Last updated on September 20, 2023

Travel Guide for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

Jutting from the eastern edge of Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula is a popular tourism gateway to Mexico. This region has an extensive tourism infrastructure, all spiraling outward from Cancún. Although Cancún has sticky connotations as a party destination for spring breakers—and it has an overpriced, glitzy hotel zone—the city is merely the starting point to one of my favorite regions in Mexico.

The Yucatán Peninsula is safe from the cartel violence associated with other Mexican States, and it’s home to some of the country’s richest history and most gorgeous landscapes (cenotes, anyone?!). The area houses arguably the best preserved Maya ruins, internationally acclaimed dive and snorkeling sites, gorgeous Spanish colonial cities dripping in history, locally run cooperativos offering responsible tourism projects, and densely inhabited animal biosphere reserves.

isla mujeres yucatan peninsula playa
Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, Mexico—that’s my auntie and nephews enjoying the shallow waters during our three-week road trip of the Yucatan.

The Yucatán Peninsula is, in a word, wonderful. I’ve traveled this area several times, most recently with my two young nephews (10 and 11) for a month-long road trip around the Yucatán Peninsula. This is an overview of our route—combined with my knowledge from previous trips—and all the nitty-gritty details of things to do, places to stop, what to eat, and more.

Although you might change-up the activities if you’re a couple or solo traveler, the route is solid and would make a wonderful two- to three-week trip. Read on for the city guides and personal recommendations for this fascinating region of Mexico.

Things to Know Before Traveling to Mexico’s Yucatan

Maya history is a major draw for tourism. Stunning architecture and reliefs carved into the stone temples bring to life a fascinating, violent, and advanced ancient culture that managed to develop the only known pre-Columbian writing system in the Americas.

Much of the land in the Yucatán Peninsula was once the Maya lowlands. The Maya empire dates back as far as 2400 BC and spanned throughout present-day Guatemala, Honduras, and Southern Mexico. Throughout the large sweep of land lies a vast network of massive temples and ancient cities; only a small part of the these ruins have been excavated, many still lie under the tangle of forest. 

Several famous Maya archaeological sites are within the Yucatán, Riviera Maya, and Chiapas regions, including Chichén Itzá and Tulum. Maya history is a major draw for tourism, with the stunning architecture of the temples and reliefs carved into the stone bringing to life a fascinating, violent, and advanced ancient culture that managed to develop the only known pre-Columbian writing system in the Americas.

Present day, the Yucatán’s unique limestone base gives the area one of its most famous draws: the beautiful sinkholes and underwater rivers. The Maya used these sinkholes, known as cenotes, for sacrificial offerings, but today they dot the entire region and offer travelers the chance to cool off in the crystal-blue waters. Because of this region’s limestone base, rivers are mostly underground and they connect a large network of caves and swimming spots.

The History Channel has a fuller history of the Yucatán detailed here, and more about the Maya civilization here.

A pretty sunset at the beach in Celestun as we prepare for a trip to the Celestun Biosphere Reserve.
My nephew Eric poses at Chichen Itza in the late afternoon, after the crowds had cleared for the day.
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World Travel Planning Resources

From the best travel gear to how to pick travel insurance—a detailed list of resources, tips, and advice to help you plan an amazing trip.

Fast Facts About Yucatan, Mexico Travel


Mexican peso (MXN) (current exchange rate)


127V/60Hz (American plug)

Primary Airports in the Yucatan

  • Cancún (CUN)
  • Cozumel (CZM)
  • Mérida (MID)

How’s the internet in the Yucatan?

WiFi is rampant all over the Yucatan peninsula. It’s available at most guesthouses and cafes.

Can you drink the water in the Yucatan?

No, it’s not safe to drink the water. Drink bottled, use a reusable water bottle to refill at guesthouses, or use a SteriPen.

Mexico Visas for Americans

Visas for Americans—and most travelers—is pretty easy. Americans get a quick stamp in their passport valid for six months. Other nationalities can check the visa requirements here.

Food Considerations

Food standards are high in this area as tourism is the primary income for many. The water is not safe to drink, but bottled water is easy to come by. Street food can be scarce in touristy areas, but is tasty and delicious. If you decide to stick to budget and street food options, follow these food safety principles.

Local SIM Cards

Securing a local SIM card is a cinch and highly recommended for GPS and navigating. Telcel is likely your best option. If you have a U.S. T-Mobile account, it will do the trick too. Full SIM guide here—note that you will likely need to show your passport.


This is a cinch. I used a Lonely Planet guide when my nephews and I were in a pinch. While the links in city guides below go to a my preferred hotel booking site, many are also found on VRBO, if you are member. It has a very established presence in this region of Mexico and is an easy way to book nice spots in a good area of town, while getting out of the hotel scene. I don’t use this as often when I am solo, so it was neat to have a reason to pick some great local apartments for my nephews and me.

For backpackers, the main hotel booking sites now usually list hostels, too (with no booking fees), or use Hostelworld; in high season the bigger towns book up fast. Families should consider And if you buy a local SIM (which you should), you can easily call ahead and directly reserve spots en route. If none of these will do, check out my detailed guide to finding good places to stay.

Festivals of Note

  • Semana Santa (Easter)
  • Cinco de Mayo (May)
  • Day of the Dead (November)
  • Festival of San Cristóbal (December)

How to Travel Around the Yucatan

The major roads are well-maintained and connect most any place you’ll need to go. In the center of the Yucatán, some of the cenotes are a bit further off the path and visiting them means winding through tiny towns and backroads. Otherwise, large and well-paved highways connect the major cities.

The Ado bus network is extensive and ideal for those on a budget. These buses are large, comfortable, and affordable. Rental cars are easy to come by, though expensive to rent—they tack on huge fees and taxes to the offered price. Here is the lowdown on everything you need to know about renting a car in Mexico.

The charming town of Izamal, Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula.
An overcast day in the charming town of Izamal, Mexico—one of my favorite spots in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cozumel yucatan peninsula
My nephews just loved the men dressed up for tourists in Cozumel.

Is the Yucatan Peninsula safe for travelers?

The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the safest areas of Mexico, though that doesn’t mean its unequivocally safe. In general, the Yucatan is safe to travel—that’s why I chose to travel there with my two young nephews. 

Though large swaths of Mexico suffer from cartel violence and safety concerns, the Yucatán has a thriving tourism industry and it works hard to preserve it. There are cartels in the Yucatan, and they have impacted tourism at times—several times, in fact—but in general the major physical safety concerns you find elsewhere in Mexico are dramatically lower here.

And note that the small bribes of the sort that works elsewhere in Mexico are iffier here. Best to just drive the speed limit and follow the laws.

The beaches and ruins of Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico.
The beaches of Tulum are a captivating stretch of the Yucatan’s Riviera Maya.
celestun yucatan
Flamingos take to flight in the Celestun biosphere reserve.

Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I’ve used IMG Global for more than a decade highly recommend it!

Pre-Trip Reading Inspiration: Books About Mexico

Yucatan, Mexico Travel Guide: What to Know & Where to Go on a road trip. A complete guide of travel recommendations, great reads, and responsible travel suggestions. Whether you have a week or a month, this guide shares the a clear itinerary!   #Mexico #TravelTips #TravelGuide #Wanderlust #BucketList #Yucatan #RivieraMaya

Fiction and Nonfiction Books About Mexico

  • The People’s Guide to Mexico: Even veteran Mexico travelers will enjoy this book. It’s like a guidebook, but even more. It’s hands-down the best guidebook you should use to understand the various regions, the cultural quirks, and all the reasons Mexico is a fantastic place to travel and live. It comes highly recommended by me, and by heaps of Amazon reviewers too.
  • Sliced Iguana: Travels in Mexico: On my list for a while now and recommended by readers as an easy read that gives a light touch to all the history and culture she talks about while retelling her journey.
  • Time Among the Maya: This is an in-depth longread about Maya culture, history backstory of the entire region. It’s likely something you want to read before leaving as it’s not a travel guide.
  • The Maya Sites – Hidden Treasures of the Rainforest: This book is the perfect road-trip companion for anyone exploring the Yucatan, but also Maya sites in Campeche, Chiapas, and into Guatemala. It’s not a straight-up travel guide, but rather a companion you can use for a history and overview of the temples as you explore, as well as personal recommendations from the author of his favorite parts of each Maya site.

Best Podcasts and Online Reads About Mexico

  • Mexico: History and Resistance: A solid podcast that makes listening to the country’s history easy. Download this and prep for your Mexico trip by taking a trip through time.
  • Mexico with kids: Good niche read with a lot of facts and information you might be wondering about family specific travel.

Find more regional fiction and nonfiction books and long-reads and you can read all my Mexico travel stories.

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Recommended Guidebook

We used the Lonely Planet entire time and it was fun to let the kids read aloud the history of each section as we drove. Having a paper guidebook also allowed them to browse through and pick activities in the area. I recommend carrying a Lonely Planet for specific recs and routes and timetables.

Cuzama yucatan peninsula
My nephew jumps into one of the sparkling blue cenotes in Cuzama, which you take a horse-drawn carriage to visit.
cenotes near Chichen Itza Valladolid, Mexico
This deep cenote was captivating and located near Chichen Itza, just outside of Valladolid, Mexico.

Best Things to Do in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

As noted, I took a road trip of the Yucatan Peninsula with my two nephews, and it was an epic adventure filled with all of the best activities that the Yucatan offers. I have also traveled the entire region solo as a backpacker on a budget, and it’s just a lot of fun no matter how you go about it.

The city guides below combine my advice across several trips—I’ve spent a lot of time exploring all of the best things to do, so it’s broken down by activities in each city/region. I also highlight those places where I stayed with my nephews, meaning they are family-friendly options!

My Favorite Travel Experiences in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

  1. Wandering the charming cobblestone streets of Izamal.
  2. Feeding turtles at the Isla Mujeres turtle farm.
  3. Ziplining through Xplor Park in the Riviera Maya, near Playa del Carmen.
  4. Galloping down an old railroad track to the gorgeous cenotes in Cuzamá.
  5. Wandering the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam.

Things to Do in Cancun

Playa Delfines
My nephew digs in the sand on Playa Delfines in Cancun.

Located on the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, most trips will start in Cancun since it’s home to the main international airport in the Yucatan Peninsula. Cancun is also the easiest place to rent a car (I found a great deal for our road trip via, or arrange buses to explore the region.

That being said, unless you’re into the party scene, you will likely just want to get in and out of Cancun. There are far better cities and towns to do most anything that Cancun has to offer. Let’s assume you have to stay a few days in Cancun, however. Here’s what to do in the city, as well as how to use Cancun’s amenities to prepare for your Yucatan road trip.

Immerse yourself in the turquoise waters of Playa Delfines.

Cancun is best known for its gorgeous beaches. Start your beach experience at Playa Delfines, one of the most picturesque stretches of sand in the area. It offers pristine waters and stunning views. Bask in the sun, take a refreshing dip, or simply relax with a book while enjoying the gentle breeze.

This is a good family-friendly beach if you have time to pass in the city. We spent an afternoon splashing in the waves here. The beach was clean, clear, and relatively shallow. It features good ood parking, and the kids enjoyed it. Note, however, that the waves are too strong for very tiny kids to safely play in the water.

If you want a livelier atmosphere, Playa Tortugas or Playa Chac Mool both have vibrant beach scenes. There you’ll find beach clubs, water sports activities, and beachside restaurants and bars.

Spend a night out on the town.

Alongside its beaches, Cancun is probably most well known for its thriving nightlife scene. There is no shortage of bars, nightclubs, and entertainment venues across the city. If this is your cup of tea, head to the Hotel Zone, where you’ll find a variety of lively nightclubs that host world-class DJs and offer a vibrant party atmosphere.

Alternatively, explore the downtown area to discover more intimate bars and lounges, where you can savor handcrafted cocktails and enjoy live music performances. Obviously this side of Cancun is not as kid-friendly. You can still enjoy the city at night as a family, but it’s more centered around good food.

Eat the streets in the Parque de las Palapas.

To make the most of your evening at Parque de las Palapas, immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere and embrace the vibrant ambiance that fills the park. My nephews just loved spending our evenings in this parque, which was just a three minute walk from our hostel.

As the sun sets, the park transforms into a bustling hub of activity. This was the first place that I sampled enticing street foods during my first visit to Mexico more than 15 years ago, and it’s where I always head each time I find myself in Cancun. This plaza features numerous stalls and vendors where you can indulge in mouthwatering tacos al pastor, crispy marquesitas, and flavorful esquites, while enjoying the live music.

Local cultural performances often take place here too, featuring traditional music, dance, and colorful costumes. It’s fun to find a comfortable spot to people-watch, observing the diverse crowd of locals and tourists who gather for leisurely walks and conversations.

Shop and eat at Mercado 28.

If you’re hungry for local food and a neat experience in Mexico, head to Mercado 28 (Market 28). Located in downtown Cancun, this bustling market is renowned for its diverse food stalls offering a wide variety of traditional Mexican street food. Mercado 28 is a vibrant hub where locals and tourists alike gather to savor authentic flavors and experience the lively atmosphere. You’ll find an array of street food vendors serving up delicious dishes such as tacos, quesadillas, tamales, elotes (grilled corn on the cob), tortas (Mexican sandwiches), and much more.

Stroll through the market’s maze-like corridors, where the aromas of sizzling meats, spices, and freshly baked goods fill the air. From the traditional to the adventurous, you’ll discover an abundance of food options to satisfy everyone in your group. Don’t forget to try local specialties like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), ceviche, and empanadas.

Mercado 28 also offers a great opportunity to interact with the friendly vendors who are passionate about their culinary creations. They are often happy to share their recommendations and provide insights into the flavors and ingredients of their dishes. And if you need to do some souvenir shopping, it’s also a great place to shop for handicrafts, souvenirs, and traditional Mexican products.

Stock up at Walmart.

Not gonna lie, we stayed in Cancun so briefly. We used it as a base to stock up for our trip with a case of water, snacks, snorkel gear, hats, and then we hit the road out-of-town. If you’re planning to road trip the Yucatan, then stopping at Walmart is a no-brainer since you can fill the car with snacks, water, and anything else you need to make the road trip fun and easy!

Sleep somewhere central.

  • Airport adjacent Airbnb: We stayed at this fantastic rental the night before our flight and it perfectly served our needs. It’s best if you have a car as it’s outside the city. The amenities make it amazing for families with kids. Since Airbnbs book up fast, consider using a VRBO as well.
  • Hostel Ka’beh: Has a nice vibe, though a definite party backpacker atmosphere. I’ve stayed here several times over the years for a cheap bed and good company. It wasn’t great for families though. Cancun International Suites is a good midrange option located near the city centre. If you’re looking for a high-end hotel near the beach try Beachscape Kin Ha Villas & Suites.

Best Things to Do in Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a great stop for singles, couples, or families. The island has beautiful beaches and a Turtle Farm doing amazing conservation work. If you’ve already rented a car, leave it at the docks in a secure garage (was a cinch to find) and take the ferry over. You can rent a golf cart on the island to easily get around.

Learn about the conservation work at the Turtle Farm (Tortugranja).

turtle farm isla mujeres
My nephews and I loved visiting the turtle farm on Isla Mujeres.

One of the clear highlights of our entire trip, my nephews raved about the Turtle Farm for weeks—it was one of their favorite things that we did while traveling the Yucatan. There are little turtles they can often touch, pools of turtles in varying stages, and a good message about conservation.

You can get a taxi out to it, or rent a golf cart or scooter for the day. They breed and release thousands of sea turtles, was great as a family, kids loved feeding turtles and seeing all the different colors and types.

Drive the island in a rented a golf cart.

We discovered these coconut vendors while driving our rented golf cart all around Isla Mujeres.

Drive around the island for a day or two and explore some of the points on the opposite end of the island. Makes for a full day adventure if you bring swimming gear and plan to explore and have lunch at the expat/local spot in the center of the island.

Frolic in the waters of Playa Norte.

Playa Norte isla mujeres
Playa Norte isla mujeres

Playa Norte features incredible clear and shallow waters. This beach was a hit with my nephews and it’s the best beach for kids we saw on our entire Yucatan road trip. If you took my recommendation in Cancun then you should have your own pool noodles to float in the wide, shallow waters. Bring drinks and sand buckets for the kids and you’ll never want to leave.

Catch a good night’s sleep.

  • Budget: Poc-na hostel: What a gorgeous spot and so much space. We didn’t stay here but our apartment was next door and I’d stay here if I was solo.
  • Midrange: Apartamentos Trinchan: Include small kitchen and suites big enough for four people. Very comfortable and convenient spot on the island with a fantastic coffee shop next door. We called and booked our apartment.

Eat something tasty.

There is no shortage of tasty food on the island—these are the places that got our repeat business.

  • Manana: Delicious guacamole and incredible fresh juices.
  • WikiTravel: Lists out the best restaurants on the island.

Things to Do Around the Riviera Maya (Tulum, Cozumel, & More)

tulum ruins yucatan
The Tulum ruins have the best views of the many ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Though this stretch of beaches in the Yucatán is best known for huge, sprawling resorts, it’s popular for a reason—the beaches are gorgeous and there is a strong tourism infrastructure.

I recommend a few days here to visit some of the hotspots like swimming with turtles and amazing snorkeling. If you’re visiting for the party scene, Playa del Carmen has leapt onto that scene in recent years.

Head to a Yucatan-style theme park for the day.

My nephews zipline over the forest canopy at Xplor Park.
xplor park riviera maya
They loved the fun 4WD route through caves and waterfalls.

The theme parks near Playa del Carmen are a perfect kid activity (or fun with a group of backpackers!). What makes them unique is how they incorporate many of the high points of the Yucatan Peninsula. Don’t expect roller coasters and a canned experience you could have anywhere—instead you’ll have a adventure-filled day of cenotes and jungle ziplining.

My nephews and I visited Xplor (review here) and loved it. If we ever go back we’ll surely try out Xcaret or Xel Ha next time. All three parks have offer their own take and their own pace of experiencing the culture of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Dive off the coast of Cozumel.

Ferry over to Cozumel and dive at the best dive spots in the country. This island is the mecca for cruise ships, but for good reason. The snorkeling and diving is fantastic. My nephew still, years later, raves about the sheer number of fish he spotted on a random reef we stopped at just off of the coast.

Eat all the things on a food tour.

Consider a food tour of Cozumel or Playa del Carmen. Cozumel Chef has rave reviews for cooking classes and food tours in the area and would make a great outing.

Snorkel with turtles at Akumal.

On the way to Tulum, if you start early you can hit up this small beach community (about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen). This used to be a fun, off-the-beaten-path activity that was low stress on you, the traveler, and on the turtles.

Now, organized tours arrive by 10am, and it’s a bit tougher to justify doing this as a responsible traveler. That said, if you decide to do it, arrive well before then to slip into the water and swim with the sea turtles.

Enjoy the seaside Maya ruins at Tulum.

Miles of white sandy beaches near Tulum make this a popular backpacking stop. We just came for the ruins, and they are very pretty and sunny—bring a hat! My nephews and I stayed for one night but decided we had enjoyed the gentler waters of Isla Mujeres better, so we moved inland.

Stop at the Coba ruins. 

If you have active kids this might be a better stop as you move inland as it’s impressive, less touristy, and you can bike to the ruins and then climb them for sweeping views of the jungly region.

Sleep somewhere nice.

  • Playa del Carmen: We just loved Vainilla Bed and Breakfast. It’s in a non-touristy area with food and shops walkable, and a longer walk to the beach is possible. We had a rental car so it was nice to have a spot away from the hustle. Highly recommended, the woman who runs it is delightful and the homemade jams at breakfast were delicious.
  • Tulum: We spent our time in Tulum at Hotel & Cabanas Zazil Kin and it was affordable and directly on the beach. You’ll have to splurge for A/C, but it’s an easy walk to the ruins and makes for a nice spot with kids. My nephews played in the sand right outside our bungalow door.

Things to Do in Valladolid

You’ll want to spend at least two nights here as there are several nearby cultural activities, and the town itself is beautiful. There is an old, historic charm to Valladolid and it’s very photogenic. There are also great places to eat and try a variety of Mexican foods.

Spend the day at Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza ruins yucatan
The main temple at Chichen Itza is worth time, but so is the nearby ball court, which is one of the coolest things you’ll learn about at any Maya ruins.

The major site for most travelers. It’s a large complex with a variety of Maya ruins. Make sure you either have a guide or eavesdrop on a guide at the ball court, as the explanation of the acoustics there is fascinating. This is a thorough online guide to the temples you can explore.

Soak in history at Ek ‘Balam.

Ek 'Balam
Ek ‘Balam has far fewer tourists but so much beauty. It’s an under-rated and highly recommended stop on any trip around the Yucatan Peninsula.

Our favorite of the ruins in the area. Although Chichen Itza is the clear draw, Ek ‘Balam is far less touristy and you can climb to the top of the pyramid and see far over the jungle canopy. The site also has some gorgeous restored carvings that give a glimpse of what it might have been like at the height of the Maya empire.

Take a dip at Cenote Dzitnup. 

There are two cenotes in the Chichen Itza complex. Both are beautiful and a great way to cool off for the afternoon.

Admire the Catedral de San Gervasio.

Gorgeous cathedral on the main square that makes a nice backdrop to evenings spent in the plaza central.

Eat the street food.

In the main square of Valladolid, kitty-corner from the cathedral, is a cafeteria type area with tiny restaurants offering niche Mexican eats. We used this for both breakfast and dinner several times.

Sleep somewhere central.

  • Budget: La Candelaria Hostel comes highly recommended for backpackers. They don’t accept children so it’s not ideal for families.
  • Vacation Rentals: Though we used a hotel because it had a pool and that was imperative for the kids, I’d easily pick a VRBO on a future trip.
  • Midrange: La Aurora Hotel Colonial is a good midrange option.
  • Splurge: If you’re looking for something more high-end try Hotel Posada San Juan.

Things to Do in Izamal

Izamal yucatan
Izamal is one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s hidden gems.

All of us agree, there’s something special about Izamal. If we had only used our guidebook, we might have skipped this tiny, sleepy, yellow Mexican town. But I turned to my friend Wandering Earl for travel planning advice—he lived in the region for years—and he said this was a must-do.

Though we thought to spend just two days here, our hotel was great and the town was easy so we instead spent four days doing little more than playing with new Dutch friends and eating street eats in the central plaza. Plus it’s on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mexico, so you know it’s going to be interesting.

Hike to the top of Kinich Kakmo Pyramid.

Kinich Kakmo Pyramid yucatan
My nephew Eric reaches the top of Kinich Kakmo Pyramid.

An easy walk in the town and it’s not too strenuous to get to the top and see the town laid out below. If you rent a horse carriage, this is one of the places they visit.

Explore the Izamal Monastery.

Izamal Monastery yucatan peninsula
It’s impossible to miss the Izamal Monastery as you walk through town.

The Izamal Monastery (Colonial Franciscan Monastery of San Antonio de Padua) is fascinating, huge, and unique in the world. And, of course, it’s gorgeously yellow.

Wander the charming streets of Izamal.

izamal central park
I think my nephew pet every single down in Izamal.

Really we just walked the town with ice creams in hand and it occupied us for the day. We watched dogs splash in the fountain, we explored hidden nooks-and-crannies, and we generally just enjoyed the slow pace of life in this charming town.

Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through town.

horse carriage ride
My nephews just loved the horse-drawn carriage ride through the charming streets.

My nephews pushed for a carriage ride. I was skeptical, but it turned out really cute and super fun for the kids. They loved hearing the horse hooves clop-clop-clop through the streets as we jostled along.

Even when we passed by places we had already seen on foot more than once, the horse and carriage made it all more fun as they pointed and laughed.

Eat the street food in the Mercado Municipal.

izamal street food
My nephew Vic waits for his favorite pork sandwich. He loved it so much that he refused to try anything else while we were in town.

There aren’t a heap of places to eat in Izamal, but then there are a few street food carts every evening in the town’s central park. The boys lived for the pork sandwiches from the cart right in front of the monastery.

Eat early to ensure you eat at all.

Eat early as the town closes down early and you will be hungry if you wait too late. These are two good spots.

  • Kinich El Sabor de Izamal. (Calle 27 #299, between Calles 28 & 30) A good range of Mexican dishes and we all enjoyed what we ordered.
  • El Toro Restaurante. (Calle 33, between Calles 30 & 32) Close to the main square and makes a good spot for lunch or dinner.

Sleep somewhere great.

  • Budget: We stayed at Hotel Macan Ché and it was thoroughly lovely; they have a very neat cenote-shaped pool where the boys lived for four days. If you’re there in the off-season you could try your luck without a reservation and likely get a slightly better rate.
  • Midrange: Hotel San Miguel Arcangel is well located, right on the main square and looking out over the convent. It’s a good, basic but clean option that makes a good spot to explore.

Things to Do in Mérida, Cuzama & Celestún

Sunset in the Parque Central Plaza de la Independencia in Mérida.
Sunset in the Parque Central of Merida, the Plaza de la Independencia.

As you head into this region of the Yucatán Peninsula, the pace tourism drops off a bit. Mérida is known for its language schools, but also for its stunning colonial streets and walkable city center. After leaving Izamal, we stopped at the cenotes of Cuzamá for an afternoon and it was fantastic—then we crashed in Mérida that night.

From Mérida, it’s an easy drive to one of the two biosphere reserves in the region. We opted for Celestún, which is a beach spot for Mexican vacationers more than tourists. The Celestún Biosphere Reserve is the real reason to come and one of the best things to do in the region—it’s home to thousands of mating flamingos. Alternatively, you could venture to Rio Lagartos to see the flamingos as well.

Pass an evening in the Plaza de la Independencia in Mérida.

Plaza de la Independencia in Mérida.
My nephews loved passing a fun the evening in the Plaza de la Independencia in Mérida.

The plaza at night is magical. The historic colonial streets make for pretty explorations, but for traveling with kids this plaza hums with life as the sun sets. My nephews were endlessly entertained with the vendors, the other kids, and the sweet treats.

Check out the Big Museum of the Maya World in Mérida.

The beautiful town of Merida, Mexico.
Merida is a larger city, but its charm is immediately evident as you wander the cobbled streets.

This is a good place to tie together many of the themes and history from other parts of the trip. It has a wide range of activities and exhibits.

Take a horse-drawn cart to the three cenotes of Cuzamá.

Cuzama cenotes
My nephews and I took a horse drawn carriage ride to the beautiful blue cenotes of Cuzama.

Use the map at the top of the post to find Chunkanan, which is where the horse-drawn carts leave for the three cenotes. It’s about 10 minutes outside of the town of Cuzamá. Make sure you go all the way to the end of the road to the right  CBO (community-based org).

There is a different group that will try to flag you into their parking lot, but keep going so that you are spending your funds with a responsible local business fairly and ethically supporting the surrounding community.

Visit the Celestún Biosphere Reserve.

flamingos Celestun Biosphere Reserve in the Yucatan, Mexico
The flamingos are a sight to behold at the Celestun Biosphere Reserve.
beach Celestun Biosphere Reserve in the Yucatan, Mexico
The beach along the coast near Celestun had warm waters but strong waves, so the boys mostly played in the sand.

Hire a boat from the collective on the beach and speed through the ocean and into the wide river expanses. Wear a bathing suit as you’ll have the chance to take a dip in some clear blue waters.

Sleep somewhere great.

Our hotel was central to everywhere we possibly wanted to visit in Merida.

Hotel Santa Maria in Mérida worked out perfectly. It was very affordable and close to everything. The rooms were basic but clean and had A/C. They also have a pool and free parking. I’d stay here again.

Eat something tasty.

We stayed at Gutierrez Hotel & Restaurant in Celestún. This place is right on the beach and we enjoyed it. The restaurant attached is terrific, and I loved that I could sit in the shade while the boys dug in the dirt. We called and booked via telephone, but they are online.

This site has a long list of other kid-friendly activities in the region.

Essential Travel Planning Resources

Yes, you need travel insurance.
IMG Global is the travel insurance I’ve used for well over a decade of traveling solo, and with kids. Here’s why.

🧳 Smart packing can save your trip.
Shop my favorite travel gear, including all of the packing essentials for world travel, gear to keep you safe on the road, my favorite travel books, and more.

🛏️ Find great accommodation. is essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too. Use these pro tips to find the best travel accommodation.

📍Navigate more effectively.
Rome2Rio is super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more. If you’re booking a rental car, I’ve always found the best deals on

✈️ Book affordable flights.
Expedia is one of the first places I look for low-cost flights.

Peruse all of my tips for round the world travel, or learn how to move and live abroad.

Yucatan Travel Guide: Stories from the Blog

I have traveled the Yucatan Peninsula many times, sometimes solo, and sometimes with my family. Each story was written live on my travel blog as I backpacked the region. Within these posts you’ll find detailed guides and stories about cultural quirks, fun activities, and things I enjoyed doing in every area of the Yucatan.