- Tour historic cities like Mérida and Valladolid
- Enjoy boat rides through protected nature reserves
- Go diving in Cozumel, one of the best scuba sites in Mexico
- Explore the ancient Maya ruins in Chichén Itzá and Tulum
|Arrive in Mérida, Walking Tour, Transfer to Valladolid
|Day Trip to Río Lagartos Reserve
|Visit Chichén Itzá & Yokdzonot Cenote, Transfer to Cozumel
|Scuba Diving in Cozumel
|Cozumel to Puerto Morelos & Visit Tulum Ruins
|Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Mérida, Walking Tour, Transfer to Valladolid
Welcome to Mérida, capital of Mexico's stunning Yucatán state! Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will transfer you to the city's historic center, where you'll meet your guide and then stretch your legs on a tour. There's a lot to see, as Mérida dates to 1542 and was built over the ancient Maya city of T'ho. The Spanish leveled that city's five pyramids, which they used to build Mérida's Cathedral in 1598. Other highlights include the Plaza Grande (main square), the 16th-century Municipal Palace, the old Spanish city gates, and Paseo Montejo, Mérida's main avenue, which is lined with colonial mansions.
In the afternoon, you'll transfer east two hours from Mérida to the city of Valladolid. After checking in to your hotel, you'll want to head out and see the sights, as Valladolid is one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns). This is a special designation the country has bestowed on some 132 places that have demonstrated historical importance, rich culture, and exceptional beauty. Visit the historic center and landmarks like the Convento de San Bernardino de Siena (founded in 1552) and San Servacio Church, which dates to 1545 and overlooks Parque Francisco Canton, the town's central plaza.
Day 2: Day Trip to Río Lagartos Reserve
In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the 1.5-hour ride to the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and the town of Río Lagartos. It's located within the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, which encompasses 233 sq miles (603 sq km) of protected wetland ecosystems, and is one of the main flamingo nesting areas in the Yucatan. You'll embark on a boat ride with your local guide through the reserve to admire the local flora and fauna. These include flamingos and birds such as herons, kingfishers, pelicans, hawks, cormorants, and more. There are even crocodiles.
This tour also includes visiting Las Coloradas—glassy ponds famous for their pinkish hue due to the water's high salinity. Here you'll have the opportunity to take an exfoliating "Maya bath," in which you'll apply clay to your body. This clay is high in nutrients and acts as a natural exfoliant to moisturize and soften the skin. Wash off the clay in the water and finish the day with some free time on the beach.
Day 3: Visit Chichén Itzá & Yokdzonot Cenote, Transfer to Cozumel
In the morning, you'll transfer 45 minutes to Chichén Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers four sq miles (10 sq km) and was first settled in the 5th century. It then enjoyed an impressive 1,000-year run as one of the great cities in the ancient Maya kingdom before declining around 1440. Highlight ruins you'll see on a guided tour include El Castillo (a majestic pyramid that rises 79 ft/24 m), the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles (a ceremonial platform), and El Caracol (a circular observatory), plus the largest ball court in Mesoamerica.
After Chichén Itzá, you'll drive to the nearby community of Yokdzonot. In 2005, a group of women residents transformed their village's cenote (limestone sinkhole) into a unique ecotourism site. The result is one of the most beautiful lagoons in all of Mexico. You can dive right in and swim around these jade waters. The best part is that it's off the tourist trail, meaning you'll avoid massive crowds. Try to feel the spirituality as you swim; after all, the Yucatán's cenotes were very sacred to the Maya. They were not only primary water sources but also symbols of life, death, rebirth, and fertility.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Scuba Diving in Cozumel
Get an early start today when you meet your PADI scuba instructor near the hotel. Then head off to the calm waters off the coast of Cozumel. You'll receive a 1.5-hour overview covering diving basics, how to use your equipment, follow safety regulations, etc. Then, after you've done some aquatic exercises in a shallow area, you'll take your first underwater laps close to shore. Even in these shallows, you can spot exotic fish like sergeants, damselfish, and occasionally seahorses and cuttlefish.
Later, you'll board a boat that will take you to Cozumel Marine Park, a marine reserve encompassing 29,600 acres (12,000 ha) of ocean and coastline. It also protects a portion of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The sheer size of the reef makes it ideal for diving, as it's home to abundant marine life. Swimming around the many brain, elkhorn, and finger corals are tropical fish, eels, rays, turtles, and the occasional nurse shark. After some time swimming around this thriving underwater universe, you'll return to your hotel.
Day 5: Cozumel to Puerto Morelos & Visit Tulum Ruins
In the morning, a driver will take you to the pier in Cozumel for the ferry ride back to Playa del Carmen. From there, another driver will take you one-hour south to Tulum, a resort town famous for its archeological site. The ruins here were built on 39-foot (12-m) cliffs overlooking the ocean and once comprised a great Maya fortress city (the word tulum is a Yucatán Mayan word meaning "wall"). On a two-hour tour of the site, which dates to 1200 CE, you'll visit the famous El Castillo. This iconic fortress stands 25 feet (7.5 m) and overlooks the sea. Afterward, head below the fortress for a swim at Playa Ruinas.
After some well-earned beach time, your driver will take you back up the coast about 1.5 hours to the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos, where you'll overnight.