When an opportunity arises that I can fly somewhere cheap in business class I always try to go. American Airlines offered a cheap flight from Chicago to Cancun so I decided to shorten my yearly trip to the USA and go to Mexico for 10 days. I came up with an itinerary that covers all major sites on the Yucatan peninsula from Merida to Cancun and Tulum. I hope this Yucatan itinerary helps you plan your trip in Mexico.
Yucatan itinerary planning
Let me start with taking away one concern you might have: safety. The Yucatan peninsula is perfectly safe for a road trip and I didn’t encounter any problems at all nor saw anything that might be of concern. I got stopped twice by the police for speeding (I was) and a small cash payment got me on the road again within minutes. Watch road signs carefully and simply don’t speed to avoid being stopped.
I arrived at Cancun airport but this Yucatan itinerary can also start from Merida or Chichén Itza airports. Make sure when you pick up the car to make some photos of damages already there. Just in case you get troubles when returning the car but this applies to any rental car pick up worldwide.
Make sure that each day you fill up with gas in the morning (or evening before) as there are a few parts of the trip where you won’t be able to fill for 2-3 hours of driving. Also take enough to drink in case you get problems with your car and need to wait for roadside assistance. You don’t want to sit in the heat without something to drink. That’s all, just enjoy driving this Yucatan itinerary; it’s an awesome Yucatan road trip.
Yucatan itinerary day 1: arrival in Cancun
As I said I arrived from Chicago which was just a 3.5-hour flight and I was already adjusted to the time zone. My flight arrived at 11:50AM and I was in my hotel in Cancun at 2PM. A perfect time to have lunch at the beach and relax for the day!
ALTERNATIVE PLACE: You could also stay in Playa del Carmen or in Tulum. A bit longer drive the first day but it will save you time on the next day.
Yucatan itinerary day 2: Muyil, Cobá and Tulum
My second day was a long one as I stayed in Cancun making the drive south long. If you stay in Playa del Carmen it saves an 1-hour drive and from Tulum even 2 hours but that part you then need to drive on day 1 of this Yucatan itinerary. I visited the Maya ruins of Muyil in the Sian Ka’an National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site first. From there I drove to the Cobá Mayan Ruins and from there to the Tulum Mayan Ruins for sunset. These ruins are each worth getting up early and driving at 7AM from Cancun. Muyil is a small but important place and includes also a short walk through the national park. Cobá has the tallest pyramid and Tulum has an awesome sunset. I had dinner in Tulum before heading back to Cancun and finishing my second day in Yucatan.
Yucatan itinerary day 3: Time to relax
Today is the only “free” day of this Yucatan itinerary. Plan as you wish! I stayed most of the day at the hotel beach, swimming pool and worked a bit from my hotel room. Other options include for example a visit to one of the many activity parks, go diving or snorkeling or visit Cozumel Island for a day. There are plenty of things to do so decide what you like and plan your Yucatan itinerary accordingly.
Yucatan itinerary day 4: Ek Balam & Izama en route to Merida
Yes, I didn’t visit Chichén Itza this day and for a reason. More on that on day 9! At 8AM I drove to the Mayan ruins at Ek Balam, which should be included on any Yucatan itinerary. The place isn’t huge and 90 minutes will do and allow you to climb up the pyramid of Ek Balam too.
From Ek Balam it’s another hour to Izama where I parked my car near the main plaza where I had lunch. I then explored the convent next to the plaza and walk around the center. Izama is a beautiful Spanish colonial town built around Mayan ruins. It’s a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site as it combines Spanish colonial architecture with Mayan remains. The ruins I visited by car as the heat was too much for me to walk to them. Some of the ruins are really ruins and not restored but one pyramid, the oldest Mayan one, is beautiful and gives an magnificent view over Izama. In the afternoon, I drove in one hour to my hotel in Merida.
Yucatan itinerary day 5: Dzibilchaltun Mayan site & Merida city center
The 5th day of my Yucatan itinerary doesn’t involve that much driving. In the morning, I drove in 30 minutes north to the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltun. There is also a museum with beautiful artifacts on display which were found inside the Mayan buildings. Make sure to bring your swim suit too as there is a cenote (waterhole / sinkhole) on the grounds to swim in. If you’ll swim make sure to have the full morning, otherwise 1-2 hours on the grounds will do.
After lunch, I went to the historical center of Merida where I walked around the main square. The other places of interest are scattered around it and most of them can be viewed from the outside only. Now I’m not a huge fan of sightseeing busses but in this case, it was perfect. I saw all places in an hour and didn’t have to walk in the extreme summer heat. Merida is a lovely city to stay longer and enjoy the local culture, eateries and nightlife. Its colonial architecture makes the athmosphere very pleasant and if I had time I would have loved to plan one more day on my Yucatan itinerary in Merida.
Yucatan itinerary day 6: Something different than Maya ruins
This Yucatan itinerary is mostly about visiting major Mayan ruins but there is more. Izama and Merida have beautiful Spanish colonial heritage but there is even more. I drove in the morning to the Hacienda Sotuta de Peon which is just over an hour drive from Merida. Make sure to arrive before 10AM and make sure to arrange your tour at 10AM in advance. Do not use their pickup service as you’ll need your car to go to the next spot after visiting the hacienda. Hacienda Sotuta de Peon is a restored sisal plantation where rope is made from the henequen plant. The tour takes about three hours which includes an hour swimming in a cenote. Take lunch at the restaurant of Hacienda Sotuta de Peon before continuing the road trip to the next spot. Today is one of the longer days on this Yucatan itinerary.
Read all about Sotuta de Peon in this detailed day trip report:
MEXICO – Best cenotes in Yucatan & henequen plantation Sotuta de Peón
Now you have two options to swim in more cenotes. Kankirixche is a beautiful cenote just 15-minute drive away from the hacienda. I stopped by for a photo only! The better place to go is Cuzama 3 cenotes spot where you’ll go by horse carriage to different cenotes. Just make sure you’re really at Cuzama as nearby towns try to imitate the tour to other cenotes. The horse carriage goes on train tracks which is awesome. All 3 cenotes are different: one to jump in from a few meters, another is a complete underground cave and another is so blue! The tour takes 2-3 hours after which it’s an hour drive back to Merida. I stopped in a restaurant in Merida first before I drove to my hotels. It was late and I was hungry.
Read all about the 3 cenotes of Cuzama in this detailed day trip report:
MEXICO – Best cenotes in Yucatan & henequen plantation Sotuta de Peón
EXTEND YOUR TRIP! Want a bit more time? Sleep for a night at the hacienda and extend this Yucatan itinerary by a day. You’ll also save a bit of driving as the next day is to Uxmal.
Yucatan itinerary day 7: Uxmal (and Kabah, Sayil and Labná) en route to Chichén Itza
This is the second longest day of this Yucatan itinerary. The drive from Merida to Chichén Itza is just an hour but via Uxmal and its sister sites it will take the full day. Uxmal is located an hour south of Merida and was a huge Mayan city and now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s well preserved and well restored with several beautiful buildings and one amazing pyramid.
The pyramid above is completely restored but another one has just 1 of 4 sides restored which gives a good impression how these pyramids where eaten by jungle. It takes 2-3 hours to see Uxmal and after that it takes about 20-minute drive to each of the next sites: Kabah Sayil and Labná. Leave early morning and if you get into time stress skip Sayil and even Labná. Latest 4PM you should be on your way to Chichén Itza to be in bed early as the next day sunrise at Chichén Itza is at 6AM.
SCAM ALERT: Do not bother to stay at Mayaland Hotels with their “private” entrance to Chichén Itza as it doesn’t allow pre-opening entrance. Also, their advertised air-conditioning is just ventilation and you’ll sleep in 30 degrees Celsius or more. I learned the hard way.
Yucatan itinerary day 8: Chichén Itza at sunrise
Chichén Itza opens for tourists at 10AM and that’s not the time you want to visit. With over a million visitors a year its crowded all the time plus the light is too bright for nice photos during the day. You could go at 8AM which allows access until 10AM which is better and you can buy tickets at 8AM at the main entrance. Even better is to meet with someone at 5AM and enter when it’s dark! You can stay inside until 8AM. These pre-pre-opening sunrise tours are the best for sure. I had the park almost 3 hours for myself and my son. How cool is that walking through an ancient Mayan city without any other people around you? Sunrise was great as you can see in the top photo and I made more photos without people with the golden hour light being perfect. At 10AM I drove to Cancun to relax at the beach.
HOW-TO TIP: Do you want a pre-pre-opening entrance ticket too with something special I can’t write about but it’s over the top! Do you want this too? Sent me a message and I get you in touch with the right people as its not standard.
Yucatan itinerary day 9: Plan your own activity
I only stayed 9 days and not 10 days but made this a 10 day Yucatan itinerary as you probably want more free time relaxing at the pool or beach. Other options to fill this extra day are a day trip to Progresso from Merida or Cuzama Island from Cancun. There are also several other small Mayan ruins you can go see or do a city trip to Valladolid. There is more to do and my Yucatan itinerary was to really see what I wanted to see but tastes differ so plan as you wish. The other 9 days do cover all must-see and do’s for a perfect Yucatan itinerary.
Yucatan itinerary day 10: Leaving Mexico
Unfortunately, every trip ends and so does this Yucatan road trip. I had a great road trip with my son and he was happy I left enough space for him in this Yucatan itinerary to relax! I saw all major Mayan sites and Spanish colonial history. Climbed Chichén Itza, oh I’m not supposed to say that, and recharged on Cancun’s white beaches. I want to return to Mexico and explore more of its history, nature, and culture. It’s a destination that combines it all. I hope my Yucatan itinerary helps you plan your Yucatan road trip and if you want to extend the trip with island hopping check my 2-week Caribbean island-hopping itinerary too.Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Yucatan too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!