The Yucatan Peninsula in southeast Mexico, is an absolute gem packed with everything a traveler could wish for – rich culture, adrenaline-fuelled adventure, delicious food and stunning scenery.
Indeed, it’s the ultimate destination for countless the world over – be it a backpacking tour, a road trip, a family holiday or a honeymoon destination, it packs plenty for everyone.
With its brilliant blue waters, iconic landmarks and mysterious cenotes, the Yucatan is the perfect starting place for travellers exploring magnificent Mexico.
Starting from the Riviera Maya, I went inland on an exciting adventure trail that included waterparks, underground caves and cenotes, ancient Mayan ruins, colourful Spanish colonial-era towns, exotic wildlife and paradise islands.
Scroll on to read: The Perfect Yucatan 1 Week Itinerary (2023 Edition)
Table of Contents
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Currency: Mexican Pesos (MXN), US Dollar
Languages: Spanish is the common language here, but in the touristy regions English is common, especially in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and in all the adventure parks and tourist locations.
Visa: If you’re visiting Mexico as a tourist you won’t need a visa, but you’ll need to complete an immigration form and have this with you when you enter and leave Mexico.
Weather: There’s a tropical climate here, with a rainy and muggy season from June to October, a relatively cool season from November to February, and a hot season from March to May. The highest temperatures are around 40C at peak season, whilst in January it can fall as low as 15C.
What to pack: Plenty of sunblock. T-shirt, vests, casual shorts, swim shorts, flip flops, towel, sunglasses, cap/headwear. Read the complete Mexico packing guide here:
Good to know:
Street food is delicious and cheap here. So if you’re on a budget – head to the street vendors, especially the ones that attract a lot of locals (and don’t worry – the food is clean and cooked well). It is also authentic Mexican food.
Public transport is easy getting around Yucatan, but tricky if going further out to other states, as you have to book in advance. If you wish – many places provide bicycles for rent which are also cheap and an easy way to get around town. Buses in Mexico are very comfortable and cheap, the main company is ADO.
Additional Yucatan Travel Guides:
For more useful travel information on Yucatan, check out these articles:
✪ Yucatan 2 Week Itinerary (2023 Edition)
✪ Ultimate Yucatan Travel Guide (+ FREE Cheatsheet)
✪ What to Pack for Mexico: Travel Essentials
✪ How to Travel Yucatan on a Budget (+ FREE Cheatsheet)
✪ Complete Guide to Driving from Cancun to Tulum
✪ Interesting Facts about Mexico
✪ Where to Stay in Tulum in 2023
Travel Guide – The Perfect Yucatan 1 Week Itinerary (2023 Edition)
- Playa Del Carmen (1)
- Xenotes Oasis Maya (2)
- Tulum: Mayan Ruins (3)
- Valladolid (4)
- The Chichen Itzá (5)
- Izamal: Day Trip (6)
- Cancun (7)
- Isla Mujeres: Day Trip (8)
Day 1: Playa Del Carmen
Wander the Seaside Resort of Playa Del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen is one of the main tourist spots on the Riviera Maya – the coastal stretch of resorts and beaches that starts just south of Cancun, and goes all the way down to just south of Tulum.
Known for it’s palm-lined white beaches, crystal clear blue waters and stunning coral reefs, Playa Del Carmen is one of the largest tourist hotspots on the peninsula. With this in mind, I stayed here just one night and day to wander the narrow streets, tuck into cheap and tasty Mexican tacos, and soak up the glorious sunshine on the beach.
For the adventurists, Playa offers an amazing opportunity to go diving with bull sharks! Here’s Everything you need to know about Bull Shark diving in Playa del Carmen
How to get there: Airport taxi charge non-negotiable US $40 which you can pay in any of the taxi stands inside the airport. You can take a shared transfer (“collectivo”) for much less, it just means travelling with other passengers.
Alternatively, the ADO buses run every half hour from the airport to downtown Cancun, and cost US $5 per person.
Uber used to be the cheaper way to get around by car but unfortunately has been suspended in Cancun due to hostility by the trade union of taxis of Quintana Roo state.
Essential Item: As you may know, the water out the taps in Mexico is not recommended to drink. Carrying a Water-to-Go Filter Bottle will help keep you safe by filtering any water you put into it. It will also save you money and help save the planet from plastic waste (bonus!) Get 15% off when you use the code: GIVEME15 at checkout
Day 2: Cenotes Adventure Park
Go zip-wiring, kayaking and snorkelling in a cenotes adventure park
The second day of my trip I spent at one of the biggest and most exciting adventure parks on the Yucatan: the Xenotes Oasis Maya: a breathtaking cenote park deep in the jungle. From Playa del Carmen, the coach ride is only around an hour, so it’s easily done in a day and its highly recommended.
I booked my ticket on the first day (yesterday) in Playa del Carmen, and you can book your tickets at a discount price online, here:
This was one of the highlights of my time here; it was a fantastic opportunity to explore and experience four shimmering cenotes by zip-lining across them, kayaking through them snorkelling and spotting various fish, rappelling down inside the dark caves, and the most intense of all were the steep cliff-jumps.
The first cliff jump was a THRILL! Everyone in my group comfortably took the leap on this one.
The second cliff though, jeez.. that was INTENSE!
It was twice as steep, and most of my group did not have the guts to take this plunge. I’d never jumped off such a terrifyingly high cliff in my life. It was literally about 80 feet drop.
I made a few failed attempts of approaching the edge, hesitating on the spot while my heart was in my mouth, before backing away.
And then, I FINALLY willed myself to take the leap.
This was a TRULY action-packed adventure that made for a memorable day. The experience is well worth it, the tickets are a little costly, but I was able to get discounts as a Deaf visitor due to missing out on all the insight on the cenotes from the guides.
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Day 3: Tulum Mayan Ruins
Tulum: A city of Mayan Ruins and New Age Vibe
Tulum was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
About 90 minutes south of Cancun is the small town of Tulum, at the bottom of the Riviera Maya. With it’s white beaches and well-preserved, thousand year-old ruins that featured in films like Tomb Raider, Tulum is currently the most popular spot on the Peninsula.
There are three areas to stay in Tulum: Beach Road North, Beach Road South, and Tulum Town.
Tulum Town is quieter and has an authentic atmosphere, but is 15-20 minutes drive away from the beaches (and parking is hard to find).
Beach Road North has nicer beaches and they’re closer to the ruins, but they are more crowded. And it due to its large resorts, it does feel a bit artificial.
Beach Road South is the zen zone popular among the youth, recommended for those seeking vegan organic restaurants, yoga studios, and insta-worthy scenery.
Here’s the 10 Best Cenotes Near Tulum.
How to get there: Tulum is on the Riviera Maya, so is not far from Playa Del Carmen (about an hour away). Collectivo is the cheapest option, and a taxi costs around 650 pesos.
Getting around Tulum is best by bike rental (fairly cheap).
You can read all about driving from Cancun to Tulum here.
Day 4: Valladolid, Chichen Itza
Wander the ancient city of Valladolid and witness the iconic Chichen Itzá
Leaving Tulum I took a 90 minute bus journey inland to Valladolid – a historical city that hosts a number of Baroque-style colonial buildings. Valladolid is in stark contrast to the busy tourist-laden spots of Playa and Cancun, it is authentic and local, and is a great place to base yourself to visit the nearby Mayan ruins, cenotes, and the iconic Chichen Itzá.
A short distance from Valladolid, is El Castillo, the UNESCO World Heritage Mayan Site that hosts a complex of Mayan Ruins with the Chichen Itzá temple right in the centre.
This was of course, one of the top things I wanted to see in Mexico.
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Chichen Itza is truly a magnificent feat of Mayan engineering. It is undoubtedly the most famous landmark in Mexico.
There are some excellent organised tours for the Chichen Itzá that also include a trip to the nearby Ik Kil Cenotes as well as a tour of Valladolid. Click here to book your tour.
How to get there: Chichen Itzá is 45 minutes drive from Valladolid. At the ADO terminal, collectivos leave every few minutes and cost around 40 pesos. The Oriente second-class buses make frequent trips from Valladolid too.
Best time to visit is when it opens at 8am (when there’s less tourists about), but late afternoon is also a good time as the light is better for taking pictures and it does quieten down a bit too.
Admission: US $16 Chichen Itzá entry ticket
Opening times: 8am til 6pm
What to bring: Plenty of water, hat, sunblock. The mercury hits well above 40C here and there’s not much shaded areas, so it’s advised to bring or hire an umbrella for those sensitive to the sun.
Did you know: technically speaking, the Yucatan peninsula is actually formed of three Mexican states – Yucatan state, Quintana Roo state, and Campeche state. For more facts, head to: 30 Interesting Facts About Mexico
Day 5: Izamal Day Trip
Roam the colonial city of Izamal for a truly authentic experience
Izamal is a small city of rich ancient Mayan and Spanish colonial heritage. As it’s inland and over in the west, there’s no cool sea breeze, so be prepared for the intense heat as it’s much hotter here.
A day here is enough time for me to explore the city’s scenic and colourful architecture.
Known as the Ciudad Amarilla (Yellow City) due to the numerous buildings here being painted in bright yellow ochre and bright white door frames and window frames.
Check out the Convento de San Antonio de Padua (featured in above image).
Other highlights of Izamal include: the Kinich Kakmo Pyramid, the Habuk Archaelogical site, and the Mayan monument, Itzamatul.
How to get there: From Valladolid the ADO bus runs to Izamal and costs 178 Pesos (US $9) in First Class. It takes 90 minutes and the bus departs once every hour or couple of hours (check the timetable online or at the station for specific times)
Day 6: Cancun
Return to the Riviera Maya for beaches, water activities, malls and buzzing nightlife
Back onto the Riviera Maya, Cancun is the main tourist spot on the east coast, and there’s plenty to see and do here.
Aside from soaking up the sun on those white sand beaches and swimming in the perfect, aqua blue waters, you can also go snorkelling with whale sharks, swimming in nearby underground rivers, and stroll the souvenir markets in Downtown Cancun.
There’s plenty of shopping malls, restaurants and cafes on the Hotel Zone if you fancy that, and nightlife is vibrant here – Forum By The Sea is the place to be for the best bars and clubs.
How to get there: ADO buses from Valladolid take around 2 hours to the centre of Cancun.
Don’t Forget To Bring.. This region of the world is hot all year round and with the sun beating down, you’ll need a decent pair of sunglasses. Be sure to pack a good, fashionable pair beforehand, to avoid being forced to pay $10+ for a knock-off pair from a souvenir stand. You can find a range of good, reliable sunglasses on Amazon
Day 7: Isla Mujeres Day Trip
One of Mexico’s lesser-known treasures – explore an off-beat, paradise island
A short ferry ride from Cancun takes you to Isla Mujeres – a small island thats just 7km across, well-known for its incredible beaches, fresh seafood, scuba diving, and snorkelling with giant sea turtles.
The Turtle Sanctuary and rehabilitation centre is highly recommended. You can watch baby turtles hatching on the beaches and even swim up close with them in sea.
Once in a while I stop to drink fresh coconut water – a delicious and heathy drink that helps quench my thirst in the heat and replenish my energy to continue exploring.
Another must-do activity on Isla Mujeres is the spectcular Catamaran boat tour – you can book your Catamaran day tour which leaves from Cancun on this link:
How to get there: Take the ferry at Punta Sam port, the crossing takes 30 minutes and the fare is 80 Pesos (US $4) one way.
So How Much Does it all Cost?
Mexico is generally very affordable, and travelling here can be done very cheaply if you avoid the big resorts and tour packages, and stick to collectivos for transport.
However, due to it’s popularity and location, Yucatan is slightly more expensive than other less touristy regions of Mexico.
There are various price bands from ridiculously cheap, to extremely expensive, that applies to everything from accommodation, flights, food, overland travel, and activities.
Below is an average pricing itinerary that I spent on this trip:
- Flights from the UK: $765 / £600 return from Manchester (via Skyscanner)
- Airport transfer: $40 / £30
- Accommodation cost: £15-20 per night (Airbnb double room with bathroom) = $135-180 / £105-140 for 7 nights
- Transport: $40 / £30 (bus and ferry rides)
- Food: $140 / £110 (Average £3 per meal, £1 per drink)
- Activities: (group tours): $150 / £100
Total Spent: $1,300 / £1,000
Total Days: 7
Bear in mind this is a basic guide only – based on myself travelling with a partner (hence the private double rooms). Remember, everyone travels at their own pace, and on different budgets, so your personal travel budget may be different from mine.
To sum up, Yucatan is the perfect starting place for any tourist wishing to explore Mexico and Central America in general, for the first time.
It has something for everyone – sun and sand, great food, rich culture, exotic wildlife, and plenty of adrenaline-packed adventures tailored for families and hardcore adventurists alike.
This region boasts world-class beaches, thrilling outdoor adventure activities, UNESCO world heritage sites (including one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), and some of the most DELICIOUS food you will ever find on earth!
If I had more time..
I would have visited the incredible Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas on the northern coast, and I’d have spent more time over on the west – visiting the state capital, Merida.
For the budget travellers..Flights to Cancun are fairly cheap from the US and Canada. You can find reasonably priced accommodation on Airbnb. The food in the main tourist spots, especially on the Riviera Maya, is a little expensive, but if you eat from street vendors and at spots where the locals eat, you will find extremely cheap and delicious food!
Book Your Trip to Mexico: Budget Tips & Tricks
SIM cards: DrimSim is a universal SIM card that isn’t tied to an operator and works in any country/region.
Travel Insurance: Stay protected from theft, injury, illness, and cancellations. A safety net in case anything goes wrong, I never leave without it. World Nomads is my favourite agent for total peace of mind.
Need to store your luggage in a locker? Use Radical Storage to store your stuff in a locker in any city for just $5 per day.
Head over to my Travel Tools page for all my best travel tips & advice and everything you need for your trip.
Mexico Travel Guides
For more in-depth reading on the Yucatan peninsula, you can get your hands on a copy of these bestsellers below:
- Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan on Amazon
- Top 10 Cancun and the Yucatan (DK Eyewitness Top 10 on Amazon
Travelling to Mexico soon?
- For a complete guide to travel in Yucatan, head over to: Yucatan: The Ultimate Travel Guide
- For all the best advice and top tips on travelling Yucatan on a budget, see my post: Yucatan On A Budget
- Click here to read the perfect 2 week Yucatan itinerary
- Here’s 34 Fun Facts about Mexico City
- And here’s the 8 Best Places to stay in the Yucatan by Scratch Your Mapa
Further Reading: Travel Itineraries
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