Kukulcan Castillo Chichen Itza in the morning

How to See the Best of the Yucatan Peninsula on a Road Trip With 31 Stops

Update on January 2024: While the following road trip is still possible to take, the experiences are no longer the same in most places. Construction of the rails for the Maya Train makes road tripping on the Peninsula more difficult and less enjoyable. You can also witness the effects of this enormous project to the Peninsula, bringing ruin and destruction to the wild places, dust, dirt, potholes, and traffic. However, the article is still relevant for now, since the roads still exist, and most of these areas are still worth visiting. Just keep in mind that traveling on parts of this itinerary is going to be delayed, at least util they finish the project – which from the looks of it will take at least several more months. The train is not even close to operating on the south side, and we saw no signs of it on the north side either, although the tracks were finished in several places.

The best way to see spectacular Maya ruins, crystal-clear cenotes, caves and beaches, tiny Maya settlements and beautiful colonial cities is through a road trip on the Yucatan peninsula.

The Yucatan peninsula includes the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Campeche. When we go, our trips include stops in all three states, so I can’t separate them, although they are in different time zones.

Note: Quintana Roo and Campeche are an hour ahead of Yucatan.

Over the years we’ve done so many road trips through the peninsula, I feel like we know every pothole and topez on every road. From all our experiences over the years, this is the best Yucatan peninsula road trip we came up with. It helped us visit most sites in one trip, giving us a feel for the Peninsula and its people. To get most out of this trip, it helps to take it slow.

You’ll probably find your favorite spots, where you will return over and over. I haven’t met many people who didn’t fall in love with the Yucatan, as soon as they wandered away from the resorts. So, if you’re headed that direction, rent a car, and get on the road.

Note: This road trip takes between 10-14 days to complete.

Start your Yucatan Peninsula Road Trip in Cancun

Cancun is the best place to start a Yucatan Peninsula road trip since it’s easy to access from just about anywhere. We always fly there, but if you start somewhere else, try to adjust your itinerary.

The airport in Cancun is easy to navigate, you’ll find English signs everywhere if you landed there without learning Spanish. You need to take a shuttle to the car rental place, and they all have different stops, but you’ll see them as you leave the airport building.

Once in a car, we leave Cancun as fast as we can. Now they have good signs that easily lead out of the airport and the city. Take the road towards Playa del Carmen.

Things to do: Cancun is just the gateway to the Yucatan Peninsula. Relatively easy and cheap flights into the airport from most destinations.

Next: Leave the airport and the city, getting on Highway 307 towards Tulum. Drive 26 km to Puerto Morelos. Drive time: 25 minutes

1. Puerto Morelos

Since our flight usually gets in late in the day, we can’t drive too far away from Cancun. Puerto Morelos is close enough that we don’t have to drive a lot, but far enough to feel away from the resorts.

A fishing village turned tourist magnet, Puerto Morelos is still a nice stop. It has an old town feel with its zocalo, the pier, and the old crooked lighthouse; you have a chance to interact with locals, and kids hanging out by the pier. Don’t forget the beaches; they are just as pretty as those in the resorts. And if you are there at the right time, you might even see flamingos in the lagoon by the road to town.

Things to do: Hotels, dining, beach, sightseeing

Next: Get back on Highway 307 and drive towards Playa del Carmen. Drive 34 km to Playa del Carmen; or just keep going, driving 85 km to the archaeological site of Xel-Ha. The entrance to the site is on the right of the highway; the parking lot is right off the road. Drive time to Playa del Carmen: 40 minutes. Drive time to Xel-Ha Ruins: 1 hour 15 minutes

2. Maybe: Playa del Carmen

I haven’t stopped and explored Playa del Carmen in over two decades. We usually just drive through, feeling fortunate that at least they have a highway and we don’t have to stop. This doesn’t mean you can’t, though; I hear from people who enjoy it. I just want to remember it as the old village with one main street and a zocalo by the beach.

So I can’t recommend it, but as far as I can tell, it is a resort-city experience. Read about the town (now city, really), and make up your mind if you want to spend a day a few hours there, or just want to drive through, as we do. If you go, let me know what you think.

Things to do: resorts, hotels, restaurants, beaches

Next: Get back on Highway 307 South and drive 47 km to the Archaeological site of Xel-Ha. Drive time: 40 minutes

3. Xel-Ha Archaeological Site

Xel-Ha Archaeological Site
House of the Jaguar at the Xel-Ha Archaeological Site

The only archaeological site we stop on these days on the coast between Cancun and Tulum, Xel-Ha Ruins still remain less-visited, though I don’t think for much longer. For now, though, we can still be alone at the ruins and the cenote within the site.

Even though one of the main structures is basically on the road, and people could see it from their car if they looked, most are too busy rushing to get to the next huge tourist destination. Lucky for us, and those who want to stop by. We can have some quiet time by the cenote, or around the ancient structures surrounded by the forest.

Things to do: Visit an ancient Maya site, a small pyramid, a few temples, walk on an ancient sacbe (Mayan road), watch for wildlife, and sit by a beautiful cenote.

Next: Get back on Highway 307 and drive towards Tulum. Either stop at Xel-Ha Water Park or drive on 18 km to Tulum. Drive time to Tulum: 20 minutes.

4. Maybe: Xel-Ha Water Park

If you want to try everything, even the overrun tourist places, by all means, stop at the Xel-Ha Water Park, a few miles down the road. You can’t miss it, you’ll see huge signs leading you to it. I haven’t been there since they turned it into this huge park. Many years ago, when it was still just a lagoon, we visited it and snorkeled there; we only met locals. No one was allowed to use sunscreen, I hope that is still the case (or they may have you buy reef-safe sunscreen now since it exists).

We tried stopping by there once a few years ago during another road trip through the Yucatan Peninsula. We found no parking spot, and it was so busy, we turned around without getting out of the car. You might be luckier, or maybe you don’t mind the crowds. In that case, go for it. Personally, I prefer to stay away from busy, touristy places. So I skip it. But if you want to try it, you should stay overnight in Playa del Carmen, so you won’t feel rushed.

5. Tulum

Once Tulum was one of my favorite little towns on the road; but now it’s so overrun, we usually drive through it. But you don’t have to. If you are there during the low season, try to drive down towards Si’an Ka’an Nature Reserve. If you can find a hotel on the beach, it’s worth to stay a night. It is a very touristy experience, but if you don’t mind it, go for it.

We skip the Tulum Ruins now because they tend to be way too crowded. Yes, it’s worse than Chichen Itzá, and the ruins are not even as spectacular. Their only merit is that they are on the beach.

But again, this is my opinion. Plenty of people love Tulum, even with the crowds, or because of the crowds. And if you haven’t seen it, you should visit. But be aware that everything takes longer. You should count on spending at least one night in town if you want to visit. You’ll find a hotel for any budget, either on the beach or in town.

But even if you don’t stay overnight, if you end up here close to mid-day, take a break. Tulum has many great restaurants to choose from for a great sit-down lunch.

Things to do: beach, ruins, restaurants, hotel

Next: In Tulum, turn right at the main intersection onto Avenida Coba, or Road 109 towards Coba and drive about 5 km to the Grand Cenote. Drive time: 10 minutes.

6. Maybe: Grand Cenote

I can’t imagine how they can fit the number of visitors I see stopping at the Grand Cenote now; we haven’t stopped for years. However, I still thought I’d mention it because if you get a chance to stop, it is pretty. (though you’ll have opportunities to stop at nicer ones later on this road trip, so don’t feel bad if you need to miss it).

Grand Cenote is spectacular, no wonder it’s so popular. Partially under a cave, and very shallow, it’s great for young kids and for those who don’t swim or prefer not to. But it won’t seem as “grande” if you have to share it with hundreds of people. If you visit during the low season though, in the summer, you might get lucky. Or you might get there at a slow time of the day. If you don’t see too many cars and bikes in the parking lot, stop there, too, it is beautiful. Otherwise, it will be too crowded to enjoy, so keep going.

Next: Keep driving on Rd 109 for 23 km to the Car Wash Cenote. Drive time: under 5 minutes.

7. Car Wash Cenote

The Car Wash Cenote is very deep, and it connects to an underground cave. We always see groups of cave divers there. Though it is scary to float above something so deep – at least for me, and I was even more worried when the kids were younger – they have a rope you can hold onto, and as long as you stay close to the sides, you’re fine.

Of course, wear a life jacket, I am pretty sure they offer them now – years ago they didn’t, and we still snorkeled there, even with young kids (I know we are a bit crazy).

What to do there: It’s a cenote. Swim. snorkel. Wear a life jacket. Unless you are a diver. In that case, look for a tour from Tulum or Playa, and go underground, into the cave. I don’t think you are allowed to go solo, but there are plenty of tours you can take. We’ve talked to a few divers after coming out, they said it was beautiful, they loved it.

Next: Get back on QROO 109 and keep driving towards Cobá. Drive 35 km on QROO 109, and at the roundabout take the third exit towards Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango- Coba. The town is about 2 km from the roundabout. Drive time: 35 minutes.

8. Cobá – Town and Archaeological Site

Nohuch Mul pyramid in Cobá
Cobá. Nohuch Mul Pyramid

I’m partial to Cobá, it is probably my favorite place on the Peninsula, our home away from home. The town has a welcome feel to it, at least after the tour buses from Cancun leave.

The Cobá archaeological zone is one of the largest sites on the peninsula. You need to walk through jungle paths to reach its structures, and you might see wildlife. You can even climb its tallest pyramid, the Nohuch Mul. Other structures include ball courts, pyramids of a few different shapes and sizes, and a lot of stelae, tall carved rocks filled with ancient Mayan images and hieroglyphs.

We always spend at least one night there, though it’s possible to visit the ruins in one day. But if you stay the night, you can also visit three cenotes close-by that you don’t share with thousands of others. Just be prepared to drive a bit on a dirt road.

Things to do: Visit one of the largest ancient Mayan archaeological sites, dine in your choice of a few restaurants, stay overnight, visit the town, shop, walk by the lagoon (and look for crocodiles).

Next: Drive around the Lagoon, and through the town on the far side of the lake, on the Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango – Cobá road (the main road in town), then turn right onto QROO Coba (you’ll see signs for Chachen 1). You’ll eventually reach a ticket booth at the fork in the road. You have the option to buy either a ticket for one (you’ll need to choose which one) or all three cenotes. Drive time: 45 minutes to the farthest cenote.

9. Cenotes Tancach-Ha, Choo-Ha, and Multun-Ha

All three cenotes are underground, in caves. We prefer Multun-Ha, since it gets fewer visitors. It sits farther from the other two, off a dirt road. More often then not, we find ourselves alone in it, in the company of bats and tiny fish that live in it.

The prettiest of the three is Choo-Ha, in a gorgeous cavern, filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and different rock formations. Shallow in most places, it has a lot of space to explore. You’ll see bats flying around here, too, unless it is too noisy, in which case you’ll have to look for them in the crevices. You won’t find yourself alone here, but it’s large enough that it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Though not as spectacular as Choo-Ha the most popular of the three seems to be Tamcach-Ha, large enough that people tend to jump in from the platform.

Next: Drive back to Cobá, then drive out of town the way you came towards the roundabout. Here, take the 3rd exit towards Chemax-Cobá. Drive 31 km to Chemax then turn left onto Hwy 180. Keep going 25 km more to Valladolid. Drive time: 1 hour.

10. Valladolid

Valladolid, one of the magical pueblos of the Yucatan Peninsula, has always been a favorite stop for me, though it has become crowded in the past few years. Still, try to find a parking spot close to the Zocalo, and walk around the center of the town. Stop at the artisan shops around the center of town; visit the Cathedral, get a cold drink and a snack, then sit on a bench under the trees.

I’ve never stayed in town overnight, but they have a few nice hotels to choose from if you prefer to stay here.

Things to do: sightseeing, shopping, dining

Next: Get back to Hwy 180 and drive towards Chichen Itzá. Drive 38 km to then turn to Balancanche Caves. Drive time: 45 minutes.

11. Balankanche Caves

In the Balancanche Caves, Yucatan
In the Balancanche Caves

Though less than ten miles from Chichen Itzá, Balankanche Caves don’t usually get crowded. Tours start every half hour if they have at least four people gathered.

The caves are spectacular, with large caverns filled with beautiful ancient Mayan artifacts. The largest chamber is the most spectacular, with the tree of life in the center surrounded by the most spectacular artifacts.

Things to do: Walk through a cave used by the ancient Maya for rituals, enjoy the artifacts displayed.

Next: Get back on Hwy 180 and drive 7 miles to Chichen Itzá. Drive time: 5 minutes.

12. Chichen Itzá

Chichen Itza. Temple in the Old Town
Chichen Itza. Temple in the Old Town

If it is your first time on the Yucatan peninsula, you can’t skip Chichen Itzá. And if you can only see one Maya site, this is the one to choose.

The Pyramid of Kukulcan is one of the Wonders of the World for a reason. If you can be there within a week of the equinox, you can even see the serpent god Kukulcan descending the stairs of the pyramid. But even if you don’t, a glimpse of this structure and the surrounding ones will make your trip worth it.

You will encounter hordes of tourists, no matter when you go, so you’ll just have to understand and deal with them. You can visit it with less of a hassle if you know when to go and how to avoid the worst of the crowds; just follow these tips.

Things to do: Explore one of the best-preserved Maya archaeological sites, walk around the Pyramid of Kukulcan, one of the Wonders of the World.

Next: Follow Hwy 180 to Piste, then either get on the toll road 180D or stay on 180 for 48 km to Kantunil; here, turn right onto Rt 53 towards Izamal and drive another 18 km. Drive time: 1 hour.

13. Izamal

Izamal. View from the Convent
View from the Convent

The Magical Yellow City of Yucatan, Izamal is a unique blend of cultures, like most of the peninsula, though it’s more visible here. It is a city worth a stop – a long stop. It has a few pyramids you can climb and explore, lovely colonial buildings, and a famous/infamous convent. Everything is painted a uniform yellow. I know it sounds cheesy, but it works for this town. It has great dining options, too.

Things to do: visiting Archaeological sites (including one of the largest pyramids on the peninsula), a convent, dining (great variety of restaurants to choose from), sightseeing.

Next: Drive on YUC 11 for 39 km back to 180 (turn left at Hoctun to stay on YUC11), use the right lane to get onto 180 towards Merida; drive about 7 miles on 180, then turn right into Tixcocub-Sotuta Rd. Stay on this road for 10 km, then turn right onto the Ruinas de Aké. Drive time: 35 minutes.

14. Aké Archaeological Site

Aké Ruins, Yucatan
Aké Ruins

A small site, Aké is still off the beaten path, though it is very close to Mérida. As you could probably tell from the above directions, it is a bit hard to find; and it’s small enough and seldom visited, so they don’t even have a bathroom on the premises. It is also cheaper to visit than other sites.

Besides the ancient Maya ruins, you’ll also find an old hacienda and a working henequen plantation, so you’ll have a fun day visiting the surroundings.

Things to do: Explore an ancient Maya site, an old hacienda, and a henequen plantation.

Next: Drive back the way you came to 180 towards Merida, then continue on it until you reach the city, in 50 km. Drive time: 45 minutes.

15. Mérida

You’ll want to spend a day or two at least in Mérida, the cultural capital of the peninsula. You’ll find plenty of things to do here, from visiting great museums, participating in or watching music and dance festivals, art galleries and some fabulous local food.

Things to do: museums, dining, shopping, overnight stay

Next: Get on Rt 180 to Uman; then turn unto Rd 261 and drive 83 km to Uxmal. Drive time: 1 hour.

16. Uxmal

Uxmal. Archway Entrance to the Nunnery
Uxmal. Archway Entrance to the Nunnery

Uxmal is one of my favorite places to visit in Yucatan. It is one of the ancient Maya sites you shouldn’t miss if you visit the peninsula. Its main pyramid, the Pyramid of the Magician, is one of the most massive, but also prettiest in the area. Though you can’t climb it any longer, you can still see the temples on top and halfway up the main stairs.

Besides the famous pyramid, the elaborate designs and facades on most of its buildings are the features that make it one of the most spectacular Maya ruins in Yucatan.

Things to do: Visit one of the most beautiful Maya archaeological sites in Yucatan; tour a chocolate plant by the Hacienda. Dining; stay the night.

Next: Get back on the 261 and drive 14 km to the village of Santa Elena. Drive time: 15 minutes.

17. Santa Elena

A small Mayan village, Santa Elena is worth a quick stop to walk up to the old Colonial church, Iglesia de Santa Elena, built in 1779.

Things to do: Sightseeing, dining

Next: Get back on 261 and drive another 10 km to Kabah. Drive time: 10 minutes.

18. Kabah

Just 11 miles from Uxmal, Kabah is one of the larger Puuc sites. Its most famous structure is the Palace of the Masks, referring to the masks of the Rain God Chak, a spectacular feature along on the building.

You’ll find structures on both sides of the highway, so it’s worth counting on at least an hour or two for a visit; on the other hand, if you find yourself in a rush, go to the Palace of the Masks first. On our last visit, we had to do this since it was so late by the time we got to the site, they were closing it within less than half-hour.

Things to do: Visit a Maya site

Next: Get back on 261 for another 5 km, then turn left at the intersection and drive another 4 miles towards Sayil. Drive time: 10 minutes.

19. Sayil

Sayil is the other Puuc site close to Uxmal we like to visit. The site sits along a sacbe, and its best-known and largest structure is the Great Palace, built on a two-terraced platform.

Things to do: Visit another Maya site

Next: Keep going on the same road for another 8 miles to the next Puuc site, Labná. Drive time: 10 minutes.

20. Labná

The last site in the Puuc region, Labná is known for its elaborate archway, visible from the road. Another notable structure of this site is its Palace, the longest in the region.

Things to do: Visit a Puuc style Maya site

Next: Drive towards 261 and turn right towards Campeche. Continue towards Edzna. 164 km. Drive time: about 2 hours 40 minutes.

Note: If you are running out of time, drive towards the coast to Felipe Carillo Puerto, and skip the next few sites (though they are some of the most spectacular).

21. Edzná

Though a large site, and spectacular, Edzná, in Campeche, is still off-the-beaten-track, seldom visited by tourists. If you drive here, chances are, you’ll share the site with iguanas and maybe a few other visitors.

The Castillo, the main pyramid at the site, with five levels and intricate designs on the stairway, dominates the Grand Acropolis. The Palace, once a residential building, sits right across from the Gran Acropolis. But other than the Castillo, my favorite structure is the Temple of the Masks, showcasing two masks at its base, representing the Sunrise God (on the East side) and Sunset God (on the West side).

Things to do: Visit another ancient Maya site

Next: Get on the Campeche Centenario – Lubna road South and drive about 120 km to the intersection with Hwy 186. Turn left onto Hwy 186 toward Chetumal and drive about 41 km to the site of Balamku. Drive time: 3 hours 20 minutes.

22. Balamkú

Balamkú's stucco frieze. Detail
Balamkú’s stucco frieze

Easy to miss, the site of Balamkú is right off the highway. Watch for it before you get to the turnoff for Calakmul. If you got to the turnoff, you went too far (only a km or two). Though small, the site has one of the best-preserved and prettiest stucco-friezes on the peninsula. Since it is behind locked doors, you might need to ask to see it, but most likely the caretaker will be there and offer to open it for you. Other than the frieze that gave this site its name, you’ll have a few structures to explore, but you don’t need to spend a lot of time at this site.

Things to do: Visit an ancient Maya site, look at one of the best-preserved stucco-friezes on the peninsula.

Next: Continue on the road, getting on Rt 186 towards Xpujil; drive 6 km, and turn off on the dirt road to Calakmul. Drive time: less than 5 minutes to the dirt road. The dirt road to the site takes about an hour.

Note: Your best bet here is to stay the night at the Puerta Calakmul, or drive onto Xpujil and find a hotel there; drive to Calakmul in the morning, since you’ll want to spend a full day in there.

23. Calakmul

Calakmul. Path in the Jungle
Walking through the jungle among ancient structures in Calakmul.

One of the highlights of our trip to this area, Calakmul is a large site, in addition to being a Nature Preserve. Besides, it’s at the end of a 60 km dirt road, so plan on spending a whole day in there.

The best way to do that is to stay at the Puerta Calakmul, the hotel right at the entrance. Unless you are on a budget (though even then, most of the time we save up for this one “luxury”); rooms are pricey.

They only take cash (since they are so out of the way the credit card machines would not work). You don’t have a phone signal either, except in certain spots. But you have a Mayan hut with mesh to keep out the mosquitoes instead of windows, so you feel like you sleep in the middle of the jungle; surrounded by wildlife, including the resident family of howler monkeys. The restaurant on the premises serves the freshest, authentic food, and they have a pool to cold down after exploring the ruins.

But if it’s not for you, continue to Xpujil, the closest town, rent a hotel for the night, and come back early in the morning to explore the site.

Once you get to the actual site, prepare to walk a lot, climb structures and two very large pyramids. It’s all worth it. Don’t forget your snacks, water, sunscreen and camera. You’ll see plenty of wildlife in addition to the spectacular ruins.

Things to do: Explore Maya ruins, climb pyramids, look for wildlife, trek in the jungle

Next: Get back on Highway 186 and drive 17 km to Bécan. Drive time: 15 mites.

24. Bécan Archaeological Site

Another Maya Archaeological site, Bécan is definitely worth a stop; plan on spending at least an hour or two here. While it doesn’t compare in size to Calakmul, it showcases the distinctive Rio Bec style. You’ll be able to climb pyramids and walk through structures, feeling like you are exploring a maze.

Though a better-known site and some of its structures are visible from the road, Bécan doesn’t get too many visitors; chances are you’ll only share it with a few people, or even have it all for yourself.

Things to do: Explore ancient Maya buildings, climb pyramids.

Next: Back on Hwy 186, drive another 9 km to the town and archaeological site, Xpujil. Drive time: 10 minutes.

25. Xpujil Town and Archaeological Site

Update January 2024: The train tracks are planned to go right through the center of the town, along the highway. When we were there, the whole town was a giant construction site for the train tracks. Nothing was down yet, but hundreds of construction trucks were all over town, and the town was basically a stop for all the construction workers from Central Mexico…

The only proper town surrounded by all these ruins in the area, Xpujil has a few nice hotels and restaurants to choose from. It is still a small town, right on the highway.

The site that shares its name is in town, a small Rio Bec style site, with a few buildings standing. Worth a stop.

Things to do: dining, spending the night, exploring an ancient Maya site

Next: If you have extra time, and are still interested in exploring more Mayan archaeological sites, really off-the-beaten-track, you can visit Hormiguero and Rio Bec – the latter only with a guide. I won’t include them in this road trip guide, since they are both hard to get to, and you really need to find a guide to take you. (which is not too hard; my recommendation is to ask for Humberto Dzib-Tun (or visit his site, Dzib Expeditions) and talk to him. He speaks English).

If you are running out of time or had enough of ruins, get back on Hwy 186 towards Campeche; turn onto Hwy 307 North and drive to Bacalar. Stop at the Cenote Azul before you get to town. Drive time to Cenote Azul: 1 hour 30 minutes.

26. Cenote Azul

Unless it is crowded, stop at the Cenote Azul. It is touristy, and it might be crowded enough that you won’t find a parking spot. In that case, drive on. Otherwise, grab your bathing suit and walk through the restaurant to the cenote. You need to pay an entrance fee, which only includes access to the water, but you can spend the whole day there if you want. The restaurant has good food and drinks, if a bit on the pricey side. But the cenote is pretty and offers a great way to cool down, surrounded by vegetation.

Things to do: swimming, dining

Up next: Get back on Hwy 307 and drive to Bacalar. Drive time: 10 minutes.

27. Bacalar

The town sitting on the Lagoon of Seven Colors, one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos” (magical towns), Bacalar is a great place to spend a day. No ancient sites here, but a gorgeous lagoon, which deserves its name of having seven colors – just look at it in the sunshine – and a small town with plenty of great restaurants and hotels.

No lack of history, either, dating more from the Caste War, though, not ancient times… visit the Fortress on the coast for a lesson in more recent history.

Take a swim in the lagoon, or a boat ride – both most enjoyable close to sunset; walk through the town’s center to find a good restaurant and stay in one of the many (some budget prices) hotels right on the lagoon.

Things to do: swim in the gorgeous lagoon of seven colors (and see why it deserves its name), take a boat ride, sightseeing, dining, hotels.

Next: Drive 35 km on Hwy 307 then turn left on Rd 293 and drive to Chacchoben. Drive time: 40 minutes

28. Chacchoben

Another ancient Maya site (as such, you can skip it if you had enough of them), Chacchoben is surrounded by vegetation. Unfortunately, in the past years it became a bit too crowded, with large tour buses visiting. Still, you should not skip it, but try to get there early, before the buses get in from the cruise ships, and you might have the site for yourself; when you’ll most likely see wildlife, including a few families of spider monkeys. You can also avoid the crowds if you go later in the afternoon, just before closing time.

Update January 2024: By now Chacchoben is one of the most visited sites in southern Quintana Roo; no signs of the spider monkeys we were used to seeing there. However, the pathways at the site are more cleared, and more structures are open. Still, crowds might be an issue. I counted nine large tour buses in line when we got there around noon. If you want to avoid the crowds, I found that getting there around noon was a great strategy. As we parked, the buses started leaving, so by the time we were walking through the site, we encountered fewer visitors. By 2pm all the buses were gone, and only small tours or independent cars were still in the parking lot.

Things to do: exploring another ancient Maya site

Next: Get back on Hwy 307 and drive 70 km to Felipe Carillo Puerto. Drive time: 1 hour

29. Felipe Carillo Puerto aka Chan Santa Cruz

Though officially the town is called Felipe Carillo Puerto, if you use its old name, everyone will still know what you are referring to. We call it by its old name, Chan Santa Cruz, founded in 1850 by the independent Maya during the Caste War. It has a lot of history, relatively recent history, all relating to the Caste War of Yucatan, and it’s worth a stop.

Try to visit the old church in the center of town. They also have a few restaurants, if you drive through during lunch or dinner time.

Things to do: Sightseeing, dining

Next: Get on Hwy 307 towards Tulum and drive 73 km to Muyil. The parking lot for the ruins is right on the Highway. Drive time: 45 minutes.

30. Muyil aka Chunyaxche

The Pyramid, El Castillo, Muyil
Muyil. El Castillo

Muyil is an another ancient Maya site; but is so much more than that; and so different from the ones you visited up until now on this trip. You’ll walk through lush jungle, while exploring a few spectacular ruins. Plan on spending a few hours here, but if you have time, stay in a hotel close by and take a boat tour through the lagoon.

The site is also in the Si’an Ka’an Nature Preserve, so be sure to take the path through the jungle to the lagoon. Halfway through, stop at the Mirador, or lookout tower, and if you are not afraid of heights (even if you are, try it), climb it for a gorgeous view of the tropical forest below and the lagoon farther out.

Things to do: Visit Mayan ruins, walk through a jungle path; take a boat ride on the lagoon.

Next: Drive North towards Cancun on Hwy 307, for about 116 km. Once you pass Xel-Ha Park, look for a sign on the side of the road, pointing towards the ocean (about 6 km passed the turnoff to Xel-Ha), for Xcacel Beach and Turtle Sanctuary. Turn on the sandy road towards the beach and follow it. Drive time: about 40 minutes.

31. Xcacel Beach and Turtle Sanctuary; Xcacelito Cenote

Off-the-beaten-track still, even though it is on the Mayan Riviera, Xcacel Beach is hard to find, but if you want to be with locals, it is the place to go. They have a small entrance fee of a few pesos most days, money they use for the turtle sanctuary on the premises.

Once on the beach, you can take a short trail to the cenote, surrounded by a forest. On weekends it gets crowded, so if you can, try to time your visit during mid-week.

You’ll find bathrooms on the premises and showers, but no restaurant, so bring your own food if you plan on a picnic, just make sure you don’t leave any plastic bags or other garbage behind.

Things to do: swim in the ocean (just be careful, there are strong currents here and no lifeguard); relax in the shade of palm trees, swim in a cenote; watch turtle hatchlings if you are there at the right time.

Next: Drive the rest of the way back on 307 to Cancun. 112 km. Drive time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Back to Cancun

Depending on when your flight leaves, you can spend your last night in Puerto Morelos again, or rent a hotel close to the Cancun airport. If you enjoy Tulum, stay there for another night, or even in Playa del Carmen. But from here, you are back on the road to Cancun.

Yucatan Peninsula Road Trip features
A Yucatan peninsula road trip

About the Author

Emese-Réka Fromm has been visiting Maya ruins and archaeological sites for over thirty years, since the first time she set foot on the Yucatan Peninsula on her honeymoon. Besides exploring well-known and off-the-beaten track ruins all this time, she reads about the ancient Maya, and recently attended a lecture of respected Mayanist and epigrapher David Stuart at the Maya meetings at the UT of Austin. A published travel writer with bylines in publications like Lonely Planet and several others, she is also a language instructor in Phoenix.

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