Two Weeks in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

If you plan to spend two weeks in Mexico, you can see and do a little of everything on the Yucatán Peninsula. With 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.

waves breaking against a rocky shore
The coast of Isla Cozumel. Photo © Robert Flannagan/123rf.

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún but head south to Playa del Carmen, which is a better base for exploring the Riviera Maya. (Puerto Morelos, Akumal, Tankah Tres, and Soliman Bay also are good choices if you prefer something smaller.) If you plan to get in some serious diving, consider heading directly to Isla Cozumel to save yourself the ferry ride the next day. That, or just fly straight there!

Day 2

Spend your first full day underwater in the Riviera Maya. Just about every town along the coast has a dive shop (usually several) offering snorkeling and diving tours on the ocean reef. The waters in front of Puerto Morelos and Akumal have less boat traffic than Playa del Carmen. Or take the plunge in one of the Riviera Maya’s myriad cenotes, either at a park like Dos Ojos or on your own at a site like Jardín del Edén. Budget some beach time in the afternoon.

Day 3

Head inland. Get an early start and go straight to 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 at least three hours here. Check into a nearby hotel, have lunch, and spend the afternoon cooling off at Cenote Sagrado Azul, a popular site in Ik Kil ecopark. In the evening, head back to Chichén Itzá for its high-tech sound and light show.

Day 4

Get up early and head straight to 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, the murals in the government buildings, and the plaza. See what’s happening that evening—there’s a free cultural performance almost every night of the year.

flamingoes standing in water
Spend a day among the flamingos in Celestún Biosphere Reserve. Photo © javarman3/iStock.

Day 5

You can spend this day in a couple of 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. For this option, 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. Afterward, cross the road to the Museo del Chocolate, an engaging museum about the history of chocolate, which dates to the ancient Maya. Time permitting, visit one or two of the smaller Puuc ruins too. Check into a hotel in Ticul or Santa Elena, have dinner, and wind down with a relaxed evening in the town’s central plaza.

Day 6

Plan to drive to the beautiful colonial town of Campeche City this morning. Check into a hotel and then pick a few of the sights to take in. The museums along the city walls and at El Palacio Centro Cultural or Fuerte de San Miguel are especially good. If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, stroll down to the central park for a free musical performance and elote (corn on the cob) from a street cart. Most evenings, there’s also a spectacular sound and light show, a multimedia celebration of Campeche’s history.

Day 7

Start early for the long drive to Palenque. Check into your hotel and have dinner at Don Mucho in the jungle neighborhood of El Panchán. If you’re up for it, stay late for live music and fire dancers.

view of ruins in Chiapas from the air
Archaeologists have studied the Maya calendar, hieroglyphics, and astronomy at Palenque. Photo © Philgood/iStock.

Day 8

Spend your first day of Week Two in Mexico visiting Palenque archaeological zone. Be sure to leave time for the terrific on-site museum.

Day 9

Stay another day in Palenque to see some of the nearby attractions. If you still haven’t gotten enough of the Maya ruins, consider booking an all-day tour to Yaxchilán and Bonampak. Or visit the impressive waterfalls at Misol-Há and Agua Azul for a bit of outdoorsy fun.

Day 10

From Palenque, drive toward the southern Campeche town of Xpujil. Depending on your time and energy, visit one of the many small Maya ruins clustered along Highway 186 like Balamkú or Becán. Check into a hotel in Xpujil, or if your budget permits, at one along the highway.

Day 11

If you want to see even more ruins, a daylong 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.

Day 12

Drive to Tulum, where you can treat yourself to a beachside bungalow on one of Tulum’s glorious beaches. Spend the afternoon relaxing.

beach near el castillo in tulum, mexico
El Castillo in Tulum. Photo © diegocardini/iStock.

Day 13

Spend another beach day on Tulum’s quiet and dreamy southern beaches. If you get restless, get some snorkeling in at the great nearby cenotes of Gran Cenote or Car Wash. If you’re tired of the car, walk to Tulum ruins, dramatically overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Be sure to take your bathing suit for a dip in the ocean from the site’s small beach.

Day 14

Take a tour of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, an ideal place for fishing, bird-watching, and snorkeling and a perfect way to end your vacation.

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