When we climbed Kilimanjaro, it was a once in a lifetime sensation for all of us, and even a bit more special for our couple of friends who got engaged up there. What is the link between Kilimanjaro and Mexico? Well, they organised their wedding near Cancun, which signed us up for amazing Yucatan Peninsula holidays! You’ll find here all the details of our two-week Yucatan Itinerary.
Mexico, and most especially the Cancun area, had never been on my list of dream destinations. I only linked it to American Spring Break and crowded Chichen Itza. Wow, I was wrong!
While organising the trip, I was overwhelmed by the number of great places to check out during our Yucatan Peninsula holidays.
We had two weeks off, and we would have needed a month to do all we were interested in just in the Yucatan Peninsula. Hard choices had to be made!
The following list is a quick overview of what we did and where we went during our holidays in the Yucatan Peninsula. There’s a map at the end to localise all these destinations, as well as general tips to help you during your trip (such as how to tip in Mexico for example). For more details on the activities from our Yucatan itinerary, click on the links to read the full articles.
Responsible tips: Be extra careful with your fins when you snorkel or dive on a reef not to damage the coral! If you can use shorter fins, you will reduce the risk of accidentally hitting the coral.
Two-week Yucatan itinerary in Mexico:
Day 1: Cancun
We visited Cancun with one goal in mind: diving the Underwater Museum near Islas Mujeres. You don’t need to be certified to dive it: they take beginners down there. If you don’t feel comfortable with scuba diving, there are also parts of the museum that were created for snorkelers.
Day 2: Coba
We slept in the Mexican Jungle and visited the Mayan ruins in Coba as well as beautiful underground cenotes (blue holes). The cenotes were maybe the most beautiful ones we saw during this trip, although they’re difficult to compare as they’re actually quite different. The pyramid in Coba is one of the tallest you’ll ever see and you’re allowed to climb to the top, for an unforgettable memory of the visit.
Day 4: Xcalak
Xcalak is at the border with Belize at the end of the most southern tips on the Eastern Coast of Mexico. It’s a small fishing village reputed for scuba diving and eco-tourism. To be honest, if you’re not a diver, there isn’t much for you down there except a very quiet area for an off the grid experience. I found it nice to go out of the super touristy zone along the Riviera Maya.
Day 5: Playa Del Carmen
We experienced a Mayan ceremony for our friends’ wedding near Playa del Carmen. It was beautiful, simple and focused on nature, so well aligned with what we like!
If you don’t want to spend the whole day on the beach, check out the boat trips in Playa Del Carmen.
Day 6: Akumal
Akumal means “Turtles” for the Mayans. Turtles come to Akumal Beach to feed on the seagrass so you can see many of them while snorkelling. It’s really not the best place to see turtles in the world but those who never had this opportunity will surely be happy with their encounters. I found it too busy for my taste and the visibility wasn’t too good.
That day, our car broke down on the motorway, which was a great opportunity for me to realise I could speak Spanish when I’m annoyed. They wanted us to wait for quite a long time on the side of the motorway, but my request to “hablar con el director” did some magic. It was also a good lesson that plans should stay flexible when you’re driving around the Yucatan Peninsula with an old car.
Day 7: Cozumel
Cousteau, who invented scuba-diving, placed Cozumel in his Top 10 Diving Sites. We were in awe with this dive: the coral formations are incredible in Cozumel. Although I’ve dived a lot on the Great Barrier Reef, Cozumel was the best reef dive I ever did.
Day 8: Chichen Itza
The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are among of the Seven Wonders of the World, making the site Mexico’s most visited place. If you wonder if it’s worth going, I had the same question. I don’t like crowded tourist areas but I feel a Yucatan itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Chichen Itza. I suggest reading my article about Chichen Itza to make up your mind.
Day 9: Diving Cenotes from Tulum
Diving cenotes in Tulum was one of the many highlights of the trip. It’s the closest I’ve been to cave diving. The experience and the beauty of the sites were impressive.
I found out too late about the opportunity to dive with crocodiles in Tulum. I would have loved to try this unique experience as we didn’t have enough time in Xcalak to snorkel with them.
Day 10: Tulum Ruins and Casa Cenote near Tulum
Tulum ruins are not to be missed when you’re in the region. Although they’re not as impressive as Chichen Itza, their location next to the water makes them a beautiful site to explore. They may be the most photogenic Mayan ruins in the world.
In the afternoon, we refreshed with a fantastic snorkelling session at Casa Cenote, a few kilometres outside Tulum on the road to Playa del Carmen. We found a quiet restaurant next door with a beautiful terrace in front of a beautiful beach.
Day 11: Garden of Eden near Tulum and Cozumel
We loved snorkelling in cenotes near Tulum so we went to explore another one: Garden of Eden. Our day dive a few days earlier at Cozumel were so good that we booked a night dive to go back there. A storm hit Playa del Carmen as we were leaving the motorway and roads got flooded very quickly. Cars were driving on the pedestrian pathways not to get too submerged. It was chaos and it felt like a miracle that we managed to board the boat. The weather was beautiful when we reached Cozumel.
Our day dives a few days earlier at Cozumel were so good that we booked a night dive as soon as we could. A storm hit Playa del Carmen as we were leaving the motorway and roads got flooded very quickly. Cars were driving on the pedestrian pathways not to get too submerged. It was chaos and it felt like a miracle that we managed to board the boat. The weather was beautiful when we reached Cozumel. And the dive was, again, amazing and very different from the day dive for the animals we could spot.
Day 12: Sian Ka’an and Gran Cenote in Tulum
Sian Ka’an Bioreserve is a rare natural spot in Tulum. We took an amazing boat trip to explore the mangrove and the river, looking for birds and manatees.
We finished the day with a short snorkelling session at Gran Cenote.
Day 13: Rio Lagartos
We did not initially include Rio Lagartos in our Yucatan itinerary. But we loved the calm of Sian Ka’an so much that we decided to drive all the way up north to do another boat trip on a river to spot flamingos and pink lakes at Rio Lagartos.
If you’re planning your Yucatan itinerary from scratch and don’t have any commitments, it would save you driving time to visit Rio Lagartos while you’re near Chichen Itza and Valladolid. It was a last-minute decision for us and the drive from Tulum was quite long (but worth it!).
Day 14: Back to Cancun
The holidays weren’t finished just yet as we had a long stopover in Salt Lake City before going back to Australia.
If you have more time in the Yucatan Peninsula: visit the West coast
We focused on the north and the west of the Yucatan Peninsula, but the western part and the middle also offer amazing places to visit.
If we had more time off, we’d have driven more west after visiting Chichen Itza to visit Merida and then south to check out Campeche. If you go to the west coast, don’t miss the Uxmal Mayan ruins on your way back to the east coast.
Where we stayed for our Yucatan Peninsula holidays:
- One night in Cancun (arrival) | Airbnb*
- Two nights in Macario Gomez | Airbnb*
- One night in Xcalak | Dive Centre
- Two nights in Playa del Carmen | Airbnb*
- One night in Valladolid | Hotel (click here to view*)
- Six nights in Tulum | Airbnb*
We mainly choose Airbnb accommodation as they were more aligned with the experience we were looking for. The Yucatan Peninsula is very touristy and we tried to avoid the crowd when possible. If you’re looking for accommodation in Tulum or Playa del Carmen, I suggest reading this article to make the right choice FOR YOU between all-inclusive resorts, beach hotels and guest house. The experiences are very different and they all serve different needs.
Useful tips for your Yucatan Peninsula holidays
- Tipping is expected in the Yucatan Peninsula. Check here when and how much tip you should leave here.
- If you plan to drive: 6 Tips to deal with the police in Mexico when they want a bribe
- If you plan to snorkel or dive: How to take underwater photos and videos that aren’t blue
- If you plan to kayak: Tips for a better kayaking adventure