Looking for a nice holiday destination where you have one sun, sea and beach, but at the same time can also do cool things and make a nice road trip? The Yucatán peninsula in Mexico is the ideal destination. The Yucatán peninsula is located in the south of Mexico and is about 3.5 times the size of the Netherlands. The region is excellent for discovering by rental car. We ourselves stayed in Yucatán for five weeks and we made a road trip of three weeks. We discovered the most beautiful bounty beaches and islands, climbed beautiful Maya temples, wandered through authentic, colorful Mexican cities, swam with sea turtles, spot flamingos and enjoyed the Mexican cuisine. Are you looking for a route for Mexico? With this ideal itinerary for 3 weeks Yucatán you can see the most beautiful of southern Mexico. This route is also possible in two weeks.
Dutch: Liever in het Nederlands lezen? Lees hier alles over de ideale reisroute door Mexico voor drie weken
Traveling by rental car through Mexico (Yucatán)
In total we stayed in Yucatán for more than five weeks, but we rented a car for three weeks via Alamo. For less than €20 per day we had absolute freedom and were able to stop anywhere we wanted. Although public transport is also well organized in Mexico (the ADO bus company is well organized and runs regularly between a lot of places in Mexico), traveling by car gives you way more flexibility in the places you visit. Some destinations, such as Las Coloradas (recommended!) Are difficult to reach by public transport and if you figure out how to get there by bus, it’s still a very long drive. Traffic in Mexico is not very challenging, so I can assure you it’s worth to rent a car in Mexico!
Yucatán itinerary: 3 weeks road tripping
In total we rented a car for three weeks. This is a great amount of time to discover many of the beautiful places of Yucatán. If you want to travel a bit further, for example to Palenque, you can also use the first half of this route. We took it slow at the end of our road trip, so you could do this route easily in two weeks.
Arrival in Cancún
Cancún is a huge city with many shopping malls and resorts. Although Cancún is not the favorite destination in Mexico for many people, it is a good starting point for your Yucatán road trip. We ourselves stayed a few days in Cancún because we had some work to do and just wanted to chill, but one day is basically enough. I advise you not to stay on the beach – in the Zona Hoteleria – but in the center of Cancún. We read that a lot of people really don’t like downtown Cancún, but we didn’t mind it at all. At least you have the feeling of being in Mexico instead ‘Yucatán Tourist Capital’. Especially if it’s the first time you’re in Mexico, it’s a good place to get used to the country. We booked a nice Airbnb (Click here for a discount on your first booking).
Renting a car in Cancún
In Cancún you can choose to pick up your rental car at the airport or in the city center. In general it is cheaper to pick up your car in Cancún City. We did some research before going with a rental company and decided on Alamo. Pricing on their website is the most straightforward. You will notice when you are looking for a rental company that a lot of place have offers like “Rent a car for $5”. Don’t fall for this trick because you also have to pay for a mandatory insurance which will cost you at least $10 per day more, depending on the rental company. Alamo has clear pricing and also when I went to arrange the rental, everything was clear and the people were nice.
Apparently, our car had a bad tire which we only found out later on our road trip. When I went to the Alamo office in Tulum, they made some calls and changed our tire on the spot without charge. Pretty differeny from all the stories you read, right?
At the time of writing, Alamo has one office in Downtown Cancún. It’s located in the La Quinta Inn Hotel, check it on the map at the beginning of this article
From Cancún we drive in two to three hours to the coastal town of Chiquilá from where we take the boat to the tropical island Isla Holbox. Isla Holbox is an island located in the Gulf of Mexico. Cars are not allowed here, but the island is bustling with golf carts (not electric ones, unfortunately). Your rental car can be parked in Chiquilá for 100 pesos per day. Holbox is a tropical island with beautiful beaches, colorful hammocks in the sea, great street art and a great vibe. Do not expect an undiscovered paradise, yet it is nice to spend a day or two on the island.
Overnightn on Isla Holbox: Accommodations on Isla Holbox are generally more expensive than on the mainland of Mexico, so it is a good idea to book your accommodation in advance at Booking or Agoda to get the best deals. We stayed in Los Arcos which is an excellent, affordable option.
Valladolid: The oldest colonial city of Yucatán
After three nights on Isla Holbox we take the ferry back to the main land. After a short trip of about twenty minutes we arrive back to our car. Today’s final destination is Valladolid. Valladolid is the oldest colonial city of Yucatán and the atmosphere is awesome. It is one of our favorite destinations in Mexico. But not only the city itself is very cozy with its central square and colored houses, the surroundings are beautiful too. From here we visit two cenotes (natural pool in a cave). Staying in Valladolid: We recommend Hostal Tunich Naj. We booked a double room, but they also have dorms. The hostel has a cozy courtyard with a shared kitchen. Breakfast is included in the price.
Las Coloradas and Ek Balam
From Valladolid we make a day trip to the pink lakes of Las Coloradas where we spot flamingos and raccoons and have a beach all to ourselves. After Las Coloradas stop on the way back to Valladolid at one of the many Mayan temples in Yucatán, Ek Balam. The complex is not very big and not too crowded. The nice thing about this Maya site is that you can still climb the big pyramid.
Chichen Itza: The world wonder of Mexico
Valladolid is the perfect starting point for a visit to one of the modern seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza. The drive from Valladolid to Chichen Itza takes less than an hour. It is busy, so try to be there as early as possible. You can combine your visit to Chichen Itza with a refreshing dip in the nearby Cenote Ik-Kil.
The yellow city of Izamal
From Chichén Itza it is about a one and a half hour drive to the capital of Yucatán, Merida. We decide, however, to make a detour for a stop in the yellow town of Izamal. Izamal turns out to be a fantastic choice, because wow, it’s a very beautiful place. And what a wonderful atmosphere. Almost all buildings in Izamal are yellow which causes for some pretty nice pictures. Izamal is definitely worth the detour.
Mérida: The capital of Yucatán
After a tiring day with a visit to Chichen Itza and Izamal we arrive late in the afternoon in Mérida, the capital of the Yucatán. Mérida is seen by many as one of the highlights of a trip through Mexico, but to us the atmosphere in Valladolid and Campeche is much better. Every weekend Mérida’s center is closed for cars so salsa dancing can take place. It was really cool to see the locals go at it in the streets. Overnight in Mérida: As far as we are concerned one full day is enough for Mérida. In terms of accommodation there is a lot of choice in Mérida. We stayed in Hotel Gran Centenario which is a great option. There’s even a swimming pool. We paid 500 pesos per night for a double room with private bathroom.
Uxmal and Kabah
More than an hour’s drive south of Mérida We stop at Uxmal, one of the coolest Mayan temples in Yucatán we visited. From the pyramid that can be climbed you have a fantastic view over the jungle and other buildings. After Uxmal we make a short stop at a virtually unknown Maya temple near the start of the Puuc route, Kabah. There are almost no visitors at this temple which makes it extra special.
After visits to the two Maya temples we arrive at Campeche at the beginning of the night where we spend the night in Hotstal Casa Balché. A beautiful hostel on the central square of Campeche. From the shared balcony you have a beautiful view of the church. Campeche is one of our favorite cities in Mexico and I definitely recommend you to spend at least one full day in Campeche. Especially a visit to the local market is a must.
After Campeche we arrive in Xpujil after a few hours drive. Xpujil is a small town located in the Reserva de la Biosfera Calakmul. It is a perfect base for visiting the Calakmul temple complex. From there you can travel to cities like Palenque and Cristobal de las Casas. We choose, however, to discover two Maya sites around Xpujil – Bécan and Hormiquero and then to drive further along the coast. At Hormiquero we have been a few hours of which we have been all alone for over an hour. This temple is also free to visit. Highly recommended! Overnight in Xpujil: We spent the night in Xpujil at Gran Garra de Jaguar. Here you can sleep for 350 pesos a night in a big double room with private bathroom. The staff is very helpful and kind.
The bluest lake of Yucatán: Bacalar
After the Mayan sites around Xpujil we drive the same day to Bacalar at the Laguna Bacalar, a huge lake where it is wonderful to stay. Bacalar is without doubt our favorite destination in Yucatán. The lake is beautiful with dozens of different shades of blue. There are three cenotes around the lake. Bacalar is becoming increasingly popular, but is currently not overloaded with tourists. You’ll find the finest restaurants in and around the center.
Staying in Bacalar: In Bacalar there are several options to stay overnight. The best thing is of course on the lake, but these accommodations are also the most expensive and often fully booked. If you want to sleep here, I advise you to book in advance via booking.com. We slept in Hotel Balche. From here it is about 15 minutes walk to the center of Bacalar. The lake is closer. The rooms are super nice. Spacious, clean and a cozy shared seating area. The owner is a very nice American guy, so no English is no issue. I advise you to stay in Bacalar for at least three nights.
We styed in Mahahual, so technically we have to include it in the Yucatán itinerary, however, we really didn’t like it. The town is mainly used as a harbour for the cruise ships, so the place is crowded with middle aged Americans spending their money in the souvenir shops. To be fair, we haven’t been in the town center itself, but only on the coast, where all tourist activity takes place. Our accommodation wasn’t the greatest, so if you decide to stay there, we recommend Palmeras de Mahahual, run by a young couple. The place is new and very tidy.
Tulum: The hippie paradise of Mexico?
After the setback in Mahahual we drive to Tulum. The Tulum recommended by every travel guide and travel blog as the hippie paradise of Mexico. Although it has cool street art, nice restaurants and an amazing beach, Tulum is not a hippie paradise. It is very busy, the prices are high and the beach is difficult to reach since the coastline is almost completely crammed with expensive resorts, beach bars and restaurants. The center is full of souvenir shops that all ask for much too high prices and the same goes for the restaurants. I’m not saying Tulum is worth skipping, but one or two nights would be enough for Tulum. You may think differently about the place, of course. Let it know in the comments what you think of Tulum if you’ve been there. From Tulum you can visit some cool cenotes and the Mayan temple Cobá.
Staying in Tulum: Accommodations on the beach of Tulum are very expensive so most budget travelers – and so do we – stay in the center of Tulum. We tested two accommodations that are both very awesome recommended. The cheapest option is Casa Babel which costs 600 pesos for a double room. Casa Babel has a small swimming pool and shared kitchen where you can have breakfast every morning for free. A slightly more expensive option – starting at 900 pesos per night – is Hotel Nicte-Ha Tulum. The rooms here are also nicer. Tulum is a popular destination and so I advise you to book an accommodation in advance via booking. com.
Swimming with sea turtles in Akumal
On the way from Tulum to Playa del Carmen we make one last short stop. This time for something really cool; swimming with sea turtles in Akumal. Akumal is known for this and is no longer undiscovered. The place is crowded with snorkelers. Be sure to come early as it’s not that busy before 11am. Armed with our snorkel sets we step into the water and within two minutes we see the first huge sea turtles. We snorkel for about an hour and see a total of two turtles, without having to make any effort. Snorkeling in Akumal is free if you have your own snorkeling gear. Keep in mind that this is the habitat of a protected animal species. Never touch the turtles and keep as far away as possible. Contrary to some stories you might read, life vests and guides are not mandatory.
Playa del Carmen
We returned our rental car in Playa del Carmen. Alamo allows you to choose a different drop off location when you pick up the car, so that’s convenient. We choose to stay in Playa del Carmen the last week and a half of our trip through Mexico. Not because it is an authentic destination, but mainly because the prices here are a bit lower than in Tulum and we have already seen Cancún and it is still reasonably close to the airport. We spend the night in a super spacious apartment with swimming pool for €25 per night. Do you enjoy diving? Then you can take the boat from Playa del Carmen to the island of Isla Cozumel. This seems to be one of the best diving spots in Mexico. After more than five weeks of Mexico, we fly back to Amsterdam from Cancún.
Are you also planning on doing a road trip through the Yucatán peninsula? What’s your itinerary for Yucatán?