With 12 days to spare, you can discover the best of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula with plenty of time to relax and soak up the beach life. Start in Valladolid to learn about traditional cuisine and Maya cities such as Chichen Itz. Swim in little-known cenotes, explore the Cobá archeological site by bike, and while the day away on Playa del Carmen's beaches. Finish your trip with four days on Holbox Island, where you'll swim with whale sharks, observe exotic birds, and cruise through mangroves by kayak.


  • Discover Maya gastronomy by eating your way through Valladolid
  • Explore Chichen Itz, a pre-Columbian Maya city and UNESCO World Heritage Site 
  • Explore the archaeological site of Cobá and then cool off in hidden cenotes
  • Kayak along Holbox Island to discover beaches, mangroves, and birds

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancun, Transfer to Valladolid Valladolid
Day 2 Visit Chichén Itza, Learn About Maya Culture in Yalcobá Valladolid
Day 3 Boat Ride in the Río Lagartos Reserve, Free Afternoon in Valladolid Valladolid
Day 4 Drive to Playa del Carmen, Coba by Bike, Punta Laguna Nature Reserve Playa del Carmen
Day 5 Discover the Muyil Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Visit Laguna Kaan Luum Playa del Carmen
Day 6 Enjoy a Sound Journey in Underground Caves & Cenotes Playa del Carmen
Day 7 Free Day in Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen
Day 8 Transfer to Holbox Island, Swim with Whale Sharks Holbox
Day 9 Evening Kayak Tour & Observe Bioluminescence  Holbox
Day 10 Discover Mangroves by Kayak Tour Holbox
Day 11 Visit Passion Island & Bird Island Holbox
Day 12 Transfer to Cancun & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancun, Transfer to Valladolid

Free afternoon in Valladolid
Spend a free afternoon in Valladolid

Welcome to the Yucatán Peninsula! Upon arrival at the airport in Cancun, you'll pick up your rental car and make your way to Valladolid. On this two-hour scenic drive, you'll see Yucatán villages and the Maya jungle. Valladolid has earned the designation as a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town), a unique title reserved for places with particular cultural, historical, or aesthetic importance in Mexico. Once you've checked into your hotel, you'll have the remainder of the day to explore. Visit La Calzada de Los Frailes and spend the day strolling along this pastel-colored street, which ends at the former convent of San Beradino de Siena

Day 2: Visit Chichén Itzá, Learn About Maya Cuture in Yalcobá

Chichen Itza's towering pyramid of Kukulcan
Chichen Itza's towering pyramid of Kukulcan

Meet your local guide to explore the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá, one of the 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 stepped pyramid of Kukulkán (El Castillo), built in honor of the feathered serpent god, an important deity to the Maya. Let your imagination run wild as you learn about the life of the Maya through the architecture, accompanied by your guide's fascinating stories.

Next, you'll visit the Maya community of Yalcobá for an afternoon immersed in its culture and nature. Take a guided tour through the milpa –a traditional agricultural system in which maize is intercropped with other species—then join an enlightening trek through the Maya jungle to explore caves and rehoyadas (dry cenotes full of vegetation). You will also have the opportunity to swim in a hidden cenote (natural swimming hole) to freshen up! Maya gastronomy is another of the many treasures you will find in this town, so finish your tour with a delicious traditional dish for lunch.

Day 3: Boat Ride in the Río Lagartos Reserve, Free Afternoon in Valladolid

Flamingoes in the reserve
Flamingoes in the reserve

Rio Lagartos, located within the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, is one of the main flamingo nesting areas in the Yucatán Peninsula. With your guide, you'll embark on a boat ride through this natural reserve to discover the biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem. You'll get to see Las Coloradas, beautiful salt ponds with a pinkish hue due to their salt concentration. Afterward, take an exfoliating Maya 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.

Head back to Valladolid to spend an afternoon exploring the town at your own pace. 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 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 delicious meals that the locals eat regularly.

Day 4: Drive to Playa del Carmen, Cobá by Bike, Punta Laguna Nature Reserve

Climb to the top of the steps
Climb to the top

It's an early start this morning as you make the two-hour drive to Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera. Once you've checked in to your hotel, head to the archaeological site of Cobá. Start with a guided 3-mile (5 km) bike or bicycle taxi tour through the sacbé, a series of ancient white roads that connect each settlement to the main pyramid of Nohoch Mul, the Yucatán Peninsula's largest. Continue with a visit to a Maya community. A local family will welcome you to enjoy a traditional meal while you learn about their way of life and culture.

After lunch, visit the Punta Laguna Nature Reserve, where you will hike through the jungle and, if you are lucky, spot spider monkeys or other wildlife. Cool off with a refreshing swim in a cenote or zip lining through the tree canopy. Finally, wrap up the day by participating in a traditional Maya ceremony.

Day 5: Discover the Muyil Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Visit Laguna Kaan Luum

Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve

Today takes you to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, which in Maya means "a place where the sky is born." Arrive at the Muyil Community Center, a community-based ecotourism cooperative focusing on conservation. Walk through the thick jungle along a trail to the archaeological site of Muyil. Continue to the edge of the turquoise Chunyaxche Lagoon, where you will take a small boat along the water surrounded by mangroves to a dock. Once there, enjoy a serene dip in the water for a moment of reconnection with the earth. As you float, take in the soft sounds of the local birds and other animals. 

Plan your trip to Mexico
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
You'll return to the center for a traditional meal. After lunch, cool off with a refreshing dip in the Kaan Luum lagoon. The water's color is impressive, with its intense shades of blue and green, and the lake hides a 269-foot (82m) deep cenote! Though it's forbidden to swim in the cenote as it's reserved for diving, the whole area around it is magnificent, with a fine sandy bottom and shallow water.

Day 6: Enjoy a Sound Journey in Underground Caves & Cenotes

Enjoy a Sound Journey in Underground Caves & Cenotes
Experience a sound journey underground

Brace yourself for an unforgettable experience today. A driver will be waiting to take you into the forests where you'll begin this wellness journey. Travel beneath the jungle's surface to explore and swim in the depths of a private cenote kept in pristine condition. Using only flashlights, you'll wander through the various chambers and discover this fascinating underworld while experiencing guided meditation. As you get closer to the cave's mouth, there will be a seated meditation, and you'll be treated to a concert of spiritual sounds performed by Tulum's finest musicians using Pre-Hispanic instruments.

Day 7: Free Day in Playa del Carmen

Free afternoon in Playa del Carmen
Spend a free afternoon in Playa del Carmen
Spend today however you like as you get to know the beach town of Playa del Carmen, located in the heart of the Maya Riviera. Visit one of the many beaches to watch the sunrise, tinting everything a delicious shade of orange. Relax and enjoy the sun and sand before strolling along 5th Avenue, where you can enjoy 3 miles (5 km) of culture, shops, and restaurants. If you're looking for nightlife, visit one of the many pubs in the area. What makes this avenue so remarkable is that at any time, you can walk down one of its streets to get to the beach. It's perfect for combining a day at the sea with a long walk.

Day 8: Transfer to Holbox Island, Swim with Whale Sharks 

Holbox Islands
Swim with whale sharks

Get ready for island life! Drop off your rental car in Playa del Carmen, and a private driver will take you to the port of Chiquilá. You'll take the ferry from here to the Caribbean paradise of Holbox. Once you've checked in to your hotel, you have free time to spend however you want on this 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. Catch the sunset from Punta Coco, and view the starry sky from the beach.

For the more adventurous, you can go swimming with a whale shark. These incredible animals can reach up to 45 feet (14 m) long and are considered the largest fish in the world. They are harmless, so you will be able to swim with them. Remember that this is a swimming and watching activity, so you should not touch the animals. During this boat ride, you may encounter turtles, giant manta rays, dolphins, and many other species.

Day 9: Evening Kayak Tour & Observe Bioluminescence 

Spend a free day relaxing on Holbox Island
Get into the island lifestyle in Holbox

Today, you're free to spend your time on Holbox Island however you'd like. Swim in turquoise waters, and recharge your batteries. Cars are not allowed on the island, so consider renting a bicycle or a golf cart to travel around and explore the less crowded areas. Other great options include walking around town, browsing the street art for souvenirs, or simply relaxing at one of the many cafés. If you prefer to get out on the water, book a boat tour to Cabo Catoche for an afternoon of snorkeling and enjoying the underwater world. 

Tonight, admire the grandness of the sea and sky on a kayak trip into the ocean off the island's shores. The journey is short and easy enough for any level of experience. As the trip begins, look to the sky to spot constellations, planets, and galaxies. If you're lucky, you might glimpse a shooting star. As you continue through the water, you may notice light coming off the water itself—this shine is caused by bioluminescent phytoplankton, which glows when it is disturbed.

Day 10: Discover Mangroves by Kayak Tour

Spend a free day relaxing on Holbox Island
Kayaking is the best way to explore Holbox Island
While there are many activities on offer today, one of the most popular is whiling away the hours lazing in a hammock perched over the shallow turquoise waters of Holbox's shores. You can also head out from the main port to the long, white-sand beaches to swim in the crystalline waters. Then enjoy a coco (coconut) or tropical adult beverage as you sit on the sand and marvel at Holbox's famous golden sunsets tinged with vermillion hues. 
If you feel like exploring, enjoy a fun kayak tour through the mangroves of this paradisiacal island. Paddle through the nearby mangroves with a guide while you remain on the lookout for native flora and fauna. Enjoy the spectacular landscapes as you get up close to birds such as flamingoes, osprey, and pelicans. As you glide through the calm waters, learn more about this delicate ecosystem and the creatures that live here from your guide. Not only will you have a feast for your eyes but also for your ears as you'll hear beautiful chirping throughout the journey.

Day 11: Visit Passion Island & Bird Island

Spend a free day relaxing on Holbox Island
Keep your eyes on the sky at Bird Island

It's your final full day on the island, so you could spend more time lounging on the beach or even try your hand at kitesurfing which is famous here. You don't have to be experienced to soar along the coastline. Since the water is shallow with few waves, you'll zoom around in no time. Bird-watching here is extraordinary if you'd like to leave your hammock for just a while. So get your camera ready as you leave the island and explore by taking the popular Three Islands tour.

This half-day boat excursion visits three of the most stunning islands around Holbox. First is Yalahau Lagoon, a natural cenote, and habitat for various animal species including dolphins and the pink flamingoes that congregate here from April to October. Then stop at Isla Pájaros (Bird Island), a protected area home to dozens of bird species including frigates, cormorants, ibises, gazelles, and herons. Continue to Passion Island, an idyllic place famous for its beaches covered in bright pink seashells. 

Day 12: Transfer to Cancun & Depart 

Hasta Luego, Mexico!

Today a driver will take you to the Port of Holbox to take the ferry back to Chiquilá. From there, another driver will take you to the Cancun Airport for your flight home or to your next destination. Safe travels and buen viaje! 

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Map of Hidden Mexico: Explore the Yucatán Peninsula - 12 Days
Map of Hidden Mexico: Explore the Yucatán Peninsula - 12 Days