8 Day Trips from Cancun in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

categories: mexico travel

They did not look that impressive. The hand prints looked like simple graffiti on the wall of the cave, but they were painted there at a time that the Yucatan had more mammoths than Mojitos.

Outside of the all inclusive resorts of Cancun are a number of experiences missed by many of the tourists. You might not get the all inclusive hotel if you venture further afield but you might get a better connection with past and present Yucatecans. Some of these are an easy day trip from Cancun and some can be done as a day trip but would deserve one or two nights away.

Day Trips

Chichen Itza

Mayan Pyramids at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is the obvious choice for a Mayan ruin to visit. Its best known site is this large pyramid dedicated to Kukulkan who was a winged serpent similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl. See the head of the serpent to the bottom of the stairs at the left and the right.

Chichen Itza gets a large number of tourists by 11am in the morning but is large enough to accommodate the crowds. Hire one of the knowledgeable guides for a group for 600 pesos (<$60). If you like to shop beware that the park is also filled with vendors and plan your time accordingly.

Mayan Ruins at Tulum

Tulum is another Mayan ruin with a beautiful setting on the coast south of Playa del Carmen. It is very convenient to reach but is therefore filled with tour groups and is very commercial. The site is much more spectacular than the buildings themselves.

Mayan Ruins at Coba

As controversial as this may be, I might suggest if you are in the Tulum area and have only the time or tolerance for one nearby ruin that you skip Tulum in favor of Coba. Coba is a 45 minute drive from Tulum and is a much larger site. It is so large in fact that you should rent a bike to ride through the jungle between the 3 main sites. If you are not up to a bike ride then you can rent a pedicab and let someone else do the work. Coba also has a pyramid that you can climb that will put you above the jungle canopy.

Grand Cenote

The Yucatan looks like Swiss cheese from the air. It is dotted with numerous sink holes called cenotes, many of which are filled with fresh water. One town south of Merida boats 150 cenotes in the area. For a fun afternoon on a hot Summer day, take a swim in a cenote. We went to the Grand Cenote which is just a few kilometers from Tulum towards Coba. Picture swimming into a cave complete with stalactites and stalagmites. The experience is both cool and very cool!

Worth Staying

Playa del Carmen

Playa is an hour or so south of Cancun and is a popular destination for Mexicans and Europeans. It does not have the mega resorts that Cancun offers but is a great place to rent a condo. Playa gets lots of tourists so it has many restaurants on its main drag on 5th Avenue. To save money, find a restaurant off of one of the side streets.

For more ideas about traveling to the Yucatan listen to Travel to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico – Amateur Traveler
Episode 163
which is what motivated my trip.

hand prints in Grutis (Caves) de Loltun, Yucatan, Mexico

Grutas (Caves) de Loltun

With it’s 10,000 year old cave art, Loltun has some of the oldest evidence of human habitation inn the Yucatan. The cave was also used by the Mayans for ceremonial purposes and later as a place of refugee in times of war. Loltun is the largest of the caves on the Yucatan or at least the largest “dry” cave. Dry here is a relative term, because while the cave is cooler than the surrounding jungle it is only slightly less humid than swimming in the ocean.

Merida, Mexico

Merida

Merida. Is a beautiful colonial city that feels oddly like a small town. Try to be in Merida on a Sunday afternoon and evening when the square fills with vendors and performers. We watched local dancers perform what appeared, based on the woman in the white dress, to be dances from a traditional wedding. For dinner stop at one of the taco vendors along the side of the central square. At 10 pesos a taco we ate for less than $4 each and had one of our best meals in the Yucatan. Save room for dessert. Try the Yucatan version of a crepe, a Marquesita, with queso de bola. Although I am still intrigued by the vendor selling corn flavored ice cream.

Uxmal

Mayan Ruins at Uxmal

Uxmal is not quite as grand as Chichan Itza but is less crowded and is interesting in it’s own right. It has more interesting ruins and half the crowds in more than twice the space of the more popular ruins at Tulum.

8 Places to see in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula outside Cancun: Grutas (Caves) de Loltun, Merida, Chichen Itza Tulum, Uxmal Coba, Grand Cenote Playa del Carmen

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

8 Responses to “8 Day Trips from Cancun in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula”

Donna Hull

Says:

Good advice for including history and culture into a trip to Cancun while still enjoying what the resorts have to offer. I especially like the photo of the handprints on the cave wall. On my visit to Coba, I walked the site – an alternative to renting a bicycle. At one point, I found myself totally alone listening to the sounds in the jungle. After an active visit to humid Coba, cooling off in cenote sounds refreshing.

chris2x

Says:

And the Grand Centoe is on the road between Tullum and Coba for your convenience.

Rick

Says:

Hi, thanks so much for this wonderful post on the Yucatán Peninsula. I really enjoyed reading about all of the different towns to visit in the region. The Mayan ruins, the cenotes, the fabulous food stalls,…This article makes me want to visit the region today! I thought my readers would be very interested in this article so I shared it with them on my blog, with a link back to you: http://www.retireinnayarit.com. I hope you’ll take a look at it! Have a great day, Rick

Fer

Says:

Nice review! Merida is very beautiful, is the biggest and more developed city in south Mexico and Yucatan is the safest state in all Mexico with a great quality of life.

wandering educators

Says:

what beautiful photos!! tulum looks super crowded. i’d much rather hop into the water, as some did!

chris2x

Says:

Yes, Tulum is a beautiful site but small and crowded.

TravelDesigned

Says:

You can beat the crowds at Tulum by renting a car or taking a taxi early in the morning before the tour buses arrive. On Sundays often locals go to Tulum when there are fewer tourists. We’ve been know to take a picnic lunch or grab sandwiches from the nearby Subway and enjoy the beach at Tulum too.

Pat j

Says:

Was to coba climbed it too was amazing went to some center and real village and small zoo

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