Everything you need to know about the Yucatan Peninsula
One of the most visited regions of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula attracts millions of visitors, from backpackers to curious explorers, style-conscious travelers, luxury escape seekers, and nature lovers. In this essential Yucatan Peninsula Travel Guide I will share all the essential information that you will need to travel and have an amazing and worry-free journey.
With countless amazing things to do in Yucatan Peninsula, it’s the favorite destination of many different types of travelers, from family trips, to couples romantic escapes, or solo travelers.
The land of the famous Cenotes, the Caribbean turquoise water, delicious cuisine, kite surfer paradise, and the magical Mayan archaeological sites, a witness of a millenary culture and ancient wisdom.
On this page, I will offer you a complete guide to the Yucatan Peninsula, with everything you need to know about this amazing region to help you plan for your trip.
WHAT IS THE YUCATAN PENINSULA?
Before moving forward on the fun part, I believe a clarification on the geographical location of the Yucatan Peninsula and on the ancient population is due.
- We call Yucatan Peninsula the entire region that includes the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo.
- Merida is the capital city of Yucatan
- Campeche (city) is the capital city of Campeche (State)
- Chetumal is the capital city of Quintana Roo.
- Quintana Roo is mostly known for its very popular tourist destinations of Cancun and the Riviera Maya than as a state itself.
- The Riviera Maya is the Caribbean coast of Mexico that goes from Puerto Morelos down to Punta Allen, right past Tulum all along with the Carretera Federal, the Federal Highway.
PLANNING A TRIP IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
YUCATAN PENINSULA PRACTICAL TIPS
CURRENCY: Mexican Pesos 1 USD = 19 MXN (approx)
WHERE TO EXCHANGE MONEY: Avoid exchanging your currency at the airport or in your hotel. The best place to do it is a bank or an exchange bureau. There are many commercial plazas in the main cities.
ELECTRIC SOCKET: In Mexico, there are two associated plug types, types A and B. Plug type A is the plug that has two flat parallel pins and plug type B is the plug that has two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin. Mexico operates on a 127V supply voltage and 60Hz. Make sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices.
MEXICO VISA: You need to apply for a visa if your passport is from the country listed on this page. If your country is not on the list you can enter Mexico with your valid passport and get a 3 to 6 months tourist permit. If you want to stay longer than 6 months you will need to go out and then go back in. However if a few months ago it was very easy to do it now they are a little more strict on letting you back in in such a short time.
Working in Mexico is more complicated and you should put yourself in the hands of a good lawyer that can look after all the paperwork for you and spare you all the hustle and headaches.
If your intention is to move to and work in Mexico, you can check this interview with a lawyer for more detailed information.
IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO THE YUCATAN PENINSULA?
The Yucatan peninsula is generally very safe to travel, and the State of Yucatan is the safest of all Mexico.
Cancun has recently been in the news for some dreadful episodes that can’t be ignored.
However, tourists and travelers are not targets for organized crime unless they are personally involved in drug-related matters.
I would always use lots of common sense and a vigilant eye but wouldn’t let the facts prevent me from traveling.
I put together a very detailed guide on how to stay safe while traveling in Mexico which will offer great guidelines on being smart when you travel here, besides some helpful Spanish vocabulary.
DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Yes, you do. I always recommend it and I always have one. In this post, I am explaining the multiple reasons why.
I specifically recommend going with World Nomads as they have the best adventure travel coverage, covering activities like snorkeling, hiking, etc. And if you upgrade to explorer status, it’s a little more expensive but it has more extended coverage, including diving.
I have recently discovered also SafetyWing as it’s been specifically recommended by different travel companies and professional travelers, especially for their user-friendly website and fast response. Safetywing has many advantages especially for nomads, one of which is being able to pay on a monthly basis and cancel at any time. You can check out my complete review on SafetyWing as well and compare the two companies to chose what works best for you.
WHAT LANGUAGE TO THEY SPEAK
The official language is Spanish, or better said, “Castellano”. Most people, especially those who work in tour activities and hotels will speak good English. If you are like me and love to explore rural areas, there are chances that you will encounter people who don’t speak English at all. Worry not!
In some rural areas, some people don’t even speak Spanish. They only speak Mayan language, as it is still commonly used in villages and thought at school.
Mexican people are very hospitable and warm and with a smile and gestures you will be able to get along very well with locals and it’s the best way to get to know them.
Smiles and a fun game of charades is a great way to get to know the locals. In any case, it’s always good to know a few words.
In this post, you will find some words and phrases to help you out.
Knowing a few words and have a basic understanding of the language is always helpful especially in unwanted circumstances.
YUCATAN PENINSULA BY DESTINATON
Read the detailed guides I wrote for each destination in the Yucatan Peninsula
- Cancun Travel Guide
- Tulum Travel Guides
- Things to do in the Riviera Maya
- Things to do in Yucatan
- Discover Campeche
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
Despite in Cancun you have 2 seasons, winter and summer, the climate is very similar, warm and sunny most of the time all year round. However, there are a couple of things to consider:
- Summers are much hotter and humid
- In August through October, you are more likely to find a rainy day and a better chance to see a hurricane
- December through March is the high season for the milder temperature and lower humidity and less chance of rain
- Towns like Valladolid, Izamal, Merida are extremely hot in the summer.
- The above information cannot be 100% reliable because it can rain a lot in February and not one drop of rain in September
Having said that I wouldn’t really bother and I would travel in the season that is most convenient for you.
GETTING TO THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
Cancun International Airport is one of the most important international hubs in Mexico with flights connecting from all over the world makes it easy and much cheaper to travel to Cancun and the entire Yucatan Peninsula, including the Riviera Maya.
It’s very easy to find cheap flights to take you there, what’s tricky is coming out of the airport, which can become a hassle if you are not prepared. I wrote a detailed guide on all the steps you will go through. It’s nothing to worry about but it’s better to know before you get there.
The post includes also the best way to get to your hotel and how not to get scammed by the airport vendors.
Check out the post: What to do when you arrive at Cancun Airport
HOW TO MOVE AROUND THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
You can rent a car, and you will find a lot of car rentals agencies around, but you should be careful of the very low rates that are advertised but will inflate significantly when you need to add insurance and all the extras, which you will need. Unfortunately, your credit card insurance is not valid when you rent a car in Mexico. More on Driving in Mexico in this post.
From Cancun to anywhere by bus
If you wish to travel around Mexico from Cancun by bus, it’s super easy as Cancun is connected to the most important city and turistic locations in the Yucatan Peninsula and outside. At the ADO bus terminal, you will find buses to anywhere including Tulum, Valladolid, Merida, Playa del Carmen, and Chiquila’ (Holbox), Chichen-Iza, Uxmal. You can even get to San Cristobal de las Casas or Mexico city by bus. It is a little long way but certainly an experience.
WHAT TO PACK FOR TRAVELING TO YUCATAN
I have written a complete guide on what to pack for your trip to Cancun. However, as a quick overview, a few of my must-bring items when you travel to Cancun are a travel water bottle, sand-free beach blanket (you will get beach towels in your all-inclusive hotel, but it’s useful if you go visit other beaches, and you should), RFID travel wallet, a plug adaptor (if you are coming from US you won’t need it as the sockets are the same) and a good pair of travel sandals that are fancy and comfortable at the same time depending on the kind of trip you want to have.
THINGS TO DO IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
BASK IN THE SUN ON ONE OF THE AMAZING BEACHES
TAKE A DIP IN A CENOTE
- All about the Cenote Azul Riviera Maya: price and info
- All you need to know about the spectacular Cenote Cristalino
- The best cenotes of the Riviera Maya – all you need to know
- How to visit the spectacular Cenote Taak Bi Ha
- Yucatan cenotes: Cuzama – Is it ethical to visit?
- The 6 most spectacular cenote diving in the world
- The best cenotes around Valladolid, Mexico
- The 11 best cenotes in Tulum that you absolutely cannot miss
- The Best Cenotes in Cancun: La Ruta de los Cenotes
SWIM WITH THE WHALE SHARKS
VISIT THE FLAMINGOES IN RIO LAGARTOS
GET YOUR INSTAGRAM SHOT AT LAS COLORADAS
EXPLORE THE SIAN KA’AN LAGOON AND THE FLOATING RIVER
VISIT VALLADOLID, THE GETAWAY OF THE COLONIAL YUCATAN
VISIT ISLA MUJERES
MARVEL AT THE VIEW OF THE 50 SHADES OF BLUE IN BACALAR
- The complete guide to Bacalar Lagoon
- Where to stay in Bacalar
- Where to eat in Bacalar Lagoon
- How to visit the Cenote Azul, Bacalar
LIVE THE TULUM LIFE
- Tulum Airbnb: the top 10 coolest homes for your vacation in paradise
- Where to stay in Tulum: an honest review of the best hotels in Tulum Mexico (Updated in October 2020)
- The 11 best cenotes in Tulum that you absolutely cannot miss
- The ummissable boho chic spots in Tulum – A Full Guide
- The best restaurants in Tulum, the coolest bars and cafés
- The 8 best day trips from Tulum
- Kaan Luum lagoon: an oasis in the Jungle
- The ultimate guide to Punta Laguna, Mexico – the spider monkeys sanctuary
- The most complete Tulum Travel Guide (Updated Nov. 2020)
SPLURGE IN ONE OF THE LXURY BEACH HOTELS IN CANCUN
SPEND A WEEKEND IN MERIDA, THE WHITE CITY
DISCOVER THE YELLOW TOWN OF IZAMAL
LEARN HOW TO KITESURF AT EL CUYO
VISIT ISLA HOLBOX
- Unmissable things to do in Holbox island: complete travel guide
- The best hotels in Holbox
- How to get to Isla Holbox
- 21 inspiring pictures on Isla Holbox
VISIT THE SPECTACULAR ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF CALAKMUL
DISCOVER THE MYSTERY OF UXMAL AND THE RUTA PUC, THE MOST UNDERRATED MAYAN SITE
HIKE TO THE TOP OF THE COBA PYRAMID
- The 3 amazing cenotes near Coba’ worth visiting
- The complete guide to the Coba’ ruins and surroundings
- The complete guide to Coba – Mexico
VISIT THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF KOHUNLICH
TRAVEL ITINERARIES IN 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 to 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 very easy 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 own itinerary.
If you have just a few days, you can follow my 2 days itinerary that I have 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.
2-weeks itineraries in the Yucatan peninsula on the road are the most popular road trip. Check out my sample itinerary.
TOURS IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
If you prefer traveling with a group tour, I have recently joined a partnership with G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world for ages. The reason why we love G Adventures is that they have loads of different tours that cater to different age groups. And if you are traveling alone, because you love it but you wish to join a tour for certain parts of your journey for different reasons, there you will certainly find people of your age and with similar interests whenever you feel like mingling with likeminded people. They have tours that spam from Mexico city all the way to Guatemala or even farther south to central America if you wish to combine different countries or tours that focus on specific regions.
So if you don’t feel like traveling by yourself, it’s understandable. I love traveling on my own, with the freedom to do whatever I want and at the time I want, but there are certain situations in which I prefer to have a guide to take me around so I don’t have to think about anything, other than enjoying the place.
On the other end, you also have the possibility to book daily tours that will take you to wherever you want to go but you will be “free” again at the end of the day. This is the ideal solution if you really don’t feel like renting a car, or you have limited time and want to visit many places and/or you wish to have a professional guide that gives you information on the area.
Cancun offers a wealth of day tours to absolutely anywhere you want to go. You can either decide while you are there in your hotel and ask the concierge or the agents at tour desk to give you advice.
Or you can even book in advance so you know beforehand the costs and you don’t have to think about other expenses once you are on vacation.
PLACES TO STAY IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
STAY IN ONE OF THE MAGICAL HACIENDAS
Old farms, which looked like little villages with the owner mansion and the workers huts, storage rooms and offices. They belonged to the Spanish landlords during the colonial times. They have now been turned into amazing properties, usually located far from the sea, but deeply immersed in the thick jungle or in small towns in the middle of nowhere, scattered throughout the state of Yucatan, in southeast Mexico; the majority however, are located in the outskirts of Merida.
THE BEST HOTELS IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
I have written my personal review based on my experience with the hotels I have visited and the opinion that I gather from fellow travelers and friends. I normally use Airbnb if I want an apartment or a cheap private room, always with a private bathroom. If I want to choose a hotel I always use Booking.com because they always have great deals and I love their interface and system.
Here below my hotel reviews and suggestions by destinations.
- The top 5 luxury hotels in Cancun
- Where to stay in Cancun
- Where to stay in Tulum
- Where to stay in Coba
- The best hotels of the Riviera Maya
- Where to stay at El Cuyo
- The best Airbnb in Tulum
- The best Airbnb in Playa del Carmen
- Where to stay in Uxmal
- Where to stay in Calakmul
- Where to stay in Bacalar
- Where to stay in Valladolid
- The best Luxury Haciendas in Yucatan
- Where to stay in Isla Mujeres
- Cancun best Airbnb
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
The cuisine in Mexico, you know is among the most savoury in the world. I believe a Mexican chef just won an international price, and with a reason. You just can’t get enough.
Although tacos, and Guacamole are the most popular dishes, there is so much more than that. So much to taste and try. Here is my small guides on the Restaurants that I have explored so far. More will come:
- The best Restaurants in Tulum
- The best Restaurants in Cancun
- Where to eat in Valladolid
- Where to eat in Bacalar
- Where to eat at El Cuyo
FOR FURTHER READING
- How to get from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, Mexico – the ferry and other options
- Isla Mujeres Golf Cart Rental: where to find it, costs, and practical tips
- 15 gorgeous VRBO vacation rentals and Airbnb in Isla Mujeres Mexico
- Top 7 Aldea Zama Tulum rentals and practical tips
- The 11 Best Restaurants in Valladolid Mexico
- Where to stay in Valladolid Mexico
- Bacalar Restaurants – The top 7 places where to eat in Bacalar
- 21 amazing things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- The top 8+ Yucatan Haciendas for the ultimate luxury experience
- Best time to visit Cancun for weather and hotel deals
- Cancun Weather in October
- Where to stay in Bacalar – the complete guide to Bacalar hotels and homes
Your Basic Travel Resources
- Book your transfers between destinations on the trusted booking platform Bookaway
- Store your bags in the main cities and walk around freely hands and weight free with Bounce
- Check if you need a visa and get help processing it with iVisa
- Never ever leave without travel insurance. Get complete coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing
- I find all of my flights on Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, Google flights, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and always remember to compare
- Book your daily tours locally to support local businesses, or if you don’t find any reliable company, or you prefer to book in advance, check out GetYourGuide or Viator. Some of their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- I rent my long and mid-term apartments on VRBO
- Book hotels with Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Compare car rental prices at Auto Europe, Discover Car Rentals
- Check out my travel planning guide if you are planning your trip and feeling overwhelmed