The Best of the Yucatán
This is the biggie—see and do a little of everything in the Yucatán Peninsula in just two weeks. There are beaches to enjoy, ruins to explore, museums to visit, cenotes to snorkel in, and cities to discover—this is a trip for travelers with plenty of energy and a hankering to see it all. Renting a car for the entire trip will give you added speed and flexibility and ensure you have time to enjoy every stop. But if a rental car is out of your budget, most of the route can be done easily enough by bus. A good compromise is to rent a car for a few key days—we’ve mentioned where you should do this. Here goes:
Arrive in Cancún but head south to Playa del Carmen, which is a better base for exploring the Riviera Maya. (Akumal or Xpu-Há are other good choices). If you’re planning on diving, consider heading straight to Isla Cozumel to save yourself the ferry ride the next day.
Spend your first full day exploring the Riviera Maya underwater. Numerous shops in Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Puerto Morelos, Cozumel, and elsewhere offer great snorkeling tours on the ocean reef. Or try snorkeling in the cenotes, either at a park like Hidden Worlds or Dos Ojos, or on your own. Budget some beach time for the afternoon.
Time to head inland. Get an early start and head straight for Chichén Itzá, getting there as close to opening time as possible. That way you’ll have a jump on the big tour buses, and can enjoy these magnificent ruins with fewer people to weave around. Budget several hours there, and when you’re done head to Mérida.
Spend the whole day exploring Mérida, one of Mexico’s great colonial cities. Go to the anthropology museum or the modern art museum, the market, or just visit the church, murals in the government buildings, and the plaza. See what’s happening that night—there’s a free cultural performance every night of the year.
You can spend this day in a couple different ways. There are a number of great day trips from Mérida, including a flamingo tour in the town of Celestún, or visiting the colonial town of Izamal and swimming in cenotes near Cuzamá. Then again, if you especially love the Maya ruins, you won’t want to miss those along the Puuc Route. To do this, get an early start and visit Uxmal first—it is the biggest and the best of the sites here, and you don’t want to shortchange your time there. Time permitting, visit one or two of the smaller Puuc ruins as well. Check into a hotel in Ticul or Santa Elena, have dinner, then go to the sound and light show at Uxmal that night.
Plan on driving to Campeche City this morning. Check into a hotel and then pick a few of the sights to take in. The archaeology museum at Fuerte de San Miguel is especially good. If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, spend the evening in the park, where free musical performances are held and street carts sell food.
From Campeche City, drive to the southern Campeche town of Xpujil. Depending on your time and energy, visit one of the many small Maya ruins clustered along Highway 186.
If you want to see even more ruins, a day-long trip into Calakmul is a terrific experience, albeit tiring. Otherwise, jump ahead in the itinerary—you can always use the extra day at Tulum, either for more beach time or for exploring more of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Drive to Tulum, where you can treat yourself to a beachside bungalow on one of Tulum’s glorious beaches. Spend the afternoon relaxing.
Another beach day on Tulum’s quiet and dreamy southern beaches. If you get restless, sample some of the great cenote snorkeling around Tulum.
Take a tour of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, an ideal place for fishing, bird-watching, and snorkeling.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition