34 Best Places in Yucatan Mexico to Visit in 2024: Local’s Guide

Looking for the best places to visit in the Yucatan, Mexico? Ive got you covered. 

While this cultured part of Southeastern Mexico is one of the most popular tourist regions in the country, many destinations in the Yucatan peninsula remain largely untapped because, well, most travelers all stick to the same few familiar places. 

Sure, everyone has heard of Tulum, Cancun, Valladolid, and the Riviera Maya, but have you heard of the secluded beaches of Telchac Puerto, Dzilam de Bravo, or Chuburna? 

You have surely seen the sunbleached ruins of Chichen Itza all over your social media feed but have you ever thought to explore the ancient Mayan cities of Oxkintok, Mayapan, or Ake? 

You are in good hands here because I have been living in the Yucatan for the last two years. During that time, I have made it my mission to explore as much of my new home as possible and I have gotten to know the Yucatan extremely well.

Arriving at Chichen Itza early in the morning before the crowds

34 Best Places to Visit in the Yucatan According to a Local

First thing first when talking about the Yucatan is to know what we are referring to. The “Yucatan peninsula” refers to the tristate area of Campeche state, the Yucatan state, and Quintana Roo. This guide will refer to places in the Yucatan state.  

There is so much to see and do in this region that, like me, you could spend literally years here and still constantly be finding new highlights. Here, you will find breathtaking white-sand beaches bordered by translucent aquamarine waters, fascinating ruins, museums and archeological sites, quaint pueblos, and spectacular haciendas. 

There is something for every type of traveler here. Best of all, it is still very easy to go off the beaten path in this region, even during the high season.

Brunette woman in pink and red dress standing in front of the beautiful yellow church at Parque de Santa Ana, Merida
The beautiful yellow church at Parque de Santa Ana, Merida

Merida

The cultural Yucatan capital of Merida is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico and a place that is slowly but surely, starting to attract more attention from international tourists. The “White City” dates back to 1542 when it was founded by the Spanish colonizer Francisco de Montejo and built on the site of the Mayan city of T’ho.

Merida’s old town, filled with colorful, cobblestone streets, and opulent, grand colonial mansions, is a photographer’s dream. The city is quite the gourmand, too, and is abound with excellent restaurants that specialize in Yucatecan cuisine as well as more contemporary recipes that fuse Mexican classics with international cuisine.

While a lot of people rush through Merida en route to Chichen Itza and the Riviera Maya, it is worth spending at least 2-3 days in the city so that you can really scratch beneath the surface and get to know its old town, museums, and the various barrios here.

Merida is the safest city in Mexico and one of the safest in the Americas on the whole which can make it a great starting point if you are nervous about traveling to Mexico for the first time.

Places to visit in the Yucatan: Woman in red dress standing in front of the Iglesia y Convento de San Miguel Arcángel, Mani, Yucatan 
Iglesia y Convento de San Miguel Arcángel, Mani, Yucatan 

Mani 

The city of Mani is one of seven pueblo magicos in the Yucatan state. Its name means “peanut” in Mayan, but the area is best known for its resident beekeepers and their production of sweet, sticky Yucatecan honey.

The honey made and sold here is harvested from a specific type of stingless bee native to the Yucatan known as “xunan kab”. Today, only around 100 people care for these bees and keep the tradition alive – largely because the work is labor intensive and the bees produce less than a liter of honey over the course of an entire year. 

Even the ancient Mayans harvested honey from these bees as they believed it to have healing properties. You can head to one of the meliponarios (honey farms) while you are in the region to learn about the practice. 

Although there are multiple, I would recommend going to meet Father Luis Quintal Medina at the “U Naajil Yuum K’iin”  meliponario. The honey makes a wonderful souvenir from your trip to Mexico and is great paired with pancakes or fruit and granola. 

Places to visit in the Yucatan: the ancient city of Oxkintok
Places to visit in the Yucatan: the ancient city of Oxkintok

Oxkintok

The ancient Mayan city of Oxkintok (meaning “three flint suns” in Yucatec Mayan) is one of the least visited ruins in the Yucatan, yet one of the most expansive and rewarding. The archeological site is just over an hour away from Merida and is comprised of multiple pyramid groups, interesting sculptures of Mayan nobles and deities, Puuc-style archways, and, most fascinating of all, a labyrinth. 

Labyrinths are fairly rare in Mayan ruins; there are only a couple of other known labyrinths that have been excavated (in the Chiapas sites of Yaxchilán and Toniná). The structure is known as the “Satunsat” which literally translates to “place where you can get lost” and is split across three floors said to represent the earth, the celestial plane, and the underworld (“Xibalba”). 

Oxkintok does not see anywhere near the level of crowds that you see at more famous Yucatan attractions like Chichen Itza. There is a guestbook at the entrance where guests need to sign in upon arrival and at most, you only really see 4-5 other names there. 

During our visit, we had the entire site to ourselves!   

The bright yellow Iglesia Cholul, Yucatan
The bright yellow Iglesia Cholul, Yucatan

Cholul 

Cholul is a charming little Yucatecan village that awaits just northeast of the city of Merida. Though small, it is a very worthwhile place to spend an afternoon if you want to experience what life is like in a traditional Yucatan pueblo. 

Parque K’íiwik Cholul marks the center of the settlement and it is encircled by independent boutique stores, quaint bakeries, and elegant restaurants that attract a well-heeled crowd. On Sunday mornings, a small flea market is hosted in the grounds of the church where locals set up stalls selling everything from fresh flowers and plants, fruits and vegetables, toys and clothing, to various bric-a-brac. 

Even if you are staying in the center of Merida, it is worth heading out to Cholul just for the dining experience. Al Modar (C. 20 106, Cholul) is a great breakfast and brunch spot serving European and Mexican breakfast specialties, along with grand cappuccinos the size of your head. 

Across the way, Sabor a Mango (Calle 23 100 Por Calle 20) serves elevated Mexican food with an international twist. Think Yucatec-style jerk chicken or a Mayan spin on Thai red curry. Live musicians are hosted in the property gardens on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, performing a range of jazz, blues, rock, and Mexican pop music. 

A stepped pyramid at the archeological site of Ake, Yucatan
A stepped pyramid at the archeological site of Ake, Yucatan

Ake

Like Oxkintok, and a couple of other Mayan ruins in Mexico on this list, the ancient city of Ake is largely overlooked and off the beaten path. The name Ake means “place of the reeds” in Yucatec Mayan, but not an awful lot is known about the city or its leaders. 

Its history has been very much lost in time, though it is believed that the first inhabitants of Ake moved to the area some 2,300 years ago. The city really thrived between 600 and 1,200 AD until, like many Mayan settlements, it was eventually abandoned. 

Most of the buildings here have been built in “megalithic” style which means they were created using giant stone blocks. 

There are some interesting stepped pyramids that you can climb, and most of the structures encircle a large central courtyard that is believed to have once housed an important governor’s home. The colonnaded structure that awaits to your left after entering the complex is the “Temple of the Columns” which is believed to have once been a marketplace, and supposedly housed the largest thatched palapa roof in the Mayan world. 

Ake is interesting because, aside from the ruins, the modern-day village is home to one of the only still-functioning haciendas in the Yucatan. Many of Ake’s 343 residents work here and cultivate henequen to make natural fiber products. 

If you stop by during the week, one of the workers will be happy to give you a tour for a few pesos. 

Doña Evelia Huevos Motuleños in Mercado Municipal 20 de Noviembre, Motul
Doña Evelia Huevos Motuleños in Mercado Municipal 20 de Noviembre, Motul

Motul

The city of Motul awaits in the center of the Yucatan state, some 42km east of the capital of Merida. In 2023, it was one of the newest additions to the list of pueblo magicos in Mexico. 

(A pueblo magico is anywhere that has been recognized for offering a particularly special local culture, history, architecture, or gastronomy and when somewhere is flagged as such, it is usually a very good indicator that it is worth visiting). 

Motul is best known for being the birthplace of the regional breakfast dish “huevos motuleños”. The simple dish is made by placing two eggs fried sunny side up on top of lightly fried tortillas slathered in refried beans and topped with ham, before covering everything with a slightly spicy tomato salsa, peas, and hot sauce. 

The dish has captured the hearts of people across the Yucatán Peninsula since its creation and while it is available virtually everywhere from Campeche City to Tulum, nothing beats sampling it in its birthplace. Of the various eateries in Motul specializing in this dish, the restaurant Doña Evelia Huevos Motuleños in Mercado Municipal 20 de Noviembre serves the best of the best. 

Sometimes there is a wait for tables but the food is worth it. The Mercado is an interesting place in itself, and at weekends, there are usually jarana dancers and live musicians to entertain the crowds. 

Watching the sunset from San Bruno beach town, Northern Yucatan
Watching the sunset from San Bruno beach town, Northern Yucatan

San Bruno 

San Bruno is a gorgeous stretch of coastline along the Northern Yucatan’s “Ruta de Esmerelda” (Emerald Coast) that runs parallel to the Gulf of Mexico. Only a handful of people live in the area, which makes it the perfect place if you are searching for a secluded stretch of beach that exudes tropical island getaway vibes. 

San Bruno Beach is secluded and unserviced, making it the perfect place to read a book by the coast or to lay down your towel and enjoy a family picnic. There are only two major businesses here – the chic Kokomo Beach Club and the recently opened (2022) Casa Ku hotel. 

My partner and I stayed at Casa Ku and loved the independent cabañas which have been styled like bird nests and allow you to wake up directly on the beach. The farm-to-table concept restaurant and beach bar here are both excellent, and it is possible to dine here whether you are a hotel guest or not. 

Meanwhile, Kokomo Beach Club is a members-only spot, but you can buy a day pass for the day so that you can enjoy the pool, make use of kayaks and other water equipment, and hang out on the premises. 

Watching the sunset from Playa Las Dunas, Chuburna
Watching the sunset from Playa Las Dunas, Chuburna

Chuburna 

Chuburna is a sleepy little beachtown along the Gulf of Mexico, set about an hour’s drive away from Merida, and circa 30 minutes away from Progreso respectively. It is popular among a retired expat crowd, and there are some great restaurants and street food spots in the center of town. 

The main draw of visiting Chuburna, however, is its incredible “Playa las Dunas” beach on the outskirts of town. This paradisical spot is seldom crowded and boasts rolling sand dunes, and crystal-clear water and is a nesting place of choice for sea turtles. 

If you want to escape the crowds, this is the place to go. The sunset views from here are unparalleled, and during the spring months, you may see flocks of American flamingoes flying overhead as they head east. 

Look out for the Mexican street food vendors that sell coconut-infused desserts from the side of the road near the beach. “Pay de coco” is a deliciously fluffy coconut cake, while coconut helado (ice cream) and balls of coconut chocolate also make wonderful sweet treats. 

Muna

The town of Muna boasts some interesting sights and attractions that are worth adding to your radar if you find yourself traveling close to Uxmal or the Ruta Puuc area. (If you are traveling from Merida to Uxmal via public transport and you miss the direct bus, you will probably need to change in Muna). 

Muna means “the place of the soft water” in Yucatec Maya, perhaps due to the various cenotes in the region, and was home to the Xiu constituency of the Mayans. 

At the center of town, you will find the gorgeous red-painted Muna “Templo de la Virgen de la Asuncion” Franciscan church which dates back to the 16th century. The covered “Mercado de Muna” marketplace beside it is a great place to people shop, sample “Cabeza” (cow head) tacos, and admire the various street art paintings on the ceilings and walls of the market that depict scenes of life in the Yucatan. 

If you have access to a vehicle, you can drive out to the Muna lookout point just outside of town. A local has built a (somewhat questionable-looking) wooden platform on the top of the highest hill in the region and for 20 pesos, you can climb to the top of it, look out across the jungle canopy, and see the temples of Uxmal, Kabah, and Labna peeping out above the trees. 

The Sayil archeological site, Ruta Puuc
The Sayil archeological site, Ruta Puuc

The Puuc Route 

The Puuc route (Ruta Puuc) is a 30 km-long archeological route in the southern part of the Yucatan state that connects the ancient cities of Uxmal, Kabah, Labna, Sayil, and Xlapak. With the exception of Uxmal, few tourists take the time to stop at the ruins along this route which is a shame as they boast some of the most impressive Mayan architecture in the region. 

Kabah and Labna are filled with grand structures adorned with hundreds of intricately carved stone masks of the long-nosed rain god Chaac. In Labna, you will find the famous Mayan archway sketched by Frederick Catherwood and in Sayil, you will find a grand palace and an unusual and extremely well-endowed “fertility god” sculpture. 

The Puuc route is best explored by car, especially if you want time to explore each city at leisure. There is a bus that departs from Merida on Sunday mornings but it literally only departs once per week. 

You could stretch your exploration of the area out to extend across two days if your schedule permits. Then, you can stay in a hacienda near Uxmal, and stop for ice cream in the charming village of Santa Elena.

Yucatan must see
Yucatan must-see: Progreso

Progreso

Progreso is a charming little beach town just 43km away from Merida and the place that most Merida residents head to when they want some R&R by the coast. Although admittedly there may be more beautiful Yucatan beaches to choose from, Progreso is easy to get to.

Progreso sits on the Gulf of Mexico and the soft, powdery white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters here would rival the more popular beaches of the Mexican Caribbean. The town can get quite crowded on Sundays when everyone is off work, but head here during the week and you might find you have an entire stretch of coastline all to yourself.

The Progreso Malecon is lined with excellent bars and restaurants serving cuisine from across the globe. El Cordobes (Calle 80, #38, Progreso Centro) is a charming Mexican “greasy spoon” that serves a great, hearty breakfast in a gorgeous old colonial building that feels like something out of a movie set.

If you want to tuck into mouthwatering seafood sourced fresh from nearby waters, head to Crabster Progreso (C. 19 148a, Boulevard Turístico Malecón). Their “brioche crabster” is not to be missed.

This dish consists of brioche bread stuffed with shrimp sautéed with chili poblano and green pepper au gratin with cheddar cheese, refried beans, tartar dressing, and french fries. If you decide to rent a car in Merida, you can also venture out to some of the other gorgeous beaches nearby such as the beach at Chelem or Yucalpeten pig beach.

San Servacio church in Valladolid by night
San Servacio church in Valladolid by night

Valladolid 

The charming pueblo magico of Valladolid flew largely under the radar until recently. However, with day-trippers from Cancun and Tulum opting to spend a night here to break up their journey to Chichen Itza, the city has started to see a steady trickle of tourists.

Modern-day Valladolid dates back to 1543 when it was founded by the descendants of Spanish Conquistadors and named after the city of Valladolid in Spain which was the capital at the time.

Since Valladolid was built on the site of an existing Mayan city, there were several violent clashes and fights between the Spanish and the Maya in the early days that lasted for centuries.  Today, Valladolid is a relatively quiet place – a stark contrast from its violent origins.

The Parque Principal Francisco Cantón Rosado marks the center of town, and the square is flanked by the impressive 1545 church of San Servacio. By day, the square is a popular rendezvous point for locals, but it really comes to life at night when dozens of street vendors set up shop here.

You can easily explore Valladolid in a day. After exploring the central square, take a walk out to the colorful Convent San Bernardino – one of the oldest convents in the Yucatan.

There are also some gorgeous cenotes in the area where you can go swimming if you want to extend your stay a little longer. Cenote Xkeken, Cenote Zaci, Cenote Saamal, and Cenote Oxman are all worth adding to your radar.

A beautiful church painted in the signature shade of bright yellow in Izamal, Yucatan
A beautiful church painted in the signature shade of bright yellow in Izamal, Yucatan

Izamal 

Gorgeous Izamal is a Mexican pueblo magico known as “the yellow city” thanks to the uniform shade of bright yellow that all of the houses and buildings here have been painted in. There are several theories about why everything in the city has been painted this color, with the most widely accepted one being that this was done in honor of the Mayan Sun God Kinich Ahau.

The joy of visiting Izamal is found in simply taking the time to get lost and wander the city streets, stumbling across cute houses and churches down nondescript alleyways, and taking photographs. Close to the center of town, be sure to visit the 1561 Convent of San Antonio de Padua which is still in use today.

Sometimes, if you are lucky, you might see the convent resident nuns meandering around the courtyard or heading out for lunch. Modern-day Izamal was built on the grounds of an ancient Mayan city of the same name which has been largely destroyed bar a few pyramids and shrines.

The most impressive ancient structure is no doubt the pyramid of Kinich Kakmo, dedicated to the Mayan sun god and one of only a handful of pyramids in the Yucatan that were not torn down by the Spanish. There is a restaurant of the same name beside the structure (Restaurante Kinich) which has gained international recognition for its exquisite Yucatecan dishes which are prepared using the same ancient methods that the Mayans used thousands of years ago.

The entrance to the underrated Playa Uaymitun in the Yucatan state: photo shows a beautiful parm tree and a stretch of coast bordered by turquoise water
The entrance to the underrated Playa Uaymitun in the Yucatan state

Playa Uaymitun 

If you are seeking out a secluded beach that exudes desert island vibes and helps you escape the crowds, you will fall in love with Playa Uaymitun. This off-the-beaten-path beach sits between the beach towns of Chicxulub and San Benito and you would never stumble across it accidentally unless you specifically knew it was there.

(I am always telling locals in Merida how much I love this beach and most of them have never heard of it!) The beach sits behind grand beach houses and mansions and is accessible via a dirt trail that is tricky to see from the main road.

There is seldom anyone here, even though Playa Uaymitun is a beautiful tropical paradise with clear turquoise waters, coconut groves, and soft sands.

A beautiful morning sunrise in El Cuyo, Northeastern Yucatan state
A beautiful morning sunrise in El Cuyo, Northeastern Yucatan state

El Cuyo

The gorgeous beach town of El Cuyo is little more than a pristine stretch of coastline home to a couple of upscale hotels and restaurants.

Many people refer to El Cuyo as being reminiscent of what Tulum was like 15 years ago. it is hugely underrated and few people are even aware of its existence which may be, in part, due to the fact that El Cuyo is not that easy to get to and there are few public transport links to the area.

Days spent in El Cuyo are about waking up to watch the sunset, lazing on the sand, and dining at traditional Yucatecan restaurants set in thatched palapa huts. El Cuyo can get quite windy, so the conditions here are perfect for kitesurfing.

(In fact, it is a group of avid kitesurfers that would regularly come here to ride the waves that are credited with the founding of El Cuyo). If you are interested, there are a couple of local kitesurfing schools here where you can take a class and rent equipment, even if you are a complete beginner.

Best things to do in Yucatan: Visit Sisal pueblo magico
Best things to do in Yucatan: Visit Sisal pueblo magico

Sisal 

Sisal is a quaint fishing village and pueblo magico in the northwestern part of the Yucatan state. It takes its name from the “sisal” plant (henequen) which is native to Southern Mexico and used for making rope and other fabric items. 

Lovely Sisal is surrounded by dense woodlands and fauna, natural springs, and mangroves. The beach is everything that you would expect of a Caribbean paradise – powdery white sands and warm, aquamarine seas.

In the spring months, you often see flamingos flying overhead here as they migrate east from the nearby Celestun nature reserve toward Rio Lagartos.

You can rent palapas on the beach for the day for just a few pesos. Sisal does get quite busy at weekends so visiting during the week is advisable if you want a quieter experience. 

There are a couple of stores and restaurants along the Malecon where you can pick up any beach day items you have forgotten or buy homemade ice cream and “paletas” (ice lollies).

The restaurants here cater to tourists and are nothing really to write home about. Instead, stop in nearby Hunucma and treat yourself to some carne asada (grilled meat cooked at the side of the road) or some cochinita pibil.

American flamingos in Celestun in the spring: Several groups of pink flamingoes sitting in brown water against a backdrop of mangroves
American flamingos in Celestun in the spring

Celestun

If you enjoy birdwatching or getting back to nature, then Celestun, in the western part of the Yucatan state, will be right up your alley. There are a couple of beaches here that many Yucatecans claim offer some of the best sunset views in the entire peninsula. 

However, the raison d’etre for most people to travel to Celestun is its Ría Celestún Biosphere Reserve. Every year between late November/December and April, over 30,000 North American flamingoes migrate here to mate in warmer climes.

In Celestun, you can take a little fishing boat through the mangroves of the reserve so that you can see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. (The boats take you close to the flamingos while maintaining a respectful distance).

Celestun tours can be quite pricy so it generally works out better to travel to the area independently, then head to the dock at the reserve and pay for the boat. This costs 1,800 pesos and can seat up to 8 travelers so if there are a couple of you, you can find a couple of other travelers to split the cost with.

Crocodiles and dozens of other species of birds can also be seen here. 

A pelican bobs on the aquamarine waters of Rio Lagartos
A pelican bobs on the aquamarine waters of Rio Lagartos

Rio Lagartos 

Rio Lagartos is a UNESCO-protected nature reserve in the northeastern Yucatan that is considered one of the best places for birdwatching in Southeastern Mexico.

The 150,000 acres of protected wetland found here are home to crocodiles, American flamingos, and more than 395 species of birds. Rio Lagartos does share some similarities with Celestun so if you have a limited time in the Yucatan, you might want to proritize seeing only one of these two destinations.

As you stroll up and down the Rio Lagartos malecon, you will find lots of local fishermen offering tours in their little wooden boats. You can expect to pay around 900 pesos for a private 2.5 hour boat tour of the lagoon, which includes stops at an ancient Mayan mud bathing spot and a handful of beaches in the aea.

From Rio Lagartos, you can take day trips out to the pink lakes of Las Coloradas or continue up the coast to El Cuyo. 

A closed cenote in Homun, Yucatan
A closed cenote in Homun, Yucatan

Homun 

Homun is a little town in the center of the Yucatan state some 55.6km away from the capital of Merida. While the town has some charming churches and plazas, the main attraction is the cenotes that are found here.

Homun is home to more than 30 breathtaking cenotes in a region that is known as “anillo de los cenotes” (the ring of cenotes). Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes that were created by a weakness in the earths surface when the Chicxulub meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs crashed in Mexico some 65 million years ago.

Some were used for ceremonious or sacrificial purposes but the Ancient Mayans used them as a water source and for recreational purposes too. There are some stunning spots in cenotes and the sinkholes found here range from intimate affairs that are nothing more than a hole in the ground in the middle of the jungle to fabulous crystal-clear pools in dramatic cave complexes.

Once you reach Homun, a popular thing to do is to hire a local guide (it costs around 200 pesos for the day) and have them take you cenote-hopping in a motorbike taxi. Exploring with a local guide is great as you can tell your guide exactly what things you like and dont like and they can tailor your trip accordingly.

(For example, you can ask them to take them to cenotes where the water is not too deep, cenotes that are usually free from tourists, etc). If you have a little more time to spare, check out the ruins of Kampepen, Zion, and Yalabau in the area, and the old Homun church and ex-convent dedicated to San Buenaventura.

A Mexican flag blows in the wind in the Plaza Principal of Hunucma, Yucatan
A Mexican flag blows in the wind in the Plaza Principal of Hunucma, Yucatan

Hunucma

Hunucma (meaning “only answered” in Yucatec Mayan) is a little town just 40 minutes west of Merida. While it is not a tourist destination per se, you will likely stop here to change buses if you decide to take public transport from Merida to Sisal or Celestun.

You might find that your brief layover here is one of the highlights of your day. The Plaza Principal is a charming place to check out scenes of local life and sample some popular regional street food like “sopes” (a specialty in Hunucma), marquesitas and elotes.

If you are looking to purchase a thoughtful souvenir from your trip to Mexico, you can take a walk to Moises Poot shoe store (Calle 26 152 Esquina con Calle 21, Centro, 9735). Poot is a disabled Mayan man who crafts beautiful shoes and handbags by hand which are quite unlike anything you will have seen elsewhere.

A colorful yellow and blue chapel in the remote Yucatan village of Kikil
A colorful yellow and blue chapel in the remote Yucatan village of Kikil

Kikil

The charming village of Kikil is worth stopping at if you are driving to El Cuyo, Tizimin, Rio Lagartos or Los Coloradas. This off-the-beaten-path spot sees very few visitors, despite being home to a fascinating abandoned hacienda and ruined old Franciscan convent that was a key location during the Mexican Revolution and the Yucatan Caste War.

The village center, flanked by the aforementioned convent, also boasts a quaint little blue and yellow chapel that looks like something straight out of a storybook, and a handful of modest restaurants.

For something a little different, stop by Domingo Cochinita and order up a steaming hot bowl of beef birria – a marinated beef soup that is mostly enjoyed in Jalisco, but popular in this part of the Yucatan because many of the people that live in and around Kikil are rancheros and farmers.

The stew is made from a combination of beef marinated in chili, adobo, garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and thyme, and cooked at low heat. You can then add lime, spring onions, and hot sauce as desired. 

Be sure to pack your swimsuit so that you can also take a dip in Cenote Kikil on the outskirts of town. This gorgeous open cenote is surrounded by dense, lucious jungel and you often find you have it all to yourself, bar the occasional Toh bird or iguana.

Indulging in breakfast at the restaurant of Cenote San Ignacio, Chochola
Indulging in breakfast at the restaurant of Cenote San Ignacio, Chochola

Cenote San Ignacio, Chochola

In the village of Chochola, just southwest of Merida, you will find cenote San Ignacio, one of the best cenotes in the Yucatan. The complex here is great because it consists of an upscale restaurant, a beautiful cenote nestled deep inside a cave and an outdoor pool.

You can easily spend an entire day enjoying the facilities here and the friendly staff never hurry you to leave or make more purchases. Stop by for an early morning dip in the cenote, then dry off and treat yourself to a traditional Mexican breakfast beneath one of the palapa huts, before spending the rest of the afternoon lounging in the cabañas and hammocks beside the pool.

places to visit in yucatan: Uxmal
Places to visit in Yucatan: Uxmal

Uxmal

The Ancient Mayan city of Uxmal can be found 83.4km south of Merida. It is easy to get from Merida to Uxmal by bus, although the buses here run infrequently and require some advance planning. 

Uxmal is one of the most important and expansive Mayan cities in the region after Chichen Itza.

The site dates back to 700 AD and was once home to over 25,000 people. It was eventually abandoned between 1441 and 1541 AD and was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. 

The Nunnery Quadrangle, the Temple of the Magician and the Govenors House are among the most famous structures to look out for here. If you happen to stay in a nearby hotel overnight, you can also experience the “Uxmal Light and Sound show” when the sun goes down which sees the various pyramids and structures illuminated in different colors as the Mayan rain god Chaak tells you the history of the site.

Yucatan attractions: Mayapan ruins
Yucatan attractions: Mayapan ruins

Mayapan 

You may have never heard of the archeological site of Mayapan if you dont have a major interest in Mayan history. However the city played a major role in the downfall of the Mayans and is widely regarded as being the “last great Mayan city”.

Archeologists believe that Mayapan was founded around 1000 A.D although there is some debate about the exact date. The site is small – spreading over an area of just 2.5 square miles, although approximately 12,000 people lived within the city’s defensive walls, and a further 5000 or so lived in the rural areas just outside it.

Following the downfall of Chichen Itza, King Kukulkan II of Chichen Itza and his people moved to Mayapan. He ruled over the city between 1263 and 1283 AD. 

Many of the structures here were essentially replicas of the structures at Chichen Itza. For example, the large temple here, known as the Temple of Kukulkan is almost an exact replica of “El Castillo” at Chichen Itza, although archeologists confirm that it is an inferior copy.

Most temples, houses, and structures in Mayapan have not been built with the same care as in other Mayan cities. This was the beginning of the end for the Ancient Maya.

It is believed that the city was abandoned sometime in the 15th century. This was perhaps a result of constant violent clashes between the two cultural groups that occupied the city at that time: the Xiu and the Cocom.

Places to visit in Yucatan: Chicxulub
Places to visit in Yucatan: Chicxulub

Chicxulub

Chicxulub (pronounced chick su lube) is a sleepy beach town on the northern coast of the Yucatan. It has a population of 5,000 and most residents are involved in fishing and trade.

However Chicxulub is more than “just” another Mexican beach town. This area is interesting because it is here where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs hit the earth 66 million years ago. 

In fact, it didn’t just wipe out the dinosaurs, it caused mass extinction and wiped out 80% of all animals and caused the creation of over 7,000 cenotes in the Yucatan.

Although you cannot see the precise meteor impact site because it is underwater, its still very interesting to be able to say that you have visited the place where the asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.

If you are visiting the Yucatan with kids, you might also enjoy visiting “Sendero Jurásico”, an educational dino park that boasts a walking trail that runs around the meteor impact site, along with giant scluptures of various dinosaur species and information about them.

Brunette Travel Writer Melissa Douglas sitting in a spotty dress and wedge heels on top of a pyramid in the grand plaza of Xcambo, Yucatan
Sitting on top of a pyramid in the grand plaza of Xcambo, Yucatan

Xcambo Ruins 

The Xcambo ruins are a Mayan archaeological site located in the northern part of the Yucatan state, close to Telchac Puerto. If you are in the area visiting Laguna Rosada or the beaches of San Bruno and Telchac Puerto, it is worth stopping by. 

Xcambo was once an important port for commerce and trade and many of the locals harvested and sold salt from nearby salt flats which are still used to this day.

Little is known about Xcambo or its rulers, although it is believed that the city dates back to 250-600 AD and was eventually abandoned between 600-900 A.D. A stone Catholic church sits at the center of the site and looks relatively obscure and out-of-place beside the millenia-old pyramids.

This little church is only 50 years old and was built by locals using stones quarried from Xcambo before the area was recognised by INAH as being an important archeological site. There is a little sculpture of Jesus at the center of the church, and the building has become something of a pilgrimage point for Yucatecans who believe that an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared here several years ago.

Places to visit in Yucatan: the pink lakes of Laguna Rosada and Los Coloradas: A brunette woman in a polka dot dress glances out across the pink lake of Laguna Rosada
Places to visit in Yucatan: the pink lakes of Laguna Rosada and Los Coloradas

The Pink Lakes of the Yucatan

You have probably seen the Instagram-famous pink lakes of the Mexican Yucatan on your Instagram feed, even if you didnt realise that they were in the Yucatan state. Los Coloradas, on the states northern tip are the the most famous, but you will also find a lesser known pink lake called “Laguna Rosada” close to the beachtown of Telchac Puerto.

These cotton candy pink lakes obtain their other-worldly, unusual natural color thanks to the existance of the bright red-colored algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that live here. Interestingly, the lakes are also part of private salt farms where you can watch locals harvest and sieve the salt by hand or buy artisanal salt for the foodies in your life.

Unfortunately, Los Coloradas has been a major victim of overtourism in recent years, and you will see tour buses filled with tourists from Cancun stopping by to take selfies and change outfits. Laguna Rosada is the far less crowded alternative, and a worthy stopping point as part of a wider Yucatan itinerary.

Telchac Puerto

Telchac Puerto is an underrated beach town set on the Northern Yucatan’s Emerald Coast. The area has an interesting history as during the henequen boom, canoes would leave from here taking their salt and henequen products to Progreso ready to ship overseas.

Telchac Puerto offers some gorgeous white-sand beaches backed by coconut groves. While the towns public beach is pleasant, few spots in the Yucatan are more beautiful than the beach at the Antalea Beach Club and the nearby Grand Marina Hotel.

My partner and I had a wonderful experience staying at the Grand Marina Hotel. As the name suggests, the property is home to a marina where the jetset often come to dock their boats and yachts while exploring the Yucatan. The hotel restaurant serves elevated Yucatecan cuisine in a spectacular setting overlooking the Sayachaltun Nature Reserve where flocks of tropical birds fly overhead and fish literally jump out of the water.

The reserve was founded by a collective of 26 fishermen from Telchac Puerto who wanted to preserve and show the natural beauty of the Yucatan to all who visit. Here, you can take a boat tour through the mangroves or if you seek more adrenaline, rent a mountain bike and whizz along the jungle trails.

Hocabá, Yucatan
Best Places in Yucatan: Church at Hocabá

Hocabá 

Hocabá is another small, off-the-beaten-path Yucatan settlement in the center of the state that you are likely to pass through if you are traveling between Merida and Homun. 

The central square (zocalo) is framed by the centuries-old San Francisco de Asis church who, with its two detailed bell towers, does not fail to impress, regardless of how many churches and cathedrals you may have stumbled across in Mexico at this stage.

The street food vendors in Hocabás principle square sell all manner of weird and wonderful, quintessentially Mexican snacks. My personal recommendation is to seek out the señora that sells tostilotes – tostito chips topped with grilled sweetcorn, fresh cream, cheese, cheese whizz, jalapeño peppers, chili and vegetables.

Chichen Itza 

The archeological site of Chichen Itza, one of the “new” seven wonders of the world, needs no introduction. Visiting Chichen Itza is a travel bucketlist item for many people and often their entire reason for traveling to the Yucatan in the first place.

The name “Chichen Itza” means “the mouth at the well of Itza”, with the “Itzas” believed to be a noble ruling family that occupied the Yucatan at the time. Although historians are not sure exactly when the city was founded, it is believed to date back to around 600-750 A.D.

El Castillo is the famous pyramid that you often see in coverage of Chichen Itza, but the site contains numerous notable structures. The “sacred” cenote is where the Mayans would make human sacrifices and throw precious jewels and valuables as offerings to Xibalba, the Mayan underworld.

Also interesting is the Tzompantli – a stone platform carved with skulls where the Itzas would display the severed heads of their enemies to scare off potential traitors or enemy tribes.

Chichen Itza is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico and it is perpetually crowded. You need to arrive here for 7.30am if you want to be one of the first people in the site when the gates open and enjoy 30 minutes of tranquility before the hordes arrive.

Standing in front of the Temple of the Dolls in Dzibilchaltun, Yucatan
Standing in front of the Temple of the Dolls in Dzibilchaltun, Yucatan

Dzibilchaltun

Dzibilchaltun is an impressive Mayan ruin located just north of the Yucatan capital of Merida. Its name means “Writing on the stones” in Yucateca Mayan, perhaps a nod to the various stone tablets recovered around the site, though unfortunately their inscriptions have been worn away with time.

Dzibilchaltun has likely existed since 500 BC and was not immediately abandoned when the Spanish colonisers arrived in Mexico around 1500AD. The most notable structure here is the mysterious “Temple of the Seven Dolls” where seven crude figures of humans with exhaggerated genitals were recovered.

The figures are on display inside the Dzibilchaltun Musem and are believed to have been used as some part of ritual where the Mayans would pray for a successful harvest.

Places to visit in Yucatan: make time to stay at a hacienda
Places to visit in Yucatan: make time to stay at a hacienda

Tixkokob 

The little town of Tixkokob sits just 36km east of Merida and is home to some of the best restaurants in the region. Pueblo Pibil (Calle 21 & 28, N ° 180) is an elevated Yucatecan restaurant that serves arguably the best cochinita pibil in the Yucatan and often serves degustation menus that enable you to try several portions of regional specialties.

You will also find Hacienda San Jose on the outskirts of Tixkokob, arguably one of the most beautiful Yucatan haciendas encompassed by beautifully manicured gardens and tropical woodlands.

Treating yourself to a night’s stay in a grand hacienda is the ultimate Yucatan experience that you should try if your budget allows it. However, you can dine at the acclaimed Hacienda San Jose restaurant, even if you are not a guest.

Ek Balam

Ek Balam, meaning “Black Jaguar” in Yucatec Mayan is an archaeological site situated in the Temozón region of the Yucatan state. It awaits 25km north of Valladolid, 56 km northeast of Chichen Itza, and 175km east of Merida, respectively. 

The height of Ek Balam’s political and commercial success was during the Late/Terminal Classic period (600-850/900 AD) and the city was believed to have been the seat of the Tlalol Kingdom.

Fascinatingly, the ruins here were not excavated until the 1980s as they had been reclaimed and swallowed by the jungle after they were abandoned. (Which makes us question what other treasures lay waiting to be discovered in the Yucatan jungle?)

During your visit, you can climb El Torre, a 95 foot pyramid that is one of the tallest in the Yucatan peninsula and offers sweeping vistas over the jungle canopy. You will find the tomb of Ukit Kan Le’t Tok, the first known king of Ek Balam, part way up El Torre.

This detailed tomb is a Mayan architectural masterpiece, featuring intricately carved stucco figures and masks that, considering the delicate nature of stucco materials, it is amazing that they have withstood the test of time.

Street art depicting indigenous Mayan men fishing in Sisal, Yucatan
Street art depicting indigenous Mayan men fishing in Sisal, Yucatan

Getting Around the Yucatan Mexico

Public transport in the Yucatan still leaves a lot to be desired, particularly if you want to head to more remote parts of the Yucatan state, or into the state of Campeche. (Since Quintana Roo is more touristy, it has a better infrastructure when it comes to buses, tours, etc). 

My recommendation would be to rent a car here to make it easier to get around independently. The Yucatan is very safe and the roads here are in excellent condition. 

In many ways, driving in Mexico is not that different from driving in the US or Canada, and you can usually find a comfortable economy-size car for between $20 and $30 a day. 

Public transport-wise, ADO and Noreste buses connect major towns, cities, and archeological sites, and the Maya train is now finally running as of December 15th, 2023. Ticket prices across both buses and trains are fairly reasonable and suitable for those traveling on a budget. 

However, both forms of transport only run to major stopping points such as Cancun, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, Izamal, and Merida. If you want to go to remote beach towns and ruins, you are still better off renting a car. 

Best places to visit in the Yucatan: Hacienda Chenché de las Torres near Izamal
Best places to visit in the Yucatan: Hacienda Chenché de las Torres near Izamal

Final thoughts on the best places to visit in the Yucatan

Do you have any further questions or concerns about visiting places in the Yucatan? As I mentioned, I I have been living here since January 2022 and this year I even bought a house in Merida.

I have traveled to every single archeological site and beach town in this area so I feel well poised to give you advice if you need it. If this will be your first time visiting the Yucatan peninsula, you may also enjoy reading this post on the best time to visit the Yucatan.

Feel free to drop me a comment below or connect with me on social media. 

Safe travels and enjoy Mexico. Buen Viaje! Melissa xo


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has over seven years worth of experience in working in travel media and has travelled to 57 countries, mostly solo. Throughout her career, Melissa has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

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