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21 amazing things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula

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There are endless things to do in the Yucatan peninsula, one of the safest places in Mexico, a region rich in history and natural resources that will make you fall in love.


But first of all, let’s clarify what we are referring to when we talk about the Yucatan Peninsula. Yucatan Peninsula defines a geographical region in the southeast of Mexico that includes the States of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. The three states have their own separate identities, culture, and traditions. Still, they all share the Mayan culture, heritage from the prehispanic civilization used to live in the entire region.

Nowadays, we can appreciate the magnificent Mayan cities rediscovered and brought back to us to remind us about the first inhabitant and their mystical culture that still lives strong among locals despite the conquerors’ efforts to uproot it.

When I was living in Cancun, I have traveled around the Yucatan Peninsula as much as I could, trying to get close to the local culture, visiting the main cities and villages, the ancient Mayan ruins, and the mystical cenotes.

Map of Yucatan Peninsula

YUCATAN PENINSULA MAP

When is the best time to visit the yucatan peninsula

The Yucatan Peninsula can be visited all year round, but you need to know what to expect for every season:

  • High Season – Christmas week – Easter week and from December through April
  • Low Season – From May to June and from September through November
  • Hurricane Season – From June through October
  • Whale shark Season – From June through early September
  • Best Season for good deals – The low season
  • Rainy season – From May through November

Is it safe to travel in the Yucatan Peninsula?

The Yucatan peninsula is relatively safe to travel, especially the State of Yucatan, which is considered the safest state in Mexico. Some common sense is always necessary everywhere you go. I wrote a detailed post on Safety in Mexico that will undoubtedly be useful.

22 unmissable things to do in Yucatan Peninsula

Although your might be tempted to spend your entire stay in a fancy Resort on the spectacular Cancun Beach, there are so many unique places to see in this region that it would be a real shame to miss them. In this post, I will share with you the most exciting things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula so that you can pick at least a few spots to explore during your stay. Or you might decide to take a road trip.

Bask in the sun in one of the amazing beaches of the Mexican Caribbean Coast

Among all the things you can do in the Yucatan Peninsula, lying on one of its amazing Caribbean beaches is one reason most visitors come this way. So much understandable. Imagine soft white sand swiped by pristine turquoise water, few people around, and nothing to worry about. This is what you will get if you are looking for it.

And because I love to hang out in the sun too, these small guides on the beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya were such easy write! I hope they help to find out your favorite beach in the Yucatan peninsula.

If you want to escape the touristy areas, you might want to visit El Cuyo, instead, a new laidback beach resort in Yucatan, where you might be able to see dolphins flipping around by the harbor and stingrays coming and see you by the shore. It’s my magical place in the entire region.

Take a dip in a cenote

Cenotes are natural sinkholes that the ancient Mayas considered sacred places, probably because that’s where they found water, source of life, and were used as a religious place for worshiping. There are about 600 scattered around the Yucatan peninsula, some very close to Tulum, other to Cancun, and all along the Riviera Maya, you can find some refreshing stops as well.

If you love to drive around on your own, you can stop by some other cenotes scattered around the Yucatan Peninsula or explore the spectacular Cenote Ring, where the highest cenotes concentration is located.

Swim with the whale sharks

The encounter with these amazing marine giants is something that you will remember for a lifetime. You can only Swim with the whale sharks if you join a tour from Cancun, Isla Mujeres, or Holbox.

Visit the Reserve of Rio Lagartos and the pink flamingo

If you visit Yucatan, you cannot miss this tour. Hands down to the beauty of those graceful flying creatures. They are a joy to look at. But we must say, Rio Lagarto is more than that. If you book with the right guide, the experience you will get is one of full immersion with nature. Rio Lagartos is a protected area, home of more than 400 bird species and 100 registered fish species, about 105 species of reptiles, and 57 mammals.

The boat tour will take you around mangroves, a natural spa  (so much fun!), a deserted beach, and a part of the pink lake, less pink than the one at Las Coloradas, but still amazing.  This thorough guide to Rio Lagartos will tell you all about it, how to get there, the best tour, where to stay, and much more. 

Get your insta-worthy shot at las Coloradas

It doesn’t need much of a presentation with 55.000  Instagram pictures and counting. Those pink lakes are quite impressive to look at and make it a unique background for a good selfie, or maybe not so unusual anymore. It’s a quick detour from your trip to Rio Lagartos, and it takes only 30 minutes to visit, but it’s worth the journey. In my  guide to Las Coloradas, I will explain everything you need to know about these fantastic pink lakes 

Explore the Sian Kaan Lagoon and the floating river

Among the unique things to do in Quintana Roo, the Sian Kaan Lagoon is impressive, especially from Muyil. Not many know that the spectacular biosphere of Sian Ka’an can be visited in different ways from the traditional jeep tours. A boat ride through the Canals among the mangroves and floating in the lazy rivers are quite an original adventure.

Visit the colonial town of Valladolid

Valladolid’s town is the getaway of colonial Yucatan, the closest village to Cancun and the Riviera Maya that reveals Yucatan’s most authentic part versus the more touristic beach resorts. Here you will taste the traditional local cuisine, admire the colonial architecture, and meet the Mexicans´ genuine kindness. Valladolid is one of the best places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Read also: The 7 unmissable things to do in Valladolid

Rent a golf cart and around the beautiful Isla Mujeres

This tiny island is the perfect one day trip from Cancun. After only 30 minutes ferry, you are right there, free to spend your day exploring the island on a golf cart and enjoying a spectacular sunset from the beach, among all the things you can do. In this thorough guide, I explain the multiple ways you can visit Isla Mujeres and why you should do it.

Marvel at the view of the 50 shades of blue in Bacalar

Bacalar is one of the Magic towns, and its lagoon is called the lagoon of the seven colors for the seven shades of blue that the waters show. Unfortunately, it’s no longer swimmable as it used to be as they found polluting elements in the water. Some guests experienced a skin rash because of some bacterias in it. That’s unfortunate, but It’s still a beautiful place to visit and relax. There are excellent hotels and retreats where you can get pampered and plenty of things to do in the surroundings.

Spend a few days in the Boho chic Tulum

Probably a little too overpriced right now, for the service you get, Tulum remains one of the coolest spots in Mexico that attracts the style-conscious crowd, artists, and jet-setters from all over the world.

Fashion trends aside, it remains a fascinating place to visit, not only for the endless white sand beach, now sargasso-free but also for the unique Mayan site, the only one built by the ocean, the countless restaurants, the vegan community, and the natural beauties in its surroundings.

Check out my Tulum travel guide for more details and detailed travel planning.

If you are more interested in the trendy side of Tulum, this guide to the Boho-chic Tulum is what you really need.

Otherwise, on this Tulum directory page, you will find everything I have written about Tulum and its surroundings.

Visit Campeche

A colorful city, most of the times underrated, probably because it’s a little off the traditional routes, Campeche is a real gem and certainly worth visiting, besides the spectacular archaeological sites of Edzna’ and the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, home of large flocks of flamingos, and other birds like herons and pelicans. 

Spend a few nights in Cancun

Cancun is mainly renowned for its exciting nightlife and all-you-can-eat-and-drink all-inclusive hotels. But there is much more than that. I can tell you after living in Cancun for seven years.

In the guide of Cancun I wrote, you can find all the necessary information to make the most of your trip to Cancun, from practical tips to what to do, where to eat and much more.

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Spend a weekend in Merida

Among the best places in Yucatan, you cannot miss Merida, the white city. The Yucatan capital city is so rich in history and culture, with its opulent houses from the colonial times and traditional customs.  Merida managed to develop up to speed with the modern times while still maintaining the charm of the old colonial town that it was. Daily free walking tours will show you around and fill you in with interesting anecdotes of its past.

Discover the yellow town of Izamal

A cute little town in the heart of Yucatan, at only a 1-hour distance from Merida and one from Valladolid, will surprise you with its yellow buildings and its fascinating history. See more on this post.

Learn how to surf at el Cuyo or just enjoy the peace

I have recently discovered this little corner of paradise, but please don’t tell anyone, because we want to keep it intimate. El Cuyo is a small fishing village on the east coast of Yucatan, which has been on the hard-core kitesurfers map.

Visit isla Holbox

Isla Holbox is a beautiful island with a laid back lifestyle, and spectacular white sand deserted beaches and cozy boutique hotels, great food, and no cars. Basically, paradise.

You need to visit to believe it. In my complete guide to Isla Holbox, I will tell you all about it, but if you are already convinced and ready to go, you can check out my post on getting to Isla Holbox.

It is definitely more enjoyable to spend a couple of nights there, but if you only have one day, you can check out these daily tours from Playa del Carmen and Cancun.

Book your tour from Playa del Carmen here

Book your tour from Cancun to Holbox here

Visit the spectacular archeological site and biosphere of Calakmul

If you only want to see one archeological site, you should pick this one. Calakmul is a magical place. I have visited twice, and I am thinking about going back one more time. It’s immersed in the thick jungle of the Peten region bordering on the west side with Guatemala. It’s one of the biggest natural protected reserves in Mexico. It’s home to a wealth of animal species, among which Jaguars, multicolored birds, monkeys, and much more. Both times I was hoping to spot a Jaguar myself, but I wasn’t lucky. However, colorful parrots and tucans accompanied me through my visit throughout the site. Consider one full day to visit it all and take with you at least a couple of bottles of water. It’s hot and humid. I loved it so much that I wrote a complete guide on how to visit Calakmul, which includes great insights on the logistics and everything you can do in the surroundings. There is so much to do that you can easily stay for 1 week as I did.

Discover the mystery of Uxmal and the Ruta Puuc

Uxmal is the biggest Mayan site within the Ruta Puuc region. Puuc means hills in the Mayan language. Uxmal is the second most important Mayan city after Chichen-itzà, and way the layout of its buildings is a witness of Mayan deep knowledge in astrology. It’s actually one of my favorite sites, besides Mayapan.

Hike to the top of the Coba temple

Discover the spectacular archeological site of Coba, at only a 1-hour drive from Tulum. Read more about it in my dedicated post on how to visit Coba’

Visit the Archeological site of Kohunlich

Very few know about the Kohunlich archeological site, and yet it is spectacular. Located right before getting to Calakmul, you will need to drive into the jungle to find it. But the road is excellent and the site very easy to find. If you want to splurge, there is even a spectacular hotel right halfway where you can relax and enjoy the silence of the jungle.

Take a road trip around the Yucatan peninsula

Renting a car is always something I would suggest to do if you are an insatiable explorer like me and want to reach more secluded places, where local buses don’t go, but also if you don’t like to join groups and already made itineraries. The Yucatan Peninsula is a straightforward and safe place to drive around. You can stop by a cenote along the way, stay at a prestigious Hacienda, a luxury hotel in the middle of the jungle, and discover the lesser-known ancient Mayan sites driving through small villages and salt-flats, spotting a flamingo or maybe a Jaguar. Oh well, that won’t happen although I had wished.

If you have plenty of time, this 3 weeks itinerary around the Yucatan peninsula will help you find your way around and build your itinerary.

If you have just a few days, you can follow the 2-day itinerary that I had made up when my parents came to see me. I have included the highlights of Yucatan, what I considered the unmissable spots.

If you have 15 days you can check out my two weeks itinerary suggestions.

An inspirational post that I loved to put together is my photographic journey through Yucatan and Campeche, the last trip I made with my car before selling it and leave for my boundless journey.

I hope you have found something that caught your attention. Otherwise, please feel free to ask in the comments below.


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