Mexico / Itineraries

The Yucatan Peninsula Loop

Map

Starting and finishing in Cancun, this suggested 2 week long, self-drive itinerary takes in most, if not all, of the key highlights of the Yucatan Peninsula in an anti-clockwise loop of the region. At the end of the itinerary there is the option of extending your holiday at the beach.

  • Day 1 — Cancun

    Flights from Europe arrive into Cancun from the late afternoon onwards so, having collected your car at the airport, it’s just a short drive to the suggested Marriott Courtyard for an initial overnight stay. Having settled in, head down to the terrace bar and make sure you ask for a bowl of tacos and salsa – it’ll be the first of many.

    Suggested Accommodation: Marriott Courtyard Cancun
    • — Cancun
      1 / 2
    • — Tacos & salsa
      1 / 2
  • Day 2 — Cancun to Valladolid

    Departing the hotel after breakfast, you will soon be on the main east – west toll road that runs from Cancun all the way to Merida.

    The initial stretch of this toll road, as far as Valladolid, takes a little over 2 hours and we suggest that you exit here.

    First settled in 1545, and named after the one-time capital of Spain, the charming little town of Valladolid is a destination in its own right as well as a popular base for exploring a wide variety of nearby attractions.

    Having checked into your hotel in town, our suggestion is that you spend the rest of the day exploring Valladolid on foot.

    Valladolid itself is a great place to simply go for a stroll and boasts a number of attractive, colonial-era buildings, most of them clustered around the main square, Parque Francisco Canton. If you like quirky museums, the privately-owned Casa de los Venadas houses an impressive collection of over 3000 pieces of Mexican folk art and is well worth a visit.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Posada San Juan Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Valladolid
      1 / 3
    • — Valladolid
      1 / 3
    • — Valladolid
      1 / 3
  • Day 3 — Valladolid (Day trip to Chichen Itza)

    We suggest you get up as early as possible, both to avoid the heat of the day and potential crowds later on, and drive the 30 minutes or so to Chichen Itza.

    Possibly the most famous archaeological site in Mexico, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chichen Itza is the most extensively excavated of all the Mayan sites and one could easily spend an entire day exploring its scattered ruins.

    Historically, Chichen Itza was something of a late starter, only reaching its peak well after the great Mayan cities of the south, such as Calakmul, Tikal & Palenque, had been largely abandoned. Although Mayanologists still disagree about exactly who founded the city, the variety of architectural styles point to an ethnic diversity that is hard to find elsewhere.

    At the centre of Chichen Itza is its most recognisable structure, the imposing Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo. This pyramid has precisely 365 steps – 91 steps on each of the 4 sides plus the top platform – all tied in with the Mayan’s incredible understanding of astronomy and most clearly demonstrated on the spring and autumn equinoxes.

    It’s easy enough to explore Chichen Itza on your own although, if you prefer a guide, this can be arranged on arrival without any problem.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Posada San Juan Meals Included: Breakfast
    • 1 / 3
    • — Chichen Itza
      1 / 3
    • — Chichen Itza, ball court
      1 / 3
  • Day 4 — Valladolid (Day trip to Rio Lagartos)

    Located on the Yucatan Peninsula’s north coast, Rio Lagartos is a somnolent little fishing village that doubles as a jumping off point for the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Lagartos, home to the largest colony of flamingos in Mexico.

    It’s not just flamingos that make Rio Lagartos their home either. The Reserva estuary is home to a huge variety of birdlife (just under 400 species it is said) including Storks, Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, Hummingbirds, Herons, Ibis and the rare Mexican Sheartails as well as the crocodiles from which the area derives its name.

    Boat trips generally depart from the village in the morning and normally last a couple of hours. Parking your car in Rio Lagartos isn’t a problem and, on returning from your boat trip, there are a selection of simple restaurants serving up fresh seafood.

    Rio Lagartos is approximately 2 hours drive from Valladolid and, after your visit, you can either return straight to Valladolid or perhaps make a detour to the Mayan ruins at Ek Balam.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Posada San Juan Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Rio Lagartos
      1 / 3
    • — Rio Lagartos
      1 / 3
    • — Ek Balam
      1 / 3
  • Day 5 — Valladolid to Merida via Izamal

    Departing Valladolid in the morning, you’ll continue your journey west towards Merida, stopping en-route at another of the Yucatan Peninsula’s charming colonial towns, Izamal.

    Although commonly referred to as a colonial town, the history of Izamal pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish by many hundred years; it is thought that Izamal was founded in the Late Formative Period (750-200 BC) and was then continuously inhabited until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

    Even today, Izamal is sometimes referred to as the City of Hills, the ‘hills’ in question being the remains of ancient Mayan pyramids. Five of these ‘hills’ are still clearly visible town including the largest, what would have been the pyramid of Kinich Kak Mo, which you can climb for free.

    What most people first notice about Izamal however, is the colour of its buildings; the town is also known as the Yellow City as almost every building in the town centre is painted the same, delightful, warm yellow. There is no great historical significance to this, it was simply done to commemorate the Pope’s visit to the town in 1993.

    Aside from the old Mayan pyramids, the main attraction in Izamal is the Franciscan convent of San Antonio de Padua which, in keeping with the general practise of the Spanish, was built on top of the original Mayan Acropolis. The atrium to this Convent is only surpassed in size by that of St Peter’s in Vatican City.

    Izamal can easily be explore on foot so, after a stroll around town and a bite to eat, you will return to the toll road and head to the small village of Santa Cruz, on the southern fringes of Merida.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Santa Cruz Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Izamal
      1 / 3
    • — Izamal
      1 / 3
    • — Izamal
      1 / 3
  • Day 6 — Merida

    The capital of Yucatan State, and the cultural heart of the broader Yucatan Peninsula, Merida is a charming, easy-going city as well as a great base for exploring numerous, varied, nearby attractions.

    Merida’s colonial history dates back to its founding by Francisco de Montejo y León in 1542, although, as with elsewhere in the region, the city was actually built on top of the ancient Maya city of T’ho whose stones were recycled as building material for the new city.

    The centre of Merida is typically defined as being the Zocalo, or central square, around which are a number of venerable, colonial buildings as well as San Ildefonso Cathedral, one of the oldest in Mexico. In addition to the vast, central square, there are a number of nearby, shady, much smaller squares which are great places to sit and watch the world go by.

    Also close to the main square, and one of the city’s main draws, is the impressive Paseo Montejo, a grand, triumphalist, tree-lined boulevard, occupied on either side by opulent mansions that draw their inspiration from the Belle Epoque.

    Merida is also home to a variety of colonial museums and contemporary galleries although none are more impressive than the new, must-visit Gran Museo del Mundo Maya.

    Rather than drive yourself, it’s much easier to get the hotel to arrange a taxi transfer for the 30-minute ride into the centre of Merida. The city can easily be explored on foot and getting a taxi back to Santa Cruz is no problem.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Santa Cruz Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Merida
      1 / 3
    • — Merida
      1 / 3
    • — Merida
      1 / 3
  • Day 7 — Merida (Day trip to Convent Route & Celestun)

    A popular self-drive route south of Merida is the Convent Route (Ruta de los Conventos) which takes in a number of colonial-era churches, convents and chapels that were built, almost always at sites that were already sacred to the local Maya, with the express intention of converting the indigenous population to Christianity.

    There is no set route to follow so it very much depends on how many different locations you wish to visit. Some of the key sites to visit include Acanceh, Tecoh, Telchaquillo, Tekit, Chumayel, Teabo and Mani. Depending on how long you plan to be out and about for, the hotel Na Luum in Tecoh is one of the best options for lunch.

    As an And / Or consideration, if you enjoyed Rio Lagartos and would like to take in more of the Yucatan’s natural attributes, the Celestun Special Biosphere Reserve is a 146,000 acre park located on the Gulf coast, east of Merida, and is a combination of coastal scrub, estuary and mangrove that provides a home for a variety of wildlife.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Santa Cruz Meals Included: Breakfast
    • Church at Mani on the Convent Route in Yucatan
      — Convent Route, Mani
      1 / 3
    • — Celestun, near Merida
      1 / 3
    • — Celestun, near Merida
      1 / 3
  • Day 8 — Merida to Campeche via Sotuta de Peon & Uxmal

    After checking out of your hotel, you will start your day by heading a short distance south and visiting the Hacienda Sotuta de Peon, a restoration project-cum-museum that gives visitors a glimpse into how henequen was grown and processed and what life on a working hacienda would have been like. As part of the tour, visitors will also briefly experience transportation on wooden platforms, known as ‘trucks’ which are pulled along rails by mules.

    From there, you continue south as, for the first time on your holiday, the road climbs slightly as you reach the Puuc hills, home to a number of Mayan sites including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Uxmal.

    Founded around 700 AD, Uxmal (pronounced Oosh mahl) reached the height of its power towards the end of the 9th century but, by 1200, the city lay largely abandoned, perhaps as a result of the rise of Chichen Itza to the east.

    Uxmal’s primary importance comes from the fact that, for most experts, it represents the high-point in Mayan architecture and art. Perhaps no single building better represents this than the magnificent Pyramid of the Magician which, unlike almost every other Mayan pyramid, has a much softer, more cylindrical design.

    Other important buildings within the site include the Quadrangle of the Nuns, the Governor’s Palace, the House of the Tortoises and the Ball Court. As with most Mayan sites, much of Uxmal still remains covered by dense vegetation, including the extensive Southern Complex.

    As with Chichen Itza, Uxmal can easily be explored on one’s own although it is normally possible to arrange a guide locally.

    Departing Uxmal, you then continue your journey southwards until you reach the city of Campeche.

    Suggested Accommodation: Campeche Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Hacienda Sotuta De Peon
      1 / 3
    • — Uxmal
      1 / 3
    • — Uxmal
      1 / 3
  • Day 9 — Campeche

    Capital of the state of the same name, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Campeche is located on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

    As with elsewhere in the region, Campeche was founded by the Spanish at the site of an existing Mayan settlement, Can Pech, from which the new city took its name in 1540. Having overcome the local Mayans, the Spanish then found themselves fending off repeated attacks from British & Dutch pirates and buccaneers, including Sir Francis Drake.

    In order to defend the city, the Spanish inhabitants built a vast city wall and fortifications, parts of which survive to this day. Within these walls, the Spanish built a traditional colonial town with a central square, cathedral and numerous, grand civic buildings. With much of this inner city largely untouched over the years, in 1999 the city was granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

    Although Campeche lacks any outstanding monuments or museums, it’s a great place to stroll about on one’s own, taking in the many pastel-coloured buildings that dominate the old town.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Castelmar Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Campeche
      1 / 3
    • — Campeche
      1 / 3
    • — Campeche
      1 / 3
  • Day 10 — Campeche to Calakmul

    This is something of a transition day, with a relatively long drive of 4-5 hours from Campeche to Calakmul and not a lot to see or do en-route.

    Both our featured hotels in the Calakmul area feature a swimming pool so your best bet is probably to leave Campeche after breakfast, arrive at your hotel in time for lunch and then spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

    Suggested Accommodation: Puerta Campeche Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — On the road
      1 / 2
    • 1 / 2
  • Day 11 — Calakmul

    Located in the far south of the Yucatan Peninsula, Calakmul is one of the largest and most impressive of all Mayan sites but, due to its isolated location, it draws a fraction of the visitor numbers of, for example, Chichen Itza.

    Located around 25 miles from Guatemala, and in constant rivalry with Tikal across the border, Calakmul was at its peak during the Classic Period when it would have had a population of over 50,000. Today, there is barely a soul to be seen and the site is surrounded by thousands of acres of lush jungle.

    Undoubtedly the highlight of any visit to Calakmul is the ability to climb to the top of Pyramid 2, at 45 metres high one of the tallest such structures anywhere in the Mayan world, and take in the 360 degree views of nothing but a sea of green for as far as the eye can see.

    Due to its relative isolation, and low visitor numbers, restoration at Calakmul is far less developed than at other sites and the vast majority of the city remains buried beneath mounds of vegetation. For many, this only serves to enhance the site’s magical appeal as one meanders along jungle trails wondering what must have been there before.

    The site of the Calakmul ruins are located approximately an hour’s drive south of the main coast to coast highway / the Hotel Puerta Calakmul and within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a huge national park given over to protecting not just the ruins but also the diverse flora and fauna of the area.

    Suggested Accommodation: Puerta Calakmul Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Calakmul
      1 / 3
    • — Calakmul, stelae
      1 / 3
    • — Calakmul
      1 / 3
  • Day 12 — Calakmul to Laguna Bacalar via Kohunlich

    Although Calakmul was the largest Mayan city in this part of the Yucatan, it was by no means the only one. Smaller but equally fascinating sites can be visited along the coast to coast highway at Becan, Chicanna, Rio Bec and Kohunlich amongst others.

    Our suggestion would be to depart Calakmul after breakfast, stop to explore the delightful Mayan ruins at Kohunlich, have lunch at the nearby Hotel Explorean Kohunlich and then head north to Laguna Bacalar where you will arrive late that afternoon.

    Suggested Accommodation: Rancho Encantado Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Kohunlich
      1 / 3
    • — Kohunlich
      1 / 3
    • — Kohunlich
      1 / 3
  • Day 13 — Laguna Bacalar

    In a region famous for its beautiful, sandy white beaches, and scrub-like interior, the sight of Laguna Bacalar comes as a something of a shock.

    Located in the south eastern corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, this beautiful, fresh-water lake stretches for some 45kms although it is seldom more than 1km wide. Laguna Bacalar is often referred to as the Lake of the Seven Colours on account of the different hues of blue and green the lake gives off depending on the time of day and weather.

    The only urban centre of note is the small, very sleepy town of Bacalar which overlooks the lake. In the centre of town is a small Spanish fortress that was built in the 16th century to protect locals from pirate attacks. Not a lot goes on in Bacalar which, for most visitors, is half the appeal.

    The water in Laguna Bacalar is clean and suitable for swimming although the most popular activities take place on the water with a variety of boat trips as well as kayaking.

    Suggested Accommodation: Rancho Encantado Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Laguna Bacalar
      1 / 3
    • — Laguna Bacalar
      1 / 3
    • — Laguna Bacalar
      1 / 3
  • Day 14 — Laguna Bacalar to Tulum

    Continuing north along the Yucatan Peninsula’s fabled east coast, your final port of call is Tulum.

    Deciding on Tulum’s greatest draw is a somewhat personal choice; for some it will be its miles of picture postcard, palm fringed beaches while, for others, it will be one of the Yucatan’s most unique and picturesque Mayan sites.

    The Mayan site, from which the area gains its name, was a relatively small town and one which, it is thought, primarily acted as a port to the far larger inland city of Coba. However, what Tulum lacks in historical significance or architectural merit, it more than makes up for with its location, perched on a small rise overlooking the sparkling, turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

    Just a few miles south of these ruins, the stunning beaches of Tulum continue acting as the inspiration for magazine covers around the world, a combination of small, enclosed bays and long, broad stretches of perfect, sandy, white beaches. Along these beaches, and none protruding higher than the surrounding palm trees, are a collection of small, hip, eco-conscious hotels that are the darling of the less commercially minded beach-bum.

    After checking in at your hotel we suggest that you take the rest of the afternoon off although, if you really can’t get enough of those Mayan ruins, Coba is only an hour’s drive away.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hip Hotel Tulum Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Tulum
      1 / 3
    • — Tulum
      1 / 3
    • — Tulum
      1 / 3
  • Day 15 — Tulum & Home

    The Mayan ruins at Tulum draw big crowds so, in order to actually enjoy your visit, we suggest being at the entrance as they open. Even taking time to sit and enjoy the views, visiting Tulum only takes around 2 hours so you can be back at your hotel in time for a late breakfast / brunch.

    From Tulum it is a minimum 2 hour drive back to Cancun airport and your return journey home.

    Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Tulum

Please Note

This itinerary is no more than a sample idea which can be tailor made to your exact requirements.

Although based on Fly Drive, it can just as easily be arranged with a Car & Driver.

The 'From price' is for travel in September and is based on two adults sharing the same room throughout. Supplements apply for sole occupancy / transport.

Beach Extensions

Beach Extensions

For clients wishing to extend (or even start) their holiday with time at one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s numerous beach resorts there are numerous options, including Tulum. The vast majority of beach hotels are located along the east coast, within easy reach of Cancun airport. Please call or email for advice.

Suggested Accommodation

1 / 9
View All

More Itineraries in Mexico

When to visit Mexico

  • January

    14°C
  • February

    16°C
  • March

    18°C
  • April

    20°C
  • May

    22°C
  • June

    24°C
  • July

    25°C
  • August

    25°C
  • September

    24°C
  • October

    22°C
  • November

    14°C
  • December

    14°C
Financial Protection

You’re in safe hands

When making your travel arrangements, we understand just how important peace-of-mind is. Beyond The Ordinary hold both ATOL & ABTOT bonds so whether you book your flights through us, or independently, any money you pay us is 100% protected. More detailed information on Financial Protection can be found by clicking here.

Make your next holiday Beyond The Ordinary

Whichever of our featured countries you wish to visit, we've been there several times. So, if you're after something beyond the ordinary to Cuba, Guatemala or the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, we'd love to hear from you.

Plan my Extraordinary