Discover what to do in Yucatan and all the points of interest not to be missed, both in the Yucatan Peninsula and in Quintana Roo (archaeological sites, lagoons, dream beaches, unusual places, the must-see cities and cénotes).

It is difficult to make all the visits in one trip but we have prepared 3 different roadtrips that we did during our 3 trips to Yucatan. You will be able to prepare your own by taking inspiration from our experiences, the various tours we have completed and the activities we have done in Mexico:

– Roadtrip 8 days

– Roadtrip 12 days

– Roadtrip 15 days

Here are the 15 things to do in Mexico in Yucatan that we consider essential:

1 – HOLBOX

Excursion Holbox avec guide francophone

 

Holbox Island is the first leg of our Yucatan roadtrip. As soon as we landed in Cancun, the rental car in hand, we flew the US resort to get to this island paradise. Far from mass tourism, you will find some independent travelers who seek calm and authenticity.

There is no car at Holbox but bikes or golf carts. You will find some roads but mostly sand, festive and local restaurants to taste Mexican ceviches or lobster fished the same morning.

The village is typical with its colorful and drawn walls, virgin dream beaches and a wide variety of wildlife. We could see the flamingo reserve (which is a nice alternative to Rio Lagartos if you do not have time to do both), whale sharks, nurse sharks, turtles, octopus and a whole bunch of fish. seabirds.

I invite you to see our article here to know what to do at Holbox in detail.

2 – PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is one of the seaside resorts of the Riviera Maya, 1h30 from Cancun. Ideally located in the heart of many of Yucatan’s must-see attractions, Playa del Carmen is known for its expansive white sand beaches and 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida), which runs along the beach where there are many shops and restaurants. Very touristy, if you are looking for authenticity, there is not much to do in Playa, it is much better to stay in Tulum. Like any seaside resort of Yucatan, at night it is illuminated by the bars and discotheques by the sea.
From this point of departure, like Tulum, you can easily visit several points of interest of Yucatan:

  • Cozumel (beautiful island in front of Playa, paradise beach, diving, snorkeling / diving)
  • Xel-ha (natural water park)
  • Dos Ojos (cenote)
  • Akumal (beach, snorkeling, turtles)
  • Chichen Itza (the most famous Maya pyramid, one of the 7 wonders of the world)
  • Tulum (small town more authentic, nature reserve, ruins, cenotes)
  • Coba (Mayan ruins on the road to Chichen Itza)
  • Sian Ka’an (magnificent natural reserve classified at UNESCO: dolphins, turtles, birds, crocodiles, manatees …)
  • I invite you to see our detailed article here to know what to do on Playa Del Carmen.

3- COZUMEL

 

The island of Cozumel is a must in Yucatan. Most of the island is uninhabited, which makes it authentic and still preserved. We did a dive in the Chankanaab eco-park i-n-o-u-b-l-i-a-b-l-e! It is a park bordering a lagoon offering underwater caves where we find lobsters, sharks, dolphins and sea turtles. It is very rare today to see a reef in such good condition. despite the warming of the water. Do not miss the most beautiful dives in the world if you’re in the area! I can guarantee you that it’s worth it 🙂
From Cozumel, we also went to Isla de Passion by boat. A perfect getaway on a private island for couples or families. It’s perfect for relaxing with the waves, on hammocks or swings beds!

It was an almost mandatory trip for our trip to Mexico and it’s worth it for a day! Yes, Yes … I know it’s hard to choose what to do so much that there is something to see on this Yucatan peninsula!

You can see our detailed article here to find out what to do in Cozumel.

4- AKUMAL

Tortue akumal

Akumal is a city between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. She is known for her huge beach and turtles. It was a stop to do absolutely a few years ago. The first time we went, there was not much tourism, the turtles were numerous and lived in their natural habitat.

Today, our opinion is mixed because the sighting of turtles that could be done a few years ago for free has now become a paying attraction. You are asked to put on a mandatory vest and you must pay 350 pesos to have the right to swim where they are most numerous. Each turtle is surrounded by dozens of tourists and GoPro. So why am I talking to you about this must-see place?

First of all you can get around the system by going in and going a little further down the beach. Once down, just do not enter the area marked by buoys and even if there are fewer turtles next there are still some and especially there is also a lot of fish in the area. fun and funny shapes, rays, etc … It’s also interesting to spend a day “rest” because the beach is really beautiful.

Next door there is a lagoon where you can do an unforgettable snorkeling. Some agencies do it tour organized but there is really no need, you can access easily and not paying much on site.

The lagoon and the cenote is called Yal-Ku. It is a relatively large nature reserve and when we went in 2018 there was hardly anyone there. The diversity of marine life is not to be missed, you can see many schools of fish and sometimes turtles and rays.

It is not only in Akumal where the turtles are found. You can observe them all along the coast. I found an alternative near Tulum where we can see them without a tourist horde. Just take a small boat and you will notice full

5- TULUM

ruine de tulum iguane

Tulum is well known mainly for its particularly well preserved and colorful remains, it is an ancient Mayan port city. You will find a breathtaking view of the ruins with turquoise water as far as the eye can see. At the edge of the beach, there are many independent eco-resorts that have a lot of charm. From high end to very basic. Some overlook cenotes, the dream!

It is also an excellent base for resting and visiting:
– The biosphere of Sian Ka’an not to be missed under any circumstances. Very rich for its fauna and flora, turtles, crocodiles and dolphins have been observed freely.
– The ruins of Muyil with the Chunyaxché lagoon and its Mayan channels.

– The Bacalar Lagoon

– Coba is only 45 minutes from Tulum and Chichen Itza at 1:30.

Around Tulum, there are many cenotes to do which are very beautiful and not necessarily very touristy.

I invite you to click here to find out more about what to do in Tulum.

6- EXCURSION À SIAN KA’AN

dauphins sian kaan

Sian Ka’an is huge. It is a nature reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You have certainly heard about it. For having done it three times, once with an agency and the other times with an independent guide, everywhere, I see that a lot of nonsense is told:

You have access to it with your own car. The agencies that tell you that it is not possible just want to make you pay a ride at 100-160 euros per person. They will take you there in van. You can go alone with your car (except between October and November when the road is too bad because of the rainy season, it is better a 4×4), even if a guide must be said is still a big plus .
Sian Ka’an’s tour and Muyil’s tour are two completely different tours.
The tour of Sian Ka’an offers you a natural spectacle of a still well preserved fauna where you will see families of dolphins and other animals.
The tour of Muyil is different, you do not go for wildlife but for the beauty of its Mayan ruins, its channels dug where you can swim.
I invite you to click here to have all the details about the reserve and to know all about Sian Ka’an’s excursions.

7- MUYIL

canaux maya

Muyil is a Mayan archeological site in the Quintana Roo region near Tulum, to the south. Muyil is not as well known as Chichen Itza and Uxmal but the site is still super nice to see as it overlooks the Chunyaxche lagoon and the Sian Ka’an reserve.

The Maya have dug several canals to connect the different lagoons together to have direct access to the sea. Let yourself be carried by the weak current for several minutes in the middle of the mangrove and in a perfectly transparent water and an emerald color makes the experience unique.

The excursions of Muyil end on a particularly beautiful deserted beach where we could observe many birds and enjoy the beach with its white sand!

You can click here for more details on Muyil’s excursions.

8- BACALAR

bacalar

 

2 hours from Tulum, when you continue in the south of Yucatan, on the east coast of the peninsula, you will find the village of Bacalar, a small town of 11 000 inhabitants, far from the many tourists. It is a compulsory passage to Yucatan because the beauty of the lagoon “seven colors” will bluff you! We discovered a real authenticity of the Mayan culture that was lost long ago in Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

In Bacalar you can do:
– A boat trip in the lagoon and in its cenotes.

– Kayaking on the lagoon and the pirate channel.

– Fort San Felipe, a museum of piracy that will explain Maya power to all businesses in North America and South America.

– An excursion to Chetumal, the state capital of Quintana Roo, where you will find the most famous Maya Museum.

You will find here more details about things to do in Bacalar.

9- CALAKMUL

ruine calakmul

The Calakmul biosphere is located 1h30 from Bacalar or 3h00 from Tulum but the archeological site is 4h from Bacalar. It is one of the most powerful and ancient Mayan cities discovered.

In the direction of the Chiapas region, Calakmul is on the way and it is a must biosphere to do. We saw a lot of exotic animals during our walk: crocodiles, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, agouti, black fox, multicolored guinea fowl, hundreds of different birds and bats at nightfall when we came back to Bacalar. .

It is strongly recommended to take a guide to get you into the jungle, it can make you discover the fauna and flora, and more particularly the plants and their medicinal virtues.

For more information on what to do in Calakmul, click here.

10 – PYRAMIDES DE COBA

Coba ruine

The Pyramids of Coba are 30 minutes drive from Tulum or 1h30 from Playa Del Carmen. They are on their way to Chichen Itza from Tulum. The ruins of Coba are our favorites because much less touristy than those of Chichen Itza or Tulum. The city of Coba was a powerful city at the time and is worth seeing. It’s not just an archaeological site, but there’s a whole jungle to visit to see the howler monkeys and spider monkeys, as well as the hidden cenotes.

In addition to the ruins, we were able to enjoy two cenotes where we were alone for a while: the cenote Multun-Ha and the cenote Tamcach-Ha. Kayaking and zip-lining at will, it’s only happiness! They are 10 minutes drive from the pyramids of Coba.

I let you discover the Cobà excursions that we have done and that we recommend with eyes closed here.
The Pyramids of Coba are 30 minutes drive from Tulum or 1h30 from Playa Del Carmen. They are on their way to Chichen Itza from Tulum. The ruins of Coba are our favorites because much less touristy than those of Chichen Itza or Tulum. The city of Coba was a powerful city at the time and is worth seeing. It’s not just an archaeological site, but there’s a whole jungle to visit to see the howler monkeys and spider monkeys, as well as the hidden cenotes.

In addition to the ruins, we were able to enjoy two cenotes where we were alone for a while: the cenote Multun-Ha and the cenote Tamcach-Ha. Kayaking and zip-lining at will, it’s only happiness! They are 10 minutes drive from the pyramids of Coba.

I let you discover the Cobà excursions that we have done and that we recommend with eyes closed here.
It is strongly recommended to take a guide to get you into the jungle, it can make you discover the fauna and flora, and more particularly the plants and their medicinal virtues.

10 – CHICHEN ITZA

site archéologique chichen itza

The Pyramids of Coba are 30 minutes drive from Tulum or 1h30 from Playa Del Carmen. They are on their way to Chichen Itza from Tulum. The ruins of Coba are our favorites because much less touristy than those of Chichen Itza or Tulum. The city of Coba was a powerful city at the time and is worth seeing. It’s not just an archaeological site, but there’s a whole jungle to visit to see the howler monkeys and spider monkeys, as well as the hidden cenotes.

In addition to the ruins, we were able to enjoy two cenotes where we were alone for a while: the cenote Multun-Ha and the cenote Tamcach-Ha. Kayaking and zip-lining at will, it’s only happiness! They are 10 minutes drive from the pyramids of Coba.

I let you discover the Cobà excursions that we have done and that we recommend with eyes closed here.
Chichen Itza is one of the 7 wonders of the world. This site is globally recognized and therefore ultra tourist. The city is 2 hours from Tulum or Cancun. It is advisable to stay one night on site to be able to enjoy the next day to be on site at the opening of the site with almost no one and before the buses flock from all over Yucatan.

Generally, we hate guided tours because we do not have the patience to follow a group of 20 people for three or four hours listening to a guide from afar. The guides at the entrance in addition to that offers you prices overpriced.

We finally chose to tour with an independent guide with 4 other people in groups of 6. The experience was super nice, it was much more intimate. The guide adapted to our desires and respected the time of 2 hours that we did not want to exceed. We chose the cenote that we wanted to do outside of Chichen Itza to get away from tourist groups … which are far too many at the Cenote Ik Ill of Chichen Itza to enjoy it. The explanations were very interesting and I admit that taking a guide is still not luxury, it completely changes the way we approach the site, we understand many things and the visit makes sense in contrast to the times when we did the tours alone.

We have put it online for you to be linked to this guide without going through an agency.

12 – RIO LAGARTOS

flaman rose rio lagartos

Rio Lagartos is a small fishing village. Here there are no luxury hotels, European restaurants or nightclubs. The village is 1h30 from Valladolid or 3 hours from Cancun. We discovered one of the largest reserves in the world of flamingos (it’s even the most important if I’m not mistaken).

We have seen thousands of flamingos, a beautiful pink lake, a raccoon and a lot of “cucaracha del mar” (species of skate rays with small legs of prehistoric crab).

We paid 1000 pesos per person to rent a lancha with a local fisherman and have a private tour. We fished with him and he then invited us to dinner at his place, with his friends, to eat the fish that we had caught 2 hours before. An unforgettable experience.

13 – MERIDA

eglise merida

Merida is the capital of Yucatan and it is one of the most important cities. This is an excellent central point of interest which brings together several points to be made in the region. We were able to visit:

– The colonial city of Merida.
– Uxmal, one of the highest and most impressive pyramids of Yucatan about 80km from Merida.
– Ruta Puuc is a Mayan city protected by UNESCO 15 minutes from Uxmal.
– The 3 cenotes of cuzama, including the cenote of Chelen Tun which is the prettiest.
– One of the most beautiful hacienda (plantation) of Yucatan called Yaxcopoil 30km from Merida.
– The magnificent Loltun caves at 120km from Merida.
– The Celestun nature reserve, a step not to be missed …

14 – CELESTUN

celestun excursion

Celestun is known for its flamingo stock, its many seabirds and for its boat or canoe trips in the mangrove, you can also participate in night excursions to observe the crocodiles.

For the anecdote, the first time we went there, the guide told us that we could not swim because there were crocodiles. The water on the picture looks cloudy but there is in one place a natural pool of crystal clear water completely transparent, hard to resist.

The second time, the guide told us that there were no worries and that we could swim! We looked at each other for a moment then we jumped and he explained to us that anyway the fauna is so rich that the crocodiles are not hungry, they are not aggressive and we can see them coming from a distance. Finally we bathed … and we are still there!

15 – UXMAL

uxmal visite

Uxmal was the political and economic center of Yucatan with a particular architectural style called Puuc and very specific to the region. We particularly liked this site because the setting is quite wild, without merchants and a reasonable number of tourists. It is a very very big site and a lot of different constructions.

We can ride on some that are rather high. The sound and light show at night is spectacular. The Pyramid of the Devin is so different from the other Mayan pyramids that it is a must to immerse yourself in the Mayan culture of the time.

Conlusion
There are certainly many more things to do but if you are already doing these main points of interest you will have taken advantage of your trip to the fullest.

To organize your trip to Yucatan, we have prepared a complete article on scams to avoid, how to book your car, choose the right hotels etc …

Have you visited other places that seem equally interesting?

Send us an email or leave us a comment, we will add it.

See you soon,
Marc

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