This self-drive adventure takes you through Mexico's natural and ancient wonders. Based along the Yucatán Peninsula's northeastern coast, you'll split your time exploring coral reefs and ancient Maya ruins. Active travelers will enjoy archaeological parks, such as Ek' Balam, Cobá, and Chichén Itzá, touring a sustainable pearl farm, and sailing in Lake Bacalar. Round off your trip with an expedition to the Maya underworld along the Río Secreto and diving in the crystalline waters of Cozumel Island.


  • Stay in the Spanish colonial city of Valladolid and see historical churches
  • Take a boat ride on a brilliant pink lake in the Ría Lagartos Reserve
  • Go diving in Cozumel, one of the best scuba sites in Mexico (and the world)
  • Hike and boat through the canals of an ancient Maya trade route 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid, Walking Tour Valladolid
Day 2 Visit Chichén Itzá & Yokdzonot Cenote, Free Time in Valladolid Valladolid
Day 3 Visit the Ek' Balam Archaeological Site & Ría Lagartos Reserve Valladolid
Day 4 Bike Tour in Cobá, Visit the Nuevo Durango Community, Drive to Bacalar Bacalar
Day 5 Sailing Adventure on Laguna Bacalar  Bacalar
Day 6 Snorkeling Adventure in Mahahual Bacalar
Day 7 Drive to Playa del Carmen, Ferry to Cozumel, Beer Tasting Cozumel
Day 8 Tour a Sustainable Pearl Farm, Speed Snorkeling Cozumel
Day 9 Boating & Snorkeling Adventure in Cozumel Marine Park Cozumel
Day 10 Scuba Diving Adventure in Cozumel Cozumel
Day 11 Ferry to Playa del Carmen, Cavern Dining Experience Playa del Carmen
Day 12 Ancient Canal Experience in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve Playa del Carmen
Day 13 Swim Underground at Río Secreto Playa del Carmen
Day 14 Drive to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid, Walking Tour

Explore Valladolid's well-preserved 16th-century landmarks

Welcome to Mexico and the Yucatán! This peninsula is renowned for its Caribbean coastline, lush tropical forests, pristine sandy beaches, luxurious resorts, numerous cenotes (limestone sinkholes), and the remnants of ancient Maya civilizations. After you arrive at the Cancún airport, your first adventure awaits as you pick up your rental car for the scenic 2.5-hour drive inland to Valladolid, a colonial city adorned with well-preserved 16th-century landmarks. 

Upon checking into your hotel, prepare to embark on a walking tour guided by a local expert. Founded in 1543, Valladolid witnessed the tumultuous clashes between the Maya and the Spanish conquistadors. The city's colonial legacy endures through its architectural treasures, including the 16th-century San Servacio Church, an edifice constructed in 1545, commanding a view over the Parque Francisco Cantón. Your tour also unveils the 16th-century Convent of San Bernardino de Siena and the picturesque Calzada de Los Frailes, a charming cobblestone street with shops, boutiques, and galleries.

Day 2: Visit Chichén Itzá & Yokdzonot Cenote, Free Time in Valladolid

 See how El Castillo creates the illusion of a serpent descending the staircase

Your first full day begins with a 45-minute drive outside Valladolid to discover one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: Chichén Itzá. Meet an expert guide who will reveal the history and mythology of the ancient Maya world as you take a two-hour tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. From around 600-900 CE, this pre-Columbian Maya city was the most revered religious center and pilgrimage site in the Yucatán Peninsula. Its most iconic attraction is the pyramid of Kukulkán (El Castillo), built in honor of the feathered serpent god, an important deity to the Maya people. 

From Chichén Itzá, it's a short drive to the rural community of Yokdzonot. In 2005, a group of women residents transformed the cenote in their village into an ecotourism site, resulting in a beautiful lagoon. You can take a break here and dive into the lagoon's jade waters for a swim. Afterward, you'll return to Valladolid with free time to continue exploring. For a traditional culinary experience, head to Canton Parque Francisco to enjoy typical Yucatecan dishes. Try the lomitos, the longaniza de Valladolid, or the escabeche oriental—simple yet delicious dishes that locals eat regularly.

Day 3: Visit the Ek' Balam Archaeological Site & Ría Lagartos Reserve

Walk around the less-touristed Ek Balam, known for its intricate stucco facade

Get ready to wander among Yucatán's archaeological and natural wonders. Today's itinerary starts with a 30-minute drive to the archaeological site of Ek' Balam. The site was hidden for centuries by the Yucatán jungle until it was ultimately rediscovered in the 1800s. Spend the morning exploring the fascinating ruins yourself, and even climb up 95 feet (29 m) to the highest point, where you'll be rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding jungle. Best of all, Ek' Balam tends to be less crowded than other ancient sites on the peninsula, so you can take your time.

Next, drive 1.5 hours to the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, one of the main American flamingo nesting areas in the Yucatán Peninsula. With your guide, boat through this natural reserve to discover the mangrove, home to endemic birds like the yellow-lored parrot and the red-vented woodpecker. You'll also see Las Coloradas, a beautiful pond colored pink by its salt concentration. As part of this tour, you'll also indulge in an exfoliating Maya bath in the white clay mounds, which offers numerous benefits to your skin from the sulfur, minerals, salts, and seaweed, before returning to Valladolid.

Day 4: Bike Tour in Cobá, Visit the Nuevo Durango Community, Drive to Bacalar

Cycle around Cobá and explore ancient ruins in this former metropolis
Plan your trip to Mexico
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

This morning, you'll continue your discovery of Maya archaeological wonders by driving one hour to the archaeological 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. Tourism has little touched this charming community; 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's an insectarium that holds a variety of spiders, scorpions, and butterflies. 

Afterward, settle in for the 3.5-hour drive to Bacalar. This town in southeastern Yucatán sits on Laguna Bacalar, also known as the "Lagoon of the Seven Colors," due to the various shades of blue in its waters. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can spend the rest of the day enjoying this slice of tranquility. Take a stroll along the lake, go for a swim, and visit Fort San Felipe, an 18th-century Spanish castle built to protect the Yucatán from English colonizers. Return to your hotel to rest up for a day on the water. 

Day 5: Sailing Adventure on Laguna Bacalar 

Boat across the sparkling blue waters of Laguna Bacalar

In the morning, embark on a 3.5-hour sailing adventure across Laguna Bacalar. You'll set sail on a traditional sailboat, a sustainable choice free of pollution, and head to the Pirates' Channel. This historic waterway once served as a vital trade route connecting the Maya people of the south to those of the north. However, due to its strategic significance, it earned a notorious reputation for pirate attacks, hence its intriguing name. Take advantage of this stop to enjoy a leisurely swim and snorkel in its inviting waters.

Following Pirates' Channel, proceed to Cenote de la Bruja, also known as Cenote Negro (Black Cenote), for another opportunity for a refreshing swim in its crystal-clear depths. To conclude this memorable day, venture to the serene Isla Pájaros (Bird Island), an enchanting island and bird sanctuary. Here, you'll encounter a diverse avian population, including herons, parrots, snail-hawks, mockingbirds, larks, and many more, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts and bird-watchers.

Day 6: Snorkeling Adventure in Mahahual

Explore this peaceful coast's coral reefs and diverse marine life 
More aquatic adventures await today, three hours east toward the coast in Mahahual. This peaceful beachfront destination is known for its clear and crystalline waters, making it an ideal spot for underwater exploration. Your snorkeling excursion begins just 15 minutes from Mahahual's fishing village, where the reef lagoon meets the open sea. The water depths range from 9 to 22 feet (3 to 7 m) within the reef lagoon, providing the perfect setting to discover the diversity of Caribbean marine life. Look out for a wide array of species, including colorful fish, corals, and lobsters.

Mahahual sits at the heart of three significant marine ecological reserves: Sian Ka'an, Banco Chinchorro, and the Xcalak Marine Reserve. These reserves enhance the region's allure, offering coral reefs and the chance to encounter fascinating creatures like turtles and manta rays. Throughout your snorkeling excursion, a knowledgeable guide will be by your side, ready to adapt the activity to meet the needs and interests of your group. Afterward, enjoy one of the beachfront cafés and return to your hotel in Bacalar. 

Day 7: Drive to Playa del Carmen, Ferry to Cozumel, Beer Tasting

Take a sunset stroll around Cozumel after your beer-tasting

In the morning, hop in your rental car for the three-hour trip north to the resort town of Playa del Carmen. Here, you'll board a ferry and enjoy the 45-minute ride across the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to Cozumel. This island is famous for its excellent diving conditions, which you'll experience in the coming days. In the meantime, check into your hotel and get ready for a local experience at Cervecería Punta Sur, the first local brewery on the Island of Cozumel.

Ricardo and Adrienne, former diving instructors, dreamt of creating a place where people from around the world could savor locally brewed beer, and their love for the sea has profoundly influenced their brewery's ethos. They're committed to environmental sustainability, actively managing waste in an eco-friendly manner. During your visit, you'll enjoy a comprehensive beer-tasting experience, including samples of all the beers currently crafted at the brewery. As you savor each brew, you'll also delve into the brewery's captivating history and the beer production process. 

Day 8: Tour a Sustainable Pearl Farm, Speed Snorkeling

Learn the inner workings of a sustainable pearl farm 

On today's six-hour tour, discover Cozumel's sustainable pearl farm, located along the island's northern coast. A scenic 45-minute boat ride brings you to a secluded spot known only to local fishermen. Upon arrival, you'll be greeted by your hosts, a family that has been operating the pearl farm and tour in a natural protected area since 2012. Your hosts will guide you in exploring the pearl farm's inner workings and the art of pearl cultivation, which demands incredible patience. Witness some of the island's earliest farmed pearls, a testament to this meticulous craft.

Next, dive into a snorkeling adventure within the oyster hatchery. Encounter a life-size underwater statue of Virgen de Guadalupe and marvel at natural reef formations while experiencing the thrill of "speed snorkeling." Following this aquatic escapade, relax on a tranquil sandbank. Your hosts will prepare a grilled pineapple cheeseburger, perfectly complemented by chilled beer. Take this moment to savor your surroundings of crystal-clear turquoise waters, pristine sandy beaches, and the rejuvenating breeze of untamed nature.

Day 9: Boating & Snorkeling Adventure in Cozumel Marine Park

Cozumel Marine Park encompasses some of the world's most renowned coral reefs

Pack sunscreen, swimwear, a towel, and an extra set of dry clothes for your half-day excursion to explore the waters surrounding Cozumel Island. Hop on a boat and drop anchor in the renowned 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. This area will be your playground for the next few hours, offering snorkeling experiences amid the island's famed reefs.

Your guide will equip your boat with snacks and all the necessary snorkeling gear to delve into the marine wonderland. First, explore Palancar Reef and Colombia Reef, with coral formations that house an array of marine life. Next, a visit to El Cielo beckons, a sanctuary where starfish grace the ocean floor. Cap off your underwater exploration at El Cielito Protected Natural Area, known for its tranquil, crystalline waters. Following the morning's aquatic excitement, take a break on one of the marine park's beaches or continue exploring Cozumel on land. 

Day 10: Scuba Diving Adventure in Cozumel

Enjoy the exceptional water clarity of Cozumel, providing divers with unparalleled underwater views 

Get an early start today when you meet your PADI scuba instructor near the hotel. Then, head off for a half-day excursion 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 to explore the waters deeper than before. The sheer size of the reefs here makes it ideal for diving, as it's home to abundant marine life. Swimming around the many corals are tropical fish, eels, rays, turtles, and the occasional nurse shark. After swimming around this thriving underwater universe, return to your hotel.

Day 11: Ferry to Playa del Carmen, Cavern Dining Experience

The Portal Maya Statue near the Cozumel Ferry Terminal is a significant cultural symbol 

This morning, you'll board the ferry from Cozumel Island to Playa del Carmen, a brief 30-minute voyage across azure waters. Once ashore, check into your hotel and prepare for a memorable dining experience in a cavern that has witnessed over 10,000 years of history. The cavern restaurant, nestled within this ancient subterranean realm, serves as the backdrop for your evening. Indulge in Mexican contemporary and international cuisine as you relish the ambience.

From the multicolored lights to the elegant marble tables, every detail within this cave complements its natural beauty. As you settle in, peruse the gourmet menu, noting the infusion of traditional Mexican ingredients that release intriguing flavors and textures. Enjoy this intimate atmosphere and be serenaded by gentle, melodic tunes. Remember to leave a coin for the mythological Alux, guardian of the caves, after your visit.

Day 12: Ancient Canal Experience in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Look for over 300 species of birds in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Today, you'll take part in a full-day Ancient Canal Experience at the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve located a two-hour drive south of Playa del Carmen. Its name means "a place where the sky was born" in ancient Mayan, and is fitting because the reserve is home to diverse ecosystems like tropical forests, lagoons, mangrove swamps, wetlands, and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the country. Today, you'll follow the recreation of a Maya trade route that linked to the Caribbean Sea through a system of lagoons and natural canals.  

The eco-tour begins early at the Muyil Community Center. After getting acquainted, you'll begin a five-hour excursion that involves walking and boating. Hike through the jungle until you reach the archaeological site of Muyil, and spend some time exploring the ruins before continuing to the Chunyaxche Lagoon. Then, you'll board a small boat to cross a mangrove-flanked canal. When you arrive at the dock, you'll get to jump off into the waters and float gently through a series of crystal-clear canals. At the end of the experience, a delicious traditional lunch awaits back at the community center.

Day 13: Swim Underground at Río Secreto

Río Secreto Privilege: The Mayan Underworld
Explore one of the world's largest underground river systems at Río Secreto

Today, you'll venture underground to the heart of the Maya underworld: the Río Secreto. Your guide will pick you up at the meeting point and take you to this natural reserve a few minutes from Playa del Carmen, where nature and human beings converge. With your group, you'll have the opportunity to explore one of the world's largest underground river systems, where the planet's history is written in thousands of geological formations.

During the approximately 3.5-hour tour, your local guide will share fascinating stories of the river's geology and its importance to the ancient Maya while you walk—or swim!—through the flooded caves. Take time to float in some of the clearest, freshest water you'll ever experience. After you emerge from the caves, you'll enjoy a traditional buffet lunch. At the end of the tour, your shared transportation will take you back to the meeting point.

Day 14: Drive to Cancún, Depart

Enjoy one last stroll along the beach before departing
It's time to say goodbye to Mexico! The drive from Playa del Carmen to Cancún airport is relatively short, taking approximately one hour. As you make your way to the airport, you'll pass through Yucatecan villages, providing a glimpse of local life and culture. Additionally, you'll catch scenic views of the beautiful Caribbean Sea along the way. Before departing, you might consider making the most of your remaining time in the Riviera Maya by taking a final stroll on one of Cancún's beaches or shopping for souvenirs. Safe travels!

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