Get ready for a 12-day road-trip adventure across Mexico's famed Yucatán Peninsula, known for its Caribbean beaches, underground cenotes, and ancient Maya ruins. You'll see all of it, starting at the fortress ruins in Tulum and then visiting biosphere reserves and exotic turquoise lakes. Next, you'll venture north to enjoy cultural exchanges in Indigenous communities, visit Spanish-colonial heritage cities, and descend into underground caves sacred to the Maya people.


  • Hike around the fortress ruins at Tulum
  • Sail the turquoise waters of Lake Bacalar
  • Visit colonial Valladolid and tour Chichén Itzá
  • Participate in cultural workshops in indigenous towns
  • Descend into caves and float down underwater rivers

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Transfer to Tulum, Optional Activities Tulum
Day 2 Day Trip to Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve Tulum
Day 3 Bus to Bacalar, Optional Activities Bacalar
Day 4 Sailing Lake Bacalar Bacalar
Day 5 Bus to Valladolid, Optional Activities Valladolid
Day 6 Culture & Nature in Yalcobá Valladolid
Day 7 Transfer to Mérida, Visit Chichén Itzá Mérida
Day 8 Explore Mérida, Culinary & Weaving Workshops in Yaxunah  Mérida
Day 9 Transfer to Holbox, Optional Activities Holbox
Day 10 Day Trip to Nuevo Xcán & Underground Cenote Tour Holbox
Day 11 Transfer to Puerto Morelos, Optional Activities Puerto Morelos
Day 12 Return to Cancún, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

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

Playa Ruinas, in Tulum

Welcome to Mexico and Cancún! Located at the northeast tip of Mexico's beautiful Yucatán Peninsula, this tourist hotspot is known for its white-sand beaches and four-star hotels. It's also at the doorstep of Mexico's famous Riviera Maya, a section of stunning coast spanning over 100 miles (160 km) that includes resort areas like Playa del Carmen and Tulum, the latter of which is where you're headed today. You'll take a scenic two-hour bus ride to Tulum upon arrival at the airport. Once there, you'll check in to your hotel and have free the rest of the day.

There are many activities here, such as whiling away the hours on Tulum's white-sand beaches. 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. For retail therapy, stroll the waterfront shopping district of Tulum Beach Road, filled with boutiques, clothing stores, and art galleries.

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

Floating in Sian Ka'an Reserve
Take a dip in Chunyaxché in the Sian Ka'an Reserve

In the morning, head out on a six-hour tour of nearby Sian Ka'an. This biosphere reserve and Unesco World Heritage Site protects over 2,000 sq miles (5,180 sq km) of tropical forests, palm savannas, wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, and unspoiled coastline. You'll arrive at a community center and embark on a group hike down a jungle trail. Eventually, you'll arrive at the temple ruins in Muyil, an ancient Maya site settled in 300 BCE. Then continue to the Chunyaxche Lagoon, where you'll ride a boat through a mangrove channel and can take a refreshing dip in the water.

After splashing around at Chemuyil, you'll return to Tulum and will have the rest of the day free. Be sure to visit its famous archaeological site. Built on 39-foot (12-m) cliffs overlooking the ocean, the ancient Maya ruins here once comprised a great fortress city (the word tulum is a Yucatán Mayan word meaning "wall"). Hiking around this site, which dates to 1200 CE, you can visit the famous El Castillo, an iconic fortress standing 25 feet (7.5-m). After touring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, head directly below the ruins for a swim at Playa Ruinas.

Day 3: Bus to Bacalar, Optional Activities

Laguna Bacalar 
In the morning, you'll take a three-hour bus ride south to Bacalar. This town in southeastern Yucatán sits on Lake Bacalar, known as the Lagoon of the Seven Colors due to its various shades of blue. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can spend the rest of the day enjoying this slice of tranquility. Take a stroll along the lake, go for a swim, and visit Fort San Felipe, an 18th-century Spanish castle built to protect the Yucatán from English colonizers. There are also cenotes in the area, plus the Maya archaeological site of Chacchoben, whose ruins date to around 700. 

Day 4: Sail Bacalar Lagoon

Bacalar lagoon
Sail the Bacalar lagoon

In the morning, hit the water for a 3.5-hour sail across Lake Bacalar. These tours are on traditional sailboats, which are a great alternative to motorboats since there's no pollution. The excursion begins with a visit to Pirates' Channel, a waterway between the Hondo River and the lagoon. It's said the Maya built this channel as a commercial link to connect the people of the South with those of the North. As a result, pirate attacks became frequent, hence the name. It's an excellent place for a swim and snorkel.

After Pirates' Channel, continue to Cenote de la Bruja, also called Cenote Negro ("black cenote"). Here you can also take 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. 

Day 5: Bus to Valladolid, Optional Activities

San Servacio Church, in Valladolid 
Plan your trip to Mexico
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

After breakfast, you'll leave Bacalar on a five-hour bus ride north to the interior of the Yucatán and the historic city of Valladolid, one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns). This is a special designation the country has bestowed on some 132 places that have demonstrated historical importance, rich culture, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty. Valladolid, for example, is famous for its well-preserved 16th-century Spanish-colonial buildings. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and will have the remainder of the day to take a self-guided walking tour.

One major landmark is the San Servacio Church, which dates to 1545 and overlooks the Parque Francisco Canton. This is the town's main plaza, filled with leafy trees, fountains, and street vendors in traditional dress operating wooden push carts. If the mood strikes, take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage around the historic center or hop in a car for the short drive to Cenote Zaci lagoon, near the city's heart. Another highlight is the Regional Museum, which charts the area's history from pre-colonial times through the founding of Valladolid and beyond.

Day 6: Culture & Nature in Yalcobá

Take a dip in the cenotes of Yalcobá
In the morning; you'll head out on a full-day cultural immersion to the Maya community of Yalcobá, located just outside Valladolid. This eight-hour experience is full of adventure, beginning with a guided hike through the forest and a tour of the milpa fields—an ancient agriculture system that intercrops corn, beans, and squash. After exploring cave cenotes, you'll return to town and visit a handicrafts workshop to see how locals produce artisanal jewelry and woven hammocks. Then participate in a gastronomic workshop to learn about traditional Maya cuisine.

Day 7: Transfer to Mérida, Tour Chichén Itzá

Chichen Itza's towering pyramid of Kukulcan
El Castillo at Chichén Itzá
After breakfast, you'll meet your driver for the two-hour ride west from Valladolid to Mérida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatán state. On the way, stop for a guided tour at Chichén Itzá. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers 4 sq miles (10 sq km) and was first settled in the 5th century. Highlight ruins include the iconic El Castillo (a majestic pyramid that rises 79 ft/24 m), the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles (a ceremonial platform), El Caracol (a circular observatory), plus the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. After the tour, you'll continue to Mérida and check into your hotel.

Day 8: Explore Mérida, Culinary & Weaving Workshops in Yaxunah

The historic center of Mérida

You'll have the whole morning free to head out and explore Mérida on a self-guided tour. There's a lot to see here, too, as this city dates to 1542. It was built over the ancient Maya city of T'ho, and the Spanish leveled that city's five pyramids, which they then used to build Mérida's famous Cathedral in 1598. Other highlights around the Plaza Grande (main square) include 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.

In the afternoon, you'll transfer east from Mérida to the small town of Yaxunah, surrounded by cornfields. This area has been a vital center of maíz (corn) production dating back to the ancient Maya kingdoms, which is the theme of today's 2.5-hour tour. When you arrive, a member of the local Indigenous community will lead you on a walk around the fields. You'll learn about the entire production process, from planting to harvesting to cleaning. You'll get to sample traditional maíz beverages like pozol, pinole, and atole.

After touring the cornfields, you'll head into town, where you'll participate in a weaving workshop. During this one-hour experience, the local women who run the operation will show you how to create the intricate hand-woven hammocks for which this region is known. They'll reveal different techniques, and at the end of it, you'll test your skills by weaving part of one yourself. 

Day 9: Transfer to Holbox, Optional Activities

Holbox Islands
A popular activity on Holbox

In the morning, you'll hit the road again on a 5.5-hour drive to the northernmost tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. Eventually, you'll arrive in the seaside town of Chiquilá, and from there, take a 15-minute ferry to the island of Holbox. This sleepy island couldn't be more different than the tourist hotspot of Cancún, which is just a couple of hours away. There are no paved roads here, as 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 on the shallow turquoise waters of Holbox's shores. 

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and have free the remainder of the day. Maybe take a stroll around this colorful village, filled with incredible street art, and stop at a café to try the local cuisine (the lobster pizza is particularly delicious). 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 to swim in the crystalline waters. Then enjoy a coco (coconut) or tropical adult beverage as you sit on the sand, and marvel at Holbox's famous golden sunsets tinged with vermillion hues. 

Day 10: Day Trip to Nuevo Xcán & Underground Cenote Tour

Underground world
Explore Underground cenotes

Today you'll head back to the mainland to tour the underground cenotes near the town of Nuevo Xcán, which sits on a sprawling nature reserve. The adventure begins with a Maya purification ritual overseen by spiritual leaders of the community. This ceremonial act consists of asking permission from the gods to enter Xibalba (the underground caverns). According to the Maya belief system, the conscious universe consists of three layers: heaven, earth, and the underworld—with Xibalba representing the underworld.

Once the ceremony is over, you'll descend into the underground caverns. The waterways and lagoons here are part of a vast subterranean aquifer that spans the entire Yucatán Peninsula. With your headlamp and life vest firmly secured, you'll explore three underground chambers with their hanging stalactites. As you wade through crystalline rivers, you'll marvel at this mystical environment that the Maya believe is the doorway to the underworld. 

Day 11: Transfer to Puerto Morelos, Optional Activities

Puerto Morelos, on the Caribbean

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, a personal driver will pick you up for the three-hour drive southeast back to the Caribbean side of the Yucatán and the charming fishing village of Puerto Morelos. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and have free the remainder of the day.

Besides the surrounding jungle and nearby cenotes, Puerto Morelos is famous for its National Reef Park, which protects a section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. You can opt for a two-hour snorkeling tour in this marine reserve. It's a popular activity because, within this nearly 150-acre park, you'll see a wide array of tropical fish swimming around 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 12: Return to Cancún, Depart

Sunrise over the water
Goodbye, Yucatán
It's time to say adios to the Yucatán Peninsula. After breakfast, your driver will pick you up for the 30-minute ride north from Puerto Morelos to the airport in Cancún, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Yucatán Road Trip: Tulum, Bacalar, Valladolid, Mérida, Holbox & Puerto Morelos - 12 Days
Map of Yucatán Road Trip: Tulum, Bacalar, Valladolid, Mérida, Holbox & Puerto Morelos - 12 Days