For an epic Yucatan road trip, here is a detailed 10-day Yucatan itinerary packed with outdoor adventures and cultural immersions.
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a lot more than just all-inclusive resorts and wide sandy beaches — it’s dotted with gorgeous cenotes (underwater sinkholes), impressive ancient ruins and charming colonial towns. Since moving here, we’ve discovered that the region really has no shortage of archaeological ruins, historical colonial cities, and freshwater caves.
We chose to live here, for good reasons! I promise you’ll fall for the Yucatan, just as we did. To help you plan the perfect Yucatan road trip, I’ve put together this action-packed Yucatan itinerary that will show you the best beaches, colonial cities and ancient sites in just 10 days.
Table of Contents
- Yucatan ROAD TRIP GUIDE
- My 10-Day Yucatan Itinerary
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 1: Arrive in CANCUN
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 2: Valladolid
- Swim in Cenote Zaci
- Visit Convent of San Bernardino
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 3: Ek Balam
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 4: Chichen Itza
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 5: Merida
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 6: Merida
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 7: Uxmal Day Trip
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 8: Drive to Tulum
- Yucatan Itinerary Day 9: Tulum Ruins
- Itinerary Day 10: Fly Home!
Yucatan ROAD TRIP GUIDE
How to Get to the Yucatan Peninsula
The main gateway to Yucatan is Cancun International Airport (even though Cancun is not in the Yucatan state). Flying into Cancun from the US is really affordable. You can fly from New York to Cancun for as little as $300 return (4.5-hour flight). Flights from Los Angeles to Cancun are slightly more expensive around US$350 return (4.5-hour flight).
Flying from Europe to Mexico is also affordable, especially from London and Madrid. We took a direct flight from Madrid to Cancun on Iberojet for just $350. You can get really cheap deals off season.
Alternatively, the biggest airport in the Yucatan state is the Merida International Airport (MID). It serves mainly cities in Mexico, but also Houston and Toronto airports.
Mexico Travel Requirements
Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane or ferry. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. It is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
How to Get Around the Yucatan
For this Yucatan road trip, I recommend hiring a compact car. An economy rental car in Mexico averages just $200 for a whole week, which is less than $25 a day. The current price for gas is 16.50 pesos per liter (about $2.50 per gallon), though this varies throughout the country.
It’s generally easy to drive in Mexico, especially outside of the cities. I drive in Playa del Carmen everyday and find it quite easy: just watch out for portholes and crazy drivers! In this Yucatan itinerary, we cover roads that are in relatively good conditions.
If you don’t want to drive in Mexico, it is absolutely possible to follow this Yucatan itinerary by bus. Mexico has an extensive bus network and buses are really affordable. The buses are generally good quality and air-conditioned. The most popular bus company in the region is Grupo ADO. Book tickets online to ensure availability. Some offer luxury or de lujo services with lots of legroom, reclining seats, and TVs.
Best Time for a Yucatan Road Trip
The best time to visit the Yucatan is during the dry season between December and April, when there is virtually no rain. Head to the Yucatan Peninsula at the start of the season (November to early December) when prices are lower. Read this guide on the best time to visit the Riviera Maya.
The wet season begins in the south in May and lasts until October. The Caribbean coast can be affected by the hurricane season, which runs from June to November. Try to avoid public holiday as surcharges are common around Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter.
The Yucatan Peninsula celebrates many Mexican holidays, including Carnaval in February, Semana Santa (Easter) in April , and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in October. We were there for their Independence Day on 15 September, and it was a spectacular event!
Is this Yucatan Road Trip Safe?
Yucatan is one of the safest places in Mexico for travelers. While petty crime is common here, it has one of the lowest rates of homicide in Mexico (10 times lower than the rest of the country).
Many travelers report that taking public transport around the peninsula is safe during the day. However, like the rest of Mexico, it’s advised not to travel around at night. Carjackings have been reported, most occurring at night or on desolate roads.
A common scam targeting visitors is money switching, particularly at gas stations. You may hand over a 500 peso note and the attendant swiftly changes it for a 50 peso note, insisting you need to pay more. Make sure when you hand over the correct amount, keep your eyes on them and don’t leave until you have the correct change.
How Much Does a Yucatan Road Trip Cost?
Mexico is generally very affordable, but the Yucatan Peninsula is slightly more expensive than other parts of Mexico that receive less tourism. Budget travelers can survive on around US$40 – $50 per day.
Hiring your own car will cost around US$30 per day for car hire. Buses are cheap, ranging from $2 to $25 depending on the distance. Accommodation usually ranges from $30 for a hostel room to $150 for a 4-star hotel. Mexican food is incredibly good and cheap everywhere. You can get 3 tacos for $3, or $5-10 per meal in a restaurant.
My 10-Day Yucatan Itinerary
As Yucatan is massive, you’ll need at least 10 days to see some of the main highlights. I added Tulum in this itinerary even though it’s not in the Yucatan state (it’s in Quintana Roo), as it’ll be a shame to miss out on the Caribbean beaches if you’re already here.
This is a summary of my recommended Yucatan itinerary. I will be giving a day-to-day breakdown below.
- Day 1: Arrive in Cancun
- Day 2: Valladolid
- Day 3: Day Trip to Ek Balam
- Day 4: Day Trip to Chichen Itza
- Days 5-7: Merida
- Day 8-10: Tulum
Yucatan Itinerary Day 1: Arrive in CANCUN
Begin your 2-week Mexico itinerary in Cancun. If you’re coming a long way here, then spend a few nights at a resort in Cancun and have some downtime. Check out our list of fun things to do in Cancun and where to stay in Cancun. But for those who don’t like lazing at an all-inclusive resort (like us), I recommend heading straight to Valladolid.
Calm and unpretentious Valladolid is one of the best kept secrets of the Yucatan Peninsula. Despite being the closest town to Chichen Itza, Valladolid is surprisingly quiet and laidback. It’s a 2-hour drive away from Cancun, on a new tolled highway.
Listed as one of Mexico’s pueblo magico (magical towns), Valladolid is lined with cobblestoned streets, pastel colored houses and old colonial buildings converted into art galleries or indie boutiques. It also has a large Mayan population — you’ll see plenty of locals walking around in traditional dress and lots of the restaurants serving typical Mayan dishes.
Where to Stay in Valladolid
Budget: Casa Hipil
A lovely homely budget option, this place feels more like a guesthouse than a hotel and even has a lounge and communal kitchen. It’s warm and welcoming with clean and comfortable en suite rooms. Check rates here.
Midrange: Hotel Colonial Zaci
Located just one block from the main central square, Hotel Colonial Zaci is a graceful and elegant choice. Rooms feature dark wood furniture and beautifully-patterned tiles on the floor, but also feel modern and updated. There’s also a lovely central courtyard to relax in. Check rates here.
Luxury: Le Muuch
One of the best and newest hotels in Valladolid, Le Muuch is full of charm and color. Open-air public spaces feel jungle-like with lots of plants and foliage. Individually-decorated rooms are themed around different precious stones and feature added touches such as a hammock, traditional cookies and local Mexican coffee. Check rates here.
Yucatan Itinerary Day 2: Valladolid
Don’t be fooled by the small size of Valladolid. There are actually many things to do in Valladolid, from exploring archaeological sites to cenotes and charming colonial architecture.
One of the best things to do in Valladolid is to wander around town aimlessly. It’s such a pleasure strolling along the streets, admiring the pastel colored houses and wondering what surprise is in store around each corner.
The most photogenic street in Valladolid is the Calzada de los Frailes, which has been tastefully restored with indie boutiques, museums, and small cafes. Be sure to stop at Idilio Folklore Cervecero, a stylish restaurant that offers a small museum and beer tasting sessions.
Swim in Cenote Zaci
Valladolid is unique in the fact that it boasts a cenote right in the center of town: the Cenote Zaci. While beautiful and easy to get to, it’s not the most spectacular of the Cenote’s close to Valladolid. One of the best we visited was Cenote Saamal, a very deep cenote with a gorgeous tumbling waterfall. Just grab a taxi from the central square to get there.
Visit Convent of San Bernardino
In the evening, head out to the elegant San Bernardino Convent, where you’ll see video mapping and colored lights are projected onto the sides of the complex. The projections tell the story of Valladolid and its history in a beautiful and magical way. Check with the Tourist Information Office on the main square as to the days and timings.
Yucatan Itinerary Day 3: Ek Balam
Visit the Stunning Cenote Suytun
I’m a big fan of cenotes: they’re in essence natural sinkholes or caves that contain water. Cenotes were commonly used for water supplies by the ancient Maya, and occasionally for sacrificial offerings. Of all the cenotes I’ve been, my absolute favorite is Cenote Suytun.
Yes, it’s risen to enormous fame thanks to Instagram, but it’s one of those rare few places that’s actually as magical as it appears in photos. I took the following photos with my iPhone (no filter!) and didn’t need any fancy photography equipment.
If you visit first thing in the morning (9am) like we did, you’ll avoid the crowd and be able to capture the famous sunbeam (provided it’s sunny). It’s only a 12-minute drive from Valladolid. Read my guide to visiting Cenote Suytun.
Explore Ek Balam
A 20-minute drive from Cenote Suytun is the spectacular and less-visited archaeological site, Ek Balam. It’s equally impressive but far less commercialised (you won’t find any vendors here!). Read my guide to Ek Balam ruins.
It’s also still possible to climb to the top of the pyramids. At 100 feet (29m) high, the Acropolis is the tallest structure in Ek Balam. A spectacular view awaits at the top: ancient pyramids poking above the tree canopy and lush green jungles for as far as the eye can see!
Midway to the top of the pyramids is the tomb of Ek Balam’s powerful ruler, Ukil-Kan-Lek-Tok, who reigned during the city’s peak in 800 A.D. The tomb is being restored, but you can see carvings, paintings, and murals.
Swim in Cenote X’canche
Next to the archaeological site of Ek Balam is the wild and rugged Cenote X’canche.We absolutely loved the wild and atmospheric setting of this cenote. It’s surrounded by the jungle, with tree roots hanging over the spearmint blue water and rickety wooden bridges running along the sides of the cenote. There’s also a zipline over head, which our 6.5 year old daughter loved!
Best of all, it was actually empty when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, and we had the whole place to ourselves.
Yucatan Itinerary Day 4: Chichen Itza
One of the highlights for any first-time visitor to the Yucatan Peninsula is surely Chichen Itza, one of the country’s most celebrated Mayan archaeological sites. An important Mayan-Toltec city it spans a thousand years of history. Today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it ranks #1 on the best things to do in Yucatan.
It’s only a 30-minute drive from Valladolid, but I recommend leaving early and reaching the site around 8am, before all the day-trippers arrive from Cancun. I also suggest hiring a guide, as there aren’t many plaques or information. Read my guide on how to get to Chichen Itza.
Float in Cenote Ik Kil
No trip to Chichen Itza is complete without a swim in the Cenote Ik Kil, a sinkhole that is connected to Chichen Itza by a raised pathway. It’s said that this large natural well may have given Chichen Itza (“Well of the Itzáes”) its name.
The use of the Sacred Cenote was exclusively ceremonial. Over the years, the water has yielded many artifacts including gold, jade, copper, shells and the bones of around 200 people who were thrown in as a sacrifice.
This cenote isn’t my favorite, as it’s the most commercialized that we visited (artificial stairways, lookout points and too many tour groups). But with an almost perfect circular opening and lush green vegetation dangling over the water, the cenote definitely has a stunning setting.
Cost: 150 Pesos ($7.50) per person
Yucatan Itinerary Day 5: Merida
Visit the Yellow City of Izamal
Your Yucatan road continues further inland, to the cultural capital of Merida. It’s an easy 2-hour drive from Valladolid, but be sure to make a stop at Izamal. Nicknamed La Ciudad Amarilla (the Yellow City),
Izamal earned its nickname from the traditional golden-yellow buildings that spiral out from the center like a budding daisy. The small provincial town is easily explored on foot, and spiffy horse-drawn carriages add to the city’s charm.
Soak up Mexican Culture in Merida
For culture vultures, a visit to Merida is definitely the highlight of this Yucatan road trip. The vibrant capital of the Yucatan Peninsula has a rich Mayan and colonial heritage. Known as the White City, Merida was also named the American Capital of Culture in 2017.
The city’s focal point is Plaza de la Independencia, bordered by the fortresslike Mérida Cathedral and white limestone Iglesia de la Tercera Orden, both colonial-era churches built using relics from ancient Mayan temples. Don’t miss the Casa de Montejo, a 16th-century mansion, is a landmark of colonial plateresque architecture.
Where to Stay in Merida
Budget: Hotel & Hostal Boutique Casa Garza
A beautiful budget option for solo travelers, this centrally-located hostel has beautiful rooms with a garden, terrace and small pool. Check rates here.
Midrange: Villa Orquídea Boutique Hotel
Also housed in a beautifully-restored colonial building, this boutique hotel features an all-white exterior and slick, elegant interiors. The avant-garde pool is to die for! Check rates here.
Luxury: Casa Azul Monumento Histórico
Set in a 19th-century listed building, this heritage hotel is said to be the best in Merida. The extravagant hotel has luxurious suites with high ceilings, antique furniture, artwork and mosaic tiled floor. Check rates here.
Yucatan Itinerary Day 6: Merida
See the Monumento a la Patria
The next day, sleep in and take your time as you’ll have the whole day to explore the city of Merida. Make your first stop the Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Fatherland) designed by Colombian sculptor, Romulo Rozo. It chronicles about 700 years of Mexican history and features more than 300 hand-carved figures. On it, you’ll see artistic representations of Mayan rain god, Chaac, and more.
Visit the Palacio de Gobierno
Explore the Mayan World Museum of Merida
Catch a Pok Ta Pok Mayan Ball Game
Yucatan Itinerary Day 7: Uxmal Day Trip
A 1-hour drive from Merida is Uxmal, another UNESCO-listed Maya ruin celebrated for its impressive construction and ornate stone carvings. It is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of Maya culture, along with Chichen Itza, Caracol and Xunantunich in Belize, and Tikal in Guatemala.
The name Uxmal means ‘thrice-built’ in Mayan. It refers to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician which was built on top of existing pyramids. This archaeological complex has much less crowds than Chichen Itza. It is massive and there are very few signs, I highly recommend hiring a guide for this.
Experience a Shaman Ritual in Cenote Sacamucuy
On your drive back to Merida, make a stop at Cenote Sacamucuy, where local shamans still perform traditional rituals. The shaman performs a wellness ceremony to fill one’s soul with powerful positive energy. The ritual involves giving a beautiful offering of colorful flowers, medicinal plants, cocoa beans and candles to the gods via fragrant copal (tree resin) incense. You can book a traditional Mayan purification ritual through Hacienda Temozon.
Yucatan Itinerary Day 8: Drive to Tulum
It’s time to head back to the coast! Drive 3 hours back to Tulum. Once a sleepy coastal town, Tulum has transformed into a trendy beach destination loved by hipsters, honeymooners and yogis alike. Read our comprehensive Tulum travel guide.
Even so, the area near the beach hasn’t been overly built up and the jungle comes right down the sand. Beyond the beach, you’ll also find cenotes (sinkholes filled with crystal clear waters), secluded lagoons, turtle reserves, and fascinating Mayan ruins that have been tumbled and shaped by time. Check out our list of best things to do in Tulum.
The town itself doesn’t have any particular attractions, but it’s great for tacos and vegan food. For lunch, there are some great places to dine in town. If you’re a vegetarian, I highly recommend La Hoja Verde, which offers lots of typical Mexican dishes with vegetarian alternatives. The other place I absolutely loved was Burrito Amor , who make their own deliciously spicy sauces.
Where to Stay in Tulum
If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend spending one night on Tulum beach and one night in Tulum town. Both accommodation and food are very expensive near the beach. The two areas are around 2.5 miles (4km) away apart. Check out my guide on where to stay in Tulum.
Budget: Che Tulum Hostel
Situated in the center of Tulum Town, this may be a budget choice, but it still offers an outdoor pool and fun hip vibe. There are both private and dorm rooms available, as well as lockers and free wi-fi. They also rent bikes, so you can easily cycle to the beach. Check the rates here.
Midrange: Coco Hacienda
Sitting on the edge of town, the Coco Hacienda is a great option for those who don’t want to pay the high prices on the beach, but still enjoy being surrounded by nature. As it is located a bit out of the center, the hotel has a large tropical garden filled with palms and banana fronds. It’s built in a rustic colonial style and has two tranquil swimming pools. Check the rates here.
Luxury: The Beach
As the name suggests, this gorgeous eco-boutique hotel sits right on the beach and offers a boho-chic vibe with a rustic charm. The luxurious thatched cottages offer private plunge pools and hammocks, while the communal areas feature several pools hidden amongst the jungle foliage. There are also free yoga classes each morning. Check the rates here.
Yucatan Itinerary Day 9: Tulum Ruins
You can’t travel to Yucatan without visiting the Tulum Archeological Zone. The area is filled with Mayan ruins, which sit high above the turquoise Caribbean Sea, as well as numerous iguana and tropical flora. Remember to bring your bathing suit as there are a few lovely white sand beaches, which can only be accessed from the site.
Visit Mystika Tulum
Right by the Tulum ruins entrance is the new museum, Mystika Tulum. It’s a one-of-a-kind sensory experience, designed to take you on a journey through large-format photographs and multi-sensory installations. This spectacular venue has behind the brilliant mind of its founder Pepe Soho, one of the most recognized Mexican photographers.
Swim in the Gran Cenote
After a busy day under the sun, head to the Gran Cenote, a gorgeous sinkhole filled with clear turquoise-colored waters, partly open to the sky and partly under an enchanting cave. Remember to bring a mask and snorkel with you (or rent one when you’re there) as a variety of fish and turtles live beneath the surface.
Itinerary Day 10: Fly Home!
It’s the last day of your Yucatan road trip! Cancun Airport is around a 2-hour drive from Tulum. If you are not leaving your car rental at the airport, remember to arrange a shuttle to take you to the airport.
If you have some extra time before your flight, I recommend doing a day trip from Tulum checking out cenotes and wilderness reserves in the area. Some of my favorite cenotes include Car Wash Cenote, Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido. Each one is totally unique and beautiful in its own way.
Extending Your Yucatan Road Trip
If you’ve got more than 10 days in Yucatan, I would suggest continue driving down the coastline to Bacalar Lagoon, a gorgeous natural lake also known as “Laguna de Siete Colores” (or lake of seven colors). Check out my super detailed Bacalar travel guide.
Alternatively, another excellent spot to visit is the remote Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve – a protected area that rich in wildlife and surprisingly wild, empty and secluded. The easiest way to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is catching a boat from Muyil ruins to float through its ancient canals dug out by the Mayans centuries ago. Another way to get to Sian Ka’an Reserve is from Punta Allen, via a treacherous, unpaved road from Tulum all the way south of the Boca Paila peninsula. For more details, read my guide to Punta Allen.
One of my favorite spots in the Yucatan Peninsula is Isla Holbox, in the northeastern coast. Isla Holbox is gloriously car-free and largely undeveloped. Only a small part of the island is inhabited, and even then, it never feels overrun with visitors. No paved roads, no cars, no hassling. Read our list of things to do in Holbox.
More Travel Tips for the Yucatan:
- Buy a Mexican SIM card before you start this Yucatan road trip. Having internet data will make it easier to navigate, do research on the go and contact hotels etc. You can get a Telmex SIM card from OXXO for less than $10.
- Pump your gas in advance, don’t wait until your gas tank is completely empty. We always use PEMEX (the petrol kiosk withe the best prices), as we’ve always found the staff to be reliable. They always pump it for you, though they expect a small tip.
- Try to avoid driving at night, as you won’t be able to see the speed bumps.
- That brings me to my next point — you’ll find MANY speed bumps (topes) on the roads of Yucatan, including on the federal highway. Some of them are treacherous, so make sure you slow down when you see a sign that says ‘TOPE’.
- Don’t leave anything visible in your car, to avoid break-ins and theft. We always leave anything we have in the trunk.
- Parking is super easy anywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula. In the city centers, there are usually street parking (marked by white squares) and green parking meters for paying. You simply key in your license plate number and throw in a few coins (average cost is 10 pesos/hour). Once outside the center, parking is free.
Further Reading on Mexico
I hope this Yucatan road trip itinerary has been useful to you. Let me know if you have any questions on Mexico travel below. I will be more than happy to help!
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- Mexico Fun Facts
- 35 Fun Things to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- 30 Cool Things to Do in Tulum
- 20 Best Day Trips from Tulum
- 30 Fun Things to Do in Playa del Carmen
- 30 Best Things to Do in Merida
- 20 Cool Things to Do in Valladolid, Mexico
- My Guide to Isla Holbox Mexico
- 10-Day Oaxaca Road Trip Itinerary
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!
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