The Yucatan Peninsula must be driven at least once in a lifetime.
The adventure starts at Cancun Airport, there are two options. Drivers can take the toll roada-autopistas or cuotas- or choose choose libre (free roads), which make for much slower driving, but that enables one to take in the collection of remarkable cities, ruins, caves and tiny villages. These are the roads that the locals use.
DAY ONE TO THREE: FROM CANCUN OR PLAYA DEL CARMEN TO VALLADOLID.
Approximately 3 hours drive from Cancun or Playa on Highway 180 stands the colonial town of Valladolid’s which is a perfect 2 or 3 night stay as a staging post for the famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Iza which is only a 30 minute drive away with it’s selection of great hotels. A recommendation would be The Cenote Zaci which is in the middle of town, good for a swim as is Dzitnup which is 15 mins from town. En route to Valladolid yo ushould stop for a walk through the Balankanche Caves which are 6 km from Chichen Itza.
The caves are a very important part in the Mayan Ceremonial rituals. For those who are claustrophobic might find the caves hot, close and very humid but the light show which accompanies your hike is well worth seeing. After a tiring day it’s nice to relax back in your hotel in Valladolid.
DAY 2: Go visit Chichen Itza but go early to avoid the crowds, explore the town and swim on the 3rd day.
DAY 4 & 5: VALLADOLID TO IZAMAL.
Less than 3 hours from Valladolid is The Yellow City of Izamal which is literally all painted in yellow. It also boasts the largest religious square outside the Vatican which was made famous by a visit from Pope John Paul who stayed there in 1993. This city was of the greatest Mayan urban centres but not much of the original remiaqnd have been uncovered due to the Spanish building over the city in a move to show their superiority.
Not much English is spoken here because Izamal is a little off the beaten track , explore the local market and indulge in some of the exotic fruits on sale there for bargain prices, don’t forget to wash it well though. Check into the Hotel Macanche or Hotel Santo Domingo and spend the day exploring the town. This is a chance for an early night at the hotel because there is no nightlife here.
DAY 5 TO 7: MERIDIA AND BEYOND.
Take the Puuc Route from Izamal, the road winds from the White City of Merida through the tiny villages and the ruins of Uxmal, Labna, Kabah, Edzna and maybe the lesser ruins Sayil and Klapak. You can make a detour to the Labryinth of Caves that make up the archeological site of Lotun which is the peninsula’s biggest set of caves where the Mayans lived underground.
Stay in a hotel or hacienda like the restored Xcanatun in or near Merida or at a hotel near Uxmal like the Mission Park Inn, Hacienda Uxmal and the Lodge at Uxmal. The ruins at Uxmal are much bigger than Chichen Itza, more ornate and better preserved. This will take up a full day winding down with a sound and light show in the evening. To tour the other ruins and Loltun needs another long day, so you need at least 2 nights here. You have to buy an entrance ticket for your camera, but hang onto it as it’s good for all the sites which are free on Sundays for people (but not for cameras).
DAY 7 THROUGH DAY 10, 12 OR MORE: ROUGHING IT IN THE JUNGLE.
Head South to Campeche or double back east toward Tulum on a more southerly highway through remote villages on the road to the World Heritage Site walled seaside city of Campecheand Calakmul which is one of the ancient Mayan’s most powerful cities. Those ruins are in the huge Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, 35 km from the Guatamalan border. You will find a Best Western and a Holiday Inn. If you are looking for more authentic accommodation try The Hotel Plaza Campeche which faces San Martin Park for a very reasonable $100.
The city’s downtown is meticulously kept and worth taking lots of photographs, but you should keep going. Just 6 more hours down south, is the World Heritage Site Palenque, which is Mexico’s most spectacular Mayan city near the Chiapas jungle. The adjacent town has lots of hotel abd you should spend at least 2 nights here before doubling back through Campeche back to the Uxmal area along Highway 184 to Felipe Carrillo Puerto, through part of the Si’an Kaan Biosphere Reserve, then north to Tulum, the Riviera Maya and back to Cancun Airport.
As an alternative you can skip the Campeche leg and return to the coast from Uxmal, stopping at Mani. Near Loltun, Ticul’s churches are well worth a visit, buy a souvenir from the craft markets. A few km south is the Cenote of Kukuyache where you can overnight at The Posada del Jardin or the Hotel Plaza. The next highway stop before you reach Felipe Carrillo Puerto is the small town of Peto.
Felipe Carrillo Puerto, 224 km south of Cancun has a gas station, ATM’S and a few simple hotels like the small El Faisan y El Venado Hotel with lots of Mayan charm. Most people drive from Ticul to Tulum which is north on Highway 307 out of Felipe Carrillo Puerto during the day stopping at Peto’s cathedral and Felipe Carrillo Puerto’s gas station, local market and soak up the local atmosphere before moving back to the Riviera Maya where you can hop from Tulim to Playa Del Carmen to Cancun.