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Family Mexico: A self-drive adventure

11 days from £1,647pp

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Family Mexico: A self-drive adventure:
Trip Dossier

Our family holiday to Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula is jam packed with fun things to do and exciting, educational opportunities to boot. It’s a perfect destination for families, with plenty of sunshine, sandy beaches and jungle ruins. Hotels have facilities and attractions for family members of all ages. Exploring by self drive hire car is not only economical; it gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace, stopping wherever your family would like a better look, but with the security of a pre-planned itinerary and accommodation booked. 

The Yucatán peninsula offers you sunny Caribbean beaches on the Mayan Riviera offering both water sports and the ruined pyramids and temples of the Maya shrouded in jungle. Following a direct flight from the UK you collect your hire car and set off on good, well-signed roads to explore - distances between attractions are relatively short, there are service stations to fill up your car and a huge range of eateries to fuel yourselves on.

From Cancún airport you set off in your car to discover the peninsula. There, you’ll find vestiges of the once supreme Mayan civilisation. Sites replete with temples and pyramids festooned with sacred carvings were, once abandoned, swallowed up by a rapacious jungle but are now gradually being revealed. There’re all rather Indiana Jones. You’ll visit the best known sites, Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, both easily accessible; your guides will explain the history while the children climb the pyramids. 

You’ll also be based at the friendly Spanish colonial town of Mérida, a friendly place with street markets, restaurants of all types and lively entertainment. You will drive up to the Gulf coast for your beachtime, at laid-back but up and coming Holbox. 

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún. Collect hire car and drive to your hotel not far from the centre of town.

Day 2

Drive to Chichén Itzá, Mayan archaeological site.

Day 3

Explore Chichén Itzá.

Day 4

Drive to Mérida, lively colonial and Mayan city..

Day 5

Guided tour to sisal hacienda Sotuta de Peón.

Day 6

Guided explorations of Mayan site Uxmal.

Day 7

Drive to Chiquila and Holbox island.

Day 8

Relax on Holbox island; optional swimming with whale sharks.

Day 9

Day at leisure on Holbox.

Day 10

More time on the beach on Holbox.

Day 11

Drive to Cancún airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún. Collect hire car and drive to your hotel not far from the centre of town.
 
sculpture park

On arrival at Cancún airport you will be met by a representative who will escort you to the car hire office, a short walk from the Terminal 2 or short escorted drive from Terminal 3 with assistant. The assistant will wait with you until you have checked the car and documentation. Your car will be a mid-sized Chevrolet Aveo (or similar) which will be your companion for 11 days. Other sizes of car are available but terms and conditions are subject to change.

The adventure begins! Pile your family into the car and drive off to your hotel close to the town centre.  Cancún straddles a lagoon on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatán peninsula. It's a purpose-built resort. Beautiful beaches, good diving and water sports are the main attractions. If you have a bit more time you might linger on for a day or two (speak to us about lengthening your stay) and consider visiting the underwater sculpture park - children and adults alike will be amazed...

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sculpture park

Day 2

Drive to Chichén Itzá, Mayan archaeological site.
 
Valladolid
Drive inland to Chichén Itzá, the grandest and most well organised of all the Mayan sites, dominated by the huge, symmetrical, stepped El Castillo pyramid.

The drive from Cancún to Chichén Itzá is around 200km and will never take less than 2hrs even if travelling directly on the toll (or cuota) road. But we recommend that you take the free road (libre). You’ll encounter more speed bumps but you will pass through small villages at a slower pace and get a better feel for Mexican life in the Yucatán.

En route you might want to visit the laid-back colonial town of Valladolid with its grand church and peaceful plaza. It's also a good spot from which to visit one of the cenotes which pit the peninsula. Cenotes are steep-sided freshwater sinkholes fed by underground rivers, deep enough for you to take a dip into their sparkling clear turquoise and emerald waters.

When you arrive at your accommodation you can enjoy the lovely gardens and the pool.. It's just a short walk from the site, which you will explore tomorrow.

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Valladolid

Day 3

Explore Chichén Itzá.
 
family at Chichen Itza

Locally you can avail yourself of a local guide to explore the ruins if you wish, which we recommend as it will bring the history alive. But after that children may enjoy being able to discover its pyramids, macabre sculpture and temples, on their own; it's safe and well laid out.

The origins of the site are mysterious. It has the largest and best-preserved ball court in the Americas: the venue for an ancient ritual game that was played throughout the continent, but which is still not fully understood. Archaeologists have not been able to determine whether the losers or winners were decapitated, but judging from the gory carvings along the base of the court’s walls, someone certainly came to an unpleasant end.

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family at Chichen Itza

Day 4

Drive to Mérida, lively colonial and Mayan city..
 
Mestizo dancers in Merida.

Continuing on the toll road the journey would take approximately  two hours direct but if you choose to stop en route we recommend Izamal ( 64km east of Merida) known as the yellow city as all its major buildings including an impressive Franciscan monastery are painted a deep mustard. The local food market is known for its venison tacos. 

Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatán. The city was founded by the Maya but in 1542 it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores and became immensely wealthy, described as the ‘Paris of the New World’. The city was culturally and geographically isolated from the rest of the country until transport infrastructure reached it in the 1950s.

Today, Mérida retains a lovely colonial centre, with a mix of opulent and crumbly buildings but it is a modern, bustling, thriving city, with lots of local character, some excellent places to eat and good shops and markets. The inhabitants, descendants of the Maya and the colonists, love a good fiesta, and you may well find one going on, with live music and street stalls, while you are there. Stroll around the sunny streets, shop for local lace or one of the region’s famous hammocks.

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Mestizo dancers in Merida.

Day 5

Guided tour to sisal hacienda Sotuta de Peón.
 
Hacienda Sotula
Today you can leave your car behind: - you have a guided excursion delving into the history of the Yucatán region and how it was shaped by the henequén (sisal) boom in the 1800s. The trip begins with a drive to a working henequén hacienda, Sotuta de Peón, 35km south of Mérida. The experience transports you back to the colonial era, as you witness the entire henequén production process - from plant to fibre, from fibre to finished product - all using century-old machinery. Ride out to the farming fields on an authentic wooden cart pulled by mules, with the option of a refreshing swim in a nearby cenote. 
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Hacienda Sotula

Day 6

Guided explorations of Mayan site Uxmal.
 
Uxmal
Today you have another break from driving. You'll be collected and driven on a group tour to the ruined ceremonial temples of Uxmal, for many the most dramatic forest-clad Mayan site. It’s just over an hour from Mérida, but you enter a different world. The site is dominated by the majestic Pyramid of the Magician, inhabited by birds and bats, alongside which is an elegant ‘nunnery’ quadrangle with Puuc-style complex stonework pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. The rain god Chac is represented by grotesque stone masks - kids will love him!

In the early evening, go to a local restaurant for dinner, returning to the ruins at 8pm for an atmospheric Light and Sound show The performance is held in Spanish but English-speaking visitors receive a translation. Afterwards, return to Merida. 

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Uxmal

Day 7

Drive to Chiquila and Holbox island.
 
Holbox

It's back in the car today to drive north to the coast at Holbox. Isla Holbox is separated from the Mexican mainland on the tip of the Yucatán peninsula by a shallow blue lagoon which attracts migrating flamingos. With virtually no vehicles permitted on the island, the streets in the lazy village are made of sand, and you get around in golf buggies. There’s a virtually uninterrupted stretch of powder white beach on which to sunbathe, but there is scope for other activities: 

You leave your car at a secure parking area (pay locally) at Chiquila, the ferry port on the mainland side, and then take a 15 minute ferry ride to the island. Golf carts are available there to carry you to your hotel for a few dollars.

There are several options you could take to get to Chiquila.  You may be able to do the journey in a little under three hours if using the main roads primarily. Alternatively you could take the bumpier highway 176 from Merida heading east towards the Tizimin junction at which point you can visit the spectacular ruins at Ek Balam or head to the coast to see flocks of flamingos at Rio Lagartos. If taking this route check the last ferry to Holbox and make sure you don’t miss it!

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Holbox

Day 8

Relax on Holbox island; optional swimming with whale sharks.
 
whale shark

In season, May-Sept, the migratory path of whale sharks brings them close to the tropical waters of Holbox and Contoy islands, - this is one of a handful of places in the world they visit and where you can view them.

If you are there at this time .you can take an exciting optional adventure swimming with whale sharks. None of the family will forget the experience of snorkelling with the largest fish on the planet - whale sharks grow up to 15m in length and might appear daunting, but they are very docile creatures, eating only plankton. From the end of May to mid-September, them. The place where you depart on your search for these beasts is just 10 minutes from the hotel area of Holbox. Transfers from the hotel to the dock and back are included. as is a picnic lunch, soft drinks, snorkelling gear and life jacket. Guides are trained and experienced. During your trip, priority will be given to swimming alongside the whale sharks as long as possible.

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whale shark

Day 9

Day at leisure on Holbox.
 
Celestun

There's lots to do on Holbox island, You can kayak through the mangroves; visit the flamingo-dotted Passion island; or hire bikes and ride to the ecological reserve at Yum Balam where the beach is strewn with driftwood and iguanas cling to the trees.

 

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Celestun

Day 10

More time on the beach on Holbox.
 
child on beach in Holbox
Explore the island in a golf cart, take advantage of the water sports the hotel has to offer, or just relax on the property's sun-loungers, by the pool or on the beach. The sunsets here are some of the most colourful in the world.
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child on beach in Holbox

Day 11

Drive to Cancún airport for international flight home.
 

You will probably want to take the most direct route to get back to drop your car off in Cancún with plenty of time, so allow at least 3 hours to take the (regular) ferry, collect your car from Chiquila and head south via Kantunilkin to the toll road back to Cancún airport.  


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Essential information

Insurance and documents

Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

For the car, Loss Damage Waiver (CDW without excess, and inclusion of theft protection) is included as well as Third Party insurance

Transport

Self-drive car, Chevrolet Aveo or similar with air-conditioning.

Accommodation

Here we always have chosen properties convenient for exploring the cultural attractions in the area. They are all mid-range but vary in style from historic conversions to resort style properties. 

Meals

Breakfast daily, dinner day 6..

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Summary of nights

11 days, 10 nights: Cancún 1; Chichén Itzá 2; Mérida 3; Holbox 4.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• Car hire with assistance in Cancún.
• Road map of the area.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.
• Parking at Chiquila  (about $US10 per day) 
• Ferry fare to Holbox (a few dollars equivalent pp)

Currency

The unit of currency in Mexico is the Mexican peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$45 per day per adult -less for children - should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more. US$200 is an approximate fuel allowance for this trip.    

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, such as Cancún and Mérida. Taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in many shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. Not all petrol stations accept cards.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash which you can exchange into local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are no really long days of travel on the suggested routes of this trip. The routes from A to B take about 3hrs (max) but you may well want to make a detour or stop off for a while. Roads are generally in good condition but less used routes may have potholes. Signage on major roads is good, less so on minor roads. Many people speak a little English but a smattering of Spanish will stand you in good stead.

If you have a disability that we need to be aware of, please contact us. 

In the months of June to August the weather is extremely hot and humid, you might want bear this in mind. July to November there are chances of tropical storms or hurricanes hitting the region.

Climate

The Yucatán peninsula is hot (around 30°C) and humid all year round. October - April is the driest and sunniest period. The hurricane season runs from July to November.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should take loose-fitting, breathable clothes. Comfortable shoes are important and sports sandals are useful. A sun hat, sun block and sunglasses are necessary, and you should take a light fleece for cool nights and a breathable/waterproof outer layer and/or umbrella, as well as swimwear, a towel, insect repellant, sun block and a torch. If you plan to go to good restaurants or out for evening entertainment, you might bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required).

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. 

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following:  tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online

This costs $14 per person, and must be applied for by you personally.

Passports must also be e-passports with digital chip. Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.
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