Recently I visited Yucatan for more than 2 months and visited all the Yucatan Peninsula highlights. Don’t worry this Yucatan itinerary is not gonna last 2 months! To tick off the best things to do in Yucatan Peninsula you will need at least two weeks, but even if you have less time, making a road trip in the Yucatan peninsula is a great idea. Just pick your favorite places to visit from the list below.
This Yucatan travel blog is more than just an itinerary. Not only will I show you the ultimate itinerary, but also find tips for a road trip, things to do, places to visit and everything else you need to know about a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. IF you are curious about my adventures roadtripping in Yucatan then you can read them at the end.
On a big trip in Mexico? Make sure to get a local sim card. Here is a guide for buying a sim card for Mexico in 2023. When you are ready to see more of this diverse country I recommend you to check out my article with the 20 Amazing Places to Visit in Mexico.
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Ultimate Yucatan Peninsula road trip itinerary
The picture above is showing you the ultimate 1 month road trip itinerary for Yucatan.
Day 1: Cancun (A)
Day 2-4: Isla Holbox (B) - island life
Day 5-6: Valladolid (C) - cenotes
Day 7: Ek Balam (D) - Maya ruins
Day 8-9: Rio Lagartos (E) - wildlife
Day 10: Chichen Itza (F) - Maya ruins
Day 11: Izamal (G) - picturesque town
Day 12-13: Merida (H) - authentic city life, cenotes
Day 14: Celestun (I)- wildlife
Day 15: Uxmal (J) - Maya ruins
Day 16: Chetumal (K) - Maya ruins
Day 17-18: Bacalar (L) - lake/lagoon
Day 19-20: Mahahual Costa Maya (M) - beaches
Day 21: Sian Ka’an (N) - wildlife
Day 22-23: Tulum (O) - beaches, cenotes
Day 24: Coba (P) - Maya ruins
Day 24: Akumal (Q) - beaches/snorkeling
Day 24-26: Playa del Carmen (R) - party
Day 27: Cozumel (S) - scooter adventure
Day 28: Puerto Morelos (T) - beach town
Day 29-30: Isla Mujeres (U) - beaches
As you can see the above Yucatan Itinerary is pretty damn packed full of cool places to see and things to do. Loads of ancient Maya ruins, sunsets, sea hammocks, ancient cities, snorkeling with turtles, beach destinations, cenotes, beautiful lakes, crocodiles, pelicans and a pink lake. Doesn’t this sound like a dream trip?
I will first give you some more Yucatan peninsula travel tips and then will tell a little bit about all the listed places to visit in Yucatan Peninsula.
Is a Yucatan Peninsula road trip safe?
Yes, yes, yes, yes! A road trip in the Yucatan is most probably safer than driving around your home country. Yucatan tourism did a lot to make this a safe place for tourists and it clearly has paid off. When I did a Yucatan road trip 11 years ago I saw loads of road blocks and military presence. This is all gone nowadays. Not a single moment on my Yucatan trip in March 2019 I felt unsafe, nor did I see anything suspicious. People around the Yucatan peninsula are extremely helpful. May you ever get lost, just ask for directions. These people don’t bite!
Make sure to always stay connected to the internet by buying a Telcel sim card. In my article the best sim card for tourists in Mexico in 2023 I found out that Telcel is the only mobile operator with decent network coverage all over Yucatan Peninsula.
There are reports of people getting stopped by the police for bribes, but all the Yucatan police did when they saw me was smiling and waving. Honestly I had not encountered any problems on my way, but literally just when I was about to gas up my car before bringing it back to the rental company they tried to scam me.
Be aware as this is a well known scam apparently! They try to scam you at gas stations. While writing about it I still get furious about how I got scammed. I sweared a lot in my best Spanish and made them all a fool in front of everyone. Basically 1 Liter gas costs 20 Pesos ($1), so a full tank is max 600 Pesos, half a tank max 300 Pesos, but the idiots asked me 700 Pesos for half a tank. So stupid! They tried it with the wrong person! Always look on the gas meter and see how many Liters approximately go in or just tell them for how many Pesos you want to gas up. The scam happened in a Pemex gas station in Playa del Carmen, the rest of the gas stations around Yucatan Peninsula were totally fine and very friendly people.
How is it to drive around Yucatan Peninsula?
The roads to the best places to visit in Yucatan are in a very good state. Almost all things to do in Yucatan are accessible by car, apart from some cenotes around Valladolid and Merida. There are only two toll roads in Yucatan Peninsula. One is Highway 180 from Cancun to Valladolid and the other one is highway 305D from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid. The rest of the roads are free of charge. On both toll roads they charge 233 Pesos ($12) for a normal car.
In Yucatan, Mexico they drive on the right side of the road. Apart from the 180(D) Highway from East to West and the 307 North to South you will be driving on single roads so be aware that there is upcoming traffic.
The most dangerous thing about a Yucatan road trip are the speed bumps. Very often there is no road sign for them and they are huge! Be aware that the speed limit often is not more than 90 km/h (60 mph). Just always drive within limits and the police won’t have a reason to stop you in the first place.
Is it expensive to rent a car in Yucatan Peninsula?
You would be surprised if I tell you that a Yucatan road trip is very affordable. Renting a car in Yucatan Peninsula is super cheap. For less than $10 per day you can already find a small car with unlimited kilometers/miles. I chose to get full coverage and therefore I paid another $12 extra per day. In total I paid a little over $20 per day for renting a car to complete most of my Yucatan itinerary.
I rented my car at MEX Rent a Car in Playa del Carmen. The employee that helped me was Carolina and she did a great job. It was smooth, fast and upon returning there was no issue.
As I said gas costs only 20 Pesos ($1) per Liter and there are hardly any toll roads. A full tank for a small car is 30 Liters. One full tank will last for 500 kilometer (310 miles).
Of course it is not necessary to rent a car to complete this ultimate Yucatan itinerary. I only rented a car for about two weeks, the rest I traveled around Yucatan peninsula by bus. The public transport in the Yucatan is very well organized and there is an extensive bus transportation system. The best bus company and of course also the most expensive is ADO. They have good, clean tourist class busses.
Because all the busses from Cancun to Isla Holbox were full I one time had to go with Oriente. Trust me if there is a choice, always pay the couple dollars extra for an ADO bus. Oriente overbooked the bus and an Italian guy had to sit in the isle for 3 hours.
If you want to backpack Yucatan in style then there also is the ADO premium class. This luxury bus is like traveling in business class. Worth the experience, but it is double as expensive.
A standard ADO bus ticket cost about $4 per hour. If you book in advance they claim to give you discounts, but I tried it myself and the prices stay the same. Therefore I would never really book in advance.
I wrote a complete guide for backpacking Yucatan with 22 travel tips, check it out in the link.
Best time to visit Yucatan Peninsula
Weather wise the best time to travel to Yucatan Peninsula is November to February when temperatures are the coolest. March, April and May it can get really hot and humid and from June till October is the official rainy season. High season is from December till April and therefore the best month to visit Yucatan Peninsula is November.
How much does it cost to visit Yucatan Peninsula
It all depends on what kind of traveler you are but there are a million ways to save money on a road trip in Yucatan. Accommodation doesn’t have to be expensive it just comes down how much privacy you are willing to sacrifice. There are great hostels around for those backpacking Yucatan, but Airbnb is a great option too. Food in the supermarket is much cheaper than back home and you can already eat breakfast, lunch and dinner for $5 per day if you prepare your meals yourself. Local food can easily be found for less than $5 per meal as well. Beers in Yucatan are cheap and at most local places you pay around $1 for a beer. Backpacking Yucatan can easily be done for less than $40 per day!
21 Best places to visit in Yucatan Peninsula
1. Cancun (A)
If you feel like you need a day to rest from your flight to Cancun there are endless amazing Cancun hotels on the hotel strip. This is also where you will find the best beaches in Yucatan. Most of them are privately owned by the hotels though. Cancun is the best base for your Yucatan itinerary. Car rentals are cheap and busses go in all directions from either Cancun Airport or downtown. From here it is easy to get to all the amazing places to visit in Yucatan. A cool day trip from Cancun is Rio Secreto, an underground river tour.
2. Isla Holbox (B)
In case you are jet legged this is where you want to get rid of it. If you travel to Isla Holbox you will understand why, because here it is all about that slow paced island life. The Caribbean vibes are all over this car-free island. Bike around the sandy streets until you find your perfect spot on a deserted beach or find a lounge bed in one of the beach clubs.
Don’t forget to got to Punta Coco to swing in a hammock for sunset, it was one of my favorite things to do in Yucatan Peninsula. Find all my Isla Holbox tips in the link. Isla Holbox is like one big resort for people backpacking Yucatan. Oh yeah and here is where you can swim with whalesharks a couple months a year.
3. Valladolid (C)
Soak up some real authentic Mexican lifestyle in this charming city. This is where you will find hidden haciendas, colorful houses, instagram spots, lovely restaurants and boutique shops. Valladolid is a small city with a lot of soul and most famous for its spectacular cenotes around Valladolid.
This is Cenote Suytun, one of the most famous cenotes in Yucatan and a famous Instagram photo spot. Make sure to visit the cenote at the right time of day or get disappointed. Check out my tips in the link above. Exploring the cenotes by bike is one of the great things to do on your Yucatan trip. Click here for my list of 22 Valladolid Mexico travel tips.
4. Ek Balam (D)
Meet the Mayas for the first time on your Yucatan itinerary. The little brother of Chichen Itza is close to Valladolid and can be done on a day trip or on your way to Rio Lagartos. Here you will also find Cenote Xcanche to cool off on a hot day. The best thing about Ek Balam is that you are still allowed to climb the pyramids and therefore one of the best places to visit in Yucatan Peninsula.
5. Rio Lagartos (E)
My trip to Rio Lagartos turned out to be one of my favorite things to do in Yucatan Peninsula. I had zero expectations and for less than $15 I got a 3 hour boat trip, including bird watching, mud bath, flamingos, crocodiles, a mangroves tour and got to see Las Coloradas Pink Lake.
When you travel to Yucatan Peninsula make sure you visit Rio Lagartos! Add this place in your itinerary, it is worth it. Click here for all my Rio Lagartos travel tips.
6. Chichen Itza (F)
There is no Yucatan travel guide that doesn’t include Chichen Itza, but on my last Yucatan trip in March 2019 I didn’t go. I went to visit Chichen Itza 11 years ago and of course it blew my mind. I heard that nowadays it got extremely touristy, but for a reason. This is one of the 7 World Wonders and a must visit in Yucatan Peninsula. If you are backpacking Yucatan be aware that the entrance fee since 2019 is raised to 480 Pesos ($25). Secret Yucatan Peninsula travel tip is to download a tour guide app for Chichen Itza for $1 to save money on an expensive guide.
I bet after you visit Chichen Itza you want to take a refreshing dip in one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan Peninsula: cenote Ik Kil, just 5 minutes away from Chichen Itza. Click on the link to see my vlog about and a complete blog post with 25 things to know about this Chichen Itza cenote.
7. Izamal (G)
A little detour on your way from Chichen Itza to Merida there is the yellow city of Izamal, definitely worth a stop on your Yucatan itinerary. It is a Maya pilgrimage for a sun god so it made sense to paint your house yellow but when in 1993 the Pope visited Izamal they all went bonanza painting their houses yellow. It is a unique place to see in Yucatan Peninsula.
8. Merida (H)
The capital of the Yucatan State and the most authentic city on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is considered the oldest city in the Americas and of course full of history. This is where you go dancing in charming bars at night and escape the daily heat by swimming in cenotes. The Merida nightlife is the best place to soak up some latin vibes. Merida is a peaceful city with amazingly friendly people and a vibrant vibe. Plan you Yucatan Peninsula itinerary so that you visit Merida on a Sunday. There are street markets and live music everywhere around the city. It was one of the best experiences on my Yucatan road trip. Click here for all my Merida Mexico travel tips.
9. Celestun (I)
Visiting Celestun is kind of the same as a trip to Rio Lagartos. Depending on the month of your Yucatan Peninsula trip this is where you will find much bigger groups of flamingos though. They can be found with hundreds together here in Celestun. Find also plenty bird life, crocodiles, boat trips and a peaceful fishing village. Visiting Celestun is best to be done on a day trip from Merida.
10. Uxmal (J)
The very impressive Uxmal ruins deserve a spot in this list of amazing places to visit in Yucatan Peninsula. Great thing about the Uxmal ruins is that you can still climb one of the big pyramids and it offers great jungle views. Uxmal can also be visited as a day trip from Merida or on your way to Chetumal or Bacalar.
11. Chetumal (K)
I honestly wasn’t really impressed by the capital of the Quintana Roo state and one night is enough here to rest from your long drive from Uxmal ruins. Chetumal is the border town with Belize and hasn’t really any tourist attractions. It is great if you are backpacking Yucatan as it is really cheap. You won’t often find it in any Yucatan Peninsula travel guide, although some Costa Maya ruins are nearby: Kohunlich, Dzibanche and Kinichna. These ruins are totally off the beaten path and you will have them all for yourself. You could visit them on your way from Uxmal to Bacalar. If you decide to skip Chetumal on your Yucatan peninsula itinerary I would totally understand.
12. Bacalar (L)
One of the newest Yucatan Peninsula highlights is Bacalar. Located on an utterly stunning lake renown for its shades of blue it is now named in every Yucatan travel blog. The town is struggling with its popularity though and good value accommodation is hard to find. Go kayaking on the lake or hop on a boat to the Pirates channel and enjoy the day in this absolutely amazing lagoon. There are also several ‘beach’ clubs located along the lake and tubing or kayaking tours are among the best things to do here. For amazing food go to the Vegan restaurant Mango y Chile.
13. Mahahual, Costa Maya (M)
The Yucatan Peninsula is full of amazing tourist destinations and another favorite of mine was Mahahual Costa Maya Costa Maya. This sleepy fishing village quickly changed into a tourist hotspot when they constructed the Costa Maya cruise port in Mahahual.
Although on cruise days the town can get busy it still is one of the coolest places to visit in Yucatan. The best thing to do in Costa Maya is to grab a beer and swing in a sea hammock.
14. Sian Ka’an (N)
The only place I have not been on this ultimate Yucatan itinerary. It surely is an off the beaten path tourist destination in Yucatan Peninsula as it is hard to get to. When you are on a road trip it makes things easier. Sian Ka’an is popular for day trips from Playa del Carmen and Tulum as here you can snorkel with manatees, sea turtles, dolphins and even see crocodiles all in one boat trip. All this wildlife makes a Sian Ka’an boat trip one of the best things to do in Yucatan Peninsula.
15. Tulum (O)
The Tulum beaches, cenotes and Maya ruins have been the main reasons to visit Tulum, but over the last years this city gained popularity through Instagram as a real hipster place.
Co-working spaces, lovely coffee cafe’s, vegan restaurants and yoga workshops are well present in Tulum. A great place for many digital nomads boosting an inspiring vibe. There are no high-rise hotels to be found in Tulum which makes it a much more relaxing place to visit in Yucatan Peninsula.
16. Coba (P)
When thinking about visiting Maya Ruins in Quintana Roo then Coba is your best bid. It can easily be done on a day trip from Playa del Carmen and Tulum. There is no need to stay overnight at Coba unless you want to be the first one in and climb the pyramid without any other tourists around. Still not sure where to go then read my Coba vs. Tulum Ruins article.
17. Akumal (Q)
Once a super small village and one of the best kept Yucatan Peninsula travel tips. There is a stunning beach with a reef just offshore full of sea turtles and stingrays. Apparently the marine wildlife can still be seen, but nowadays Akumal beach is not public anymore. To protect the ecosystem you will now have to pay 100 Pesos ($5) for beach access, but snorkeling with sea turtles is still possible. I stayed overnight in Akumal, but it can easily be done on a day trip from Playa del Carmen or Tulum as well.
18. Playa del Carmen (R)
No need to introduce one of the most popular places to visit in Yucatan Peninsula. The notorious Playa del Carmen is a super touristy destination, great for those looking to party. For miles there are many big all inclusive resorts lined up along the beach and there is a party to be found everywhere around the famous 5th Avenue. From Playa del Carmen there are many day trips to be found like Selvatica Canopy adventure, Tulum and Coba tour, etc.
19. Cozumel (S)
Towards the end of your Yucatan Peninsula itinerary it is time for some island vibes again. Cozumel is a very popular cruise destination in the Yucatan Peninsula. A day trip to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen is an option but then you will miss the amazing sunsets. Rent a scooter on Cozumel and drive around the island.
Beach clubs, deserted beaches, snorkeling and even surfing can be found here. If you have more time and are a scuba dive lover then you will love a trip to Cozumel.
20. Puerto Morelos (T)
Want to escape the hustle and bustle of the Riviera Maya than make sure you include Puerto Morelos on your Yucatan road trip. A super chilled beach town right in the middle of Playa del Carmen and Cancun. Snorkeling in amazing here read more about it in my Puerto Morelos travel blog.
21. Isla Mujeres (U)
The best way to end your Yucatan itinerary is by soaking up some final beach vibes before you get back in the plane. Isla Mujeres is just a stone throw away from Cancun and offers one of the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula. Although touristy there are still places to escape the crowds and when the day trips from Cancun leave Im sure you will find this the best place to end your Yucatan trip. Check out this article for the best things to do in Isla Mujeres in 2023.
I am pretty sure when you would tick off all the above cool things to do and amazing places to visit in Yucatan Peninsula it is going to be the trip of your lifetime!
My experience traveling in Yucatan
In total I traveled, played, partied, explored, road tripped, chilled and toured around the Yucatan Peninsula for more than 2 months. Of those two months I rented a car for about 2 weeks and went to Rio Lagartos, Valladolid, Bacalar, Mahahual and back to Playa del Carmen. I stayed 5 days in Cozumel, decided to go to Holbox for a little bit and spent a week in Cancun and Isla Mujeres. Also traveled in and between Playa del Carmen and Tulum for some days before I moved to Merida for almost two weeks. From here I visited Celestun, Uxmal and Izamal. Then I slowly traveled back and crashed again in Valladolid and through Playa del Carmen and Tulum I ended up in Cancun again and ended my Yucatan Peninsula trip in Isla Mujeres.
As you can see my road trip itinerary wasn’t really planned out very well and most of the Riviera Maya places I visited twice. But as a digital nomad and professional travel blogger I had all the time in the world to visit Yucatan Peninsula the way I wanted. Most of the times I traveled around by bus and as I said that is very comfortable.
Distances aren’t actually that long as the longest bus ride was from Cancun to Merida, which was less than 4 hours. A place where I really enjoyed having a car was around Merida. But that was also because I visited almost 15 cenotes around that area. There is no need for you to tick them all off, but I wanted to write an extensive travel blog about the Valladolid cenotes.
Where to stay in Yucatan Peninsula?
There are a ton of cheap places to be found in every city. Mostly I booked my hotels while on the road. Make sure you get a prepaid sim card for Mexico sim card to be always connected to the internet and save on high roaming costs. For longer than 3 nights in the same place I prefer an Airbnb as they are cheaper for long term rent. Mostly check out both and find your prefered one. I never made a reservation in advanced, always on the spot.
May you have any additional questions then leave me a comment and Im happy to help. Let my Instagram account @traveltomtom fuel you with wanderlust. As I am trying to visit every country in the world you might see places you never heard of before. As of March 2023 I have been to more than 150 countries.
I sincerely hope all this info and these tips about traveling to Yucatan Peninsula were helpful for planning your trip. If you feel like helping me then please share the link of this article somewhere on the internet. Every share on Facebook is amazing and much appreciated and so is a tweet on Twitter or a pin on Pinterest. Thanks you very much in advance for helping me in return.