15-days in Mexico's Yucatán region is enough time to visit famous archaeological sites while also enjoying its famous white-sand beaches. Explore the ruins at Chichén Itzá, experience indigenous cultural traditions, and float in the turquoise waters of the Chemuyil cenotes—these are just a few of the highlights. You'll also venture to Holbox Island and enjoy its famous golden sunsets.

Highlights

  • Explore the ruins of Tulum and nearby biosphere reserves
  • Enjoy cultural exchanges with Maya communities and swim in cenotes
  • Tour incredible archeological sites like Uxmal and Chichén Itzá
  • Visit the historic Spanish-colonial towns of Izamal & Valladolid
  • Spend a couple of days enjoying the sun and sand of 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 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 Day Trip to Sinanché & San Crisanto Mérida
Day 10 Transfer to Chichén Itzá, Stop at Izamal & Yokdzonot Cenote Chichén Itzá
Day 11 Sunrise at Chichén Itzá, Walking Tour of Valladolid, Transfer to Holbox Holbox
Day 12 Explore Holbox Island Holbox
Day 13 Free Day on Holbox Island Holbox
Day 14 Holbox to Puerto Morelos, Optional Activities Puerto Morelos
Day 15 Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum

Welcome to Tulum
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
Take a swim in the Chemuyil cenotes
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 once comprised a great fortress city (the word tulum is actually a Yucatán Mayan word meaning "wall") built on 39-foot (12-m) cliffs overlooking the ocean. 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

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

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 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 through 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 Bacalar

Bacalar lagoon
Sail the lovely Bacalar Lagoon
Lake 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 Exchange 

The ceiba tree is sacred in Maya culture
Today 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.

Day 6: Morning Forest Tour in Chunhuhub, Transfer to Uxmal

Climbing the gum tree
A chiclero harvesting natural gum
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 and make the 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

View of the ruins
Temples and the Pyramid of the Magician, at Uxmal
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 highlights of the central ruins, which are spread over 150 acres. Most famous 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 Mérida

The colonial center of Mérida

Today 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: Day Trip to Sinanché & San Crisanto

The coast around San Crisanto
Today's schedule is full of diverse activities. First up, drive to the nearby coastal town of Sinanché, where in 2001 the community launched an eco-tourism initiative to promote local craft production and mangrove conservation. Beekeeping has been a long-standing tradition in this area, and you'll learn about the various species found in the region as well as the vital role they play in the health of the environment. You'll also put on a beekeeper's suit and learn all about the honey production process. Afterward, there will be a tasting of artisanal honey and you'll even get to make your own honey-wax candle. 

Then you'll continue to San Crisanto. This lovely coastal town is known for its virgin beaches and cenotes. It's unique in that all tourism here is managed by community members with all proceeds going directly back to the community. Upon arrival, you'll board a boat and travel through mangrove lagoons to one highlight cenote: Ojo de Agua (Water's Eye). During the tour, you can admire the local fauna, which includes over 100 species of birds like herons and woodpeckers. Afterward, have lunch at a local restaurant then enjoy some free time lazing on white-sand beaches surrounded by coconut palms.
 
After San Crisento you'll return to your hotel in Mérida. 

Day 10: Transfer to Chichén Itzá, Stop at Izamal & Yokdzonot Cenote

The atrium (courtyard) of Convent of San Antonio, in Izamal
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 the Yucatán: Chichén Itzá. 

Day 11: Sunrise at Chichén Itzá, Walking Tour of Valladolid, Transfer to Holbox

Sunrise at Chichen Itza
Sunrise over El Castillo, at Chichén Itzá
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.

Days 12: Explore Holbox Island

Enjoy Holbox island

Welcome to Holbox! This sleepy island couldn't be more different than the tourist hotspot of Cancún, which is just a couple of hours away. 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. 

Today you'll have free to do as you like. Take a stroll around this colorful village, which is filled with incredible street art, and stop at a café to try the local cuisine (the lobster pizza is particularly delicious). Maybe book a boat tour to Cabo Catoche to do some snorkeling. Or rent a golf cart and explore the island on four wheels. You can also head out from the main port to the long, white-sand beaches for a swim in the crystalline waters. Then enjoy a coco (coconut) or tropical adult beverage at Punta Coco as you sit on the sand and marvel at Holbox's famous golden sunsets tinged with vermillion hues.

Day 13: Free Day on Holbox Island

Holbox Islands
Relaxation is the order of the day
The only requirement for today is to kick back and relax in this tropical paradise. Beach time is a great option, 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.

Day 14: Holbox to Puerto Morelos, Optional Activities

Puerto Morelos
Spend 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 15: Puerto Morelos to Cancún, Depart

Cancun
Goodbye, Mexico

Unfortunately, this is your last morning in paradise. 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.

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Map

Map of Nature & Maya Culture in the Yucatán - 15 Days
Map of Nature & Maya Culture in the Yucatán - 15 Days