After spending a month in Austin, Texas, I decided to travel onward early this December! My destination? Yucatán, Mexico for a two-week journey! I had been meaning to explore this part of the world for years, and now I can finally cross it off my list. Let’s hit the road!
Arrival at Cancun Airport in the mid-afternoon, then rental car pick-up. This ultra-touristy city only served as a place to sleep for the night before embarking on our road trip the next morning. FYI, while the locals are pretty good drivers, there are tons of speed bumps on the roads (some of which are unmarked) so it’s better to drive during the day!
After two hours of driving, we arrived in Valladolid! This rather pretty city is easy to visit on foot. We discovered narrow streets full of lovely artsy boutiques as we headed toward the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, where we stopped for a visit. After that, we picked up our car again and headed to our first cenote, a kind of natural pit filled with water that is common in the Yucatán Peninsula. We explored the Oxman Cenote, which was surrounded by a hacienda with a pool. It was a bit touristy, but there weren’t too many visitors! A lovely place for a swim!
We left early in the morning to head to Ek Balam, 30 minutes away from Valladolid. We wanted to explore an archaeological Maya site early in the day so as to avoid the heat. We definitely weren’t disappointed—there were only a few tourists, and the site’s small size made it easy to soak up the history and culture. The best part is that visitors can enter into the largest Mayan structure, an impressive 31 meters tall! It was quite an experience, from the gorgeous view of the surrounding jungle to our descent down the stairs without any safety precautions…!
We took to the road again, reaching Chichén Itzá an hour later. We spent the night there and planned to visit the legendary monument the following morning.
At 7:45 a.m., we were already at the entrance to Chichén Itzá to meet our guide (we reserved our French-speaking guide through Secretoo, an intermediary website which offers various excursions in Yucatán). This archaeological site is extremely touristy, which is why it’s so important to get there early! We explored Chichén Itzá for over two hours, accompanied by our guide’s explanations (which were truly essential!). We left at 10:30 a.m., just as more and more tourists were arriving, making for an almost stifling atmosphere. We were glad we had gotten up so early!
Next we drove to Izamal, about an hour away from Chichén Itzá. This “yellow town” is absolutely charming. We walked through the colorful little streets before visiting the Convent of Saint Anthony of Padua.
We headed to Mérida, located an hour away from Izamal. Much larger than our other destinations, this city offered a change of scene! We spent the afternoon along the Paseo de Montejo, a beautiful avenue bordered by opulent houses. We took advantage of the chance to visit the Palacio Canton, a lovely house with a temporary exhibit on the Maya writing system and an interesting photography display. Then we took a break at one of the small cafes along the Paseo de Montejo to unwind!
In the morning, we discovered the historic center of Mérida as well as the Casa Montejo, a beautiful mansion that takes visitors back to another era! The building can be visited fairly quickly but it’s truly a charming place! Next we went for a walk through the city streets, but since the area was crowded with tourists we decided to hit the road again. Next on the itinerary was the “relaxation” part of our trip: we were going to spend two nights just south of Mérida at the Hacienda Temozon, one of the best hotels in the region. This former hacienda-turned-boutique hotel offers an absolutely exceptional setting, from the rooms to the hotel pools to the old engine rooms, which are still visible. Pure bliss!
We spent the better part of our day relaxing at the Hacienda Temozon before taking a drive out to the San Antonio de Mulix cenotes. They were pretty easy to access, yet far enough off the beaten path to make for an exclusive experience. We found two very different cenotes: Xbatun, which is more out in the open, and Dzombakal, which is inside a sort of cave. Both are absolutely beautiful! The water was not too chilly, and we practically had the place all to ourselves. Heaven!
We again took time in the morning to kick back at the hacienda (we wanted to get the most out of it!) before heading to Uxmal, another archaeological site. We waited until 3 p.m. to go there, in the hopes of missing the crowds as well as the hottest part of the day! This particular site is quite large and rather different from Ek Balam, but I personally didn’t find it as attractive.
After a copious breakfast, we drove out to Bacalar. The journey took 4.5 hours, so it was obviously not the most interesting day on our Yucatán road trip. Driving through the region can be pretty exhausting what with all of the speed bumps, the dogs trying to cross the road, and the other drivers, but we made sure to stay alert and everything went well. We arrived at our hotel alongside the Bacalar lagoon in mid-afternoon and were immediately enchanted by the exceptional setting! The vacation-like atmosphere truly swept me off my feet.
We dedicated our day to exploring the lagoon: swimming, snorkeling, kayaking… in short, every nautical sport we could think of! We could even have gone on a mini-cruise if we’d wanted to. This idyllic setting is perfect for lounging around, but I’m not a big fan of sitting on my beach towel doing nothing, so I joined in the fun!
In the late morning, we hopped in the car again to go to Tulum, about 2.5 hours away. Tulum is a chic tourist hub on the coast with a fantastic beachside ambience. There are plenty of places to sleep and eat, but one thing is certain—they all charge American prices!
We left very early in the morning to go to Coba. Hidden in the jungle, this archaeological site was one of my favorite destinations. Some of its structures haven’t been renovated, giving the site a more mysterious, adventurous feeling! We even spotted several spider monkeys, much to our delight!
In the afternoon, we found a beach club for lunch and made the most of the seaside atmosphere!
Relaxation in Tulum
We checked out the ruins in Tulum rather early in the morning to avoid the tourist crowds. The site is rather original because of its proximity to the sea, which lends it a much more exotic look than you’d find elsewhere. However, the remaining structures there were much less impressive!
In the afternoon, we drove the two hours back to Cancun for our last evening in Mexico. We had to prepare for an early-morning flight to Miami, our next destination!
Our two-week itinerary could have been a few days shorter; however, we wanted to travel in “relaxed” mode and soak up the Mexican way of life as much as we could without waking up at the crack of dawn every day and wearing ourselves out! You can of course adapt this itinerary according to your needs.
As for luxury experiences…
- A number of excursions are possible for groups or individuals for a higher rate. Such excursions promise a better understanding of Mayan culture.
- In terms of hotels, the heart of the peninsula isn’t exactly full of the world’s best establishments. Nonetheless, you can find several charming boutique hotels, such as the Hacienda Temozon and the Hacienda Mérida VIP, where we stayed. Along the coast, there’s no lack of luxury hotels—in Tulum, for example—but they are clearly overpriced when you consider the quality of the rooms and the service!