- Dive into local cuisine at Mérida's Gastronomy Museum
- Follow the historic fortress walls of Campeche
- Escape to car-free Isla Holbox for snorkeling and speedboats
- Sail across the turquoise Laguna Bacalar by catamaran
- Discover the clifftop ruins and world-class beaches of Tulum
|Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Valladolid, Afternoon Walking Tour
|Explore Chichén Itzá, Cenote Swimming in Yokdzonot
|Ría Lagartos Boat Tour, Transfer to Isla Holbox
|Holbox Speedboat Tour, Snorkeling in Cuevones
|Transfer to Mérida, Gastronomy Museum
|Walking Tour of Merida, Optional Activities
|Transfer to Campeche, Fortress City Walking Tour
|Transfer to Calakmul via Edzná Archaeological Site
|Tour the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve
|Transfer to Bacalar, Private Sail on Laguna Bacalar
|Lagoon Sailing Tour, Optional Activities in Bacalar
|Transfer to Tulum, Sample Local Gastronomy
|See the Tulum Archaeological Site
|Transfer to Cancún, Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid, Afternoon Walking Tour
Welcome to Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula! This area is renowned for its Caribbean coastline, lush tropical forests, pristine sandy beaches, luxurious resorts, numerous cenotes (limestone sinkholes), and the remnants of ancient Maya civilizations. After you arrive at the Cancún airport, your first adventure awaits as you enjoy the private scenic two-hour transfer inland to Valladolid, a colonial city with well-preserved 16th-century landmarks. It also bears the distinction of Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town), granted to places of historical significance, rich culture, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty.
Upon checking into your hotel, prepare to embark on a walking tour guided by a local expert. Founded in 1543, Valladolid witnessed the tumultuous clashes between the Maya and the Spanish conquistadors. The city's colonial legacy endures through its architectural treasures, including the 16th-century San Servacio Church, an edifice constructed in 1545. Your tour also unveils the 16th-century Convent of San Bernardino de Siena and the picturesque Calzada de Los Frailes, a charming cobblestone street with shops, boutiques, and galleries.
Day 2: Explore Chichén Itzá, Cenote Swimming in Yokdzonot
Your day begins with your driver taking you 45 minutes outside Valladolid to discover one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: Chichén Itzá. Here, you'll meet an expert guide who will reveal the history and mythology of the ancient Maya as you take a two-hour tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. From around 600-900 CE, this pre-Columbian Maya city was the most revered religious center and pilgrimage site in the Yucatán Peninsula. Its most iconic attraction is the pyramid of Kukulkán (El Castillo), built in honor of the feathered serpent god, an important deity to the Maya.
From Chichén Itzá, it's a short drive to the rural community of Yokdzonot. In 2005, a group of women residents transformed the cenote in their village into an ecotourism site, and you can dive into the jade waters here for a swim. The best part is this cenote is far off the tourist trail, meaning you'll avoid the crowds. Try to feel the spirituality as you swim; cenotes were very sacred to the Maya, not only as primary water sources but also as symbols of life, death, rebirth, and fertility. Afterward, you'll return to your accommodation in Valladolid.
Day 3: Ría Lagartos Boat Tour, Transfer to Isla Holbox
The morning is yours to explore Valladolid's treasures at your leisure before the two-hour drive north to Río Lagartos, a small town located within the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. Upon arrival, embark on a two-hour guided boat ride through this natural reserve to discover the biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem and the region's largest flamingo nesting site. You'll also see Las Coloradas, beautiful salt ponds with a pinkish hue. Afterward, take an exfoliating Maya bath in the white clay mounds, which are said to be beneficial for the skin.
Next, meet your private driver, who'll take you to Chiquilá in time to catch the ferry across a lagoon to Isla Holbox. This idyllic, car-free island sits between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico and is part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve. The drive and ferry ride takes about two hours, but you'll know you're getting close as you glimpse turquoise waters and wildlife like flamingoes, pelicans, and whale sharks. Upon arrival, head to the pristine white sand beaches for the afternoon, then make your way to one of the island's local restaurants for dinner with a sunset view.
Day 4: Holbox Speedboat Tour, Snorkeling in Cuevones
This morning you'll head out on the water for a six-hour speedboat tour. It starts with an expedition to Cabo Catoche, a semi-uninhabited island to the east of Holbox that's also the northernmost tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. Explore unspoiled beaches, spot remarkable marine life, and fish alongside your captain, who'll help you learn traditional fishing techniques.
Afterward, continue to a local reef to swim and snorkel among colorful fish and coral formations. Keep your eyes peeled for marine creatures like cat sharks, hawksbill turtles, octopuses, and lobsters hidden beneath the rocks. Lastly, unwind on a secluded beach, savoring the day's catch transformed into a delectable ceviche. If the tide is favorable, your return journey will take you through the captivating mangroves to the other side of Isla Holbox. Return to your accommodation happily exhausted from your adventures on the water and spend another quiet evening on the island.
Day 5: Transfer to Mérida, Gastronomy Museum
Say your goodbyes to Holbox as you catch the ferry back to Chiquilá. There, your driver will be waiting to take you three hours southwest to Mérida, a Spanish colonial city that dates back to 1542. After checking into your accommodation and resting, get ready for today's highlight—an experience that combines dining and learning about the local gastronomy.
Day 6: Walking Tour of Mérida, Optional Activities
Today is devoted to exploring more of Mérida, first on a guided tour and later on your own. Learn about its origins as the ancient Maya city of T'ho, whose five pyramids were leveled by the Spanish and used to build Mérida's famous Cathedral in 1598. Other highlights around the Plaza Grande include the 16th-century Municipal Palace, the old Spanish city gates, and Paseo Montejo, the city's wide main avenue lined with colonial mansions. After saying goodbye to your tour guide, spend the afternoon however you like.
One option is to visit one of the many cenotes just outside the city, such as Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyché. This historic site includes the remains of an 18th-century hacienda and plantation, plus two cenotes you can swim in. Food lovers can take a tequila and mezcal tour or sample some street food, followed by a stroll around the Centro Histórico to admire the colorful colonial architecture. Or head to the Santa Lucía neighborhood, another historic enclave, to see Parque de Santa Lucía and the historic red church.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 7: Transfer to Campeche, Fortress City Walking Tour
Today, you'll transfer 2.5 hours southwest to Campeche, a coastal city along the Gulf of Mexico. After checking in at your hotel, join your guide for a three-hour walking tour, delving into the city's rich history. Learn how the city was once enclosed within protective walls and how more than 2,600 feet (800 m) of the original is still preserved as you make stops at La Puerta de Tierra, the reconstructed Puerta de Mar, seven of the eight bastions, three batteries, and the two forts. You'll also explore Pirate's Alley, the former fortified entrances, and the main square known as El Zocalo.
The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Campeche at your leisure. Try a local dish to experience the area's culinary heritage, influenced by European, Caribbean, and Maya traditions, or stroll through its charming streets to admire the Baroque colonial buildings. Campeche is a coastal port, so don't miss a colorful beach sunset before settling in for the night.
Day 8: Transfer to Calakmul via Edzná Archaeological Site
After breakfast, your driver will pick you up from Campeche for the journey to Calakmul. But first, you'll stop 45 minutes south at the Edzná archaeological site. Unlike Mexico's ancient megalopolises like Teotihuacán and Chichén Itzá, Edzná flies a bit under the radar. What it lacks in mass popularity, however, it more than makes up for in awe-inspiring ruins. This once-thriving Maya city pioneered great advances in hydraulic technology, and its system of canals irrigated fields, drained the land during rainy seasons, dammed lagoons, and provided fish.
On a tour of the site, you'll learn all about Edzná's history as a major economic and political capital of the region. The four main structures are comprised of palaces, residences, and pyramids, including the impressive Temple of Five Stories. Also here are ball courts, dozens of stelae (carved stone slabs), and a rare Hieroglyphic Stairway with symbols and characters carved into the stone steps. After exploring for about four hours, you'll get back on the road and continue three hours southeast to Calakmul, where you'll spend the night.
Day 9: Tour the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve
Today, you'll visit the archaeological site of Calakmul, part of a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve comprising over a million acres of tropical forest and one of Mexico's largest protected areas. Home to dozens of Indigenous communities, it also contains the important archaeological site of the same name, an ancient Maya city abandoned in 900 CE. The experience begins with a 37-mile (60 km) drive from the entrance of the archaeological site to the jungle interior, which separates Calakmul from the rest of the world.
Along the way, you might see white-tailed deer, pheasants, turkeys with iridescent plumage, coatis, or canoe-billed toucans hiding in the trees. Finally, you'll arrive at the archaeological zone and start your visit at the highest pyramid of the site, which towers 147 feet (45 m) above the forest. Climb to the top to enjoy the incredible views of the jungle canopy below, and listen for the trills and hums of birds, spider monkeys moving branches as they move, or woodpeckers playing their wooden melody in search of insects. After exploring more of the site and the surrounding jungle, transfer back to your accommodations in the afternoon.
Day 10: Drive to Bacalar, Catamaran Excursion on Laguna Bacalar
Prepare for adventures on the water as your driver picks you up at your hotel in Calakmul and drives you three hours northwest to your hotel in Bacalar. This beautiful town sits at the edge of a lagoon of the same name, known locally as the "Lagoon of the Seven Colors" due to its many shades of blue. After checking in, hit the water for a 3.5-hour sailing excursion. Your private tour will commence at the Bacalar dock, where you and your guide will board a two-person catamaran sailboat and head south across the lagoon.
Onboard, you'll be treated to refreshments as you learn about the significance of the area's biodiverse mangrove and stromatolite (sediment comprised of ancient fossils) ecosystems. You'll have plenty of opportunities to stop and swim in the lagoon's shallow, turquoise waters, along the way, before a final dip at Cenote Esmeralda, where crystal-clear waters from an underground river flow into the lagoon.
Day 11: Lagoon Sailing Tour, Optional Activities in Bacalar
Get back out on the water this morning as you embark on a 3.5-hour trip across the lagoon in a traditional sailboat. Begin at Pirates' Channel, a waterway that links the Río Hondo and the lagoon. It's said the Maya built this channel as a commercial link to connect the people of the south with those of the north, and it was a common site for pirate attacks. Now, it's a great place for a swim and snorkel. Continue to Cenote de la Bruja, where you can stop to swim, then take some time to explore Isla de Los Pájaros, an island and bird sanctuary home to herons, parrots, snail hawks, mockingbirds, and larks.
Day 12: Transfer to Tulum, Sample Local Gastronomy
This morning, your driver will pick you up at your hotel for the three-hour drive northeast to Tulum, a coastal Yucatán hotspot known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, and delicious cuisine. During your time here, you can while away the hours on countless white-sand beaches or stroll the waterfront shopping district of Tulum Beach Road, home to boutiques, clothing stores, and art galleries.
When the sun goes down, head to the center, where you'll find restaurants, bars, and nightclubs lining the main drag. For dinner tonight, the options are endless, whether you have a taste for a fusion of Asian and Mexican flavors or tasty street tacos.
Day 13: See the Tulum Archaeological Site
Start the penultimate day of your trip with a visit to the UNESCO-listed ruins of Tulum, one of the most famous archaeological sites in Mexico. This old Maya city is known for its dramatic setting, perched within the middle of a mangrove ecosystem on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Spend the day exploring the area with your guide, who will explain why these ruins played a particularly important role in the area's maritime and terrestrial trade. You'll also learn about the site's function as an astronomical observatory and as a defensive system.
At the end of the tour, you can make your way down to Playa Ruinas (Ruins Beach), the beach that sits at the foot of the ruins, and enjoy your final afternoon in Mexico swimming and sunbathing before heading back to Tulum.