YUCATÁN, MEXICO: AN ITINERARY

Summer is here and you still don’t have a clue of where to spend it? Or maybe you booked your flight to Mexico months ago, but you have run out of time to read the whole travel guide book?

Let me help you with that! Here is a brilliant 16-day-itinerary through Yucatán for an unforgettable vacation!

Before starting, just a quick introduction:

  1. My boyfriend and I successfully tested this itinerary on August 2016, but mind you: in August Mexico is on fire, and by that I mean that it is hot, and by hot I mean REALLY HOT and REALLY HUMID 24/7. So, if you suffer from the heat, it may be wise to reschedule your trip to a different season.
  2. We travelled on a Volkswagen Gol (yes, without the final “F”!) hired from Alamo with an all inclusive insurance, which – turned out – means only a 90% coverage and is completely useless in case of lost or stolen key. Even though we were lucky and didn’t have any problem on the road, I strongly recommend to choose no less than a full-coverage insurance and a high clearance vehicle as the roads can be really rough, especially in the jungle!
  3. As a woman I never felt threatened or in danger, BUT I was almost always accompanied by my boyfriend. Just stay on your guard and everything will go smoothly!
  4. This itinerary will cost you around 2.000 Euro, flights in and out of Mexico excluded.
  5. For every stop-over listed below, I’ve pointed out just one location where to eat and one where to sleep. There are of course millions of other possibilities, let them all come to you!

Day 1

– whole day – 

Cancún

Cancún is a modern and young city which offers something for everyone: sports activities, shopping, a pumping nightlife, but also sun-bathing and tranquil beaches.

What to do: Just choose one of its numerous white sand beaches and recover from jet lag!

Where to eat: 100% natural, Avenida Sunyaxchen Mza. 6, lote 62 Y 63, Supermanzana 25 77509 Cancún – Vegetarian friendly, delicious juices

Where to sleep: Hotel Adhara Hacienda, Av. Carlos Nader Manzana 2 Lote 1-3, Supermanzana 1, 77500 Cancún – Comfortable stay in close proximity of major attractions (e.g. Mercado 23), quick access to the beaches and free pick-up service at the airport.

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Cancún – © Cristina Bettati

Day 2

– whole day – 

Cancún – Chichén Itzá (200 Km)

What to do on the way:

  • Visit the archeological site of Ek Balam (100 B.C. – 1200 A.C.);
  • Take a break in the colonial downtown of Valladolid, also known as the Sultana of the East.
Once you arrive in Chichén Itzá:

What to do:

  • As soon as you get to your hotel in Chichén Itzá, hire a guide for the next morning as it is better to visit it in the early hours in order to avoid the crowd;
  • Go for the Light and Sound Show “Kukulkán nights” starting at 8.30 p.m. at the archeological site. Back in August 2016, we could still enter for free, but the government has been announcing the end of the free shows for a long time now, so better ask the hotel how to get in.

Where to eat: Las Mestizas, Calle 15 151, 97751 Pisté – Traditional Yucatecan cuisine.

Where to sleep: Villas Arquelógicas, Carretera Mérida – Valladolid Km 120, 97751 Pisté Tinum Chichén Itzá –Peaceful stay surrounded by tropical gardens at the rear entrance to the archeological site, it has an inviting swimming pool.

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From left clockwise: 1) Valladolid, 2) Ek Balam, 3) Light and Sound Show – Chichén Itzá. © Cristina Bettati

Day 3

– a.m. – 

Chichén Itzá (200 Km)

Right after Teotihuacan, Chichén Itzá (750 A.C. – 1250 A.C.) is the second most popular archeological site for visitors to Mexico. It is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is a UNESCO World Heritage area.

What to do: Enjoy the site in the early hours of the morning avoiding the hordes of tourists and the loud vendors. As it will be your first Maya site, you will appreciate it much more if accompanied by a guide!

– p.m. – 

Chichén Itzá- Mérida (120 Km)

What to do on the way: Take a break in the small city of Izamal – also known as the Yellow City because of the color of its buildings, visit the Colonial Monastery of San Antonio de Padua and right after that climb the Kinich Kakmó pyramid right in the city centre to enjoy the view!

Once you arrive in Mérida:

Where to eat: El Trapiche, Calle 62 No.491, Centro, 97000 Mérida – Vegetarian friendly and as good as the renowned (and more expensive) Chaya Maya nearby.

Where to sleep: Álvarez family guest house, Calle 62 448, Centro, 97000 Mérida – Located in the city centre, very clean and cozy accommodation.

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From left clockwise: 1) Chichén Itzá, 2) Colonial Monastery of San Antonio de Padua – Izamal, 3) Kinich Kakmó – Izamal. © Cristina Bettati

Day 4

– whole day – 

Mérida -Celestún-Mérida (200 Km)

Celestún is a quiet fishing village stretching along the coast. Its main attraction is the Celestún Biosphere Reserve which gives refuge and sustenance to colorful colonies of flamingo and hundreds of other bird species.

What to do:

  • Take a two-hour canoe tour with the eco-tour operator Manglares de Dzinintun (México 281, Yucatán, Messico) through the natural mangrove tunnels off to the south end of the Celestun estuary.  This operator is  a coop formed by local residents contrasting mass tourism operators with ecologically sensitive tours aimed at raising environmental awareness;
  • Enjoy the rest of the day under a thatched-roof palapa on the beach.

Where to eat: La Palapa 12 105, Benito Juárez, 97367 Celestún – Delicious fresh fish and seafood, directly on the beach, with a spacious outdoor shower to wash away salt and sand at the end of the day.

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From left clockwise: 1) Mangrove tunnel – Celestún Biosphere, 2) Celestún, 3) Ceviche – La Palapa Celestún. © Cristina Bettati

Day 5

– a.m. – 

Mérida

Not only is Mérida the capital city of Yucatán, but it is also considered its cultural hub. Music and dancing play an important role in its daily life, and live performances can be seen frequently in the square and other venues around town. The city is also considered to be the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas.

What to do: start off your visit of the city with the free walking tour offered by the Tourism Office every morning at 9.30 a.m. in front of the Palacio Municipal at Plaza Grande.

– p.m. – 

Mérida-Uxmal (90 Km)

What to do on the way: The way from Mérida to Uxmal is known as the “Ruta de los conventos” (Convent Route) and will lead you right into the heart of the Yucatán. We visited the Maya villages of Muna, Ticul and Oxkutzcab. Take a break in some of these villages and visit their convents and markets!

Once you arrive in Uxmal:

What to do: If you haven’t managed to watch the Light and Sound Show at Chichen Itza, go for it in Uxmal! The price is high and the show not that spectacular, but this will be your last chance of seeing a Maya Pyramid under the starry night sky. Tickets selling at the entrance to the site.

Where to eat: Hacienda Uxmal, Old Highway Mérida Campeche, Km.78, 66-A, 97844 Uxmal – As Uxmal is an archeological site surrounded by hotels, there isn’t a city centre with restaurants and bars. Anyway, you won’t be disappointed by the cuisine of this beautiful hacienda!

Where to sleep: Hacienda Uxmal, Old Highway Mérida Campeche, Km.78, 66-A, 97844 Uxmal – Located just across the street from the Uxmal Pyramids and Temples, enchanting historic hacienda with plantations.

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From top left clockwise: 1) Casa de Montejo – Mérida, 2) Muna, 3) Oxkutzcab, 4) Light and Sound Show – Uxmal. © Cristina Bettati

Day 6

– a.m. – 

Uxmal

The site of Uxmal (700 A.C.-1100 A.C.) is one of the finest and complex expressions of the Maya architecture know as the Puuc style. Puuc means hilly country and is the name given to the hills nearby and the predominant style of ancient architecture found in this region.

What to do:

  • Visit the site in the early hours of the morning. Even though Uxmal doesn’t get overcrowded, only early in the morning you will get the best experience out of it temperature-wise.
  • Ask the hotel reception for a tour of the plantation. Horseback riding is also possible.

– p.m. – 

Uxmal-Campeche (180 Km)

What do on the way: Get off the fastest route and drive to the Loltún caves, located approximately one one hour east from Uxmal and ten minutes south from Oxkutzcab. The Grutas de Loltún are a natural underground dry cave network containing paintings attributed to the Maya civilization from the Late Preclassic Era (1 BC – 159 AC) or even older. Last tour begins at 4 p.m. and lasts about 1 hour and a half.

Once you arrive in Campeche:

Where to eat: La Palapa del Tio Fito, Av. Resurgimiento SN, Lazareto, 24040 Campeche – Great seafood restaurant with wonderful view across the sea.

Where to sleep: Plaza Campeche, Calle 10, nº 126, Centro, 24000 San Francisco de Campeche – Located just outside the historic centre of the city, the hotel is comfortable and clean.

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From top left clockwise: 1) Uxmal, 2) Uxmal, 3) Plantation – Hacienda Uxmal, 4) Grutas de Loltún. © Cristina Bettati

Day 7

– whole day – 

Campeche

Campeche is an harbor town from the Spanish colonial period. Its historic centre has kept the outer walls and fortifications designed to defend this Caribbean port against attacks from the sea. With its narrow streets and pastel houses, Campeche still retains a colonial atmosphere.

What to do:

  • Just wander in the city, stopping for coffee in one of its numerous cafés;
  • Go for a walk on the Malecón, Campeche waterfront promenade;
  • Have a dip in the sea of Playa Bonita, one of the closest real beaches to Campeche;
  • Stop by the government-run Bazar Artesanal Ah-Kim-Pech supporting local craftsmanship. Prices are fixed, no need to bargain!
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From top left clockwise: 1) Pastel houses – Campeche, 2) Outer walls – Campeche, 3) Bazar Artesanal Ah-Kim- Pech – Campeche; 4) Café – Campeche; 5) Playa Bonita – Campeche. © Cristina Bettati

Day 8

– whole day – 

Campeche-Rio Bec Dreams in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (300 Km)

Once you arrive in Rio Bec Dreams in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve:

Rio Bec Dreams is the only hotel in the heart of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Mexico covering more than 14% of the state. The intimate jungle hotel and restaurant is run by Rick and Diane, a lovely Canadian couple, who about 20 years ago has fallen in love with the untouchedness of the Rio Bec area and decided to make it their new home while having as little impact on nature as possible. Rio Bec Dreams is ideally situated for exploring the many sites of the Rio Bec and Chenes regions of Campeche State and be back in time for dinner.

What to do:

  • Look for Rick right away and ask him if he is available for a tour in Calakmul the next day. If not, let him know what you are looking for, he will have the answer to that! I would recommend you to take contact with him before your arrival, as the jungle is constantly reclaiming everything and very often needs his full attention;
  • You’re in the jungle! Just wait on your porch to see what will happen by.

Where to eat: Rio Bec Dreams, Carretera 186 Escarcega-Chetumal Km 142, 24640 Xpujil – The restaurant has been called the best restaurant close to Xpuhil and possibly the best south of Mérida! And I totally agree with that!

Where to sleep: Rio Bec Dreams, Carretera 186 Escarcega-Chetumal Km 142, 24640 Xpujil – Well, well, guess why 😉

8

Rio Bec Dreams. © Cristina Bettati

Day 9

– whole day – 

Rio Bec Dreams – Calakmul – Rio Bec Dreams (206 Km)

The Calakmul ruins (550 B.C.-1000 A.D.) have been our favorite site. Remote and beautiful, it is located at the core of the second largest expanse of tropical forests in America, only surpassed by the Amazon jungle in South America, and is only 35 Km from the Guatemala border. Even though it was named a World Heritage by UNESCO in 2002, the site is still pretty unknown by tourists and there are new archeological finds in the jungle every year.

What to do:

  • Before or after visiting the ruins, take your time to visit the small free museum explaining the highlights of the site, the biosphere and indigenous plants;
  • Navigate through the vastness of the site, climb up scale Structure II – the largest Maya pyramid in Mexico – and catch a glimpse of monkeys, toucans, deer and jaguars wandering the ruins;
  • At twilight, visit the Bat Cave cenote, only minutes away from the Rio Bec Dreams. Millions of bats of four species will spiral out of the mouth of a jungle cenote and flutter into the jungle!

NOTE! If you are not on a tour with Rick, mind this:

  • Distance to Calakmul from Rio Bec Dreams is 44 km on highway 186 then 60 km on Calakmul Road, which is a long and narrow semi-paved road in the midst of the jungle;
  • There are no services in Calakmul, not even water. So be sure to have enough fuel, food and water with you!
  • Download a site map before your arrival or take a picture of the map at the entrance. As cool as it might be, a night in the jungle can also put your life in real danger!
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Calakmul. © Cristina Bettati

Day 10

– whole day – 

Rio Bec Dreams – Playa del Carmen (407 km)

What do on the way: Stop in Bacalar – a fresh water lake also called the lake of seven colors because its white sandy bottom creates numerous shades of blue – and swim in its Cenote Azul, a natural 90 meters deep pit connected to the Laguna.

Once you arrive in Playa del Carmen:

Where to eat: Bio-Orgánicos, Calle 26 nte. 128 Local 2 y 3, 77710 Playa del Carmen – Delicious smoothies, great vegan and vegetarian food!

Where to sleep: Coco Rio, Calle 26, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77710 Playa del Carmen – Comfy and clean, 5th Avenue and beach just around the corner.

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From top left clockwise: 1) Bacalar, 2) Cenote Azul, 3) Quinta Avenida – Playa del Carmen, 4) Mamita’s Beach – Playa del Carmen. © Cristina Bettati

Days 11-12

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, better known as Playa, ranks as the Riviera’s trendiest city. It evolved from a small village to a lively cosmopolitan city and doesn’t seem willing to stop growing. The tourist center feels like a mass-tourism destination for night owls, but it’s also a perfect starting point to explore its surrounding natural wonders.

NOTE! I am nothing like a nightlife enthusiast. That’s why I spent my time in Playa visiting the surrounding areas rather than staying in the city. However, if you want to have an insanely good time, Playa is the place to be. The club scene is all centered on its beaches and in the 5th Avenue – a catwalk blending international styles, colors and tastes. I can’t tell you anything more than that, but I am sure you’ll find a proper way to spend the next two days here on your own 😉

However, if you are more like me and think clubs look everywhere the same, then walk to the travel agency Caribe Viaggi (Calle 26 Entre 5 Y 10 Avenida, Bajo Hotel Cocorio, Centro, 77710 Playa del Carmen) and pick your favourite among their amazing tours. Although you’ll find tour vendors around every corner, I still strongly recommend Caribe Viaggi as it offers the best value for money and – most importantly – partners with the most reliable tour operators.

What to do:

  • Get to Dos Ojos, the third top longest underwater cave system in the world, and start diving or snorkeling in its 61 kilometers long caves. The Maya operator Dos Ojos will help you find the best equipment and most suggestive passages;
  • Don’t miss the chance to swim with the largest known extant fish species: the whale shark! Hundreds of these animals gather every year between Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox for the seasonal feeding. Thanks to the guide professionalism (ask for Giovanni of Ocean Tours if you get the chance!), swimming with these gentle giants will be an unforgettable experience. The tour ends with snorkeling on the reef and a Caribbean lunch in the crystal clear water of Isla Mujeres.
11.jpg

From top left clockwise: 1) Swimming with whale sharks, 2) Whale Shark Experience with Giovanni from Ocean Tours, 3) Dos Ojos, 4) Coral reef – Isla Mujeres, 5) Swimming with turtles – Akumal. © Cristina Bettati

Days 13-16

Playa del Carmen – Tulum (60 Km)

Once you arrive in Tulum:

You did it! You’ve reached your final destination! Now you can either relax and enjoy your last days stranded on dreamy Caribbean beaches or combine this with some of my suggested activities listed below.

What to do:

  • Visit the Tulum ruins (1200 A.D.-1450 A.D.) in the early hours of the morning in order to avoid the crowd. The greatest attraction is their location on a 12 meter cliff along the Caribbean. As well as being the only Mayan city built on the coast, the seaport Tulum is also one of the few to be protected by a wall. After the visit, take the pathway leading down to the sandy beach and cool down in its beautiful water;
  • Snorkel with sea turtles in Akumal, but make sure you know how to safely interact with them first! In order to do this and learn more about the marine protected area of Akumal Bay, you can either pay a quick visit to the Centro Ecológico Akumal (Carretera Puerto Juarez, Tulum Km. 104, 77776 Akumal) or choose a professional tour. However, mind this: Akumal Bay is public, there is neither a charge nor the need of a guided tour to access the beach or swim with the turtles. So beware of scams: don’t talk to them and just keep walking;
  • Visit one of the beautiful cenotes you’ll find on the drive towards Tulum from Playa del Carmen. We’ve found Tortuga – an enormous green cenote in the shape of a turtle – particularly breathtaking. There are a very high cliff jump, a rope swing, zip lines and a covered area with seating.

Where to eat: PavoReal Beach Resort, Km 237, Carr. Cancún – Tulum, 77780 Tulum – A different, very high quality buffet at every meal!

Where to sleep: PavoReal Beach Resort, Km 237, Carr. Cancún – Tulum, 77780 Tulum – Once you enter this paradise beach resort surrounded by the beauty of nature, your mind will immediately be at peace and you won’t want to leave!

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From top left clockwise: 1) Beach – PavoReal, 2) Apartments – PavoReal, 3) Cenote Tortuga, 4) Ground floor apartment view – PavoReal, 5) Tulum. © Cristina Bettati

ENJOY!!!

 

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