Visiting Yucatán off the beaten path with a 6 days itinerary, is this possible?
When we started planning our trip to Mexico, our first thoughts were to visit Chiapas. Oliver being a huge fan of nature and wildlife, this place seemed to be perfect.
However, we had only 6 days, plus 3 in Mexico City that we spent with my friends exploring this beautiful city (we already published an article about it here). While talking to friends that have been to Mexico we realized that 6 days was probably too short for Chiapas. That is when Yucatán started to pop up in the conversations. The problem was that we had this idea of Tulum and Cancun, full of tourists, mostly Americans, and consequently, a place that lost its authentic vibes.
Happily, we were wrong and that’s why we wanted to share with you this article: Yucatán off the beaten path: 6 Days itinerary.
Day 1: Landing in Cancun and driving straight to Coba
When we landed in Cancun around 11 am, the view over the turquoise blue ocean was breathtaking. Until we started to see the coastline and dozens of huge hotels next to each other. At this point, we already knew that getting the rental car straight away was the best thing to do. And not visiting Cancun was not something we were going to regret.
So we got our rental car and drove straight to Coba which is an ancient Mayan Village. We arrived there around 3:30 pm. We first got some tacos and juices in a restaurant on the side of the road, close to the entrance, called El Cocodrilo (the guacamole was a blast!)
By the time we had lunch, it was already 4 pm and when we arrived at the entrance of the site, they told us that it was closing at 5 pm. We were super disappointed that it closed that early. Yet, we had no choice as our trip was all planned and we were driving south the next morning.
However, one advantage is that there were more people leaving the site than entering. For this reason, it was not that packed anymore. So we could enjoy the place with the sounds of nature and birds. The only spot still a bit packed was the Nohoch Mul Pyramid (you can see it on the 3rd picture above). So our first recommendation to avoid crowds in Coba and other cultural sites would be: try to plan your visit either really early in the morning or 2h before it closes down in order to avoid tourist buses and so on.
We booked an Airbnb in Macario Gomez for the night, a small city south of Coba. In terms of “away from the crowd” and “back to basics” you couldn’t do better. No electricity, no water, and mosquito nets for walls! To be honest, it was a bit too much for me. I can get easily scared of insects but Oliver was like in a dream. The place was built in the garden of a local that was also a painter. How can you get closer to nature and locals?
Later we ask our host where to eat around for dinner, a place where locals go, not a restaurant for tourists. So we went down the road and ate at Rancho La Cachimba, I can’t give you a link because I can’t even find it on the Internet. But don’t worry Macario Gomez and there is only one big road, you can’t miss it!
Day 2: Sian Ka’an Reserve, a Unesco World Heritage Site
We usually avoid group tours as we like to explore the way we want. We like to take our time without being pressured by the planning of the day. However, we booked this day through an Evaneos agency called Exxi. Exxi works with the tour operator Sian Ka’an Community Tour. They organize eco-tours for environmentally-conscious travelers. They knew what we were looking for and it ended up being one of the best days of the trip.
Sian Ka’an is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. It is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna that live in the mangroves and blue lagoons. The day started with a viewpoint on an endless tropical forest. Our local guide then gave us interesting and useful information about the reserve. We then drove to the departure point of the Sian Ka’an canals.
What truly made me love this day was when we stopped by a little beach to have a snack and I saw that the guides started to clean up the beach of all the trash that could have arrived there with the tides. Oliver and I try to regularly do this where we live or on holiday. Thus, we found it amazing that some travel agencies show an example to the tourists. That’s one of the best ways to bring awareness about the protection of the environment and in this case, of their environment. We all pick up as much trash as we could, put everything in bags, and put it in the boats. We were also able to swim in the canals which were pretty great as it was starting to be quite hot already! The visit continued but we will tell you more in detail in another article.
After lunch, we continued our drive in the direction of the south and more particularly, Bacalar. We like to do a mix of cheap accommodations and treat ourselves a bit. So that night we stayed in a beautiful hotel next to Bacalar, in Buena Vista, called Hotel Buena Vista Bacalar.
Day 3: Buena Vista and Lake Bacalar, a must-do and see.
The hotel was only a 10mn walk from our main activity of the day. Spoiler alert, it is also to the best activity we have done during this trip. For this reason, I highly recommend you to read carefully. We met Paul around 5:30 am for a sunrise Stand Up Paddle Session on the Bacalar lake.
Crystal clear water, the silence of the early morning, a guide who gives you information and knowledge about the place. And, at the same time, a person who knows when it is the right moment to let you take it in, relax, and let you enjoy the moment. There was no single negative point about this ecotour. I also have to write an article about this experience more in detail. Otherwise, this one is going to be too long. It will be coming soon I promise!
After the SUP session, we had to hit the road again. Even though we planned a lot of things and it might sound a bit packed as you read it, I think we found the right balance between exploring and chilling. On top of that, we were pretty excited about the place we were heading to. White sand? Turquoise Bluewater? Almost by yourself? Yes, it still exists and we were going there.
1h15 drive later there we were, in Mahahual. More precisely, at Las Cabanas Ecoturisticas Costa Maya. To put it in a nutshell, this is a little paradise. This accommodation is owned by a local and all the people that work there are volunteers. In exchange, they got a paradise place to stay for a few weeks or months. Most of them were passionate about diving and marine biodiversity. Indeed, they were actually part of a project to study the development of the coral reef evolution around. As we said we like to mix, so this accommodation was again a place without electricity, but this time we had water! And mosquito nets as windows. However, I was way more comfortable than in Macario Gomez. Being right on the beach and not surrounded by the forest and all the insects it can host definitely helped!
After discovering our accommodation for the next 2 nights, it was already quite late in the day. So we just chilled on the beach and went for a swim. Discovering the amazing underwater life that this area has to offer. We shared dinner with the volunteers and we had a nice evening chatting with them about traveling, Mexico, and the environment. They were all from different countries which were pretty nice as we love meeting people from all around the world.
Day 4: Mahahual, the second largest coral reef system in the world
Day 4 of our off the beaten track itinerary was kind of a fail. We were supposed to go snorkeling in Mahahual. Unfortunately, the weather was not playing in our favor so it got canceled. Of course, if you get the chance to do it, do it. We booked this activity with Maya Luna Hotel through Evaneos as well. We always prefer to book with local agencies instead of big international companies in order to help the local economy.
In the end, we decided to go for lunch and go back to our little paradise for the day. Mahahual is known for being the second largest reef system in the world and hosts a rich marine biological diversity. For this reason, that’s definitely something you should do while visiting Yucatán.
Day 5: Punta Laguna & Valladolid
That day we had a long drive. Our Mexican trip was coming to an end and we needed to drive north again. So we drove from Mahahual to Punta Laguna (3h30 drive) to meet the Spider Monkeys and Howler Monkeys. Unfortunately, it wasn’t our lucky day and we didn’t see any. It is the same as wildlife safaris in Africa, it is you and your luck on the day. But let’s be honest here, we all agree that if you finally see an animal then it is so much more rewarding than if he is locked in a park.
Nevertheless, it was still a really nice moment walking in the Mayan forest. We also did it with a local guide hoping he could find some animals and tell us more about the nature reserve “Otoch Ma’ax Yetel Kooh”. However, you can also do it by yourself; you will only have to pay for your entrance fee.
At the end of the tour, our guide offered to immerse ourselves in a cenote. While Oliver was going down into the earth, the guide explained to me that during Mayan times, they used to do human sacrifices for the Gods in this same cenote. Oliver came back, pretty happy to have swum in his first cenote. I told him later about the sacrifices! It was now time to drive to the authentic city of Valladolid.
The colorful authentic city of Valladolid
After so many days being “off the beaten track”, it felt a bit weird to see so many people. The last days were pretty relaxed, even though we did quite a lot it was chilled activities and we were always away from the bustle of cities.
As I didn’t go into the cenote in Punta Laguna, we decided to stop by a cenote called Zaci. It is located right at the entrance of the city so you cannot miss it. This cenote was wide open and with bright blue water, it was crazy to see this right in the middle of a city. It was less crowded than I was expecting, which made us pretty happy of course. After a bit of hesitation, I did my first jump in a cenote. After the drive in the morning, the walk in the jungle, and then the drive again, this refreshing moment was what I needed before to explore every street of the city of Valladolid.
We wanted to visit at least one city in Yucatán. Valladolid was recommended by a lot of people as it is still a city with a comfortable size, not too big, not too small. We walked around the street and we had a little snack on the main square called “Parque Principal Francisco Canton Rosado”. Sitting on a bench in the square, we felt in immersion with the vibe of the city. There were workers passing by, kids playing, people selling snacks, and ice cream. A pretty vibrant place like you imagine Mexican cities. We then continued to explore while taking some pictures of the local life and architecture of the city.
The next day was our last day. We had a really early morning last activity before driving back to Cancun Airport. The ancient ruins of Chichen Itza were waiting for us. We decided to sleep in Merida, at the Hotel “Las Casas de las lunas”. Like this, we didn’t have to drive too much in the early morning.
Day 6: Chichen Itza and back to Cancun Airport
Chichen Itza was among the top things to do in Yucatán. However, Chichen Itza can receive up to 8000 people per day. Do you see where we are going? Everything we are trying to avoid. Thanks to the recommendations of Hannah, the Evaneos agent Oliver was in contact with, we got to know we could do it at sunrise. And then, of course, avoid the crowd. It was perfect.
Again, like for our Sunset SUP session in Bacalar, we arrived there really early in the morning and the place was purely magical. The sounds of nature and of nocturnal animals still around. Plus the atmosphere of this mystical place, we were almost whispering. It felt like some Mayans were still living here and we didn’t want to wake up their spirits.
Our guide was amazing, passionate about the stories he was telling us, we were captivated. Of course this tour is a bit more expensive, even though it wasn’t overpriced at all and totally worth it. This one, you don’t need to doubt if you should do it or not, I recommend it 100%.
It was now time to drive back to Cancun airport and wait for our flight.
I hope this article gives you some ideas on how to visit Yucatán. Doing something different from the classic itineraries of mass tourism while also being more sustainable. The Sian Ka’an Reserve, the sunrise SUP session on the Bacalar Lake with Paul, and the visit of Chichen Itza at sunrise are for me the must-do of this itinerary. If I would go back to Yucatán with a friend, I will definitely tell her/him that we have to do those 3 activities.
I also hope that it helps you to know how you can discover Yucatán off the beaten path with a 6 days itinerary. And, if you are staying longer in Mexico don’t forget that Oliver wrote an article about what to do in 3 days in Mexico City. You can have a look to know which were our favorite neighborhoods, restaurants, and bars.
Also, if you have any feedback or want to share your top things to do in Yucatán, do not hesitate to comment below. We will be happy to hear from you 🙂