My Top 10 of Everything: The Yucatán beyond Cancun

This is a great place for self touring.   It has beaches,  architecture,  history,  nature …. and great food.   All bar one are easily accessible by car (the other one is an island).   Cancun is not everyone’s idea of an idyllic exotic location – don’t worry – all we saw of Cancun was the airport.   For our trip (2008) we divided our time between Playa de Carmen,  Tulum and Cozumel but headed off inland for a busy 4 days / 3 nights to explore the highlights of the region.

The following – in no particular order – are my favourites from that Mexican trip.


1. Coba

Well maybe I do have a favourite!   Coba Archaological Park is a bit off the beaten track but special for two particular reasons.  Firstly,  the park is quite big and scattered but we  hired bikes at the entrance which was a brilliant way to access the monuments and added greatly to the occasion.  Secondly,  (and I qualify this by saying I am very respectful of the preservation and care of historical sites)  we could climb the big Mayan pyramid.





2. Cenotes

The region is dotted with sinkhole caves,  or CENOTES.   Many are hidden in jungle but several are easily accessible and great for stopping off for a swim.



3. Tulum

Everyone knows Tulum – the ancient city perched above a white beach .  This might not be the best Mayan site to visit but it must be one of the most beautiful.  Some of the romance has been diluted to say the least due to huge crowds and the arrival of  Starbucks,  Subway etc.  But get there early and enjoy the ruins,  the views and then escape down for a swim as the tour buses arrive!





4. Merida

This colonial city is the capital of the region.   Its not full of ‘must see’ attractions so there’s time to just wander around the plazas and admire the colourful houses and narrow streets.



5. Uxmal

Fantastic Mayan ruins in good shape and not overrun by tourists.  Whats not to love!!!



6. Izamal

Yep – its all yellow!  Once a pilgrimage site where Mayans made offerings to Kinich Kak Moo,  a sun God,  there were always some houses painted yellow in his honour.   Then,  in 1993,  Pope John Paul 11 was to visit the town.   It was decided,  when sprucing up the place,  to paint everything yellow – as a tribute to the local deity and the Vatican flag!



7. Chichén Itzá

Probably on everyone’s wish list and reason enough alone to visit the region.   Truly a  wonder of the world.  Spectacular!



8. Valladolid

Another charming  colonial city a bit off the tourist trail.   Its full of history, – the cathedral below was built by the Spaniards on the site of a Mayan pyramid – they even used some pyramid stones for its construction.  You can visit the vibrant market and admire the even more vibrant colourful buildings.  There are great restaurants – cheaper than those in the resorts – and plenty of accommodation options.



9. Cozumel

Away from the ruins for a while!  Head to the island of Cozumel where there’s not a lot to do that doesn’t involve the sea.   Relax at an all inclusive for a few days where the biggest effort involves putting on a snorkel mask!!

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10. Playa de Carmen 

OK – its a resort town – over developed with zero cultural appeal.   But, as resorts go,  everybody – singles,  couples , families – will have a good time.    And there are plenty of day trips,  from the list above,  if you need escape!!



Our Route:



Day 1:  Playa de Carmen ⇒ Coba ⇒ cenote ⇒Merida

Day 2:  Merida ⇒Uxmal

Day 3: Uxmal ⇒Izamal

Day 4: Chichén Itzá ⇒Valladolid ⇒ cenote ⇒ Playa de Carmen



Photo Credit:  1,2


19 thoughts on “My Top 10 of Everything: The Yucatán beyond Cancun

  1. Hi Marie, enjoyed your post, we have done the pacific coast and Oaxaca and now you have shown us interesting places in this part of Mexico. Did you find it safe to drive? We were told not to drive the mountain road from Oaxaca to the coast so we haven’t yet driven in Mexico.

    1. We’d no problem whatsoever – but we didn’t stray far from the tourist route. Well worth a visit – there’s lots to see and do beyond the coast (which is also great of course!!) We’re actually heading back to Mexico in a few weeks – were hoping to go to Oaxaca but couldn’t fit everything – the country is huge!!

      1. Nice post. Well done. We have been fortunate to vacation in Cancun about 5 times. And have gone to many of the places that you mentioned. You may want to include: Isla Mujeres, which is a beautiful, sleepy little island located off the coast of Cancun. ://

  2. For the exact reason that Cozumel has so little to do, we go there to relax. Mexican tummy disorders are a serious problem in my experience.

    1. All fabulous – we were lucky enough to visit some sites in Belize in 2019 and now just back from Teotihaucan – our first Aztec site. Isn’t travel wonderful!!

    1. A fabulous place and so much to see and do – although I must admit that we spent 5 nights in Playa del Carmen last week and did absolutely nothing!!

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