- Explore the ruins of Tulum, Uxmal, and Chichén Itzá
- Go sailing on the turquoise Bacalar Lagoon
- Visit the historic Spanish-colonial towns of Izamal & Valladolid
- Enjoy cultural exchanges with Maya communities and swim in cenotes
- Laze on the white-sand beaches of Holbox Island
|Day 1||Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum||Tulum|
|Day 2||Chemuyil Cenotes & Tulum Ruins||Tulum|
|Day 3||Visit the Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve, Transfer to Bacalar||Bacalar|
|Day 4||Sailing Lake Bacalar||Bacalar|
|Day 5||Transfer to Chunhuhub, Ya'ax ché Bonfire & Cultural Exchange||Chunhuhub|
|Day 6||Morning Forest Tour in Chunhuhub, Transfer to Uxmal||Uxmal|
|Day 7||Tour Uxmal, Hike in the Muná Jungle, Transfer to Mérida||Mérida|
|Day 8||Walking Tour of Mérida||Mérida|
|Day 9||Transfer to Chichén Itzá, Stop at Izamal & Yokdzonot Cenote||Chichen Itza|
|Day 10||Sunrise at Chichén Itzá, Walking Tour of Valladolid, Transfer to Holbox||Holbox|
|Day 11||Free Day on Holbox Island||Holbox|
|Day 12||Holbox to Puerto Morelos, Optional Activities||Puerto Morelos|
|Day 13||Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to TulumWelcome 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
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 Maya 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: Visit the Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve, Transfer to Bacalar
In the morning you'll transfer from Tulum for a day trip to nearby Sian Ka'an, a biosphere reserve, and Unesco World Heritage Site. This is the largest protected area in Mexico, covering over 2,000 sq miles (5,180 sq km). Within the site are natural wonders like tropical forests, palm savannas, wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, and an unspoiled coastline. The region's sheer beauty is represented in its name—in the Maya 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 real 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, head back to the community center and enjoy a hearty meal. Then you'll return to Tulum, check out of your hotel, and transfer 2.5 hours to the far south of Mexico and Bacalar, a pleasant town sitting on a lake of the same name.
Day 4: Sailing Lake BacalarLake Bacalar is known as the Lagoon of the Seven Colors due to the many shades of blue of its waters. In the morning, you'll embark on a 4-hour tour of this lagoon on a traditional sailboat, which is an eco-friendly alternative to motorboats. It begins with a visit to Pirates' Channel, a waterway between the Hondo River and the lagoon known for its clear waters. It's said the Mayans built this channel as a commercial link to connect the people of the south and north. As a result, pirate attacks became frequent, hence the name. Here you'll have the opportunity to swim and snorkel.
After enjoying the waters at Pirates' Channel, you'll continue to Cenote de la Bruja, also called Cenote Negro ("black cenote"). Here you can dive into the water for a refreshing swim. Finally, pay a visit to the Isla de Los Pájaros, an island and bird sanctuary home to herons, parrots, snail-hawks, mockingbirds, larks, and more. When you return to shore, you'll have the rest of the day free. One other highlight here is Fort San Felipe, an 18th-century Spanish castle built to protect the Yucatán from English colonizers.
Day 5: Transfer to Chunhuhub, Ya'ax ché Bonfire & Cultural ExchangeToday you'll transfer about 1.5 hours north from Bacalar through the jungles of the Yucatán to the small town and indigenous community of Chuhunhub, where you'll overnight. Here you'll meet a local guide who will lead you on a very special and mystical experience. At the heart of it is the ceiba tree, which is sacred to the Maya people. Known as Ya’ax ché, this tree has been a major link in their religious belief system since antiquity. To the Maya, the conscious universe consists of three layers: heaven, earth, and the underworld—and all of them are connected by Ya’ax ché.
In the evening, you'll gather around a bonfire with community members for a Ya’ax ché ceremony designed to replenish your energy while purifying you. This cultural immersion lasts a little over an hour, and during that time you'll commune with the elders of the village. They'll share stories of their history and traditions as well as a drink so sacred that it's said only the gods can produce it. The locals will also impart a bit of knowledge regarding how to cure various illnesses with local herbs.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Morning Forest Tour in Chunhuhub, Transfer to Uxmal
After breakfast, you'll hike through the dense Maya jungle led by an elder of the Chunhuhub community. It's an immersive experience to learn some history about how their ancestors hunted and foraged for food and designed their homes. Eventually, you'll reach an area filled with towering chicozapote trees (Manilkara zapota). It's from these trees locals harvest natural chicle (gum). You'll learn about the sustainable process that the chicleros use to produce this natural chewing gum, which requires the tree's sap. It's an ancient tradition that dates back to when the Maya people ruled the Yucatán Peninsula.
After sampling some of this artisanal (and historic) natural gum, you'll leave Chunhuhub on a 3-hour drive northwest to Uxmal. Along with Chichén Itzá, Palenque, Tulum, and Calakmul (located in the jungles near the Guatemalan border), Uxmal is one of the most important of the ancient Maya archeological sites.
Day 7: Tour Uxmal, Hike in the Muná Jungle, Transfer to Mérida
In the morning, meet your guide at the ruins of Uxmal for a half-day walking tour of this amazing archeological site. Located in the low hills of the Yucatán's Puuc region, Uxmal's early structures date to the 6th century CE, and the city was a major seat of power until its influence waned in the 10th century. Embedded in its pyramids and temples are ornate friezes, sculptures, and carvings that archeologists regard as some of the finest architectural sculptures in the ancient Maya world.
During its heyday, Uxmal was home to some 25,000 Maya. On the tour, you'll see the highlights of the central ruins, which span 150 acres. The most famous structure is the Pyramid of the Magician. Legend has it that a magical dwarf built this structure overnight—although that's a bit impossible since this five-level pyramid is 131-feet (40-m) high. Another highlight is the Governor's Palace, which was likely both a royal residence and administrative center that covers an area of almost 13,000 sq feet (1,200 sq m).
After the tour, you and your guide will head just north of Uxmal to the community of Muná. Here you'll embark on an eco-tour through the jungle that's part of a Maya community conservation and culture project. It begins at an incredible lookout point, from which you'll hike to a grotto said to be protected by ancient Maya aluxes. According to myth, these small, mischievous beings are invisible but sometimes take human form and protect the jungle, towns, and farms of the Yucatán with magic. You'll learn all about this folklore from your guide plus hear tales of Xibalba, the Maya underworld ruled by death gods.
Once you return from the hike, you'll drive about an hour north from Uxmal to Mérida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatán state.
Day 8: Walking Tour of MéridaToday you'll spend some time exploring the beguiling city of Mérida, also known as the White City due to the local white limestone used as a building material. Not only is Mérida the economic heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, but it's also a cultural hub and convenient base to explore ancient Maya sites in the region. The city's history also runs deep. It was founded in 1542 over the ancient Maya city of T'ho, with the Spanish leveling that city's five pyramids. Then, in 1598, they unsubtly used the pyramid remains to build Mérida's Cathedral.
The Cathedral is located in the heart of Mérida's historic center, overlooking the Plaza Grande (main square). This is where you'll spend the bulk of a walking tour as you learn about the city's Spanish-colonial history and its indigenous roots. There's a lot to see, too, because Mérida boasts the second-largest historic center of any place in the country after Mexico City. Other highlights include stops at the 16th-century Municipal Palace, the old Spanish city gates, and Paseo Montejo, the city's wide main avenue, which is lined with colonial mansions—stately relics from the days of the viceroys.
Day 9: Transfer to Chichén Itzá, Stop at Izamal & Yokdzonot Cenote
After breakfast, you'll make the 1-hour drive east from Mérida to Izamal. On a walking tour, you'll stop at the highlights of this well-preserved colonial town. Known as the Yellow City of the Yucatán, nearly all the historic buildings here are painted an egg-yolk yellow, and they're complemented by cobblestone streets and colonial-era lamp posts. For these reasons Izamal is one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns). The country has bestowed this special designation on some 132 places that have demonstrated historical importance, rich culture, great symbolism, and of course, exceptional beauty.
Izamal was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century over the remains of an ancient Maya city. They didn't waste any time converting the Maya to Christianity and even used stone from a destroyed pyramid to build the grandest religious structure here: the Convent of San Antonio. Founded in 1553, its massive walled atrium covers 84,023 sq feet (7,806 sq meters), making it the 2nd largest in the world after St. Peter's Square. Besides the convent, you'll also visit the historic main square, Plaza Zamná. Here you can enjoy Yucatecan street food like panuchos and salbutes—local tostadas topped with various goodies.
From Izamal 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 a unique eco-tourism site. The result is one of the most beautiful lagoons in all of Mexico. You can dive right in and swim around these jade waters. The best part is this one is off the tourist trail, meaning you'll avoid massive crowds. Try to feel the spirituality as you swim; after all, these cenotes were very sacred to the Maya. They were not only primary water sources but also symbols of life, death, rebirth, and fertility.
After enjoying the cenote at Yokdzonot, you'll continue driving a few minutes east to the most famous Maya archeological site in Yucatán: Chichén Itzá.
Day 10: Sunrise at Chichén Itzá, Walking Tour of Valladolid, Transfer to Holbox
It's an early start today, as you'll wake up at 5:30 am to arrive at the archeological site of Chichén Itzá in time for sunrise. There's nothing quite like seeing the rays of morning sunlight gild the landmark pyramids that comprise this once great city of the ancient Maya kingdom, which is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The best part is that there aren't many visitors during this time, so you can witness the splendor of the event in perfect tranquility. After sunrise, you'll embark on a walking tour of the archeological site led by a local guide.
Covering 4 sq miles (10 sq km), Chichén Itzá was first settled in the 5th century BCE and enjoyed a 1,000-year run before declining around 1440 CE. You'll see highlights like the 79-foot (24-m) El Castillo pyramid, the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles, El Caracol (a circular observatory), and the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. Most of these structures contain detailed reliefs and architectural sculptures depicting everything from jaguars and eagles to feathered serpents and human sacrifices. For example, in the 200 stone columns of the Temple of the Warriors, you'll see carvings of soldiers in bas-relief.
Afterward, drive an hour east to Valladolid, which, like Izamal, is one of Mexico's celebrated Magical Towns. Founded in 1543 this small city saw many confrontations between the Maya and the conquistadores, plus it was the site of the uprising that sparked the Mexican Revolution of 1910. 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.
Day 11: Free Day on Holbox IslandToday you'll have free to enjoy this sleepy island however you like. Here there are no paved roads, 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.
Day 12: Holbox to Puerto Morelos, Optional ActivitiesSpend one last morning in Holbox before leaving on a 4-hour drive southeast to Puerto Morelos, located on the Yucatán's Caribbean coast. This is the very definition of a sleepy Mexican fishing village, but there are several attractions in the area. Besides the surrounding jungle and nearby cenotes, Puerto Morelos is famous for its National Reef Park. This marine reserve protects a nearby section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is the largest reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
After checking in to your hotel, you'll have the remainder of the day free in Puerto Morelos. The most exciting thing to do is head out for a 2-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.
Day 13: Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart
Parting is such sweet sorrow. 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.