This family-friendly itinerary of southern Mexico combines cultural activities with plenty of natural exploration. The first half of your trip will see you exploring Chiapas' Sumidero Canyon, el Chiflón and Misol-Ha waterfalls, and the impressive ruins of Palenque. From there, you will head to colonial-era Campeche where you will pick up your rental car and tour the Yucatán: from modern Mayan communities to ancient ruins, from refreshing cenotes to the white sands of Holbox Island.

Highlights

  • Discover waterfalls and hidden caves of the Sumidero Canyon
  • Join an eco-archaeological tour and explore the Mayan ruins of Palenque
  • Roam the cobblestoned streets of colonial-era Campeche
  • Dive into the X'Canche cenote near Ek' Balam
  • Relax on the white sand beaches of Hoxbol Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen
Day 2 Flight to Chiapas; Boat ride through the Sumidero Canyon San Cristóbal de las Casas
Day 3 Day trip to El Chiflón Waterfalls and Amatenango del Valle San Cristóbal de las Casas
Day 4 Drive to Palenque; Explore Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls  Palenque
Day 5 Alternative trekking in Palenque; Drive to Campeche Campeche
Day 6 Explore Campeche; Self-drive to Izamal Izamal
Day 7 Drive to the colonial city of Valladolid Valladolid
Day 8 Swim in X'Canche; Visit Ek' Balam and a Mayan community  Valladolid
Day 9 Drive to Chiquilá; Ferry to tropical Holbox Holbox
Days 10-11 Free time to relax and explore Holbox Holbox
Day 12 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Mexico! 

Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Relax on the beach in Playa del Carmen overlooking the inviting Caribbean

Welcome to Mexico! Upon your arrival at Cancun’s airport, you'll meet your driver to be transferred to your hotel in Playa del Carmen. After check-in, take the rest of the day to relax and soak up the last of the day's sun on a nearby beach with a refreshing drink in hand. Head to one of the many seaside bars and restaurants for a local meal before returning to your accommodation.

Day 2: Flight to Chiapas - Boat ride through the Sumidero Canyon

Mexico - Sumidero Canyon
View through the Sumidero Canyon from the Grijalva River 

This morning you will leave the coast behind and catch a two-hour flight to Chiapas. From the airport, you will drive to the village of Chiapa de Corzo to board a boat to explore the Sumidero Canyon, a natural wonder of Mexico. You'll navigate the Grijalva River, dwarfed by the vertical walls of the canyon, some heights reaching over 3000 feet (914 m). Along the way, you will pass by impressive waterfalls and a number of caves, formed by the powers of erosion. Surrounded by the Sumidero Canyon National Park, you may get lucky and catch a glimpse of an endangered or threatened animal like the river crocodile, spider monkey, or ocelot.

After lunch, you will be transferred to the historic town of San Cristóbal de las Casas and to your accommodation.

Day 3: Day trip to El Chiflón Waterfalls and Amatenango del Valle

El Chiflón Waterfalls
Explore El Chiflón Waterfalls

Bright and early this morning you will join your guide and head to El Chiflón Waterfalls for a day excursion of exploring the many waterfalls. You will get to trek up to a panoramic viewpoint to admire the highest in Chiapas, made up of a variety of cascades of differing sizes. Take a dip in the water, before making your way back to San Cristóbal de las Casas. On the way, you will stop in Amatenango del Valle, a Tzeltal village known for its pottery made by the local indigenous people using prehispanic methods. There you will be able to see the work of local women, dressed in traditional folk costume.

Day 4: Drive to Palenque and explore Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls en route

Agua Azul waterfalls, Mexico
The stunning blue waters of Agua Azul will captivate you

Before the sun rises, you will meet your guide and drive six to seven hours north to the city of Palenque, stopping for breakfast on the road. Your next stop will be the atmospheric Agua Azul waterfalls. The colors of the water and surrounding vegetation, combined with the constant breeze and endless sound of the water, contribute to making this place an enchanting one. From there you will continue north to the Misol-Ha waterfall, stopping to explore the natural setting, before carrying on to Palenque—home to the ruins of a pre-Hispanic Maya city.

Day 5: Alternative trekking in Palenque - Drive to Campeche

Palenque ruins, Chiapas, Mexico
The well-preserved ruins of Palenque

After an early breakfast, you will head out for an eco-archaeological trekking tour to the least explored area of Palenque. You will have the chance to see how the jungle absorbed the UNESCO-protected city after its decline and appreciate the work it takes to excavate the ruins. After your comprehensive visit, you will be driven further north to the colonial port city of Campeche (5 hours away) on the Gulf of Mexico.

Campeche is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its baroque (and colorful) colonial buildings, walled historic district, and its forts built in response to pirate attacks centuries ago. Settle into your accommodation before setting out to discover Campeche's charm.

Day 6: Explore Campeche - Self-drive to Izamal

Mexico - Path leading up to Izamal's monastery
Stone path leading up to the entrance of the San Antonio Convent

Today you will join your guide for a walking tour to learn about Campeche's storied past. 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.

Check into your hotel, taking the rest of the evening to explore Izamal as you like.

Distance: 150 miles (241 km)
Duration: 3 hours

Day 7: Drive to the colonial city of Valladolid

Mexico - Street in Valladolid Yucatan
Admire the Spanish influenced architecture in Valladolid

Enjoy your morning in Izamal, before setting off to Valladolid. En route, you may want to stop to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and archaeological treat, Chichén Itzá.

Upon arrival in Valladolid, nicknamed "The Sultana of the East", take the afternoon to explore the colonial era churches and architecture, like the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena and the old Spanish-style mansions. If you're in the mood for a swim, cool off in the Cenote Zaci close to the heart of the city.

Distance: 68 miles (110 km)
Duration: 1.5-2 hours

Day 8: Swim in X'Canche, visit Ek' Balam and a Mayan community 

Cenote X'Canche in Mexico
Take a dip in the X'Canche cenote

After breakfast, grab your swimsuit and drive the short distance to X'Canche, the cenote of Ek' Balam, for a morning swim. At the entrance to X'Canche, you'll rent a bike and cycle along the sacbé or "white path" leading you to its cool waters. If there's interest, you may wish to spend a little time exploring the Yucatec-Maya archaeological site of Ek' Balam before visiting X'Canche. From the cenote, head to a little village nearby for an afternoon visiting with Mayan locals and their families. Here you will learn how to make tortillas, receive a hammock weaving lesson, and participate in an embroidery workshop.

After a full day of adventure and cultural activities, return to Valladolid for a quiet evening. 

Distance (Valladolid to X'Canche): 20 miles (32 km)
Duration: 30 minutes

Day 9: Drive to Chiquilá - ferry to tropical Holbox

Mexico - Holbox - Wooden pier and hut
Wooden pier juts out into the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico

Today you will drive north to Chiquilá and on to your final destination, the car-free island of Holbox. You will have to leave your car in the parking lot in Chiquilá before you catch your ferry to the island. Check into your hotel and take the rest of the day to explore and relax on this tropical island.

Distance (Valladolid to Chiquilá): 99 miles (159 km)
Duration: 2 hours

Days 10-11: Free time to relax and explore Holbox 

Holbox, Mexico
Rent a bike to get around the island

Spend the next couple of days as you choose, taking advantage of the spectacular turquoise waters, the unpaved streets, incredible sunsets, and mouthwatering eats. Because cars aren't allowed on the island, you'll want to rent a bike or a golf cart to get around. Switch up bouts of lying out on the beach with a snorkeling or kayak excursion to explore the unique nature of the Caribbean coastline. Keeping an eye out for sea turtles, whale sharks, and flamingos.

Day 12: Depart

Holbox Island
Enjoy one last morning on the white sands of Holbox

Depending on your flight details, spend one last morning beachside before you say hasta luego to your time in Mexico. Return to Chiquilá by ferry, pick up your car, and drive the couple hours to return your rental at the Cancún airport. 

Distance: 2 hours (145 km)
Duration: 90 miles

Map

Map of Highlights of Southern Mexico: Chiapas &  Yucatán - 12 Days
Map of Highlights of Southern Mexico: Chiapas & Yucatán - 12 Days