For several years, Mexico has consistently ranked among our favorite countries in the world to explore–and after our most recent return visit to take a Yucatan road trip, we are more confident than ever that it will never be unseated.
Between the overwhelming number of interesting sights, absolutely sublime food, and incredibly welcoming culture, we can never get enough of Mexico–and with this 10 day Yucatan itinerary, we hope we can help you fall in love with it too!
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is one of those just-right destinations that is easy enough to travel in that newer travelers will feel comfortable exploring, and fascinating enough that veteran travelers will never be bored.
Between the Mayan cities and mystical cenotes, the colorful towns and delicious food, the lagoon of Bacalar and the stunning beaches the region is known for, a Yucatan road trip truly has something for everyone.
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Table of Contents
- How We Structured This Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
- Why Choose the Yucatan for a Mexico Road Trip
- Getting Around During Your Road Trip in the Yucatan
- Will This 10 Day Yucatan Itinerary Work Without a Car?
- The Ultimate 10 Day Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
- Other Destinations to Add to Your Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
- Useful Driving Tips for This Mexico Road Trip Itinerary
- FAQ About Taking a Road Trip in the Yucatan Peninsula
- Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary Map
- The Best Time to Road Trip the Yucatan Peninsula
- What to Pack for Your Yucatan Road Trip
How We Structured This Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
We structured this Yucatan road trip itinerary to center around some of our favorite things to do in the Yucatan: explore Mayan ruins, swim in cenotes, and enjoy beautiful beaches.
We are covering the Yucatan peninsula here, not just the state of Yucatan, and much of this Yucatan itinerary does take place in Quintana Roo.
It’s a fairly fast-paced itinerary in the sense that it packs a lot in and involves climbing many pyramids, but to drive this route straight through without traffic would actually only take around 12 hours–you’ll drive a bit more than that, counting day trips and such, but the bottom line is that it’s a very doable distance in 10 days!
We’ve included some of Mexico’s biggest tourist highlights here, including Chichen Itza, while also throwing in up-and-coming spots like Bacalar, and organized them in a loop beginning and ending in Cancun (aka, the biggest airport hub in the region by far).
This guide to spending 10 days in the Yucatan is quite long, so feel free to use the table of contents above this section to navigate to the most important parts for you if you wish!
Why Choose the Yucatan for a Mexico Road Trip
When looking for the perfect road trip in Mexico or even all of Latin America, the Yucatan peninsula immediately shoots up to the top of the list.
The peninsula is known as one of the safest regions for tourists in all of Mexico (and for the record, we have always felt incredibly safe not only there but everywhere we’ve been in Mexico), the driving is very lowkey, and the sights, from the ruins of Mayan cities to beaches to colorful towns to the peninsula’s world-famous cenotes, are sublime.
With a flawless combination of safety, ease of travel, and unforgettable sights, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect Mexico road trip than one through the Yucatan.
Getting Around During Your Road Trip in the Yucatan
The best company to rent a car for your road trip in Mexico from will likely vary dramatically depending on exactly when you’re traveling. Sometimes large international carriers offer the best prices, sometimes local outfits. Sometimes one company has an excellent base price, but terrible rental requirements.
The best way to find your rental car is to search through Discover Cars, which will sift through dozens of companies to find the best combination of low prices and reasonable rental terms for your Yucatan road trip.
Check prices & shop rental cars for your Yucatan road trip today!
Will This 10 Day Yucatan Itinerary Work Without a Car?
Parts of it, yes, but it would be more of a hassle to reach some spots.
Mexico’s ADO bus network is impressive, incredibly comfortable (some of the most comfortable buses we’ve ridden on anywhere, quite frankly), and can easily get you around the peninsula, including all the way down to Bacalar.
For smaller day trips like visiting Ek Balam and the cenotes around Valladolid, though, you’d need to either negotiate a taxi (not terribly difficult, but a hassle, especially if you’re not comfortable negotiating in Spanish), jump in a collectivo, or book a tour.
There’s no doubt that driving will make this particular 10 day Yucatan itinerary much easier and more flexible, but if you can’t or would prefer not to drive, you can still have an incredibly rewarding trip to the peninsula using this Yucatan travel guide.
The Ultimate 10 Day Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Cancun and head to Valladolid.
Assuming you arrive in Cancun early enough in the day to reach Valladolid before sunset, we highly recommend grabbing your rental car at the airport and then immediately hitting the road!
If your flight arrives in the late afternoon or evening, though, you’ll want to spend your first night in Cancun itself and then get an early start by driving to Valladolid the next morning.
Valladolid is a little under 2 hours from Cancun by car.
Day 2: Explore Valladolid and check out nearby cenotes.
The colorful, small city of Valladolid is a laid-back and delightful place to explore: the Zocalo, cathedral, and the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena are all worth a look, as are the many delicious restaurants and the colorful street of Calzada de los Frailes.
The main reason that Valladolid is a favorite for people exploring the Yucatan, though, is not for the charming city that is itself one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos (Magic Towns), but for what lies outside of it.
Valladolid is located at the perfect epicenter of many of the area’s best day trips, including several cenotes and Mayan ruins.
For the first several days of this Mexico road trip, we recommend basing yourselves here–the next few days of this Yucatan itinerary are designed as day trips from Valladolid.
For today, start your stay in Valladolid by exploring the town and potentially by checking out a few of the nearby cenotes–Instagram-famous Cenote Suytun is less than 15 minutes from town by car, as is the complex housing both Cenote Samula and Cenote Xkeken.
Too tired to drive anymore but still want to check out a cenote today? No worries–Cenote Zaci is certainly not the most impressive of these cenotes, but it does win points for being right in the center of town!
Where to Stay in Valladolid
Valladolid has a fantastic selection of places to stay, ranging from budget hostels to beautiful boutique hotels.
Here are some of the best, including the hotel we adored on our most recent visit!
Hostel Candelaria — Featuring a perfect location in the center of Valladolid, colorful decor, hundreds of near-perfect reviews and plenty of dorm and private room lodging options, Hostel Candelaria is a go-to choice for budget travelers to Valladolid.
Casa Aluxes Hotel — We absolutely adored our stay at this boutique hotel. The breakfast is fantastic, the service perfect, the inner courtyard and pools beautiful, and their location excellent. When we return to Valladolid yet again, we’ll definitely consider staying again.
Le Muuch Hotel — This luxury hotel in Valladolid offers spacious family rooms, excellent service, and a fantastic breakfast, all housed in a convenient location within walking distance of Valladolid’s major sights. The grounds include two beautiful pools, and the hotel’s hundreds of excellent reviews make it a sure bet when visiting Valladolid.
Day 3: Visit Chichen Itza and Cenote Ik Kil.
For your first day trip from Valladolid, head to none other than Mexico’s most famous Mayan ruin and one of the 7 New Wonders of the World: Chichen Itza.
We highly recommend showing up very, very early, and entering the park as soon as it opens at 8:00 AM if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Most of the big tour buses bringing visitors in by the hundreds from Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen won’t show up until an hour or two after that, giving you a bit of time to explore the ruins in relative peace.
After you finish up at Chichen Itza itself, be sure to take a dip in nearby Cenote Ik Kil!
Day 4: Visit Ek Balam and Cenote X’canche.
I’ll be honest: I intentionally scheduled Chichen Itza as the first Mayan city on this Yucatan itinerary, not only because I know just about everyone wants to visit, but because the other Mayan cities you will visit after it–in my biased opinion–blow it out of the water.
Ek Balam is located about half an hour from Valladolid, and in contrast with bustling Chichen Itza the previous day, will likely feel downright deserted.
With far fewer crowds and plenty of structures that you can climb, visiting Ek Balam is an absolute delight and one of our personal favorite stops on this Yucatan road trip.
Located in the same complex of sorts–you won’t need to move your car again–is Cenote X’canche, which is arguably our favorite cenote that we’ve seen on the peninsula as well!
Featuring brilliantly beautiful water, a slightly wild feel, and a waterfall, Cenote X’canche is one of those places where it is easy to understand why the Mayan religion purports that cenotes are the entrances to the underworld.
Day 5: Make your way to Tulum.
On day 5 of your Mexico road trip, it’s time to say goodbye to Valladolid and head for the beach!
Tulum is about an hour and a half away from Valladolid, giving you plenty of time to make your way back to the coast and then visit the famous Tulum ruins and beach.
While the ruins are certainly more crowded than Ek Balam from yesterday, their setting just cannot be beat–the views of the Mayan city overlooking the phenomenal beach are just magnificent.
Be sure to bring your swimsuit along: your ticket to visit the Tulum ruins also includes access to the beach, and you’ll definitely want to spend a few hours there!
When it comes time to find somewhere to stay for the night, you absolutely can stay in Tulum itself, but be prepared for some serious sticker shock: Tulum is not only expensive as compared to other cities in Mexico, it’s just expensive, period.
If you’d like to save a little cash, consider staying outside of Tulum instead–there are plenty of options, from luxury accommodation to hostels to boutique hotels, a 20-30 minute drive down the road–one of the major benefits of being on a Yucatan road trip rather than a traditional itinerary is that you can take advantage of flexibility like that!
Optional Yucatan Road Trip Stop: Coba.
Still dreaming of more Mayan ruins?
With three archaeological sites in three days included on this Yucatan itinerary, you quite possibly will not, but it’s worth pointing out that as you drive from Valladolid to Tulum, you’ll pass right by the Coba ruins, which also make for a delightful place to explore.
Less popular (read: crowded) than Chichen Itza, but more crowded than Ek Balam, Coba boasts some stunning structures in a forested setting, and you can climb the main pyramid for beautiful views over the jungle.
Day 6: Road trip Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to Bacalar.
On day 6, it’s time to head to the most up-and-coming destination on this 10 day Yucatan itinerary, a place we’ve heard described as “what Tulum was 30 years ago”: Bacalar.
The drive from Tulum to Bacalar takes less than 3 hours, so depending on time you could spend the morning in Tulum before heading down, or stop at Sian Ka’an Biosphere to see another magnificent part of the Yucatan peninsula.
Alternatively, you could wake up early and head right to Bacalar to maximize your time at this otherworldly lagoon–more on it below.
Day 7: Enjoy Mexico’s Lagoon of Seven Colors.
Look out over the beauty of the Bacalar Lagoon, and you may just be convinced that you’ve been transported to the Maldives or to an obscure Pacific atoll. You’ll almost certainly have a hard time comprehending that the brilliant blue you see doesn’t come from a sea or ocean of any kind, but from a freshwater lagoon.
Bacalar, both the town and the lagoon it is named after, is a sleepy, beautiful place where it’s easy to kick back, relax, and enjoy some truly unique nature.
While you’re there, consider taking a boat tour to discover the best swimming spots and viewpoints on the lagoon, checking out the rapids (basically a natural lazy river), and hopping down to one of the beach clubs for a swim and some food served up with incredible views.
Back in town, be sure to visit Fort San Felipe, which was built by the Spanish in the 18th century to defend against the real-life pirates of the Caribbean that attacked the town.
For dinner, we can heartily recommend La Playita–one of the best-known spots in town with one of the best restaurant views imaginable–and also La Pina, which isn’t located right on the lake but has an impressive garden atmosphere all the same.
Where to Stay in Bacalar
We recommend spending two nights visiting Bacalar as part of this Yucatan road trip–here are some great options for where to stay.
Blue Hotel — With comfortable rooms, affordable prices, and excellent service, Blue Hotel is a fantastic choice for travelers visiting Bacalar on a budget. While the hotel is located a bit further from the center of town than most, in Bacalar, that’s not a problem when you’re on a Yucatan road trip–you’ll probably drive to most attractions anyway.
Hotel Tuparenda — We loved this boutique hotel in Bacalar–so much, in fact, that when we doubled back to Bacalar on our Mexico road trip, we returned for a second stay here! The location is excellent (a short walk from La Playita), rooms comfortable, and service wonderful.
The rooftop, where the included breakfast is served and there is a small pool, has a lovely view of the lagoon in the distance!
Maya Bacalar Boutique Hotel — Want to stay directly on the lake, with a restaurant and spa located on-site and no reason to leave? If so, check yourself in for relaxation and pampering at the popular and well-reviewed Maya Bacalar Boutique Hotel for a taste of luxury… at far more affordable prices than a similar accommodation would go for in Tulum or Playa del Carmen.
Day 8: Head to Playa del Carmen, stopping at Akumal on the way.
At this point during your Yucatan road trip itinerary, things become a bit choose-your-own-adventure by virtue of the fact that there is so much to do between Bacalar and your eventual destination of Cancun, where you’ll say goodbye to Mexico in a couple of days.
Our suggestion is to head to Playa del Carmen (we loved our time at Isabella Boutique Hotel if you’re looking for an adorable but not insanely expensive place to stay), which is about a 3.5 hour drive from Bacalar and will put you both much closer to Cancun and in the heart of plenty of things to do in the Yucatan.
Along the way, consider stopping off at Akumal to cross a major highlight off your Yucatan bucket list: swimming with sea turtles.
Day 9: Cross one more thing off your Mexico bucket list.
With one more day of your Yucatan road trip left and an excellent central base in or near Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya is your oyster.
Here are a few of our suggestions for what to do on the last day of your road trip in the Yucatan…
Go for a swim in a cenote (or two).
Playa del Carmen is surrounded by absolutely stunning cenotes, including Cristalino, Jardin del Eden, and Cenote Azul.
Have a beach day at Xpu-Ha.
While the beaches in Playa del Carmen proper are not among the best on the Riviera Maya, Xpu-Ha, which is located just a short drive outside of town, is absolutely amazing and a fantastic place to kick back and relax.
Go snorkeling or scuba diving.
The stunning island of Cozumel is located very close to Playa del Carmen, and is especially well-known for its incredible scuba diving and snorkeling!
Whether you book a day trip from Playa del Carmen or hop one of the many ferries over to Cozumel yourself, you’ll be able to find excellent snorkeling opportunities.
Prefer to go underground? Snorkeling in an enclosed cenote is an unforgettable experience.
Day 10: Return to Cancun and say goodbye (for now) to Mexico.
As your Yucatan road trip comes to a close, it’s time to return to Cancun–but if you have time, before heading to the airport, consider hitting the beach one last time!
Cancun has some of the best beaches in Mexico, and some are absolutely free to visit, including the positively magnificent Playa Delfines.
Other Destinations to Add to Your Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
A mere 10 days in the Yucatan could never hope to cover all the incredible peninsula has to offer–if you have a longer Yucatan itinerary to work with, here are a few other places to consider adding onto your Yucatan road trip!
I specifically didn’t include popular Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox in this Yucatan travel blog post, as they’re decidedly not road trip destinations, but we adore them both and they’re definitely worth considering adding to your itinerary for the Yucatan as well!
In fact, we started our most recent trip to the Yucatan peninsula with a few days on Isla Mujeres before picking up our rental car, and couldn’t recommend the experience more.
The pink lakes of Las Coloradas, Mexico have become increasingly #instagramfamous in the last few years, and they are still one of the most unique places to visit in the Yucatan!
They are actually private reservoirs belonging to a salt company, not natural lakes at all, but they are incredibly interesting to look at.
Visiting has become more regimented over the years–these days you’ll be charged a small fee to enter and be required to keep a guide with you, and you definitely can’t swim in the lakes–if you’d like to see them for yourself, they’re a doable day trip from Valladolid (a little under 2 hours of easy driving each way).
The colorful, beautiful expat haven of Merida is incredibly popular with visitors planning long stays in the Yucatan, but it’s quite far out of the way for this Yucatan itinerary that focuses more on the southern and central parts of the peninsula.
If you have longer than 10 days in the Yucatan, though, definitely consider stopping by to explore some of the best things to do in Merida–it’s a beautiful, colorful city with lots of amazing food to offer, and is also the capital of the state of Yucatan.
Buried deep in the jungle in the state of Campeche, Calakmul is one of the most difficult Mayan ruins to get to, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
Climb atop the pyramids there, and you will see nothing but ruins–including, if you look closely on a clear day, the tip of La Danta, a pyramid in modern-day Guatemala that once stood in the lost city of El Mirador and is–by some measures–the tallest pyramid in the world.
The city of Izamal is located vaguely between Valladolid and Merida, and is known primarily for its brilliant color–much of the town is painted bright yellow!
Be sure to check out the Convent of San Antonio of Padua, the beautiful (yellow) architecture downtown, and the markets while there.
Our current favorite archaeological site in Mexico–uncrowded, inexpensive, incredibly well-preserved, and a true hidden gem on the Yucatan peninsula–is located only an hour and a half north of Bacalar, making it easy to add on to your Mexico road trip!
Useful Driving Tips for This Mexico Road Trip Itinerary
Plan to drive only during the day.
With lots of speed bumps (more on that below) and very few street lights, the Yucatan peninsula is not an ideal place to drive at night.
Luckily, this Yucatan road trip itinerary should make it fairly easy to drive during the day only–most days include only a couple hours of driving.
Typically, someone will pump your gas for you.
Most frequently, when you pull up to the gas pump in Mexico, someone will pump your gas for you as well as clean your windshield. You’ll want to provide a small tip for the service.
If you don’t see someone servicing the pumps, though, you can also pump your own gas in some places, so keep an eye on what others are doing!
Keep an eye out for topes.
Topes (in English, speed bumps) are the major way that speed limits are enforced in the Yucatan peninsula, especially in towns and other population centers.
Go over them too fast, and you’ll throw out the suspension of your rental car–proceed carefully and when in doubt, go slow.
Don’t leave anything visible in the car when you park.
This is truly good advice for most of the world, but it especially goes here: visible luggage and belongings left in a parked car can attract thieves. Leave nothing visible.
Check for onsite parking when booking hotels.
It will make your life much simpler if there’s parking onsite at each place you stay in Mexico, and hotels with parking are very easy to find–we’d consider it a road trip mistake to accidentally show up somewhere without parking!
Pick up a Mexican SIM card before you get started.
Having cell phone data with you will make your Mexico road trip through the Yucatan far, far simpler, and buying data is incredibly affordable–consider picking up a SIM card for your phone before you even leave the airport.
FAQ About Taking a Road Trip in the Yucatan Peninsula
Do you need to speak Spanish for this Yucatan road trip?
No, but it will make your trip much, much easier.
While you definitely don’t need to know how to speak Spanish well for this Yucatan itinerary, we recommend learning at least some basic phrases before you go.
How’s the driving?
Truly, we found driving in the Yucatan to be far, far easier than driving in most places we’ve been in Europe.
For most of this Yucatan road trip itinerary, you’ll be driving on flat, well-signed, uncongested highways. After the initial few hours of getting used to driving in Mexico, we found our road trip to be extremely relaxing.
Like in virtually all places around the world, driving is a bit more complex and congested in and around large cities, but not overly difficult for confident drivers.
Is this road trip in Mexico safe?
Safety is a very complicated subject, of course (I discussed a bit more about safety in Mexico here), but generally speaking, yes.
While cartel violence is certainly a problem in Mexico, it very, very rarely touches tourists, and even more rarely touches tourists who avoid going near illegal activities (don’t stumble out of a bar drunk at 3am and try to pick up a prostitute on the way home, basically).
We have spent months in Mexico, spread across many different states, and have always felt supremely safe–just as safe as we feel in an average town in the USA.
Our fellow American travelers do tend to stick to the Riviera Maya (basically the corridor between Cancun and Tulum), but every place on this Yucatan road trip itinerary has a fairly developed tourism structure, with plenty of hotels, restaurants, and tourism services.
Very generally speaking, the people traveling this route are made up of a combination of European and Canadian vacationers (including lots of young families!), as well as Mexican tourists exploring their own country and a fair number of long term travelers/people backpacking the Yucatan.
In other words, while these places are a bit off the beaten path for an average US citizen taking a week off of work to head down to Mexico, they’re not remotely intimidating places to travel once you get the hang of the route, and they feel very safe.
Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary Map
The Best Time to Road Trip the Yucatan Peninsula
The high season for traveling the Yucatan Peninsula runs roughly from mid-December to April, with the biggest crowds (and highest prices) typically found around Christmas, New Yea’s, Spring Break, and Easter.
This is most prominent on the Riviera Maya, though–we’ve traveled the Yucatan peninsula extensively during high season on multiple trips, and have had no issues with crowds or extreme prices outside of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
Hurricane season runs from June to November, and while the odds are long that your trip would be caught up in a hurricane, you can expect more rain and cloudy weather during your Mexico road trip during those months. Lower prices and less crowds might very well be a solid trade-off, though, depending on your travel style.
What to Pack for Your Yucatan Road Trip
Travel Insurance — We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen, and a fast-paced Yucatan road trip is definitely better a case of safe than sorry. We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Mexico.
Cell Phone Holder — This is especially important if you don’t have a reliable co-pilot: the last thing you want to do is be fumbling with the GPS on your phone during your road trip in the Yucatan. Pack a cell phone holder to attach to the car and you’ll be able to drive much more safely!
Additional Car Insurance — Whether you purchase a policy with World Nomads that covers car rental (only some of theirs do, so double-check!), purchase a policy through the rental car company, or something else, be sure you have coverage: it’s worth the peace of mind.
Pacsafe — We can’t recommend our Pacsafe enough: this travel safe is affordable, sturdy, easy to pack, and will help keep your valuables safe in your hotel room (not that you should need to worry much about theft in the Yucatan, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!).
Comfortable Day Bag — We currently use Pacsafe’s sleek anti-theft backpack and love it, but if you don’t want to shell out the cash for this trip, that’s totally understandable. Just aim for something comfortable to wear, not flashy, and medium-sized–we used a Northface Jester backpack for years and loved it as well.
Swim Goggles — We love packing our own goggles when traveling to the beach. They’re cheap, small, easy to pack, and make swimming so much more fun!
Sunscreen — Because sunburns are never a good look in vacation photos.
Purell Hand Sanitizer — We carry this everywhere, and never been sorry to have it floating around in our day bag.
SeaBands & Non-Drowsy Dramamine — If you’re prone to motion sickness like me, I strongly recommend adding SeaBands to your Yucatan packing list. I use them on all boats and the occasional bus, and if things get really bad, take some Non-Drowsy Dramamine as well.