From the colonial streets of Valladolid to the peaceful beaches of Holbox Island, this 12-day itinerary delivers plenty of adventure and relaxation in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Tour ancient Maya ruins, go swimming in underground rivers, and enjoy some R&R on the white-sand beaches of Holbox Island. And that's just the start.

Highlights

  • Tour the ancient Maya ruins in Tulum
  • Visit biosphere reserves and swim in underground rivers 
  • Marvel at the pyramids at Chichén Itzá
  • Enjoy a couple of days of R&R on Holbox Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum Tulum
Day 2 Chemuyil Cenotes & Tulum Ruins Tulum
Day 3 Free Day in Tulum Tulum
Day 4 Río Secreto Guided Tour Tulum
Day 5 Day Trip to Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve Tulum
Day 6 Tulum to Valladolid, Cobá Ruins & Culture in Nuevo Durango Valladolid
Day 7 Morning Tour of Chichén Itzá: Maíz Workshop in Yaxunah Valladolid
Day 8 Walking Tour of Colonial Valladolid, Transfer to Holbox Holbox
Days 9-10 Free Days in Holbox Island Holbox
Day 11 Holbox to Puerto Morelos, Optional Activities Puerto Morelos
Day 12 Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum

Welcome to the Yucatán
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 2-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 the cenotes at Chemuyil

Your first adventure begins in the morning when you travel just 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 actually 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: Free Day in Tulum

Playa Ruinas, a beach frequented by visitors to the Tulum archeological site
Spend the day at Playa Ruinas

Today is yours to enjoy Tulum however you like. Perhaps head back to the ruins for another visit, or you can spend the day on the beach. There are also many cenotes within just a few minutes' drive of Tulum, including Gran Cenote and Cenote Calvera. The most romantic might be Cenote Dos Ojos, a cave lagoon with electric blue waters.

There are also many activities here. This resort town is also known for dining and nightlife, so when the sun goes down head to the center where you'll find restaurants, bars, and nightclubs lining the main highway. For retail therapy, stroll the waterfront shopping district of Tulum Beach Road, which is filled with boutiques, clothing stores, and art galleries.

Day 4: Río Secreto Guided Tour

Making your way through the underground waterways
Descend into the caves

Just 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. 

Plan your trip to Mexico
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 5: Day Trip to Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve

Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve

In the morning, head out on a 6-hour tour of nearby Sian Ka'an. This Biosphere Reserve and Unesco World Heritage Site protect 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 waiting for you. Then you'll return to your hotel in Tulum.

Day 6: Tulum to Valladolid, Cobá Ruins & Culture in Nuevo Durango

Nohoch Mul, in Cobá

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 get to see a few of the region's endemic species. Also, there is an insectarium, which holds a variety of spiders, scorpions, and butterflies. 

After the meal, you'll continue driving to Valladolid, where you'll check in to your hotel. 

Day 7: Morning Tour of Chichén Itzá: Maíz Workshop in Yaxunah

Chichen Itza pyramid
El Castillo, at Chichén Itzá

After breakfast, you'll meet a local indigenous guide from the nearby community of Yaxunah. You'll then both travel to the 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 CE. It then enjoyed an impressive 1,000-year run as one of the great cities in the ancient Maya kingdom. Highlights you'll see include the iconic El Castillo (a 79-foot/24-m pyramid), the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles, El Caracol (a circular observatory), plus 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. When you arrive, your guide will lead you on a 2.5 tour around the fields. During that time you'll learn about the entire production process, from planting to harvesting to cleaning. You'll even sample traditional maíz beverages like pozol, pinole, and stole.

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

Day 8: Walking Tour of Valladolid, Transfer to Holbox Island

Historic Valladolid

Valladolid, which 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, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty. Enjoy a walking tour around the historic center to see landmarks like the Convento de San Bernardino de Siena (founded in 1552) and the San Servacio Church, which dates to 1545 and overlooks the Parque Francisco Canton, the town's main plaza. You'll also stroll the historic cobbled street of Calzada de Los Frailes.

Then you'll drive 2-hours north to the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and the town of Chiquilá. Here you'll leave the car and take a 15-minute ferry ride to Holbox Island and check in to your hotel. You'll have the rest of the day free to enjoy this sleepy island. There are no paved roads here, so most people get around either 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. Also, be sure to try the local cuisine—the lobster pizza is particularly delicious.

Days 9-10: Free Days in Holbox

Holbox Island

Spend a couple of days relaxing in this tropical island paradise. Beach time is the order of the day here, but there are plenty of active excursions in Holbox as well. For example, 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 during this time you can book an excursion to go swimming with these gentle giants. 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.

If you'd prefer to get out on the water, you can take the popular Three Islands tour. 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, ibises, gazelles, and herons. Continue to Passion Island, an idyllic place famous for its beaches covered in bright pink seashells. 

Day 11: Holbox to Puerto Morelos, Optional Activities

Enjoy some beach time and snorkeling in Puerto Morelos

Spend one last morning relaxing on Holbox Island before you say hasta luego to this paradise. At the appropriate time, you'll take a taxi to the dock and catch the ferry back to Chiquilá. From there, a personal driver will pick you up for the 3-hour drive southeast back to the Caribbean side of the Yucatán and the charming fishing village of Puerto Morelos. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and will have the remainder of the day free.

Besides the surrounding jungle and nearby cenotes, Puerto Morelos is famous for its National Reef Park, which protects a section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. You can opt for a 2-hour snorkeling tour in this marine reserve. It's a popular activity because within this nearly 150-acre park you'll see a wide array of tropical fish swimming around colorful corals like brain and elk-horn coral. You'll also see rays, octopuses, parrotfish, barracudas, starfish, sea snails, turtles, and many more species. 

Day 12: Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart

Adios, Mexico
Unfortunately, this is your last morning in this paradise. 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

Map of Nature & Maya Culture in the Yucatán - 12 Days
Map of Nature & Maya Culture in the Yucatán - 12 Days