There are so many fun things to do in Yucatan; it’s hard to ever grow tired of it. The Yucatan has history and culture, beaches and water sports, and jungle and adventure. So no matter what, you’ll be busy here.
I’ve traveled to the Yucatan 3 times already, and each time I visit, I discover something new. I am absolutely in love with its people, its culture, and the overall atmosphere and vibe I get when I am there.
Yucatan has a glorious history, which is easily explorable through the many Mayan ruins and archeological sites scattered around the Yucatan Peninsula.
Furthermore, the colonial past also left its mark on the cities. And to top it off, nature is lush, and the beaches are as beautiful as one can imagine.
And let’s not forget about the food! Those who visit Mexico are rightly drawn to the variety of its cuisine, with all its ingredients and flavors.
The Yucatan Peninsula has everything you need for a perfect trip – the right mixture of culture, sights, cities, and nature.
If you are visiting Mexico for the first time and have limited time in the country you may just concentrate your travels on the Yucatan Peninsula. Mexico is huge, and it is pointless to try and see it all in 10 days. This is a country that calls for slow travel.
So, if you are planning to travel to this part of the world, here’s a selection of the best things to do in Yucatan.
26 Unmissable Things To Do In Yucatan
Visit the most famous archeological sites
If there’s one thing Mexico is famous for, it’s the Maya sites. Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum, and Coba are only some of the archaeological sites of Yucatan, but for sure visiting them is one of the unmissable things to do in Yucatan.
I recommend getting a guide when visiting archaeological sites in Mexico, as it helps understand their significance. If you want to save some money, you can wait around and look for other visitors who may be interested in sharing a guide. You can also book a guided tour online of most of the popular ruins.
People travel from all over the world to get a glimpse at Chichen Itza, and while it gets pretty crowded, it’s such an incredible experience. If you want to learn about Mayan history, this stop needs to be on your itinerary.
Chichen Itza is very close to Valladolid, but tours from Cancun and Playa del Carmen are pretty popular, as well. Here is a selection of tours:
From Cancun: Chichén Itzá, Valladolid & Cenote Tour – A very budget friendly option departing from Cancun, it lasts 12 full hours.
From Cancun: Guided day trip to Chichen Itza and Cenote Ik-Kil – A great tour to visit two of the most popular sites in the area.
Chichen Itza sunrise tour – Experiencing the sunrise on the site is a unique experience. This tour departs from Cancun.
From Merida: Guided tour of Chichen Itza with lunch – If Merida is your starting point, this is your best option.
Despite Chichen Itza’s notoriety, I actually prefer Uxmal. Uxmal is a pretty well-known Mayan ruin that doesn’t get as crowded.
Uxmal is unique because, unlike other archeological sites, the layout is not made geometrically. Instead, space is organized in relation to astronomical phenomena, like the rising and setting of Venus.
Uxmal is only about 80 km (50 miles) from Merida, so it’s easiest to visit from there.
You could book this lovely guided tour of Uxmal that departs from Merida and also goes to the Sotuta de Peon Hacienda.
Tulum ruins are smaller than Chichen Itza and Uxmal, but its location makes it one of the top places to visit in Yucatan. Tulum ruins are resting right on the cliffs in Tulum, leading visitors to a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea. There’s even access to a gorgeous white sand beach right below.
The Tulum ruins show how the Mayans had a strong trading network through the Caribbean Sea. And the ruins have been very well-preserved, making it a great spot to visit and learn more about Mayan heritage.
Tulum ruins are located very close to the historic center of Tulum, making it one of the easiest ruins to visit in the area. So, if you’re staying in Tulum or nearby, make sure you add these ruins to your things to do while in Tulum.
You can visit Tulum independently, but for a better experience you may want to join this excellent guided tour that also goes to Coba Ruins.
Coba is about one hour from Tulum Pueblo (town) and is certainly one of the coolest places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula. The ruins are well-preserved, and the archeological site is massive.
It’s actually one of the most widespread sites in Yucatan, so visitors generally rent a bike or a bici-taxi while at the ruins to make the most out of the day.
The best way to get to Coba is via a colectivo (a shared minibus). A good alternative, and one of the top things to do in Yucatan, maybe to book a guided tour of Tulum and Coba together.
You may want to consider this guided tour of Coba – it also goes to Tulum and to a cenote in the area.
Look for the lesser-known sites
Among the best things to do in Yucatan, there’s visiting a handful of smaller archaeological sites that well deserve a visit.
Kabah is not far from Uxmal and used to be the second most important city in the region. It is spread across two sides of Road 261. It’s a lovely site that doesn’t get nearly as many visitors as the others in Yucatan; thus, the atmosphere is incredibly peaceful.
Kabah is actually one of the few Maya settlements that have kept its original name, Kabah, meaning “powerful hand.”
If you’re looking for places to visit in Yucatan that are slightly more off-the-beaten-path, then Ek’ Balam is a good place to go.
It’s located near many of the Valladolid cenotes. Though it is mostly covered by vegetation, excavations are ongoing. The pyramid is 32 meters tall. Most tours of Ek’ Balam depart from Cancun.
You may want to consider this guided tour of Ek’ Balam that departs from Cancun.
Edzna and Calakmul
Edzna and Calakmul are two ruins near Campeche. Edzna is about 60 km (37 miles) south of Campeche. Whereas Calakmul is a bit further away. It’s recommended to stay in a nearby town, like Xpujil or Chicanna when visiting Calakmul.
These two beautiful sites receive fewer visitors in a year than Chichen Itza does in a day. They are among the best places to visit in Yucatan if looking for archaeological sites that have all the beauty with none of the crowds.
This guided tour of Calakmul departs from either Campeche or Bacalar and also goes to cenotes in the area.
Swim in the cenotes
Perhaps the most unique of the many things to do in Yucatan is visiting the cenotes.
Essentially, cenotes are underground lakes that are fed by rainwater and the currents of the rivers underneath the earth. They are often formed from natural sinkholes that expose the underground water.
Some cenotes are cave-like swimming holes where you can snorkel and scuba dive. Other cenotes are open-air cenotes that are more like small lakes in the middle of the jungle. Cenotes can only be found in this part of Mexico, nowhere else.
Some cenotes, such as Ik kil, are considered a Yucatan must-see, and they are so popular that a whole resort has been developed around it. Others, such as Los Tres Cenotes de Cuzama, are much smaller but equally beautiful.
I recommend this guided tour of the Tres Cenotes de Cuzama that departs from Merida. It’s a full day tour that also includes lunch.
Make sure to read my post The Best Cenotes In Mexico.
Visit Bacalar Lagoon
Bacalar Lagoon is one of my favorite day trips from Tulum, but if you have more time, it’s even better if you can spend a few days in this lagoon paradise – indeed there are many incredible things to do in Bacalar.
The gorgeous Bacalar Lagoon is perhaps the most spectacular of the natural places to visit in Yucatan. Not far from Chetumal, Bacalar is a large lake completely immersed in the vegetation of Yucatan.
It boasts incredibly white sand, and the water is of a paradisiac aquamarine color. It deserves a visit (and a swim). Needless to say, visiting is one of the unmissable things to do in Yucatan.
I recommend this sailing trip around Bacalar Lagoon that also includes stops for swimming and drinks.
Explore some of the famous nearby cities
You should not miss these cities when in Yucatan!
Merida is the largest city on the peninsula. It is often used as the starting point to visit Chichen Itza and some of the nicest cenotes in Yucatan, but it is worth visiting regardless of its vicinity to other sites.
What makes Merida one of the Yucatan must-sees is the gorgeous colonial-style architecture. Picture colorful buildings, cobbled alleys, a gorgeous cathedral, a beautiful square, and an incredibly busy market, and it’s easy to see why so many people who visit Mexico make it a point to go.
Campeche is another lovely colonial town. Its small center, with the colorful, restored colonial buildings, is aligned with the defense walls, which are beautiful to walk along.
What differentiates it from other cities in Mexico is the Malecon – that is, a beautiful, new waterfront where people go for walks or to run and exercise.
Last but not least, I have to mention Valladolid as one of the top places to visit in Yucatan. Valladolid is only about 156 km (97 miles) from Cancun and about a 2-hour drive.
Valladolid is also very close to Chichen Itza, making it another great starting point for those that want to spend a full day at the ruins.
Beyond the world-renowned Mayan ruins, you’ll also find tons of amazing cenotes, a rich culture, beautiful architecture, and a welcoming local culture.
Check out this post for more things to do in Valladolid.
Venture to the lesser-known cities
Each time I visit Mexico, I discover new places and hidden gems. What I love about them is that they are still relatively undiscovered – though thanks to the internet, they are slowly becoming more popular.
One of the nicest hidden gems of Yucatan is Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, located right on the Caribbean coast and a travel hub between Mexico and Belize. Let alone the fact that the city is beautiful – there’s a lovely coastal walk (Boulevard Bahía) and good museums.
And for those that want to find the more secluded ruins, Chetumal provides easy access to some lesser-known Mayan ruins such as Oxtankah.
Visiting Izamal is bound to become one of the top things to do in Yucatan, if not among the things to do in Mexico altogether.
Known as Ciudad Amarilla (yellow city), Izamal is mostly Mayan and, yes, it really is completely yellow. There are remains of pyramids scattered across town, and from the top of the site, there’s a beautiful view of the city.
The Spanish conquerors here didn’t demolish the Mayan sites but built on top of them. So, for example, the church and convent are laid on the rest of the site.
This tour of Izamal departing from Merida also goes to Chichen Itza and to a cenote.
Go to the beach
The perfect trip for me is one that puts together culture, nature, and some well-deserved relaxation time, preferably at a beautiful beach – I am from Sardinia, after all!
With all the amazing beaches of the Riviera Maya, it is easy to see why Yucatan is a perfect destination. Indeed, one of the top things to do in Yucatan is to go to the beach.
Cancun is home to the largest airport in the Yucatan, Cancun International Airport. It’s a large city with endless beach options, a beautiful hotel zone, and easy-to-access luxuries.
Some of the most popular beaches in Cancun include:
- Chac Mool Beach (Playa Chac Mool)
- Caracol Beach (Playa Caracol)
- Gaviota Azul Beach (Playa Gaviota Azul)
- Las Perlas Beach (Playa Las Perlas)
- Delfines Beach (Playa Delfines)
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is approximately 68 km (42 miles) from Cancun or about one hour by car or bus.
This is one of the most popular beach destinations in Yucatan, with tons of services and conveniences. But it can get very crowded. You can easily access nearby cenotes and other towns (like Cancun, Tulum, Cozumel, and Puerto Morelos) from Playa, as well.
Some of the most-visited beaches in Playa del Carmen include:
- Parque Fundadores
- Calle 10 Beach
- Mamitas Beach
- Coco Beach
- Playa Punta Esmeralda
Tulum is a very long stretch of incredibly fine white sand, and you can find spots that aren’t overly crowded because Tulum city center is further away from the beaches.
Tulum tends to draw a more naturalistic crowd due to the close proximity to nature and large population of spiritual travelers.
Akumal is another small beach town right on the Caribbean coast. You can snorkel with turtles, enjoy one of the impressive all-inclusive resorts, and relax away from the chaos of Cancun.
Mahahual is a very small beach town, about 355 km (220 miles) from Cancun. Because it’s a little more difficult to access than the other popular beach destinations, it tends to get less traveler traffic.
Instead, you’ll find the small town crowded with cruise ship passengers during the day and completely quiet during the night.
This is a tiny coastal town of no more than 1000 inhabitants with a large public beach that is free to access and where you can definitely relax.
It’s also known to have some of the best diving in the area, as well as other fun ocean activities.
Visit the islands
The Caribbean coast of Yucatan is scattered with some beautiful islands, and one of the nicest things to do in Yucatan is visiting at least a couple.
Isla Mujeres is one of the best-known islands and it can be easily reached via a short ferry ride from Cancun.
You can book your ferry tickets from Cancun to Isla Mujeres here.
The island is so small that it can be visited in a day. However, the longer you have, the more you can see. It’s possible to rent bikes, scooters, or even golf carts. There are some good beaches (though some can get very crowded at weekends or festivities). It is rather touristy but nice.
Isla Cozumel can be reached by a short ferry ride from Playa del Carmen.
Visiting Cozumel is the best thing to do in Yucatan for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. You’ll find a gorgeous coral reef, teaming with beautiful marine life and captivating coral formations. There are even some Mayan ruins.
You may want to consider joining this catamaran trip around Cozumel that includes snorkeling and a stop at Palancar Beach.
Make sure to read this complete Cozumel guide for more information on what to see and do there.
Holbox, located on the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, is a little more difficult to visit but well worth the trouble. You’ll want to travel to a small port town called Chiquila and take a 30-minute ferry to the island.
It’s easiest to travel here from Cancun, either as a day trip from Cancun or for a full weekend (though a day trip may feel a bit rushed).
It has clear waters and gorgeous beaches, and tons of fun activities. You can even take a boat ride to nearby uninhabited islands for a good chance to spot some flamingos and other rare birds.
A few years ago, Holbox was a lesser-known secret, with dirt roads and small mom-and-pop hotels and restaurants. However, it’s quickly gaining popularity and becoming more of a hot spot in the Riviera Maya.
For a truly hassle free day, consider joining this full day trip to Isla Holbox that includes lunch and transportation from your hotel
Enjoy the nightlife
There’s no other place in Mexico like Yucatan in terms of nightlife, whether you’re in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum.
Cancun has a great selection of bars and clubs to party all night long, with more of a city vibe. The same can be said about Playa del Carmen, although it’s a much smaller city with fewer spring break tourists. Tulum is also well-known for jungle raves and other exclusive events.
If you have an active social life and enjoy having a few drinks, one of the top things to do in Yucatan is to party.
However, make sure to stay safe. Especially as a solo traveler, it can be dangerous and ill-advised to go out all night on your own. You should follow basic safety precautions and stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
Eat (and drink) like a king
One of the top things to do in the Yucatan peninsula is eating. Mexican cuisine is so good and so varied that it is even protected by UNESCO.
The best places for tacos are the small carts that are scattered in the streets – wherever there is a small crowd eating, that’s where the good food is. I have a thing for tacos al pastor, which I enjoy with plenty of ensalada de nopales (cactus leaves salad).
Other things to try are the quesadillas, which are tortillas filled with cheese and other things, such as flor de calabaza (zucchini flowers) or mushrooms. Or, if you’re looking for breakfast, you have to try some local chilaquiles (corn tortilla chips with salsa, cheese, and other toppings) with either huevos (egg) or pollo (chicken).
Furthermore, Mexico is the country of Tequila and Mezcal, so it goes without saying that you must try a good tequila and, even better, a proper margarita.
As of late, I have developed a taste for yoga – especially for the Pranayama, which allows me to relax completely. One of the top things to do in the Yucatan peninsula is practicing yoga in Tulum.
Resorts and boutique hotels often offer this activity for free. If not, the classes are pretty cheap to join, plentiful, and the benefits are enormous.
Stay in a gorgeous resort
I have always thought I was not the kind of person who’d enjoy an all-inclusive resort. Then I went to one in the Maldives and I changed my mind. Among the nicest things to do in the Yucatan peninsula is staying at an amazing resort.
All-inclusive resorts have the benefit of perfectly catering to tourists who don’t have much time to organize their trips independently.
They can schedule day trips to the best places to visit in Yucatan; they have a great selection of restaurants to enjoy local food; they offer access to the most gorgeous beaches.
And if relaxing and pampering oneself is a must in Yucatan, resorts offer all the best treatments one may wish for.
Here’s a selection of fantastic places to stay in Yucatan:
- Hyatt Ziva Cancun is the best place to stay in Cancun. .
- La Villa du Golf is a nice, smaller place to stay in Cancun.
- Hotel La Piazzetta is a fantastic boutique hotel in Merida.
- Hotel Cabanas Tulum has the perfect location on Tulum Beach.
- Alaya Tulum is another great place to stay in Tulum.
- Newport House Playa is a fantastic boutique hotel in Playa del Carmen.
- Casa Gem, in Playa del Carmen, is a lovely bed and breakfast.
- Hotel Posada San Juan is the best place to stay in Valladolid.
- Casa Tia Micha is a lovely boutique hotel in Valladolid.
- Hotel Para Ti is an adults-only place in Isla Holbox.
- Tierra Mia is a lovely boutique hotel in Isla Holbox.
Practical Tips To Plan Your Trip To Yucatan
When to visit Yucatan
I have been to Yucatan many times, and each time the weather was incredible. Summer can be rainy, though. So I would say that you are better off visiting during the winter months, between November and March.
How to get to Yucatan
Yucatan is very well connected to the rest of the world via Cancun airport. There is an airport also in Merida. It is possible to also reach by land if coming from Belize.
How to travel around Yucatan
Yucatan is fairly easy to travel around. ADO buses connect the main cities and places of interest, and colectivos are cheap and easy ways to get to the smaller ones. However, I recommend renting a car in order to be completely independent.
Remember to always get good travel insurance for your trips. You can find a good one here.
Safety In Yucatan
I have never had any issues in Yucatan, and Yucatan is safe to visit for tourists. Having said so, keep your eyes open for scams, as these, on the other hand, are common as they are in any tourist place!
For more information, you can read my post Is Playa Del Carmen Safe For Tourists?
With all these things to do in Yucatan, it’s easy to see why it is a favorite of travelers. Have you ever been there? What did you like the most about it, and what would you add to my short selection?
Make sure to read my posts:
- The Best Beaches in Mexico
- The Best Road Trip To Mexico Itinerary
- The Best Time To Visit Mexico
- The Best Cenotes Near Merida
- The Most Delicious Food In Mexico
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best National Parks In Mexico
- The Best Things To Do In Cancun