A great thing about Mexico is that its cultural highlights also make for some of the most fun activities. You'll experience many such adventures over 13 days as you tour the historic center of Mexico City, hike the pyramids of Teotihuacán, and visit colorful neighborhoods like Xochimilco. Then you're off to the famous Yucatán Peninsula to tour the ruins of ancient Maya cities, participate in indigenous cultural exchanges, and enjoy beach time on the Caribbean coast and the Holbox Island.

Highlights

  • Enjoy a culture and foodie tour of Mexico City
  • See the grand pyramids of Teotihuacán on a bicycle
  • Tour the Maya ruins at Tulum, on the Caribbean coast
  • Visit the most historic sites in the Yucatán, like Chichén Itzá
  • Spend a couple of days relaxing on the iHolbox Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Mexico City Mexico City
Day 2 History & Gastronomy Tour, Visit the Museum of Anthropology Mexico City
Day 3 Coyoacán & Frida Kahlo Museum, Boat Tour of Xochimilco Mexico City
Day 4 Bike Tour of Teotihuacán Mexico City
Day 5 Mexico City to Playa del Carmen, Optional Activities Playa del Carmen
Day 6 Playa del Carmen to Tulum, Visit Chemuyil Cenotes Tulum
Day 7 Day Trip to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve Tulum
Day 8 Tulum Archeological Site, Free Day in Tulum Tulum
Day 9 Tulum to Valladolid, Bike Tour of Cobá, Maya Culture, & Nature Reserve Valladolid
Day 10 Tour Chichén Itzá, Cultural Experience in Yalcobá Valladolid
Day 11 Valladolid to Holbox, Optional Activities Holbox
Day 12 Mangrove Kayak Tour Holbox
Day 13 Holbox to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Mexico City

Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral overlooks the Zócalo
Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral overlooks the Zócalo
Welcome to Mexico! This culturally rich and beautiful Latin American nation is full of history, art, music, and some of the most delicious food in the world. Upon arrival at the airport in Mexico City, a driver will transfer you to your hotel. After check-in, you can spend the remainder of the day however you wish. Feel free to head out and explore—just know it's one of the largest cities in the world. This metropolis is home to around 10 million people spread over 350 colonias (neighborhoods). It's also a high-altitude city (7,349 feet/2,240 m), so you'll want to acclimate before exerting yourself on any long walks.

Day 2: History & Gastronomy Tour, Visit the Museum of Anthropology

The Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City

In the morning, head out on a guided 4-hour tour of the Centro Histórico, an area so historical it's earned UNESCO World Heritage status. You'll visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes (a white-marble concert hall built in 1905), the pedestrian-only Madero Street, and the Plaza de la Constitución, better known as Zócalo. This massive public square is home to landmark buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral (built over 250 years beginning in 1573), the 16th-century National Palace, and the ruins of the 14th-century Templo Mayor, once a significant temple of the Aztec Empire.

Throughout the tour, you'll make various stops to partake of the local street food. Sample traditional favorites like the famous tacos al pastor and quesadillas with melted cheese and huitlacoche, also known as Mexican truffle. If you have room, enjoy a dessert of fresh hot churros dusted with sugar and cinnamon. And that's just the beginning—you'll quickly realize that in this former Aztec capital, there's an incredible variety of delectable tidbits, and in every bite is a taste of Mexico City's history and culture.

After the walking tour, you'll visit the Museum of Anthropology, one of the most important museums in Latin America. Its 23 rooms and outdoor exhibit spaces are home to the world's largest collection of ancient Mexican art. There are many pre-Columbian sculptures and ethnographic exhibits about modern-day indigenous groups. Highlight items include the Aztec Calendar, The Olmec colossal head (a giant stone head carved out of basalt), and the jade Mask of the Zapotec Bat God.

Day 3: Coyoacán & Frida Kahlo Museum, Boat Tour of Xochimilco

San Juan Bautista Church, in Coyoacán

Today you'll enjoy a half-day tour of the most historic cultural sites around Mexico City. First up is Coyoacán. Located in the city's south, this neighborhood is famous for its cobbled streets, shady plazas, and colorful homes. The area has retained its colonial charm, as it was its own municipality from the early 16th century through the 19th century. Here you'll visit the 16th-century San Juan Bautista Church, plus stop at a local craft fair. Then continue to La Casa Azul, the house where Frida Kahlo spent much of her life and is now a museum displaying works by Kahlo and Diego Rivera. 
 
Next, travel further south to the outskirts of the city and Xochimilco. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been settled since pre-colonial times. It's known for its tranquil canals—remnants of the rivers that once crossed Mexico's valley floor and were used by the Aztecs for transport. A popular activity you'll enjoy is traveling down the canals on a trajinera (painted, gondola-like boat). As you float down the half-natural, half-artificial channels, you'll nibble on antojitos (Mexican snacks) and learn about Mexican history as boats filled with mariachi musicians float past and serenade you.

Cap the day by returning to Coyoacán, where you'll sit down for dinner at a famous restaurant specializing in traditional and indigenous Mexican cuisine. Be sure to try the delicious Oaxacan mole

Day 4: Bike Tour of Teotihuacán

View of the Pyramid of the Sun and the Avenue of the Dead
Teotihuacán's Pyramid of the Sun and Avenue of the Dead
In the morning, your guide will pick you up at your hotel for the 1-hour drive outside the city to one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico: Teotihuacán. Known as the "City of the Gods," this 8-sq-mile (20-sq-km) site was founded as early as 400 BCE, meaning it long pre-dates the Aztecs. During its heyday (around 500 CE) it was home to some 200,000 people and over 2,000 buildings, making it the largest city in the western hemisphere at the time. Rather than taking a walking tour of its wide pathways, you'll experience Teotihuacán a bit differently—on a bicycle. 
 
Upon arrival, you'll hop on a bike and cycle around the archaeological site, first passing the many murals that decorate the structures and depict cultural and religious motifs and natural landscapes. Then travel down the Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacán's main path that runs for a mile (2 km). You'll also visit the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest structure at 215 feet (66 m), and the Pyramid of the Moon, which towers 140 feet (43 m). Then stop at the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (Temple of the Feathered Serpent), which has bas-reliefs of the feathered serpent deity carved into its sides.
 
After the tour, you'll enjoy a pulque tasting. Known to the Aztecs as "the blood of the gods," this traditional Mexican spirit is made from fermented aguamiel (sap) of the maguey plant, a type of agave. You'll also visit a workshop specializing in the pre-Hispanic flavors of the Teotihuacán region, which makes products from local flora like the fruits of the nopal and xoconostle plants. 

Day 5: Mexico City to Playa del Carmen, Optional Activities

Enjoy a free day in Playa del Carmen
In the morning, your driver will pick you up and transfer you to the airport for your flight to Cancún, located in Mexico's stunning Yucatán region. This southern peninsula is surrounded by beautiful Caribbean waters and is famous for its powdery white-sand beaches, ancient Maya ruins, rich indigenous culture, and otherworldly cenotes (limestone sinkholes). Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will be waiting to transfer you an hour south to Playa del Carmen. This resort town is the crown jewel of Mexico's famous Riviera Maya, a section of coast that stretches 100 miles (160 km) along the Caribbean.
 
After checking in to your hotel, you'll have free the remainder of the day. One optional activity is to head just south of Playa del Carmen to enjoy the white-sand beach at Xpu-Ha. Closer to town, there are many beach clubs where you can pull up a lounge chair and while away the hours with a tropical drink or three. Active adventures include snorkeling at National Reef Park in nearby Puerto Morelos or swimming at the many cenotes in the area like Cenote Cristalino, Jardín Del Eden, and Cenote Azul. Another option is to go wildlife spotting in the 185-acre Nativa Natural Park.

Day 6: Playa del Carmen to Tulum, Visit Chemuyil Cenotes

Chemuyil Cenotes
Take a dip in Chemuyil's cenotes
After breakfast, you'll hop in your rental car and take the scenic drive south to Tulum, another star resort town on the Riviera Maya. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and then transfer to nearby Chemuyil for a half-day tour.
 
This small coastal town is famous for its nearby cenotes, which are all part of a system fed by the largest underground river in the world. Once there, you'll hop on a bicycle and follow a local guide to three cenotes. The first is La Cuevita (Little Cave), a hidden cave lagoon with crystalline waters. You'll then visit two open cenotes great for diving and swimming. Plus, you can hike around the nearby forests and spot some of the endemic birds of the Yucatán, like parrots, motmots, and woodpeckers. After the tour, you'll return to Tulum and have the remainder of the day free.

Day 7: Day Trip to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Enjoying the Sian Ka'an Reserve

In the morning, head out on a 6-hour tour of nearby Sian Ka'an, a Biosphere Reserve and Unesco World Heritage Site. Mexico's largest protected area, it covers over 2,000 sq miles (5,180 sq km). The site has natural wonders like tropical forests, palm savannas, wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, and unspoiled coastline. The region's sheer beauty is represented in its name—in the Mayan language, Sian Ka'an means "origin of the sky." Today's activity is part of a community-based ecotourism cooperative focusing on conservation and a commitment to responsible tourism.
 
You'll arrive at a community center where you'll join your tour group and start the excursion. After hiking for a while on a jungle trail, you'll arrive at the temple ruins at Muyil, an ancient Maya site settled in 300 BCE. Continue hiking until you reach the edge of the turquoise Chunyaxche Lagoon, where you'll ride a boat through a mangrove channel and arrive at a small dock. Once there, you can take a refreshing dip in the water. The real joy here is floating slowly along the channels amid the peaceful surroundings and listening to the calls of howler monkeys and exotic birds in the trees.

After the swim, you'll head back to the community center, where you'll find a hearty meal. Then it will be time to return to your hotel in Tulum.

Day 8: Visit Tulum Ruins, Optional Activities

The coastal fortress at Tulum
Today, you'll take a 2-hour tour of the UNESCO World Heritage archeological site in Tulum. The ruins here were once an ancient Maya fortress city (the word tulum is a Yucatán Maya word meaning "wall") built on high cliffs overlooking the ocean. The city was built around 1200 and reached its height of power in the 15th century. On a guided tour, you'll visit significant structures like El Castillo, a stone fortress overlooking the sea, which served as a lighthouse and temple. After exploring the ruins, head down to Playa Ruinas (the beach below the site) for a swim.
 
Then you'll have the remainder of the day free. Opt to spend time on Tulum's white-sand beaches or head to a nearby cenote. There are many within just a few minutes' drive, including Gran Cenote and Cenote Calvera. The most romantic might be Cenote Dos Ojos, a cave lagoon with electric blue waters. Also, Tulum is known for dining and nightlife, so when the sun goes down, head to the center of town, where you'll find restaurants and bars lining the main highway. For retail therapy, stroll the Tulum Beach Road shopping district, filled with boutiques, clothing stores, and art galleries.

Day 9: Tulum to Valladolid, Bike Tour of Cobá, Maya Culture, & Nature Reserve

Hike up Nohoch Mul, in Cobá

In the morning, you'll leave Tulum and head 1.5 hours northwest into the interior of the Yucatán and the colonial town of Valladolid, which has earned a Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) distinction due to its historical importance and rich culture. On the way, stop in Cobá for a guided 3-mile (5-km) bike tour of its Maya archeological site. You'll get to cycle along ancient white pathways lined with the ruins of this former metropolis whose heyday was between 600-900 CE. The real highlight is hiking up the 120 stone steps of Nohoch Mul, which, at 137 feet (41 m), is the tallest pyramid in Yucatán.

After touring the Cobá ruins, you'll continue to a small village known for its underground caves, ecotourism projects, and organic farms. This Maya community has been little touched by tourism, and thus the residents have retained their customs and culture. Here you'll enjoy a traditional meal with a local family and then continue to Valladolid. On the way, there's one more stop at the Punta Laguna Nature Reserve. Here you'll take a boat ride across its main lagoon. This is a great opportunity to do some wildlife spotting—particularly the countless spider monkeys that populate the area. 

Day 10: Tour Chichén Itzá, Cultural Experience in Yalcobá

Chichen Itza's towering pyramid of Kukulcan
El Castillo at Chichén Itzá
Wake up early for a tour of Chichén Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers 4 sq miles (10 sq km) and was first settled in the 5th century. It then enjoyed an impressive 1,000-year run as one of the great cities in the ancient Maya kingdom before declining around 1440. Highlight ruins you'll see include the iconic El Castillo (a majestic pyramid that rises 79 feet/24 m), the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles (a ceremonial platform), and El Caracol (a circular observatory), plus the largest ball court in Mesoamerica.

After Chichén Itzá, spend the rest of the day on cultural immersion in the Maya community of Yalcobá, located just outside Valladolid. This 8-hour experience is full of adventure, beginning with a guided hike through the Maya forest and a tour of the milpa fields—an ancient agriculture system that intercrops corn, beans, and squash. After exploring caves and virgin cenotes, you'll return to town and visit a handicraft workshop to see how locals produce artisanal jewelry and weaved hammocks. Then participate in a gastronomic workshop to learn about traditional Maya cuisine.

Day 11: Valladolid to Holbox, Optional Activities 

Welcome to Holbox
In the morning, a driver will pick you up, and you'll leave Valladolid on a 2-hour ride north to the tip of Yucatán and the town of Chiquilá. Here you'll leave the car and take a 15-minute ferry ride to Holbox. This sleepy island couldn't be more different than the tourist hotspot of Cancún, which is just a couple of hours away. There are no paved roads here, as most people get around on foot, bicycle, or golf cart. And while there are many activities on offer, one of the most popular is whiling away the hours lazing in a hammock perched in the shallow turquoise waters of Holbox's shores. 
 
After checking in to your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day free to do as you like. Take a stroll around this colorful village, filled with street art, and stop at a café to try Holbox's famous lobster pizza. Maybe arrange a boat tour to Cabo Catoche to do some snorkeling. Or rent a golf cart and explore the island on four wheels. You can also head to Punta Coco and sit on the sand to enjoy one of Holbox's famous golden sunsets tinged with vermillion hues.

Day 12: Mangrove Kayak Tour

Paddle around Holbox
After breakfast, hit the water on a 2-hour kayak tour that starts along the coast before entering the mangrove waterways around Holbox. It's an excursion perfect for anyone who loves nature, adventure, and wildlife spotting. This area is home to dozens of endemic and migratory bird species, and you'll see many of them in these mangroves. They include such elegant specimens as flamingos, ospreys, ibises, cormorants, and herons. If you're in luck, you'll see crocodiles resting on the banks of the channels. Not to worry, though, as they're not aggressive.

After returning to town, you'll have the remainder of the day free. There are plenty of other active excursions in Holbox you can enjoy. For example, kitesurfing is a popular activity, particularly during winter when the winds are up. Also, May to September is whale-shark season, and during this time you can book an excursion to go swimming with these gentle giants. You can also head out to the beaches at night where, if lucky, you'll witness electric blue bioluminescence lighting up the water.

Day 13: Holbox to Cancún, Depart

Adios, Mexico 
Unfortunately, it's time to depart Mexico. In the morning, you'll leave Holbox for the transfer to the airport in Cancún, where you'll catch your flight home. Until next time!

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Map

Map of Cultural Highlights of Mexico - 13 Days
Map of Cultural Highlights of Mexico - 13 Days