- Tour Spanish-colonial Valladolid and its historic churches
- Visit the ancient Maya ruins at Ek' Balam and Cobá
- Swim in a cenote and float along the canals of a nature reserve
- Take a hike through the jungle and look for spider monkeys
|Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Valladolid, Walking Tour
|Day Trip to Ek' Balam & Cenote X'Canché
|Drive to Tulum via Cobá & the Punta Laguna Reserve
|Day Trip to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
|Drive to Cancún, Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Valladolid, Walking Tour
Welcome to Cancún! This city is the premier vacation destination in Mexico's famous Yucatán Peninsula. However, during this itinerary, you'll go beyond the resorts and dive deeper into the region's colonial history and Maya culture.
Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the 2.5-hour ride inland to Valladolid, a charming colonial city with well-preserved 16th-century landmarks. It's one of Mexico's celebrated Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns), a special designation the country has bestowed on some 132 places that have demonstrated historical importance, rich culture, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty.
After checking into your hotel, you'll meet an expert guide and embark on a walking tour. Founded in 1543 and invaded several times by the Spanish, the city was the stage of vast confrontations between the Maya and the Conquistadores. Much colonial architecture remains today, and one of the finest examples is San Servacio Church, which dates to 1545 and overlooks the Parque Francisco Cantón. The tour also includes stops at the 16th-century Convent of San Bernardino de Siena and the Calzada de Los Frailes, a cobblestone street lined with colorful shops, boutiques, and galleries.
Day 2: Day Trip to Ek' Balam & Cenote X'Canché
In the morning, you'll meet your driver for the 30-minute ride north to the archaeological site of Ek' Balam, which means "black jaguar" in ancient Maya. The name refers to the Maya king who constructed the city, and during its heyday, between the 7th-10th centuries CE, it was the capital of the entire political region. Take a one-hour tour led by an expert guide, where you'll visit highlight ruins, including 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 (2.4 km) 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 before heading to a nearby village. You'll visit a few local homes and meet Maya families during a community walking tour. You'll also learn how to make tortillas by hand, see how hammocks are knitted, and join an embroidery workshop.
Later, you'll return to Valladolid and have the rest of the afternoon free. For a traditional culinary experience, head to Parque Francisco Cantón 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).
Day 3: Drive to Tulum via Cobá & the Punta Laguna Reserve
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
After breakfast, you'll pick up a rental car and make the 1.5-hour drive south to the Caribbean coast and Tulum. This resort town is famous for having the only ancient Maya ruins sitting right on the Caribbean coast. Before arriving, however, you'll make a couple of stops at some of the most impressive landmarks in the region—both human-made and natural.
Your first stop is at Cobá, the ruins of an ancient Maya city that flourished from 600-900 CE. A guided tour includes a 3-mile (5 km) bike or bicycle taxi ride along the series of sacbé. These roadways connect each settlement at the site to the main pyramid of Nohoch Mul, which, at 138 feet (42 m), is the largest in the Yucatán. 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. Within this 20-square-mile (51-sq-km) protected area, you'll hike through the jungle and, if you're lucky, spot spider monkeys or other wildlife. Cool off with a refreshing swim in a cenote or ride a zipline over the forest canopy. Finally, wrap up the day by participating in a traditional Maya ceremony.
Day 4: Day Trip to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
In the morning, you'll drive from Tulum to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico's largest protected area, covering an area of over 2,000 square miles (5,180 sq km). The site has natural wonders like tropical forests, palm savannas, wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, and an unspoiled coastline. Today's activity is part of a community-based ecotourism cooperative focusing on conservation and a commitment to responsible tourism.
You'll arrive at a community center where you'll join your tour group and start the excursion. After hiking for a while on a jungle trail, you'll arrive at the temple ruins at Muyil, an ancient Maya site settled in 300 BCE. Continue hiking until you reach the edge of the turquoise Chunyaxche Lagoon, where you'll ride a boat through a mangrove channel and arrive at a small dock. Once there, you can take a refreshing dip in the water. The joy here is floating slowly along the canals amid the peaceful surroundings and listening to the calls of howler monkeys and exotic birds in the trees.
Later, you'll head back to the community center, where you'll find a hearty meal waiting. After eating, transfer back to your hotel in Tulum.