White sand beaches and crystal clear water, Mayan ruins, natural pools called “cenote”, beautiful colonial towns: if there is a paradise on earth, it must be in Yucatan!
WELCOME TO YUCATAN!
The Yucatan peninsula is located at the south-east of Mexico, close to the borders of Belize and Guatemala. It is bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico and is divided into three states: Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan.
With charming colonial towns, fascinating Mayan ruins, beautiful beaches and gorgeous natural scenaries, it is no wonder that the Yucatan peninsula is Mexico’s number one travel destination! What’s more its weather is just perfect! So if you are looking for a place to escape winter, while enjoying the beach and learning about ancient civilizations, Yucatan is your dream destination!
The Yucatan peninsula is known as the land that saw the rise of an impressive ancient civilization: the Mayas! The territory of these fascinating “pyramid builders” used to stretch from southeastern Mexico to Guatemala and Belize. They were living a prosperous life until the Spanish conquistadors led by Hernan Cortez arrived in 1511.
Today, some of these ancient cities remain impressively well preserved. Tulum is one of the famous ones due to its incredible location on a cliff overlooking the sea! Many pyramids were built all over the peninsula and some of them can be visited today, like the very famous Chichen Itsa among others. But some others are still “hidden” as the jungle gradually grew over the ancient cities over the years when the Mayas left.
THE LEGACY OF SPANISH CONQUISTADORS
When they arrived at the beginning of the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors settled in Yucatan and started buildings colorful cities. Today their legacy is still palpable in Yucatan.
DREAM BEACHES ON THE RIVIERA MAYA
When you think about Yucatan, the first thing that comes to your mind is probably dream beaches, white sand, crystal clear waters… The Riviera Maya does have some pretty incredible beaches to offer. For those who wander off the over crowded Cacun, the peninsula reserves many beautiful surprises.
A cenote is a geological formation particularly common in the Yucatan peninsula. It is the result of the dissolution and collapse of limestone bedrocks exposing underground water. Thousands of cenotes can be found in Yucatan. Some of them are very famous and some others are not, but they are all equally amazing. Sometimes you must ask local people to find them. All cenotes are different but there are three main kinds:
- some look like an open natural pool (like the Cenote Azul or Dzibilchaltun),
- some others are a semi open deep circular pool (like the one in Chichen Itsa),
- some others are located in caves (like the ones in Valladolid)
OUR ITINERARY FOR THIS TRIP
I had the chance to take a tour of the Yucatan peninsula during two weeks and this trip was one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken.
We flew from Mexico City to Cancun and rented a car at the aiport. Over the two following weeks, we would drive all around this beautiful peninsula. We knew more or less where we wanted to go but had no precise plan. No hotel was booked. We were embarking on a new adventure! Here is our itinary:
- 3 nights in Tulum to enjoy the beautiful Carribean Sea
- 1 night at the gorgeous Bacalar lagoon
- 3 nights in the colonial city of Campeche
- 2 nights in the colonial city Merida
- A night in the “pueblo magico” Izamal
- 2 nights in colonial city of Valladolid
- 3 nights on the dream island of Holbox: the cherry on the cake of our adventure!
The first part of our trip took us from Cancun to Bacalar, on the Riviera Maya.
After renting the car from the airport, we went straight south and did not stay a minute in the over touristy Cancun. I had heard many times that Cancun was not Mexico with its huge all-inclusive hotel resorts, that it did not appear very appealing. Great hotel resorts would not be part of this trip: we would go for the little cabins by the beach…
The plan was to drive directly from Cancun to Tulum. The highway was extremely pleasant to drive and there were many signs on the road so it was easy to find our way (it was not always the case during this trip…).
As we were on our way to Tulum, we saw signs on the road for the “cenote Azul”. I had never seen a cenote before and I was curious.. It was already very hot and we thought that a swim in a cenote would be nice. I had no idea that I was about to discover such a gorgeous place…
SWIMMING IN EL CENOTE AZUL CRYSTAL CLEAR WATERS
When we arrived, we were told that there were many mosquitos by the cenote and that we had to wear a repellent. Only natural repellents were allowed, which we were able to buy on the spot. We started walking towards the cenote and we were glad that we were wearing this repellent as there were indeed many mosquitos. But the repellent was very efficient so we quickly forgot about them.
And then here it was. This gorgeous natural wonder. I had never seen anything like this.
The natural pool was set in the middle of a jungle-like landscape. The water was transparent and we could see little fishes swim. It was nice and warm. It looked like paradise to me.
We started walking around the cenote, amazed by this incredible place, taking dozens of photos and then we jumped in. The water was delicious! We stayed about an hour and then hopped back into the car.
SPENDING 3 DAYS BY A DREAM BEACH IN TULUM
We then quicly reached Tulum. A peaceful hippie atmosphere reigns in this lovely beach town located on the “Riviera Maya”. Tulum is every backpackers’ paradise.
We had no reservation as we had no precise travel plan so we first started looking for a hotel. A few happened to be full but we found a room relatively easily. We were in June. We stayed in a little cabin, with a hammock and an amazing view on the Caribbean Sea. What else could we ask for? We stayed three nights in this little cabbin. We spent a lot of time on the beach but we also visited the famous Maya city.
EXPLORING THE ANCIENT MAYA CITY
We drove to the famous archeological site from our hotel. It is not far away at all. If you do not have a car, you will easily reach the site in taxi or by bike.
The site, which was built on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries. We joked that Tulum was like an ancient time beach ressort. The Mayas had chosen well their location!
FARNIENTE IN AKUMAL
On our last day, we decided to discover another beach and drove north to Akumal, which is equally beautiful.
ENJOYING AN AMAZING VIEW ON THE SEVEN-COLOR LAGOON IN BACALAR
After a few days in Tulum, we hopped back into our car and drove south towards another beautiful place: Bacalar. We were now very close to the border with Belize.
Bacalar is famous for its lagoon. It is said that the waters are made up of seven different colors. You can take a boat which will take you to different parts of the lagoon.
Unfortunately, a big tropical storm was coming our way and the sky was grey. The lagoon did not have its usual beautiful colors. We still enjoyed our time in Bacalar and took a boat to explore the lagoon.
This was the view from our room…
With Bacalar, we finished exploring the East side of the peninsula. We then went west, towards Campeche. The initial plan was to stop at the Calakmul ruins on the way but the tropical storm that arrived at that point made us go straight to Campeche.
A few tips if you are doing a roadtrip around the Yucatan peninsula
- When is the best time to visit the Yucatan peninsula?
The best time of the year to visit Yucatan is from November to May, outside the rain season. The tropical storms can be pretty violent so it is better to avoid this period. We visited the peninsula in June and the rain season had just started.
- Don’t forget to pack:
– a good mosquito repellent. Mosquitos will attack you at night otherwise! Try to buy a natural repellent. You will not be able to swim in some cenotes otherwise. But don’t worry if you forgot your repellent, you will usually be able to buy some before entering the cenote site.
– make sure to have a detailed paper map with you if you are driving around Yucatan. Sometimes there will be no sign on the road…
– good shoes that you will use to climb pyramids. Climbing a pyramid is not that easy because the steps are high and narrow. Climbing a pyramid wearing flip flops would be the best way to twist your ankle!
– Long sleeves tshirts and jeans (even though it is going to be hot) to avoid mosquito bites if you visit a pyramid in the jungle after a rainy day.
– And of course the usual to lie in the sun on the beach: sunglasses, hat, swim suit, a pareo, etc.