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Self-drive Mexico: Discover the Yucatan Peninsula

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Mexico is ideal for independent exploration by self-drive car hire, particularly in the Yucatán peninsula and along the Caribbean coast. Your point-to-point itinerary planned out for you, with hotel reservations made in advance and maps provided, so you can explore the Mayan ruins and colonial towns at leisure..

Here, you’ll find vestiges of the once supreme Maya 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. The best known sites, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Tulum are easily accessible; smaller, less well-known sites are always close to minor roads and with your own car you can explore at will.

You’ll also visit graceful Spanish colonial towns with their friendly Maya inhabitants. Markets, restaurants and entertainments flourish here. 

At your beach hotel base on the soft-sand Caribbean coast at tranquil Tulum village there is time to laze on the beach and take part in water sports or visit nearby resort towns.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún. Transfer to your hotel, collect hire car.

Day 2

Drive to Mayan archaeological site at Chichén Itzá. Overnight.

Day 3

Drive to Mérida, lively colonial and Mayan city; 3 nights.

Day 4

At leisure in the city or optional drive to Uxmal.

Day 5

At leisure or drive to Celestún on the Gulf coast.

Day 6

Drive to Campeche; 2 nights.

Day 7

At leisure in this Spanish colonial city.

Day 8

Drive to Xpujil; 2 nights.

Day 9

Visit local Mayan sites and Calakmul.

Day 10

Drive to Tulum on the Caribbean coast; 3 nights.

Days 11-12

At leisure on the beach in the shadow of Tulum ruins; optional trips in the vicinity.

Day 13

Drive to Cancún and drop off car at airport; take international flight home.

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What our experts say

This is one of our best value holidays to Mexico and is sure not to disappoint. With the freedom of self-drive you will circumnavigate the whole Yucatán Peninsula visiting Mayan sites, stopping to sit and watch the locals going about their daily lives and diving into crystal clear cenotes. We have designed this holiday so that you can absorb as much culture and landscape as possible in less than two weeks. And we’ve even scheduled in some time in Tulum at the end of your trip so you can dip your driver-tired feet into the beautiful Caribbean Sea and relax before your flight home. Plus you can drive to the remote site of Calakmul, where some people have been lucky enough to spot the elusive jaguar.

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Places visited on this holiday

Self-drive Mexico: Discover the Yucatan Peninsula

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Caribbean coast: Riviera Maya and Holbox
Tulum

On Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the Caribbean Mayan Riviera refers to the stretch of uninterrupted pale golden sands running south from the purpose-built resort of Cancún to Tulum, home to the celebrated cliff-top Mayan ruins. The coastline is followed by a close-to-shore barrier reef rich in undersea marine life; offshore are leisure-destination islands such as Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Small resorts and former fishing villages cater for visitors, notably the family-friendly Playa del Carmen. There is plenty to see and do on the Riviera Maya, including outdoor activities, marine parks and diving opportunities. Within easy reach are several ruined Mayan cities buried away inland in rainforest, including the grand pyramids of Cobá.

Isla Holbox is only about 75km from Cancún, but worlds away from the glitz of that burgeoning resort. If even super-chic Tulum is a bit too trendy for your liking you can head for Isla Holbox, a low flat new-agey island separated from the Mexican mainland on the tip of the Yucatan peninsula by a shallow azure 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: whale-shark viewing is some of the best in the world (Jun-Sep) and the island is popular for kite-surfing.  Because it has not been readily accessible, the island’s tourist infrastructure is in its infancy but new establishments are creating possibilities for yoga retreats and spas. The island is a good choice for everyone from romantic couples to families.  

When to go

It’s hot and fairly humid all year round, with a risk of tropical storms and hurricanes Sep-Nov.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

Mexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the ATMs in Cancún, Playa using a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts are limited to about £100. There are also banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) here, and money exchanges in Tulum. Holbox has just one ATM, best not to rely on that.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.  

Combines with

A visit to almost anywhere else in Mexico: the domestic flight network is comprehensive and roads are good.  Mexico City is less than 2hrs’ flying time away. Havana, Cuba, is also just 2hrs away from Cancún by air.

Getting there

There are direct flights from London to Cancún (10.5 hours) and routes via hubs in Europe and the USA. Holbox is a 2-2.5hr drive from Cancún to Chiquila followed by a 20 minute ferry ride. It's just 1-1.5hrs by the new toll motorway 305 from Playa del Carmen to Chiquila (1.5-2hrs from Tulum). 

Key events

Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Mamitas beach, Playa del Carmen, late Nov annually.

Back to list of places visited
Yucatan Peninsula
El Castillo, Chichen Itza

The states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo form the huge wedge of low-lying, forest-covered territory of Mexico’s south-east. It is here that vestiges of the Mayan civilisation loom out of the undergrowth at every turn. 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. The best known sites, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Tulum are easily accessible and have been spruced up for visitors. There are lesser-known sites rising from an untouched natural setting including Edzná, a huge ceremonial centre featuring the 30m high Temple of the Five Storeys, and Calakmul, the biggest archaeological area in Mesoamerica with 7,000 buildings in the central zone. 

There are some pretty Spanish colonial towns too, the arched colonnades of Izamal and Mérida, a  bustling  place where colonial churches and mansions cram the grid of streets;  plazas host markets and impromptu musical and  theatrical performances. 

The Riviera Maya spans the peninsula’s soft-sand Caribbean coast with its resort hotels and fishing villages, while the coastal mangrove-draped marshes at Sian Ka’an host a biosphere reserve heaving with wildlife.


When to go

It’s hot and fairly humid all year round, with a risk of tropical storms and hurricanes Aug-Nov.

Language

Spanish

Currency

Mexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the ATMs in major towns throughout the peninsula using a UK credit or debit card. You may have to authorise with your bank before you leave homefirst, and withdrawals are limited to about £100. There are also banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) here.

Time difference

GMT -6 hrs.

Combines with

A visit to almost anywhere else in Mexico: the domestic flight network is comprehensive and roads are good.  Mexico City is less than 2 hrs’ flying time away. Havana, Cuba, is also just 2 hrs away from Cancún

Key events

Carnival, many places on the peninsula, Feb-Mar annually, preceding Ash Wednesday and Lent. In Cozumel and Cancún the holiday has a festive atmosphere, with processions, street parties and parades.
International Gay festival, Cancún, May. A 5-day celebration with eating, drinking, mariachi music and beach parties.
Festival de las Aves de Yucatán, Mérida, Nov, annually. Bird-watching sessions, workshops, and exhibits. 
Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Mamitas beach, Playa del Carmen, late Nov annually.

Getting there

There are direct flights from London to Cancún (10.5 hrs) and routes to Cancún and Mérida via hubs in Europe and the USA.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

Tailor-made holiday

Our specialists have been expertly crafting award-winning tailor-made holidays to Latin America for over 37 years.
We would be delighted to create a truly personalised trip which perfectly matches your wishes and requirements.

97% of our clients rated their experience with us as Excellent or Good.

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Please note
Explore the dates and prices of this unique holiday to Latin America.

Due to flexible pricing and minimum room night requirements during peak times (such as New Year, Carnival and Easter) we may not always present all the dates we have available.

If your ideal travel date is not shown, call us on 020 8747 8315, or click on the 'Make an Online Enquiry' button to the right.

Prices exclude international flights at the beginning and end of the trip.

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Self-drive Mexico: Discover the Yucatan Peninsula

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The total price above excludes international flights at beginning and end of your trip. To add flights speak to one of our experts on 020 8747 8315.

Self-drive Mexico: Discover the Yucatan Peninsula

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