best places to visit in yucatan

18 Best Places to Visit in Yucatán Mexico [2024 Update]

So much more than just cookie-cutter beach resorts in Cancún, the Yucatán Peninsula is an area of Mexico that offers some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes, beautiful beaches, awe-inspiring ruins, and vibrant culture. 

We’ve traveled to Yucatán countless times and have seen its best and its worst. This ultimate guide to the best places to visit in Yucatán has everything you’ll want to see and do in this world-class destination. Whether you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure or a luxurious beach getaway, there is plenty to discover in the Yucatán Peninsula! 

chichen itza
andreviegas / Depositphotos

Best Places To Visit in Yucatán

1. Chichen Itza

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chichen Itza is one of the best places to visit in Yucatán and one of the most famous locations in Mexico. 

These ancient Mayan ruins date back over 1,000 years and are classed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. There are a total of 26 ruins on site, including the most famous structure, the 79-foot (24-meter) high Pyramid of Kukulkan. 

Visitors can explore the Great Ball Court, a massive 545-foot-long court with incredible acoustics, the Skull Platform with its eerie skull carvings, El Caracol (which was used as an observatory), and the Sacred Cenote. 

As this is one of the most visited locations in Mexico, arrive at Chichen Itza as early as you can to avoid the crowds. It is worth hiring a guide when you arrive to understand the history and symbolism of the ruins fully. If you do not have your own car, you can join one of the Chichen Itza tours from Tulum or from Cancun. 

2. Tulum Ruins 

A visit to the seaside ruins in Tulum is one of the best things to do in Tulum, and a must whether you’re in town for just a day or for a longer stay. As one of the most recent Mayan sites built between the 13th and 15th centuries, Tulum is also one of the best-preserved ruins in Mexico. It also boasts an impressive location, sitting on a high cliff top overlooking the Caribbean Sea

Visitors can explore the 25-foot (7.5 meters) tall El Castillo pyramid, the impressive Temple of the Frescoes, the picture-perfect Temple of the God of Wind, and the thatched-roofed House of Halach Uinic.  

If you are looking for places to stay in Tulum, there are town and seafront hotels and boutique properties to suit every budget. As one of the most popular cities in Latin America for digital nomads and remote workers, you’ll find plenty of apartments and rooms available for longer stays as well as short-term vacations.

lunamarina / Depositphotos

3. Cenote Suytun 

Cenote Suytun is one of the best of Yucatan’s 10,000 cenotes. It lies a short distance from Valladolid and can easily be combined on a trip to Chichen Itza. 

Cenote Suytun is a large natural sinkhole with an easily accessible shallow pool for swimming. At just 16 feet deep (five meters), the semi-open cenote is ideal for novice swimmers or children. 

Swimming in crystal clear water under a cavern roof packed with stalactites is a memorable experience. But the real reason why Suytun is so famous is its circular platform that, at midday, gets illuminated by a light beam coming through the ceiling opening. The platform is an epic photo spot for avid Instagrammers and photography enthusiasts.  

4. Cozumel

Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island and lies off the east coast of the Yucatán opposite Playa del Carmen. The low-lying island has some of the best beaches on the Yucatán peninsula. 

Visitors can hire a bike and explore the island, visit the Punta Sur Ecological Park, join a mangrove trip to see crocodiles or visit the remote, pristine beaches of the island’s less-developed east coast. 

Cozumel also offers fantastic snorkeling opportunities. You can snorkel from the shore at Dzul Ha or Playa Corona (which are ideal for novice snorkelers) or join a boat trip to the deeper waters around the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest coral reef in the world. 

Read More: 16 Best Beaches in the Caribbean

isla mujeres
lunamarina / Depositphotos

5. Isla Mujeres 

If you like tropical islands, one of the best places to visit in Yucatán is the idyllic island of Isla Mujeres. It is best known for having one of the best beaches in Mexico, Playa Norte, but it also boasts Garrafon Park and fantastic souvenir shopping. 

One of the biggest and unmissable attractions in Isla Mujeres is the underwater art museum MUSA. This unique museum allows visitors to snorkel over and dive among 500 underwater sculptures and art installations. 

As the art installations are slowly creating an artificial reef, there is an abundance of tropical fish at this site. If you don’t want to get wet, you can also view the art gallery from the comfort of a glass bottom boat. 

6. Xavage Park

Looking for a bit of fun and adventure at one of the best places to visit in Yucatán? Plan an adrenaline-filled trip to Xavage Park in Cancun

An entrance ticket to this adventure park includes kayaking, a high ropes course, a zip line, a swimming pool and waterslides, a jet boat and monster truck ride, plus white water rafting. 

The park is open to all ages with activities suitable for anyone over 5 years and promises an exhilarating fun day out. 

san servacio valladolid
Byelikova / Depositphotos

7. Valladolid 

The colorful, charming city of Valladolid is a two-hour drive from Cancun, but it feels like a world away. It is one of the best places to visit in Yucatán to see colonial buildings and experience authentic Mexico beyond the many tourist-centric beach towns and cities you’ll find along the coast. 

It is a lovely city to spend a few hours wandering around, soaking up the architecture and ambiance. Don’t miss the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, the central Cathedral of San Servacio, and the most colorful street in the city, Calzada de Los Frailes.

A trip to Valladolid can be combined with Chichen Itza and one of its many neighboring cenotes. 

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8. Holbox

Holbox (or Isla Holbox) is a long, thin, car-free island off the northern coast of the Yucatán. It is part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve and is known for its laid-back vibe and abundant birdlife. You can expect to see pelicans and flamingos in the shallow lagoon that separates the island from mainland Mexico. 

This is a place to kick back and relax on pristine white sand beaches, but you can also go swimming in cenotes and kayaking in mangrove groves. 

Between May and September, Isla Holbox is one of the best locations in Yucatán to see whale sharks, and there are several whale shark snorkeling tours that depart from the island. However, this is just one of a number of great things to do in Holbox, making it popular will all kinds of travelers.

Read More: 12 Unexpected Adventure Travel Destinations

9. Gran Cenote

Gran Cenote is a short 3-mile (5-kilometer) trip from Cancun. It is one of the most popular – and one of the most beautiful – cenotes in the Yucatan. Gran Cenote is a large semi-open cenote surrounded by caves linked by wooden walkways. 

The water in the cenote is crystal clear and perfect for snorkeling (you can expect to see fish and turtles in the water), and you can even dive between the caves in an underwater passage.  

merida mexico

10. Merida

Merida is the largest of the cities on the Yucatán peninsula, and it is also the state capital. With its colorful streets and historic buildings, it’s loaded with charm and is quickly becoming a new must-visit destination on the Yucatán peninsula. It offers a range of attractions and should be on any Yucatán itinerary. 

Visitors can learn about Mayan culture at the Mayan World Museum, enjoy a picnic at Parque Hidalgo, visit the 16th century San Ildefonso Cathedral, view the ornate Monument to the Fatherland and take a stroll around Merida’s historic Center to admire the architecture. 

If you are a foodie, don’t miss the chance to taste the traditional foods of the Yucatán at the Merida Gastronomy Museum.  

11. Izamal

One of the lesser visited Yucatán cities, Izamal is a small city east of Merida. It is known as ‘the yellow city’ (or La Ciudad Amarilla) as the majority of its buildings are yellow.

Izamal is easily explored on foot, and its main attractions include the enormous 16th-century Convent of San Antonio de Padua, the beautiful town Zocalo, and the 111-foot (34-meter) high Kinich-Kakmó Mayan pyramid.  

12. Coba Ruins

The Mayan ruins of Coba lie a one-hour drive northwest of Tulum, making them easily accessible and perfect for a one-of-a-kind day trip.

The site dates back around 2,000 years and is situated around Lake Coba and Lake Macanxoc. It is home to Nohoch Mul, the Yucatan’s tallest pyramid at 138 feet (42 meters) high. 

Coba is one of the lesser visited Mayan sites in the Yucatán, but it is definitely worth the effort. You’ll get to enjoy the structures at Coba nearly all to yourself, making for a memorable travel experience.

bacalar lagoon
annabieniek / Depositphotos

13. Bacalar Lagoon

One of the best places to visit in Yucatan for nature lovers, the Bacalar Lagoon is otherwise known as the lake of seven colors. The bottom of the lake is white limestone, which makes the lake water look perfectly blue, almost like a clear lake. 

The 26-mile (42-kilometer) long lagoon offers warm, clear, and calm water that is perfect for swimming and snorkeling, as well as clean sandy beaches for sunbathing. If you like watersports, you can go stand-up paddleboarding or try kayaking or canoeing.

Visitors to Bacalar Lagoon can join a boat tour to explore the Canal de Los Pirates, go birdwatching in the mangroves that line the lakeside, or swim in Cenote Negro or Cenote Azul.

This is a good location in the Yucatán to get away from it all and find an off-grid, eco-conscious resort. 

Read More: 25 Best Eco Resorts (Worth Traveling For!)

14. Laguna Kaan Luum 

One of the Yucatan must-sees, Laguna Kaan Luum is south of Tulum and is one of the biggest and most scenic cenotes in the area. If you don’t have a car, you can easily get to Laguna Kaan Luum by public bus from Tulum.

Laguna Kaan Luum is a secluded, perfectly circular lake cenote in the middle of the jungle. It is a myriad of colors thanks to the shallow waters around the edge of the lake encircling a 262-foot (80-meter) deep central cenote. The colors of the water range from turquoise to deep blue to emerald green.

Visitors cannot swim in the deep part of the lake, but by swimming and snorkeling in the shallow waters, you will be able to see turtles, triggerfish, eels, and angelfish. You can also go paddleboarding and kayaking on the lake. 

15. Cenote Dos Ojos

If you want to experience the opposite of open-air cenotes like Laguna Kaan Luum, Cenote Dos Ojos is a good option. This cave cenote is just over 10 miles (17 kilometers) north of Tulum and is one of the largest underwater cave systems in the Yucatán, measuring 38 miles (61 kilometers) in length.

Cenote dos Ojos has two cenotes – the First Eye and the Second Eye – plus a Bat Cave. The Second Eye cenote is the best for swimming and is a popular spot for photographers.

The clear water in this cenote is pleasantly warm, averaging 75 F (24 C) all year round, and is accessible by stairs.

Read More: 12 Best Things To Do in Playa del Carmen

las coloradas
Alexandra Lande / Depositphotos

16. Rio Lagartos & Las Coloradas

Rio Lagartos is a small town on the north coast of the Yucatán peninsula, three hours by car north of Cancun. If you want to get off the beaten path, this is the place to go. 

The main attractions in this area are the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Ria Lagartos and Las Coloradas Pink Lake. 

The coastal Ria Lagartos Reserve is made up of estuaries, mangroves, and marshes and is home to over 400 different bird species, including herons, ibis, pelicans, and storks. Between March and June, this reserve is packed with thousands of nesting and breeding flamingos. You can also expect to see saltwater crocodiles, turtles, and occasionally dolphins. The best way to view the birdlife is by boat tour. 

Las Coloradas Pink Lake is a 20-minute drive from Rio Lagartos. The lake has a high concentration of salt, which has created the perfect breeding ground for algae. These algae give the water a pink hue which, set against a blue sky, is a photographer’s dream. 

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17. Akumal 

The clear turquoise water off the coast of Akumal is one of the best places in the Yucatan Peninsula to see sea turtles. You can snorkel from the shore or join an organized boat trip and head out into the Caribbean. 

A trip to the Bay of Akumal can be combined with Tulum ruins and Gran Cenote, both of which are nearby.  

ek balam
cristovao / Depositphotos

18. Ek Balam

One of the best things to do in Yucatan for history lovers is taking a tour of the Ek Balam ruins. The ancient Mayan site dates back to the 8th century and is situated near Temozon, 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Valladolid. 

Surrounded by dense jungle, Ek Balam was only discovered 40 years ago, so much of the site is yet to be excavated. 

Visitors can climb the 98-foot (30-meter) high El Torre pyramid, visit the ornately carved tomb of Ukil-Kan-Lek-toks, and see the remains of a Pok-A-Tok court. In all, there are around 45 structures currently excavated. 

Visit the Yucatán Peninsula

If you are planning a visit to the Yucatan Peninsula, make sure you include some of the places featured in this article in your trip itinerary. The locations detailed above are some of the best places to visit in Yucatán and will provide you with a taste of the fascinating historical and amazing natural sites that this incredible region has to offer.  

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.