With its lush jungles, white-sand beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, vibrant cities, and magical villages, it wasn’t easy to create a short list of the best places in Yucatan, Mexico!
After spending about five weeks exploring Yucatán state, my list of places I still want to visit has only gotten longer! After all, this state is an underrated gem, bursting with delicious food, fascinating history, and incredibly rich culture and traditions.
So, where should you go in Yucatán, México? From famous places like Chichen Itza and Mérida to unknown spots like the “Yellow City” and Ek Balam – you’re about to find out!
In this guide, we’ll dive into the best places to visit in Yucatan – as well as the best things to see and do in each Yucatan destination. And, as always, I’ll also share my must-know tips to help you plan the trip of your dreams!
Table of Contents
- Is Yucatan Worth Visiting?
- Is Yucatan, Mexico Safe?
- How to Get Around the Yucatán
- Best Destinations in the Yucatán State of Mexico
- Yucatan, Mexico Travel FAQs
- Final Thoughts: Best Places in Yucatán, México
- Did you know…
*This post may contain affiliate links.
Is Yucatan Worth Visiting?
One of the reasons I love Mexico so much is its diversity of cultures – and this state is no exception.
Yucatán is home to so many cultural wonders and hidden gems that you’d never experience outside its borders.
The Yucatán’s fascinating ancient history; Maya ruins (like Chichen Itza and Ek Balam); endemic cuisine (including dishes like cochinita pibil, sikil pak, and poc chuc); beautiful nature reserves; dense jungles; beautiful white-sand beaches; cenotes; vibrant capital city; warm people; authentic living Maya villages; collection of official Pueblos Màgicos (magical towns); and peaceful vibe are a few reasons why this state is so special.
So is Yucatán worth visiting? I think the answer is clear. Yes!
If you can deal with the extreme heat and humidity, you’re going to love this state – especially with this guide to the best Yucatán destinations at your fingertips!
But keep in mind, this post is about the Yucatan state – not the entire Yucatan Peninsula, not Quintana Roo, and not the Riviera Maya or the beach clubs of Tulum!
Is Yucatan, Mexico Safe?
After spending a little more than one month in Yucatán, I can confidently say: Yucatán is very safe.
Yucatán is one of the safest states in all of México. In fact, the U.S. Department of State doesn’t even have a travel advisory in place for Yucatán other than “Exercise Normal Precautions.”
I have lived in México as a digital nomad for almost two years, and while I typically always feel safe in México – from Mexico City to Oaxaca City to San Pancho to Guanajuato City and beyond – this region took my feelings of personal safety up about five notches!
Between walking around Mérida and Valladolid at 11 PM, driving all across the state in a rental car, and getting off the beaten path in small towns, you’d think we’d have had at least a few sketchy moments. But nope!
So if you’re not so experienced when it comes to intrepid Mexico travel – or Latin American travel in general – then exploring these 9 best places in the Yucatán is a great place to start!
Yucatán Safety Tips
Even though the Yucatán state is generally considered safe, you still always have to deploy common sense and stay aware of your surroundings.
Here are some general travel safety tips you should always follow:
- Watch your belongings and don’t be flashy with valuables; use a crossbody bag like this or a belt bag like this to keep your things close and in front of your body.
- Instead of walking back to your hotel late at night, use Uber (so there’s a paper trail) or local taxis.
- Only travel long distances (i.e. on the highways from destination to destination) during daylight hours.
- Purchase a travel insurance policy that covers you for medical and dental emergencies, as well as travel delays and incidents. Take it from me, accidents happen during intrepid adventures like road trips through the Yucatán! This is the travel insurance I have and recommend.
How to Get Around the Yucatán
Before we dive into the best places in the Yucatán state, let’s talk about how you’ll get to them.
Whether you want to rent a car and drive yourself, take local buses or colectivos (shared shuttles), or base yourself in a popular hub (like Mérida) and go on a few guided day trips from there, the Yucatán’s best destinations are pretty well-connected and easy to travel between.
Rent a Car
My top recommendation is to rent a car – for a lot of reasons:
- So you can get off the beaten path and explore the towns, ruins, cenotes, beaches, and other hidden gems that buses don’t service;
- For sheer convenience;
- And so you can crank your air conditioning up to full blast…
(Don’t underestimate the omnipresent heat and humidity here. I’ve never sweat so much in my life!)
Plus, renting a car in the Yucatán is very affordable. We typically spent between $30-50 USD per day, including insurance.
Generally speaking, roads and highways around the Yucatán state are paved, in great condition, and safe for tourists… However, as with anywhere in México, it’s best practice to drive during daylight hours only.
Important note about rental car insurance: If you decide to purchase the third-party liability insurance offered online when you make your rental car reservation, you’ll still be required by the Mexican government to purchase local Mexican third-party liability insurance at pick-up. So, while I’m not telling you not to buy insurance online (that’s your decision!), I am saying that, if you do, you may be disappointed to have to pay for another version of the same thing at the rental counter! Click here to book your rental car.
Take the Bus
Many of the best places in Yucatan state – such as Mérida, Valladolid, Izamal, and Sisal – are connected by many different bus routes and serviced multiple times per day. But that doesn’t always equate to a direct route!
Here is a great resource for bus routes and schedules around the Yucatan Peninsula.
I didn’t take the bus at all in Yucatán, so I don’t have any top tips to share. Though it’s sure to be a slower, hotter, and far less convenient option! Click here to book your rental car.
Best Destinations in the Yucatán State of Mexico
The vibrant capital city of Yucatán – filled with stunning old architecture, fabulous restaurants and bars, and a festive yet relaxed atmosphere – is a must-visit.
As the cultural heart of the state, you’ll find museums galore, bustling markets, traditional food stalls, and plenty of leafy parks. There’s also always a fun and free festival or event going on somewhere in the city.
You should plan to stay in Mérida for at least two full days, plus longer if you plan to take day trips from the city.
For a whole month, Mérida was my home base for exploring the best Yucatán destinations, and I loved it!
Must-Do Activities in Mérida
- Walk down the bustling and ornate Paseo Montejo (the main street)
- Stroll the colorful streets of El Centro
- Learn to cook traditional Yucatecan food on this Mérida Cooking Class & Market Tour (a must-do!)
- People watch in the Zócalo (the main square) and visit the Catedral de Mérida
- Check out the nightly Semana Meridana cultural events
- Eat traditional Yucatecan food at the Museum of Yucateca Gastronomy (MUGY) or La Chaya Maya
- Visit the Mayan World Museum of Mérida
- Go on this Walking Street Food Tour of Mérida
- Stroll through the Slow Food Market on Saturday morning
- See the abandoned mansions along Avenida Colón
Where to Stay in Mérida
In Mérida, plan to stay in El Centro or neighborhoods north of El Centro. Here are the best accommodations in Mérida:
- Casa Azul Monumento Historico ($$$)
- TreeHouse Boutique Hotel ($$$)
- Villa Orquídea Boutique Hotel ($$)
- Kuka y Letras ($)
Hot tip: From chic apartment rentals to boutique hotels, this is the website I use to find the best deals on accommodation worldwide. Click here to find the perfect place to stay in Mérida!
As an official Pueblo Mágico (magical town), Valladolid is one of the best places to visit in Yucatán.
This charming small city, which was founded in 1543, is home to vibrant streets, a downtown cenote, lovely boutique shops, traditional restaurants, fascinating museums, and a hauntingly beautiful former convent.
Plan to spend two full days exploring Valladolid, plus one more day to take a half-day trip to nearby Chichen Itza (see #3 below).
Must-Do Activities in Valladolid
- Visit the Xkopek Beekeeping Park to learn about ancient Maya beekeeping (so interesting!)
- Go on a free historical walking tour
- Swim in Cenote Zaci
- Watch the light show at the Convent of San Bernardino
- Stroll down Calzada de los Frailes (the cutest pedestrian shopping street)
- Take a half-day trip to Chichen Itza
- Discover more of the best things to do in Valladolid here!
Where to Stay in Valladolid
- Le Muuch Boutique Hotel ($$): This is where I stayed and highly recommend!
- Coqui Coqui La Perfumeria ($$): There’s only one suite (with a two-night minimum), so book in advance!
- Oriundo Luxury Nature Villas ($$$)
- Olbil Hotel Boutique ($$)
- Hotel Boutique SAYAB ($)
3. Chichen Itza
Does Chichen Itza really require an introduction? Of course, this is one of the best places in Yucatán!
The magnificent ruins of this ancient Mayan city (which was actually home to Maya and Toltec groups for about 1,000 years) is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and by far the most famous archaeological site in Mexico!
From the Great Ball Court to El Castillo (the Temple of Kukulcan, pictured above!) to the circular astronomical observatory known as El Caracol, I was blown away by Chichen Itza’s mystical grandeur. You will be too!
Chichen Itza is located about 50 minutes from Valladolid and 1.5 hours from Mérida, making it an easy half-day trip.
Best Guided Tours to Chichen Itza
If you want to take a guided tour to Chichen Itza, here are two of the best options.
- FROM VALLADOLID: Chichen Itza, Cenote, and Izamal Tour from Valladolid
- FROM MERIDA: Small Group Chichen Itza, Food Experience, Cenote, and Izamal Tour from Mérida
Both of the tours above include a bonus stop in the Yellow City of Izamal (see #4).
Must-Know Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza
- AVOID visiting on Sunday. Mexican citizens and residents visit free on Sundays, which means this is, by far, the busiest day to visit. (Ignore this tip if you’re eligible to visit for free!)
- Saturday is the second-busiest day of the week; visiting Monday through Friday is best.
- Chichen Itza opens at 8 AM. In the high season (November through April), arrive no later than 7 AM to get in line to purchase your ticket because the line can get extremely long (and you’ll be waiting in the heat).
- Visiting first thing in the morning means less crowds and cooler temperatures.
- Bring a sunhat, water, sunglasses, and natural sunscreen.
- Wear light, breathable clothing that protects you from sunburn.
- You’ll get the most out of your experience if you book a guided tour. That way, you don’t have to deal with parking or waiting in line for a ticket. And most importantly, you’ll learn the history of Chichen Itza through your guide. Click here to book a guided tour from Valladolid OR here to book a guided tour from Mérida.
- If you visit on your own, you can hire an official guide at the entrance (negotiate on the price!).
- Know that you can’t bring food or any drinks (other than water) into the park.
4. Izamal (The Yellow City)
Have you ever heard of Mexico’s “Yellow City”? Every quaint cobblestone street in Izamal’s historic quarter is lined by yellow colonial buildings. And it couldn’t be more charming!
Izamal is another Yucatán destination designated as a Pueblo Mágico and also known as the “City of Three Cultures” thanks to its ancient Maya history, Spanish colonial architecture, and modern-day Yucatecan traditions.
I opted to spend the night in this beautiful historic hacienda to give myself a bit more time here!
Guided Day Trips to Izamal
If you don’t plan to rent a car to visit the best places in Yucatan, then guided tours are a good option. Here are the best day trips to Izamal.
- Private Izamal Tour + Mayan Handcraft Jewelry Workshop
- Small Group Izamal, Chichen Itza + Cenote Tour
Must-Do Activities in Izamal
- Visit the Convento de San Antonio de Padua
- Eat traditional Yucatecan food at Restaurante Kinich Izamal
- Climb up the ancient Maya pyramid of Kinich Kak Moo for sunset
- Browse the traditional Mercado Municipal for locally-made souvenirs and street food
- Explore the beautiful yellow streets and take lots of photos
- Stay overnight in a historic hacienda like this one
- Discover more of the best things to do in Izamal here!
Where to Stay in Izamal
- Hacienda Sacnicte ($): Where I stayed and loved!
- Coqui Coqui Casa de los Santos ($$$): This beautiful one-room hotel is as exclusive as it gets! Book well in advance.)
- Hacienda Hotel Santo Domingo ($)
- Hotel Hacienda Izamal ($)
5. Ek Balam
The ruins of Ek Balam may be the best-kept secret in the Yucatán Peninsula.
From roughly 300 B.C. until the Spanish arrived, Ek Balam thrived; it’s estimated that 12,000 to 18,000 people lived there! Strategically situated between Chichen Itza and Cobá, Ek Balam was a rich city – and likely the seat of the Maya “Tlalol” kingdom.
Ek Balam translates to “Black Jaguar,” which makes perfect sense when you see the ornate carvings and sculptures that adorn the palace – including a grand doorway that resembles a jaguar’s mouth.
In my opinion, Ek Balam is nearly (if not, just) as impressive as Chichen Itza, but draws only a fraction of the crowds. Plus, you’re allowed to climb up all of the pyramids for amazing 360° views of the dense Yucatan jungle!
But you’ve been warned: Climbing the pyramids in that Yucatan heat is not easy. You’ll probably get a little fatigued (and a lot sweaty)! So bring lots of water and wear sun protection.
And bring a swimsuit. There are a few cenotes (like Cenote Xcanche and Cenote Hubiku) nearby to cool off in after.
Best Guided Tours to Ek Balam
- Rio Lagartos and Ek Balam Tour from Valladolid
- Rio Lagartos, Las Coloradas, Ek Balam, and Cenote Private Tour from Valladolid
How to Get to Ek Balam
This archaeological site is conveniently located 35 minutes from Valladolid, and roughly 2 hours from Tulum, Merida, and Cancun.
6. All of the Cenotes
There are thousands of cenotes (underground sinkholes) throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, so it’s impossible to pick the best one.
But a top 10? That, I can do.
As you drive through the Yucatán state, each of these cenotes should be on your radar.
Save them in your Google Maps app now so that, as you explore in the intense Yucatán heat and humidity, you’ll never be far away from a refreshing dip!
- Cenote Homún near Mérida
- Cenotes Dzitnup near Valladolid
- Yokdzonot Cenote near Chichen Itza
- Zazil Tunich near Valladolid
- Cenote Ik Kil near Chichen Itza
- Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyché near Mérida
- Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman near Valladolid
- Cenote Suytun near Valladolid
- Cenote Santa Bárbara near Mérida
- Cenote Zaci in downtown Valladolid
If you want to visit a natural cenote water park, then head to the Riviera Maya. There are all sorts of parks around Playa del Carmen and Tulúm. I visited Ecopark Kantun Chi and really enjoyed it!
Nestled into the Gulf side of the Yucatán Peninsula, the “Pueblo Mágico” of Sisal is a cute, colorful, authentic fishing village that’s totally off the beaten track.
In Sisal, you’ll find white-sand beaches and emerald waters; mangroves full of flamingos, crocodiles, and other marine animals; restaurants serving up delicious fresh-caught seafood; historic sites like the Fort of Santiago and Empress Carlota’s house; a relaxed, quiet vibe; and some palapas on the beach to shade yourself from the strong Yucatan sun!
Located just 75 minutes away from Mérida, Sisal is an easy day trip – but I also think it’s the perfect place for a quiet and relaxing beach vacation.
Best Things to Do in Sisal
- Relax on the beautiful white-sand beaches
- Explore the mangroves on a boat tour and spot crocodiles, flamingos, and many other aquatic birds
- Eat fresh ceviche and other typical Yucatecan seafood dishes at a palapa on the beach
- Sip fruit-infused micheladas at La Brisa del Mar
- See the historic landmarks, including the Santiago Fort and Sisal Lighthouse, Sisal Pier, and Empress Carlota’s House
Where to Stay in Sisal
9. Río Lagartos & Las Coloradas
If you’re keen on an aquatic safari, then Río Lagartos is one of the best places in Yucatán for it!
Located on the Gulf side of the Yucatan Peninsula, just 1.5 hours north of Valladolid, the tiny fishing village of Río Lagartos is home to the UNESCO Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.
When you arrive, eat some freshly caught seafood for lunch (yum!), then go on a boat tour through the reserve’s mangroves, lagoons, marshes, and estuaries to see crocodiles and all kinds of beautiful birds (including pink flamingos!).
For our private two-hour boat tour of the reserve (which we arranged with a captain on arrival), we paid 500 pesos per person.
While in Río Lagartos, you can also visit the Instagram-famous pink lakes of Las Coloradas. The lakes’ incredibly salty water attracts plankton, red-colored algae, and brine shrimp – that’s what makes them pink! You can ask your boat captain to include a visit to Las Coloradas.
Plan to drive yourself in your rental car (and stop at Ek Balam on the way!), or book one of the tours below.
- Rio Lagartos and Ek Balam Tour from Valladolid
- Rio Lagartos, Las Coloradas, Ek Balam, and Cenote Private Tour from Valladolid
Yucatan, Mexico Travel FAQs
After spending more than a month in Yucatán, I can say that Merida and Valladolid are the two best places to base yourself. As a destination, I think Merida has more to offer than Valladolid (specifically, there are better restaurants/bars), however, each city is within close driving distance of other must-visit Yucatan destinations! Merida is very close to Playa Progreso, Sisal, Uxmal, Celestun, Izamal, and San Crisanto. Meanwhile, Valladolid is close to Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Rio Lagartos, lots of cenotes, and some interesting Maya villages. Why not spend half of your time based in Merida, and half of your time based in Valladolid?
Despite its many cultural wonders (like “magic towns,” Maya ruins, beautiful nature reserves, and white-sand beaches), I’d still consider Yucatán state a hidden gem in Mexico! Most travelers only visit Chichen Itza, and skip the rest of Yucatan state – opting to explore the touristy areas of the Yucatan Peninsula, like the Riviera Maya and Cancun. But Yucatan state is so much more than Chichen Itza! Check out this guide for 9 of the best places to explore in Yucatan, Mexico!
The Yucatán Peninsula is known for its lush jungles, ancient Mayan ruins (specifically Chichen Itza), and beautiful (and touristy) beach cities like Playa del Carmen, Cancún, and Tulúm. However, Yucatán state is home to off-the-beaten-path destinations, delicious food, fascinating history, and official Pueblos Magicos (“magic towns”) like Izamal. In this guide, you’ll discover the best places to visit in Yucatan state!
Rainy season in Yucatan spans May through October. Therefore, the most popular/busiest time to visit Yucatan (the high season) is between November and April. I spent August and September in Yucatán and it was very hot and humid, with some scattered rains showers that cooled down the days.
You should plan to spend at least one week in Yucatán state. With seven days, you’ll have time to visit Chichen Itza, Valladolid, Mérida, Izamal, and maybe even a beach town. I spent five weeks exploring the state and still missed out on visiting cool, lesser-known destinations and archeological sites! I would love to go back and check out other beautiful places in Yucatán.
The state of Yucatán is located in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, together with two other states namely: Campeche and Quintana Roo. The Yucatán Peninsula is the southeasternmost part of Mexico, bordered by Belize and Guatemala, and surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
Final Thoughts: Best Places in Yucatán, México
After exploring Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula for over a month, I can say for sure: this state is so underrated and home to many more hidden gems than you might think!
Beyond the 9 best places in Yucatan, Mexico listed above, the coastal destinations of Celestún, Playa Progreso, and San Crisanto should be on your radar – as well as the Maya ruins of Uxmal and some other relatively unknown archaeological sites in the Puuc Hills such as Kabah, Labná, and Sayil. These are some of the best Yucatán places I didn’t have time to visit last time that I’d go out of my way for next time!
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MORE INSPIRATION FROM MEXICO’S YUCATAN PENINSULA
- 22 Amazing Things to Do in Valladolid + Must-Know Tips
- 11 Best Things to Do in Izamal, Mexico: Yucatán’s “Yellow City”
- 6 Best Things to Do in Sisal, Yucatán + Must-Know Tips
Did you know…
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