Discover authentic Mexican life on this sustainable tour of the Riviera Maya. Take a road trip from Valladolid to Tulum, stopping at sparkling forest cenotes, biosphere reserves, and ancient Maya ruins like the UNESCO-listed Chichén Itzá. Along the way, you'll meet corn farmers, rap groups, and the founder of a wildlife conservation project. Soak up some Mexican culture with a traditional steam bath and mariachi evening, then finish up on the white-sand beaches of Playa del Carmen.


  • Learn about corn production with Yaxunah locals
  • Visit an eco-center and wildlife conservation project in Nuevo Durango
  • Meet a Yucatán rap group and take a temazcal steam bath
  • Discover the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve's forests and lagoons
  • Take a bicycle tour of the ancient Cobá archaeological site

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid & Yaxunah Corn Tour  Valladolid
Day 2 Explore Ek Balam, Forest & Cenote Trip in Yalcobá Valladolid
Day 3 Visit Chichén Itzá, Meet Local Rappers & Temazcal Steam Bath Valladolid
Day 4 Nuevo Durango Eco-Center & UMA: Environmental Management Unit Nuevo Durango
Day 5 Drive to Tulum, Cobá Bike or Bicitaxi Tour Tulum
Day 6 Visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve & Muyil Ruins Tulum
Day 7 Drive to Playa del Carmen, Mariachi Dinner Playa del Carmen
Day 8 Free Day in Playa del Carmen, Drive to Cancún & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid & Yaxunah Corn Tour 

Free afternoon in Valladolid
Wander the historic streets of Valladolid

Welcome to Mexico! Pick up your rental car from Cancún International Airport and drive two hours west to Valladolid. Thanks to Valladolid's historic streets, churches, and gastronomy, the city has been designated a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town), a title reserved for places with particular cultural, historical, or aesthetic importance in Mexico.

To fully experience the city, visit La Calzada de Los Frailes, where you can spend your day strolling along a pastel-colored street. Built in the 16th century to unite Valladolid with the town of Sisal, the road starts at the corner of the Cinco Calles and ends at the former convent of San Beradino de Siena. You'll find plenty of boutiques and charming cafés here to while away the afternoon.

For a traditional culinary extravaganza, head to Canton Parque Francisco to enjoy typical Yucatecan dishes (many of which originated in Valladolid). Try the lomitos de Valladolid (pork loin in tomato sauce), the longaniza de Valladolid (smoked pork sausage with achiote), or the escabeche oriental (grilled turkey and pickled vegetables)— simple but tasty dishes that the locals eat regularly.

You'll also have the chance to visit Yaxunah just outside Valladolid to learn all about corn, the sacred food of the gods in Maya culture. Yaxunah has been a key center for corn cultivation since Maya times, surrounded by cornfields and dense vegetation. A local guide will show you how the crop is harvested here and allow you to taste corn beverages like potzoles, pinoles, nixtamal, and atoles—ancient recipes that include cocoa, cinnamon, and maize.

Day 2: Explore Ek Balam, Forest & Cenote Trip in Yalcobá

Swim in one of Yucatán's sparkling cenotes

This morning you'll explore Ek Balam, which means "black jaguar" in Maya. This is one of the few archaeological sites that still allows guests to climb several of its structures. Tour the site with a guide, taking in its most important monuments, such as the kings' Acropolis and the Observatory, which was home to scientists, astronomers, and mathematicians. You'll also visit the ball court where Mayans played the game of pitz; this pastime formed a central part of political, religious, and social life in Maya times.

Continue with a trip to the Maya community of Yalcobá, where you'll learn about the local culture. Start with a guided tour of the beautiful Maya forest, exploring vast caves and swimming in glass-clear virgin cenotes (natural limestone sinkholes). You'll also browse Yalcobá's handicrafts workshop, which is loved for its intricate dream catchers and comfy hammocks. Enjoy a delicious Maya lunch before you return to Valladolid.

Day 3: Visit Chichén Itzá, Meet Local Rappers & Temazcal Steam Bath

Chichen Itza's towering pyramid of Kukulcan
Visit UNESCO-listed Chichén Itzá

Discover Chichén Itzá today, one of the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this pre-Columbian Maya city was once the most revered center of worship and pilgrimage in the Yucatán Peninsula. Its most iconic attraction is the pyramid of Kukulkán (El Castillo), built in honor of the sacred feathered serpent god. Let your imagination run wild as you learn about Maya life through its architecture and your guide's fascinating stories.

Next, meet the rap group Tihorrappers, students from a small Yucatán town that have become famous for rapping in the Maya language. You'll have a chance to see the group perform and talk to them about their unique art form; the boys aspire to become teachers and are learning Maya to preserve their native language. 

End your day with a relaxing temazcal, a ritual steam bath that dates back to Maya times. The experience starts with a ceremony performed by a shaman or a temazacalero before you enter the steam bath, which is laced with medicinal herbs. The temazcal has been used by diverse Mesoamerican cultures for centuries to heal the body and mind.

Plan your trip to Mexico
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 4: Nuevo Durango Eco-Center & UMA: Environmental Management Unit

Spot protected species like the ocellated turkey at UMA: Environmental Management Unit

Say goodbye to Valladolid this morning and drive east to Nuevo Durango, an ecotourism community that produces organic food. Meet a local, Don Manuel, and join his family for a typical Maya meal. As you eat, Don will tell you all about how his community manages to preserve its cultural identity while making a living from organic farming and ecotourism.

Next, you'll tour the UMA: Environmental Management Unit. This conservation area was created in 2006 by Don and his family to provide sanctuary for endangered animals. The unit runs breeding programs for species such as white-tailed deer, tepezcuintle (lowland paca), and ocellated turkey. Many of these animals are rescued and re-released into protected areas, and your visit will help support their conservation.

Day 5: Drive to Tulum, Cobá Bike or Bicitaxi Tour

Discover Cobá's pyramids and sacbés

Today starts with a drive south to the pre-Hispanic city of Tulum. You'll explore the nearby Cobá archaeological site by bicycle or "bicitaxi." Despite being a crucial Maya hub around 600 CE, the site isn't widely visited by tourists today and is peaceful, with rustic, tree-covered structures.

Cobá is famed for having the largest network of stone causeways, which are known as sacbés (white roads). Over 50 sacbés have been discovered at Cobá, each leading to the main pyramid Nohoch Mul, which at 248 feet (42 m), is the tallest of its kind in the Yucatán Peninsula. Climb 120 steep stone steps to the top of the pyramid for views over Cobá.

Day 6: Visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve & Muyil Ruins

Boating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Explore the biodiverse lagoons of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve this morning, which in Maya means "a place where the sky is born." When you arrive at the Muyil Community Center, fuel up with a light snack before your tour. This community-based cooperative focuses on the conservation and preservation of ecosystems by promoting unique experiences with a solid commitment to responsible tourism.

Your first destination will be the lesser-visited archaeological site of Muyil, which you can walk to via an interpretive trail that leads through a thick jungle. Eventually, you'll reach the turquoise Chunyaxche Lagoon, where you'll boat through a channel surrounded by lush mangroves. Stop at a dock where you can cool off with a swim through the tranquil channels before returning to the community center for a meal.

Day 7: Drive to Playa del Carmen, Mariachi Dinner 

Dinner and mariachi
Enjoy a Mexican feast accompanied by a mariachi band

Head for the beach this morning, driving north up the Caribbean coast of the Riviera Maya to the famous seaside resort of Playa del Carmen. Check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day as you please. Hit the soft sands, swim in the warm Caribbean Sea, or wander the bustling resort city for street food and shopping.

You can also tour the nearby UNESCO-listed Tulum Archeological Site, one of Mexico's most famous landmarks. Your guide will explain why these ruins played a significant role in the area's maritime and terrestrial trade. Learn about the site's function as an astronomical observatory and defensive system. Tulum sits in the middle of a mangrove ecosystem on a cliff facing the Caribbean Sea, where you can descend to nearby Playa Ruinas ("Ruins Beach").

This evening, you'll gorge on a Mexican feast accompanied by a mariachi band. Mariachi goes beyond music; it's the sum of a cultural revolution expressed through a group of musicians dressed in popular clothing (most commonly charro suits), which encompasses the essence of Mexico and its people.

Day 8: Free Day in Playa del Carmen, Drive to Cancún & Depart

Free Day in Playa del Carmen
Spend your final day on the beaches of Playa del Carmen

Today is yours to delve into Playa del Carmen. Regarded as the heart of the Riviera Maya, this city is bursting with a variety of pristine beaches like Xpu-Ha and stunning nearby cenotes such as Azul, Cristalino, and Jardín de Eden, where you can relax and swim. To discover the coast's diverse underwater life, snorkel in the protected waters of Puerto Morelos Reef National Park, which is home to colorful coral and exotic marine species.

Explore further with a visit to Nativa Natural Park in Solferino. This sustainable ecotourism project features hiking trails through 185 acres (75 ha) of unspoiled forest. If you prefer to sit back and be entertained, catch a show at the Cirque du Soleil JOYÀ. In the afternoon, you'll say goodbye to Playa del Carmen and drive back to Cancún, where you'll drop off your rental car in preparation for your onward flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Explore the Real Riviera Maya – 8 Days
Map of Explore the Real Riviera Maya – 8 Days