Private Journeys

Luxury Mexico: Self-drive Yucatan haciendas and Caribbean coast

10 days from £2,970pp

Mexico

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in Cancún. Collect hire car.

On arrival at Cancún airport you will be met by our representative who will escort you to the car hire office, a short walk from the main terminal.  The assistant will wait with you until you have checked the car and documentation.

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Day 2

Drive to Mérida, continue to your countryside hacienda retreat.

Set off westwards towards Mérida, capital of the Yucatán Peninsula. You have a choice of routes. The fastest is the dual carriageway toll road (‘cuota’), a dual carriageway along which you’d take 3hrs to drive the 315km.

The alternative, much more interesting in terms of culture and landscape but much slower and therefore longer, is the regional free road (‘libre’). 

This two-laned route passes through small towns and villages where the inhabitants follow a traditional slow-paced Yucatán way of life: animals and people may stray on to the road, there’s always plenty to look at (and out for). If you choose this route you will be rewarded by being able to stop off at the small Spanish colonial city of Valladolid – the libre road runs right through the centre - your first chance to experience authentic Mexico. It’s a pretty place of baroque churches and squat houses and shops brightened with pastel coloured façades.

Don’t miss the opportunity to head north from Valladolid to visit the partially restored Mayan archaeological site  Ek Balam, with its ziggurat-style structure, majestic arch and ball court.

The modern history of the Yucatán region was shaped by the henequén (sisal) boom in the 1800s. You have two nights based outside Mérida at a restored sisal hacienda the former opulence of which has been recreated in luxury accommodation.

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Day 3

At leisure in the Mérida area.

Mérida was founded by the Mayan Indians but in 1542 it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores and became immensely wealthy, described as ‘the Paris of the New World’.

 
Its income came from the production of sisal, cactus fibres that are used to make rope, and it 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 Mayans 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.

You have a day at leisure to wander around the sunny streets, shop for local lace or one of the region’s famous hammocks; if you wish to venture further there is a plethora of small Mayan sites in the vicinity, a sisal hacienda which has been turned into a 17th century museum (Yaxcopoil) and Celestún, a pleasant little fishing and local beach resort situated in a wildlife sanctuary which shelters a plethora of waterfowl along with pink flamingos. 

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Day 4

Drive to colonial Campeche via Puuc Mayan ruins including Uxmal.

Drive to Campeche (2hrs if driven direct along route 18) via the Mayan ‘Puuc Route’ fringed with dry scrub embracing four Mayan sites in a hilly region south of Mérida and the region's most captivating centre, Uxmal.  

A 90min drive south of Merida, the Puuc Valley is a fertile territory where you can visit Loltun (Stone Flower) caves with magnificent galleries featuring stalagmites and stalactites. or Labna with its beautiful arch and Sayil, dominated by a three-storey great palace.

The ruined ceremonial temples of Uxmal constitute what is for many the most dramatic forest-clad Mayan site. It’s just over an hour’s drive 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. This is the site with the most mystical ambience.

You might also visit the site Kabah, where Chac also features in mosaic stone, with 250 masks on the Palace of Masks.

Campeche is a Spanish colonial walled city listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site – you’ll find pastel-painted mansions built by aristocratic Spanish families, pristine white churches and the shady zócalo (main square); all of which combine to evoke the city's former era of glory. There's a lovely seaside promenade, perfect for a stroll at sunset.

You'll be staying at another luxury hacienda in the countryside, about 30mins' drive from Campeche.

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Day 5

At leisure to explore the Campeche region.

At leisure to explore the region. Once little visited it the state of Campeche has been growing in importance for visitors as many Mayan archaeological sites are excavated.

You can visit Edzná, Calakmul and Chicanna, for example, each with its own intriguing characteristics. 

Unlike the other Yucatán states which are mantled with light forest and brush, 30% of Campeche supports jungle and swamp, with flamingo-dotted marshlands and shady inlets along the Gulf coast: very different from the Caribbean beaches.

You may also take a refreshing swim in a ‘cenote’ (a natural limestone sinkhole typical of the Yucatán peninsula). 

Tom Parrott ©

Day 6

Drive to Mayan Chichén Itzá via colonial Izamal.

Return to Mérida and travel east to the lovely colonial town Izamal, nick-named the ‘yellow city’ after the golden colour in which the majority of the colonial buildings in the centre are painted. The town is dominated by a huge Franciscan monastery.

Continue to Chichén Itzá the grandest and most well organised of all the Mayan sites, dominated by the huge, symmetrical, stepped El Castillo pyramid.  

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.

Your accommodation is a short walk from the site and in the evening there may be the option to return for a Sound and Light Show.

Tom Parrott ©

Day 7

Drive to the Mayan Riviera. Hand over hire car at first class beach retreat.

Drive back down the toll or free road to the Mayan Riviera (4hrs). As its name suggests, this stretch of white-sand coastline has been comprehensively developed for tourism, with varying degrees of success from an aesthetic point of view.

As you head south the built up area thins out and there are some lovely exclusive hotel properties. You’ll be staying at one of these, on a beautiful crescent of pearl white beach. Here you will be met by our representative and hand back your car.

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Day 8

At leisure on the Caribbean coast’s Mayan Riviera.

At leisure. Excursions can be booked from the hotel. You might visit Playa del Carmen  a pleasant family resort a little further down the coast with a lively pedestrianised centre overflowing with restaurants and bars.

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Day 9

At leisure on the Mayan Riviera.

You might consider a visit to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a natural protected area 2hrs south of Playa del Carmen. It is a small ecotourism and education centre, an example of sustainable development in sensitive tropical ecosystems.

The reserve embraces tropical forest, mangrove and savannah and a coast and offshore marine reserve. The area is abundant with wildlife particularly aquatic birds. Other inhabitants include monkeys, tapirs, turtles, ocelots and jaguars. Take a guided boat trip through the wetlands or hike through the jungle and discover the historical site of Muyil, an impressive Mayan temple.  You even have the opportunity to swim and float on the freshwater stream through the channels.

You might opt for a day trip to Tulum further south on the Caribbean coast. The small town of Tulúm has small thatched palapa-style bars, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses flanking the main road which cuts through town and continues along the peninsula as far as Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

The nearby beaches are simply superb with sugary white sand and enticing turquoise waters. To cap it all, the white Mayan ruins of Tulúm are spectacularly perched on a cliff behind the main beach.<

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Day 10

Transfer to Cancún airport for international flight home.

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