How to plan an adventure road trip at the Yucatan Peninsula

JUAN MARTINEZ

June 9, 2021

How to plan an adventure road trip at the Yucatan Peninsula

Cenotes, white sandy beaches, Mayan temples or traditional villages –

a road trip at the Yucatan Peninsula means a lot of options and decisions to be made.

Everyone who ever went on a road trip knowns the struggles of planning the perfect itinerary. You want to have a good mix of activities, discover “on” and “off” the beaten path spots, and at the same time not to fatigue your body by planning thousand stops in just a few days. This year I went again on a road trip at the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. However, this time I was wiser and more cautious  where I wanted to go.

The beauty of a road trip at the Yucatan Peninsula is that you can glimpse a bit of everything Mexico has to offer in a single region. Yucatan is home of the cenotes, underground natural pools that were formerly used for Maya rituals – and one of my top 10 things to see once in a lifetime. It also has some of the most beautiful Mayan complexes in the region, including one of the seven world wonders, Chichen Itza. But also culture, food, nightlife and relaxation can be part of the itinerary. In simple words: the Yucatan Peninsula has it all.

This part of Mexico is unfortunately also known as a destination for All-Inclusive resorts and decadent splurge. However, Yucatan hides secret getaways for adventurers and before you start planning a journey, it is good to know what are the highlights you can see.

 Road Trip Map in Yucatan Mexico
Road Trip Map in Yucatan Mexico – Click to Enlarge

Swim at the crystal clear waters of the cenotes

These natural sinkholes filled with freshwater are one of the biggest attractions at the Yucatan Peninsula. They are extremely beautiful and you can find them in all forms as well surrounded by the most outstanding biodiversity in Mexico. There are thousands of cenotes dotted all over the Yucatan Peninsula and planning a road trip in Mexico and not visiting these wonders, should be considered a sin.

In some of them you can swim around, in others you can only observe its beauty. Some are natural cathedrals hidden underwater and a few look like water parks in Orlando.

Cenote It Kil in Yucatan
Cenote It Kil is one of the most popular cenotes in Mexico

With thousands of options to choose from, you can have a full guide talking about the most biggest, best and most impressive cenotes in Mexico. However, for those driving around the region and looking forward to simply experiencing the natural beauty of a cenote, these are my favorites:

  • Cenote Dos Ojos
  • Aktun-Chen Park
  • Ecopark Kantun Chi
  • Cenote Hacienda Oxman
  • Gran Cenote
  • Cenote Chaak Tun

NOTE: While there are still cenotes without entrance fee somewhere in the region, most cenotes ask for anything between 5 to 20 EUR as a fee. And while is normal to prefer choosing cheaper cenotes and save some money, more expensive cenotes like Aktun-Chen or Kantun Chi end up worthen every penny.

The underground river in Kantun Chi is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been
The underground river in Kantun Chi is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been

Marvel nature at one of the pristine beaches at the Mexican Caribbean

Outstanding natural beauty, the sound of the waves breaking into the shore and white soft sand in between your feet. The Caribbean coast of Mexico is one of the most beautiful places in the world and while some of these spots draw crowds of tourists from all over the world, others are still considered secret gems for those who go on an adventure and explore.

There is nothing more beautiful than watching the sunset after parking your car in some isolated beach – don’t worry, you can do that almost everywhere in the north coast. At the same time, day trip getaways such as the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres offer some the best spots for a full beach day. But not everything is sunsets and margaritas on the beach, some places at the Yucatan Peninsula are simply there to blow your mind away. The bioluminescence beaches in the island of Holbox is something out of this world, as well the beach of Akumal where you can swim next to giant turtles that roam around in the warm waters next to the shore.  

Las Coloradas in Yucatan
Las Coloradas in Yucatan is known for having a pink lake – To be honest, increasing saturation is the trick to get that popping pink tone you see in this picture.

During my road trip at the Yucatan Peninsula I realized that the most beautiful beaches in the region are not those guarded by luxury hotels and resorts, but those who are isolated from the crowds and where nature flourish around.

These are my favorite beaches at the Yucatan Peninsula

  • Holbox Island  – bioluminescence beaches at some times of the year
  • Akumal
  • Playa Norte – Isla Mujeres
  • Mahahual beach
  • Las Coloradas – The pink beach of Yucatan
  • Bacalar Lagoon
Sunset at Isla Holbox - Road Trip in Yucatan
Sunset at Isla Holbox

Become an archeologist for a day and explore the mysterious Mayan culture

Visiting Mexico and not learning about Mayan culture means missing the chance of exploring and understanding the soul of Mexico. This is one of the most important cultural heritage in mankind and the Yucatan Peninsula was the epicenter of it.

This is also the home of Chichen Izta, the most important archaeological site in Mexico and one of the seven wonders of the world.

Read more: How to plan a road trip in Namibia

Chichen Itza in Yucatanv - Road Trip in Yucatan
Chichen Itza in Yucatan is probably the most visited cultural attraction in Mexico

But learning and discovering Maya culture does not mean visiting temples one after the other. A quick stop at the villages of Tecoh or Acanceh can give you a better glimpse of the influence the Mayan left in Mexico, while certain locations hidden in the jungle offer Mayan ceremonies for visitors interested in learning more about it. Driving around Yucatan and planning a road trip in this region gave me a bigger panorama of options.

The best Maya heritage sites at the Yucatan Peninsula are:

  • Chichen Itza
  • Tulum Archeological Site
  • Ek Bakam
  • Coba
  • Uxmal

NOTE: if you are visiting any Mayan archeological site, it is necessary to get a local guide. Their cost per hour is very inexpensive and their knowledge is great to understand the magnificent of the Mayan. They can also provide insight tips if you are curious to learn more about it.

Read more: Isla Mujeres or Cozumel? Which one is the best?

The archeological site of Tulum is known for its pristine location
The archeological site of Tulum is known for its pristine location

Get lost in fairytale towns and colorful villages

A good road trip should combine relaxation, nature, adventure, culture and fun. And while sometimes I tend to avoid large cities while traveling on a road trip (parking, traffic and security), sometimes you have to select the right towns and places to visit, in order to feel how life works in a different country.

Mexico is such a colorful and vibrant place, that it would be an error to not enjoy one of its wild nights or get lost in the many cobblestoned city centers.

Towns like Valladolid or Merida offer the perfect mix between a medium size city and a charming villages, while places like Tulum or Playa del Carmen are becoming hubs for foreigners and expats looking to party, work or both at the same time.

Read more: Exploring the Underwater Museum of Art in Yucatan

Colorful streets in Valladolid
Colorful streets in Valladolid

While my road trip at the Yucatan peninsula I wanted to experience the colors of Mexico and be charmed by the beauty of its streets. I already visited Tulum and Playa del Carme some years ago, so I was trying to avoid such a party vibe. For those in the same mood, these were the most beautiful villages and towns that I encountered on a road trip

  • Izamal
  • Valladolid
  • Bacalar
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Merida
  • Holbox Island

Read more: Tips for renting a car and driving in Mexico

Merida is known as one of the best places to live as an expat
Merida is known as one of the best places to live as an expat

Planning a road trip at the Yucatan Peninsula is not as complicated as it might first appear. This is a region full of surprises and if you are a bit concern about driving in a foreign country,  but curious to get some experience, Yucatan is definitely a good place to start. I visited this part of the world already several times and I feel I’ve just seen a tiny bit of everything I want to explore. This is a place I hope to visit several times in my life and for now, I just have to wait until the next one.

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