del Carmen, at only 30 minutes ferry ride.

The Caribbean side of the island is filled with incredible snorkeling spots and great beaches where you can still enjoy the colorful marine life even if you are not a diver.

The roughed coastline on the east coast, loved by surfers, is incredibly beautiful for amazing pictures and you can even swim there when it’s calm (just be careful with the rip currents)

Cozumel Coast
© Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

Cozumel has also an interesting history and if you are interested in the Pre-Hispanic civilization you will love the archaeological site of San Gervasio.

Amazing all-inclusive hotels and AirBnB offer a variety of lodging options.

Check out my complete guide to Cozumel for more detailed information.

19. Kaan Luum Lagoon

Kaan Luum Aerial view
© Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

Spending a day in Kaan Luum Lagoon is one of the top things to do when you are in Tulum and it deserves a space of its own. It’s a round-shaped giant Lagoon with emerald green transparent waters and an 80 mt. deep cenote inside.

To appreciate it even more you should check out aerial view photographs like this one below, but worry not because you can also admire the lagoon in all its beauty from the tower they have built right beside the platforms.

Make sure you go up and check it out.

You can lay on the wooden platform or on the hammocks in the water and enjoy the sun and the views or rent a kayak and explore around.

Kaan Luum Lagoon really makes a great day trip from Tulum, at only a 15-minute drive.

20. The impressive cave of hanging snakes

The first thing you need to know is that I am terrified of snakes. I cannot even look at them in pictures, and yet I wanted to check this place out because it sounded incredibly…terrifying and yet exciting.

So during one of my road trips around the Yucatan peninsula, I decided to stop by taking the tour and I was happy to see that I survived.

Here I am going to tell you how it went.

Located just outside the small town of Kantemo, close to Dziuché, at the border with the Mexican state of Yucatan, this creepy cave is inhabited by snakes hanging out from holes carved in the ceiling during the night to catch bats for dinner.

These are yellow-red rat snakes (Pseudelaphe flavirufa) and are not a threat to people as they are not venomous. But, I would add, they are quite a sight.

I decided to take the tour and I was accompanied by two guides who reassured me that nothing bad would have happened. The tour must be done at night because that’s when the serpents come out to catch their dinner.

The cave ceiling is low in most parts so you need to crawl if you don’t want a serpent to lay on your shoulder.

While I am writing this I still can’t believe I did this.

Anyway, while we slowly entered the caves I was warned to look at my feet as there may be other creatures around, and in fact, I spotted a false coral snake (the real one is utterly poisonous).

That was a good start, right.

I while inside I managed to see a few peeking out of their little caves to look for bats and I have even assisted a big snake in catching its prey.

The poor bat was squeaking for minutes that appeared hours trying to free himself from its executioner, and I was glad to see that he finally made it and set himself free.

Probably it was too big for that poor snake that was left without dinner!

I didn’t really last long in that cave, but enough to say I did it.

Even the National Geographic team came to check out this unusual cave.

If you want to see it too, it’s best if you book the experience in advance so that you are sure the guides are available to take you.

From the link I shared you can also check out the pictures as I was too focused in not to freak out and I didn’t take my own pics.

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

Best Places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula: Yucatan

21. Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

RIO LAGARTOS

There are different places to see the pink flamingos in the Yucatan Peninsula and Rio Lagartos Reserve is one of them.

Seeing these incredible creatures is a unique experience, and the tour offered in Rio Lagartos will take you right there where they hang out in their natural habitat, but remaining at a safe distance without disturbing them

But the exotic flamingos are only the beginning, Rio Lagartos is brimming with natural wonders.

Along with the pink flamingos, the Reserve of Rio Lagartos you will enjoy spotting other bird species, and crocodiles.

Rio Lagartos Flamingoes

You will be taken to do some mud baths and to a deserted beach for some swimming time (without crocodiles).

The town of Rio Lagartos can also be a unique experience, for its fishing community and the spectacular sunrises you can admire either from your hotel or the Malecon ( promenade)

I would suggest you spend a night there and take the tour early morning for the best chance to spots more wildlife.

How to visit the Rio Lagartos Biosphere

22.  The pink lakes of Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas

Right behind Rio Lagartos you can go and check out Las Coloradas, those famous pink lakes that you have seen on Instagram thousands of times are real, and on a sunny day they as bright as you see them in the pictures.

Las Coloradas is only half an hour away from Rio Lagartos, so visiting the pink lake here isn’t much of a hassle.

Given that, the Insta-worthy selfies that the pink lake backdrop creates are definitely worth the trip! Read my guide on Las Coloradas if you’re interested in visiting the pink lake and want to know more about the region.

If a couple of years ago visiting Las Coloradas was inexpensive and easy, now the owners have taken advantage of the huge success and increased the access price creating different packages at outrageous prices and you absolutely cannot fly drones unless you pay a big fee.

You can check out my guide to Las Coloradas to learn more about pricing and how to get there and if you don’t want to spend that much you can still get there and see it from the outside.

23. Valladolid

Valladolid Mexico street

Considered the getaway of the colonial Yucatan Valladolid is in fact the first colonial town that you will encounter, coming from the Riviera Maya.

The pretty town with its colorful colonial houses, museums, and historical buildings offer a glance at authentic Mexican culture.

Walk around the historical center, from the Main square to the Calzada de los Frailes all the way to Plaza Sisal and the convent of San Bernardino da Siena.

Sit in one of the cute coffee shops or try the Yucatecan cuisine.

Don’t forget to check out the incredible cenotes near Valladolid, including the Cenote Zaci right in the heart of town.

For more reading

The best 11 things to do in Valladolid

The best 9 restaurants in Valladolid

24. Merida

Merida Mexico Paseo Montejo

If you’re touring the Yucatan, its capital city—also known as the White City—is sure to please with the tradition and culture it offers.

Merida is the perfect blend of modern and traditional with its buildings dating back to colonial times, a centuries-old cathedral, and the grand plaza.

A weekend spent in this impressive city is bound to be a great experience. You can try out local cuisines, explore the traditions and customs, and take a free walking tour offered by the tourist office in the main plaza.

It’s a short guided tour of the city where a knowledgeable local guide will introduce you to the most relevant historical facts that made Merida, when it was founded, the most prominent personalities and the most important buildings that you should visit.

Sunday mornings are special, as you will experience the local folklore in the main plaza where local young performers will delight you with their traditional dances.

Make sure you try local street food including the delicious Marquesitas.

Don’t miss a walk on the famous Paseo de Montejo, the Mexican Champs Elysees, lined with luxurious colonial buildings, some of which turned into museums and restaurants.

And if you have time, the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya is definitely one of the most interesting on the topic in Yucatan.

Stop by my favorite cafe, Pan & Køf.feé for a delicious breakfast!

25. Izamal Yellow Town

Izamal Yellow town

Just an hour away from Merida, you will find the yellow town of Izamal— It is another popular Pueblo Magico of Mexico.

And it’s called the yellow town because the colonial buildings of the historical centers are all painted in yellow.

A day will be enough for you to visit the city, check out the convent of San Antonio de Padua towering over the city, and the archeological site of Kinich Kakmó right behind it.

This is a great place to try the cochinita pibil a traditional dish from Yucatan and one of the most popular restaurants is Kinich Izamal. You will love it. If you don’t eat meat they have many other vegetarian options as well.

26. Chichen Itza

Chichen itza

If you have never seen Chichen-Itza you cannot exclude a visit to one of the 7 wonders of the world.

One of the most visited archeological sites of the Mayan civilization, even though it may not be the most important, it is indeed the one with the strongest visual impact with its giant pyramid El Castillo, the Mayan observatory, and the sacred cenote, among others impressive temples.

Consider a minimum of 2 hours to visit the entire site including a stop for a refreshing drink to cool off from the heat.

If you are in Cancun I wrote a post to help you plan how to get from Cancun to Chichen-Itza and other useful tips about visiting the site.

27. El Cuyo

El cuyo aerial view

El Cuyo is the perfect alternative to the touristy and overpriced beach towns of the Riviera Maya. This small port town on the Yucatan coast is treasured by kitesurfers for the perfect weather condition most of the time and its peaceful atmosphere and friendly community.

But it’s not only for kitesurfers. There is a lot to love about El Cuyo.

It’s still preserved by the big hotel chains and huge construction investments and we hope it stays like that for a long time.

It’s the perfect escape to relax, take long walks on the deserted beach, do some kayaking or paddleboarding, enjoy a good meal and just take in the laidback life.

There are many cute boutique hotels where to stay for any budget and style and delicious eateries with local and international cuisine.

My favorite hotel is Can Cocal, one of the best hotels in town, run my good friends Sandra and Fausto, while my favorite eateries are Naia cafe for breakfast and lunch and Casa Palma for a great pizza or Argentinan Empanadas.

Check out my full guide on El Cuyo for more detailed info.

28. Uxmal and the Ruta Puuc

Uxmal is one of the best-preserved Maya sites in Mexico, and the second most important as well after the Chichén Itzá archeological site. The site is located on the Ruta Puuc where you will find other minor and yet equally interesting sites to explore.

Since it’s preserved really well, you can witness the meticulous Puuc-style architecture of the Mayans in its cut-stone buildings.

Uxmal is also one of my favorite archeological sites, for its incredible architecture and symbolism. I would consider taking a day to explore Uxmal and some other sites of the Ruta Puuc, like Sayil, Labna’, Xlapak, and Kabah.

You could also stay in one of the cute haciendas or hotels along the way around the town of Santa Elena immerse in the Yucatan Jungle. There you will find great restaurants offering local cuisine as well.

29. Ek Balam

Ek Balam archeological site
Ek Balam

Ek Balam is another great archeological site you don’t want to miss. It’s located close to El Cuyo and Rio Lagartos so if you are in the area it’s a good idea to include it in your itinerary.

It’s better to check it out early morning or late in the evening before it closes so you will avoid the heat.

Here you can admire the vastity of the Yucatan jungle from atop one of the temples and if the climb is too steep you can take a rest while checking out the spectacularly carved stucco facades.

You can hire a guide at the entrance which will help you understand the meaning of the different temples and the rule of Ek Balam at the time.

Once you finish your tour you can rent a bike and proceed to the refreshing open cenote to cool off from the tropical heat.

If you have your own car, which I recommend, you can easily access the cenote by car now.

30. San Felipe

Located on the Yucatan coast, north of Rio Lagarto you can find the pretty town of San Felipe. The local community made a great job of building cute colorful houses to make the small town even more appealing.

You will love walking along the pretty homes and taking Insta-worthy pictures. But the main attraction is the boat tour where they take you around the mangroves through canals and watch the many bird species living there.

You can spend some time on a secluded beach and organize a barbecue on one of the beaches and spend the night camping there if you wish. You will need to make an agreement before with the boat captain.

You can contact Cesar Campos for reservations +52 986 861 4183. He speaks English.

31. Stay in a Luxury Hacienda

Hacienda Santa Rosa overview
Hacienda Santa Rosa – Photo © Isabella Biava

If you are a sophisticated luxury traveler you MUST stay in one of the gorgeous Luxury Haciendas that you will find scattered around Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

These haciendas were prolific estates in the XIX century when their main activity was the production of fiber cords and other ornamental objects made of sisal, the agave leaves (also called Heneken) and sold overseas.

It was a huge business at the time and created a lot of wealth among the elite land owners. And that’s why it was called el “Oro Verde” (the green gold).

When synthetic fiber took over, the demand for natural fiber from Yucatan started to decline and so did the business.

The haciendas were slowly abandoned and if you drive around the Yucatan peninsula you will see some of the remains in the proximity of many villages.

Some of them have been completely restored and turned into magnificent luxury hotels, conserving the original structure and concept with the old chimney, the high ceilings, and the hacienda layout but with luxury finishings and world-class amenities.

I have visited a lot of Yucatan Haciendas and reviewed my favorite ones in my dedicated article. I really recommend staying in one of them or if you don’t have the time or the budget visit them.

You can also go for lunch or for dessert and experience the elegant atmosphere and beautiful surroundings.

32. Sisal Pueblo Magico

Sisal Kayak tour

Sisal is one of the latest additions to the Mexican Pueblos Magicos. This pretty town located on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico was a very important port during the XIX century after being replaced by Progreso.

It’s located at only a 1-hour drive from Merida and it makes a great day trip from the Yucatan capital city.

This cute town is flanked by beautiful white sand beaches and an extended territory of mangroves and petenes, natural habitat of many types of birds, including flamingos, cormorants, and frigates to name a few.

Sisal
© Photo taken by Isabella Biava with DJI Mini 2

Therefore besides basking in the sun and enjoying the beach life you can also join amazing kayak or paddleboard guided tours to explore the swamps and natural areas in the town backyard.

Don’t forget to eat delicious seafood and try the coconut gelato sold by a small shop by the pier. You can’t miss it.

You can read more in my full guide to Sisal.

33. See the Pink Flamingos in Celestun

CELESTUN FLAMINGOS
Celestun Flamingos
Celestun Beach at sunrise

At only 2hrs and 30 minutes from Campeche and 1 hr from Merida, Celestun is one of the prime destinations in Mexico to watch flamingoes in their natural habitat.

Boat tours are organized by a local “cooperative” like boat association, to take you on a ride among mangroves and swamps to see pink flamingos and other bird species.

But Celestun is also loved as a beach destination for its tranquil laid back town on an extensive beach where you can spend a weekend and relax from your traveling.

The town itself doesn’t have much to offer but the quite deserted beaches and laidback lifestyle are rejuvenating.

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

Best Places to Visit in the Yucatan Peninsula: Campeche

34. Campeche

campeche plaza

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, the historic fortified city of Campeche is definitely unique and worth seeing for its colorful buildings, historic landmarks, natural abundance, and staggering views.

Because of its location a little off the usual touristy routes, Campeche will surprise you with its beauty, culture, and history.

You can use Campeche as a base to explore not only the city itself but its natural and historical surroundings, which are actually listed here below.

I would suggest you stay in Puerta Campeche the iconic hacienda by Starwood Luxury Collection located in the historical center.

35. Edzna Mayan Site

Edzna Mayan site
Photo from Canva

Another impressive Mayan archeological site is Edzna, only 1-hour drive from Campeche. There is a chance that you will find yourself alone in the ancient city especially if you go early in the morning which makes it even more fascinating.

I found this site to be one of the most impressive for its several massive structures and the huge main square (the grand plaza).

Edzná was a powerful regional capital of the western peninsula between 400 and 1000 AD.

Edzna Plaza
Photo from Canva

A small community created an efficient collection, storage, and rainwater disposal system. As in other Mayan sites, the first buildings of Edzná were covered with large blocks of limestone, regularly cut, covered with thick flattened stucco, and painted intense red.

Many facades were decorated with the faces of gods, mythical animals, and symbols; the motifs were modeled stucco (similar to plaster) and were painted in various colors.

All of these elements are considered characteristic of Petén architecture and you can still clearly appreciate some of these magnificent decorations

To get to Edzna’ from Campeche you can either get on a Colectivo (minivans) for 40 pesos or rent a car and drive there.

The entrance fee is 85 MXN and it’s open every day from 8 am to 5 pm

36. Isla Aguada

boat in the middle of a lagood on a thongue of sand
Isla Aguada

I am sure you have never heard of Isla Aguada but if you are road tripping around the Yucatan Peninsula in the State of Campeche you may want to stop by and take a tour in the Laguna de Terminos.

You can spot dolphins roaming freely in their natural habitat.

The tour stops on a bank of sand in the middle of the lagoon where you can also watch many different bird species and take a swim.

37. The Archaeological Site of Calakmul

Calakmul aerial view
Photo from Canva

Mexico has plenty of amazing archeological sites that you can visit, but if you want to visit only one and make the most of it, the Biosphere Reserve of Calakmul is where you should head.

Tucked in the lush jungle in Campeche near the western side of the Guatemala border, it’s one of the largest protected reserves of Mexico.

The region has enough great places and activities to keep you occupied for at least a week, but if you can’t spend that long in Calakmul, I recommend sparing at least a whole day to fully explore the archeological site.

Besides the ancient ruins, you will be able to spot lots of parrots, spider monkeys, and many other species of birds and animals in the jungle.

And if you’re lucky enough, you might even spot a jaguar. Just one thing to remember: it gets hot and humid here, so make sure to bring plenty of water bottles with you to stay hydrated.

I would suggest you rent a car because the area is not very well connected by bus. Or you can get to Xpuhil and then move around by taxi.

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

How to Move Around the Yucatan Peninsula

Rent a Car and Go on a Road Trip Around the Yucatan Peninsula

Driving around the Yucatan Peninsula is one of my favorite things to do and I believe it is the best way to explore Mexico.

In addition to the popular destinations, you can explore so many hidden towns, villages, and other amazing spots of the Yucatan Peninsula that you wouldn’t be able to visit otherwise.

What’s more, you can make your own Yucatan itinerary and experience everything at your own pace with a car.

If you’re worried about driving in the Yucatan Peninsula, don’t be; it’s safe to drive around here, and you can explore all of its attractions—including the colonial towns, well-preserved Maya sites, lush jungles, thriving biosphere reserves, and mystical cenotes—without any hassle!

There are plenty of things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, so you can make a 15-day itinerary or more to explore the unmissable things of the region.

For further reading:

Driving in Mexico: all you need to know

How to rent a car in Mexico: the full guide

me driving in Mexico

Moving Around the Yucatan Peninsula by Bus

Now, if you don’t feel like renting a car, you don’t have to worry, because the majority of these places I mentioned on the list are reachable by bus.

The main bus company is ADO which connects all the main cities, towns, and archeological sites. Or you can check out this company for private transportation if you want to be more comfortable.

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

When Is the Best Time to Visit the Yucatan Peninsula

With a tropical climate and warm temperatures all year round, you can visit the Yucatan Peninsula any time of the year.

However, it’s better to know about the various seasons of the region and plan your trip accordingly.

High season: The high season takes place between December and April. The weather is warm and sunny during the high season, although the nights are cooler and so is the water temperature. That also means that more people travel here during this time, so expect crowds on the beaches and other popular attractions. Also, it is the most expensive season, especially during Holy Week and Christmas.

Low/shoulder season: The period between May through June and September through November is the low season in Mexico. The number of tourists reduces during the low season, which means fewer crowds and more affordable prices.

Xul-ha hotel Pier
Xul-Ha Bacalar Lagoon

Hurricane season: June through October is the hurricane season in Mexico. Don’t worry about getting swept up by one, though; dangerous hurricanes are super rare. But you may experience a full week of rain, or not.

Whale sharks season: Swimming with whale sharks is a unique experience. The season they visit here is typically from June to early September, although you have more chances to see them between July and August.

Rainy season: Between May and November, rains are far more frequent in the region.

Best time for good deals: If you’re looking for the best deals, the low season is perfect for them. Except for the Holy Week and August, prices can go up to 50% lower during the entire period between May and November.

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

Is It Safe to Travel in the Yucatan Peninsula

Yes, the Yucatan Peninsula is generally very safe for tourists. In fact, the Peninsula—especially the Yucatan State in it—is considered one of the safest places to visit in Mexico.

However, as with any other destination in the world, it’s important to exercise caution and follow some common-sense rules here as well.

If it’s your first time traveling to Mexico, I recommend reading some safety guidelines before your trip just to have a better idea of what to expect.

DZONBACAL CENOTE
THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

What should you not miss in Yucatán?

Well, the logical answer would be everything I mentioned in the above list. However, if it’s your first time in Mexico, I would definitely prioritize the beaches, at least one archeological site, and a couple of cenotes.

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

What is one city tourists travel to in Yucatan Peninsula?

All the main cities of the Yucatan Peninsula have become very popular among tourists. These includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Merida, Valladolid.

3 hoches stairs
3 oches homun cenote
THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

Is Yucatan expensive?

While Yucatan, in general, is not expensive, you will find that the main cities are getting more and more pricey, especially the main touristy spots. Still, you can find cheap eateries and museums, and cenotes entrance fees are still relatively affordable.

THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA

Is Merida worth visiting?

If you want to learn about the Mayan culture and the history of Yucatan you definitely don’t want to miss Merida.

However, keep in mind that from May through September it’s extremely hot and humid and you will not enjoy walking around the city.

I would suggest visiting during the winter months for a better experience. Read more about Merida in my full guide to Merida.

Things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula: Final thoughts

As you can see there is so much to see in the Yucatan Peninsula that you won’t make it in one trip unless you are traveling for 3 months.

Maybe in that case you could. But I believe the best way to enjoy every one of these places is not to rush it. Just take your time stop for a long time if you like a place and make the most of it. You can always come back for more.

If you need more information for planning your trip check out my travel resources here below. But first all don’t forget the travel insurance!!

Do I need travel insurance in Mexico? Yes, you do! Whatever it is the way you love to travel, either by car, tour, or bus, always make sure you get travel insurance. I can never stress enough what a lifesaver it can be in unexpected situations. Although I hope I never need it, it gives me peace of mind to know that whatever happens I am covered. I have been using either World Nomads or Safety Wing. Depending on your needs or you can compare different insurance companies on this useful site, TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER. Make sure you read carefully what’s included before making the purchase. If you want to learn more about both insurance and all your options, you can head over to my thorough post on the best travel insurance for Mexico. I am sure it will shed some light on why you need it when traveling in Mexico and how to choose the best one for you.

✨ Mexico Travel Planning Guide ✨

👉 Do I need travel insurance to travel to Mexico?

I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and knowing that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out World Nomads or SafetyWing which I have used alternatively depending on my needs of the moment.

🚰 Can I drink tap water in Mexico?

No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.

🚗 Is it safe to drive in Mexico?

The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I usually use Discover Cars because the site offers the options to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.

Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.

📱 Will my phone work in Mexico?

It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!

🤕 Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?

The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around. Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunt expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keep a low profile. Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:

💉 Do I need any vaccine to travel to Mexico?

No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico

🇲🇽 Do I need a visa to travel to Mexico?

If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form which you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine. Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards. It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa

💸 Where do I find the best travel deals for Mexico? 💸

A trip to Mexico can be expensive if you love to travel with all the comforts (like I do). There are a few tricks that will help you find the best deals. Here are my tips:

👉 DON’T travel in the high season, which is Holy week, Christmas and winter in general, and August.

👉 Book months in advance to find early booking discounts

👉 Use aggregators such as Discover Cars to find price comparisons and VRBO for vacation rentals!

👉 Look for packages flights+hotels on Expedia or Skyscanner as usually, that’s where the best deals are.

👉 Check on Booking.com or Hotels.com for hotel deals

Happy travels!!