There are a plenty of great things to do in Yucatán. Turquoise bays, ancient ruins and vibrant cities welcome tourists with open arms, cenotes wait to be explored and friendly green sea turtles swim close to meet snorkel divers. Want to experience the best of it? These are the 9 best activities to do on the Yucatán Peninsula (in no particular order).
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1. Chichén Itzá
Modern architects and builders are no match for the Maya. The Maya nailed it. They built the ancient city of Chichén Itzá, which belongs to the list of 7 New World Wonders thanks to its monumental pyramids, temples and sculptures. Visiting it is one of the best things to do in Yucatán!
The most famous structure in the city is The Temple of Kukulkán which had an interesting use in history. To establish authority, the Mayan ruler used to pretend that Kukulkán, the god in the shape of a feathered serpent, was winding down the stairs of the temple. The Mayan folk were scared out of their wits and the ruler had all the respect he wanted. But in real, it was just advanced architectural skills and astronomy knowledge that enabled the incredible game of lights, creating the illusion of a slithering snake.
Find out more in our detailed guide to Chichén Itzá.
One warning: If you indulge in solitude, visiting Chichén Itzá is not for you. The ruins welcome a hell of a lot of tourists; 2.6 million every year, to be precise. But if you don’t mind a bit of crowds, Chichén Itzá is definitely one of the best places in Yucatán. It’s located approximately halfway between Cancún and Mérida, the best way to get there is by car. The opening hours are between 8 AM and 5 PM, and the entrance fee is 533 pesos (27 US dollars). The city is not just a bunch of buildings but rather a spacious complex, so you’ll need 3–5 hours for the visit.
Tip: To make the best of the visit, check out the option of Kukulkán nights and Mayan cuisine tours. Chichén Itzá is a Yucatan attraction you’ll never forget.
Hotel tip: The Lodge at Chichen Itza
Tulum is not only one of the top Mayan cities in Mexico; it’s number one on that list. It’s a walled city which used to be the main port of the region, as well as an important trading center. That’s why it was never short on cash, and why it was full of ostentatious buildings.
The list of things to do in Yucatán can’t go without swimming in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. And it’s the beaches what will grab your attention in Tulum immediately. They lie under the cliffs and walls of the city, sunny and sandy, calling you like sirens. I promise, you won’t resist the call. And you won’t have to; the beaches are accessible to tourists and swimming is allowed.
Tip: Insidious little raccoon-like animals (coatis) live in the area. Don’t feed them, they bite.
The entrance ticket itself is quite cheap, just 80 pesos (4 US dollars). But if you fancy staying in the destination, having lunch or even sleeping in a hotel, prepare to pay a pretty penny. It’s better to sleep in Cancún or any other city, just not in Tulum. The opening hours of the attraction are 8 AM – 5 PM, and I recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
Hotel tip: Hotel Bardo (adults only)
Our top tips for Yucatán: 🌴 If you have time and money to spare, visit the stunning Cozumel Island ✈️ Don’t attempt to drive to Yucatán from Mexico City: fly to Merida or Cancun and rent a car there (the distances are just too much for a direct drive!) 🌊 If you only visit one Mayan site, make it Tulum. The beaches right under its walls make it extra scenic!
3. Swimming in cenotes
Cenotes are a unique natural phenomenon typical for the Yucatán Peninsula. They are sinkholes filled with water, and if you wonder what to do in Yucatán and you’ve ever fancied swimming in a cave, you can’t skip them.
The water is clear and warm, and swimming is safe (in designated locations, obviously). The only thing that might distress you is the depth of the water—often more than 60 meters (200 feet). The feeling that you’re in a cave and a deep mass of water lies under you is not for everyone. But otherwise, it’s just perfect. And much warmer than I expected.
There are couple of cenotes in Reserva Estatal Geohidrológica Anillo de Cenotes near Mérida; that’s also where we went and took these photos. But there are many more in Yucatan—6,000. That’s a lot to choose from. You can also connect swimming and walking, and take a hike called La Ruta de los Cenotes.
Tip: Reserve enough time. You’ll be slammed with swimming, walking and admiring (maybe even jumping or zip-lining), and in the end you’ll spend a whole day in the cenotes.
Yucatan’s tourist attractions aren’t just ruins and holes in the ground. Mérida is the capital of Yucatán, being home to nearly 900,000 inhabitants. You can take a day off from pre-Columbian cities and natural wonders, and roam among cultural gems instead. Squares, cathedrals, museums and strolls among colorful houses make a perfect escape from reality. And if you’re at least a bit like us—meaning you need coffee at all times of the day—you’ll fall in love with the cozy cafés in Mérida.
Foodies will enjoy bustling markets with Mexican food and local fruits and vegetables. Mercado Lucas De Galvéz is the renowned market held in the center of Mérida, offering everything from eatables to handcrafted items, clothes, and many other things you haven’t even thought you could need.
The heart of the city is Plaza Grande, a square lined with many spectacular buildings such as The Cathedral of Mérida, the City Hall, or the Government Palace of the State of Yucatán. Santa Lucia Parque, on the other hand, is a piece of lush vegetation in the middle of the city, filled with lovely restaurants.
Hotel tip: Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel
There are many Mayan cities in Mexico, but Uxmal is one of a kind. And not only because Star Wars was shot there! Uxmal is a city built in the 9th century in the Puuc style, characteristic with smooth walls, limestone constructions, and reliefs. The city flourished back in the day as the capital of the Mayan realm, and flourishes even today as a significant tourist attraction in Yucatán.
Uxmal is surrounded by jungle, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south from Mérida. It’s a large complex and you should take at least 2 hours for its exploration. And if you can’t help yourself and just love Mayan ruins, you can take the Puuc Route. It’s the route that connects five ancient sites:
They are close to each other (about 20 minutes’ drive), and it would be a pity to not visit them all once you’re in one of them.
6. Bacalar Lagoon
Bacalar Lagoon is a 42 kilometers (26 miles) long lake in the state of Quintana Roo. If you wonder what to do in Yucatán, this is the answer: visit the Bacalar Lagoon. Its water has so many shades of blue that the place is nicknamed “the lake of seven colors”.
There is the town of Bacalar on the southern tip of the lake, declared one of the Magical Towns of Mexico (same as for example San Cristóbal). It has only 11,000 inhabitants; on the other hand, it’s absolutely ready for tourists, being strewn with hotels and restaurants.
What to do in the lagoon? Go for a swim, rent a kayak, take a guided tour, or visit local cenotes!
Hotel tip: MBH Maya Bacalar Hotel Boutique
Cancún is a vibrant city, pulsing with tourism. And it’s no wonder. Just look at the picture below and you’ll immediately know why.
If you enjoy sunbathing, lying in fine white sand, and swimming in the crystal-clear sea, Cancún is a dream come true. The city with the population of 900,000 has countless beaches with bars and water activities. There are numerous fine restaurants to satisfy your unsatiable appetite for good food, shopping centers to lighten your wallet, and handicraft markets to make you oooh and aaah.
An international airport is located in Cancún, making the city accessible to anyone dreaming of a good swim.
Hotel tip: Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun
8. Akumal turtle diving
Can’t take the crowds of people anymore? Exchange them for turtles. In Akumal, you can swim and snorkel with green sea turtles that are used to people and will let you come close to them. This amazing experience will be the highlight of your trip to Yucatán.
The snorkeling is suitable even for beginners, as the bay is protected by a reef and there are no big waves. There are several parking lots, and you’ll get to the beach by walking through the Akumal Dive Shop.
Once you get to the beach, you’ll spot a bazillion vendors renting snorkels and other equipment. I recommend arriving as early as possible; unless you want to swim among tourists instead of turtles.
9. Cozumel Island
Stunning. Paradise-like. Heart-poundingly beautiful. There aren’t enough words to describe Cozumel Island in Mexico. Even though its main characteristics are without a doubt the white, sun splashed beaches, chilling out in the luxurious resorts isn’t the only activity you will be over the moon with on Cozumel.
Nature lovers will appreciate Punta Sur Ecological Park, being home to many species (crocodiles, birds and more) and exotic flowers, and guarded by a lighthouse. The admission is 400 pesos (20 US dollars).
You can admire the sea from all angles. Atlantis Submarine Expeditions offer a dive to the depths of 30 meters (100 feet) to admire the underwater scenery, and local catamarans will show you the sea level from above. Moreover, there are Pearl Farm excursions, consecrating you into pearl farming techniques and even allowing you to snorkel and see the pearl growing for yourself. Definitely one of the best things to do in Yucatán!
How to get to Yucatán
The Yucatán Peninsula is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and the Mexican state of Tabasco. The best way to visit Yucatán is by plane. (Trust me, you don’t want to spend 20 hours in a car just to drive there from Mexico City.)
When flying to Yucatán, you have two options: Cancún and Mérida. International airports in both are at your service. Once you arrive on the airport, it’s good to visit a rental and travel Yucatán by car.
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