This 13-day adventure covers the highlights of two of southern Mexico's most historic and naturally beautiful states: Chiapas & Yucatán. In the former, you'll tour natural wonders like Sumidero Canyon and the Agua Azul waterfalls. In the latter, you'll visit its most famous archeological sites, like Palenque and Uxmal, while also enjoying the white-sand beaches of Holbox Island and Playa del Carmen.

Highlights

  • Take a riverboat tour through Sumidero Canyon
  • Go swimming in the terraced turquoise pools at Agua Azul
  • Explore ancient Maya ruins like Uxmal and Palenque
  • Visit islands, cenotes, and white-sand beaches in the Yucatán

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Chiapas Tuxtla
Day 2 Boat Tour of Sumidero Canyon, Transfer to  San Cristóbal de las Casas San Cristóbal
Day 3 San Cristóbal to Palenque, Stop at Agua Azul & Misol-Ha Palenque
Day 4 Palenque to Campeche, Optional Walking Tour  Campeche
Day 5 Campeche to Uxmal, Jícara Engraving Workshop Uxmal
Day 6 Tour Uxmal, Transfer to Mérida Mérida
Day 7 Mérida to Valladolid, Optional Activities Valladolid
Day 8 Ek' Balam Archaeological Site, Cenote & Village Tour Valladolid
Day 9 Valladolid to Holbox, Optional Activities Holbox
Day 10 Free Day in Holbox Holbox
Day 11 Holbox to Playa del Carmen, Optional Activities Playa del Carmen
Day 12 Day Tours of Cobá & Nuevo Durango Playa del Carmen
Day 13 Transfer to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Chiapas

Tuxtla's Metropolitan Cathedral

Welcome to Chiapas! You'll arrive in the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which is the capital of this southern state in Mexico. Chiapas is an incredible place—it's one of Mexico's main coffee-producing regions (along with Oaxaca and Veracruz) and is known for its rich indigenous heritage. This reveals itself in the people's food, culture, and dress. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel in the city. 

After unwinding, you can head out and stretch your legs. There's not much in the way of tourist attractions here; however, you can go to the city center and Parque Central (Tuxtla's main plaza) to see some traditional Spanish-colonial architecture. Overlooking the park is the Metropolitan Cathedral, a white-washed gem of a building that Dominican friars built in 1560.

Day 2: Boat Trip to Sumidero Canyon

Take a boat ride through Sumidero Canyon
After breakfast, you'll take a day trip just outside Tuxtla to the historic town of Chiapa de Corzo, which sits on the Grijalva River. This is the embarkation point into Sumidero Canyon National Park. You'll board a boat and follow the river through the canyon, whose vertical limestone cliffs soar as high as 3,300 feet (1,000 m). On this tour, you'll see a wide variety of flora and fauna, including giant crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbanks. The boat also passes by cascading waterfalls and natural caves.
 
After the tour, continue on a one-hour drive to the Chiapas highlands and the charming colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas, where you'll check in to your hotel. Do a little sightseeing, as the cobbled streets and Spanish-colonial buildings here are captivating. The main Cathedral, for example, dates back to 1528. Other landmarks include the Baroque Temple of Santo Domingo and the Church of Guadalupe, a twin-steepled chapel atop a long stairway that overlooks the town. 

Day 3: San Cristóbal to Palenque, Stop at Agua Azul & Misol-Ha

Explore the ruins at Palenque 
Leave San Cristóbal early on a full-day tour through the Chiapas highlands. Your final destination is the ancient Maya archeological site of Palenque, but you'll break up the five-hour drive with various stops. First is breakfast at a roadside café, then the waterfalls at Agua Azul. Located on the Xanil River, these terraced falls are famous not for their height—the largest plunge about 20 feet (6 m)—but for their vivid turquoise water. Take a dip in its pools before continuing to the much larger Misol-Ha waterfall, which cascades 115 feet (35 m) off a limestone cliff into an emerald lagoon. Feel free to swim here, too.
 
From Misol-Ha, it's 12 miles (20 km) to Palenque, the remains of an ancient Maya city that existed from around 226 BCE to 799 CE. Though not as large as other famous ruins in Mexico (Palenque is one sq mile/2.5 sq km, compared to Chichén Itzá's four sq miles/10 sq km), it is one of the most fascinating. Archeologists have learned much about Maya history from Palenque's well-preserved epigraphic records, sculptures, and bas-relief carvings. You'll reach the site in time for sunset, which is an ideal time to visit as there are no crowds. Also, the warm hues bathe the temples in a spectacular golden light.
 
After visiting the ruins, you'll transfer to a nearby hotel where you'll overnight. 

Day 4: Palenque to Campeche, Optional Walking Tour

The historic center of Campeche
Hit the road early for the five-hour drive northwest into the state of Campeche and its capital of the same name. This port city is so rich with well-preserved history that it's been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated on the Gulf of Mexico in the Yucatán Peninsula, Campeche was founded in the 16th century and quickly became one of the most vital ports in Spain's New World. For these reasons, it was prone to attacks from pirates, and in the 17th century, defensive walls were built around the city that still stand today. Also remaining are two hilltop fortresses used as lookouts to spot invaders.
 
After checking in to your hotel, you can head out on a self-guided walking tour of Campeche. Stroll some of the remaining defensive walls, fortresses, and bastions—plus see Pirate's Alley, the once fortified entrance to the city. Today it's part of Campeche's historic center and is flanked by colorful colonial homes. A major highlight is the tree-shaded Plaza de la Independencia, lined with Spanish-colonial buildings and the famous Baroque Cathedral, which dates to 1540. Perhaps hop on one of the vintage trams that rumble along the cobbled streets of Campeche's center. 

Day 5: Campeche to Uxmal, Jícara Engraving Workshop

The pyramids at Uxmal
In the morning, you'll embark on a drive 2.5 hours east from Campeche to Uxmal, one of the most important ancient Maya archeological sites in Mexico. Located in the low hills of the Yucatán's Puuc region, Uxmal's early structures date to the 6th century. The city was a significant seat of power until its influence waned in the 10th century. Embedded in its pyramids and temples are ornate friezes, sculptures, and carvings that archeologists regard as some of the finest architectural sculptures in the ancient Maya world. 

Uxmal will have to wait until tomorrow, however, because today, you'll visit a nearby indigenous community renowned for traditional Maya artwork. During this four-hour cultural experience, you'll participate in a jícara-engraving workshop. Jícara is a fruit that the Maya have used since antiquity to make a type of gourd used as a container for food and liquid. They're also a form of artistic expression for the Maya and are often ornate with detailed engravings. Afterward, you'll visit an artisanal crafts workshop and ecological museum. Then you'll transfer to the hotel in Uxmal where you'll overnight.  

Day 6: Tour Uxmal, Transfer to Mérida

The Municipal Palace overlooking the Plaza Grande in Mérida
Bright, and early you'll head out on a walking tour of the Uxmal archeological site. During its heyday, this city was home to some 25,000 Maya, and you'll see all the highlights of the central ruins. Most famous is the Pyramid of the Magician. Legend has it that a magical dwarf built this structure overnight—although that's more than a little impossible since this five-level pyramid is 131 feet (40 m) high. Another highlight is the Governor's Palace, which was likely both a royal residence and administrative center covering almost 13,000 sq feet (1,200 sq m).

After visiting Uxmal, you'll drive one-hour north to the colonial town of Mérida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatán state. After checking in to your hotel, you can head out and explore. This colonial gem of a city was founded in 1542 over an ancient Maya city, and in 1598 the Spanish used rubble from a destroyed Maya pyramid to build the city's iconic Cathedral. Other highlights around Mérida's historic center include the 16th-century Municipal Palace, the old Spanish city gates, and Paseo Montejo, the city's wide main avenue lined with colonial mansions from the days of the viceroys. 

Day 7: Mérida to Valladolid, Optional Activities

San Servacio Church, in Valladolid 
In the morning, you'll leave Mérida on a two-hour drive east to Valladolid, one of Mexico's celebrated Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns). This is a very special designation that the country has bestowed on some 132 places that have demonstrated historical importance, rich culture, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty. Valladolid, for example, is famous for its well-preserved 16th-century Spanish-colonial buildings. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and have the remainder of the day to take a self-guided walking tour of this "magical place." 
 
One major landmark is the San Servacio Church, which dates to 1545 and overlooks the Parque Francisco Canton. This is the town's main plaza, which is filled with leafy trees, fountains, and street vendors in traditional dress operating wooden push carts. If the mood strikes, take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage around the historic center or hop in a car for the short drive to Cenote Zaci lagoon, near the city's heart. Another highlight is the Regional Museum, which charts the area's history from pre-colonial times through the founding of Valladolid and beyond.

Day 8: Ek' Balam Archaeological Site, Cenote & Village Tour

For centuries Ek' Balam was hidden by the Yucatán jungle
Tour the ruins at Ek' Balam
Today you'll tour the archeological site of Ek' Balam, which means "black jaguar" in ancient Mayan. The name refers to the Maya king who constructed this city, and during its heyday it was the capital of the entire political region. Highlight ruins include temples, a ball court, and an acropolis. Afterward, you'll ride a bicycle (or take a bike taxi) along an ancient, 1.5-mile-long stone path called a sacbé ("white road"). This causeway leads to Cenote X'Canché, a limestone sinkhole fed by the largest underground aquifer in the world. After a traditional Yucatecan lunch, you'll dive into X'Canché for a swim.

Next, you'll head to a nearby indigenous village for a walking tour of the community. During your time here, you'll visit three homes to meet local Maya families and experience the routine of daily life. They'll also impart some cultural traditions: learn how to make tortillas by hand, see how hammocks are knitted, and take part in an embroidery workshop. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel in Valladolid.

Day 9: Valladolid to Holbox, Optional Activities

Welcome to Holbox Island

After breakfast, hit the road again on a three-hour drive to the northernmost tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. Eventually, you'll arrive in the town of Chiquilá, and from there, take a 15-minute ferry to the island of 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. 

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and have the remainder of the day to do as you like. Maybe take a stroll around this colorful village, filled with incredible street art, and stop at a café to try the local cuisine (the lobster pizza is particularly delicious). Or rent a golf cart and explore the island on four wheels. You can also head out from the main port to the long, white-sand beaches to swim in 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. 

Day 10: Free day in Holbox

Free day in Holbox
The most popular pastime on Holbox
Kick back and relax in this tropical island paradise. Beach time is the order of the day here, but there are plenty of active excursions in Holbox. Kitesurfing is a popular activity along the shallow shores, particularly during the winter months when the winds are up. Also, May to September is whale shark season, and you can book an excursion to go swimming with these gentle giants during this time. You can also take a kayak tour along the coast, which is most incredible at night where, if you're lucky, you'll witness electric blue bioluminescence lighting up the water.
 
You can take the popular Three Islands tour if you'd prefer to get out on the water. 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, and herons. Continue to Passion Island, an idyllic place famous for its beaches covered in bright pink seashells. 

Day 11: Holbox to Playa del Carmen, Optional Activities

Fun at Playa del Carmen
In the morning, you'll leave Holbox and transfer 2.5 hours east to the coast and Playa del Carmen, where you'll check in to your hotel. This coastal resort town lies in the heart of Yucatan's Riviera Maya, a section of stunning Caribbean coast spanning over 100 miles (160 km). Once here, you can spend the remainder of the day however you like. Maybe head out for a stroll along famous 5th Avenue, which runs three miles (5 km) and is filled with the city's best shopping, dining, and nightlife options. 

Another optional activity is to head just south of town to enjoy the white-sand beach at Xpu-Ha. There are also 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 12: Day Tours of Cobá & Nuevo Durango

Hike up Nohoch Mul in Cobá
Hike up Nohoch Mul in Cobá

After breakfast, you'll head south of Playa del Carmen to visit the ancient Maya archeological site in the town of Cobá. This is a guided bike tour, and as you cycle along the ancient white pathways, you'll marvel at 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. Once at the top, you'll be rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding (ancient) jungle.

After touring the Cobá ruins, continue north to Nuevo Durango, a small village known for its underground caves and organic farms. Tourism has little touched this charming community, and thus the residents have retained their customs and culture. Here you'll enjoy a traditional meal with the family of Don Manuel, who operates a project for the conservation of endangered animals. As you learn about Don's work, you'll see a few of the region's endemic species. Also here, is an insectarium, which holds a variety of spiders, scorpions, and butterflies. 

Then you'll return to your hotel in Playa del Carmen.

Day 13: Transfer to Cancún, Depart

Farewell, Mexico

Today you must say goodbye to Mexico's incredible sights and rich indigenous culture. If you're up for it, wake up early to watch the sunrise on the beach. Afterward, you'll have the rest of the morning free to relax before transferring north from Playa del Carmen to the airport in Cancún, where you'll catch your flight home.

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Map

Map of Highlights of Chiapas & Yucatán - 13 Days
Map of Highlights of Chiapas & Yucatán - 13 Days