The Complete Yucatan Travel Guide [2023]


If you’re heading to Yucatan Mexico, this complete Yucatan Travel Guide will help you plan your trip and decide what to see and how to move around, whether you are traveling solo or with friends.

Before diving into the Yucatan guide, I would like to clarify what is the difference between the Yucatan and Yucatan Peninsula, because they are two very different areas.

So Yucatan is one of the Mexican states, and it’s exactly what this post is about, while The Yucatan Peninsula is the geographical region that includes the states of Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo.

Quintana Roo is home to Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen. I will cover those in another article.

So now that we have clarified this important detail, let’s cut to the chase.

Uxmal sought-sayer pyramid

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Yucatan Travel Guide: Know Before You Go

Here are the top things to know before booking your trip to the Yucatan: 

✔️ Currency: Mexican Pesos

✔️ Language: Spanish

✔️ Airports: Merida (MID) is the largest airport in Yucatan along with small regional airports. It’s an international airport where you can fly from some cities in the US. However, for more flight options and better rates, you may want to fly into Cancun and get a transfer to Merida.

✔️ Sim Card: Telcel has the best service in the Yucatan, Sim cards can be bought at all airports and in large cities or you can buy them online to avoid wasting time when you land.

✔️ Visas: Many nationalities can enter Mexico without a visa while others need to apply for a tourist permit. Make sure to check your country’s requirements ahead of time. 

✔️ Electric Socket: Mexico uses Type A and Type B plugs. Make sure to get a travel adapter if you need one. If you are coming from the US you won’t need one.

👉🏽 Where is the Yucatan Peninsula located?

The Yucatan Peninsula is in Mexico on the easternmost side of the country. It separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea.

The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico as it has cities like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. 

Yucatan map

Yucatan peninsula Map
Yucatan Peninsula
Yucatan State Map
Yucatan State

When is the best time to visit the Yucatan Peninsula?

Since the Yucatan Peninsula is known for its beautiful beaches and great water activities, you want to make sure you’re visiting in the dry season which is from December to April. 

However, keep in mind that the dry season is also the high season, which means higher rates and bigger crowds.

If you want to save some bucks you should consider traveling between the week after Easter and mid-June before the schools close.

During this time of the year, you should still have sunny days and clear skies but lower prices and smaller crowds. Basically, you’ll have the best of both worlds.

🌧️ What is the rainy season in the Yucatan?

The rainy season in the Yucatan is from June to October. It can rain some during the months of May and November as well, but these months are not as wet. 

Chichen Itza Sacred Cenote
Sacred Cenote in Chichén Itzá

☀️ What is the hottest month in Yucatan?

March to May are the hottest months in the Yucatan, even though the peninsula experiences hot weather all year round. 

During these three months, there are many days when the temperatures reach 40 °C (104 °F).

When it’s hot in Yucatan it’s unbearable, unless you are close to the water. That is a good time to visit cenotes and check out the beaches because cities such as Merida, Valladolid, and Izamal are extremely hot.

🌀 What is hurricane season in the Yucatan Peninsula?

Hurricane season in the Yucatan is from June to mid-October. Make sure you pay attention to the weather during these months in case there are tropical storms or hurricane warnings. 

The best places to visit in Yucatan 

If you’re heading to the Yucatan, you might not be sure of the best places to go. Merida and Valladolid are the main places people visit while in Yucatan State. 

Here are the top places to visit to experience each of these amazing towns. 

tourists gather up in Cenote Hacienda Mucuyche in Yucatan
Cenote Hacienda Mucuyche, Mucuyche

✔️ Merida

Merida is a historical city surrounded by cenotes and jungles. It also has an amazing food scene. You can dine in at fancy restaurants or you can grab some tacos from a local street food vendor. 

Here is a quick list of the best things to do in Merida:

👉🏽 Visit the Plaza Grande. This part of the city is more than 500 years old. You can see colonial architecture and wander down some of the side streets to immerse yourself in culture and history. 

👉🏽 Eat. Eating local food is a must anywhere in Mexico but especially in Merida. Head to the Mercado Lucas de Galvez where you can find fresh produce and small stalls selling some of the best Yucatan food.

👉🏽 Swim in a cenote. There are many cenotes around Merida but the most famous one is Cenote Noh Mozon. 

👉🏽 See a few Mayan ruins. There are many ruins to visit near Merida including Uxmal and Mayapan. 

✔️ Valladolid

Valladolid is quickly becoming more popular for travelers and with good reason! Here are some of the things not to miss while in Valladolid:

👉🏽 Tour the Convent of San Bernardo. The outside and inside of this convent are stunning. You can walk around the inside and then visit the small museum on the grounds as well. 

👉🏽 Eat in the square. In the historical square, there are many great restaurants to try. Las Campanas is known as the best, but don’t be afraid to try others as they are all fantastic. 

👉🏽 Go on a walking or biking tour. Valladolid is not very big, so it’s easy to explore some of the best sites by walking or cycling. 

👉🏽 Take a day trip. From Valladolid, you can easily get to many cenotes like Cenote Suytun. Chichen Itza is also only about 45 minutes away. 

Town square in Valladolid
Valladolid – Photo from Canva

Things to do in Yucatan

With so many things to do and see, it can be hard to decide what to put on your Yucatan bucket list. No matter how much time you have, make sure to visit a few of these places below!

🏖️ Best Yucatan beaches

➡️ Playa Norte Celestun is a breathtaking beach in Merida. It’s great for snorkeling and scuba diving. 

➡️ Puerto Progreso is about 30-45 minutes from Merida and is well worth the drive. It’s usually not very crowded, so you’ll have the chance to relax and swim without too many people. 

➡️ El Cuyo is a nice weekend trip from Merida with some of the best beaches. It’s a popular place for kite surfing with plenty of rental gear shops nearby in case you don’t have your own. You can also sign up for a class if you’re a beginner. 

➡️ Playa Norte and Playa Sur are both beautiful beaches in Celestun. Playa Norte has more amenities as well as more options for restaurants and bars. 

➡️ San Benito is one of the beaches to visit if you want seclusion and quiet. It’s not very far from Progreso, you can always head there if you want more choices for food and nightlife. 

Panoramic view of Izamal
Izamal – Photo from Canva

🌊 Best Yucatan cenotes

👉🏻 Cenote Zaci-Ha: This is one of the largest cenotes near Valladolid. It’s open-air and perfect for swimming. 

👉🏻 Cenote X’Canche: Make sure to visit this cenote after coming from Ek Balam as they are just adjacent to each other.

👉🏻 Cenote Oxman is near Valladolid. They have a few different ticket options for entry. You can pay more if you want access to the pool and restaurant while the lower ticket prices only give entrance to the cenote. 

👉🏻 Cenote Suytun is another cenote near Valladolid. It’s huge with clear blue water. The stalactites at the top of the cave also make for a great photo op. 

👍🏼 Best Yucatan ruins

You can’t travel to the Yucatan without visiting a few Mayan ruins. Here are the best ones not to miss. 

Chichen Itza Kukulkan pyramid from a distance
Kukulkan pyramid, Chichén Itzá

🔸 Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is the most visited Mayan ruin site in the Yucatan. The ruins are more than 740 acres. During the tour, you’ll be able to see many of the Mayan temples and learn about the Spanish conquest of the area. 

🔸 Uxmal 

Behind Chichén Itzá, Uxmal is the second most visited Mayan ruin site in the Yucatan. It’s a four-hour drive from Cancun making it a great weekend trip.

The stonework is intricate and detailed with many different temples and other ancient buildings to tour. 

Ruins in Uxmal on a sunny day
Uxmal ruins – Photo from Canva

🔸 Ruta Puuc

This is the best Mayan ruin site to visit if you’re in Merida as it’s not very far away.

Since it’s not as famous as other Mayan ruins in the state, you can experience the site peacefully without fighting crowds. You can also get some amazing photos. 

🦩 Where to see flamingos in Yucatan

Yucatan is famous for having an abundance of pink flamingoes as well as many other birds. Here are the best places to spot these magnificent creatures:

🗸 Rio Lagartos is famous for its flamingoes and its beautiful pink lakes. The best place to see the flamingoes is Parque Natural Ria Lagartos. 

🗸 Celestun has the largest pink flamingoes. You can take a day trip from Merida here and enjoy the lagoons and birds. 

🗸 El Cuyo is a great city to see flamingoes. They are easily spotted just outside the town center in the nearby lagoons. There are over 20,000 flamingoes in El Cuyo. 

Many flamingos standing in Rio Lagartos
Pink flamingos in Rio Lagartos, Parque Natural – Photo from Canva

👍🏼 Yucatan Pueblos Mágicos

Pueblos Mágicos are towns in rural areas of Mexico. Even though they see less tourism than larger cities, they often have more to offer with beautiful sites and unspoiled attractions. 

📍 Valladolid

Valladolid is not as well known as other places in Yucatan, but it’s quickly becoming more of a tourist town. It’s a great place to witness the authentic Mexican lifestyle. It also has an abundance of cenotes to visit. 

📍 Izamal

If you want to visit the most photogenic town in Mexico, come to see these amazing things in Izamal. Known as the “Yellow City,” almost every building in Izamal is painted a bright yellow. There are many great places to visit here including Mayan ruins and the Convento San Antonio de Padua. 

📍 Sisal

Sisal is a small seaport town. It’s only an hour from Merida. It has quiet beaches, small local bars, and freshly caught seafood in almost every restaurant.

Pier in Sisal with lanterns
Sisal Pier – Photo from Canva

🏆 Best Yucatan Tours

While you can explore the Yucatan on your own, booking a tour is a great way to learn about local culture and meet new friends as you travel. 

🌮 Mexican cooking class

If you’re itching to learn to make your favorite Mexican dishes while in the Yucatan, taking a cooking class is a great tour to book. Every cooking class is different, but the best ones include how to make fresh tortillas along with popular dishes. 

The best Mexican cooking classes also include a trip to the local market and an introduction to the history of food in the Yucatan. 

🦩 Las Coloradas pink lake

Las Coloradas are in the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. Along with seeing the stunning pink lakes, you also get a chance to see flamingoes, crocodiles, and hundreds of different species of birds. 

💎 Yucatan hidden gems

A tour of Yucatan’s hidden gems will take you to all the less visited places within the region. Some of the best-hidden gems include the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve and Ek Balam. 

Since the Yucatan is a huge region, endless hidden gems exist to find and explore. 

Ek Balam ruins
Ek Balam

Where to stay in Yucatan

The Yucatan is full of amazing places to stay including small haciendas and 5-star resorts. There is the perfect accommodation for everyone. 

🏆 Best Haciendas in Yucatan

🏨 Hacienda Xcanatun by Angsana is about 25 minutes from downtown Merida. It’s a beautiful boutique hotel that is on more than four acres of gardens. They also have a small restaurant and cocktail bar on site. 

🏨 Hacienda Santa Cruz Hotel & Spa is super close to downtown Merida. They have tons of amazing amenities, large rooms, a spa, private gardens, and several outdoor pools. 

🏆 Best Hotels in the Yucatan

🛏 Casa Tia Micha: Nice place to stay in Valladolid when you travel to Yucatan. The rooms are beautiful and it’s close to the city center. 

🛏 Hotel Tabasco Rio: One of the best hotels in the center of Rios Lagartos. They have free WIFI and air conditioning. It’s right in the city center so you can walk everywhere. 

🛏 Casa BreMar 3097: If you’re in Celestun, make sure to book a night here. They have comfortable rooms including air conditioning. You can also swim in the pool, take a walk on the private beach, or dine in the outdoor pavilion. 

Outside area of Hotel Casa Bremar 3097
Hotel Casa BreMar 3097, Celestun – Photo © Expedia

🏆 Best Yucatan Resorts

🏝 Chablé Yucatán: Perfect place to be if you want to be near Merida but have more peace and quiet. The resort is in a secluded area near many cenotes around the region. They offer basic rooms, suites, and villas. 

🏝 Hotel Reef Yucatan: Right on the Gulf of Mexico, this resort is perfect if you want to spend most of your time on the beach. It’s all-inclusive so your meals and drinks are included. The terraces in the rooms are the best part as they have views of the ocean. 

🏝 Chichen Resort: If you want to be close to Chichen Itza, this is one of the best places. They have a restaurant, outdoor pool, and spa on-site. You can book a room or a small cottage. 

Swimming pool area of Hotel Chablé
Hotel Chablé, Chocholá – Photo © Expedia

Is Yucatan safe?

The Yucatan is one of the safest regions to visit in Mexico. The crime rates are low compared to other parts of Mexico, especially the rates for violent crimes. It’s also the region in Mexico with the lowest number of kidnappings, homicides, and vehicle thefts. 

Petty theft is common though. You can avoid this by never walking alone at night, keeping your bag close to you, and not flashing money or jewelry. 

Some other safety tips to follow include:

✔️ Put money and other valuables in the hotel safe before heading out 

✔️ Make sure to only drink at  reputable bars/hotels and don’t let strangers buy you drinks 

✔️ Never leave your drinks unattended

✔️ Only use taxis that are metered 

By following the above tips, you can have a safe and enjoyable time while in Yucatan

How many days do you need in Yucatan?

Trips in the Yucatan shouldn’t be less than 5 days, but spending a week or two is ideal so you can see more of this beautiful region. 

Here are some sample itineraries so you can plan your time accordingly. 

✔️ 1-week Yucatan itinerary

👉🏽 Day 1: After landing in Cancun, head straight to Valladolid

👉🏽 Day 2: Spend the day exploring Valladolid

👉🏽 Day 3: Head to Ek Balam (You can also go to Chichen Itza if you have time)

👉🏽 Day 4 and 5: Spend two days exploring Merida (or use one day to swim in a nearby cenote)

👉🏽 Day 6: Take a day trip to Rio Lagartos

👉🏽 Day 7: Tour the Mayan ruins of Uxmal before heading to the airport 

If you’re flying out of Cancun rather than Merida, you might have to skip the last-day trip and drive back to Cancun. 

✔️ 10-day Yucatan itinerary

👉🏽 Day 1: Fly into Cancun and then drive to Valladolid 

👉🏽 Day 2: Spend the day exploring Valladolid

👉🏽 Day 3: Take a day trip to Chichen Itza (and go to Cenote Ik Kil since it’s nearby!)

👉🏽 Day 4: Tour Ek Balam 

👉🏽 Day 5: Take a day trip to El Cuyo

👉🏽 Day 6: Start driving to Merida, but spend the night in Izamel

👉🏽 Day 7: Tour Izamel and then finish the drive to Merida 

👉🏽 Day 8 and 9: Spend two days exploring Merida

👉🏽 Day 9: Drive to Uxmal or Celestun for a day trip

👉🏽 Day 10: Drive back to Cancun and prepare to fly back home (if flying out of Merida you can take another day trip or have an extra day exploring the city)

City of el Cuyo during sunset
El Cuyo – Photo from Canva

✔️ 2-week Yucatan itinerary

👉🏽 Day 1: Fly into Cancun and then drive to Valladolid

👉🏽 Day 2 and 3: Spend a couple of days exploring Valladolid 

👉🏽 Day 4: Take a day trip to Chichen Itza 

👉🏽 Day 5: Drive to Rio Lagartos and see the flamingoes

👉🏽 Day 6: Drive to Izamal and spend one day exploring 

👉🏽 Day 7 and 9: Head to Merida and spend the next two days touring the city 

👉🏽 Day 10: Take a day trip to Ek Balam or Uxmal 

👉🏽 Day 11: Drive to Progreso and spend the day lounging on the beach

👉🏽 Day 12: Head to Celestun to explore the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve 

👉🏽 Day 13: Visit Sisal 

👉🏽 Day 14: Drive to Cancun and fly home 

How to get around Yucatan

There are many ways to get around Yucatan depending on your budget and how many places you plan to go to. If you’re going to many different cities, the easiest and best way to get around is by car. 

You can rent a car from one of the many car rental agencies in Yucatan. You can also rent a car from many airports including Cancun International. 

If you’re nervous to drive or can’t drive, booking private shuttles is another great way to get around. They are less expensive than taxis as you will often share a shuttle with a few other people that are going to the same destination. 

Most areas of the Yucatan are easily accessible by ADO Bus, the official bus network in Mexico. Buses are extremely cost-effective and are the best way to get around for those backpacking Yucatan. 

If you are not a budget and prefer to take taxis, you can also do so. Taxis are an efficient (but expensive) way to get around. 

Fountain in Valladolid
Valladolid – Photo from Canva

🚙 Yucatan Road Trip

Taking a road trip through the Yucatan is a great way to see the area. Most road trippers visiting Yucatan start in Cancun as this is usually the cheapest airport to fly into and there are ample car rental options once you clear customs. 

From Cancun, you can head straight to Valladolid where you can visit Chichen Itza and explore the various beaches and cenotes. 

From Valladolid make sure to go to Merida to see the beautiful city center, swim in a few more cenotes, and eat some good food. From Merida, you have plenty of day trip options including Rio Lagartos, Izamel, and Celestun. 

You can then fly out of the international airport in Merida or head back to Cancun if the flights back to your home are cheaper from there. 

👉 Do you need a car in Yucatan?

You don’t have to rent a car while in the Yucatan, but having a car is definitely the best way to road trip. Otherwise, you can get taxis, shuttles, or take the local bus to get to your destination. 

👉 Is it safe to drive in the Yucatan Peninsula?

Yes! You just need to make sure you follow all local driving laws and pay attention to signs and traffic lights. Petty theft is common though, so make sure you don’t leave money or valuables visible in the car when parked. 

Most roads in the Yucatan are very well-marked so you shouldn’t have a problem getting lost. 

Entry to Izamal's church
Izamal – Photo from Canva

🚌 Yucatan by bus

Using ADO buses while in the Yucatan (or pretty much anywhere in Mexico) is a fast and cheap way to get around. You can purchase bus tickets at any bus terminal in any city. Prices for bus tickets can range in price depending on where you are coming from and where you are going. 

There are also a few other bus companies that run long-distance routes. These include Primera Plus and Omnibuses de Mexico. 

ADO buses are the most well-known though. At the bus terminals, you’ll find posted bus routes and times making it easy to travel back and forth between cities. 

🌊 Yucatan tours

Many people choose to book tours while in Yucatan. This is a great way to get around the area without needing to work on booking transportation for yourself. 

When you book a tour, they will usually pick you up from your hotel. So all you need to do is get ready! After the excursion, they will then drop you back off at the hotel. 

Most transportation costs are included in the payment you give to the tour company. While you can books tours for virtually everything, the most common tours include day trips to cenotes and Mayan ruins. 

Some tours also combine several different attractions making it easy to see many of the best sites in one day. 

Planning a trip to Yucatan

💰 Is the Yucatan Peninsula expensive?

Most of Mexico is very affordable. You’ll find that hotels and food are cheaper than what you might be used to paying at home. 

However, expect the Yucatan Peninsula to be a little more expensive compared to other places you might have traveled to in Mexico. 

Many cities and regions in the Yucatan are well-known and are common tourist destinations. So, the popularity is what makes it more expensive. 

You can still have a very affordable vacation though especially if you choose to eat at local establishments and not stay in large all-inclusive resorts. 

Celestun – Flamingos

🧳 Do I need a travel adapter for Yucatan?

If you are from the USA or Canada, you will not need a travel adapter for the Yucatan because the plugs in Mexico are the same as in the rest of North America. 

If you’re from another part of the world, you will need to get an adapter to charge your devices in Mexico. Make sure you have the adapter that is two flat parallel pins (Type A). Mexico also has plugs with two flat pins along with a round pin (Type B). 

📝 Do I need travel insurance for Yucatan? 

Travel insurance is not required to visit the Yucatan, but it’s never a bad idea to buy insurance when visiting a foreign country. 

The best travel insurance plans include trip cancellation, trip interruption, medical expenses, medical evacuation, and trip delay. 

Do I need travel insurance in Mexico? Yes, you do! 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  Safety Wing, and I find it quite fair, covering a lot for its pricing level. 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 are undecided yet, you can read my post on the best travel insurance for Mexico for more clarity.

📚 Do they speak English in Yucatan?

The main language of the Yucatan is Spanish. When you’re in rural areas or smaller towns, it can be hard to find any local people that speak English. You might want to learn some basic Spanish phrases before heading to the Yucatan. 

In larger resorts and common tourist attractions, many of the workers will speak English. 

Colonial architecture Merida
Merida – Photo from Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Merida Yucatan worth visiting?

Although Merida is not as well known as Cancun, taking a trip to Merida is a must.

It has beautiful cenotes, several Mayan ruin sites, great markets for food, and a famous historical city center. 

Are Yucatan beaches worth visiting?

Yes! The Yucatan beaches have turquoise water teeming with marine life.

The sand is also soft and white making it a great place to relax, get a tan, or read a book.

You won’t regret experiencing the beaches of the Yucatan. 

Kax-ek cenote valladolid
Kax-Ek Valladolid

Is Chichen Itza worth the trip?

Chichen Itza is one of the most visited Mayan ruins in Mexico. It’s closest to the cities of Cancun and Tulum making it a common attraction for visitors in those places. 

Seeing the pyramids and the Temple of Kulkulkan is a must for anyone wanting to learn the history of the Mayans and their life in the Yucatan Peninsula. 

There are many Mayan ruins in the Yucatan though, so you can always visit another one if you don’t have time to get to Chichen Itza. 

What language do they speak in the Yucatan?

The most common and widely spoken language in the Yucatan is Spanish. Like other regions of Mexico, you can communicate with everyone by speaking Spanish.

In the Yucatan, you might also hear people speaking Yucatec Maya to each other. This is an ancient Mayan language. 

Agave plantation Sisal
Sisal – Photo from Canva

Is the Yucatan Peninsula worth visiting?

Yes! The Yucatan is home to some of the most-visited regions in Mexico including Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. 

The Yucatan Peninsula is worth visiting for all travelers that want to see breathtaking beaches, experience some of the best diving reefs in the world, and go swimming in a cenote. 

What is Yucatan best known for?

The Yucatan is best known for being home to cenotes, beautiful beaches, and ancient Mayan ruins. Many people also come here for snorkeling and scuba diving. 

Chichén Itzá ruins

Does Yucatan have nice beaches?

Since most tourists and travelers come to the Yucatan just for the beaches, you can be sure they are nice.

The best part about the beaches in Yucatan is they all have different things to offer. 

The beaches near Valladolid and Merida are much quieter compared to the beaches you’ll find in Quintana Roo State.

The beaches are not as well known so you can lay in the sand and go swimming without as many people around. 

What food is Yucatan known for?

Mexican food might be well-known all over the world, but some of the dishes unique to the Yucatan are not as famous. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth trying though. 

Huevos Motulenos is the perfect breakfast dish with fried tortillas, eggs, red onion, bacon, cheese, refried beans, and spicy salsa. 

Make sure to also try Papaszules which are very similar to enchiladas. Other famous dishes include Sopa de Lima, Queso Relleno, and Dulce de Papaya.

Chichen Itza ruins
Chichen Itza

Final Thoughts: Complete Yucatan Travel Guide

While there are many regions to visit in Mexico, coming to the Yucatan is one of the best places for experiencing Mexican culture. Home to amazing beaches, cenotes, and Mayan ruins; the Yucatan is a perfect destination for adventure seekers. 

The Yucatan is very large making it a great destination for road trippers or others who are planning to spend a few weeks in Mexico. 

No matter how much time you choose to spend in the Yucatan, you’re sure to have a vacation you’ll never forget.