As the official “safest state in Mexico”, Yucatán is a major tourist favourite. With its endless beaches, Mayan archaeological sites and vibrant pastel-coloured streets, it certainly provides something for every traveller. The perfect first destination in our brand new “five days” series, we’ve put together an action-packed and thrilling itinerary, to see you through your trip.
Day 1 – Mérida
What better place to start your trip than in Mérida, the largest town in the Yucatan state? Brimming with crumbling colonial buildings and wide cobbled plazas, the town's historic centre is highly walkable. Mérida is one of those places that draws expats, likely due to its creative scene and charmingly sleepy pace of life. You too may find that once here, you simply don’t want to leave!
Spend your morning getting your bearings, taking in areas such as the Plaza Grande and the Plaza de Santa Lucia. Many of the old colonial buildings are open to the public, such as the Quinta Montes Molina. Alternatively, if you are a bit of a property junkie, why not check out Colonial Mérida Real Estate ahead of time? Have a browse through their listings of stunning colonial homes, or even arrange a viewing!
In the afternoon, after grabbing lunch at Lucas De Galvez market or La Chaya Maya, head down to the Palacio de Gobierno - another stately colonial building. Pay close attention to the murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco, added in the 1970s, for a poignant nod to the region’s complicated relationship between indigenous Mayan culture and Spanish conquistadores. If you still have time, the Gran museo del Mundo Maya hosts a large collection of fascinating artefacts and sculptures from Chichén Itzá – a perfect way to prepare for the real thing.
Perhaps Mérida’s daytime sleepiness is on account of its surprisingly rousing nightlife. Mercado 60 and La Negrita are two of the most popular bars in town, with live music, cocktails and mixed cuisine. The type of places you visit for one and end up dancing all night, these bars are the perfect place to mix with locals, have a boogie and round off a busy first day in paradise.
Budget – Nomadas Hostel (from €9)
Average – Viva Mérida Hotel Boutique (from €49)
Luxury – Wayam Mundo Imperial (from €131)
Day 2 – Uxmal
After a busy first day, you’ll likely want a change of pace to rest, rejuvenate and possibly work off a margarita induced hangover. Spend the morning relaxing in a plaza cafe, before driving the hour long route to the ancient Mayan archaeological site of Uxmal. Beautifully preserved and restored, this ancient structure is a classic example of Mayan architecture, perfectly aligned to compliment the movements of the planets. Make sure you enlist the help of a tour guide to get the most out of this fascinating window to history. To see the site at its most spectacular, come later in the evening for the famous nightly Light & Sound show. If you were saving up for one luxury night, let it be a stay at the Lodge at Uxmal, a gorgeously designed hotel with thatched huts, winding pools and romantic honeymoon suites.
Budget: Villas Arqueologicas (from €27)
Average: Uxmal Resort Maya (from €51)
Luxury: the Lodge at Uxmal (from €214)
Day 3 – Valladolid
The next morning, make the 3 hour drive back through Mérida and out west to Valladolid. Today is the day to explore the Cenotes, natural water-filled caves and sinkholes that makes this region so famous. A cool, refreshing and curious place to have a swim and escape the heat, Cenotes are popular with locals and travellers alike. Just outside of Valladolid, a popular spot is Cenote X’Canche, a large open-air natural pool with hanging vines and wooden walkways. There is even a zip-line! The entrance fee is 150 pesos and it can be accessed by car or local bus. Alternatively, one of the most spectacular cenotes in the whole of Yucatan is Cenote Oxmán, also just outside of Valladolid and enshrined within a towering cave of natural stone. For 100 pesos, visitors can use the pool and loungers, as well as receive 50 pesos credit towards food and drink.
That evening, head back to Valladolid for an evening stroll through the plaza mayor and Parque Francisco, to watch as local musicians and dancers perform traditional Mayan Jarana dance. Finish off your day with dinner at Casa Conato Cultural 1910, for a lavish meal in bustling, homely surroundings.
Budget: Hostel La Candelaria (from €13)
Average: Casa Daniels (from €28)
Luxury: Silken Juan de Austria (from €99)
Day 4 – Chichen Itza
Today’s the day to finally visit Yucatan’s top attraction. For many, this is the real reason to come to the region in the first place and it certainly cannot be missed from any visit. This is Chichén Itzá, the remains of one of the largest Mayan cities in the Americas. As a hugely popular destination, it is important to get there early, before the crowds and the heat of the day take over (most bus groups start arriving at 9.30am, but the site officially opens at 8am). Sign onto a tour and be guided around the Pyramid and the Sacred Cenote, learning of the many secrets, myths and legends attributed to this magic site.
From human sacrifices to ancient wisdom, there is still so much we don’t understand about how the ancient Mayans lived (or what they knew that we didn’t!), with new wonders being discovered every year. It was only a couple decades ago for instance, that tour guides noticed the electroacoustic effect that occurs in the staircase of the Pyramid of Kukulkan. Whether by design or coincidence, a person’s clap within this space distorts as the noise bounces off the walls, imitating the sound of a Quetzal bird. This could just be a random effect, but the name Kukulkan actually means “Quetzal-feathered serpent” in Yucatec Mayan!
To learn more about the Mayan City of Chichén Itzá, check out this video:
That evening, head back to Valladolid to spend the night and prepare for your final day.
Day 5 – Las Coloradas and back to Mérida
The next morning, head into town for some breakfast and horchata (sweet rice milk drink). If you don’t fancy another long drive, spend your final day in Valladolid, as you’ll find there’s still so much more to see. Take a tour round the quirky Casa de los Venados, go shopping at the Mercado Municipal or even take a Mayan ceramic class!
For those looking to pack in as much as possible, get up early and take the two-hour drive down to Las Coloradas, for a walk around the gorgeous pastel-coloured lakes. The lakes here are used for salt harvesting, an industry that dates all the way back to Mayan times. Certain red-coloured algae thrive in these salty waters, giving the water its vibrant candy-floss hue. This is in fact also how the local pink flamingos get their colour – from eating the same algae! An amazing spot to get vibrant photos, this is the perfect way to round off your adventure in Yucatan.
From Las Coloradas, you can drive three hours east to Cancún or back to Mérida, to continue your adventures in Mexico. With thirty other states and endless colourful towns, archaeological wonders and culinary hotspots, there’s still so much more to this incredible country to explore!