Roadtrip Yucatán

A week exploring some of Mexico’s lesser-seen wonders

Mexico is the perfect destination for a leisurely vacation sipping cocktails on the beach. But it’s even better for adventures. Here, nature astounds with mountains higher than Colorado, forests larger than Alaska, and canyons deeper than Arizona. History mystifies with classically designed Spanish colonial structures juxtaposed alongside ancient Mayan pyramids steeped in cryptic narratives and chilling sacrificial lore. Across the country, there are plenty of extraordinary adventures just a road trip away from even the busiest airports.

Day 1

If you’re visiting the Yucatán, there’s a good chance your flight will arrive in Cancun. As soon as you land, pick up your rental car and hit the road! Although Cancun is replete with lavish resorts and boisterous nightlife, a destination for off-the-beaten-path adventures it is not. Head west towards the charming colonial town of Valladolid. A perfect spot for a low-key lunch, it’s also a great launchpad for exploring curious attractions nearby. There’s Chichén Itzá of course, but there’s also the more relaxed Ek’ Balam to the north, which is the perfect pit-stop along the way to the cosmic pink lagoons of Las Coloradas near Río Lagartos.

Mérida, Mexico

Day 2

Continue west towards the picturesque archways and candy-colored colonial façades of Mérida. On the way, don’t miss a stop at Izamal. Although a tiny village in Yucatán by both population and area, Izamal is home to over a dozen Mayan temples and the sun-splashed golden walls of an enormous Franciscan monastery. Pre-colonial times, it was the center of worship of the Mayan god of the sun. Today, the vibe is fittingly cheerful, with blocks and blocks of narrow streets all drenched in the same uplifting shade of marigold yellow.

Day 3

From Mérida, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to hop on La Ruta Maya, one of the most popular itineraries followed by backpackers in Central America. Go south towards Uxmal, one of Mexico’s best-preserved Mayan temples. From there, you’ll be within a short drive of a handful of other less-touristy sites, like Kabah, Labna and Mayapan.

Day 4

Start heading east toward the Mayan site of Cobá and the Riviera Maya. This route ventures through prime territory for cenotes—natural sinkholes caused when caverns collapse—revealing hidden underground pools framed in hanging vines and exposed tree roots, stunning stalactites and spotlight-like openings to the world above. Some have developed parking lots and changing rooms, while others are simply marked by a lone ladder descending into the secret abyss below. Drive slowly and don’t avoid the Yucatán back roads; some of the most magical (and least-populated) cenotes are marked by small, hand-painted roadside signs. 

yucatan

Day 5

Before approaching Tulum, you’ll pass through the Mayan pueblo of Francisco Hu May. Here, you can shop for dream catchers, hammocks, wicker lanterns and other artisan goods directly from the artists. See the workshops firsthand, chat with the locals, and snag beautiful original pieces for a third of what they cost in the coastal souvenir shops.

Day 6

After exploring the incredible cliff-side ruins of Tulum, head south through the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Framed by electric turquoise waters on either side, the treacherous lone gravel road of the Boca Paila Peninsula weeds out weary travelers before eventually reaching a dead end at Punta Allen. Here, you’ll find wide beaches of pristine white sand all to yourself, save for a few wandering flamingos and sunbathing iguanas. An afternoon here is the perfect tranquil conclusion to your trip before departing from Cancun.