With its beautiful beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, stunning cenotes, and idyllic islands, there is a huge variety of things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula. Traveling across the Yucatan, exploring its unique and vibrant towns, and checking out its spectacular sights is a wonderful experience and it is one of our favorite places to travel.
For those of you planning your own Mexico adventures, we’ve put together this list of the 25 best things to do in the Yucatan.
25 Best Things to do in the Yucatan
These are our 25 top things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula. If you need help squeezing these all into your Yucatan adventures then check out our Yucatan itinerary to follow our route!
1 | Soak up the beach town vibes in Tulum
Tulum is an eclectic beach town known for its amazing restaurant and party scene, white sand beaches, cliffside ruins, and thriving wellness community. It’s by far the chicest town in the Yucatan and many visitors base themselves in its glamourous resorts for the duration of their vacation.
Tulum’s highlights include its unique 13th Century ruins perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sparkling waters of the Caribbean, the only oceanfront Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. A swim in a cenote is another Tulum essential: Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Carwash and Gran Cenote are our favorite cenotes near Tulum.
For a more detailed guide to Tulum check out our 17 best things to do in Tulum and our guide to the best Instagram spots in Tulum.
2 | Swim in a Cenote
The geological conditions in the Yucatan Peninsula have resulted in the formation of incredible swimming holes with crystal clear waters which are known as cenotes. There are thousands of cenotes dotted across the region and swimming in a cenote is one of the most unique and incredible things to do in the Yucatan.
No matter where you are in the Yucatan it is relatively easy to find a cenote!
- Cancun: Ruta de Los Cenotes, a series of cenotes located in Puerto Morelos, are the closest Cenotes to Cancun.
- Tulum: Gran Cenote, an open-air cenote immersed in an underground world of caves and caverns, the double sinkhole at Cenote Dos Ojos and Cenote Calavera are among Tulum’s most popular cenotes. Cenote Zacil, Cenote Carwash and Casa Cenote are other excellent swimming cenotes.
- Chichen Itza: with its crystal clear waters and cascading vines, Cenote ik Kil is one of the most beautiful Centoes in the Yucatan.
- Playa Del Carmen: the open air Cenote Azul is one of the best Playa Del Carmen Cenotes
- Valladolid: the ever popular instagram cenote, Cenote Suytun, is a Valladolid highlight as is Cenote Oxman and Cenote Xkeken. Cenote Samula, Cenote Hubiku and Cenote Sac Aua are other popular cenotes near Valladolid.
- Merida: Cenote Xlacah, an open air cenote on the site of the Dzibilchaltun Ruins is one of the most visited from Merida.
3 | Go back to nature at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
One of 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Yucatan, the unspoiled natural beauty of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a sight to behold. The reserve is home to an ancient Mayan ruin, secluded beaches, a tropical forest, a coral reef, and mangrove swamps.
Sian Ka’an protects over 800 plant species and more than 300 species of birds and other animals including turtles, land crabs, and crocodiles.
4 | Seeing is believing at the Las Colorados pink lakes!
The sleepy fishing village of Las Colorados found fame as a result of its magical pink lakes. The lakes are actually controlled by the adjacent salt mine and the high concentration of salt breeds algae which gives the water its pink hue. When the sun shines over the lakes they truly are bright pink, there’s no filter required!
Access to the lakes is managed by the adjacent salt mine and it cost 300 pesos to walk the cement path around the lake. The owners have recently added a visitors center with a lookout tower so you can check out the lakes from above.
5 | Stop by Playa del Carmen
With its sprawling hotels and resorts, Playa Del Carmen is one of the most popular towns on the Yucatan Peninsula.
It boasts idyllic white-sand beaches, bustling nightlife, and beautiful cenotes and is where most visitors base themselves on the Riviera Maya.
6 | Gaze upon New Wonder of the World at Chichen Itza
Among the most famous ancient sites in the world, a visit to Chichen Itza is one of the most incredible things to do in the Yucatan. The Mayan ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Chichen Itza is thought to have been founded sometime between 4th the 6th Century and was one of the largest Maya cities acting as an important center for economic and political activity. There are 26 ruins on the site including El Castillo, the Temple of Warriors, the Great Ball Court, and the Observatory. The instantly recognizable El Castillo pyramid is one of the greatest sights on the Yucatan.
7 | Enjoy the Island Vibes on Cozumel
The laid-back Caribbean island of Cozumel is a quick ferry ride from the nearby Playa Del Carmen on the Riviera Maya. The island is renowned for amazing snorkeling and scuba diving and the west of the island houses idyllic white-sand beaches. There are also some Mayan ruins, San Gervasio and El Cedral, to explore.
8 | Explore the jungle ruins of Coba
Coba is considered one of the most important Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is believed that Coba was first settled between 50 BC and 100 AD and, at its peak, was estimated to have a population of 50,000 at its peak.
The Coba highlights include a bicycle ride through the jungle, seeing Nohoch Mul, Coba’s 137-foot tall pyramid and the tallest Mayan structure in the Yucatan, and a visit to the nearby cenotes: Cenote Tamcach Ha, Cenote Choo Ha, and Cenote Multum Ha make up a series of three cenotes located close to the ancient Mayan ruins at Coba.
Things to do in Yucatan tip: until recently it was possible to climb Nohoch Mul, Coba’s tallest structure. It has now been closed off.
9 | Watch the turtles swimming in Akumal
Located between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen, the quiet beach town of Akumal is a postcard-perfect Yucatan town. Akumal has beautiful white sand beaches, warm Caribbean waters, and a coral reef with resident turtles.
10 | Have fun in Cancun
Most visitors to the Yucatan arrive in Cancun, a lively resort town known for its beaches, resorts, and nightlife. It is home to some impressive archaeological ruins with El Meco and its 40-foot pyramid and the 13th Century San Miguelito easily accessible.
For more on Cancun, check out our guide to the 20 best things to do in Cancun. If you are basing yourself in Cancun then our guide to the best Mayan ruins near Cancun will help with your planning.
11 | Escape to Isla Mujeres
One of our favorite spots on the Yucatan, Isla Mujeres is a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun. Alongside the Yucatan icons like Chichen Itza, Isla Mujeres is one of the most popular day trips from Cancun.
The laid-back island vibes are of Isla Mujeres are far removed from the mainland and it’s an idyllic escape. From the stunning Playa Norte beach to the rugged coastline and small Mayan ruins at Punta Sur there are lots of things to do in Isla Mujeres. You can check out our guide for details on how to get to Isla Mujeres.
12 | Walk the cobbled streets of Valladolid
The third-largest city in the Yucatan, Valladolid is charming and vibrant with colorful cobblestone streets, the 16th Century Convent of San Bernadino de Siena, and a bustling plaza.
13 | Enjoy a piece of paradise on Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox is located just north of the Yucatan and the idyllic island is certainly worth the short ferry ride from Chiquila on the Yucatan Peninsula. The colorful island streets, white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and laid-back vibes make a stay one of the most unique things to do on the Yucatan. Isla Holbox is a real slice of heaven and we highly recommend making some time to visit this beautiful island!
If you visit Holbox during the summer months then it is possible to swim with whale sharks, the largest and tamest fish in the sea. Mexico has the largest aggregation of whale sharks in the world. You will need to join a tour to swim with the whale sharks, this is one of the most popular on the island – check whale shark tour prices here!
If you are planning a trip to Holbox check out our guide on how to get to Isla Holbox and our favorite things to do in Holbox.
14 | Take a stroll around Izamal, ‘The Yellow City’
Once a mighty Mayan city, the 2,000-year-old city of Izamal is now known as the Yellow City. All the walls and buildings are painted yellow and the main building, the Convento de San Antonio de Padua, is stunning. It was thought that the city was painted yellow in advance of a visit from the Pope but some say it was already yellow before his proposed visit!
Izamal has some impressive Mayan ruins. Kinich Kak Moo is its largest and is home to a 10 story pyramid which one can climb for great views of the city. The Itzamaltun pyramid is another great Mayan ruin.
15 | Flamingo heaven at Rio Lagartos and Celestun
Flamingos are migratory birds so, depending on when you are planning to visit, you can check out the flamingos in either Rio Largartos or Celestun.
Rio Lagartos (March to June)
Translating as Alligator River, Rio Lagartos is a sleepy northern fishing village that is famous for its huge flamingo population – it has the highest concentration of flamingos in Mexico, and the best way to see them is on a boat trip during mating season from March to June.
Set in the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Lagartos, the mangrove-lined lagoon is also a haven for bird watchers and boasts snowy egrets, pelicans, and tiger herons. Despite its name, you won’t find any alligators or even a river in Rio Lagaratos, only crocodiles and a lagoon!
Celestun (mid-September to March)
The small fishing village of Celestun is home to the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celestun where the flamingoes are the main attraction! The Celestun beaches are also a nesting spot for sea turtles who lay their eggs between April and July. The eggs typically hatch around two months later.
16 | Discover Ek Balam and Cenote Xcanche
One of the lesser-visited ruins on the Yucatan, Ek Balam is an impressive sight. It is thought to have once had almost 20,000 residents and was operational for almost 1,000 years. The magnificent 6 level Acropolis is the highlight.
While visiting Ek Balam, make sure to check out the Ek Balam Cenote, Cenote Xcanche. It is accessible from the Ek Balam archaeological site but requires a separate ticket. The stunning open-air cenote offers swimming, zip-lining, and swing jumps as well as a waterfall cascading into the cenote as you swim.
17 | Snorkel in the turqouise waters in Isla Contoy
The tiny Caribbean Island of Isla Contoy is a 40-minute speed boat ride from Cancun. Isla Contoy is a snorkeling paradise and most trips to the island include a snorkeling session at the tip of one of the largest coral reefs in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef which stretches all the way to Honduras – it is an incredible experience. It’s possible to combine a trip to Isla Contoy with Isla Mujeres – check Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres tour prices
18 | Climb the Great Pyramid at Uxmal
Founded over 1,000 years ago, the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal was once inhabited by 25,000 people. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the majestic Pyramid of the Magician is a highlight, as is the climb to the top of the Great Pyramid.
19 | Admire the stunning architecture in Merida
The bustling capital of the Yucatan State, Merida is a vibrant city with stunning architecture, excellent food, fantastic museums, and a rich culture.
There are lots of things to do in Merida itself: Merida’s Grand Plaza marks the city’s historic center, the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya houses more than 1,100 well-preserved artifacts and the extravagant architecture along Paseo de Montejo is stunning.
Mayapan, about 40 minutes southeast of Merida, was one of the most important Mayan sites in the region until it was destroyed and abandoned in the 15th Century. The walled city was built around a large cenote and there are over 4,000 structures, some of which evidence an Aztec influence.
The nearby Dzibilchltun ruins are older than Chichen Itza and have an open-air cenote, Cenote Xlacah, on-site.
20 | See the 7 shades of blue in Bacalar
Close to the Belize border, Bacalar is famous for its incredible lake, Laguna de Bacalar. It’s often said you can see seven shades of blue in its water and, as a result, Bacalar gained the title ‘Lake of the Seven Colors’. The turquoise and blue waters are a sight to behold – in fact, most of Bacalar’s appeal is centered on the lake where the Witch’s Ceote, Pirate’s Channel, and Bird Island are among the highlights.
21 | Have fun at an Adventure Park
Just a few miles south of Playa Del Carmen, spending a day at the Xcaret Eco Park is one of the best things to do in the Riviera Maya. Xcaret is an incredible mix of a water park, cultural attractions, thrill-seeking adventures, and amazing nature – there are three underground rivers, an aquarium, a butterfly garden as well as a traditional Mexican cemetery, reenactments of the traditional Mayan ballgame, and Mayan ruins – check out Xcaret tickets and transport prices here!
22 | Visit the UNESCO city of Campeche
Founded in the 16th Century, Campeche is a colorful and charming colonial city and is one of Mexico’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. It was once an important Caribbean port and the city walls, built to fortify Campeche against pirates, still surround its perfectly preserved historic center today. The colorful pastel buildings, cobblestone streets, and ancient fortification system are a step back in time and a world away from the busy resort towns on the east of the Yucatan.
The ancient Mayan ruins at Edzma are located an hour southeast of Campeche. Inhabited as far back as 500 BC, the five-story Piramide de Los Cinco Pisos is incredible to see.
23 | Discover the up and coming El Cuyo
Located between Rio Lagartos and Chiquila, El Cuyo is an up-and-coming beach town on the Yucatan Peninsula. Once a haven for kitesurfers, it has recently become a retreat for those seeking an escape from the more crowded resort towns. El Cuyo, separated from the mainland by a saltwater lagoon, boasts an endless beach and an island vibe.
24 | Snorkel in Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos is a quaint fishing village located just south of Cancun. The world’s second-largest barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, is visible just a few hundred meters of its coast and can be explored on a snorkeling excursion.
There are some incredible cenotes in Puero Morelos. Ruta de Los Cenotes boasts more than 10 cenotes dotted along the 20km road close to Puerto Morales. Our favorite is Cenote Las Mojarras, an open-air cenote with ziplines and a diving platform.
25 | Explore the ancient sites of Kohunlich, Balamkú, and Calakmul
The three ancient Mayan sites of Kohunlich, Balamku, and Calakmul are located in the South of the Yucatan.
Calakmul, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is set deep in the jungle and is home to 6,750 structures. The highlight is the great pyramid which stands 148 feet tall and is one of the tallest Maya pyramids.
Balamku is a smaller site close to Calakmul and features elaborate plaster facades dating back to the Early Classic period. A frieze of molded stucco and polychrome dates back to the 6th or 7th Century and is an amazing illustration of ancient Maya.
Built around 500 AD, Kohunlich is famous for its Temple of the Masks, a pyramid whose central stairway is flanked by huge stucco masks. The site remains largely unexcavated.