Escape to the Yucatán Peninsula, a region in southern Mexico known for its unparalleled beauty. On this adventure, you'll spend a lot of time on the famed Riviera Maya, a section of the Caribbean coast lined with white-sand beaches fronting turquoise waters. Aside from beach time, you'll also explore ancient Maya ruins, swim in underground rivers, and hike around nature reserves in and around Valladolid and the coast.


  • Explore the Maya fortress ruins at Tulum
  • Dive into cenote lagoons and underground rivers
  • Visit Magical Town Valladolid, a "Pueblos Mágicos" designated city
  • Marvel at the ancient pyramids at Chichén Itzá
  • Laze on the white-sand beaches of Playa del Carmen

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum Tulum
Day 2 Chemuyil Cenotes & Tulum Ruins Tulum
Day 3 Río Secreto Guided Tour Tulum
Day 4 Day Trip to Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve Tulum
Day 5 Tulum to Valladolid, Cobá Ruins & Culture in Nuevo Durango Valladolid
Day 6 Tour of Chichén Itzá: Maíz Workshop in Yaxunah Valladolid
Day 7 Transfer to Playa del Carmen, Optional Activities Playa del Carmen
Day 8 Puerto Morelos Snorkeling Tour Playa del Carmen
Days 9-10 Free Days in Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen
Day 11 Playa del Carmen to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum

Welcome to Tulum
Welcome to Mexico and its famous Yucatán Peninsula! You'll arrive at the airport in Cancún, where a personal driver will pick you up. Then make the two-hour drive south to the resort town of Tulum. This route is part of Mexico's famous Riviera Maya, a section of gorgeous coast spanning over 100 miles (160 km) along the Caribbean. Enjoy the ride because there's breathtaking coastal scenery the whole way. When you do arrive in Tulum, you'll check in to your hotel and can relax after your long flight.

Day 2: Chemuyil Cenotes & Tulum Ruins

Chemuyil Cenotes
Dive into a cenote

Your first adventure begins in the morning when you travel north of Tulum to Chemuyil. This small coastal town is famous for its nearby cenotes (limestone sinkholes), whose lagoons are part of a system fed by the largest underground aquifer in the world. Upon arrival, you'll hop on a bicycle and follow a local guide to three cenotes. The first is La Cuevita (The Little Cave), a hidden cave lagoon with crystalline waters. Then you'll visit two other cenotes great for swimming. Plus, you can hike around the nearby forests and spot endemic birds of the Yucatán, like parrots, motmots, and woodpeckers.

After splashing around at Chemuyil, you'll return to Tulum in the afternoon to visit its famous archeological site. The ancient Maya ruins here, which are built on 39-foot (12-m) cliffs overlooking the ocean, once comprised a great fortress city (the word tulum is a Yucatán Mayan word meaning "wall"). On a guided 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 once served as a lighthouse and temple. After touring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can head directly below the ruins for a swim at Playa Ruinas.

Day 3: Río Secreto Guided Tour

Making your way through the underground waterways
Explore the underground world of the Yucatán

Like many above-ground cenotes make great swimming holes, there are also plenty of underground cenote caves and waterways worth exploring. One of the most incredible is Río Secreto. This natural wonder is one of the largest underground river systems in the world. The best part is it's located only about 45 minutes north of Tulum in the heart of the Riviera Maya.

On a 3.5-hour tour, you'll strap on a helmet and head into the river to explore its wonderland of geological formations, massive caverns, hanging stalactites, and crystalline waterways. This is a guided tour, and as you make your way through the cave network, your guide will explain the history of Río Secreto and offer insight into its geology. 

Day 4: Day Trip to Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Floating in Sian Ka'an reserve
Plan your trip to Mexico
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

In the morning, head out on a six-hour tour of nearby Sian Ka'an. This Biosphere Reserve and Unesco World Heritage Site protects over 2,000 sq miles (5,180 sq km) of tropical forests, palm savannas, wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, and unspoiled coastline. You'll arrive at a community center and embark on a group hike down a jungle trail. Eventually, you'll arrive at the temple ruins in Muyil, an ancient Maya site settled in 300 BCE. Then continue to the Chunyaxche Lagoon, where you'll ride a boat through a mangrove channel and can take a refreshing dip in the water.

After the swim, you'll head back to the community center, where you'll find a hearty meal. Then you'll return to your hotel in Tulum.

Day 5: Tulum to Valladolid, Cobá Ruins & Culture in Nuevo Durango

Hike up Nohoch Mul

In the morning, you'll hop back in the rental car for the 1.5-hour trip north to the historic city of Valladolid. Along the way, you'll stop at the ancient Maya archeological site of Cobá. Once there, you'll embark on a guided 3-mile (5-km) bike tour. It's a fun time as you cycle along ancient white pathways lined with the ruins of a 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.

Then continue driving north to Nuevo Durango, a small village known for its underground caves, ecotourism projects, and organic farms. This charming community has been little touched by tourism, 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, there is an insectarium, which holds a variety of spiders, scorpions, and butterflies. 

Afterward, you'll head just north of Cobá to the Punta Laguna Nature Reserve, a 12,355-acre protected area. Here you'll take a boat ride across its main lagoon, which is a great opportunity to do some wildlife spotting—particularly the countless spider monkeys that populate the area. Then you'll continue to Valladolid and check in to your hotel.

Day 6: Tour of Chichén Itzá: Maíz Workshop in Yaxunah

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

After breakfast, you'll travel to the nearby archeological site of Chichén Itzá for a 3.5-hour walking tour. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers 4 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. Highlights include the iconic El Castillo (a 79-ft/24-m pyramid), the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles, El Caracol (a circular observatory), and the largest ball court in Mesoamerica.

After Chichén Itzá, you'll transfer about 30 minutes south to the town of Yaxunah, which is surrounded by cornfields. The area has been a vital center of maíz (corn) production dating back thousands of years. Even today, this is a central crop (besides beans and squash) used in the intercropping milpa agricultural system first developed by the ancient Maya. Your guide will lead you on a 2.5 tour around the fields when you arrive. You'll learn about the entire production process, from planting to harvesting to cleaning. You'll even sample traditional maíz beverages like pozole, pinole, and atole.

At the end of the tour, you'll return to Valladolid. 

Day 7: Transfer to Playa del Carmen, Optional Activities

Do some shopping in Playa del Carmen
In the morning, you'll leave Valladolid and transfer two 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 the Riviera Maya and is known for its incredible beaches. 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. Or grab a lounger chair and umbrella and enjoy the beach all day.

Day 8: Puerto Morelos Snorkeling Tour

Snorkeling in the beautiful marine park of Puerto Morelos
Snorkeling in the beautiful marine park of Puerto Morelos

In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the 30-minute drive north from Playa del Carmen to the sleepy fishing village of Puerto Morelos. Besides its beaches and nearby cenotes, Puerto Morelos is famous for its National Reef Park. This marine reserve protects a nearby section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

In the morning, you'll head out on the water for a two-hour snorkeling trip in the marine park. All snorkeling/diving tours here are led by certified guides (it's mandatory), and within this nearly 150-acre park, you'll see a wide array of marine life. These include tropical fish congregating around a variety of colorful corals like brain and elk-horn coral. You'll also see rays, octopuses, parrotfish, barracudas, starfish, sea snails, turtles, and many more species. 

Days 9-10: Free Days in Playa del Carmen

The beaches of Playa del Carmen
Enjoy a couple of days kicking back in and around Playa del Carmen. One 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 while away the hours with a tropical drink... or three. Or you can go 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 11: Playa del Carmen to Cancún, Depart

Adios, Mexico
Unfortunately, today you must say farewell to Playa del Carmen and Mexico. If you're up for it, wake up early for a sunrise stroll on the beach. Then take the rest of the morning to relax before transferring to the airport in Cancún for your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of History, Culture & Beaches: Riviera Maya & Valladolid - 11 Days
Map of History, Culture & Beaches: Riviera Maya & Valladolid - 11 Days