EXPLORE MEXICO: 2 WEEKS IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULAR
WHERE: The Yucatan Peninsular, EAST MEXICO
How Long: 2 Weeks
Get there from: Cancun, Mexico
That bit of Mexico that curls round out into the Atlantic? That’s called the Yucatan Peninsular and it’s the ancient home of the Mayan people and their fallen empire. Its chock-full of natural wonders, ancient abandoned cities, glorious beaches and delicious foods. Not to mention the friendly locals, lively music, strong drinks, and excellent value for money.
Are you thinking about Mexico for your next holiday but don’t know where to start?
We’ve put together a short 2 week itinerary for the best possible trip to see and do all the best bits of the Yucatan.
How to get Around
BUS: Buses are reliable and easy to use, it’s possible to book seats but very normal to turn up on the day and buy at the bus terminal. The most common companies is ADO.
COLECTIVO: Local transport that is super cheap and goes when the bus is full, useful for shorter journeys.
CAR RENTAL: Possibly best if you’re short on time, driving is fairly safe but remember to be vigilant for other drivers and keep your papers and passports with you at all times. If you’re thinking of hiring a car have a look at prices using this link: RentalCars
FLY: The distances around the peninsula aren’t too great but if flying is your preference then internal flights are cheap and there are lots of small airports around; have a look at your options on Skyscanner
Week One: North Coast
Cancun to Isla Holbox
Fly into Cancun and take a bus to Isla Holbox. A little slice of paradise off Mexico’s northern coast, this island has come into the big leagues recently, with boutique hotels, designer restaurants & seriously luscious beach bars featured everywhere from CNTraveller to GQ to Vogue. Holbox is a perfect start for your Mexican adventure; soft white sand and warm seas. Stay for 3 nights.
It’s car-free which means your toes are in sand 24/7 and the island is home to flamingos, and other amazing wildlife (not to mention the great snorkelling). The bohemian atmosphere is relaxed and easy-going, touristy but not busy, fill your days with beach-activities or just do nothing, It’s just lovely.
Where to stay:
Hostel: Che Holbox Hostel dorms from £9; sociable hostel minutes from the beach
Better: Casa Blatha Holbox from £42; big airy rooms on the beachfront *(we stayed here)
Best: Blue Holbox from £142; restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, a bar and a private beach area
Isla Holbox to Valladolid
Take the ferry back to the mainland and jump on a bus to Valladolid; stay for 2 nights. This small town has some beautiful boutique shops and some classic colonial architecture, largely un-changed (aside from a a little sprucing). The main reason to visit is that Valladolid is that it is the closest main town to Chichen Itza, the most famous of the Mayan ruins, though the town is worth a visit in it’s own right.
Top tip: Get the very first ‘colectivo’ (which leaves at 7am) over to the site to get the best experience of Chichen Itza before the crowds arrive. Otherwise you’ll find it difficult to get a beautiful (crowd-free) shot of the main temple (like the one at the top of the article!). Over 3,800 people visit Chichen Itza everyday - so don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Where to stay:
Hostel: Hostel Candelaria dorms from £10; colourful vibe, town centre, free breakfast, bike rental
Better: Hotel Palacio Canton from £19; big clean rooms near the centre with an outdoor pool *(we stayed here)
Best: Verde Morada Hotel from £148; a dreamy luxury hotel in the centre, three outdoor pools, a hot-tub, free breakfast and gorgeous style throughout.
Valladolid to Mérida
From Valladolid, take another bus onto Mérida, the main city of the north-west of the peninsula and stay for 3 nights. Mérida was ancient even before the Spanish arrived, so is great for history geeks; the original Mayan name was T’Ho and no-one is quite sure how many thousands of years its been inhabited. The Spanish cathedral was constructed from Mayan temple ruins and some symbolic motifs like snakes can still be spotted on its walls if you look hard enough. It’s also slap-bang in the middle of a ring of some of the most spectacular & pristine cenotes in mexico (read more about them here)
Hire a car for 2 days to visit Izamal (a town painted entirely yellow) the surrounding Cenotes and Uxmal Mayan ruins.
Click this link if you’re thinking of hiring a car on the trip: RentalCars
Where to stay:
Hostel: Rosa Mexicano Hostal dorms from £8; big dorms and a large communal space near the centre *(we stayed here)
Better: Hotel Montejo from £46; there’s an outdoor pool and a restaurant, 200 yards from the city historic centre with a beautiful garden
Best: The Diplomat Boutique Hotel from £249; beautiful decor and stylish rooms, in the historic centre, outdoor pool and free breakfast
Week Two: Central and East Coast
Mérida to Lake Bacalar
From Mérida take a bus to Lake Bacalar in the south and spend a day exploring the lake, this is a long old journey, but settle in to one of ADO’s top class coaches for at least 3 badly dubbed Hollywood blockbusters & improve you Spanish.
Lake Bacalar is nicknamed the lake of seven colours (though all the colours are shades of blue). There are even cenotes in the lake which is an odd experience to swim over, and the mud is supposedly great for your skin. Take a kayak out onto the lake paddle-board at sunrise, or jump onto one of the regular tourist boats.
Where to stay:
Hostel: Xibalba Hostel dorms from £18; right on the lakeside with free kayaks and bikes, nice rooms, only 12 beds though so book ahead
Better: Kulu Tubohostel Bacalar from £36; unique quirky and fun, pool, tequila bar, free breakfast and pizza nights *(we stayed here)
Best: Casa Bakal from £120; Enormous rooms, lakeside with outdoor pool, restaurant, activities offered, breakfast included
Lake Bacalar to Calakmul
An add-on for the intrepid, visit the truly lost city of Calakmul in the heartland of the central rainforest. This enormous site is rarely visited but has the 2nd highest Mayan pyramid and is one of the few sites that you are still allowed to climb. This is real Indiana Jones type tourism.
To get there take a bus from Bacalar to Chetumal and then stay the night in Xpujil.
Read more about how to get to Calakmul.
Where to stay:
Good: Cabanas Chaac from £10; Basic & clean in the centre of Xpujil. Free wifi, fans
Better: Chicanna Ecovillage from £52; close to the ruins and inside the biosphere reserve. It has an outdoor pool & food onsite.
Best: Casa Maya from £63; Large, clean rooms in studios with terraces, breakfast is included, free bikes
Calakmul to Sian Ka’an
Once you are back in Chetumal, head up the coast towards the Sian Ka’an reserve. Meaning “Origin of the Sky” this UNESCO reserve is a unique Mexican environment of jungle-forest, lagoons, ancient canals and a barrier reef. If you want coastal areas head in via Punta Allen or if you prefer inland jungles, ruins and mangroves head in via Muyil.
Where to stay:
Hostel: Cenote Encantado Tulum Eco-Glamping Camp tents from £12; eclectic camping village close to cenote encantado; yoga classes available
Better: Hotel Cielo y Selva from £51; private beachfront in Punta Allen for access to reserve
Best: Mukan Resort from £323; a perfect setting to escape and enjoy a peaceful stay, private beach, outdoor pool, spa, yoga classes in Punta Allen for access to reserve
Sian Ka’an to Tulum
Once you’ve fully explored the Sian Ka’an reserve Tulum is only a short journey further up the coast. Tulum has become one of Mexico’s top beach destinations and a fitting end to your trip. Boasting it’s own Mayan ruins overlooking the sea (with a lookout for approaching conquistadors), a plethora of cenotes, white sand beaches, not to mention the boutique hotels, excellent restaurants and tasty street food, it’s an unmissable stop for your trip.
Where to stay:
Hostel: Che Tulum Hostel dorms from £15; great pool and a large green area, clean rooms and fun party atmosphere in city centre
Better: Secret Garden Tulum Hotel from £46; central Tulum, tranquil space with tropical gardens and exotic birds, big clean rooms and free coffee *(we stayed here)
Best: Azulik from £371; beachfront with Mayan Wellness Centre; tree-house villas with private decks, 5-star dining at Kin Toh restaurant
And that’s it! What a trip! Head back to Cancun for your flight. You’ll be sun-tanned, stuffed with tacos and totally in love with Mexico.
Alternatively head west to see Mexico’s magial pacific west coast, have a look at how to road trip this area here
Summary of your Trip
Cancun -> Holbox -> Valladolid -> Mérida
Bacalar -> Calakmul -> Sian Ka’an -> Tulum -> Cancun
Feeling impulsive? Have a cheeky look at flights to Cancun on Skyscanner right now
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