Circle the entire Yucatán Peninsula on this self-drive adventure through the region's historic cities, archaeological sites, and nature reserves. Over two weeks, you'll explore the ruins of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, spot monkeys and toucans in the jungles of Calakmul, follow an artisan route through the villages of Campeche, and paddle through the colorful lagoons of Bacalar. Your trip winds down on the coast, snorkeling through Cozumel's reefs and learning to cook with the locals near Playa del Carmen.


  • Discover Spanish colonial cities such as Valladolid, Mérida, and Campeche
  • Swim in a peaceful cenote during a Maya community visit
  • Learn about the inner workings of chocolate making at a museum in Uxmal 
  • Eat a gourmet meal in a 10,000-year-old cavern
  • Swim and snorkel off the white-sand beaches of Cozumel and Playa del Carmen

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Drive to Valladolid, Afternoon Walking Tour Valladolid
Day 2 Explore Ek' Balam Archaeological Site, Ría Lagartos & Valladolid Valladolid
Day 3 Discover Chichén Itzá, & Yokdzonot Cenote, Drive to Mérida Mérida
Day 4 Mérida Walking Tour & City Exploration Mérida
Day 5 Drive to Campeche, Uxmal Archaeological Site & Chocolate Museum Campeche
Day 6 Cultural Road Trip, Optional Activities in Campeche Campeche
Day 7 Miguel Colorado Cenote, Drive to Calakmul Xpujil
Day 8 Visit Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Drive to Bacalar, Explore San Felipe Fort Bacalar
Day 9 Sunrise Paddling Tour, Optional Activities in Bacalar Bacalar
Day 10 Ferry to Cozumel via Playa del Carmen, Snorkeling Experience Cozumel
Day 11 Free Day in Cozumel: Optional Activities Cozumel
Day 12 Ferry to Playa del Carmen, Cavern Dining Experience Playa del Carmen
Day 13 Nuevo Durango Gastronomy Workshop, Cenote Swimming Playa del Carmen
Day 14 Drive to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

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

Valladolid is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and colorful buildings

Welcome to Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula! This area 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 two-hour drive inland to Valladolid, a colonial city with well-preserved 16th-century landmarks. Valladolid is a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town), a distinction granted to places of historical significance, rich culture, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty.

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. 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: Explore Ek' Balam Archaeological Site, Ría Lagartos & Valladolid

Observe flamingoes in their natural habitat at Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

Ready to wander among Yucatán's archaeological and natural wonders? Today's itinerary starts with a 30-minute drive from Valladolid to the archaeological site of Ek' Balam, which in Mayan means "Black Jaguar." The site was hidden for centuries by the Yucatán jungle until it was ultimately rediscovered in the 1800s. Spend an hour 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, you'll boat through this natural reserve to discover the mangroves, 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.

Afterward, you'll return to Valladolid to continue exploring the riches that make it a Pueblo Mágico. For a traditional culinary experience, head to Canton Parque Francisco to enjoy a typical Yucatecan meal. Try the lomitos, the longaniza de Valladolid, or the escabeche oriental—simple but delicious dishes that the locals eat regularly.

Day 3: Discover Chichén Itzá & Yokdzonot Cenote, Drive to Mérida

The Temple of the Warriors is one of the most iconic and well-preserved structures at Chichén Itzá

Your day begins with a 45-minute drive outside Valladolid to discover one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: Chichén Itzá. Here, you'll 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 dive into the lagoon's jade waters here for a swim. Afterward, hop back in your rental car for the two-hour drive to Mérida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatán region. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and get your bearings for tomorrow's city exploration. For dinner, sample local delicacies and sip on agua de chaya or horchata, and discover the nightlife scene if you're too eager to wait until tomorrow. 

Day 4: Mérida Walking Tour & City Exploration

Stroll past upscale shops, cafés, and museums along the Parisian-inspired Paseo Montejo

Mérida is the economic heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, as well as a cultural hub and convenient base to explore ancient Maya sites in the region. The city's history 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. After checking in to your hotel, you'll head out on a guided walking tour.

The Cathedral is in Mérida's historic center, overlooking the Plaza Grande, where you'll learn about the city's Spanish colonial history and Indigenous roots. Other highlights include the 16th-century Municipal Palace, the old Spanish city gates, and Paseo Montejo, the city's wide main avenue, lined with colonial mansions. After the tour, continue your exploration by checking out local markets, the charming Santa Lucía neighborhood, Parque de Santa Lucía, and the Church of Santa Lucía, and then Merida's lively nightlife, replete with bars, restaurants, and live performances.

Day 5: Drive to Campeche, Uxmal Archaeological Site & Chocolate Museum

Today's adventure at Uxmal combines archaeological exploration and chocolate education

Today, you'll drive two hours southwest to Campeche, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. After checking into your hotel, get ready to play archaeologist on today's excursion. Located in the low hills of Yucatán's Puuc region, Uxmal's early structures here date to the sixth century CE, and the city was a major seat of power until its influence waned in the 10th century. Embedded in its ruins are ornate friezes, sculptures, and carvings that archaeologists regard as some of the finest architectural sculptures in the ancient Maya world. You'll see all this and more on a 1.5-hour guided tour.

Afterward, you'll visit nearby Choco-Story, a cacao (cocoa) museum. Cacao is a fundamental ingredient in Mexican cuisine dating back to the days of the ancient Indigenous peoples. At this interactive museum, you'll learn the history of the cacao crop, plus taste a traditional spiced chocolate drink that the Maya enjoyed. You can even stroll through the cacao trees at the on-site botanic gardens. After this two-hour excursion, you'll return to your accommodation in Campeche. 

Day 6: Cultural Road Trip, Optional Activities in Campeche

Campeche's fortifications once protected the city from pirate attacks

This morning, wake early to set out along the Artisan Royal Road. While not an official road, the route allows travelers to experience the region's Maya culture through different villages in the Campeche region and can be traced to the Spaniards joining the cities of Campeche and Mérida. On this five-hour excursion, you'll begin with a breakfast of a local dish like huevos motuleños (fried eggs on tortillas) in Hecelchakan. Then, witness the artistry of jipi hats in Bécal, admire delicate embroidery in Dzidbalche, and pay your respects at Pomuch Cemetery. Be sure to sample the artisan bread—this area's specialty.

The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Campeche at your leisure. Try a local dish to experience Campeche's culinary heritage, influenced by Europe, the Caribbean, and Maya traditions. Stroll through its charming streets, visit Pirate's Alley, and marvel at well-preserved forts built to fend off pirates. Discover the Baroque colonial buildings and enjoy the lively main square, El Zocalo, all best explored on foot. Campeche is a coastal port, so consider a scenic walk along ancient walls and catching a tranquil beach sunset before settling in for the night. 

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Day 7: Miguel Colorado Cenote, Drive to Calakmul

Cenotes often feature crystal-clear waters and impressive limestone formations

After breakfast, drive two hours south to the village of Miguel Colorado, whose main attractions are its cenotes. Known to the Mayans as dz'onot or "water caverns," the currents of underground rivers feed these limestone sinkholes. You can go swimming at Cenote Azul, plus hike a trail that leads to two more cenotes—keep an eye out for howler monkeys in the trees. At Cenote Azul, you can also take a kayak ride and soar over the water on a 278-foot (85 m) zipline.

After the cenotes, drive four hours east to Calakmul, a biosphere reserve at the base of the Yucatán. It comprises over a million acres of tropical forest and is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico. Home to dozens of Indigenous communities, it also contains the important archaeological site of the same name, an ancient Maya city abandoned in 900 CE. Upon arrival, you'll check into your accommodations, where you'll spend the night. After settling in, take a bike ride in the jungle or relax in a hammock to enjoy your natural surroundings. 

Day 8: Visit Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Drive to Bacalar, Explore San Felipe Fort

The reserve provides critical habitat for species like jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, and spider monkeys

Today, you'll visit the archaeological site of Calakmul, an impressive city in the middle of the jungle that's named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The experience begins with a 37-mile (60 km) drive from the entrance of the archaeological site to the jungle interior, which separates Calakmul from the rest of the world. The road, although paved, is worth paying attention to. With a bit of luck, you might see white-tailed deer, pheasants, turkeys with iridescent plumage, a coati if you're lucky, or canoe-billed toucans hiding in the trees.

Finally, you'll arrive at the archaeological zone. Here, you'll visit the highest pyramid of the site, which towers 147 feet (45 m) high above the forest. Climb to the top to enjoy the incredible views of the jungle in a sea of green comprised of trees that go on forever. At the top, you can hear the noises of the jungle: trills and hums, spider monkeys moving branches as they move, or woodpeckers playing their wooden melody in search of insects.

When you've spent your energy, relax on the 1.5-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 take a 2.5-hour tour of 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 tomorrow.

Day 9: Sunrise Paddling Tour, Optional Activities in Bacalar

The lake's crystal-clear waters, varying depths of its cenotes, and submerged caves create different hues of blue

Gorgeous Bacalar, or "Bakhalal" in Mayan, is known for its seven-colored lagoon, which you'll see on today's tour. Early risers will enjoy a four-hour sunrise paddle tour of the lake. Accompanied by a knowledgeable instructor, discover the treasures of the Bacalar ecosystem and check out the Grand Cenote, over 968 feet (295 m) deep. Admire the sunrise from Cenote de la Bruja while observing the blue gradation of the lagoon, and finish at the Pirates' Channel, where you'll likely be alone and will be able to enjoy a well-deserved morning swim.

The history of this location is intriguing: for hundreds of years, it's been the territory of travelers, treasure hunters, and pirates! Later, spend some free time exploring the town of Bacalar, choosing sites and activities depending on your energy level. Continue your exploration of Fort San Felipe and its museum to soak up the history, or check out the little-known but very interesting archaeological site of Chacchoben

Day 10: Ferry to Cozumel via Playa del Carmen, Snorkeling Experience

Cozumel's clear waters allow snorkelers to explore coral reefs and observe marine life

Wake early, fill up your gas tank for the three-hour drive to Playa del Carmen, and prepare for a change of scene. From Playa del Carmen, you'll take a 45-minute car ferry to Isla Cozumel. Rich in history, Maya relics, and natural wonders, Cozumel is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean, famed for its white-sand beaches and colorful sunsets. After checking into your accommodation, gear up for an educational Marine Interpretive Snorkel Experience.

Go beyond traditional snorkeling as you learn about the importance of coral reefs and their benefits to the planet and humanity, including insights into the ecological significance of coral, its role in supporting marine life, and the global challenges facing coral reefs today. For two hours, you'll be guided in discovering the world-renowned reefs surrounding the island. You'll visit the Colombia Reef, marveling at its impressive coral structures, as well as El Cielo, a starfish sanctuary, and finally, El Cielito Protected Natural Area, known for its clear and calm water. 

Day 11: Free Day in Cozumel: Optional Activities

Enjoy some uninterrupted beach time or spend the day in Cozumel exploring local highlights

Today, you can enjoy Cozumel however you wish. Begin your day by trying traditional Mexican fare at one of the island's cafés while enjoying the serene island ambience. After breakfast, head to the San Gervasio Ruins, a historical site that glimpses the island's Maya heritage. Explore the ancient ruins, learn about the Maya culture, and walk among the sacred temples and structures. For a change of scenery, visit the Cozumel Museum, where you can delve into the island's rich history and maritime traditions. Discover artifacts, exhibits, and artworks that provide insights into Cozumel's past.

Lunchtime beckons, and you can't visit Cozumel without trying delicious seafood. Seek out a local seafood restaurant and savor the catch of the day. In the afternoon, stroll along the waterfront promenade, Avenida Rafael E. Melgar. Duck into shops, boutiques, and artisan markets to find the perfect souvenir. As the day winds down, head to a beach club to relax with a cocktail. To cap off your day, sit down for dinner at a waterfront restaurant while watching the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. 

Day 12: Ferry to Playa del Carmen, Cavern Dining Experience

Dinner in a magical cavern in Playa del Carmen
Savor a gourmet meal in a subterranean setting in Playa del Carmen

In the morning, drive to the pier in Cozumel for the ferry ride back to Playa del Carmen and then continue for 30 minutes to your accommodation. Once ashore, check into your hotel and spend the remainder of your day however you choose. As darkness falls, prepare for a showstopping evening in a cavern that has witnessed over 10,000 years of history. Nestled within this ancient subterranean realm is a restaurant where you'll sit down to a memorable dinner of contemporary Mexican and international cuisine amid the remarkable setting. After your meal, remember to leave a coin for the mythical guardian of the caves!

Day 13: Nuevo Durango Gastronomy Workshop, Cenote Swimming

Share a traditional Maya meal prepared from garden-fresh ingredients

Spend the penultimate day of your trip immersed in the local culture. Your excursion starts with a drive inland for one hour to the Maya community of Nuevo Durango. This charming village is known for its pristine underground caves, ecotourism initiatives, and dedication to organic farming. Guided by your host, Don Manuel, dive into a hands-on gastronomic workshop lasting about four hours. Join community members in gathering fresh ingredients from the garden, and help prepare classic Maya dishes such as cochinita and chicken pibil, all while soaking in the lively Mexican music.

Round off your community visit with a two-hour swim in the nearby Cenote Esmeralda, named after the color of its waters, which sparkle like emeralds in the sun. The cenote is well preserved because it's cared for by a cooperative of eight Maya families. Use the gradual stairs or jump right into the water and take all the time you want to relax in the natural surroundings. Return to Playa del Carmen for a relaxing afternoon on picturesque beaches, perfect for sun-soaking and beachfront strolls. In the evening, walk the bustling 5th Avenue with its diverse dining and shopping options or experience the nightlife.

Day 14: Drive to Cancún, Depart

Depart Cancún, one of the most popular vacation spots in the Caribbean

On your final day, you'll drive to the airport in Cancún for one hour, passing Yucatecan villages and scenic views of the Caribbean Sea along the way. Depending on your departure time, you may have time to enjoy a final beach stroll or sea swim before you have to return your rental car and hop on your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Ultimate Yucatán Road Trip: History, Culture & Nature - 14 Days
Map of Ultimate Yucatán Road Trip: History, Culture & Nature - 14 Days