Mexico is a huge country, with lots to see. With so many beautiful cities and charming smaller villages, interesting archeological sites, beautiful beaches and unique natural sites, coming up with a good Mexico itinerary is easier said than done.
If you don’t know where to start planning, worry not! I have been to Mexico three times (I honestly can’t get enough of it!) and know the country quite well. So I thought I’d help out and put together an easy Mexico itinerary that will take you to all the best places to visit in the country – the most popular tourist spots as well as some of the lesser known ones.
This Mexico itinerary is perfect for first timers. It’s ideal for a road trip to Mexico, in case you want to be a bit more independent and adventurous. But if you have a couple of extra days you can actually even bus it – indeed, public transportation and long distance buses in Mexico work quite well.
3 Weeks Mexico Itinerary – A Quick Overlook
Below is a breakdown of how many nights you will stay in each place per this three-week Mexico itinerary:
Mexico City – Four Nights
Puebla – Two Nights
Oaxaca – Three Nights
San Cristobal – Two Nights
Palenque – Two Nights
Campeche – One Night
Merida – Three Nights
Valladolid – One Night
Tulum – Three Nights
The Best Mexico Itinerary For A Fantastic Road Trip To Mexico
This Mexico itinerary begins with four nights in Mexico City. This metropolis is not only the largest city in Mexico, but in North America as well. The city is full of culture and has a rich history as it is also the oldest capital city of the Americas.
There are many things to do in Mexico City. Must-see museums include the Museum of Anthropology, Frida Kahlo Museum, and Museo Diego Rivera (both located in Coyoacan, the historic center of Mexico City located on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco) – but there are many more.
For a guided tour of Coyacan that also goes to Frida Kahlo Museum and Xochimilco click here.
The 150 plus museums located in Mexico City are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 until 17:00. A few museums have extended schedules to 19:00. Most museum admissions are free on Sundays. For more information, read my post The Best Museums In Mexico City.
Other notable places to visit include historical and architectural and cultural sites. The House of Tiles is an 18th Century Palace, covered by blue and white tile from the Puebla state on three sides.
Zocalo is the main square in town, where the Cathedral is located. This, besides having a great religious significance, contains hundreds of years of Mexican architecture and art. If you want to catch a great cultural event during your time in Mexico City, visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This venue hosts events including dance recitals, operas, and theater productions.
For a guided walking tour of Mexico City, click here.
For a day outdoors, visit Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the biggest urban parks in the Western hemisphere. The park also functions as an ecological space in the city. You can spend time by the water at Xochimilco, and even take a ride on one of trajineras located in the canals.
Where to stay in Mexico City
There is a wide range of lodging available in this massive city. If you are looking to pamper yourself, I recommend the Presidente InterContinental Mexico City. If you would rather have nice accommodation at a good price, stay at the Wyndham Garden Mexico Reforma.
For more information on the best areas and hotels in Mexico City, read this post.
This itinerary will have you will spend two nights in Puebla. This municipality was founded in 1531 and has the richest Catholic diocese. The city is famous for its Talavera pottery, a tin-glazed earthenware which originated in Talavera de la Reina, Spain.
During your time in Puebla, why not indulge yourself in something unique to this village? The famous dish mole poblano was invented here and is considered the national dish of Mexico. This dish contains a sauce made of sugar and cocoa, which is combined with chili peppers and usually served on top of turkey or chicken. You can discover how it is made in a cooking class such as this one.
How to Get to Puebla
One of the best options to get to Puebla from Mexico City is via bus. Although this journey is approximately five hours, the buses in Mexico are reasonably priced and the ride is surprisingly comfortable. The best place to catch the bus to Puebla is the TAPO terminal. Buses on this route run all day and depart every 15 or 30 minutes.
Where to Stay in Puebla
For more on Puebla, check out this post.
Oaxaca, where you will spend three nightsm is located in southwestern Mexico. This is one of the 32 states in the Federal Entities of Mexico; divided into 570 different municipalities and home of many indigenous people in its population, including the Zapotecs and Mixtec. The capital city is Oaxaca de Juarez.
There are many things to do in Oaxaca. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and the Church of Santo Domingo are certainly important landmarks. The Zocalo is the main square where you can unwind in the sun and enjoy a coffee.
There are also some wonderful day trips just outside of Oaxaca. The town of Tule has a tree that is about 1500 years old and known to be one of the largest in the world. Mitla and Monte Alban have some of the best archeological ruins in Mexico.
You can reach all three of these sites in minutes by car or, alternatively, on a guided day trip such as this one.
How to Get to Oaxaca
To get from Puebla to Oaxaca by bus will cost you between 15-35 USD. The trip takes about six hours from Puebla and buses departs hourly from Puebla CAPU station.
If you would prefer to drive, it certainly is the fastest way, but the combination of the rental car and gas cost make it a bit more expensive overall. This drive should take just over four hours.
Make sure to also read my post How To Get From Mexico City To Oaxaca.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca
For more information on the best areas and hotels in Oaxaca, read this post.
San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas is considered the cultural capital of Chiapas. The city was designated as a national historic monument in 1974. San Cristobal sits in a beautiful valley, surrounded by mountains. The town center’s architecture is Spanish Colonial so you’ll spot many buildings with red tile roofs and cobblestone streets.
Your time spent in San Cristobal would not be complete without a visit to the market and the main church. The cathedral is just north of the main square and is the focal point of the town, and the façade was completed in 1721. The open-air market adjacent to the church has many handmade crafts for sale.
Day trips from San Cristobal to consider taking are Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula. Zinacantan translates to the ‘land of bats’ and is rich in Mayan history. San Juan Chamula is located just six miles outside of San Cristobal, and its notable sites include the Church of San Juan and the local culture of indigenous Tzotzil Maya people.
For guided day trips to San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, click here.
How to Get to San Cristobal
There are many reasonably priced flights that can get you from Oaxaca to Tuxtla Gutierrez. This would involve a layover in Mexico City. From there you can rent a car and drive on to San Cristobal. The driving time between these two points is just over an hour. Be sure to catch an early morning flight and to stop en route and spend some time at Canyon de Sumidero.
Where to Stay in San Cristobal
Palenque is a Mayan state that began approximately 226 BC. It was an area that flourished in the seventh century. After the decline of the state, it was overcome by an overgrowth of vegetation. It has since been restored and has become another great historical site.
A highlight of the two nights in Palenque will be a visit to the Palenque Archeological site. Although smaller than other archeological sites, like Chichen Itza, Palenque is renowned for some of the best ancient Mayan sculptures, carvings, and architecture. It is estimated that only a small portion of Palenque has been uncovered, and a large area of the site is still buried under jungle vegetation.
How to Get to Palenque
The drive from San Cristobal to Palenque is 132 miles (202 km) and should take around six hours. Two places worth a visit during your journey are Agua Azul and Misol Ha waterfalls.
Where to Stay in Palenque
During your one-night stay in Campeche, you can take a stroll around this city that was founded in 1540, and go for a walk along the lovely Malecon. A highlight of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Spanish colonial walls that were constructed to keep pirates out.
You can take a walking tour of Campeche and learn about its history. The buildings and homes here have 18th century Moorish and Spanish colorful facades. There are many stories behind these structures just waiting to be discovered during your visit!
How to Get to Campeche
It takes around 5 hours to drive from Palenque to Campeche, along roads 186 and 180D.
Where to Stay in Campeche
Merida is the largest city and the capital of Yucatan. It has been heavily influenced by Mayan culture, with an estimated 75 percent of the city’s population being of Mayan heritage.
The city is packed with museums, art galleries, shops, and restaurants. While in Merida, you can visit the market, the zocalo, and the cathedral so you can absorb the city’s incredible vibe.
Be sure to take some time and cool off at Cenote Ik Kil and Los Tres Cenotes de Cuzama, which are located nearby.
For a guided tour of Cuzama Cenotes, click here.
How to Get to Merida
Merida is at about 2 hour and 15 minutes drive from Campeche. You will have to follow road 180.
Where to Stay in Merida
Valladolid is a city rich in Yucatan history. It is considered one of the most important cities in this region, founded at its current location in 1545 and built on top of a Maya town called Zaci.
Although you will spend only one night here, there are many things to do in Valladolid. These include visits to the House of Culture, Handicraft Market, the Cathedral of San Servacio o Gervasio, and Main Center Park.
How to Get to Valladolid
From Merida you can drive the 101-mile route to Valladolid, making several stops along the way to visit important sites such as Chichen Itza, which is a must-see archeological site for anyone interested in Mayan history, amnd the lovely Izamal, knowns as the Yellow City.
For skip-the-line tickets to Chichen Itza click here.
Where to Stay in Valladolid
Tulum is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. It is one of the last cities built by the Maya and reached its peak from the 13th to 15th centuries. The city is known for its massive Columbian Mayan wall that is located on the steep sea cliffs.
The wall contains watchtowers meant to protect the city. The city was abandoned after being decimated by mass death and disease brought in by Spanish settlers. Today, it is one of the best-preserved Mayan coastal sites, whose most important structures are the Temple of the Frescoes, the Temple of the Descending God, and El Castillo.
Tulum is also home to fabulous beaches. The gorgeous beaches in the region include Tulum Beach and Akumal. Akumal is a tourist beach community located near Tulum and is famous for its snorkeling and sightings of green sea turtles.
How to Get to Tulum
It is a 64-mile (102 km) drive to get from Valladolid to Tulum. All you need to do is travel along Valladolid-Cancun Road 180 – it should take you around 90 minutes to get there. Along the way it is worth a stop in Coba to take a dip in Cenote Choo-Ha or Cenote Multum Ha. The Zona Arqueologica de Coba is where you’ll find the only pyramid in Yucantan that can still be climbed.
Where to Stay in Tulum
The lodging in Tulum is considerably more expensive than in many other areas in Mexico. The Jashita Hotel is one of the top hotels in Tulum. It is also one of the most expensive. For a midrange priced hotel, Xscape Tulum is a highly rated property in Tulum.
When your three-night stay in Tulum has ended, drive on to Cancun via the road connecting Chetumal to Cancun for 73 miles (118 km) to get to Cancun International Airport. Here, you can turn in your rental car and board your flight home after an unforgettable holiday!
Make sure to read my post Where To Stay In Tulum.
Final Consideration For This Mexico Itinerary
When To Visit Mexico
Any season in Mexico has its charme and you can honestly travel whenever your holiday plans allow. However, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of a few things:
- December to April is peak season in the Yucatan Peninsula, so you’ll have to book your accommodation and even your car in advance, and keep in mind that some places will be quite crowded.
- Peak season is also the best season to hang out at the beach, just in case you want to extend your holidays.
- July and August are among the hottest months in Yucatan.
- Fall in general is not a good time to visit Chiapas, as it rains a lot and some areas will be harder to reach and not nearly as charming under the rain – Agua Azul is a great example of a place that is marvelous when the sun is out, and a nightmare when it rains.
If you like the idea of following this itinerary, I recommend visiting between the end of March and the beginning of April to have gorgeous days!
Getting Around Mexico
I drafted this itinerary thinking you’d like to go on a road trip to Mexico – that’s what I did each time I visited and I truly enjoyed it.
Check out my post A Guide To Renting A Car In Mexico.
However, there is no need to keep a car throughout your trip. Indeed, it’s quite easy, comfortable and convenient to get from Mexico City to Puebla, and from Puebla to Oaxaca by bus.
Just as well, the drive from Oaxaca to San Cristobal is too long and – unless you have an extra day to break the journey – you are probably better off flying from Oaxaca to Tuxtla, where you can rent a car for the rest of your Mexico road trip.
ADO is the best bus carrier in Mexico. When it comes to flights, you can count on Volaris and AeroMexico for budget options.
Safety In Mexico
I’ve never had an issue during any of my trips around Mexico, but that doesn’t mean that safety is not a concern when visiting Mexico.
While tourists are never a target of cartel violence, you should keep your eyes open for petty crimes such as pickpocketing and scams (sometimes even by police officers who may stop you and threaten a fine, unless you pay them a lower amount in cash and on the spot). In general, keeping a low profile in crowded places is a good idea – don’t flash out your belongings. This doesn’t mean that you can’t carry a camera, or that you should avoid talking to locals, who are indeed quite friendly.
Speaking of which! Knowing a bit of Spanish will certainly help you during your trip, though in the biggest tourist destinations everyone speaks some English, so you should hardly worry. I spoke very little Spanish during my first trip, and became fluent by the third visit, and I can tell you that my experience improved with my language skills!
Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip to Mexico. To get a quote, click here.
Quick Packing List
Mexico is pretty much shopping paradise, and all the places mentioned in this Mexico itinerary will offer plenty of opportunities to buy whatever you may need. With this in mind, I recommend to pack light and in fact leave enough room in your suitcase or backpack to carry some souvenirs home with you. One thing you should invest in before your trip is a water bottle such as this one, or even better a filter such as this one – tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink otherwise.
Make sure to also read my post What To Wear In Mexico.
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- A Guide To Driving In Mexico
- The Best Beaches In Mexico
- The Best Things To Do In Yucatan
- The Best Things To Do In Tulum
- What To Eat In Mexico
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best Time To Visit Mexico
- The Best Things To Do In Cancun
- Where To Stay In Cancun
- The Best National Parks In Mexico
- The Best Cenotes Near Merida
- The Best Cenotes Near Playa Del Carmen
- How Not To Get Sick In Mexico
- The Most Impressive Mayan Ruins In Mexico