Planning your Yucatan itinerary for a trip to Mexico? You’re in the right place, because this guide will help you plan the ultimate Yucatan Peninsula Mexico trip, to both on and off the beaten path destinations.
The best thing about the Yucatan is that it has cities and towns of all sizes to use as a home base. From big-name resort towns like Cancun, colorful colonial cities like Merida, Mexico, and smaller pueblos magicos (magic towns) like Tulum, there’s somewhere for everyone.
There are also an endless number of things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, both in the water and on land. From Mayan ruins to admire and even climb, to swimmable cenotes (freshwater sinkholes), and Yucatan beaches, you’ll have no trouble filling your five day itinerary.
Let’s start with all the things you need to know about the Yucatan, like how to travel there, and taking the bus vs renting a car in Mexico. After that, we’ll get into all the fun stuff, like where you’ll want to go and what to do there on your 5 day Yucatan itinerary in Mexico.
The Yucatan Peninsula is located on the southeastern side of Mexico. As the word “peninsula” says, this area is surrounded by water on three sides. On the southern and eastern sides, there’s the bright blue Carribean Sea; and on the northern side, there’s the Gulf of Mexico.
This peninsula has three states: Quintana Roo, home to top Mexico beach destinations like Cancun, Riviera Maya, Tulum and Playa del Carmen; Yucatan state, home to Merida, Chichen Itza and Valladolid, and the off the more beaten path state of Campeche, Mexico.
The best months to visit Yucatan are from November through April. This is the dry season, when the weather is cool. As it’s located in the tropics, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is hot for most of the year, averaging 25-35°C day and night, but winter is much cooler at about 21-25°C.
Being surrounded by water, Yucatan is in the hurricane and tropical storm path. Though Hurricane Season officially runs June 1 through November 1, the weather often gets nice by mid-October. Summer is the rainy season, so expect daily rain from about May to October.
U.S. and most European passport holders don’t need to get a travel visa for Mexico — so you could even spontaneously do this Yucatan itinerary if you’d like! For a list of the countries that must have a travel visa for Mexico, head here.
When you go through the Immigration line in Mexico, you will receive your 180 day (6 month) FMM tourist card. This “card” is actually just a small piece of paper that you have to give back to an Immigration officer when you leave the country — so make sure you don’t lose your FMM.
To get to Yucatan, fly into Cancun International Airport (code: CUN). There are a few other regional airports in the Yucatan Peninsula, but Cancun Airport is generally the easiest, fastest and cheapest airport to fly into.
The Cancun Airport will have the largest selection of cars anywhere in the Yucatan. Also, it’s quite expensive to rent a car from one place and return it to another in Mexico, so keep it simple and just both rent and return the car at Cancun Airport.
Prices vary, but you can usually rent a car in Mexico for about $25USD per day, with the minimum and required amount of driver’s insurance. If you prefer full coverage insurance, you’ll pay closer to $40USD per day. You can check the options available on Holiday Extras, which show you the full price, including the hidden fees some companies might try to charge you when you pick up your car, such as extra insurance.
If you don’t want to rent a car in Mexico, you can still get around in the Yucatan Peninsula via the ADO bus. This is Mexico’s largest bus company, and it’s inexpensive and rather efficient, but you will sacrifice more time to travel on the bus versus a rental car.
In all seriousness, Mexico has a great bus system, and you can actually travel the entire country via the. This is Mexico’s largest bus company, and all their buses have large, comfortable, recliner seats, AC, electrical outlets at each seat and a bathroom on board.
Now that we’ve got all the basics out of the way, let’s get to this 5 day Yucatan itinerary for your epic Mexico trip.
After you arrive in Cancun, get your rental car or take the ADO bus about two hours south to Tulum, Mexico. While Cancun is a great place, the best way to experience it is just simply staying put in an all-inclusive resort, as Cancun is known for that style of vacation.
In the last few years, Tulum has become a bucket list Mexico destination for many travellers. This photogenic town is popular on Instagram and YouTube, as it’s quite beautiful. From the Tulum beaches, to its bohemian vibes and art sculptures, you’ll spend your first few days here.
There are many accommodation options in Tulum, here are some suggestions from my trusted partner, Booking.com:
Tulum Ruins & Beach: The Tulum Mayan Ruins are located right on Tulum Beach overlooking the Caribbean Sea. As this is a smaller ruins site, you can explore for about 1-2 hours, then take the staircase down to the beach cove below the ruins.
Tulum Beaches: Among the best beaches in Tulum, there’s Playa Ruina, the one beneath the ruins just mentioned, but there are many others. When in Tulum, check out as many of these beaches as you can: Playa Paraíso, Playa Las Palmas, Playa Pescadores and Playa Santa Fe.
Tulum Cenotes: No visit to Tulum, Mexico, is complete without a visit to the cenotes (pronounced sen-no-tays). Cenotes are essentially swimmable sinkholes and natural pools containing freshwater.
There are said to be 6,000 Yucatan cenotes, and some of the ones are just minutes from Downtown Tulum. These include Cenote Calavera, Gran Cenote, Cenote Car Wash and Cenote Zacil-Ha, all located 20 minutes or less by car from Tulum Town (AKA Downtown Tulum).
When it’s time to leave Tulum, drive your rental car or take the bus two hours north-west to Valladolid. This is one of the 135 or so pueblos magicos (magic towns) in the country, all recognized for their unique qualities and accommodations to comfortably host visitors.
Valladolid is one of the prettiest colonial towns in Mexico, and on the smaller side, so don’t stay too far outside of Downtown Valladolid. As it’s still an up and coming destination, you can find a nice place for a relatively small amount of money.
In Valladolid itself, there are some great sites right downtown. These include the iconic Iglesia de San Servacio Valladolid church, Ex-Convento de San Bernardino de Siena, a 16th Century Franciscan convent, and the beautiful Calzada de los Frailes street.
Located within walking distance of downtown, you can go for a refreshing swim in Cenote Zaci. Located within the city limits, this is one of the best things to do in Valladolid. There’s also a restaurant at this cenote, so you can go for a swim and then eat a nice meal.
As it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, Chichen Itza is a Mexico bucket list site, and among the best things to do in Yucatan. Located 45 minutes from Downtown Valladolid by car, you’ll want to head straight there in the morning after a hearty breakfast.
Since it’s so popular, Chichen Itza gets crowded and you’ll want to beat the crowds as much as possible. The site is also quite large, so wear comfy clothes and trainers, and figure you’ll be there at least 3-4 hours.
After a long (and likely sweaty) day at Chichen Itza, head to Ik Kil Cenote for a refreshing swim. Located just 10 minutes from Chichen Itza, the later in the day you visit, the better, so you can avoid the crowds.
If you prefer visiting a more off the beaten path Yucatan cenote, head to Cenote Yokdzonot or Cenote Chihuan, which is located inside a cave. Both aren’t too far from Chichen Itza, and will be far less crowded than Cenote Ik Kil.
With a bit more ground to cover in the Yucatan, you’ll wrap up your five day itinerary in Merida. This is known as the Cultural Capital of Yucatan, and also the safest city in Mexico. By car or bus, it is about 2.5 hours from Valladolid.
The best neighbourhoods in Merida for visitors are Paseo de Montejo and Centro Historico (Historic Downtown), located right next to one another.
Centro Historico is where you’ll find many historic sites, relaxing parks, boutique shops selling artisan crafts, and some of the best restaurants and bars in Merida. The Paseo de Montejo is the prettiest street in town, lined with trees, sidewalk cafes and charming shops.
Free Merida Walking Tour: Get to know Downtown on the walking tour offered by the Merida Tourism Office. These hour-long tours depart daily (except Sundays) from the Palacio Municipal building in Plaza Grande (Main Plaza) at 9:30am. Note: There are no tours on Sundays.
Stroll Paseo de Montejo: As this beautiful street is only about two miles (3.2km) from end to end, you’ll want to walk the whole street because there’s a lot to see. You’ll also find charming cafes and restaurants along the way if you get hungry or need a coffee.
The Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Fatherland), a large monument with 300 hand-carved figures, is on the northern end. From there, walk south passing the European mansions like Museo Palacio Canton and Casa Montejo 495, which are both now museums.
Eat at Merida Gastronomy Museum: The Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca (MUGY) is part restaurant, and part museum. Sample all the best Yucatan food at MUGY, like cochinita pibil (suckling pig) and poc chuc (grilled pork), and then take the short museum tour.
Located behind the restaurant, there’s a mini-Mayan village with traditional houses and kitchens. Going into each home’s kitchen, you’ll learn a different aspect of traditional Yucatan cuisine and its unique flavours.
Eat at Taqueria La Lupita (As Seen on Netflix): Head to Parque Santiago and the Mercado de Santiago (Santiago Market) to eat at La Lupita. This humble taco shop was seen in Episode 3 of the Netflix show, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
At La Lupita, sample traditional panuchos (tortillas with black bean paste inside) and salbutes (puffy fried tortillas), and wash them down with piña con chaya (pineapple and chaya) juice. Perfect for a cheap meal in Merida, enjoy three tacos and a drink for only about $7USD.
Sadly, this is the time to head back to Cancun for a departing flight. The drive from Merida to Cancun is about 3.5 hours, so remember to give yourself enough time to return the rental car (if you got one) and still catch your flight.
Shelley is a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world! After travelling solo to 14 states in Mexico, she now lives in Merida, Mexico full time. Shelley now helps travellers plan their dream Merida trip through her site, TravelToMerida.com.
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