The 10 best things to do in Yucatan, Mexico

The Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico has more to offer than you can see and experience in a trip. From dozens of Mayan temples to thousands of cenotes and from pink lakes to idyllic bounty beaches. After a month in Yucatan, we collected the highlights for you and selected the must-do’s.

10 best things to do in the Yucatán Peninsula

#1 Wander around the most colorful cities

At Mexico we always thought of those colorful streets. Cities with colorful houses, cheerful streets and waving flags. And we were certainly not disappointed! It is not without reason that Valladolid, Mérida and Campeche are called the most beautiful and colorful cities in Mexico. Which is the nicest and most colorful? In this blog we compared the three cities and chose our favorite.

Tip: is yellow your favorite color? Then you might want to make a stop in the yellow city of Izimal on the way from Valladolid to Mérida.

Valladolid Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Campeche Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

#2 Climb the highest Mayan pyramid in Calakmul

From the main road it is a two-hour drive on an increasingly narrow road into the jungle to get to Calakmul. This Maya city is really off the beaten track and is therefore a must-visit in Yucatan. Deep in the jungle are the largest and highest pyramids and temples of the peninsula. Make sure you are here as early as possible so that you are all alone at the top of the large pyramid. Because yes, you can also climb these temples.

Tip: here you can find all our blogs about the Mayan temples in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Other recommendations in Mexico are those in Palenque and Coba!

Maya site Coba | Aldea Coba | Mexico
Maya site Coba | Aldea Coba | Mexico

#3 Dive into an underground cenote

Chances are that Yucatan ended up on your travel wishlist after seeing instapretty images of cenotes on social media. These underground lakes are a unique natural phenomenon and in Yucatan you have thousands. They are often deep underground, some with only the lighting of some small lamps and others open from above. The water is deep blue and the large fish reveal that there is a diverse ecosystem under the surface. Did you know that the cenotes are part of the largest underground river system in the world? A mysterious world that even caught the imagination of the Maya. For them, cenotes were sacred places and you immediately understand that when you visit these magical places.

Tip: in this blog you will find our overview map of all cenotes in Mexico, plus pro-tips for finding the best ones.

Cenote Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

#4 Relax on a Caribbean beach

One of the biggest attractions of Yucatan is the Caribbean coast. Think white beaches with the finest sand, clear blue water and palm trees with coconuts. Unfortunately, this tropical bounty plate is also a magnet for cruise ships and masses of Americans. If you like peace and quiet, it is advisable to skip the most famous beach spots such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

#5 Visit the pink lakes

In tropical places you think of clear blue oceans, but in Mexico it becomes even more exotic. There you have bright orange and pink lakes with equally pink flamingos. Is the water really that pink? Yes! Our first destination of our road trip through Yucatan was this special place. We tell you everything you need to know for a trip to this pretty pink and relatively undiscovered spot.

Pink Lakes Las Colorads Rio Lagartos Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Pink lakes Pink Lakes Las Colorads Rio Lagartos Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

#6 Immerse yourself in art and culture in Mérida

Our favorite city in Yucatan is Mérida. We fell in love with the brightly colored streets with Volkswagen beetles, the equally colorful street life, the local culture and all those nice places to eat. Mérida is not only the official capital of the state of Yucatán, but also the cultural center of the peninsula. The streets are filled with galleries where the work of local artists are sold. We were also completely happy with all the museums that you can visit for free and therefore accessible. The old governor’s house Casa Montejo and a free walking tour through the old center are the reasons for this. Here you can find all our tips for Mérida.

Merida Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Campeche Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

#7 Paddle with a canoe across the bluest lake in Mexico

The lake of Bacalar is also called the lake of the seven clothes blue. Because of the composition of the soil and the water, it is dazzling blue. The most comfortable and expensive option is a boat tour across the lake. More budget-friendly and more adventurous is renting a canoe or kayak to explore the lake yourself. We love to paddle ourselves and were able to rent canoes at our place to sleep, so the choice was quickly made for us. It is extra fun to go to the water with a canoe in the far north of the lake. There you have a mangrove forest full of water lilies! Read our travel guide for Laguna Bacalar to find out more about this special place in Mexico.

Lake Bacalar Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Lake Bacalar Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

#8 Sleep in a bamboo hut on the beach

For us, the perfect sleeping spot on a beach is a wooden or bamboo hut on the white sand between the palm trees. A spot where you can dive directly into the sea from your bed and see perfect sunrises or sunsets from your cabin. We experienced such a time at Cabanas Ecoturisticas Costa Maya, just south of the more touristy Mahahual. We came here at the end of the year and experienced one of the most memorable changes of the year. It is not only the private beach and the beautiful beach huts that have stayed with us, but especially the community feeling. You can sit down alone in the evening to eat the catch of the day. The guitar is played and sung, there is talk somewhere else and in the meantime a campfire is lit. Is there a better way to start a new year?

Tip: read more about this unique place to sleep and read why we prefer this place to the more touristy Mahahual.

Mahahual | Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

#9 Snorkle in the Caribbean Sea

Snorkeling or diving in the Caribbean Sea is really a must. Almost everywhere along the coastline are offered trips and everywhere you will find other marine life to explore. We discovered that in the south, near Belize which is known for its beautiful Great Belizean Reef, we can snorkel beautifully from the beach. No tour or boat trip required. Unfortunately we didn’t spot the famous sea turtles here, but the coral and the colorful fish were beautiful.

Snorkling Hopkins | Belize The Orange Backpack
Snorkeling Snorkling Belize Central America The Orange Backpack

#10 Taste the Mexican cuisine

How we love Mexican food! We ate the best tacos in Tulum, the best fajitas in Mahahual and the catch of the day in salt crust at Cabanas Ecoturisticas was fresher than fresh. Mexico is truly a paradise for foodies, so prepare your food wish list in advance! The cochinita pibil is a must for meat eaters. If this dish is traditionally prepared, the pig is roasting for a whole day in a pit, so the result is a kind of pulled pork. Typical drinks on almost every menu are sweet, white horchata (not a favorite, according to Sebastiaan a kind of detergent) and agua de jamaica (my favorite, but don’t ask for too much sugar). Coffee lover Sebastiaan was also completely happy with the good specialty coffee in Mexico. The beans often come from Oaxaca and are top quality.

Bacalar | Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Valladolid Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack