When you combine the ancient Maya culture of the Yucatán Peninsula with its natural beauty, you have all the makings of the perfect holiday. Over 11 days, you'll visit the highlights of this region, like its famous Maya ruins, while also going off the beaten path to swim in turquoise cenote lagoons and visit indigenous villages. Beyond that, you'll participate in Maya culinary workshops, snorkel in marine reserves, and discover Holbox Island's tranquil paradise.

Highlights

  • Drive the Yucatán's Riviera Maya and visit the ruins in Tulum
  • Swim in biosphere rivers and cenote lagoons
  • Tour the massive pyramids at Chichén Itzá and visit colonial cities
  • Laze on the white-sand beaches of Holbox Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum, Optional Activities Tulum
Day 2 Day Trip to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve Tulum
Day 3 Day Trip to Chichén Itzá & Valladolid, Cenote Break Tulum
Day 4 Day Trip to Cobá Ruins & Maya Culinary Workshop Tulum
Day 5 Free Day in Tulum Tulum
Day 6 Free Morning in Tulum, Transfer to Holbox Holbox
Day 7 Free Day on Holbox Island Holbox
Day 8 Holbox to Puerto Morelos Puerto Morelos
Day 9 Puerto Morelos Snorkeling Tour Puerto Morelos
Day 10 Free Day in Puerto Morelos Puerto Morelos
Day 11 Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum, Optional Activities

Free Afternoon in Tulum
The beaches await of the Yucatán Peninsula await

Welcome to Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula! You'll arrive at the airport in Cancún, where you'll hop on a bus for 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 captivating 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.

At some point, you'll want to visit Tulum's main attraction: its famous 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 site tour, which dates to 1200, you can visit the famous El Castillo. This iconic fortress stands 25 feet (7.5 m) tall and overlooks the sea. Afterward, head directly below the ruins for a swim at Playa Ruinas.

Day 2: Day Trip to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

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

In the morning, head out on a full-day tour of nearby Sian Ka'an, a Biosphere Reserve and Unesco World Heritage Site. It's Mexico's largest protected area, covering an area of over 2,000 sq miles (5,180 sq km). The site has natural wonders like tropical forests, palm savannas, wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, and unspoiled coastline. The region's sheer beauty is represented in its name—in the Mayan language, Sian Ka'an means "origin of the sky." 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 absolute joy here is floating slowly along the channels amid the peaceful surroundings and listening to the calls of howler monkeys and exotic birds in the trees.

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

Day 3: Day Trip to Chichén Itzá & Valladolid, Cenote Break

El Castillo at Chichén Itzá

In the morning, you'll embark on a two-hour drive to the interior of the Yucatán and Chichén Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. 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. Highlight ruins you'll see include the iconic 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 visit a nearby village famous for its cenote overseen by the local community. Cenotes are limestone sinkholes found throughout Yucatán and are fed by one of the largest underground aquifers in the world. Many cenotes in this region draw massive tourist crowds, but this one is off the beaten track. Not only will you swim in the refreshing bright blue waters, but you'll also experience the rich culture of an authentic indigenous village. 

Afterward, continue to nearby Valladolid, one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns)—a designation the country has bestowed on certain places demonstrating historical importance and exceptional beauty. Founded in 1543, this well-preserved Spanish-colonial city saw many confrontations between the Maya and the conquistadores. Enjoy a walking tour around the historic center to see the Convento de San Bernardino (founded in 1552), the San Servacio Church (1545), and the Parque Francisco Canton, the town's main plaza. You'll also stroll the cobbled street of Calzada de Los Frailes. Afterward, you'll make the 1.5-hour trip back to Tulum.

Day 4: Day Trip to Cobá Ruins & Maya Culinary Workshop

Nohoch Mul, the largest pyramid in the Yucatán

After breakfast, your driver will take you an hour north to the village of Cobá, known for its ancient Maya ruins. Once there, you'll hop on a bicycle and embark on a 3-mile (5 km) tour of the archeological site. You'll cycle along ancient white pathways lined with the ruins of this former metropolis whose heyday was between 600-900. The real thrill is hiking up the 120 stone steps of Nohoch Mul, which, at 137 feet (41 m), is the tallest pyramid in Yucatán. The views from the top are exceptional.

After Cobá, you'll have the opportunity to attend a local cooking workshop and taste traditional Maya cuisine. This is a real treat for foodies, as part of the experience involves gathering fresh ingredients from a local garden. Then, alongside community members, you'll learn how to prepare a delicious and traditional dish that you'll sit down and enjoy at the end.

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Day 5: Free Day in Tulum

Playa Ruinas, a beach frequented by visitors to the Tulum archeological site
Playa Ruinas, right below Tulum's ruins

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 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. Stroll the waterfront shopping district of Tulum Beach Road for retail therapy, which is filled with boutiques, clothing stores, and art galleries.

Day 6: Free Morning in Tulum, Transfer to Holbox

Welcome to Holbox Island

Wake up early and spend your remaining time in Tulum enjoying its beaches or doing a bit of souvenir shopping. At the appropriate time, you'll hop on a bus for the 2.5-hour ride to the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and the town of Chiquilá. Here you'll take a 15-minute ferry ride to Holbox Island and check in to your hotel.

You'll then enjoy this sleepy island the rest of the day free. There are no paved roads here, so most people get around 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.

Day 7: Free Day on Holbox Island

Enjoy, warm, shallow turquoise waters along Holbox

Spend the day enjoying this tropical island paradise. You can choose to relax in a hammock, but there are plenty of active excursions here as well. For example, kitesurfing is a popular activity, especially during winter when the winds are up. Also, May to September is whale shark season, and you can book an excursion to go swimming with these gentle giants during this time. 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.

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

Day 8: Holbox to Puerto Morelos

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, you'll take the three-hour drive southeast back to the Caribbean side of the Yucatán and the laid-back fishing village of Puerto Morelos. Upon arrival, check in to your hotel, and then you'll have free the remainder of the day.

Day 9: Puerto Morelos Snorkeling Tour

Snorkeling in the beautiful marine park of Puerto Morelos
Snorkeling around the barrier reef near 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 snorkeling trip in the marine park. Certified guides lead all snorkeling/diving tours here, 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. 

Day 10: Free day in Puerto Morelos

Relax in Puerto Morelos

Enjoy a free day on the Riviera Maya to do whatever you like. Consider hiking in the surrounding jungle or taking a dip in nearby cenotes. Relaxing in town is an option, too. Puerto Morelos is a small place, only about four blocks wide and 15 blocks long. Within this little village, however, are dozens of great taquerías and restaurants serving fresh seafood right off the boat. Another highlight open for a tour is the Jardín Botánico Dr. Marin. It's one of the biggest botanical gardens in Mexico and protects a large section of jungle filled with cacti, orchids, fruit trees, palms, and other flora.

Day 11: Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart

Farewell, Mexico
Your last morning, take a stroll on the powdery sands of Puerto Morelos. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up for the short drive north to the airport in Cancún, where you'll catch your flight home. See you soon!

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Map

Map of Nature & Maya Culture in the Yucatán - 11 Days
Map of Nature & Maya Culture in the Yucatán - 11 Days