10 Unmissable Things To Do In Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
With all the incredible things to do in Mexico, I think I will never tire of it. I have been there 3 times already, and each time I visit I discover a little bit more. I am absolutely in love with its people, its culture, and the overall atmosphere and vibe I get when I am there.
Mexican tourist attractions are many. This is a country with a glorious history, of which the unique archaeological sites are just one inheritance. The colonial past also left its mark on the cities. The nature is lush and the beaches as beautiful as one can imagine.
To find out more about Mexico’s marvelous beaches, read my post “The 13 Best Beaches in Mexico.”
And let’s not forget about the food! Those who visit Mexico are rightly drawn to the variety of its cuisine, with all its ingredients and flavours. I confess that I have quite an addiction for tacos – and I won’t settle for anything less than the ones I used to have on Avenida Satelite Norte in Tulum.
Speaking of Tulum, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of my favorite places to go in Mexico. It has everything I need for a perfect trip – the right mixture of culture, sights, cities and nature that I always look for when I travel.
In fact, I generally recommend those who visit Mexico for the first time and have a limited time in the country to just concentrate their travels in the Yucatan peninsula: Mexico is huge and it is pointless to try and see it all in 10 days. This is a country that calls for slow travel.
So, for those who are planning to travel to that part of the world, here’s a selection of the most recommended things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan.
10 Unmissable Things To Do In Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
Visit the most famous archeological sites…
If there’s one thing Mexico is famous for, it’s the Maya sites. Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum and Coba are only some of the archaeological sites of Yucatan, but for sure they are among the best places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan.
Chichen Itza, considered one of the Wonders of the World, and listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites, easily qualifies as one of the most amazing places to go in Mexico. Yet I prefer Uxmal, which though quite popular is not as crowded.
Tulum is smaller than Chichen Itza and Uxmal, but its location, right in front of the Caribbean Sea, the views, the access to a gorgeous beach right below it make it one of the top places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan. Tours of Tulum can be booked online.
Visiting Coba, at about one hour from Tulum Pueblo, is certainly one of the coolest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan. This is the most widespread site of Yucatan, so visitors generally rent a bike or a bici-taxi. Furthermore, it’s one of the few sites where it is possible to climb a pyramid.
The best way to get to Coba is via a colectivo (a shared minibus), though for some unknown reason these don’t leave from the site so it is necessary to get a bus or a taxi. A good alternative and one of the top things to do in Mexico may be to book a guided tour of Tulum and Coba together.
Pro tip: I always recommend getting a guide when visiting archaeological sites, as it helps understand their significance. I know that it may be costly, but there are ways to save some $$$. One of the best things to do in Mexico when visiting a site and looking for a guide is waiting around (it hardly takes more than a few minutes) and keep an eye out for other visitors who may be interested in sharing the guide and the costs. Alternatively, it is possible to book guided tours of Chichen Itza online.
… then look for the lesser known ones
Among the best places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan there’s a handful of smaller archaeological sites that well deserve a visit. Kabah, not far from Uxmal, used to be the second most important city of the region. It is spread across two sides of Road 261. It’s a lovely site that doesn’t get nearly as many visitors as the others in Yucatan, thus the atmosphere is incredibly peaceful. Uxmal and Kabah can be visited on the same guided tour.
If one of the nicest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan is searching for lesser known sites, then Ek’ Balam is a good place to go. It is located near Valladolid. Though it is mostly covered by vegetation, excavations are ongoing. The pyramid is 32 meters tall. Tours of Ek’ Balam depart from Cancun.
Not far from Campeche, there are Edzna and Calakmul, two beautiful sites that receive less visitors in a year than Chichen Itza does in a day. They are among the best places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan if looking for archaeological sites that have all the beauty but none of the crowds.
Swim in the cenotes…
Perhaps the most unique among the many things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan is visiting the cenotes. Cenotes are underground lakes. They are unique to this part of the world, and scattered around the peninsula.
Some cenotes, such as Ik kil, are considered Mexico tourist attractions, and they are so popular that a whole resort has been developed around it. Others, such as Los Tres Cenotes de Cuzama, are much smaller but equally beautiful. One of the coolest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan is diving in cenotes.
Here’s a list of the best cenotes in Mexico.
Laguna Bacalar is one of the places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan
… then in a lagoon
The gorgeous Bacalar Lagoon is perhaps the most spectacular of the natural places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan. Not far from Chetumal, Bacalar is a large lake, completely immersed in the vegetation of Yucatan. It boasts incredibly white sand, and the water is of a paradisiac aquamarine color. It deserves a visit (and a swim).
Pay a visit to the most famous cities…
One of the nicest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan is visiting the beautiful cities. Merida is the largest city in the peninsula. It is often used as the starting point to visit Chichen Itza and some of the nicest cenotes in Yucatan, but it is worth visiting regardless of its vicinity to other sites.
What makes Merida one of the best places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan is the gorgeous colonial style architecture. Picture colorful buildings, cobbled alleys, a gorgeous cathedral, a beautiful square and an incredibly busy market, and it’s easy to see why so many people who visit Mexico make it a point to go.
Campeche is another lovely colonial town. Its small centre, with the colorful, restored colonial buildings is aligned by the defense walls, which are beautiful to walk along. What differentiates it from other cities in Mexico is the Malecon – that is, a beautiful, new waterfront where people go for walks or to run and exercise. Just that, to me, makes it one of the places to go to in Mexico’s Yucatan.
Last but not least, I have to mention Valladolid as one of the nicest places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan. I didn’t spend long enough when I went, and I regret it because compared to other cities in the peninsula, it is much quieter and absolutely charming, with a beautiful main square and a great easygoing atmosphere.
… then head to the lesser known ones
Each time I visit Mexico I discover new places and hidden gems. That’s how I realized that one of the nicest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan is visiting the lesser known cities. What I love about them is that they are still relatively undiscovered – though through internet they are slowly becoming more popular.
The good news is that there still are some places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula that are not crowded with tourists. One of them is Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, located right on the Caribbean coast and a travel hub between Mexico and Belize. Let alone the fact that the city is beautiful – there’s a lovely coastal walk (Boulevard Bahía) and good museums – Chetumal provides easy access to some lesser known Mayan ruins such as Oxtankah.
Izamal is bound to become one of the top Mexico tourist attractions. Known as Ciudad Amarilla (yellow city), Izamal is mostly Mayan and yes, it really is completely yellow. There are remains of pyramids scattered across town, and from the top of the site there’s a beautiful view of the city. The Spanish conquerors here didn’t demolish the Mayan sites but built on top of them. So for example the church and convent are laid on the rest of a site.
Go to the beach
The perfect trip to me is one that puts together culture, nature and some well deserved relax time, preferably at a beautiful beach (I am from Sardinia, after all!). With all the amazing beaches of the Riviera Maya, it is easy to see why I think Yucatan is a perfect destination. Indeed, one of the top things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan is going to the beach.
Playa del Carmen has some of the nicest beaches – at least in terms of services (it’s one of the most popular places to go in Mexico). But they can get very crowded. I am a fan of Akumal, as it is possible to snorkel and see turtles. Tulum beach is a very long stretch of incredibly white, fine sand, and it is possible to find spots that aren’t crowded. However, the last couple of times I was there, there was a lot of seaweed on the shore.
If going to a gorgeous beach is one of the best things to do in Mexico, but the crowds aren’t contemplated, then Mahahual may well be the perfect place. It’s a tiny coastal town of no more than 1000 inhabitants, with a large public beach which is beautiful and relaxing.
Visit the islands
The Caribbean coast of Yucatan is scattered with some beautiful islands, and one of the nicest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan is visiting at least a couple.
Isla Mujeres is one of the best known places to visit in Mexico and it can be easily reached via a short ferry ride from Cancun. The island is so small that it can be visited in a day – it is possible to rent bikes, scooters or even golf carts. There are some good beaches (though some can get very crowded at weekends or festivities). It is rather touristy, but nice.
Isla Cozumel is one of the places to go in Mexico for diving and snorkeling: indeed, there’s a gorgeous coral reef. There even are some Mayan ruins. The wildest part of the island is the east coast, that offers some beautiful marine landscapes.
Isla Holbox is located on the north of Yucatan peninsula. It may not have the clear, turquoise Caribbean waters, but it is a great place for birdwatching and the vibe is so relaxed that it may well be one of the best places to visit in Mexico’s Yucatan.
Eat (and drink) like a king
Even though I am hardly a foodie, I must admit that one of the top things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is eating. Mexican cuisine is so good and so varied that it is even protected by UNESCO.
Each time I visit Mexico, all I want to eat is tacos. The best places are the small carts that are scattered in the streets – wherever there is a small crowd eating, that’s where the good food is. I have a thing for tacos al pastor, which I enjoy with plenty of ensalada de nopales (cactus leaves salad). Other things to try are the quesadillas, which are tortillas filled with cheese and other things, such as flor de calabaza (zucchini flowers) or mushrooms.
Mexico is the country of Tequila and Mezcal, so it goes without saying that one of the things to do in Mexico is to try a good tequila and, even better, a proper margarita.
Stay in a gorgeous resort
I have always thought I am not the kind of person who’d enjoy an all inclusive resort. Then I went to one in the the Maldives after a tiring trip across Sri Lanka (read more about my adventures in the Maldives here), and I had such a good time, I relaxed so much, that I am actually convinced that there’s no better way to end a trip. Among the nicest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, is staying at an amazing resort.
All inclusive resorts such as Excellence Resorts have the benefit of perfectly catering to tourists who don’t have too much time to organize their trip independently. They can schedule day trips to the nearby Mexico tourist attractions; they have a great selection of restaurants to enjoy local food; they offer access to the most gorgeous beaches.
And if relaxing and pampering oneself is one of the top things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, resorts offer all the best treatments one may wish for.
With all these things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, it’s easy to see why it is a favorite of travelers. Have you ever been there? What did you like the most about it and what would you add to my short selection?
This post is written in partnership with Excellence Resorts.
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