Fully immerse yourself into Mexican history and culture on this comprehensive three-week trip. From the colonial cities of Merida and Valladolid to the ancient Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Chichen Itza, this trip covers millennia of history and leaves room for relaxation and food. End the trip on Holbox Island for some of Mexico's loveliest beaches and plenty of sunshine

Highlights

  • Go swimming in turquoise cenotes
  • Visit an indigenous community and learn about their ways of life
  • Head underground to visit Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld
  • Learn about traditional ways of agriculture 
  • Sail on the Bacalar Lagoon

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Cancun, Transfer to Tulum Tulum
Day 2 Cenotes of Chemuyil Tulum
Day 3 Free Day in Tulum Tulum
Day 4 Float in the Muyil Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve, Mystical Energy Bonfire Under the Ya'ax ché, Transfer to Chunhuhub Chunhuhub
Day 5 Great Gum Tree Tour in Chunhuhub Bacalar
Day 6 Sailing Tour in the Bacalar Lagoon Bacalar
Day 7 Seed Workshop in the Mayan Community of El Veinte, Transfer to Calakmul Calakmul
Day 8 Visit Calakmul in the Biosphere Reserve, Transfer to Campeche Campeche
Day 9 Campeche: A Fortress City Walking Tour Campeche
Day 10 Jícara Engraving Workshop at Mun Ha Community, Eco-tour Immersion in the Mun Ha Community, Transfer to Uxmal Uxmal
Day 11 Explore the Archaeological Site of Uxmal, Transfer to Merida Merida
Day 12 Free Day in Merida Merida
Day 13 Explore Yellow Izamal — the City of Hills, Immerse Yourself in the Peaceful Yokdzonot Cenote, Transfer to Chichen Itza Chichen Itza
Day 14 Sunrise at Chichén Itzá, Discover Corn: the Sacred Food of the Gods in Yaxunah, Transfer to Valladolid Valladolid
Day 15 Free Day in Valladolid Valladolid
Day 16 Boat Ride in the Río Lagartos Reserve Valladolid
Day 17 Visit Nuevo Xcan & Swim in Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld, Transfer to Holbox Holbox
Days 18-19 Free Day on Holbox Island Holbox
Day 20 Holbox to Puerto Morelos Puerto Morelos
Day 21 Puerto Morelos to Cancun, Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Cancun, Transfer to Tulum

Beaches of the Caribbean
Welcome to the Mexican Caribbean! Your local host will welcome you and help you to pick up your rental car. From here, you will head to the town of Tulum—a two-hour drive from the airport. 

Day 2: Cenotes of Chemuyil

Chemuyil Cenotes
Chemuyil Cenotes
Your adventure begins in the community of Chemuyil, a small beachfront town with plentiful white sand beaches and shallow waters. A local guide will be waiting for you to welcome you with a plate of fruit and tell you more about the different places you will visit today. You'll spend the day learning about the project, which was initiated by 5 young people from the community of Chemuyil who seek to introduce and preserve the cenotes where they used to live and play during their childhood. Their initiative allows the visitor to explore virgin forests, discover the fauna, and become one with nature. 

You will be assigned a bicycle and start cycling through the charming town of Chemuyil. There you will continue your bike tour to visit 3 different cenotes of different shapes and sizes. You will start with a cenote known locally as La Cuevita; an enclosed cenote where your guide will tell you anecdotes and stories of the place.

Next, you will go to an open cenote where, with some luck, you will be able to see some of the endemic birds of the Yucatan Peninsula. Finally, you will visit an open cenote where you can take a dip. All of these cenotes are part of a system fed by the largest underground river in the world. Once you finish this experience, you will say goodbye to the young people of the community and head back to town.

Day 3: Free Day in Tulum

Playa Ruinas, a beach frequented by visitors to the Tulum archeological site
Playa Ruinas, a beach frequented by visitors to the Tulum archeological site
Enjoy a free day in Tulum. This destination has become very popular in recent years thanks to its beautiful beaches with turquoise waters, its nightlife, and its delicious international cuisine. During your free day in this town, you can visit some of the beautiful beaches or cenotes that surround it. 

When the sun goes down, you will find a vibrant nightlife with plenty of bars and restaurants to discover, with a more casual and relaxed atmosphere.

Day 4: Float in the Muyil Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve, Mystical Energy Bonfire Under the Ya'ax ché, Transfer to Chunhuhub

Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Today you will visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, which in Mayan means "a place where the sky is born". When you arrive at the Muyil Community Center, enjoy a light snack and join a group of travelers to start the tour. This community-based ecotourism cooperative focuses on the conservation and preservation of ecosystems by promoting unique experiences with a commitment to responsible tourism.

Your first stop will be the little-known and mysterious archaeological site of Muyil, which you will reach at the end of an interpretive trail surrounded by the thick jungle. Walk until you reach the edge of the turquoise Chunyaxche Lagoon, where you will take a small boat through a channel surrounded by mangroves to arrive at a small dock. Once there enjoy a serene dip in the water. It is a moment of reconnection with mother earth, as you float slowly through the channels you will feel the peace of your surroundings and take in the soft sounds of the local birds and other animals.

Once you are done enjoying the water, return to the community center on a short walk. You will be welcomed back with a traditional meal to complete the excursion.

After, head to the community of Chuhunhub, where your local guide will meet you. In this mystical experience, you will be able to connect with the sacred tree of the local community, recharge your energy and receive purification from the grandparents of the village. They have, according to popular belief, the ability to cure illnesses with herbs.

You will listen to the stories that the wisest of the community will share with you while enjoying a sacred drink, which only the high level (gods) could make. It will be an experience of just over an hour full of mysticism and cultural immersion.

Day 5: Great Gum Tree Tour in Chunhuhub

Climbing the gum tree
Climbing the gum tree
You will start the tour through the lush jungle with the grandfather and local guide of the community of Chunhuhub. 

Gradually, you will immerse yourself in the dense Mayan jungle where you will discover how the ancestors found their food, water, and shelter until you reach an area of lush chicozapote trees over 50 years old, the tree from which chicle (gum) is extracted. At this point, you will learn about the process to obtain the chicle from the Chicozapote tree. To carry out this activity, the chicleros make cracks (which do not damage the tree), in a kind of zig-zag, then the sap runs down the trunk into a container. This mixture is put on the fire to generate a gum that is then left to dry.  The extraction happens during the rainy season, so if it is the dry season, you will see a demonstration of the activity. In both cases, you will learn how the Mayans used the tools given to them by Mother Earth to carry out all these processes in their daily life.

You will also have the opportunity to taste the organic gum produced by the grandparents of the community.

Day 6: Sailing Tour in the Bacalar Lagoon

Bacalar lagoon
Bacalar lagoon
Bacalar, or Bakhalal in Mayan (meaning "near or surrounded by reeds"), is known for its seven-colored lagoon which you'll get to see on this boat tour. Sailing on these boats is a great alternative to motorboats since they do not pollute the water, helping to preserve the natural beauty of the place.
 
You will begin this approximately 4-hour excursion by visiting the pirates' channel, where you will have the opportunity to swim and snorkel. For hundreds of years, it has been the territory of travelers and treasure hunters. It is said that the Mayas built this channel for commercial purposes and also to connect the people of the south with those of the north. As a result, pirate attacks became very frequent, hence its name.

Continue navigating to the Cenote de la Bruja, also called "black cenote", where you can dive into the waters and enjoy the colors of the different depths. Finally, pay a visit to the Isla de Los Pájaros, a place locally declared as a sanctuary, where you can go bird watching and enjoy the different shades of blue of the Bacalar lagoon.

Day 7: Seed Workshop in the Mayan Community of El Veinte, Transfer to Calakmul

Seed workshop in the jungle
Seed workshop in the jungle
Today you will visit a Mayan community in the jungle of Campeche to enjoy nature, lush jungle, Mayan culture, and handicrafts. Here you will participate in a seed workshop put on by a group of women from the community who know all the uses of trees, plants, medicinal herbs, and who make jewelry and amulets with seeds, feathers, and objects from the jungle.

As part of this experience, you will be able to choose the seeds according to their symbolic value or their healing properties. Then, stow your seeds in a little bag with your name on it — after it germinates and grows a little, the women of the community will be in charge of planting it in the jungle.

After, drive from Bacalar to Calakmul.

Day 8: Visit Calakmul in the Biosphere Reserve, Transfer to Campeche

Aerial view of the historic site
Aerial view of the historic site
Today you will visit the archaeological site of Calakmul, an impressive city in the middle of the jungle that's named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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. The road, although paved, is worth paying attention to. With a little luck, you might see white-tailed deer, pheasants, turkeys with iridescent plumage, a coati if you are lucky, or canoe-billed toucans hiding in the trees. 

Finally, you will arrive at the archaeological zone. Here you will visit the highest pyramid of the site, which towers 147 ft (45 m) high above the forest. Climb to the top to enjoy the incredible views of the jungle in a sea of green that is comprised of trees that go on forever. There, at the top, you can hear the noises of the jungle: trills and hums, spider monkeys moving branches as they move, or woodpeckers that play their wooden melody in search of insects.

Day 9: Campeche: A Fortress City Walking Tour

Architecture in Campeche
Architecture in Campeche
Today you will join your guide for a walking tour to learn about Campeche's storied past. San Francisco de Campeche once existed between walls, and today more than 800 meters remain of the wall that was built to protect the city from various pirate attacks. La Puerta de Tierra, the reconstructed Puerta de Mar, seven of the eight bastions, three batteries, and the two forts are just some of what you will explore during your tour.

Your tour will take you through the city, passing through Pirate's Alley, the formerly fortified entrances to the city, and to the main square and el zocalo (the animated center typical of most Mexican cities).

After your tour, you will pick up your rental car to continue the self-driving portion of your trip. Leave the coast behind and head inland to the small "yellow city" of Izamal. This colonial city, built in the middle of the 16th century on the ruins of a Mayan city is also known as the “City of the Three Cultures” due to the combination of influences from its prehispanic past, colonial past, and today’s contemporary culture. Its most important building is the Convento de San Antonio, a Franciscan convent built over the Mayan shrine, Pap Hol Chac.

Day 10: Jícara Engraving Workshop at Mun Ha Community, Eco-tour Immersion in the Mun Ha Community, Transfer to Uxmal

Traditional wood carvings
Traditional wood carvings
Spend some time today visiting a local community that is renowned for its conservation of nature and its traditional Mayan cultural artwork.

On your visit, the members of this community will invite you to participate in a workshop on engraving jícara—a fruit that is grown in the Yucatán Peninsula, which has been used to store food or water for thousands of years. 

You'll also get the chance to visit the local craft workshop and an ecological museum.

Later, meet your guide in the community of Muná for an ecological tour through the jungle and a visit to a lookout point. This community project combines nature conservation and traditional Mayan culture. You will start with a view from the lookout point, where you are sure to get spectacular photos. Afterward, you will enter the jungle and feel how it embraces you little by little.

At the end of the trail, you will enter the grotto of the Mayan aluxes. According to Mayan mythology, these beings inhabit the jungle, filling these territories with legends and magic. It is believed that Mayan sorcerers and wise men made aluxes figures, which at night came to life to take care of the owner's property, the animals, and the jungle itself. The guides will also tell you the legend of Xtabay and the meaning of Xibalba, the underworld.
 
After, drive from Campeche to Uxmal. 

Day 11: Explore the Archaeological Site of Uxmal, Transfer to Merida

View of the ruins
View of the ruins
Meet your guide at the archaeological site of Uxmal, who will tell you a little more about these impressive pyramids. The name Uxmal means "thrice built" in Maya. This name refers to the construction of its tallest structure: the Pyramid of the Magician, which was built on top of the existing pyramids. Legend has it that the Pyramid of the Magician was built in a single night. However, this is very unlikely since it consists of several structures from different eras. One possible theory is that only the last and smallest structure at the top was built in one night, and it then became legend.

This city stands out for its monumentality and fineness in its architecture and decorative art. It is perhaps the most representative city of the Puuc style, with low, horizontal palaces built around patios. The decoration is incredible, as you can appreciate the quality of indigenous art with detailed sculptures made with polished stones that form a perfect mosaic. During its heyday, the city was one of the largest in Mesoamerica: at its peak, Uxmal was home to some 20,000 Maya.

After, drive from Uxmal to Merida. 

Day 12: Free Day in Merida

Church in Merida
Church in Merida
Merida is located in the northwestern part of Yucatán and is the capital of the state. The main areas of interest for visitors are the Centro Histórico and Paseo Montejo. Here, you will find the traditional barrios (neighborhoods) and markets, grandiose homes, several museums, and historical monuments, which are ideal for exploring in the morning and afternoon.

One of the best places to visit to soak in the city's atmosphere is the spectacular Paseo de Montejo, one of the most iconic places in the city. Here, you'll find many hotels, cafés, and restaurants that line the streets. Another great option is the old neighborhood of Santa Lucía — one of Centro Histórico's most popular areas, with a past that's full of history.

Day 13: Explore Yellow Izamal — the City of Hills, Immerse Yourself in the Peaceful Yokdzonot Cenote, Transfer to Chichen Itza

Stone path leading up to the entrance of the San Antonio Convent
Stone path leading up to the entrance of the San Antonio Convent
Spend the day visiting Izamal, an iconic example of colonial architecture. Just about all the buildings are painted an egg-yolk yellow, and cobblestone streets and colonial lamp posts complete the scenery. The village was conquered by the Spaniards, and it was the monks, in their eagerness to convert the indigenous Maya to Catholicism, that gave the city its religious distinction.

An important sight in Izamal is the Franciscan Convent San Antoni de Padua that was built from and over one of the Maya pyramids. Make sure to make time for plenty of food stops: Izamal is renowned for its delicious Yucatecan cuisine.

In 2005, a group of women from the rural community of Yokdzonot, Yucatan organized to transform the Mayan cenote of their village into a unique eco-tourism site. Today, experience how the earth beats in turquoise waters that unite mind, body, and soul as you swim. Take a deep breath inside the cenote and discover the underwater world.

Cenotes were the main water supply in the middle of the Mayan jungle, a reason to develop cities and settlements. They were also considered symbolic spaces for the rituals of rain, life, death, rebirth, and fertility, and served a sacred function for the Maya. This cenote is not as popular with visitors, so it is not as crowded as other cenotes and its waters have the perfect temperature to feel refreshed from the heat.

In the evening, drive from Mérida to Chichén Itzá. 

Day 14: Sunrise at Chichén Itzá, Discover Corn: the Sacred Food of the Gods in Yaxunah, Transfer to Valladolid

Sunrise at Chichen Itza
Sunrise at Chichen Itza
Today you will get up early at 5:30 am to wait for the sunrise at one of the 7 Wonders of the World, the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá. This hour is incredibly special since the site is practically alone and you can enjoy it without the heat of the day. Additionally, the light of the sunrise in such an impressive site full of history gives it a magical touch.

This pre-Hispanic city was the most outstanding capital of the Mayan area at the end of the Postclassic period. When the Spanish arrived, it was the most revered center of worship and pilgrimage in the Yucatan Peninsula. Your local guide will tell you the history of this place from the Pyramid of Kukulkan (El Castillo), through buildings and monuments of great importance, such as the Chacmools, the Temple of the Warriors, the Hall of a Thousand Columns, and the Ball Game Field, to name a few.

Spend part of your day traveling back in history to explore the world of the Maya. Your visit to the archaeological site starts with a meeting with a guide from the Yaxunah community, who will join you for the trip to the site. 

The Yaxunah site, which in Mayan means "the first house", is surrounded by cornfields and dense vegetation. There is bountiful archaeological evidence that suggests that this site has been continuously occupied for millennia and that it was an important center for the cultivation of corn: the sacred food of the gods. For the Mayans, the milpa (agricultural field) was like their home, as they had to ask permission to enter. 

Your guide, along with the members of the community, will show you the production process of this important regional food staple. You'll learn about the cleaning, planting, and harvesting of corn, as well as taste the beverages that can be prepared with corn, like potzoles, pinoles, nixtamal, and atoles.

In the evening, drive from Chichen Itza to Valladolid.

Day 15: Free Day in Valladolid

Free Day in Valladolid
Free Day in Valladolid
There are many riches that make Valladolid a "Pueblo Magico". Among these are its beautiful streets, churches, gastronomy, and people.

To fully experience the city, visit La Calzada de Los Frailes, where you can spend your day strolling along an iconic pastel-colored street. It was built in the 16th century to unite Valladolid with the town of Sisal. The street starts in the corner of the Cinco Calles and ends in the former convent of San Beradino de Siena. You'll find plenty of boutiques and charming sports for coffee lovers.

For a traditional culinary experience, head to Canton Parque Francisco to enjoy typical Yucatecan dishes (many of which originated in Valladolid). Try the lomitos, the longaniza de Valladolid, or the escabeche oriental —  simple but delicious dishes that the locals eat regularly.

Day 16: Boat Ride in the Río Lagartos Reserve

Sky reflected in Las Coloradas
Sky reflected in Las Coloradas
Rio Lagartos — a town located within the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve — is one of the main flamingo nesting areas in the Yucatan Peninsula. Together with your local guide, you'll embark with your local guide on a boat ride through this natural reserve to discover the biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem.

You will get the chance to see Las Coloradas, beautiful salt ponds that have a pinkish hue due to their salt concentration. (The color depends on the time of year and the amount of daylight). You will also have the opportunity to take an exfoliating Mayan bath in the white clay mounds, which are beneficial for the skin, as they moisturize and soften the dermis. Wrap up the tour with some free time on the beach.

Day 17: Visit Nuevo Xcan & Swim in Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld, Transfer to Holbox

Underground world
Underground world
Today you will visit the community of Nuevo Xcan, guardians of 54,000 acres of the nature reserve. You will begin with a Mayan purification ritual, guided by the local H-men (the local term for shaman or spiritual leader) of the community.

This ritual is part of Nuevo Xcan cultural heritage, which consists of asking permission from the gods who guard the jungle and the cenotes to safely enter the cavern of Xibalba (the Mayan underworld). Once the ceremony is over, you will take a tour of the underground. Take in the majesty, enjoying 3 vaults full of water canals, crystalline subway rivers where you can relax, cool off, and experience a world that is totally unique.

In the evening, drive to Chiquilá. Vehicles are not allowed to preserve the beauty of the island. You will have to leave the car in a parking lot at Chiquilá before taking the ferry to Holbox Island. 

Days 18-19: Free Day on Holbox Island

Holbox Islands
Holbox Islands
Today is free to spend however you want on the peaceful island. Soak in the sunshine, the spectacular turquoise waters, the unpaved streets, the incredible sunsets, and the delicious food. Choose one of the beautiful beaches to enjoy the sun and white sand, and recharge your batteries. 

As cars are not allowed on the island, you will also have the option to rent a bicycle or a golf cart to travel around and explore the less-crowded parts of the island. Other great options to spend your free day include walking around town, browsing the street art for souvenirs to bring back home, or simply relaxing at one of the town's cafes. 

If you prefer to get onto the water, book a boat tour to Cabo Catoche for an afternoon of snorkeling and enjoying the underwater world.

At the end of the day, catch the sunset from Punta Coco, view the starry sky from the beach, or enjoy a show of bioluminescence in the waters.

Day 20: Holbox to Puerto Morelos

Slopped lighthouse of Puerto Morelos
Sloped lighthouse of Puerto Morelos

Spend one last morning in Holbox before you say hasta luego to this paradise. Take a ferry back to Chiquilá, pick up your rental car, and drive to the beach town of Puerto Morelos. 

Day 21: Puerto Morelos to Cancun, Departure

Cancun
Cancun
Today is your last morning in this paradise. This part of Mexico is famed for its spectacular sunrises, so rise early on your last day to take in the magnificent show. 

Afterward, you'll have a free morning to rest. At the scheduled time, drive to Cancun's airport to drop off your rental car and catch your flight home.