One of the best ways to visit a country is by renting a car and exploring its most secluded corners. By car, you can reach places where local buses don’t go and explore them when the tourist crowd has already gone. It gives you the flexibility and the freedom to live your vacation at your own pace. This is why I always encourage my readers to rent a car and get lost whenever possible – and what better part of Mexico to explore than doing an epic Yucatan Road Trip from Cancun to Valladolid and beyond!
Unfortunately, Mexico has quite often been labeled as a dangerous country, especially in the last couple of years with the recent episodes of violence in some tourist spots that are normally quiet and peaceful.
I have lived in Mexico for 8 years and despite the recent news, I still believe that it’s a peaceful country, filled with kind-hearted people, an interesting and vibrant culture and a magnificent landscape. Mexico is an exciting and immense world to explore. And explore I did, as much as I could anyway. You just need to be wise and apply some common-sense rules.
I would like to share with you one of my favorite itineraries, suitable for those travelers who want to see as much as possible in a short time, because who doesn’t want to relax on the beach and enjoy their hotel.
The itinerary covers the highlights of Yucatan and requires a car rental.(no new paragraph here)I suggest you book your car ahead of time and make sure to agree to an early pick up in so that you can make the most of your day.
So, buckle up, and let’s start.
NOTE: All photo credit goes to the author, Isabella Biava of Boundless Roads.
Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
Yucatan Road Trip Day : Cancun – Valladolid
Have a decent breakfast at your hotel and remember to bring some snacks with you because you won’t find anything to eat on the road until you get to Valladolid in the afternoon.
I would suggest leaving Cancun in the morning around 10.00 am the latest, and set off to Puerto Morelos where you will enter the “Ruta de los cenotes”. (no new paragraph)
If you leave later, I would suggest you skip this stop and go straight to the cenote Choj-ha, as it is more spectacular.
“La Ruta de los cenotes” is a road that is packed with cenotes, hence the name. I would suggest you stop by Lucero Verde, an open cenote with a relaxed atmosphere. You will see a sign by the road so keep an eye out. Take a swim and jump from the platform or soak up the jungle vibes.
Here is a list of all the other cenotes in the area.
When you are ready, (not later than 2pm), get back in the car and keep driving towards Leona Vicario and Valladolid (in the direction of Cemax) on the “libre” which is the regular road, as opposed to the highway. After about 1 hour of driving, you will see signs and directions to the Cenote Choj-ha, with the sign visible on the left side of the main road.
This place is a must-see stop. It’s an unbelievably huge cave cenote. You will be asked to shower before entering, for ecological precautionary measures, and then you can walk down and into the cave. The path is made of stairs, down are very well kept and very easy to walk. You will enter a surreal world, of crystalline water, stalactites and stalagmites. It’s no wonder why in the Mayan Civilization believed the cenotes were considered the getaway to the underworld. It’s a really magical place, especially if you go on a weekday when there are, with fewer tourists. Here you can take Take your time to explore the cenote and swim and relax.
When you are ready you can Once you have had your fill, it’s time to continue your drive. Another 45 minutes and you will arrive at to the beautiful town of Valladolid.
This is It’s the gateway to the colonial Yucatan. You will notice immediately the architectural difference with the modern Cancun, but also the more laid-back relaxed atmosphere and people.
By the time you arrive get there, you will be hungry. I would suggest you should check-in at your hotel and get ready to enjoy the magic atmosphere of Valladolid by night and the Yucatecan food.
Suggested hotels in Valladolid:
High-end option: – Coqui Coqui – stunning luxury boutique hotel in a colonial mansion with a relaxing internal garden and a superb spa.
Average price: – Casa San Roque Valladolid – Cozy little property reflecting the colonial style of the city – great attention to details and service.
On a budget? Check out these great hostels!
Suggested Restaurants in Valladolid
For the veggie lovers: – Hierbabuena on calle 54 nr 217 between 45 and 49
Typical Yucatecan food: for dinner – Restaurante Conato 1910, located at – calle 40 nr 226 between 45 and 47
For a hearty breakfast: – Chan café’ – calle 44 between 35 and 37
Yucatan Road Trip Day 2 – Valladolid
On the third day of our trip we are going to actually explore the colonial city of Valladolid and its lively historical center.
Valladolid is the second most important city in Yucatan, after the capital Merida, and has been appointed Pueblo Magico for its beauty and historical heritage.
Things to do in Valladolid:
- Get lost in the vibrant city
Just walk around the main plaza and visit the Basilica of San Servacio, and the nearby streets, get an ice-cream and enjoy the local life slowly buzzing by.
- Mingle with the locals
Visit the colorful market and sample try the local food
- Learn about the history
Pay a visit to at the museum of San Roque, dedicated to the pre-Hispanic times
- Experience Know about local art
If you love art, you cannot miss the Casa de Los Venados, a private collection of stunning art
- Walk through the popular Calzada de Los Frailes
From the main plaza take this animated touristy road full of interesting local shops, restaurants and small boutique hotels up to the Sisal neighborhood, where the convent San Bernardino da Siena is located
- Visit the Convent San Bernardino da Siena
This convent is one of the most important and largest biggest and most important in Yucatan. It is one of the first convents which was that has been founded by the Franciscan orders when they Spanish came to Mexico and started the evangelization of the Mayans in the 16th century. Quite an interesting visit.
- Take a dip in the cenote Zacì.
After walking around all day in the heat, this is what you need to refresh and cool down. The cenote is right in town, two2 blocks from the city center and is a beautiful oasis of relaxation.
Transfer to Chichén-itzá
At around 5 pm hop in the car for a short drive to Chichén-itzá (which should take about 45minutes)
I suggest you should Stay stay in one of the hotels inside the area as it’s the best and most comfortable option to visit Chichén-itzá before the crowds arrive.
Suggested hotels in Valladolid:
- The Lodge at Chichén-itzá
- Hotel and Bungalow Mayaland
If you are traveling on a budget you will find more modest options in the nearby town of Pistè at only a 5 minutes’ drive from Chichén-itzá. Both hotels offer restaurant service for your breakfast and dinner.
Yucatan Road Trip Day 3 – Visit Chichén-itzá
Chichén-itzá is one of the most incredible ancient Mayan cities to visit and you will easily realize why it’s one of the 7 wonders of the world.
Tips to make the best of your visit to Chichén-itzá
- If you arrive in time for the night show in Chichén-itzá this is something you don’t want to miss: lights and sounds are artfully directed to create a magical atmosphere in a place that already has enough charm on its own. This event runs from From 7 to 7.30 pm in winter and from 8 to 8.30 pm in summer. It is advisable to arrive at the site 20 minutes early to purchase the tickets and find a good spot.
- In the morning try to wake u and get out of your hotel early and start your visit to of the ancient city by 8 am when they open. If you get there early, you will have to share the site with fewer people. At 9 am the first big busses will start to arrive. By 11 am it will be packed. So get in there before everyone else does! Also, an early tour will allow you to avoid the hottest hours of the day.
- At the entrance, there are tour guides that offering tours of the stunning Mayan complex in English. It’s up to you, if If you wish to learn about the site in detail, it’s a good idea to you should hire one. Make sure they are the official certified guides. They normally hang out by the ticket office.
- Stay hydrated! Always Bring a bottle of water always with you. It’s hot and humid, all year round.
If you started your visit at 8, by 11 or 12 you should be finished. I would suggest you have something to eat at the restaurant in your hotel before hitting the road again or take something to eat with you for the road. And as always, Don’t forget the water.
Our last stop before heading back to your hotel in Cancun (or anywhere along the Riviera Maya) is the famous cenote Ik-kil. It’s the most touristic, but for a reason. This is an It’s an open cenote but its walls are extremely high, creating a spectacular scenery, for sure the perfect picture for your Yucatan collection. Besides, after all the walking around you had done in the archeological site, this is the perfect stop before hitting the road again.
You will then set off for Cancun. It’s going to be The trip back should take 4 to 5 hours driving. It’s easy to Don’t get distracted on these roads, so and follow my tips on how to have an enjoyable drive back home.
Safety Tips for doing a Yucatan Road Trip
Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easier than you think. The roads are quite well marked and nowadays with the GPS on our phones or in the car, it’s near really impossible to get lost. However, there are a couple of details that you need to know:
#1 Pay attention to TOPES – speed bumps
They are not always indicated so make sure you stay alert when you are driving, as some of them are really huge and can cause damage to your rental the car. They are usually located in the proximities of the villages, most of all, but not exclusively.
Unfortunately, on some occasions, corrupt police occasionally attempt to get bribes from tourists are a fact, especially in the Cancun and Riviera Maya area more than Yucatan. Don’t give them a reason to for stopping you. And if they do, because of an infraction, never yield to the temptation to bribe them. You would only be supporting this unpleasant, but unfortunately common practice.
#3 Speed checks
They do have speed checks and use them frequently lot, even in the most unexpected places, so make sure you respect the limit and always buckle up.
A few notes here:
- In general, along the Yucatan peninsula, gas stations are very well distributed but it can happen that they run out of gas or there might be a strike, you never know. So, make sure you keep checking your fuel gauge and never miss any opportunity to fill up the tank.
- In small towns where they don’t have a gas station ask any local grocery stores as they might be selling gas as well if you are in need.
- Many Gas stations don’t accept credit cards, even if you see a credit card sign. I never understood if they make up excuses because they don’t want to accept it or their system is always down for real. In any case, always bring some Pesoscash with you in Pesos.
- When you stop for gas, always ask by the quantity and not by the amount of money, otherwise, you will get less gas.
Avoid driving atin the night, always. You won’t see potath-holes and it’s not safe in general. So just avoid it.
The cars within the roundabouts have the priority.
If you took the wrong road and need to go back, you have “Retornos”. When you will see a U turn sign on the road keep the left and go back to the other carriage.
It might seem a joke but it’s not. In spring, a lot of beautiful yellow butterflies come out and they will be flying fly right by your car front window. Don’t feel like a murderer, it’s not your fault, but most of all, and don’t get distracted most of all, keep your eyes on look at the road.
Suggested hotels in Cancun or the Riviera Maya
Nizuc: – The most exclusive hotel in the area, room only option. Indonesian architecture combined with the finest Mexican art – Superb cuisine and exceptional service.
Hyat Ziva: – Stunning all-inclusive new property in one of the most beautiful stretches of beaches in Cancun
Belmond Maroma: – One of the most elegant resorts in the Riviera Maya, the perfect combination of modern features and Mexican architecture – great for a peaceful romantic getaway.
Some practical information on traveling to Mexico
- The health system in the Riviera Maya and Cancun is modern and efficient, but expensive. Therefore, a travel insurance is highly recommended
- There have been cases of mosquito-borne diseases, like Zika and Dengue, for which there is no prevention. It’s very important to use repellent, especially during the wet season (May to October). You should consult your doctor for further and more detailed information if you are concerned.
- Always drink a lot of water to stay hydrated
- Use sun protection evenall the time also if it’s cloudy and especially if you have a very sensitive skin
Bad things happen, like everywhere else in the world. It’s important to observe some common sense rules that will help you to stay away from troubles:
- Don’t show off your money and jewelry. First, it’s not necessary if you are on vacation sipping a mojito on a beach or jumping in a cenote. Second, you will prevent any temptation to rob you.
- Use the safe box in your hotel room for your belongings.
- Don’t get involved in any drug-related affairs, neither for personal use or smuggling.
- It’s ok to get a tequila or a couple of Mezcals. You are in Mexico, I get it. But avoid getting hammered (?)devastated if you are not surrounded by well-known people that care about you.
- Never walk alone in the dark, especially if you are drunk.
For more information on safety in Mexico click here. Last but not least, make the most of your vacation in Yucatan!
This Yucatan Peninsula Itinerary was written by Isabella Biava. To follow more of Isabella’s Mexico adventures and international travels, check out her travel blog, Boundless Roads or follow her on Facebook.