The Ultimate Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary

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The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is a treasure trove of incredible destinations, with a perfect mix of colorful towns, pristine beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, and otherworldly cenotes. There’s a LOT to see here—so much so that you’re definitely not going to be able to squeeze EVERYTHING into one vacation. 

However, the best way to experience TONS of things in one short period of time is by road tripping around the Yucatan. Here’s the perfect Yucatan road trip itinerary, including everything you need to know to make your time as epic as possible. 

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Couple standing in front of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
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Table of Contents

 Where to Fly Into In the Yucatan Peninsula

You have a couple different options of where to fly into for your Yucatan road trip, but your best bet will be the Cancun International Airport in Cancun. It’s actually the largest airport in Mexico, with direct flights from over 120 cities, spread across 28 countries. 

Southwest plane wing over the Caribbean Sea in Mexico

You’ll definitely have the best chance of scoring an awesome deal on airfare there (we always swear by using Skyscanner for the best prices on flights!) and will have plentiful options of rental car agencies as well. Plus, if you fly into this airport, you’ll be able to follow our Yucatan road trip itinerary exactly!

Alternatively, you might want to check flights at the Mérida Airport, located in the charming city of Mérida in the northern part of the peninsula. When we’ve flown into the Yucatan, I’ve noticed that prices for flying into Mérida are approximately the same or even less than flying into Cancun’s airport and it’s definitely a more chill environment than the hustle and bustle of Cancun. 

Pssst... not sure what to pack for your Yucatan road trip? Luckily, we put together a Mexico packing list that outlines everything you need! 

Driving Around the Yucatan Peninsula

You’ll obviously need to have a car to go on a road trip around the Yucatan. 

After renting rental cars in Mexico on multiple occasions, I could write a whole blog post (and actually plan to!) about the do’s and don’ts of the process, which can be a bit hairy at times. 

Cars parked on a cobblestone street in Mexico

But, in essence, you need four things to rent a car in Mexico—a valid driver’s license (US driver’s license works just fine!), credit card, be at least 25 years of age, and Mexican insurance. 

The last one is the trickiest requirement—without getting too much in the weeds, I would budget for at least twice the amount you’re originally quoted for your rental car for extra fees associated with insurance. I know that sounds crazy but most rental agencies provide a too-good-to-be-true quote—as in, like, $5 a day.

We’ve been asked several times in our posts about Mexico whether it’s safe to drive here. After taking two Yucatan road trips, I can confidently say that, in our experience, we’ve never had a single issue driving here. The roads are well-maintained and, in fact, I’d argue that drivers here are actually better and safer than most that we’ve encountered in the United States.  

VW bug parked in front of a stucco house in Mexico

The only restriction that my husband, Justin, and I personally follow in Mexico is to not drive at night—both to avoid potholes or other random obstacles on the road and to reduce the likelihood of encountering any nefarious characters out and about. 

Otherwise, use common sense and enjoy the freedom that a rental car gives you in this magical area!

Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary

Since most visitors to the Yucatan fly into Cancun, our itinerary will start there. Justin and I followed this Yucatan road itinerary almost exactly, with minor tweaks regarding what we wish we had changed about our visit. 

Additionally, this itinerary is going to cover an ABSOLUTELY jam-packed 9 days and assume that you fly into Cancun on a Saturday and back home the following Sunday. 

Woman standing under a light beam in Cenote Suytun in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

However, if you have less time than that or want a slower paced trip, none of these destinations are further than four and a half hours away from one another. Accordingly, it would be easy enough to nix a destination in this schedule and instead, spend a day or two relaxing in less destinations. It’s all about enjoying the Yucatan, my friend!

Here’s the Yucatan road trip itinerary at a glance:

Day 1: Cancun to Tulum

Total Drive Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes

Drive from the airport to Tulum

Woohoo—you made it! Pick up your rental car and drive south towards the beach town of Tulum. 

Terrace leading out to the beachi n Tulum, Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula

Explore Tulum

We visited Tulum a few years ago, when it was a sleepy town with boho vibes and a few Instagrammable restaurants sprinkled along its beachfront. However, when we more recently visited, Tulum has TOTALLY changed—in full transparency, not for the better. 

For example, the downtown area used to be brimming with local taco stands and a handful of eclectic shops with hippie-ish beach wear.  Today, you’ll find a bunch of overpriced Americanized restaurants, with pushy peddlers trying to get you inside and overly loud EDM music. 

While Tulum clearly isn’t our favorite place in the Yucatan anymore, there’s still some seriously cool stuff to do and see here—and it would be a miss, in my book, to skip it altogether. 

Sunrise on the beach in Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula

Given that travel days are usually pretty hectic, keep your schedule light this first day. 

For example, head to Playa Paraiso, our favorite beach in Tulum with turquoise waters, swaying palm trees, and a long stretch of white sand that’s perfect for relaxing on. While you’re here, consider chilling at Beach Club Bar, one of the only beach clubs in Tulum that has a reasonable minimum spend (just $20 a person, which you shouldn’t have a problem hitting!).

Woman watching the sunset at the Ciel Rose Rooftop Bar in Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula

Alternatively, mosey around the Zona Hotelera (the area around Tulum’s beaches) to peruse trendy shops or fun bars—our favorite is the Ciel Rose Rooftop Bar, which, true to its name, has an awesome view of the sunset. Plus, their passion fruit margarita will change your life!

Get dinner

For dinner, if you prefer something more lowkey and authentic, head to Antojitos La Chiapaneca, a small local taco stand in downtown Tulum. They have a HUGE menu and the food is both delicious and ridiculously affordable. I could eat about a hundred of their panuchos (essentially a tortilla stuffed with refried beans and then covered with yummy goodness, like avocado and pickled onions). 

Panuchos at Antojitos La Chiapaneca in Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

If you’re wanting to go someplace that has more of the trendy Tulum vibe, both Gitano, which serves upscale Mexican food, and Pasha, a Turkish restaurant, have tasty food options that are presented beautifully and a very Instagrammable decor. 

Where to stay in Tulum:

Budget:

  • Hotel Tiki Tulum: If you’re looking for an affordable hotel in Tulum, this is SUCH a hidden gem. The property has been recently renovated and has a trendy mid-century modern vibe to it. Each room comes with a private bathroom and a hammock to relax in, and some rooms come with a balcony surrounded by lush jungle views. 

Mid-range:

  • The Beach Tulum: This hotel comes with a lot of perks, including having the popular Ziggy’s Restaurant and Beach Club onsite, live nightly music, and free bike rentals and yoga classes. Perhaps best of all, each room comes with a private jacuzzi or plunge pool—I mean, are you going to want to even leave your room?!
Aerial view of the beach in Tulum, Mexico

 Luxury:

  • Be Tulum: This beachfront resort has incredibly posh and sleek suites, which can come with indoor copper tubs and rooftop terraces with private plunge pools. Beyond the room itself, the property has TONS to offer, including a beach bar, yoga studio, and upscale spa. 

Day 2: Tulum 

Drive time: One and a half hours (from Tulum to the Coba Ruins)

It’s your first full day exploring the Yucatan Peninsula—let’s get to it, friends!

Get breakfast

Kick off your day with some yummy breakfast—Burrito Amor or Taqueria Honorio, which definitely has much more of a local vibe, are our favorite places to grab something in the morning in Tulum.

Street stand in Tulum, Mexico

Explore the Coba Ruins

Drive about an hour northwest to the Coba Ruins, which dates all the way back to the 2nd century(!!!) and was once one of the most important cities to the Mayan civilization. In fact, the population of Coba once rivaled that of another iconic Mayan city, Chichen Itza (which—spoiler alert—we’ll be seeing later on in this itinerary)!

But unlike Chichen Itza, due to its remote location, the Coba of today is typically pretty quiet and uncrowded, allowing you to feel totally immersed by Mayan history and the dense jungle of the Yucatan. 

Pyramid at the Coba Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

The Coba complex is HUGE, spanning across a whopping 30 miles. 

You can choose to walk around on your own and hit some of the main sites, like the Nohoch Mul Pyramid or the Coba Group, which includes an impressive ball court where the Mayans played an intense game called pok-a-tok (which is believed to have ended with the losing team’s captain getting  beheaded!). 

Alternatively, you can hire a bici-taxi at the ruins to take you around to the various sites. Not only is it a fun way to whiz around the site, but most of the drivers (but not all!) will give you a brief overview of the main sites that you’ll pass in Coba. Booking a bici-taxi from the entrance to the Nohoch Mul Pyramid will typically run you about $150 MXN ($7.50 USD) for a roundtrip ride (plus tip!).

Couple smiling in front of a pyramid at the Coba Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
Tip: The town of Tulum has its own Mayan Ruins, but I really wouldn’t recommend going there—it’s expensive, crowded, and overrun by pushy vendors. I promise you’ll have a much better experience at the Coba Ruins!

Cool off at a Cenote

In the afternoon, make your way back to Tulum. 

One of the best things about this area is how many incredible cenotes near Tulum there are. If you’re not familiar with cenotes, they’re essentially sinkholes, formed from the limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula, that’s filled with crystal clear and cool groundwater. There’s actually six THOUSAND of them sprinkled throughout the Yucatan Peninsula! 

Woman climbing out of Cenote Calavera in Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

There’s tons of awesome cenote options around Tulum to choose from, including:

  • Cenote Calavera if you’re an adventurous traveler that likes cliff jumping
  • Gran Cenote, which has beautiful underwater stalactites and wildlife, like turtles and blue crabs, to observe while snorkeling (a great option if you’re traveling with kiddos)
  • Zacil Ha Cenote, if you’re a budget traveler or looking for a more local and authentic experience

Get dinner

Spend your last night in Tulum, soaking up its lively vibes. For example, we love Nu Restaurant, which offers creative Mexican dishes that are made using hyper local ingredients and a wood-fired grill. 

Afterwards, head to Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar in Tulum Pueblo, which usually has nightly live music and makes (super tasty!) mojitos with freshly pressed sugar cane juice out of the bar’s own press in a VW bug.

Cocktail in Tulum, Mexico

Day 3: Bacalar

Drive time: Two hours and 40 minutes

Get breakfast

Wake up bright and early and grab some breakfast before hitting the road—for example, Ziggy’s opens at 7 AM each morning, with fresh and tasty breakfast offerings. 

Burritos from Burrito Amor in Tulum, Mexico

Drive from Tulum to Bacalar

Make your way southwest to the beautiful town of Bacalar.

This pueblo magico is known for its Bacalar Lagoon, frequently called the “Lagoon of Seven Colors”. The lagoon, which is actually the largest freshwater body of water in Mexico, is so named because its crystal clear water is several stunning shades of turquoise. In fact, Bacalar is frequently referred to as the Maldives of Mexico. 

Aerial view of Bacalar Lagoon in Bacalar in Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Get lunch 

Bacalar is a teeny town, but it still offers a charming downtown, with cobblestone streets lined with local restaurants and shops. For lunch, I’d suggest trying out Mr. Taco, which has delicious Mexican food at extremely reasonable prices—and the burritos that we got here were HUGE!

While you’re in the downtown area, consider stopping by the San Felipe Fort. This Spanish fort was built in 1733 to defend Bacalar from Blackbeard and all of his pillaging pirate friends and now, exploring it is one of the most popular things to do in Bacalar.  

Woman standing in Cenote Azul in Bacalar in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Take a boat tour

The best way to see the famed Lagoon of Seven Colors is to get out on the water. So hop on one of the afternoon Bacalar boat tours, like this option from a tour company that only uses sailboats (which is much better for the health of the lagoon) or this option that includes a free-flowing open bar and snacks. 

Each tour is a bit different but, in general, you’ll generally get to go snorkeling with some of the cute fish that live in the lagoon and make your way to parts of the lagoon that are impossible to get to without a boat, like the Pirate’s Canal. This aptly-named narrow channel was once used by pirates to sneakily attack the prosperous Mayans that once lived and traded here.

Aerial shot of boats in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

And bonus—by going on the afternoon tour, you’ll usually get to watch the sunset from the water.

Get dinner

Grab dinner in downtown Bacalar. Consider hitting up Barbanegra Bacalar, a Mexican restaurant with seriously good cocktails and enormous portions, or Tierra Ixim, where you’ll eat beautifully plated Mexican dishes in a lush garden setting. 

Aerial shot of tacos in Bacalar in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Where to stay in Bacalar: 

Budget:

  • Yak Lake House: This adults-only hostel is right on the lagoon and has a range of lodging options, from shared dorm rooms to private suites, with lake views. The helpful staff really lend to the hostel’s chill and friendly vibe—definitely an awesome place to meet solo travelers! 

Mid-range

  • Casa Chukum: Even though this hotel is located in the heart of Bacalar, the beautiful garden and serene pool makes it feel like you’re tucked away into your own oasis. You can expect a friendly staff, convenient location, and comfy beds. 
Woman watching sunrise from a dock in Bacalar in the Yucatan Peninsula

Luxury:

  • Mia Bacalar: If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, the views of Mia Bacalar are straight up dreamy and there’s tons of amenities, including a spa, a pool to relax by, and an on-site restaurant with out-of-this-world food. This is a popular spot for honeymooners or those looking for a luxe experience and it’s no wonder why!

Day 4: Bacalar to Valladolid

Drive time: three hours and 40 minute 

Go on a sunrise stand-up paddleboard tour

If you’re up for an early wake-up call whilst on vacation, I’d highly recommend booking a sunrise stand-up paddleboarding tour on the lagoon, like this option or this option. It’s ABSOLUTELY magical to watch the sun light up the gorgeous colors of the lagoon and you can soak in the peace and quiet before all the boats are out on the water. 

Woman stand up paddleboarding at sunrise in Bacalar in the Yucatan Peninsula

Get Breakfast

Head into town to grab a quick breakfast before your last adventure in Bacalar. For example, Enamora opens at 7:30 each day and has a variety of tasty foods for breakfast, including fresh smoothies and chilaquiles. 

Avocado toast in Bacalar, Mexico

Float down Los Rapidos

Buckle up—this is one of my favorite things we did on our entire Yucatan road trip!

Los Rapidos Bacalar is essentially a beach club that’s built along a narrow part of the lagoon that has a gentle current. They’ve built a boardwalk along the lagoon so it acts as a lazy river—you jump into the water, float down the current, and when you reach the end, just hop out and walk up the boardwalk to the beginning again. 

Woman floating in Los Rapidos Bacalar in Bacalar in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

It might not sound like that much fun but it’s an ABSOLUTE blast. If you need a break from the sun, grab some guac and a cerveza (or two!) from the bar and soak up the sun in the cozy chairs overlooking the lagoon. 

Drive to Valladolid

Drive north to Valladolid, a colorful city with charming colonial architecture that’s widely regarded as the gateway for visiting Chichen Itza.

Explore Valladolid

By the time you get to Valladolid, it will likely be the late afternoon. Spend a few hours exploring the cobblestone streets of the city. For example:

  • Go to Cenote Suytun, the Instagram-famous cenote with a submerged stone platform under a narrow opening in the stalactite-laden ceiling.  
  • Explore the Convent of San Bernardino de Valladolid, a beautiful convent that dates back to the 17th century, making this one of the oldest colonial structures in the Yucatan
  • Wander the cobblestone streets around the Parque Francisco Canton, the main square in town. At 5:30 almost every day, there’s a dance troupe that performs the jarana, a traditional dance of the Yucatan, in the square. So touristy, yet definitely fun to watch!
Mayan dancers in the town square in Valladolid in the Yucatan Peninsula

We just had the afternoon in Valladolid and were worried it wouldn’t be enough time to really see the city. To be honest, though, I’m not sure you need too much more time than that—the town is pretty small and you can see most of its highlights in a few hours. 

Get dinner

Get dinner in downtown Valladolid. 

We really enjoyed the authentic food and homey atmosphere of Restaurante De los Santos, on the main drag of Valladolid. 

Restaurant in a pink stucco house in Valladolid in the Yucatan Peninsula

Alternatively, Los Portales is on the main square of Valladolid–and, while its menu prices definitely reflect its primo location, it accommodates a variety of dietary restrictions and offers traditional Yucatec dishes. 

Enjoy the light show at Convent of San Bernardino de Valladolid

If you’re up for one last adventure of the day, head over to the Convent around 9:20. Every Tuesday through Sunday, there’s a (free!) light and sound show projected onto the Convent that tells the story of the Mayan people who originally inhabited the area and how Valladolid came to be what it is today.

Valladolid sign in front of the Convent of San Bernardino de Vallodolid in the Yucatan Peninsula

If you’re pooped by the time the show rolls around, not to worry—the light show is interesting but not something I’d classify as a must-see activity. 

Where to stay in Valladolid:

Budget

  • Mayan Majesty Boutique Hotel: For a budget stay, this boutique hotel has a lot to offer, including a cool cave pool with a swim-up bar and a pool-view terrace in every room.

Mid-range

  • Hotel Zentik Project & Saline Cave: This unique hotel would TOTALLY be my go-to pick in Valladolid—the rooms have colorful, traditional Mexican decor and two AWESOME pools—one that’s nestled in a cave and feels similar to a hot spring or another that’s outside and surrounded by hammocks for lounging. While the spacious rooms and charming decor are great and all, the staff at this hotel really make it shine—they definitely go above and beyond to ensure you love your stay in Valladolid! 
Colorful buildings lining the streets of Valladolid in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Luxury

  • Le Muuch Hotel Boutique: With its lush greenery, this hotel feels like you’re tucked away in the jungle, even though you’re just a quick walk from the main town square. There’s two pools to cool off in and the complimentary breakfast is delicious, with plenty of options for those with dietary restrictions. 

Day 5: Valladolid and Chichen Itza to Merida

Drive time: Two hours and 30 minutes

Explore Chichen Itza

Wake up bright and early to head to Chichen Itza, the famed ancient Mayan city that was built around 400 AD and is now North America’s only Wonder of the World! One of the major benefits of staying in Valladolid is that it’s less than 45 minutes from Chichen Itza, so you can get there before the masses, without having to wake up at the crack of dawn.  

Man standing in front of El Castillo in Chichen Itza

You can either drive to the site yourself or, alternatively, join one of the Chichen Itza tours that depart from Valladolid, like this option or this option.  

The benefit of going by yourself is that it’s obviously much cheaper and you’ll have the flexibility of exploring the site on your own schedule.

The benefit of going on a tour is that you’ll be accompanied by a local guide, who can actually provide context behind the stone structures around you and fascinating information about Mayan history and culture that you’d otherwise never know (there’s basically no educational signage at Chichen Itza for you to do a self-guided tour on. I personally think it’s totally worth going on a tour to better understand this extraordinary site, but if you’re on a tight budget, it’s still worth exploring on your own.

Couple sitting in front of El Castillo in Chichen Itza

Given the massive size of Chichen Itza (which sprawls across four square miles!), I’d budget for at least three hours to explore here.

Cool off at Cenote Yokdzonot

As you make your way to Meria, your homebase for the night, you’ll pass Cenote Yokdzonot. Not only is this the perfect place to cool off from the heat of Chichen Itza (guys, the heat of the Yucatan is REAL!), but it’s also one of my favorite cenotes in all of Mexico. 

Woman climbing out of a ladder at Cenote Yokdzonot in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

With dramatic vines that hang over the lip of the cenote, it looks like something straight out of Avatar and receives just a fraction of the visitors you’ll find at other popular cenotes near Chichen Itza, like Cenote Ik Kil. 

PLUS it has a super cool story. The women of the village wanted to establish an attraction to bring some economic prosperity to the teeny town of Yokdzonot. So, over the course of two years, they performed the backbreaking manual work of cleaning up the cenote after centuries of neglect and misuse (it was essentially used as a trash hole) and built the necessary infrastructure, like stairs and wooden platforms, to make it the beautiful site it is today—all on a completely unpaid basis. We LOVE to support enterprises like this! 

Couple smiling in Cenote Yokdzonot in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Get some lunch here while you’re at it. They serve up traditional Yucatanian fare here, like panuchos, that are seriously delicious.

Explore Izamal

Back on the road, make a pit stop at the pueblo magico Izamal. 

This town is also known as the Yellow City, given that almost all of the buildings in its downtown are, well, yellow! No one really knows why—theories range from the color repels mosquitoes to the buildings were painted that color for the pope’s visit in 1993—but either way, its cheery color makes the charming architecture here look that much more magical. 

Couple sitting in front of yellow building in Izamal in the Yucatan Peninsula

To be honest, there’s not much to do in Izamal, other than stroll around its cobblestone streets, wander around the grounds of the Convento de San Antonio de Padua, and marvel at the sunny colonial architecture. 

Drive to Merida 

You made it to your home for the next two nights—the beautiful city of Merida, which is known for its beautiful colonial architecture, Mayan history, and its cosmopolitan and safe environment. It’s actually routinely called the most safe city in Mexico!

Get dinner

Merida is a bustling city, so there’s TONS of dinner options to choose from. 

Taco in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

We went to Taqueria De La Union, which primarily serves street tacos, and liked it so much that we went back two nights in a row (which, frankly, isn’t a common occurrence for us)! Alternatively, El Apapcho is a funky combination of feminist bookstore/French bakery/Mexican restaurant that somehow nails all of these things—definitely worth a visit!

Where to stay in Merida:

Budget

  • Nomadas Hostel: This adults-only hostel offers a mix of dorm and private rooms and surprisingly nice amenities, like a pool surrounded by hammocks and a terrace with lush greenery. 

Mid-range

  • NH Collection Hotel: This hotel is conveniently located within walking distance to the main square in Merida and has spacious rooms, with impressive features, like a rainshower and comfy beds. Plus, there’s a SUPER cool rooftop pool! 
Ornate mansion in Merida, Mexico

Luxury 

  • Diplomat Boutique Hotel: This boutique hotel would definitely be my pick in Merida—a lush and luxurious property that offers an impressive (and complimentary!) breakfast, a fabulous pool to cool off in, and comfy yet modern rooms. 

Day 6: Merida

Driving time: None!

Join a cooking class

Merida is known as being THE foodie capital of the Yucatan—and what better way to kick off your time in Merida by diving deeper into it!

This awesome tour, led by a friendly guide, will take you to a market to explore and pick up fresh ingredients, like fruits, veggies, and spices, in the morning and then head into the local’s home to cook up a three–course Yucatec meal for lunch (they can even accommodate most dietary restrictions!). I seriously can’t think of a beter way to get to know the city and its culture—plus, you’ll wind up with a seriously delicious meal. 

Man excitedly eating tacos in Mexico

Go museum hopping

As one of the Yucatan’s largest and most posh cities, Merida is home to several world-class museums. 

For example, while we were in Merida, Justin and I stopped in the Mayan World Museum of Merida and LOVED it—it was absolutely fascinating with lots of interactive exhibits and provided helpful context behind the Mayan sites and ruins we’d seen throughout our Yucatan road trip. Alternatively, Casa Montejo is a free(!) museum in the city’s center with over 1,100 Mayan artifacts or the Museum of the City of Merida delves deeper into the town’s past. 

Stroll the Paseo de Montejo

This two mile long road is one of Merida’s most picturesque sections, with colorful colonial mansions, eclectic boutique shops, and trendy bars and restaurants lining the streets. 

Monumento a la Patria sculpture in Merida, Mexico

Mosey around and admire the architecture and see what nooks and crannies you can find. Be sure to stop at the Monumento a la Patria, Merida’s most famous piece of public art that depicts a millennia of Mexican history with 300 hand-carved figures, including several Mayan gods. 

Get dinner

After your stroll around Paseo de Montejo, grab dinner at any of the incredible restaurants around the city. We really enjoyed Salon Gallos, a restaurant/event space/indie movie theater that serves upscale Latin-fusion cuisine in a sexy industrial setting. 

Taco in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Enjoy Merida’s nightlife

Unlike most of the other stops along this Yucatan road trip, Merida has a vibrant nightlife scene for both locals and visitors, with everything from dive bars to upscale cocktail joints. 

We really enjoyed Dzalbay, a jazz club with a rooftop terrace and seriously good cocktails, and Malahat, an intimate speakeasy. If you decide to go to the latter, I won’t spoil it for you, but it definitely was one of the most authentic speakeasy entrances I’ve ever been to! 

Tip: This isn't quite the same kind of nightlife, but if you happen to be in Merida on a Saturday, there's a pok a tok game (you know that ancient Mayan game I mentioned above that often ended in a beheading? Yeah, that one!) in front of the Catedral de Mérida in the main square at 8:30 PM every week. 

Show up early, though- we went about 20 minutes beforehand and barely got seats!

Day 7: Merida to Isla Holbox

Drive time: 3 hours and 30 minutes

Join a free walking tour

Start your morning at the Merida Tourism Office (in the city’s main square) to join a free walking tour to learn a bit more about the city. The tour starts at 9:30 every morning, but I’d suggest showing up around 9:15—no reservation required. 

Checkered floor in a colonial mansion in Merida , Mexico

Justin and I took this tour and it’s definitely a good (and affordable!) way to dive a bit deeper into the city’s Mayan history and Spanish roots. 

Tip: Don’t forget to bring at least $100 MXN to tip your guide!

Get breakfast

Grab some breakfast before hitting the road. We loved the chilaquiles at Maiz, Canela y Cilantro. It’s a homey restaurant with a big ol’ kitchen that you can look into—it kinda feels like you’re getting fed at your sweet Mexican abuela’s house! 

Chilaquiles in Bacalar in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Drive from Merida to Isle Holbox

Drive east to the teeny town of Chiquilá, where you’ll catch a ferry to Isla Holbox, a dreamy island paradise that’s located off the northern coast of the Yucatan. 

It’s important to note that the most efficient way to drive between Merida to Chiquilá is along the Cancun-Kantunil/México 180D, which was purportedly built to provide tourists a fast, easy, and safe way to get around the Yucatan Peninsula. This is great and all, but it comes with a SUPER high toll—at the time I’m writing this, it costs about $30 USD to drive (one-way) from Merida to Cancun. 

Colorful car in front of a colorful building in Valladolid, Mexico

While we were driving here, we turned on the “Avoid Tolls” feature in our Google Maps and the (free!) route using local roads passing through small towns was only about half an hour longer. We had absolutely no issues, so if you’re traveling on a budget or simply don’t prefer to pay exorbitant tolls, I’d suggest going that route! 

Once you get to Chiquilá, you’ll need to find a parking lot to leave your rental as no cars are allowed on Holbox. Luckily, there’s plenty of secure lots that have pretty affordable pricing—50 pesos ($3 USD) for 12 hours and 100 pesos ($6) for 24 hours. 

Take a ferry to Isla Holbox

After you drop your car off, you’ll head to the ferry terminal (called the Puerto de Chiquilá) and grab the next ferry to Isla Holbox. 

There’s two ferry companies, Holbox Express and 9 Hermanos, with extremely similar boats and identical pricing ($220 MXN per adult for one way) that depart from the port. 

Birds flying in front of boats in Holbox, Mexico

These ferries run from 6:30 am to 9:30 pm and the companies generally alternate departing the port every half hour. Accordingly, I would just choose whatever company best suits your schedule. You can either buy tickets online on the company’s websites or onsite (I’d recommend the latter so that you’re not tied to departing at a specific time).

The ferry ride takes less than half an hour to get from Chiquilá to Holbox. 

Hit the beach

To be honest, there’s not a ton to do in the tiny town of Holbox, other than relax and soak up the sun and those sweet island vibes.  

Thatched umbrellas on Playa Holboz on Isla Holbox in the Yucatan Peninsula

Depending on what time you arrive in Holbox, consider heading to Playa Holbox, one of the best beaches on the island and an absolutely stunning place to watch the sunset. 

Get dinner

While Holbox is pretty small, there’s still plenty of bars and restaurants to check out. Alta Gula is an intimate restaurant with delicious Argentinian fusion dishes or Burritos Bowls Baby!, true to its name, dishes up Mexican food made with fresh and local ingredients. 

Where to stay in Isla Holbox:

Budget

  • Blatha Tropical Rooms Holbox: This place definitely leans into the island vibes, with a toes-in-the-sand experience in its lobby and dining area. The rooms are spacious and clean, you can get made-to-order-breakfasts onsite with incredibly fresh juice and authentic food, and a rooftop terrace that’s perfect for watching the sunset. 

Midrange

  • Palapas del Sol: Set right on the beach, this funky hotel offers six thatched-roof cottages right on the sand, complete with their own terraces and hammocks. If you get tired of swimming in the warm waters of the Caribbean, there’s an onsite pool to relax around. 
Sandy street in pueblo Holbox on Isla Holbox in the Yucatan Peninsula of MExico

Luxury

  • Mystique Holbox by Royalton: This is one of the only five star resorts on the island and with its amenities, from free bike rentals to get around the island, outdoor pools with views of the Caribbean, and an onsite restaurant, it’s no wonder why!

Day 8: Isla Holbox

Drive time: None! 

Go on a whale shark tour (seasonal)

If you happen to be visiting from May through September, consider doing one of the most AWESOME things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula—going on a tour to snorkel with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean (and not a whale or a shark at all!), like with this tour or this tour

Whale shark swimming underwater

Mexico has strict regulations on snorkeling with whale sharks and is considered to be the most ethical place on the planet to swim alongside these gentle and endangered giants. Just remember that the whale sharks around Holbox are exactly what they should be—wild and free—so there’s no guarantee you’ll get to see any on your trip! 

These tours start quite early in the morning (around 6:30 AM) and will return you back to Holbox in the early afternoon.

Get breakfast

If you happen to be visiting outside of whale shark season, sleep in, relax, and enjoy your last full day of vacation. When you’re ready to get up and at ‘em, grab breakfast in Holbox, like at Painapol, for a delicious (and impossibly Instagrammable) smoothie bowl, or Kuxtal Market & Cafe, a health food store with freshly baked pastries (try the chocolate muffins—seriously so good!). 

Smoothie bowls at Matcha Mama in Tulum, Mexico

Hit the beach

Spend the rest of the morning and afternoon lazing about on the beach. Playa Holbox is the most popular option, with plenty of amenities, like restaurants, beach bars and kayak and stand up paddle board rentals if you have no chill and are not great at just laying on the beach (*raises hand*). 

Lounge chairs in front of palm trees on Playa Holbox in Isla Holbox in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

For something a bit different, Playa Mosquito is a huge sandbar that juts out of the island’s northernmost tip. It’s much less crowded and is a great place to spot birds—in fact, you can even spot flamingoes here!

Get dinner

Head back into town to get your last dinner of your Yucatan road trip. Consider Barba Negra, which has inventive takes on traditional Mexican food, or Bah Bah, a laidback thatched-roof joint with affordable Mexican food and incredibly fresh juices. 

Tacos and ceviche in Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Go on a bioluminescent tour

One of the coolest things to do in Holbox is to join a night tour, like this kayaking one or this snorkeling one, to see the island’s bioluminescence. 

What’s bioluminescence, you say? 

Well, I’m so glad you asked! 

There’s phytoplankton that live in certain areas of the water around Holbox that emit a dim blue light that you can actually see on dark, clear nights. The best way to see bioluminescence is by disturbing the water—such as by swimming or paddling through it. 

Bioluminescence on a beach with palm trees in the background
This is bioluminescence in the Maldives, but you get the picture!

You can actually see the bioluminescence glow in the dark year round, but these organisms tend to like warm water. However, you’ll have the best chance of seeing them from June through August. Such a super unique and COOL experience! 

Day 9: Isla Holbox to Cancun

Drive time: 2 hours

If your flight back home isn’t until the afternoon or evening, soak up the last few drops of Holbox’s laidback magic. 

Otherwise…

Take the ferry from Isla Holbox to Chiquilá

Sadly, you’ll have to leave this tropical paradise today. Head to the ferry terminal and make your way back to Chiquilá.

Boats at Playa Holbox on Isla Holbox in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Drive from Chiquilá to Cancun

Pick up your car from the parking lot in Chiquilá and make the drive back to the Cancun International Airport. Drop your rental car off and start planning your next trip back to the Yucatan! 

Tip: As mentioned above, there’s pricey tolls on the quickest route from Chiquilá to Cancun. If you turn on “Avoid Tolls” on Google Maps, you only add about 10 minutes of drive time if you take the more local (and free!) highways, instead of the toll road. 

When to Go on a Yucatan Road Trip

The good news is that there’s really no bad time to go on a Yucatan road trip—regardless of when you go, you’re likely to get plenty of sunshine and warm weather that’s perfect for outdoor adventures and beach time. But you will have a different experience depending on when you go. 

Man sitting on a swing at a bar in Tulum, Mexico as the sun sets in the background

There’s really two seasons in the Yucatan—the wet season from June through October and the dry season from November through May.  However, in the rainy season, there’s usually only short periods of rain in the late afternoon (perfect for an afternoon siesta)—it’s unusual that you’d get any kind of weather that would completely derail your plans. Plus, if you schedule your trip during the rainy season, the Yucatan will be much less busy with tourists and, accordingly, you can usually score deals on flights and hotels. 

One other thing to consider—sargassum. Due to warming ocean temperatures, there’s a stinky seaweed that washes up on the Yucatan’s beaches by the ton (quite literally!) that definitely detracts from its otherwise pristine white sand. It actually even changes the color of the Caribbean, dulling the vibrant iconic turquoise of its waters. If you’re a beach lover that really wants to see the Caribbean at its best, avoid the months where sargassum is at its peak, from April through September. 

Woman smiles on a beach with sargassum in Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula
Ah, white sand, turquoise water, and lots of smelly sargassum- what beach dreams are made of.

Phew—hopefully, you have a better idea of how to plan your Yucatan road trip itinerary. It seriously is one of our favorite road trips that we’ve taken (and as people who live in their RV, that’s a lot!). Do you have any questions about road tripping around the Yucatan? Let us know in the comments below! 

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