Mexico, home to the Mayans and one of the highlights in Central America. A country that has it all, from beautiful white beaches to green jungles, the most amazing food, but also lots of history and culture. This travel guide will show you the highlights of a 3-week trip through the southeast of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula.
Best time to visit Yucatan
In general, the weather in Yucatan is mostly hot and sunny. The least chance of rain is between December and April, whilst during (end) August, September and October are often known as rainy season. However, we were there in August and didn’t have that much rain at all. There’s actually a plus side to visiting Mexico during “rainy season”, as they’re the least touristic months of the year. This means that prices are low between August and October. On the other hand, the busiest months are January until March and prices go up during this period. It’s up to you to decide, but in general you can visit Yucatan anytime of the year.
Getting around in Yucatan
There are two ways of getting around in Yucatan: either by bus or by car. The roads in this part of Mexico are really well-maintained, wide and quiet. Also, the distances between the destinations on this route aren’t far separated from each other making it easy to travel. On average, it won’t take you longer than 2-3 hours to get from one place to another. Hence, renting a car is great if you like to be flexible. However, public transport in Mexico is really good taken care of and cheap. Our experience with traveling by bus in this area is perfect and I would advise anyone to prefer this over renting a car (which is a lot more expensive).
The biggest and most popular bus company in Mexico is ADO. Their busses are big, clean, have aircon, are always on time and their service is excellent. On their website you can find timetables and prices of all the routes they offer. They also have a really easy-to-use app in which you can book your seats, but be aware that you can only pay online if you have a Mexican creditcard. Otherwise you can reserve seats and pick up your tickets at an ADO counter at a bus station. Make sure you pick them up at least 3 hours before departure, otherwise they are made available again to others.
If you want to be more flexible or visit places that are difficult to reach by public transport, then renting a car is a good option. Driving a car in Mexico is fairly easy and safe. You can rent a car from a known car rental website starting from approximately €20 à day.
Route Guide through Yucatan
This route will show you the highlights of approximately 3 weeks through Yucatan. There are many other highlights you could add to this route but if you don’t want to be in a rush and seek the perfect combination of relaxation and activities then this is the ultimate route for you.
Cancun is often the starting point of your trip because the airport is located in this big and touristic city. It mainly consists of large hotels, big malls, a lot of tourists and is very pricy. We only used this place to sleep as our flight arrived late in the evening. Otherwise, I’d recommend leaving this place as soon as possible and head over to Isla Holbox. Hotel tip: Selina. This hotel is close to the ADO bus station so you can easily start your trip to the first stop on this route, Isla Holbox.
How many nights? 1 night to get some sleep after a long flight. If you have limited time, you might as well travel to Isla Holbox right away.
Isla Holbox is considered as one of Mexico’s hidden gem, but is becoming more famous nowadays. With reason as it’s the island of your dreams where you can combine ultimate relaxation with fun activities. Here, it feels like going back in time as there are no roads yet and cars aren’t allowed on the island. On the other hand it has great beach clubs and authentic, local shops and restaurants. Nonetheless, the main highlight on this island is swimming with whale sharks. This is only possible between May and September and is one of only few places in the world where you can find this many whale sharks. You simply can’t skip this whenever you’re here during this time of year!
How many nights? 3-4 nights. If swimming with whale sharks is not an option, three days might be enough. Keep in mind: the bus to Valladolid is leaving from Chiquila in the late afternoon, so you’ll almost have a full day left before leaving the island.
How to get to Isla Holbox from Cancun? Take the bus or car from Cancun to Chiquila, which will take approximately two hours. From here you can take the boat to the island and this will take 15-20 minutes. If you are by car, you can park it easily at one of the parking areas around the harbor.
After a few days on an island it’s time to head inland and visit the oldest colonial city of Yucatan, Valladolid. This is the perfect place to stay for visiting world wonder Chichen Itza and surrounding cenotes in the area such as Cenote Samula and Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman. Besides that, make sure to stroll around and enjoy the colonial atmosphere of this small town. Visit the prettiest street named Calzada de los Frailes and don’t skip the only cenote that is located in the middle of the city centre, Cenote Zaci.
How many nights? 3 nights: one day to visit Chichen Itza and one day to explore the surrounding cenotes. Both won’t take all day but it will leave you time to see some of Valladolid too. If you’re in a hurry, you could visit Chichen Itza and the cenotes in one day and stay only two nights.
How to get to Valladolid from Isla Holbox? It will take around 2,5 hours by bus or car. The bus to Valladolid is leaving from Chiquila in the late afternoon and you’ll arrive in Valladolid at around 7pm.
Bacalar was one the highlights during our trip in Mexico and is often described as the Maldives of Mexico. It’s a quiet town near the Belizean border, relatively unknown by tourists and located along the bluest lagoon you’ll ever see. La Laguna de los Siete Colores (Lagoon of the Seven Colors) is a fresh water lagoon that get’s its name due to the different depths of the lagoon. Spend your days exploring the lagoon on a (private) sailing excursion, enjoy the sun in a hammock at Los Cocalitos and float down the river Los Rapidos.
How many nights? 3 nights. With two full days you have the time to explore the lagoon and also explore the surrounding area around the lagoon and Bacalar. Some people choose to only stay two nights, leaving you with one full day to explore Bacalar. In our opinion, this is too short to really enjoy beautiful and laid back Bacalar.
How to get to Bacalar from Valladolid? It will take 3,5 to 4 hours by bus or car. By bus you will need to book a ticket from Valladolid to Tulum and from here hop on a bus to Bacalar.
Tulum has become one the most Instagrammable places to visit in Mexico and popular among both backpackers as luxury travelers. This laid-back town on the Caribbean coast can be divided into two areas: Tulum downtown and Tulum beach, which are separated by a 10 minute drive or 20 minute bike ride. Tulum downtown has a relaxing backpacking vibe with many authentic local restaurants and bars to have a drink. Tulum beach consists of a strip with fancy bohemian hotels, star-class restaurants and the best beach clubs. This place has lots to offer to everyone, and in the surrounding area there’s also many things to see and do.
How many nights? 5-10 nights. This one is difficult to say but you can easily stay here a week depending on what you plan to do. We stayed five nights in Tulum downtown and ended with two nights at Tulum beach.
How to get to Tulum from Bacalar? It will take 2,5 hours by bus or car. There are only two buses a day departing to Tulum so make sure to book a seat in time.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is the second-most popular tourist destination to visit along the Mexican coastline It feels a bit similar to Cancun but we actually enjoyed it for our last night. When you walk on the main strip of Playa del Carmen, this will be the first time during your trip you have the feeling you aren’t in Mexico. If we were told we were in Spain, we would’ve believed it as well. Nothing authentic so see, but pretty OK for one night. The main advantage is that it’s closer to the airport than Tulum, but if you have time left then I would advise to stay longer in Tulum.
How many nights? 1 night is perfect before flying back home. It takes 45-60 minutes to get from Playa del Carmen to the airport by car or ADO airport shuttle bus.
How to get to Playa del Carmen from Tulum? It will take around 45-60 minutes by bus or car.