The southern Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is the ideal vacation destination for jungle adventures, tropical beaches and colorful towns. We made a one-month road trip through these southern states. This way we collected the very best tips for you for the ultimate travel itinerary for backpacking Yucatan in Mexico!
Best flights to Mexico
Mexico is large, so pay attention to which city you are flying to. Mexico City may be the capital, but Cancun is your destination if you want to travel to Yucatan. For us Dutchies, tickets to Cancun from Amsterdam are also cheaper.
Another large and international airport in Yucatan can be found in the city of Mérida. As almost only flights from more neighboring countries arrive here, you will most likely have to make a transfer if Mérida is your final destination.
There are direct flights from Europe to both Mexico City and Cancun. Many tickets make a stopover in the United States. Please note that you must arrange a transit visa for the US for that!
Is Mexico safe to travel?
Mexico does not have the best reputation and Netflix series such as Narcos won’t help. But even though Mexico has not shaken that image of homeland, it is a safe travel destination with an ever-growing tourist industry. Certainly Yucatan is popular with Americans in particular, so the government is naturally very keen to guarantee safety here. The usual safety risks due to pickpockets or road accidents by animals on the road are of course universal. So keep that in mind in Mexico.
Tip: for more information about safety in Mexican traffic, read this extensive blog.
Unfortunately, that does not mean that we have felt completely safe everywhere. For safety warnings, we have not explored the state of Chiapas beyond beautiful Palenque. We wrote about this in the city guide for Palenque. We have also had one of our worst travel experiences in Mexico: we were robbed at night in our hotel room in Tulum. That was a fierce experience for us, but nevertheless we would certainly not regard Tulum as an unsafe destination. It is a very touristy place with a lot of travelers and therefore not at all unsafe. We wrote an extensive blog about the robbery, our experience and practical tips.
Tip: always consult the travel advice of the government before booking a trip.
How much travel time do you need for backpacking Yucatan?
Yucatan lends itself to almost any journey. We spoke to many tourists who flew to this part of Mexico for a week. They then opted for one or a maximum of two destinations near Cancun. If you really want to explore Yucatan well, you need two to three weeks. Longer is of course also possible. We stayed in this region for about a month.
Do you want to see more of Mexico than the southern peninsula? The states between the Yucatan Peninsula and Mexico City are also beautiful travel destinations. But a combination with Yucatan is not recommended. If you want to combine more of Mexico with Yucatan, you have to count on many travel kilometers and tiring travel days. If you travel in Mexico for at least a month, this could be an option. Then fly to Cancun and back from Mexico City, or vice versa.
How to travel between Mexico destinations
Mexico is known for the super fast, affordable and comfortable bus connections. So most travelers travel through Yucatan on buses from the ADO bus company. ADO provides bus connections between almost all popular travel destinations for a good price. The buses are fairly comfortable, but you also have cheaper bus tickets with slightly less comfort. You can conveniently buy the bus tickets online in the ADO app (for iPhone and Android). Then you don’t have to stand in line at the bus terminal and you are assured of your ticket and nice place.
Tip: bring a cardigan or sweater on the bus for the cold. The air conditioning often makes you forget the tropical temperatures in Mexico.
Why would you still consider a rental car? For freedom and reaching more remote places! We think traveling on a trip is not dependent on bus times. In between your destinations, you no longer have standard travel days, but just grab the car. You drive to your next sleeping place when it suits you. And on the way you stop at a nice cenote, a small village or a nice restaurant. We love it!
Tip: We often use Discover Car Hire because you can easily compare different rental agencies and they offer the lowest prices.
Some places are also difficult to reach without a rental car. The alternative is a taxi or a guided tour. For example, only a few cenotes – deep blue, underground water pools – can be found in a town or within cycling distance. For most you still need a car. We also thought visiting the Mayan ruins Calakmul deep in the jungle a fantastic experience. How do you get there best and easiest? With your own rental car.
We made this map with all distances in Yucatan especially for travelers with a rental car. This way you quickly get a good impression of what you can take in a day and how long it takes you.
We wrote an extensive blog about a rental car and driving in Mexico. From road safety and what to look out for when choosing a rental car to the traffic rule and the costs of rental cars and gasoline. Here you will find our usefull guide.
The best time to visit Yucatan
Yucatan can be visited all year round. The temperatures are always pleasant. Because this region is so popular with American tourists, the high season is about the same as American holidays. Very busy and expensive are therefore the periods around Christmas and New Year and of course around the American ‘spring break’ from March to mid-April. In short: the high season runs roughly from December to April.
The weather is also the most optimal. In the summer months of July and August, for example, it is extremely hot and crowded with Mexican tourists. Also consider the hurricane season from November to December. A visit to many of the islands is then often no fun. Yucatan can arrange a lot in both spring and autumn. Are you coming to Yucatan to swim with whale sharks on Isla Hobox? Keep in mind that they come together from roughly June to mid-September.
We traveled through Mexico ourselves in December / January and can heartily recommend that. The weather was great except for two rainy days and the crowds were not too bad. Only around Christmas and New Year it was more difficult to find a nice but affordable place to sleep. Also the prices for hotels and rental cars around the holidays are really much higher.
The perfect travel itinerary for 2 to 3 weeks in Yucatan, Mexico
In 2 to 3 weeks you can see all sides of the Mexican peninsula. From deep blue cenotes at Valladolid and Mérida to impressive Mayan temples in the jungle. From Caribbean coasts to snorkeling with brightly colored fish. This travel itinerary for Yucatan leads you past all these places. Our itinerary is suitable for 2 weeks and has extra destinations to extend your trip to 3 or even 4 weeks.
We immediately start with a top tip for an extra stop! After picking up your rental car, continue to Coba for underground cenotes and impressive Mayan temples. Unlike the famous Chichen Itza in Mexico, you can climb the largest temple here. Extra nice is that you can rent bikes here to cycle through the jungle to all corners of the ancient city. The cenotes in the area of Coba are also recommended. We had these underground lakes all to ourselves! Here we tell you exactly where you can find them.
#1 The Pink Lakes and Valladolid
After a day in Coba or directly from Cancun airport, make a road trip to Las Coloradas. There you have bright orange and pink lakes with equally pink flamingos. And yes, the water is really pink! After your visit to the lakes you will continue to Valladolid, where you will spend another day visiting the colorful town and the cenotes in the area. Valladolid is also the perfect base for Mayan city of Chichen Itza, but we would rather recommend the much less touristy Calakmul later in this itinerary.
Our favorite city in Yucatán is without a doubt 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.
Read more: continue reading about this Mexican gem in our comprehensive city guide for your visit to Mérida.
The town of Campeche on the west coast of the Yucatán peninsula is often called the most beautiful place in the region. The colorful streets, the city walls and the retro cars dominate the street scene in the old center. We spent wonderful Christmas days in Campeche, but if we should choose? Then we would prefer Valladolid and Mérida and we would not opt for Campeche due to lack of time. In this blog we explained why exactly and here you can read about our favorite places in Campeche.
From Campeche you can make a trip to Palenque with its impressive Mayan temples and waterfalls. We visited a total of nine Mayan ruins, but explain in this blog why we were so impressed with those in Palenque. And in this mini travel guide for your visit to Palenque you will find the nicest spots in the city and the most beautiful waterfalls in the area.
#3 Mayan city-state Calakmul
Time to explore the deep jungle and get the Indiana Jones feeling 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. Surrounded by howls of howler monkeys you climb here the highest pyramid in Yucatan. From there you have a view of the treetops that extend as far as you can see. It will not be more impressive than Calakmul!
#4 Laguna Bacalar
The lake of Bacalar is also called the lake of the seven clothes blue. The water of the lake is dazzling blue, a beautiful place to add to your travel itinerary through Yucatan. 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 more: in this mini travel guide on Bacalar we will tell you everything about this beautiful lake and the village of Bacalar.
#5 The Caribbean coast and Tulum
Time for sun, sea and beach. Take a few days off to fully unwind and snorkel in the beautiful coral reef off the coast. The village of Mahahual is a popular choice for that, but we found it to be massive. In this blog we explained why and here you’ll find out which bounty beach perfect alternative we’ve found. Afterwards, travel on to popular Tulum to see what everyone is always talking about. Everything there is more massive and more touristy than at other destinations, but the nice eateries, street art and powdery sandy beach are worth it.
#6 Cozumel, Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox
Of course you cannot leave Yucatan without visiting an island. There are no cars on Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox and everyone drives around in golf carts. We therefore chose Cozumel Island ourselves, where we could even come with our rental car. So we could easily drive from the busy west side with large cruise ships to the rougher east coast with wild waves, rock bridges and blowholes. On Cozumel and Isla Mujeres – and incidentally also in Cancun – you’ll find cool murals, part of the worldwide Sea Walls. Allow at least half a day for this!
Read more: we wrote an extensive travel guide on Cozumel Island, telling you all about the ferry, best things to do, most beautiful beaches and best restaurants.
Extra: Playa del Carmen and Cancun
We already found Tulum touristy and massive, so these super popular destinations with large-scale resorts did not appeal to us. Do you want to relax in luxury? Then this is your moment before you return your rental car to the airport and fly home.