The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is so much more than just Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. If you look at the map of Yucatan, you can easily spend a few months in the area and still not explore everything. If you have just 2 weeks in Mexico, like most visitors, you need to think about your Mexico itinerary carefully.
You can swim in cenotes, scuba dive with whale sharks, enjoy the white sand beaches, visit the ancient Mayan ruins, visit colonial towns and still have time to taste the nightlife.
What to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico?
(updated for 2017)
The best and the most convenient way to explore the area is renting a car. A car will give you freedom to explore more and beat the crowds. You will appreciate having the ability to go places a bit off the beaten path and possibly save money over using taxis and shuttles.
You can pick up a car right after you land in Cancun and begin your adventure by driving directly to Playa del Carmen. If you’re not up for a solo adventure for whatever reason, check out some group tours with G Adventures.
Enjoy Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is much more than just a tourist spot with great nightlife. Even after a year of living here I still keep finding those hidden gems in and around town. Playa del Carmen is a great place to eat delicious Mexican food, shop till you drop and relax on the beach.
There are also plenty of activities like jet-skiing, paragliding, snorkeling and much more if you’re looking for some adventures without leaving town. It’s a great place to start your adventures around the Yucatan Peninsula.
You can base yourself in Playa for at least a few days while doing day trips. Since Playa is still quite touristy you can get more local experience by staying at a vacation rental rather than staying at the hotel. A rental in Playa del Carmen by BRIC Rentals will provide all the amenities you would have at home and the freedom to explore, all for about the same price as a hotel.
They have been around for more than 10 years and have a large selection of condos, villas and apartments to choose from, so make sure to check them out! Their properties are luxurious, close to the beach and pretty affordable if you’re coming to Mexico with your family or a group of friends.
Here are some other options for hotels though:
Best Hostels in Playa del Carmen
Best Apartments in Playa del Carmen
Croc Condos – Check Prices On: AirBnB
Best Mid-Range Hotels in Playa del Carmen
Best Luxury Hotels in Playa del Carmen
Cenotes are a must-do in the Yucatan. What exactly are cenotes? There are cave formations and sinkholes, either open-air or completely underground. Use your own car or take a collectivo from Playa del Carmen and visit as many cenotes you can.
Trust me, there are many cenotes to choose from!
Each cenote is different: some have great diving, others are full of fish and great cliffs to jump from and sometimes you can even find a zipline or a swing!
Day Trip to Cozumel
Catch the early morning ferry to the island of Cozumel. As the island is quite big, you should consider renting a car, buggy or scooter. You can snorkel on a gorgeous reef near The Money Bar.
Then continue onto the Punta Sur reserve to enjoy the beach, play with some pygmy raccoons and maybe spotting a crocodile! Cozumel is also a great spot for diving, so make sure you save some time for this purpose.
Swim with Turtles at Akumal
Akumal is a small village on the way to Tulum. Do yourself a favor and stop at Akumal where you can swim with sea turtles for free. It’s one of the best things to do in the area! From Akumal you can continue directly to Tulum and spend the night there.
Visit Tulum Ruins & Sian Ka’an Reserve
While there are many impressive Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum’s beachfront location, perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, is hard to beat. Aim to arrive as early (or late) as possible to beat the crowds as the site gets pack around 10 am.
In the afternoon you can visit the Sian Ka’an Reserve where you can kayak among mangroves and spot some cute manatees.
Climb the Pyramid of Coba + Swim in more cenotes
The ruins of Coba might not be as know as Chichen Itza, but the site is less touristy and you can still climb the main pyramid called Ixmoja. There are 120 stone steps up to the top, but it’s well worth the climb.
Coba is way bigger than you might think at first so allow yourself to spend a few hours out there, but don’t worry – you can rent a bike to get around.
A trip to Coba wouldn’t be complete without taking a dip in the refreshing cenotes nearby. For a small fee you get to see three amazing underground cenotes, in my opinion the best in the Yucatan. Cenote Choo-Ha is my favorite, but if you’re an adventure seeker try to jump from a 45 feet platform at Tamcach-Ha cenote.
Go to Chichen Itza & Valladolid
Leave Tulum early in the morning and head to Chichen Itza – one of Mexico’s most visited tourist destinations and UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. There are a lot of astronomical marvels at Chichen Itza, but one of the most exciting is the Descent of the Feathered Serpent on the the main Pyramid of Kukulkan that happens once a year. A shadow play is created where a serpent head statue transforms into a full creature through the shadows of the pyramid’s terraces.
Valladolid is a friendly colonial town on the way to Chichen Itza offering stunning architecture, including a 16th century cathedral of San Gervasio. While some tourists still pass through Valladolid the city is often an over-looked destination, while there are plenty of things to do there. Local cenotes such as Cenote Zaci is a great alternative to overcrowded Ik Kil Cenote. It’s a good spot to spend a night in as well.
Day 9: Take a mud bath in a pink lake
Located approximately two hours from Playa del Carmen and even closer from Valladolid, Rio Lagartos is famous for bird watching and the densest concentration of flamingos in Mexico. If you’re heading there from Valladolid it’s just a short drive and you can explore everything before the main tourist buses arrive.
You should also take a dip into a pink lake and cover yourself in mud as it’s a perfect skin treatment and moreover totally free!
Day 10-12: Relax on Isla Holbox
To get to Holbox take a ferry from Chiquila which leaves every hour. Isla Holbox is all about relaxing and beautiful beaches, but if you’re up for some adventure activities you won’t end up disappointed either. You can go horseback riding on the beach, rent a golf cart (as it’s the only vehicle allowed on the island) and rent a bike.
Snorkeling and diving with whale sharks (from June to September) is also an option, but still the best thing on the island are the hammock located right on the water and delicious lobster pizza.
Unfortunately, that’s all you can fit in 2 weeks. You can obviously change this itinerary a bit. I suggest checking my Travel & Live in Mexico section to see what else you can do in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula!
DON’T FORGET ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Don’t forget to arrange a health insure before heading to Mexico. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to skip unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!