I am the sort of person who likes to explore when I travel. I like to get out there in the thick of it, meet the locals, have new experiences and immerse myself in the culture. I try my best to do this wherever I go, and Mexico was no exception.
I spent two weeks roads tripping around the Yucatan Peninsula and the neighbouring region of Quintana Roo. It is incredibly diverse. I experienced stunning scenery, ancient ruins, pristine beaches and one of the natural wonders of the world. This beautiful country has taken a piece of my heart. I adored exploring it and I hope that this blog post inspires you to explore it too.
Day 1 & 2: Mexico City
We flew into Mexico City (purely because flights were cheaper this way) and stopped off for a couple of days. This huge metropolis is one of the busiest cities in the world with a population of around 20 million, as a result it is hugely diverse cityscape to explore!
I highly recommend exploring Chapultepec Park. This vast green space contains the National Museum of Anthropology, which is incredible, as well as the Chapultepec Castle which gives stunning views across the city. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Historic Old Town which is home to the Mexico city Metropolitan Cathedral, The National Palace, The Palace of Fine Arts and numerous museums; all of which are worth a visit.
You can read my full Mexico City food guide here but I highly recommend grabbing a drink at El Mayor overlooking the square, it has an incredible view.
Head to Telcel and get a local SIM card for your phone. You will need internet to navigate on your road trip, and using local providers is much cheaper than international roaming.
Day 3, 4 & 5: Holbox
We caught a domestic flight to Cancun but got out of the city as soon as possible, its huge resorts and all inclusive lifestyle isn’t something we’re fond of. Instead we picked up a hire car (from Enterprise) and drove to the small village of Chiquila, left our car at the port and hoped on a ferry over to Isla Holbox. Here we checked into our hotel, Villas HM Palapas, and grabbed sunset drinks on the rooftop.
Here were our favourite discoveries and activities on the island:
- Walk along the sandbanks at low tide, you can go far out to sea with the crystal blue water just up to your ankles.
- Hire bikes and cycle both ways out of the town. In one direction you’ll find the old town and Punta Coco’s beach, which has a stunning lagoon ands is often home to flamingos. In the other, a nature reserve with deserted beaches you can lounge on.
- If its whale shark season, be sure to hop on a boat to go and watch them. Just ensure you go with a small boat, small group and that the company do not feed the whale sharks; to ensure you have an ethical and enjoyable experience.
- Kite surfing has huge business with the coastal winds, sign up for a lesson and feel the thrill!
- Relax. Holbox is a sleepy island with little wifi and no phone signal, take this opportunity to switch off.
- Check out Amaranto restaurant on a rooftop overlooking the square, its hidden from view but it serves incredible local food. It is literally just a local woman cooking in her kitchen for you, she singled handedly runs the restaurant and its such an awesome authentic experience.
- Hire a crappy car. You don’t want to be driving around in a flash BMW in Mexico, nothing shouts “I am a clueless tourist with an expensive laptop in the boot” more!
- Ensure you take cash, most places don’t accept card and there are only a couple of ATMs on the island which are often broken.
Day 6, 7 & 8: Merida
We woke up early, took the ferry and set off to Merida, stopping off at two places along the way:
- Vallodolid. This small town is vest known for its beautiful cenotes. Cenotes are large sinkholes which are often totally or partially underground. Their origin is linked to the meteorite which wipe out the dinosaurs, and there are many across the peninsula. They are stunning with clear waters, the perfect location for a swim. My favourite one in Vallodolid was Cenote Zaci which is literally in the centre of town. It has a huge platform you can jump off, perfect for thrill seekers like me! There is also an amazing Mexican chocolate shop in the main square, don’t miss it.
- Izamal – This small town is known as the “yellow city”. park up and explore it on foot, with its quaint cafes and beautiful yellow walls its the perfect spot for a coffee stop.
We then checked into our hotel, Case Lacanda in Merida and buckled up for a few days exploring the area. Here are our top recommendations:
- Visit Chichen Itza. It is one of the seven new wonders of the world after all! This huge mayan site is best explored with a local guide, which you can find at the entrance. It is one of the busiest places in Mexico though, so get there when the doors open to avid the crowds.
- Swim in Cenotes. Near to Chichen Itza are the Homun cenotes. These are usually fairly quiet and are absolutely stunning. Be sure to ask a local for their recommendations as they can show you the ones with less crowds.
- Drive down Ruta Puuc. This route located south of Merida is nothing short of epic. It takes in the Uxmal ruins and then weaves along the Kabah, Sayil and Labna ruins too. The further along the route you go, the less people you see. We had most of the ruins to ourselves! Do not miss this, it was one of the highlights of our trip.
- Eat. Merida has some amazing restaurants and cafes. Our favourites were LoQueHay, Numen, Rincon Vegano, District Vegano and Viva La Bakery – all vegan friendly. When it comes to coffee, we loved Latte Quatro Sette which is instagram heaven which white marble tables and beautifully presented drinks.
You need a car to explore Merida and the surrounding area. Public transport is poorly linked and many attractions are an hour or two away on four wheels.
Day 9 & 10: Lake Bacalar
We buckled up and set off on a long car journey down to Bacalar, about 5 to 6 hours total. Be warned, there aren’t many towns along the way so grab some food for lunch in Merida and take it with you. You will be rewarded for you efforts with the beauty of Lake Bacalar. This relatively untouched area of Mexico isn’t overly commercialised, yet, so you can to really experience authentic Mexico.
We stayed in the nearby city of Chetumal, but you can stay in the town of Bacalar itself if you prefer. In terms of what to do, Lake Bacalar is pretty chilled and the perfect location to relax for a day or two. It is known as the lagoon of seven colours because of its stunning crystal clear waters which are numerous shades of turquoise and blue. If you’re feeling active you can kayak across the lake and over to the Cenote Negro. On foot, the town of Bacalar itself is super cute and worth exploring, with beautiful street art adorning many of the walls. If sunbathing is your jam, I recommend driving to the Cabanas Panto-Ha which on a weekday is a quiet grassy spot with direct access to the lake (although on the weekend it is full of locals!). When it comes to food, I recommend El Manati for breakfast and Mango y Chile for lunch; both have extensive plant based options.
Travel tip: Avoid Cenote Azul if you don’t like crowds or music, it is busy and loud!
Day 11, 12, 13 and 14: Tulum
Our final stop on our trip was the extremely popular town of Tulum. Now, I can’t pretend like this was off the beaten path in any way, shape or form. It is definitely mainstream AF, but nevertheless it was an enjoyable slice of luxury at the end of a whirlwind adventure! You can read my full Tulum travel guide here and my full Tulum food guide here; but if you want three quick fire highlights I’ve got your back:
- Scuba Diving the Cenotes. A once in a lifetime unique experience which you simply have to experience.
- Kin Toh. This place is instagram famous for a reason. It is the most stunning dinner and drinks spot in Tulum. Book in advance for 6pm, their opening time, to get the best table in the house and access to the rooftop “nests” for sunset before the crowds flood in.
- Cenote Tamcach-Ha. Get there when it opens at 8am to have it to yourself. It is absolutely a stunning, is home to local birds and bats and has a 10 metre jumping platform. The dream.
Tulum is 4+ times more expensive then the rest of Mexico. In Merida we could get a three course meal and wine for two for £17 total. In Tulum you can get a single course for that price. Brace yourself.
I hope that this travel guide and itinerary has provided you with inspiration and motivation to get out there and experience what Mexico has to offer! You can read more about my experiences here:
Tulum Travel Guide (I highly recommend you read the “conscious travel” section in this article, it is relevant to all of Mexico).