Go beyond the surface beauty of Mexico's famous Yucatán Peninsula to discover its rich history, culture, and nature. This weeklong escape begins in the well-preserved Spanish-colonial city of Valladolid, from which you'll take trips to cenotes and ancient ruins like Ekʼ Balam and Chichén Itzá. Other highlights include visiting the largest Maya pyramid in the region at Cobá, plus an exciting day of kitesurfing on the north coast.


  • Visit colonial Valladolid and see its historic churches
  • Tour the ancient Maya ruins at Ek' Balam and Chichén Itzá
  • Discover Maya culture on visits to Indigenous towns
  • Travel to nature reserves and cenotes, and go kitesurfing

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid Valladolid
Day 2 Day Trip to Ek' Balam, Cenotes & Yalcobá Valladolid
Day 3 Visit Chichén Itzá & Yaxunah Valladolid
Day 4 Drive to Cobá Ruins, Lunch With Locals Valladolid
Day 5 Drive to El Cuyo, Ría Lagartos Boat Tour El Cuyo
Day 6 Free Day in El Cuyo & Kitesurfing El Cuyo
Day 7 Drive to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid

View from the arcades around Parque Francisco Cantón of San Servacio Church

Welcome to Mexico and the Yucatán! This almost mystical peninsula is famous for its Caribbean coast, tropical forests, white-sand beaches, high-end resorts, thousands of cenotes (limestone sinkholes), and of course, its ancient Maya ruins. Upon arrival at the airport in Cancún, you'll pick up a rental car and leave this tourist hotspot behind in search of culture and adventure.

A 2.5-hour drive inland will take you to Valladolid, a colorful Spanish-colonial city with well-preserved 16th-century landmarks. It's one of Mexico's celebrated Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns), a special designation the country has bestowed on some 132 places that have demonstrated historical importance, rich culture, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel. After settling in, you'll have the rest of the day to explore Valladolid on your own.

Founded in 1543 and invaded several times by the Spanish, this city was the stage of vast confrontations between the Maya and the Conquistadores. Much colonial architecture remains today, and one of the finest examples is San Servacio Church, which dates to 1545 and overlooks the Parque Francisco Cantón. From the park, you can walk to the 16th-century Convent of San Bernardino de Siena and the colorful Calzada de Los Frailes, a cobblestone street lined with colorful shops, boutiques, and galleries.

Day 2: Day Trip to Ek' Balam, Cenotes & Yalcobá

For centuries Ek' Balam was hidden by the Yucatán jungle
The ruins at Ek' Balam date back well over 1,000 years

In the morning, you'll take a drive about 30 minutes north to the archaeological site of Ek' Balam, which means "black jaguar" in ancient Mayan. The name refers to the Maya king who constructed this city, and during its heyday, between the seventh and 10th centuries CE, it was the capital of the entire political region.

On a one-hour tour led by an expert guide, you'll visit highlight ruins, including temples, a ball court, and an acropolis. You'll ride a bicycle (or take a bike taxi) along an ancient, 1.5-mile-long stone path called a sacbé (white road). This causeway leads to Cenote X'Canché, a limestone sinkhole and turquoise lagoon, where you'll enjoy a swim.

Afterward, you'll drive south another 30 minutes to the Maya community of Yalcobá, where you'll enjoy a traditional Yucatecan lunch. Once you've eaten, you'll meet the residents and visit nearby virgin cenotes to enjoy more swimming. Upon returning to town, you'll visit a handicraft workshop to see how locals produce artisanal jewelry and woven hammocks. At the end of the afternoon, you'll return to Valladolid and your hotel.

Day 3: Visit Chichén Itzá & Yaxunah

Chichen Itza's towering pyramid of Kukulcan
Chichén Itzá is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World
Get ready to discover another star archaeological site of the Yucatán Peninsula. After breakfast, you'll drive about an hour west of Valladolid to Chichén Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. During its heyday (around 600-900 CE), this ancient Maya city was the most revered religious center and pilgrimage site in the Yucatán. Its most iconic attraction is the Kukulkán (El Castillo) pyramid, built to honor the feathered serpent god. During this two-hour tour, your expert guide will reveal the history and mythology of the ancient Maya world as you marvel at Kukulkán.
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Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
After Chichén Itzá, you'll drive about 30 minutes south to the town of Yaxunah, a center of maíz (corn) production dating back to ancient times. It's also home to the Lol-Ha cenote. Meaning "water flower" in ancient Mayan, this gem is located in the center of town. It's an open limestone sinkhole filled with shimmering blue waters just begging you to take a dip—which is precisely what you'll do. After a refreshing swim and a chance to try local maíz dishes and beverages, you'll return to Valladolid. 

Day 4: Drive to Cobá Ruins, Lunch With Locals

Hike to the top of Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán

Hit the road again this morning on an hour's drive back toward the coast. Your destination is Cobá, the ruins of an ancient Maya city that flourished from 600-900 CE. A guided tour includes a 3-mile (5 km) bike or bicycle taxi ride along the series of sacbé. These roadways connect each settlement at the site to the main pyramid of Nohoch Mul, which, at 138 feet (42 m), is the largest in the Yucatán.

When the tour ends, leave Cobá and drive a short way north to Nuevo Durango, a small village known for its ecotourism projects and organic farms. Here, you'll visit the home of Don Manuel and, while enjoying a traditional meal with his family, you'll learn about local life and how people here have maintained their cultural identity in both language and customs. Afterward, you'll return to Valladolid. 

Day 5: Drive to El Cuyo, Río Lagartos Boat Tour

Flamingoes in the reserve
Flamingoes foraging for a meal in the wetlands of Ría Lagartos

Leave Valladolid this morning on a 2.5-hour drive to the northern end of the Yucatán and El Cuyo. Located far off the tourist trail, this small fishing village is known for its long empty beaches and turquoise waters, making it a relaxing retreat from the crowded resort areas along the Caribbean coast. Another bonus is that El Cuyo is located adjacent to the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, which encompasses 233 square miles (603 sq km) of protected wetland ecosystems.

Upon arrival in El Cuyo, you'll check into your accommodation and then head out on a two-hour tour. Accompanied by a local guide, you'll enjoy a fun-filled and educational afternoon while riding a boat through the reserve. Ría Lagartos is one of the main flamingo nesting areas in the Yucatán, so expect to see plenty of these exotic avian species wading in the shallows.

The tour includes views of Las Coloradas, beautiful salt ponds that sport pinkish hues due to their high salt concentration, plus a soak in an exfoliating Maya mud bath. You'll disembark on the beach and apply the white clay extracted from the sand, which contains minerals, salts, and algae—all very beneficial for the skin. Afterward, rinse off in the ocean and enjoy free time on the beach before returning to El Cuyo.

Day 6: Free Day in El Cuyo & Kitesurfing

Spend a day on a kiteboard surfing the waves at El Cuyo

Today is yours to relax and enjoy El Cuyo however you wish. If you like, you can return to Ría Lagartos and Las Coloradas for another tour of the stunning wetlands. Or you can spend the day on the beach and enjoy water activities like swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. 

Carve out a couple of hours during the day to take advantage of one of the most popular pastimes here: kitesurfing. The strong offshore winds make this region one of the best in Mexico for such an activity. Even if you've never been on a kiteboard before, schools and private lessons are available for beginners. Once you feel comfortable, you can strap onto a board, hit the water, and zip over the waves as the wind carries you along the virgin coast.

Day 7: Drive to Cancún, Depart

Sun setting over the remote Yucatán paradise of El Cuyo
Your off-the-beaten-path Yucatán adventure has unfortunately come to an end. After breakfast, you'll get back in the car for the three-hour drive east back to the airport in Cancún, where you'll drop off the rental car and catch your flight home. Until next time!

More Great Mexico Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Mexico? Check out these other Mexico itineraries, explore different ways to spend a week in the Yucatán, or learn about the best time to visit Mexico.


Map of Self-Drive Adventure on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula: Valladolid & El Cuyo - 7 Days
Map of Self-Drive Adventure on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula: Valladolid & El Cuyo - 7 Days