Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is a fascinating mix of gasp-worthy exquisite beaches, spectacular Mayan ruins, and freshwater cenotes for swimming in. And that’s just for starters. There are so many unique things to do in the Yucatán!
The peninsula stretches across three states: Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán state.
With the warm turquoise Caribbean Sea to the east and the shallow lagoons in the Gulf of Mexico towards the northeast, this scenic peninsula is home to flamingos, sea birds, and whale sharks. You’ll also find jaguars, crocodiles, parrots, and so much more here.
In fact, Yucatán is home to more than 200,000 animal species in its mangroves, reefs, savannas, forests, and coastal lagoons. It’s one of earth’s most biodiverse areas!
If you get off the beaten path a bit beyond famous Chichen Itza (often mobbed and over loved by tourists), you can still climb some truly stunning Mayan archaeological sites with nary a visitor to be found.
Mayan culture still thrives in the Yucatán today. In fact, in some rural pueblos, Yucatec Maya is the first language for locals. (More than 1 million people in Mexico and Belize still speak it.)
Be reverent as a traveler here as you enjoy the rich cultural and natural heritage here on the Yucatán Peninsula.
You can help preserve these treasures for future generations by touring with eco-friendly local guides, staying in independent family-run boutique hotels, and embracing sustainable tourism with your choices.
Things to Do in Yucatan
1. Visit a Pristine Island at Isla Holbox
Up until recently, Isla Holbox (pronounced “Ole-BOSH”)—a two hour drive from Cancun—was somewhat of a secret…even though it’s one of the very best places to visit in the Yucatán.
Without a reef for snorkelers, it’s remained free from the skyscraper hotels you’ll find closer to Cancun along Riviera Maya.
And it’s paradise found! A long skinny stretch of island shaped a bit like a boomerang, Isla Holbox still feels pure and untouched by mass tourism…although lots of construction says that’s about to change.
To get to Holbox, you’ll drive to the tiny port town of Chiquila and then take a 30 minute ferry ride to the island. Or…support the local economy and catch a ride in a fishing boat as we did.
There are no cars on the island…just golf cart taxis that splash through rain-soaked potholes along dirt roads through the jungle to stunning white sand beaches.
Wade way out in ankle deep water until it’s deep enough to swim. Or sun on luxe daybeds for the price of a margarita.
In town, tiny stalls of tequila sellers and tortillerias mix with unique, upscale palapa resorts and hotels (no skyscrapers yet!).
The foodie scene is on point here with everything from ceviche and tacos to designer sushi.
Rooftop bars come with panoramic views and swimming pools. The nighttime bioluminescence at Punta Coco is truly fairy dust in the water.
(Quick sidenote: Skip the bioluminesence tours here. There’s crocs in these waters! I know because we hustled out of the water in the dark on a tour when we saw one.
Instead, just google map “bioluminescence” and walk over to wave a white t-shirt in the water; it illuminates the sparkling plankton. You’ll enjoy the full experience minus the danger.)
The big draw for snorkelers here is the opportunity to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish alive anywhere in the world. You can see these gentle, slow moving giants between May and September.
However, do your own research when you’re on island to find a reputable eco-friendly local tour guide.
The whale sharks are under siege with too many tourists vying for their attention by too many boats at once. Ask before you book about your guide’s policies for sharing time with other boats to not overwhelm the whale sharks.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the Three Island Tour, however. Our half day tour with a truly wonderful eco-friendly guide took us to swim in a freshwater spring at Yalahau Lagoon first.
Then we went bird watching at Isla Pajaros (Bird Island)…home to flamingos in some seasons (binoculars included).
And we ended this memorable day at Isla de la Pasion (Passion Island), which is everyone’s deserted tropical island fantasy come to life.
You can check price and availability on the Three Island tour here.
2. Visit Mayan Ruins
The Maya civilisation was spread throughout southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala and it is estimated that at its peak the population reached two million people.
They built great cities across the region, the ruins of some of which have been excavated and are open to visitors.
The most famous Mayan Ruin in the Yucatán Peninsula is Chichen Itza.
One of the new Seven Wonders of the World, this archaeological site is also the most popular with visitors – many of whom take day trips from Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
What makes Chichen Itza so special is that the Maya designed the Kukulkán Pyramid so that on the spring and autumn equinox, the movement of the shadow cast by the sun makes it seem like a snake is slithering up or down the stone steps.
I’d highly recommend visiting Chichen Itza, but try to arrive early—at opening time if you can—before it gets too busy and too hot.
If you are traveling around the rest of the Yucatán Peninsula, there are plenty of additional Mayan ruins to explore too, each with its own unique style and reason to visit.
Other Mayan sites in the Yucatán include Coba, which is a bit more off the beaten track. The walk through the forest to reach the temples makes you feel like you are the first person to discover the ruins.
If you have to decide between Chichen Itza or Tulum ruins, try to visit them both but go to Chichen Itza for the history and culture, and to Tulum for the picturesque location!
You can book a guided day trip to Chichen Itza that also includes a visit to picturesque town of Valladolid and swimming in a cenote.
Check price and availability on the Chichen Itza tour here.
Claire | Tales of a Backpacker
3. Dive in a Cenote
Underneath Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula flows an extensive system of underground rivers and caves with about 30,000 cenotes serving as openings to the surface.
Cenotes are freshwater-filled sinkholes that form when the roofs of limestone caverns collapse. Rain water filtering through the ground into the cave system is crystal clear.
Scuba diving in the Mexican cenotes is a bucket list experience for most divers. In fact, driving with a jeep through the jungle to dive in an underwater cave is a very different and amazing dive experience.
The jungles surrounding Tulum are home to many cenotes, each with its own unique highlights to explore.
Dos Ojos is a very popular cenote for diving and snorkeling with great facilities, such as dressing rooms and gear rental.
You only need an open water qualification to dive here, the water is not very deep.
Snorkeling in this cenote is mostly done near the entrance, while divers can explore two different caverns with stalactites and amazing underwater columns.
The cave above the water at Dos Ojos is filled with bats. During a guided snorkeling tour, you get a dive light and your guide can lead you through the dark caverns, seeing bats, cave structures and awesome underwater scenery.
Carwash cenote is another site that can be dived with an open water qualification and that is suitable for snorkeling. Small crocodiles are sometimes seen here.
The cenotes ‘The Pit’ and ‘Angelita’ are two excellent locations for deeper diving and an advanced dive qualification is required to dive here.
You can do a five hour certified guided dive tour at two cenotes. You’ll choose between Cenote Dos Ojos, Casa Cenote, and Gran Cenote depending on your skill and interest. Equipment and lunch are included.
Check price and availability on the guided Tulum dive tour here.
Campbell and Alya | Stingy Nomads
4. Snorkel El Cielo
El Cielo in Cozumel might just be one of the most beautiful places in all of Yucatán and Mexico.
This incredible beach and nearby snorkeling area is known for the hundreds of starfish that cover the bottom of the sea and make this a piece of paradise.
Mexico is known for its delicious street food and stunning scenery, both of which can be found on the small island of Cozumel.
You can easily reach the island via the ferry which departs from Playa del Carmen.
To get to El Cielo, you’ll have to join a guided boat tour or hire a private boat to take you there.
The latter will be the more expensive option and a snorkeling tour will be a good fit if you’re wanting to see different places around the island.
El Cielo is known for its crystal-clear waters and calm seas so it’s perfect for snorkeling.
Don’t forget to bring a GoPro to snap some underwater pictures. If you’re lucky you’ll see beautiful fish species and maybe even small reef sharks nearby.
You can enjoy a two-for-one snorkeling and swimming catamaran tour to the famous underwater reefs at El Cielo, Palancar, and Columbia. The tour includes ceviche and complimentary cocktails too!
Check price and availability of the El Cielo snorkel and swim tour here.
Victoria | Guide Your Travel
Read more on Mexico travel:
• Ultimate guide to Isla Holbox
• Mexico travel tips
• Wine tasting in Valle de Guadalupe
• Day Trip to Rancho La Puerta Spa in Baja California
5. See the Yellow City
Known as La Ciudad Amarilla (the Yellow City, in English), Izamal is one of Yucatán’s best kept secrets.
This small town of no more than 15,000 inhabitants is so brightly colored that just catching a glimpse of it will put you in a good mood!
Izamal’s nickname is due to the fact that all of its colonial era buildings are painted yellow…with just details of white. The reasons for that are unknown.
One theory suggests that the city was painted yellow in 1993 to honor Pope John Paul II, who visited; in fact, yellow and white are the colors of the flag of the Vatican.
Another theory suggests that the color is a reference to the time during which the Maya worshipped the sun god…that the city is painted yellow to resemble the sun.
What’s certain is that this is one of the most fun places to photograph in all of Mexico!
Landmarks you should not miss include the Convento de San Antonio, built by the Spaniards in 1553 on top of Ppapp-Hol-Chac temple and the Kinich Kakmoo Pyramid, located just outside the center of town.
You can enjoy beautiful views of the city. Make sure to also pop by the Mercado Municipal.
Izamal is located about 45 miles from Mérida, the state’s capital. You’ll find it on the way to Chichen Itza and if you have your own car or join a guided tour you can even visit them on the same day.
Alternatively, you can easily get there by colectivo (they depart from Calle 65) or by bus (buses leave from the Noreste Bus Terminal).
Claudia | My Adventures Across the World
6. Eat Seafood Tacos
No trip to the Yucatán can be considered complete without a taste of the best local cuisine. Of course, Mexico is famous for many dishes, but none are as popular as tacos.
To be more specific to the Yucatán, it’s the seafood tacos provided by the abundant coastline that makes this area so popular.
The best part is, all over the Yucatán, you will find these delicious seafood tacos. In Tulum, you must try El Camello Jr.
This place comes highly recommended by locals in the area and is now one of the most famous places to eat in Tulum.
If you’re slightly north in Playa del Carmen, then pop into El Oasis for some of the best seafood tacos you’ll ever try.
Here, a taco starts at only 20 pesos, and the shrimp is so fresh. The only place to try similar quality shrimp tacos is in Puerto Vallarta.
You can’t forget Cancun either. Although known as a huge tourist destination, you can still find authentic tacos in the city.
Los de Pescado has to be an all-time favorite, although it might be a little far to travel for those staying on the hotel strip.
Instead, head to Las Pescadillas Tacos & Chela, who might be a little more expensive but certainly worth the price.
Daniel | Destinationless Travel
7. Swim in Bacalar Lagoon of Seven Colors
Bacalar Lagoon has earned the nickname the Maldives of Mexico, after the Instagram famous Maldives Islands and their crystal-clear blue waters.
Besides the water, there’s even an overwater bungalow you can stay in while visiting Bacalar.
The Mayans, who are native to the Yucatán Peninsula, call Bacalar the Lagoon of Seven Colors, as you can see seven shades of blue in the water. The lake ranges in depths from one-foot to 200-feet-deep.
In the shallow, the water shows bright blue, but in the deeper parts of the lake, it appears as a deep, indigo blue.
Bacalar Lake, located in the town of Bacalar, is the second largest freshwater lake in Mexico. The water is warm year-round, so it’s the perfect place to visit at any time of year.
Some of the best things to do here include taking a boat tour around the lake, where you’ll visit the Canal de Piratas (Pirate’s Chanel), Isla de Pajaros (Bird’s Island) and Bacalar cenotes.
You can also go kayaking or SUP paddle boarding, and of course, just swim around or relax in the water hammocks.
Bacalar is only about 30 minutes from the Mexico-Belize border. For this reason, you can even do a day trip to Caye Caulker, Belize, or just continue your travels into Belize after exploring Mexico.
Check price and availability on the Bacalar boat tour here.
Shelley | Travel Mexico Solo
8. Take a Stroll in Mérida
There’s no shortage of beautiful things to see in Merida, known as La Ciudad Blanca, or the White City.
Some of the best things to do in this Yucatán colonial city are located along and around the Paseo de Montejo — the best street in Merida!
The paseo, which literally means “walkway,” is a tree-lined street full of history. It has some of the best restaurants in Merida, most iconic buildings, coolest shops, historic monuments, interesting museums, hip bars, and more.
The Paseo Montejo is about 13 city blocks long, or about two miles (3.2 km) from end to end. Merida visitors will want to walk the whole thing, as there’s a lot to see, do, and photograph.
Start at the southern end on Calle 47 (47th Street) at the small park called El Remate. From there, walk north, passing the old French mansions in Merida, like Museo Palacio Canton, Casa Montejo 495 (AKA Las Casas Gemelas) and Quinta Montes Molina. All three have been turned into museums.
To pick up some souvenirs and do a bit of shopping, head to Casa Tho Concept House, Posheria Merida and La Boutik by La Cúpula, the boutique shop inside Rosas & Xocolate Hotel.
Your walk down Paseo Montejo will end at the Monumento a la Patria, on the northern end of the street.
This impressive monument, made by Colombian sculptor Romulo Rozo, features more than 300 hand-carved figures that chronicle hundreds of years of Mexican history.
While you’re in Merida, be sure to taste all the Yucatán specialties on a street food walking tour.
This three-hour tour includes stops for fruit juices, seafood tacos, ‘cochinita pibil’ (slow roasted pork) and ‘panuchos’ (tortillas stuffed with refried black beans)…and that’s just for starters!
Check price and availability on the street food walking tour of Merida here.
Shelley | Travel Mexico Solo
9. Snorkel with Sea Turtles at Playa Tortuga
When looking for things to do in the Yucatán, why not give snorkeling with sea turtles a try?
Playa Tortuga in Akumal offers travelers the unique opportunity to snorkel and swim in some of the region’s most calm crystal clear waters.
To be able to snorkel with the turtles, there are guides from the local cooperatives that will provide any information needed along with some rules to respect and follow before entering the water.
Aside from the turtles, expect to see manta rays, sea urchins, corals, reefs, and other rare colorful fish.
Many people choose to do this activity as part of a tour which can be better for those who are staying in Playa del Carmen or Tulum.
Tours usually include transport, admission, and all the snorkeling equipment needed for a fixed price. There are showers and changing facilities on site.
In addition to swimming with the turtles, one full day tour includes a visit to Tulum’s Mayan ruins, and a refreshing swim in an underground cenote.
Once here, there are also other things to do in Akumal such as visit Aktun Chen, a scenic rainforest park, and a visit to Half Moon Bay which is great for visitors who wish to extend their stay and spend more time on the beach.
All and all, Playa Tortugas in Akumal gives its visitors a chance to get closer to nature than ever. Don’t miss it.
Dan | Layer Culture
10. Ogle the Pink Salt Lakes at Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas is a small fishing village in the Ría Lagartos biosphere on the Yucatán coast.
It’s famous for its gorgeous and Instagram-friendly pink salt lakes, and rightly so, but it’s smart to remember that the water isn’t guaranteed to be pink all year round.
The color depends on the sun, cloud cover, and the micro-organisms (algae, plankton, shrimp) in the water.
Remember, there’s no swimming or wading in the pink water no matter how much you want that photo because the lakes are part of an active, working business.
If too many people get in the water it’ll kill off the algae and scare off the wildlife. To visit Las Coloradas, you’ll need to join a tour.
Take one that includes visiting the astoundingly beautiful nearby beach, flamingo spotting, mud baths and fish nibbling your feet. It’s a lot of fun.
You can book one in Mérida, from other spots along the coast such as the village of Rio Lagartos or pick one up at Las Coloradas itself if you can get yourself there.
You can even do a tour in one long day from Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen. Check price and availability on a tour from these places here.
Without a tour, however, you won’t be able to really explore the area.
Looking for more resources on Yucatán? Check out Mexico Cassie’s books on Yucatán with Kids and Moving to Merida.
Cassie |Mexico Cassie
11. See Starfish and Flamingos at Pueblo Magico
Located on the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, Sisal was a very important village during the colonial times as the main port town for the trade business with Europe, until its neigbou Progreso took over.
However, it’s not long ago that the name of Sisal made a come back as one of the cutest beach towns in Yucatán where tourists and locals alike would go and relax on the wide and windy white sand beach.
Although it’s not the Caribbean coast, you will be fascinated by spectacular shades of green and blue of the water, especially when the winds calm down and the ocean becomes flat.
It’s a beautiful and safe place to swim and relax, and you may also find starfish and other marine creature swimming close to the shore, if you are lucky.
But Sisal is more than a beach town, too. It’s full of pleasant surprises, especially for nature lovers.
In the town’s backyard, you can admire an extremely wide territory that stretches from Celestun all the way to Progreso and further, where five varieties of mangroves thrive among lagoons and peten mangroves.
This is home to pink flamingos and many other pretty birds.
Although it’s a protected area, it is possible to explore parts of it, by joining a kayak, paddleboarding or boat tour with knowledgeable local guides that will be thrilled to show you their beloved home.
Sisal has recently been renamed “Pueblo Magico” to draw more tourists.
While locals feel the new name is attracting the wrong kind of tourism, there is a lot of magic here. It’s worth visiting while respecting the local businesses and fragile environment.
Isabella | Lets Travel to Mexico
12. Day Trip to Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun.
Despite its proximity to the party center of Riviera Maya, the vibe on Isla Mujeres is much more relaxing. This makes it an amazing place to visit on a day trip from Cancun, or even for a longer stay.
Despite being just five miles long, this small but mighty island offers a variety of things to do even on a day trip. The best way to see and do everything there is by renting a golf cart.
Visitors using a golf cart longer than three hours (which is pretty much everyone) will find it cheaper to rent the cart for the day rather than by the hour. Generally, the going rate is 1,100 pesos (~$55 USD) for one day.
there are many options to keep one busy on Isla Mujeres for either a short or long day trip. Drive to Punta Sur to see the Iguanas. See the sunset at Playa Norte.
Even if all a visitor wants to do is eat or drink their way across the island, there are fun bars and quality dining to suit many palates. Some favorites are Mangoes Cafe, Rooster, the Ice Bar, and Isla Brewing Company.
Regardless of how long one visits and what types of activities one enjoys, Isla Mujeres offers something for everyone.
The chill and happy vibe is so different from the parties in Cancun that it’s certainly worth at least one day on your itinerary.
You can do a guided Isla Mujeres snorkeling tour that includes a delicious BBQ fish lunch at the Beach Club.
You’ll snorkel the famous “Lighthouse Reef”, visit the Underwater Museum at the south point on the island, and then snorkel Manchones, the biggest reef on the island.
Check price and availability of the Isla Mujeres snorkel tour here.
Brodi | Our Offbeat Life
13. Go Glamping
Not so many years ago, Tulum was known mainly as a hidden hippy retreat for yogis and backpackers boasting some of the most beautiful beaches in the Yucatán.
Today’s Tulum is hip and trendy with a vibrant nightlife, amazing foodie scene, and a variety of unique accommodations.
Despite the rise in popularity, there still remains a focus on wellness and care for the environment; “eco-chic” is a good description. Plus, the beaches are as stunning as always.
There is plenty to do in this Yucatán hot spot but one of our favorite experiences is to go glamping in Tulum. This style of accommodation is growing all over the world and Tulum is a natural fit with its gorgeous environment.
You’ll find a wide range of Tulum glamping options from basic to luxury both on the beach and in the jungle. Accommodations include canvas safari tents, yurts, geodesic domes and even treehouses.
Amenities also vary with some glampsites offering pools, spas, bars and restaurants while others focus on simple comforts.
One thing all the Tulum glamping spots have in common is that they offer a unique experience and immersion in the incredible natural surroundings of the Yucatán.
Sarah and Nathan | All About Glamping
14. Shop Local Markets in Puerto Morelos
One of the best things to do in Yucatán is to visit Puerto Morelos for shopping and snorkeling.
Located halfway between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, right along the Caribbean Sea, is this little picturesque village. Bright, vivid colored buildings welcome visitors and the adorable town square is a must-see.
One of the top reasons to go to Puerto Morelos is to shop at the artisan market, farmer’s market, and fish market.
This town began as a small fishing village, and the locals open up the markets in the downtown square daily.
Find cute handmade goods, clothing, cigars, hammocks, fresh fruits and veggies and so much more. The fish market has some of the freshest fish in all of the Yucatán Peninsula!
Adventure lovers seek out Puerto Morelos for it’s great snorkeling. Home to the seventh best reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef, snorkel tours leave daily from the town square.
Snorkeling is also possible right off the beach; however the reef is 400 yards from the shore so it’s only recommended for strong swimmers.
In this small group tour, you’ll follow your guide around the reefs just off shore to see some of the world’s most diverse marine life in the world.
Check price and availability on the Puerto Morelos snorkel tour here.
Nikki | She Saves She Travels
15. Explore Cancun Underwater Museum (MUSA)
The Cancun Underwater Museum (Museo Subacuático de Arte – MUSA) is an eco-project ran by a non-profit organization.
Their goal is to provide alternative sites to draw tourists away from the natural coral reefs near Cancun, one of the most visited reefs in the world.
Unfortunately, a high number of visitors can have a negative impact on coral reefs.
In 2009, they purposefully sunk man-made sculptures near Cancun to create new reefs. Over the years, corals have grown on the statues and attracted marine life, and now ,tourists.
Hundreds of thousands of people visit the underwater museum every year for a memorable experience.
There are only a few other underwater museums in the world (Lanzarote in Europe and on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), and Cancun is the most impressive one.
You will need to book a tour to visit the three galleries of the Cancun Underwater Museum. Scuba diving and snorkeling are the best ways to see the sculptures up close.
Be prepared for a lot of swimming though as you move between statues. However, guided tours do cater to visitors of all levels.
Visitors who do not want to get wet can also see the sculptures from a glass-bottom boat.
Statues in two of the three galleries, Punta Nizuc and Punta Sam, are only four meters deep, perfect for snorkeling.
The third gallery, Machones, is deeper (eight meters) and is the best choice for scuba divers.
Check price and availability on a MUSA snorkel or dive tour here.
Eloise | My Favourite Escapes
16. Road trip the Ruta Puuc
The Ruta Puuc is a short circuit in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula that includes some of the most underrated Mayan ruins and natural wonders anywhere.
Ruta Puuc means “itinerary” (ruta) among hills as Puuc in the Mayan language means “hills” (monticulos).
That’s because they are found on a hilly side of the Yucatán Peninsula which is predominantly flat.
The Ruta Puuc is a spectacular itinerary in the Yucatán Peninsula through the Mayan jungle.
It includes the beautiful sites of Uxmal (the most popular), Kabah, Sayil, X-Lapak, Labná, and Oxkintok, located on the way towards Campeche, the Grutas de Calcehtok and the Grutas de Loltún.
Plan on three days to visit it all, especially if you’d also love to browse the small villages that you find along the way and check out some hidden cenotes in the area.
With the exception of Uxmal—which is crowded and full of shops and local vendors—the other sites are smaller and a little wilder, with overgrown weeds among the temples.
Those are the most fascinating ones and there is a good chance that you may find yourself all alone.
There are many cute boutique hotels and haciendas in the area as well, especially around the town of Santa Elena that you can use as a base for relaxing after your daily exploring.
Isabella | Boundless Roads
17. Visit Valladolid
Located just two hours from the coast of the Riviera Maya, Valladolid has quickly become a destination among a variety of travelers.
The town itself features colonial buildings, quite a few churches, and amazing Yucatecan food.
However, the best things to do in Valladolid aren’t necessarily the things to do in the pueblo itself.
This small town is a great place to base yourself to discover nearby ruins, cenotes, and other Yucatán pueblos.
But those that wish to spend more time in Valladolid will be content exploring the historical town as well.
For starters, there’s a rare opportunity to swim at a cenote directly in the center of town. Cenote Zaci is a great place to cool down after a stroll admiring the beautiful buildings.
In addition, folk art lovers can’t miss Casa de los Venados, a private collection of Mexican folk art that is open to the public every morning for a tour.
Valladolid is also a great place to explore Mexican folk art at a local shop, many of which are located near Calz. de Los Frailes.
While you’re there, check out the Convento de San Bernardino de Siena nearby.
In general, Valladolid is a charming town in the Yucatán. It becomes even more desirable when you discover the many places to visit nearby.
You can visit Valladolid in a full day guided tour from Tulim that also includes a stop at Chichen Itza and swimming in a cenote.
Check price and availability on the Valladolid tour here.
Julien | Cultures Traveled
18. Bask in Nature at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
If you are looking to spend time in nature, there’s no better place to visit in Yucatán than Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Covering a whopping 528,000 hectares, Sian Ka’an is the second largest biosphere in Mexico.
It is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the biggest protected habitats in Mexico’s Rivera Maya.
Translated as “Entrance to the Sky” from the Mayan language, Sian Ka’an is home to an incredible array of biodiversity where you can see monkeys, dolphins, all sorts of birds and fish. And, if you get lucky, you can even spot a manatee!
Sian Ka’an is located just outside of Tulum. If you want to visit Sian Ka’an on your own, drive south on Highway 307 toward Bacalar and make a stop at Muyil Mayan ruins. (If you don’t have a car, you can also catch a colectivo).
Muyil is a small archaeological area with several ruins that sees few visitors.
From there, take a walk along the wooden boardwalk that leads to the observation tower and a small pier from where you can catch a boat to Sian Ka’an with a local guide.
Make sure to bring enough cash because credit cards are not accepted. You have to pay separate fees for entrance to Muyil ruins, parking, access to a watch tower and also a boat tour of Sian Ka’an.
And don’t forget to leave enough money to tip your tour guide.
Credit cards are not accepted and there are no ATM’s in the area.
To avoid the crowds, visit early morning. This way, you can enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of this place, watch the animals and enjoy the lazy River, one of the best features of Sian Ka’an, all to yourself.
If you don’t have a car, it’s also possible to visit Sian Ka’an with a guided tour from Tulum. Tours depart early morning and include many stops in the biosphere.
Check price and availability on a half day guided tour of Sian Ka’an here.
Daria | The Discovery Nut
19. See the Sights at Tulum
Tulum is a small place in Yucatán that is popular amongst travelers for its beaches.
The beaches of Tulum are beautiful and perfect to relax for a few days. However, there are so many more things to do in Tulum than just relaxing on the beach.
In Tulum, there is a Maya complex that is unique to visit because of its location. The complex is well preserved and is great to walk through.
The best part is when you arrive at the main complex and look at the sea from the cliff.
The beach, cliff, buildings, palm trees are magnificent to see. At this moment you will hardly believe that you are standing in such a beautiful natural place.
The Maya complex in Tulum is popular so plan ahead to visit when others aren’t.
The vast majority of all travelers visit the complex in the early morning when temperatures aren’t too warm. The downside is that it gets busy during this time.
The complex is open until 5:00 pm so if you arrive at the entrance at 4:00 pm you will probably see a handful of other travelers. Most people are enjoying the beach at this time.
If you follow this insider tip you can enjoy a unique experience in Tulum at a beautiful location!
Alexander | Travel Your Memories
20. Cycle the Beach on Cozumel
One of the best things that you can do in the Yucatán is to take an electric bike tour of Punta Sur Eco Beach Park in Cozumel.
Punta Sur is stunningly beautiful and basically untouched.
It is located on the southern point of Cozumel and is part of a 247-acre (1.00 km2) ecological park that includes the reefs, beaches, lagoons, and forest.
It is home to wide open sandy beaches and wildlife such as sea turtles, iguanas and crocodiles.
There is a large paved road just next to the beach that gently undulates making it an easy bike ride whether you choose to pedal or let the electric bike do most of the work.
Cars are allowed on the road, but it is hardly used so biking is safe.
There are many places to stop and explore marshes and wetlands. In addition, there are look out posts with stunning views of the ocean and the park.
At the end of the paved road, there are a couple of restaurants and beaches that are safe for swimming, too.
For those looking for an escape from busy beaches or to discover hidden gems in Mexico, this is truly an ideal activity.
Check price and availability on the Punta Sur e-bike ride here.
Nicole | Go Far Grow Close
21. Learn about Mayan Culture
The Yucatán has no lack of pristine beaches, heritage sites, luxurious resorts, and soothing sunshine.
The museum is located right on Kukulcan Boulevard and was opened in 2012. It is created by Mexican architect Alberto Garcia Lascurain, covering an area of eight hectares with three exhibition areas.
The exhibition features an impressive collection of Mayan archaeological artifacts that offer insight into the lives and culture of the Mayans.
While heritage sites like Chichen Itza offer a showcase of the architecture, the delicate items are kept in the museum.
Highlights include the state of Quintana Roo, La Mujer de las Palmas (a 12,000-year-old skeleton discovered in a cenote near Tulum), and valuable potteries, beaded jewelry, funerary masks, and monuments from the Mayan sites.
At the back of the museum is an archaeological site of San Miguelito.
It was a former vibrant Mayan port that connects to the Caribbean Sea; the site was abandoned in the mid-16th century when the Spanish conquerors landed in Mexico.
Visitors can see residences, a temple, and an eight-meter-high pyramid.
Kenny | Knycx Journeying
22. Walk 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen
5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen is a must-visit attraction for anyone looking for things to do in the Yucatán area.
Known as the pedestrian strip which runs parallel to the beach, 5th Avenue is home to a host of tourist attractions which include exclusive shops, restaurants, bars, and hundreds of street food options.
No matter what time of the day it is, there is always something new happening that’s designed to cater to visitors.
Many travelers arrive at the strip looking for unique gifts from Mexico that they can carry back home.
Others visit for the exuberant nightlife action that goes on until the early hours of the morning.
One place that is well known for its lively atmosphere and a huge selection of beers is Cerveceria Chapultepec, a great place to visit for a bite to eat and some drinks during an early-evening stroll.
No matter which part of the never-ending avenue is most appealing to its visitor, the cooler evening temperatures are usually the best time to do some shopping and sightseeing.
Fifth Avenue also the longest entertainment strip in the region. It’s a great way to get some exercise after a day of relaxing on the nearby beach.
Dan | Urban Abroad
23. Learn about Mexican Bees
Xkopak Parque Apicola is a bee farm near Valladolid that is a unique outdoor adventure on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Located just 10 blocks south of the main square of Valladolid, the bee apiary offers tours, accommodations, camping, and an open air restaurant.
Mexican bees are very different from the European bees that are common producers of honey.
For one, they are stingless. The excellent 1.5 hour tour will help you understand the importance of the Mexican bees to Mayan culture.
The tour visits a dry cenote where the guide uses stories and videos to explain these local ancient bees.
You will see the natural hives of different types of bees as well as many plants and trees used in Mayan cooking and culture.
You will also have the chance to look into the hives of the Melipona bees which produce a sought after honey traditionally used by Mayan healers.
There is a honey tasting at the end of the tour to sample the various bee products.
Xkopek sells bee related merchandise in their gift shop to support their educational mission to save the ancient Mexican bees.
The tour and tasting costs 120 MXN. If you want to stay longer on the beautiful bee farm, 250 MXN includes the tour, tasting, a meal in the lovely restaurant, and access to the swimming pool and grounds.
Karen | Outdoor Adventure Sampler
Best Places in the Yucatan Peninsula
The best places in the Yucatán peninsula are the ones that call to you!
Whether you want to immerse yourself in sampling fresh ceviche and seafood tacos, explore sparkling white sandy beaches and turquoise oceans, snorkel the many cenotes or road trip ancient Mayan archaeological sites, the Yucatán awaits!