From Mayan ruins to pristine beaches, world wonders to historical cities, these are the best things to do in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. No matter where your interests lie, the Yucatan has something for you.
The Yucatan peninsula is one of the safest places in Mexico and it’s also a region rich in history and natural resources that will make you fall in love. You can find things here that you won’t see anywhere else, from thousands of cenotes to turquoise Bacalar and Insta-worthy Las Coloradas.
When I was living in Cancun, I 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.
And even after 7 years, I never got bored. The region always has something to offer. I’ve rounded up my Yucatan must-sees below, along with my tips for how to get around and possible road trip itineraries.
Let’s dive in!
Where is the Yucatan Peninsula?
But first of all, let’s clarify what we are referring to when we talk about the Yucatan Peninsula. Yucatan Peninsula defines as 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, and heritage from the prehispanic civilization that 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.
Map of Yucatan Peninsula
Yucatan Peninsula Mexico FAQs
What is the Yucatan best known for?
This region of Mexico is best known for its Mayan archeological sites and pristine beaches.
What is the most beautiful place in the Yucatan Peninsula?
This is a subjective question but Las Coloradas, Bacalar, and Isla Holbox are all known for their beauty.
Is it worth going to the Yucatan Peninsula?
Absolutely. This region of Mexico is incredibly diverse and no matter whether you’re looking for an active adventure or to relax on the beach, it has something for you.
How many days do you need in the Yucatan Peninsula?
I recommend at least 5 days, though 2 or 3 weeks is ideal for truly having time to explore and see as much of the region as possible.
Is the Yucatan Peninsula safe for travelers?
Absolutely. The Yucatan is one of the safest parts of Mexico and it’s perfectly safe for tourists to visit and even road trip through. See the safety section below for more.
27 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.
1. Bask in the sun on 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 to 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.
2. 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, a 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, others 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 cenote concentration is located.
For further reading on the Yucatan Peninsula:
- The best cenotes in Riviera Maya – an essential guide
- Yucatan cenotes: Cuzama – Is it ethical to visit?
- The best cenotes around Valladolid, Mexico
- The 15 best cenotes in Tulum that you absolutely cannot miss
- La Ruta de los Cenotes – Cancun closest cenotes to visit in a half-day trip
- Best cenotes of Yucatan: the towns of Homun and Cuzamà
- The most beautiful cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: an essential guide
- How to visit the 3 Coba cenotes – an unmissable experience!
- All you need to know about Cenote Cristal and Escondido Tulum
3. Swim with the whale sharks
4. 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 to 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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: Unmissable things to do in Valladolid
8. Rent a golf cart and drive around the beautiful Isla Mujeres
This tiny island is the perfect one-day trip from Cancun.
After only 30 minutes of the 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.
9. 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 bacteria 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.
10. 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.
11. Visit Campeche
A colorful city, most of the time 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.
12. 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 to 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.
13. 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 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 about its past.
14. 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, Izamal will surprise you with its yellow buildings and its fascinating history.
15. Learn how to kite 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 kitesurfer’s map.
16. Visit Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox is a beautiful island with a laid-back lifestyle, 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.
17. 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 the west side of Guatemala.
It’s one of the biggest natural protected reserves in Mexico. It’s home to a wealth of animal species, among which are 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 throughout my visit to 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.
18. 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 the 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.
19. Visit Coba archeological site and cenotes
20. 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 through where you can relax and enjoy the silence of the jungle.
21. Take a road trip around the Yucatan peninsula
Renting a car is always something I would suggest doing 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 drive 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.
22. Snorkel in Cozumel
Cozumel can easily be visited on a day trip from Playa del Carmen, all you need to do is hop on one of the many ferries heading to the island and back. It costs just a few dollars too.
But there’s plenty to do on the island if you’d like to stay a few nights. You can rent a car and explore some of the sites most tourists don’t see or relax at one of the many beach clubs.
23. Swim with Sea Turtles on Akumal Beach
Akumal Beach, located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, is famous for its sea turtles. The beach is a nesting ground for the mama turtles to lay their eggs and you can usually find sea turtles swimming in the waters of the bay. Though many will try to sell you a tour, you can typically find the turtles on your own – just grab your snorkeling gear and go.
Akumal is a protected bay, so the waters are calm and ideal for kids and even first-timer snorkelers.
24. Visit the Ek Balam Ruins
Ek Balam falls on the list of “lesser-known Mayan ruins”. Located near Valladolid, the ancient Mayan city features several structures, the most famous being El Trono (The Throne). You can even climb the 100+ stairs to the top of one of the ruins and get a pretty epic view of the Yucatan.
25. Shop La Quinta Avenue in Playa del Carmen
La Quinta is the famous street in Playa del Carmen that runs parallel to the beach and is filled with restaurants and shops. There are several different shopping malls in Playa del Carmen as well as local stores and you can find everything from local souvenirs to international chain stores.
26. Take a Mexican Cooking Class
Wherever you go, be sure to make an effort to try the local cuisine. Mexican food in Mexico just hits differently and it definitely isn’t the ultra cheesy Tex Mex dishes made with flour tortillas that you may be used to!
I recommend taking it a step further and learning how to make a local dish or two. You can easily find cooking classes throughout the Yucatan but especially in areas like Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
27. Visit Chichen Itza
As one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, Chichen Itza is by far one of the most popular things to do in the Yucatan peninsula. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s also one of the most well-known Mayan ruins and while it’s not my personal favorite, it’s still worth visiting.
Chichen Itza is between 2 and 2 and a half hours from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum so it’s a long day trip no matter where you visit from. I recommend visiting in the morning, as there is very limited shade and the ruins tend to get crowded by 10 am with tour buses.
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 from May through November (except August and Holy Week)
- Rainy season – From May through November
Read also when is the best time to visit Cancun.
Is it safe to travel in the Yucatan Peninsula?
The Yucatan peninsula is relatively safe to travel to, 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.
How to Get To The Yucatan Peninsula
The easiest way to reach the Yucatan peninsula is via the Cancun airport. Many major US airlines offer flights to Cancun, including direct flights from New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and more.
You can usually find pretty decent flight deals to Cancun too, typically with roundtrip tickets in the $350-500 range.
Reaching the Yucatan from Europe is also easy, with flights from the UK, Madrid, Istanbul, Paris, Lisbon, Rome, Zurich, and many others. Flights are more expensive than from the US but $600 RT is not unheard of.
Aeromexico and other Mexican airlines also have daily flights from several Mexican cities.
Best Way To Get Around the Yucatan Peninsula
The best way to travel around the Mexico Yucatan Peninsula is by renting a car. You’ll have complete freedom to go wherever you want, spend as much time there as you want, and not be restricted to public transportation schedules.
If renting a car isn’t your thing, check out the ADO bus schedules. These local buses are air-conditioned and the routes connect many parts of the Yucatan. You can even take the bus from the Cancun airport!
Another option is to take colectivos, which are basically shared taxi minivans. They will be your best option for getting between places where the buses don’t run and are quite affordable as well.
Finally, you can always base yourself in one of the biggest cities, such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum, and take organized day trips to many of the places on this trip. Isla Mujeres and Holbox can both be visited on day trips, as can many of the ruins and cenotes, for example.
I hope you have found something that caught your attention. Otherwise, please feel free to ask in the comments below.
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Planning a trip soon? Here are My Recommended
- TRAVEL INSURANCE – Safety Wing or TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER
- BOOK FLIGHTS – Expedia, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and always remember to compare
- BOOK TOURS – GetYourGuide or Viator. Some of their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- HOTELS & HOMES – Booking.com – Expedia – VRBO
- CAR RENTALS: Discover Car Rentals
About the Author, Founder & Editor
Hello there! This is Isabella, the author of this blog, and a cat lover and restless traveler. I am an Italian expatriate in Mexico, but I am now traveling full-time in and out of Mexico. After 7 years of living in Cancun, I have decided to leave my fancy job and explore the world, at a slow pace, one country at a time. Among my favorite countries so far, besides Mexico of course, are Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Ireland, Portugal, Norway, and the list goes on…