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After spending a winter living in Mérida and years of trips traveling through the Yucatán Peninsula, I’ve finally put together the best itinerary for two weeks in Mexico.
Most travelers go to Mexico to lie on the beach for a week, maybe go on an excursion to a ruin or a cenote, and head straight home.
And yes. That can be fun. But you can do SO MUCH better than that!!
Mexico is one of my favorite countries. It’s absolutely brimming with culture and music and fantastic food and the nicest, kindest people. It’s diverse in experiences and it’s so much more than what most people think it is.
You might look at this itinerary and think to yourself, “You know, I’ve been to Playa del Carmen before. I’ve done Chichén Itzá, too. Is it worth it to go back to the same region?”
Yes. It’s worth it. Because the Yucatán is SO much more than just beaches and ruins. Plus, when you do it on your own — on a road trip or even by public transportation — it’s so much more satisfying than staying in a resort and traveling on tours.
Even if you’ve already been to a resort in the Cancún-Playa del Carmen-Tulum area, I encourage you to give road-tripping around the Yucatán Peninsula a chance. This is a fantastic part of Mexico.
This post was most recently updated in January 2023.
Two Weeks in Mexico
If you’ve got two weeks in Mexico, you could go in lots of different directions. Honestly, I’ve spent months in Mexico and my list of places I still haven’t been (Baja! Guanajuato! El Chepe!) is miles long.
But Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is great because it’s easy for all kinds of travelers, yet diverse and fulfilling enough for experienced travelers.
You’ll fly into Cancún International Airport, which is well-connected with lots of flights. You’ll drive on good roads. You’ll visit destinations that are accustomed to tourism — but not too overtouristed.
What does this part of Mexico look like? In two weeks in the Yucatán Peninsula, you could see places as varied as these:
Unusually, this Mexico itinerary does NOT include Cancún, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. Almost every Yucatán road trip itinerary includes at least one of these destinations as a stopover. Not this time.
Why don’t I include them? Because there are better places to go.
My goal, today and always, is to ensure that you have the best trip possible. Those three destinations are overcrowded and expensive. You don’t have to go there just because everyone else does — but you’ll still pack in some beach time.
This two week trip to Mexico packs in so much! One of the coolest islands around, a big city with tons of great restaurants, ancient Mayan ruins, underground neon-blue cenotes, soft white sand beaches, and the Lake of Seven Colors.
Cenotes, in particular, are the best part of traveling the Yucatán, in my opinion.
Read More: 50+ Best Cenotes in Mexico
If you spend it in the Yucatán Peninsula, you’ll have easy access to beaches, ruins, cenotes, cool cities, and color-changing lakes.
Yes! The Yucatan is an incredibly safe part of Mexico (and Mérida is safer than every city in the US). It’s a safe place to travel solo as a woman.
The best time to visit the Yucatan is between December and March, when the weather is gorgeous and it isn’t too hot or too rainy.
Yucatán Road Trip Map
On the map above, you can see the driving route you would take on this trip. The destinations in blue are where you would overnight; the destinations in orange are day trip options.
Here is the two weeks in Mexico itinerary I recommend:
- Day 1: Arrive Cancún Airport, drive to Chiquilá, ferry to Holbox
- Days 2-3: Holbox
- Day 4: Drive from Holbox to Valladolíd
- Day 5: Valladolíd and surrounding area
- Day 6: Drive from Valladolíd to Río Lagartos
- Day 7: Drive from Río Lagartos to Mérida via Izamal
- Days 8-10: Mérida and day trips
- Day 11: Drive from Mérida to Bacalar
- Days 12-13: Bacalar
- Day 14: Drive from Bacalar to Cancún Airport
Day 1: Arrive Cancún, drive to Holbox
Upon arrival, pick up your rental car and drive to the town of Chiquilá (two hours). This town is where you get the ferry to Isla Holbox. Holbox is a car-free island (except for some local vehicles), so you’ll be leaving your car on the mainland for a few days. You can take a golf cart to your hotel!
Park in one of the many parking lots in Chiquilá — don’t worry, this is a safe place to leave your car! Plenty of tourists do every day. The rates are usually 100 pesos ($5) for 24 hours.
Head to the dock and hop on one of the ferries that run every half hour. The journey costs about 200 pesos ($10) for an adult.
Once you arrive on the island, walk or take a taxi to your accommodation (the taxis are all golf carts here!). Then just relax and stroll around the island, getting to know your new home for a few days. You’ll be spending three nights here.
Where to Stay in Holbox
Holbox is a small island, and I recommend staying within a few blocks of the main center. The western part of the island is home to lots of rentals, but there aren’t as many shops or restaurants.
If you want a luxury accommodation, I recommend Ser Casasandra. This is the best luxury spot on the island (and I stayed here on my first trip). I love the beachfront area, the pool, the romantic design of the rooms, and the food is outstanding.
If you want mid-range accommodation, I recommend Hotel Para Ti. I stayed here on my second trip and absolutely loved this adults-only hotel. It has a great pool area, the decor is bohemian and fun, they are a perfect quiet location a few blocks from the town, and once again, ADULTS ONLY.
If you want budget accommodation, I recommend Hotelito Villas Holbox. This hostel is right in the center of town, and rooms are small and basic but clean. If you want to stay at a hostel, I recommend Tribu, but know it can get loud at night.
Days 2 and 3: Isla Holbox
Take these two full days to unwind on Isla Holbox. You can spend your time idling on the beach or taking day trips around the island. Either way, be sure to have some great cocktails and catch a few sunsets.
Things to Do in Isla Holbox
Take a boat trip to Cabo Catoche. I loved my trip to Cabo Catoche! This inlet is further away from town, but it’s where you get the clearest, most beautiful water. An absolute must for people who want good photos of Holbox. This Cabo Catoche tour includes snorkeling and/or fishing.
See three islands on a boat trip. This popular three-island boat trip will take you to Bird Island, home to tons of interesting birds; uninhabited Pasion Island, where you can walk on a sandbar; as well as the mainland to swim in Cenote Yalahau.
If you’re visiting from June through September, you can swim with whale sharks! One of the coolest activities you can do in Mexico! Peak season is in July and August.
Head to Punta Cocos for the sunset. Watch with a cocktail in hand! It’s a very long walk and I recommend taking a taxi, as it will be dark when you start walking back. Taxis wait around to take people back after sunset. Bring mosquito repellant!
Just hang out on the beach. Even if you don’t book a hotel with beachfront access, there are lots of beach clubs and restaurants where you can set up camp for the day.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Isla Holbox, Mexico
Day 4: Holbox to Valladolíd
Take the ferry back to Chiquilá, pick up your car, and head out on the road. If you’re hungry, I recommend getting breakfast at La Sardina Enamorada on the mainland in Chiquilá.
Today you’ll be driving from Chiquilá to Valladolíd (just over two hours), crossing from Quintana Roo into Yucatán state.
Know that you will be crossing a time zone! As you cross into Yucatán state, time drops one hour earlier.
Valladolíd is one of the prettiest colonial towns in Mexico, and it’s especially nice in late afternoons and evenings, once the tourists day-tripping from all inclusive resorts go home. It feels gentle and welcoming. You’ll fall under its spell in no time.
Things to Do in Valladolíd
Take a dip in Cenote Zaci. Cenotes are all over the Yucatán, but Cenote Zaci is right in the middle of downtown Valladolíd! The water isn’t as clear as others but it’s a beautiful setting with waterfalls. It’s one of the deepest cenotes in the region, too, and hosts free diving competitions.
Note: Cenote Zaci closed for renovations in mid-2022. We hope it reopens soon. Their restaurant.
Enjoy the zócalo. Valladolíd’s main square is a lovely place to sit and people-watch.
Get gelato at Wabi Gelato. Good gelato is very hard to find in Mexico — this is a special place for a treat. Flavors are limited but inventive and change frequently. I loved their rosemary gelato.
Stroll down Calzada de los Frailes. This is arguably the prettiest street in Valladolíd, if not all the Yucatán, decorated with flags and lined with cafes, bakeries, shops, and hotels. I had a great pay de limón (lemon pie) at a cafe called ConKafecito.
Visit the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena. At the end of Calzada de los Frailes is a former convent that you can visit. There is a sound and light show in the evenings. This is also where you’ll find the town’s Valladolíd sign.
Where to Stay in Valladolíd
Valladolíd is a small, cheap city and you can enjoy it on a budget, but spending a bit more money can get you a much nicer hotel. I recommend staying within a few blocks of the zócalo, the main square, to maximize your time here.
If you want luxury accommodation, I recommend Le Muuch Hotel. This may be the most beautiful property in town with chic, colorful rooms and a beautiful outdoor area with hammocks and a pool.
If you want mid-range accommodation, I recommend Casa Tia Micha. This is a mid-range property that feels luxurious, from its classy stone bathtubs to its elegant carved wood furniture, but it’s well priced and central.
If you want budget accommodation, I recommend Hotel Zazil-Maj. Here the rooms are simple but clean and recently renovated, just a few blocks from Cenote Zaci.
Day 5: Valladolíd, Chichén Itza, and Cenotes
Today it’s all about seeing the surroundings of Valladolíd! First thing in the morning, head to the Chichén Itzá ruins (45 minutes). They open at 8:00 AM and I recommend being there as early as possible to get a good parking spot and avoid the tourist crowds from the resorts.
The Chichén Itzá ruins are some of the largest and most impressive ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan, is an enormous and impressive pyramid, but I found that some of the most enjoyable sites are those further afield.
Keep in mind that Chichén Itzá allows merchants to sell direct on site, and it can get annoying having men constantly ask you to buy things. They sell devices that make a jaguar noise, so you’ll hear constant jaguar shrieks throughout your visit. Be ready for that!
Note: I do not recommend visiting Chichén Itzá on a Sunday. This is the day Mexicans get free admission. As a result, the site is even more insanely crowded and parking is a nightmare. If Day 5 is scheduled on a Sunday, I recommend going to Chichén Itzá on the afternoon of Day 4 instead.
After the ruins, backtrack a bit to enjoy a cenote. One of my favorite cenotes is in this region: Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman. I love this cenote because it’s visually spectacular, large, not too touristed, the grounds are lovely, and the food is surprisingly good. It’s solid all around and a great place to visit.
You do drive back toward Valladolíd for this cenote (50 minutes), but trust me, it’s best to visit Chichén Itzá in the morning when it’s less hot and crowded and then cool off in the cenote after.
Another option is Cenote Ik-Kil, which has a similar look and style, but this is much more popular with Chichén Itzá tourists and it gets more crowded.
You might want to head back to Valladolíd and have a relaxed, chilled out afternoon and evening.
But if you want to continue ruins-hopping, consider visiting Ek Balam, which is about a 30-minute drive north of Valladolíd. Ek Balam only gets a fraction of the tourists that Chichén Itza receives!
There are tons more cenotes surrounding Valladolíd, including Cenote Suytun, the Instagram-famous one with the platform. Be sure to check out the “cenotes near Valladolíd” section of my cenote guide.
Day 6: Valladolíd to Río Lagartos
Today you’re getting an early start and driving north to Río Lagartos. This is a short journey — just 90 minutes by car — but this is the only day that you have here.
Because of that, I urge you to book a Río Lagartos tour before you leave on your trip. It can be hard to jump on a tour same-day.
If you’ve dreamed of visiting pink lakes, that’s the star attraction of this region. Those pink lakes are called Las Coloradas.
In Río Lagartos there are several tour operators in town who have both private and group tours of the landscapes and the neon pink salt flats. I don’t have a specific tour operator recommendation, but be sure to ask around and see just how much time you spend at the lakes. Some tour operators will whisk you by quickly without much time to enjoy them.
Keep in mind that you may not see as many flamingos as you’d like — peak season is from March to June and climate change has impacted the number of flamingos that make their home here. But the pink lakes? Spectacular.
Important note: Since Las Coloradas became an Instagram hotspot in the last decade, people are no longer allowed to get into the pink lakes or use drones at the lakes. Please respect the rules.
Where to Stay in Río Lagartos
Río Lagartos is a very small town and there isn’t a huge variety of accommodation — at least not yet! All of these properties are located within the center of town.
If you want upscale accommodation, I recommend Hotel Río Lagartos. While not super luxurious, this is one of the best properties in town. It has a nice pool and swim-up bar, as well as views over the water.
If you want mid-range accommodation, I recommend Hotel Tabasco Rio. This stylish property offers great value for money and has hot, powerful showers.
If you want budget accommodation, I recommend Hotel Mercy Inn’s. This hotel is simple but clean and comfortable with beds that are a step above the usuals in budget Mexican hotels.
Day 7: Río Lagartos to Mérida via Izamal
You’ve got two options today. You can spend the morning on another tour in Río Lagartos, or head off as soon as you get up.
There’s a lot to see between Río Lagartos and Mérida, so I recommend figuring out what you want to do the most. The Ek Balam ruins and Cenote Sac-Aua (1 hour, 15 minutes from Río Lagartos) make a great pairing.
If not? Head straight to Izamal (two hours from Río Lagartos, 1 hour 45 minutes from Ek Balam). This town, one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos, is famous for its color — everything is painted bright canary yellow!
While some people say that it was painted yellow for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1993, the town was actually yellow for quite some time beforehand. It’s a cute town and great for photos.
If you’re low on time, you can axe Izamal if you want to — it’s easy to visit from Mérida.
Finally, it’s time to drive from Izamal to Mérida (1 hour), where you’ll be staying for the next four nights.
Where to Stay in Mérida
My top recommendation in Mérida is to stay in Centro. Mérida is a huge city of many neighborhoods, and some of these neighborhoods are popular with expats, but I recommend Centro because you’ll be able to walk everywhere (or take a $1 Uber), the best restaurants are located here, and it’s filled with lovely colorful buildings and nice parks.
If you want luxury accommodation, I recommend Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel. Every inch of this beautifully restored villa hotel is drool-worthy, from the outdoor pool area to the elegant, classy rooms. It’s located right on the best restaurant street in Mérida, literally the best location possible, and is close to everything.
If you want mid-range accommodation, I recommend Viva Mérida Hotel Boutique. When you see this hotel, you’ll think it’s luxury — but it’s actually great value for money. The hotel is colorful and very Yucatecan in style, and it’s a few blocks from Mérida’s zócalo and the center of town.
If you want budget accommodation, I recommend Hotel La Piazzetta. Located on the eastern part of the Centro on Parque de la Mejorada, this hotel is small and simple with comfortable rooms but they bring out cute creative touches wherever they can.
As far as hostels go, Nomadas Ecohostel is a classic.
Days 8, 9, and 10: Mérida
I visited Mérida for the first time in early 2019, and I loved it so much, I came back to live there for two months a year later! Four years since that first trip, it’s still one of my top five favorite places in Mexico (along with Oaxaca, Guanajuato, Mexico City, and Bacalar).
This city is low-key, welcoming, and cheap. It wasn’t on tourists’ radar for a long time, but it’s becoming more popular over the last five years. It seems like everyone who comes here loves it.
By this point, halfway through your Yucatán road trip, you’ll be looking to relax a bit, and Mérida is the perfect place to do so. Come here to explore the surroundings. I hope you’re ready to eat.
Mérida is a great place to hang out, but more than that, I’m convinced it’s the best base for day trips in all of Mexico. You can go to so many cool places within a short drive of Mérida.
Best Restaurants in Mérida
You can eat extremely well on the cheap in Mérida. Honestly, I’m including a whole restaurants section here because there are so many good ones. I miss the restaurants in Mérida so much!
For breakfast, my #1 recommendation is to get the molletes at SOCO. SOCO is a bakery and everything they make is scrumptious. Molletes are a very simple dish — just bread topped with beans, cheese, and pico de gallo — but SOCO makes them SO much better than anyone else. You can also pick up a loaf of sourdough to take back with you.
For lunch and dinner, my absolute favorite restaurant is Micaela Mar y Leña, which specializes in seafood but also has a lot of good meat dishes. This is a high-end restaurant and if you’re into design, you’ll love the interior. I want my future home to look like Micaela!
My favorite dishes are the smoked oyster dip appetizer (if you’re a New Englander missing chowder, this will scratch your itch), the fabulous grilled shrimp, and the whole octopus, which is a showstopper. The cocktails are sensational.
Another superb restaurant, and the one I visited most frequently while living in Mérida, is Hermana Republica (the location on Avenida Colón, which is central to Mérida). This is a local brewery with excellent beers. My favorite is the Belgian Blonde.
It may just be a casual brewery, but the food is SUPERB — Yucatecan and Mexican specialties that are just phenomenal, from sopa de lima to salbutes de cochinita to tostadas de atún. They also serve the best tortilla chips I’ve ever had.
Those may be my absolute favorites, but I have a few others to recommend. I love Chill-Akil for customizable chilaquiles for breakfast (you can also go to Chilakilez if you like them with crispy pork belly). La Casita del Cheviche is great for ceviche and especially the shrimp aguachile. Merci is where you go for fancy breakfast or lunch.
Mercado 60 is a trendy food hall with a huge variety of food, not just Mexican, and makes for a fun night out. El Catrín can be hit-or-miss, but the atmosphere is fun — go when it’s dark for a mezcal margarita, guacamole, and their light show.
My friend Nathan lived in Mérida for a few years and is the ultimate expert on the best restaurants in Mérida.
And if you love high-end coffee, Manifesto is phenomenal, with the best coffees in town. They roast in-shop. Márago Coffee is also nice and they’ll make coffee in lots of different ways, from Chemex to French Press to Aeropress.
Things to Do in Mérida
Honestly, I spend my time in Mérida hanging out, eating, or doing day trips outside the city. But if you’re looking for things to do within the city, here are a few great options:
Stroll down Paseo Montejo. Many people consider this one of the most beautiful streets in Mexico, lined with mansions, shops, museums, and cafes.
Experience a magical Mayan ancestral ceremony. My sister and I did this when she came to visit! This ceremony is an interesting look into Mayan culture right in Mérida. After receiving the ceremony from a Mayan shaman, you spend time soaking in several herb-scented tubs. It’s unusual, peaceful, and I recommend it.
Go on a design walk. Mérida is becoming one of the big design hubs for Mexico, and you can go on a few different tours to see how people have renovated these homes. The Mérida English Library puts on free walking tours (see schedule here).
Check out El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. This phenomenal museum is one of the most comprehensive guides to Mayan culture, and has lots of interesting displays. It’s on the way out of town.
Visit the cantinas. Two of Mérida’s most fun casual bars are La Negrita and La Fundación Mezcalería, which are owned by the same people and both feature great drinks, live music, and dancing. La Negrita is open until 10 PM, making it an early spot; La Fundación Mezcalería goes until late.
Best Day Trips from Mérida
Where Mérida really shines is its day trips. It’s a huge advantage over other Mexican cities. If you’re eager to explore, take two of those Mérida days and spend them exploring the surrounding region. Here are some of my recommendations:
Celestún. This low-key beach town with powdery white sand just might be the next-next-next Holbox. You can also explore the mangroves. While flamingoes used to dominate the landscape, their population has dwindled in recent years due to climate change. Celestún is a great day trip, and a one-hour drive from Mérida. You can also visit on a tour from Mérida.
Progreso. Want a wilder Mexican beach town? Progreso is a true local experience with blasting music and beers on the beach. Is it pretty? Eh, it’s all right. But is it fun and authentically Mexican getaway? Hell yes.
Progreso is a 40-minute drive from Mérida. If you plan to drink on the beach, consider taking an Uber instead — it should take 40 minutes and cost around $15 each way.
Mayapán ruins and cenotes. The Mayapán ruins are close to Mérida (45 minutes — be sure not to drive to the town of Mayapán, which is a different place and further away) and one of the nice things is that you can actually climb them! Even the giant pyramid.
Mayapán is close to several of the best cenotes in Mexico, including Cenote Noh Mozon and Na Yah Cenote, both near the town of Pixyá. This tour from Mérida includes both Mayapán and the cenotes of Homún.
If you skip Izamal on your drive from Valladolíd to Mérida, some of my friends think that Izamal makes the perfect addition to a Mayapán and cenotes trip.
Uxmal ruins, chocolate museum, and cenotes. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uxmal ruins are better than Chichén Itzá, in my opinion, and get a fraction of the visitors. This tour from Mérida includes the ruins, the chocolate museum next door, and a cenote visit.
Homún or Cuzama cenotes. There are SO many cenote options in this part of the Yucatán! The towns of Homún and Cuzama are famous for their high concentration of cenotes, both hacienda cenotes and wild cenotes.
If you want a more developed and organized cenote with a restaurant on site, head somewhere like the Santa Barbara Cenotes. But if you want something more rough and wild, there are plenty of motorbike drivers who will take you to some off the beaten path sites. You can also book them on a tour from Mérida.
Campeche. This town is so pretty. Campeche has a UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town, and it’s prettier and more put together than Mérida’s. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, it’s one of the longer day trips from Mérida, but it can be done. See my full Campeche guide here.
Alternatively, you can spend three nights in Mérida instead of four and spend the fourth night in Campeche.
Day 11: Mérida to Bacalar
Bacalar, a town set on a lagoon in Quintana Roo, is one of my absolute favorite places in all of Mexico. They call Lake Bacalar the Lake of Seven Colors and it genuinely lives up to its name, shimmering in every color from cerulean to aquamarine to ink.
Bacalar is unique and special, and juuuuust starting to get popular. My advice? Go as soon as you can; it may not always be as peaceful as it is now.
Bacalar is just over a four-hour drive from Mérida. If you eat pork, I have the BEST lunch stop for you: it’s a place called Carnes Asadas “Mr. Samy’s” in the town of José Maria Morelos, about halfway between Mérida and Bacalar. Samy and his wonderful family served me and my friends on the way there and back, and the food is SO good.
Most likely you’ll get to Bacalar in the late afternoon. Take it easy after your long drive: get settled in at your hotel and enjoy some drinks and ceviche while overlooking the beautiful lake at sunset.
Where to Stay in Bacalar
If you want luxury accommodation, there are two options depending on the kind of trip you want. I recommend Mia Bacalar Luxury Resort and Spa if you want an isolated luxury spa getaway on the lake. If you want to be central, and able to enjoy the town, Hotel Carolina is one of the nicest properties in Bacalar town with nice rooms and swings right in the lake.
If you want mid-range accommodation, I recommend Casa Chukum. This beautiful, environmentally friendly hotel has colorful rooms and a chlorine-free swimming pool, and the complimentary breakfast includes eggs.
If you want budget accommodation, I recommend The Yak Lake House Hostel. This classic Bacalar spot has both dorms and private rooms, and it’s a great place to meet new people or just relax at its lakefront location.
Days 12 and 13: Bacalar
You should spend a minimum of two full days in Bacalar, because one should be spent on a boat tour of the lake, and one should be spent at Los Rapidos. Trust me on this one. They’re both wonderful activities and I wouldn’t want to go to Bacalar without enjoying both to the fullest.
Things to Do in Bacalar
A boat tour is the most popular activity to do in Bacalar, and booking this should be your top priority. You can join a boat tour (this one has an open bar) — or hire your own boat if you want a private trip — and explore the lagoon, from the shallow waters of Pirates’ Canal to the dark cenotes within the lake itself. Many boats turn into a party!
Spend a day at Los Rapidos. Los Rapidos is a riverside beach club about a 20-minute drive outside Bacalar. You can sit by the river, lie in Instagrammable hammocks right in the water, and enjoy food and cocktails — but the best part is jumping in the river and letting it whisk you downstream! Insanely fun.
I highly recommend water shoes for Los Rapidos, as the pavement is sharp and painful to walk on, but the river carries you downstream so you can’t get out in where you left your shoes. Water shoes solve that problem. They’re also good for wearing in Lake Bacalar.
Check out the Cenote Azul. This is a good place to stop on the way to Los Rapidos, as it’s on the same road out of town. This giant open cenote is a nice place to stop for a morning swim.
Go stand-up paddle boarding. If you’ve never tried SUP before, a lake is the perfect place to learn. It’s a great core workout that doesn’t feel like a workout, and a gorgeous way to explore the lake. You can book a sunrise paddleboarding tour here.
Hang out on the docks and at the beach clubs. Throughout Bacalar town there are docks where you can just go and sit and enjoy the atmosphere. Many belong to hotels and guesthouses, but several are open to the public, too.
Day 14: Bacalar to Cancún Airport
Sad times — it’s time to head home. The drive from Bacalar to Cancún Airport takes about four hours.
If you have an early flight departing from Cancún, it might make more sense to drive up from Bacalar the night before and spend the night in a hotel close to the airport like the Courtyard by Marriott Cancún Airport, which is good value for money and just a four-minute drive from departures.
Is it safe to drive in Mexico?
A lot of people get intimidated about driving in Mexico — but it’s not as scary as you think, especially here in the Yucatán Peninsula. This is a safe and easy region of the country. I wouldn’t hesitate to drive alone in this part of Mexico!
If you’re driving in Mexico for the first time ever, the Yucatán Peninsula is the perfect place to start. Most major roads are in good condition. Yucatán state has exceptionally low crime; Quintana Roo state’s crime is mostly concentrated in the resort towns you’ll be avoiding. The landscape is flat for the most part and you don’t have to deal with treacherous mountain passes.
In other parts of Mexico, like remote areas of Chiapas, locals frequently shut down roads due to protests or ask passing drivers for money; this is very uncommon in the states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo.
If you’re looking to get good value for money, I recommend comparing car rental rates at RentalCars.com. Keep in mind that the cheapest rates are often for manual transmissions — if you need an automatic car, specify that when you book so there are no surprises.
Obviously, you’ll need a license to drive in Mexico. Mexico recognizes English language licenses, regardless of country. If you don’t have an English or Spanish language license, you may want to bring an international driving permit (which is essentially a translation of your license that you can get in your home country).
Mexicans drive on the right side of the road.
If you’re nervous, you may want to do all your driving during the day. I planned out this Mexico road trip itinerary so that you could do all of your driving during the day if possible. The longest driving days are about four hours. A lot of people feel more comfortable driving during the day, when more people are out and the light is better.
Speed bumps are a continuous annoyance while driving in Mexico. They are everywhere — in the middle of towns, on smaller roads, on busy roads, and sometimes even on the highway. While sometimes they’re painted yellow and have signs, sometimes they appear out of nowhere and are hard to spot. Keep an eye on the road continuously.
There are lots of toll roads (cuota roads) in Mexico, and they add up. Still, I recommend taking toll roads when you can, as they tend to be in far better condition with fewer potholes and speed bumps. Keep money on you — both bills and change — to pay these tolls. You may have to pay as much as 200 pesos ($10). Trust me, it’s better than the regular roads.
There are checkpoints throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, especially when crossing state lines. Sometimes they will wave you straight through; sometimes they will ask you where you’re going. One time, when driving into the town of Hecelchakán in Campeche, a local cop asked me why we were heading there. “Cochinita,” we replied — we were there for the famous slow-roasted pork. He grinned and waved us in.
Gas stations are easy to find throughout the Yucatán Peninsula. I’m a fairly cautious person and tend to refill when I get down to half a tank; you won’t need to worry about this, as there are plenty of stations. Gas stations in Mexico are full-service — the attendant pumps your gas for you. Be sure to give him a small tip (10-20 pesos is fine).
You should keep in mind that many rural areas of Mexico have no phone signal, and that includes along the highways. Much of the time you need to get to a town before you get phone signal.
Finally — Mexico is not nearly as dangerous as the American media would have you believe. Just like the US, there are very safe areas and not-so-safe areas. Much of the drug violence is concentrated in pockets of the north. The Yucatán Peninsula is a very safe area of Mexico — in fact, Yucatán State and Mérida are frequently cited as the safest state and city in Mexico.
Read More: Solo Female Travel in Mexico: Is it Safe?
Alternative Yucatan Road Trip Itineraries
Want a slightly different two week Mexico itinerary? No problem! You can customize this Yucatán itinerary to your needs.
Would you rather take public transport than drive? You can do that!
Would you rather change accommodation less often and stay longer in fewer places? Indeed you can.
Do you only have 10 days or a week? We can absolutely work with that.
Do you have more than two weeks to travel? Lucky you. I have suggestions.
Traveling in the Yucatán by Public Transportation
Don’t want to drive? That’s okay! With a few adjustments, you can do this trip by bus. You won’t have the freedom to come and go as you please, and you’ll have to plan ahead for scheduling your time, but for some people, not having to drive makes it worth it.
The buses in this part of Mexico are very safe and comfortable. I’ve taken them many times as a solo female traveler and I wouldn’t hesitate to take them again.
Here is the two-week Mexico itinerary I recommend, using public transportation:
- Day 1: Get a shuttle from Cancún Airport to Chiquilá, then get the ferry to Holbox
- Days 2-3: Holbox
- Day 4: Ferry to Chiquilá, bus from Chiquilá to Río Lagartos via Tizimín
- Day 5: Book a day trip to Las Coloradas from Río Lagartos, then bus to Valladolíd later
- Day 6: Colectivo from Valladolíd to Chichén Itzá and back
- Day 7: Bus from Valladolíd to Mérida
- Days 8-10: Mérida and day trips (include Izamal here)
- Day 11: Bus from Mérida to Bacalar
- Days 12-13: Bacalar
- Day 14: Bus from Bacalar to Cancún Airport
A few notes: You may want to switch up the order of Río Lagartos and Valladolíd. If you’re traveling from Río Lagartos to Mérida, you’ll need to change buses in Tizimín.
You technically can get a bus from Valladolíd to Chichén Itzá to Mérida, but you probably don’t want to drag your luggage around the ruins, so I recommend doing Chichén Itza as a day trip from Valladolíd and catching a bus to Mérida the next day.
While in Mérida, you’ll be better off doing organized day trips that include the transportation.
Here are a few easy and fun day trips from Mérida where you won’t have to drive:
Progreso beach: Head to Progreso by public bus from Mérida (20 pesos, or $1, each way), or take an Uber for about $15 USD each way. The drive is just 40 minutes.
Mayapán ruins and cenotes: The Mayapán ruins are close to several top cenotes. This tour from Mérida includes both Mayapán and some great cenotes nearby.
Homún cenotes: Take a colectivo from Mérida to Homún (1 hour) and upon arrival, hire a motorbike driver to either take you to Santa Barbara Cenotes (resort-like hacienda experience) or hire a driver for the day to take you to several wild cenotes in the area. Alternatively, take a tour to the Santa Barbara Cenotes direct from Mérida.
Another similar option is taking a colectivo to Cuzama, another town close to Homún that has its own collection of cenotes.
Celestún beach and mangroves: I recommend booking a tour for this as the public bus takes 2.5 hours but it’s just an hour’s drive from Mérida. This Celestún tour from Mérida includes time in the biosphere reserve and free time on the white sand beach.
Uxmal ruins, chocolate, and cenotes: This Uxmal tour from Mérida includes a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uxmal ruins, a trip to the chocolate museum, and a cenote visit.
A Slower Two Week Mexico Itinerary
Do you prefer not changing hotels often, with longer stays in fewer places? I totally get it. It’s the best way to have a relaxing trip. If that’s the case with you, I recommend basing in three places during your two week trip to Mexico: Holbox, Mérida, and Bacalar.
This can be done either as a Yucatan road trip or with public buses (though keep in mind the bringing your luggage to Chichén Itza issue — you may want to go there and back to get your bags before heading to Mérida).
- Day 1: Drive from Cancún Airport to Chiquilá, ferry to Holbox
- Days 2-4: Holbox
- Day 5: Ferry to Chiquilá, drive to Mérida via Valladolíd and Chichén Itzá
- Days 6-9: Mérida
- Day 10: Drive from Mérida to Bacalar
- Days 11-13: Bacalar
- Day 14: Drive from Bacalar to Cancún Airport
If You Have More than Two Weeks
If you have longer than two weeks for your Yucatan road trip itinerary, you can add extra days to any of the previously mentioned destinations. Holbox, Mérida, and Bacalar in particular would be great places to add extra days. Here are some other things you can do.
Spend a night in Campeche. Or maybe two. Campeche is lovely — its old town is smaller, cleaner, prettier, and better put together than Mérida’s. There’s also a nice malecón, or path along the seafront. I wrote about my time in Campeche here.
Spend a night or two in Mahahual. This beachside town on the Costa Maya is on the verge of getting super-popular — the way Tulum was 15 years ago. The time to visit is now, while it’s still a bit low-key, before the major developers arrive.
If you REALLY want to, spend a night or two in Cancún, Playa Del Carmen, or Tulum. I’m not going to stop you. Just go in with measured expectations. They’re popular resort towns. Like I said, there are far better places to visit in the Yucatán Peninsula, and you’ve been to lots of them. (I’ve heard Isla Mujeres is quite nice, though.)
See the Coba ruins. The Coba ruins are about 45 minutes west of Tulum and like the Mayapán ruins, you can climb them! The Gran Cenote makes a good stop on the way back (there are turtles swimming in it!) but know it’s much pricier than the cenotes near Mérida and Valladolíd.
If you have the budget for a night or two in a resort, you’ll probably want to do it around the Riviera Maya. This part of Mexico is not lacking in resorts! Relaxing by the pool with a cocktail in hand can be a nice way to end your two-week Mexico road trip.
10 Days in Mexico Itinerary
If you only have 10 days in Mexico, I would make a few cuts on the places that excite you the least. If if were up to me, I would cut Río Lagartos out of your itinerary, limit Valladolíd to a short drive-by visit, and remove one of the days in Mérida.
Day 4 is going to be a LONG day. I recommend starting early to make the most of it.
- Day 1: Arrive Cancún Airport, drive to Chiquilá, ferry to Holbox
- Days 2-3: Holbox
- Day 4: Drive from Holbox to Mérida via Valladolíd, Chichén Itzá, possibly a cenote
- Day 5-6: Mérida and day trips
- Day 7: Drive from Mérida to Bacalar
- Days 8-9: Bacalar
- Day 10: Drive from Bacalar to Cancún Airport
One Week in Mexico Itinerary
If you only have one week in Mexico, I would split your time between two destinations: either Holbox and Mérida or Bacalar and Mérida. I know it’s tempting to add in lots of destinations, but trust me on this one.
In 2019 I spent a week in Mexico split between Holbox and Mérida and it was perfect. (And it definitely whet my appetite for more — a year later I came back to live in Mérida for the winter!)
You may want to consider a one-way car rental from Cancún to Mérida. One-way rentals can often be more expensive, but it saves you hours of driving in this case. Once again, RentalCars.com will give you an idea of the pricing.
But a car isn’t necessary for this weeklong trip. You can easily do this itinerary by public transportation on the ADO buses, as I did in 2019. If you go to Holbox, take one of the many shuttles from Cancún Airport to Chiquilá — it’s faster and easier than the bus.
- Day 1: Arrive Cancún, drive to Chiquilá and get the ferry to Holbox (or drive to Bacalar)
- Days 2-3: Holbox (or Bacalar)
- Day 4: Drive from Chiquilá (or Bacalar) to Mérida
- Days 5 and 6: Mérida
- Day 7: Depart Mérida
There is a lot more to see on the drive from Chiquilá to Mérida — Valladolíd, Chichén Itzá, some cool cenotes, Izamal — than the drive from Bacalar to Mérida.
Mexico Travel Tips
When you arrive in Mexico, you’ll fill out a form on the plane and present it at immigration. You’ll be given part of the form back. This needs to be presented when you leave Mexico — do not lose it! If you do lose it, there are places in the airport where you can pay for a new one.
If you want to get a SIM card for your phone when in Mexico, I recommend Telcel. Remember to bring your passport to the store for ID. If you run out of data, you can top it up at an OXXO drug store, which are all over Mexico.
Quintana Roo and Yucatán states are in different time zones. According to this itinerary, you’ll cross these time zones when you go from Holbox to Valladolíd on Day Four and when you go from Mérida to Bacalar on Day Ten. Keep that in mind.
Keep small change for using the bathroom. Many public restrooms charge you to use them. It’s usually 5 pesos (25 cents).
Keep in mind that an “M” on the bathroom means it’s for women! I have made that mistake before! M is for mujeres, or women. Sometimes bathrooms are labeled Mujeres and Hombres, or Damas and Caballeros.
The water is not safe to drink in Mexico. Your accommodation will often provide you with drinking water, and I recommend a LifeStraw or SteriPen water purifier and reusable bottle to cut down on your plastic waste. That said, there’s nothing wrong with brushing your teeth with Mexican water.
If you get sick in Mexico, consider visiting a Farmacia Ahorro. I learned this when living in Mérida — several pharmacy chains, including Farmacia Ahorro, have a doctor working in the pharmacy who can examine you! Ask the pharmacist and they’ll give you a ticket for the doctor. Tip the doctor when you’re done (100 pesos, or $5, is fine).
Best Time to Visit Mexico for a Yucatán Road Trip
The absolute best time to visit the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico is during the winter months: from December to March. This is primarily for weather reasons: nice sunny days, it rarely rains and temperatures are at their most pleasant.
This is especially important because Mérida is brutally hot for most of the year. The winter months are when Mérida is at its most pleasant, but even in winter, you’ll occasionally have some days at 95 F (35 C).
Outside of these months, it really heats up in Mérida. Mérida’s hottest month is May, and late April and early June are also brutally hot. It stays hot through November.
The other destinations on this itinerary, like Holbox and Bacalar, aren’t QUITE as hot as Mérida, thanks to their location by the sea, but the heat can still be unpleasant. Plus, so much of this itinerary is dependent on outdoor weather conditions and I know you’d rather not risk being rained out.
Consequently, this winter months are when Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula gets the most tourists, and when places tend to be most expensive. But I encourage you to visit at this time because weather really can make or break your visit.
Plus, visiting Mexico when it’s cold at home is the point! You need a warm weather escape, and Mexico is one of the best possible places you could visit. Your friends are going to be jealous of your photos…
What to Pack for a Mexico Road Trip
The good thing about Mexico is that you can often buy what you need there. Still, you should pack wisely, just in case.
In terms of clothing, you can wear whatever you want in Mexico — just nothing grotesquely revealing, and keep swimwear to the beach. Light fabrics help you breathe. I tend to wear dresses, skirts, and tank tops with sandals, plus some athletic wear for active days. You might want to bring a sweater and jeans for cool nights or bus rides.
(Like my bag in the photo above? I got it at Poshería, my favorite shop in Mérida, right on Paseo Montejo. Such a great, useful souvenir!)
Here are some items that are smart to pack for a trip to Mexico:
Biodegradable sunscreen. Leave your regular sunscreen at home — it can be harmful to delicate areas like cenotes, Lake Bacalar, and the waters surrounding Holbox. Stick to the biodegradable or reef safe brands.
Earplugs. Mexico is loud. Even in small towns. Even in luxury hotels. Even on a Monday night. Earplugs are essential to get a good night’s sleep in Mexico.
Mosquito repellant. Mosquitos can be incessant in this part of Mexico, especially at sunset.
Travel towel. Cenotes don’t provide towels — you’ll need to bring your own.
Sports sandals. Sports sandals are ideal for climbing ruins and exploring the outdoors while leaving your feet room to breathe on hot days.
Water shoes. I don’t usually recommend these, but they are extremely useful in Bacalar, especially at Los Rapidos, where you alternate being in the water and walking on painful ground.
GoPro. You are going to want to take photos in the water in this part of Mexico — especially cenotes and at Bacalar.
Travel Insurance for Mexico
One last note — it’s absolutely vital to have travel insurance before traveling to Mexico. If you get sick or injured on your trip, if you get robbed, or even if you have to be flown home for more care, travel insurance will protect you from financial ruin. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Mexico.
Travel insurance will help you in your hour of need if you come down with appendicitis in Mérida or trip and break an ankle while climbing the pyramid at Mayapán, and if your flights get canceled due to hurricanes, you can get accommodation and new flights paid for.
As always, be sure to read your policy carefully and make sure it’s a fit for you. See what World Nomads covers here.
You are going to LOVE your Mexico road trip.
Mexico is one of my absolute favorite places in the world. I love this country fiercely, and I will always come back to it. The more time I spend in Mexico, the more places I keep adding to visit someday!
So many people go to Mexico and see nothing more than beach resorts, when the country has SO much more to offer, especially in the Yucatán Peninsula. I know your trip will be so much better when you focus on areas outside the resorts.
And please don’t forget that you can put your own spin on whatever you want to do. Maybe you’re not a fan of ruins. That’s fine! You don’t have to go to any! And if you don’t like swimming in deep water, know that you don’t have to swim in any if you don’t want to. (Plus, they all provide lifejackets.)
This is your trip. You go do Mexico the way you want to. I’m just here to help you along the way.
Have the best time in Mexico — then come back and tell me all about it!
Planning a Trip to Mexico:
Places to Visit in the Yucatán and Mexico’s Caribbean Coast:
Places to Visit in Inland Mexico:
Places to Visit on Mexico’s Pacific Coast:
Have you been on a Yucatan road trip? Where do you recommend going? Share away!
Autor: Adventurous Kate
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