The Yucatán's quality roads and fairly contained shape allow for a complete circuit of the peninsula within a 2-week time frame. By moving counterclockwise, you'll save the best beach time for the end of your trip. This is a packed itinerary, and can be done at a more relaxed pace if you leave out Palenque and San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas. Plan on arriving in and departing from Cancún.
Day 1: Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, Ek Balam & Valladolid
Begin with a trip from Cancún to Ría Lagartos, at the peninsula's northern tip, where you can take a boat tour of the wildlife sanctuary, explore the mangrove and saltwater estuaries as well as lakes filled with pink flamingos, pelicans, eagles, and other bird species. After taking a swim, head south on Hwy. 295 toward the ruins of Ek Balam, noted for a beautifully sculpted sacred doorway on the tallest pyramid in northern Yucatán. Spend the night in Valladolid.
Day 2: Cenote Dzitnup & Chichén Itzá
Shortly after leaving Valladolid on the old highway, stop to enjoy Cenote Dzitnup. Continue on to the fascinating ruins of Chichén Itzá. If you wish to stay near Chichén Itzá, you can watch a surreal sound-and-light show in the evening.
Day 3: Izamal & Mérida
The next day, go west to Izamal, to visit the few remaining Maya buildings, main square, and local market before continuing on to Mérida, the region's cultural center. Get an overview of Mérida on a bus/trolley tour and stroll the main plaza surrounded by 500-year-old buildings, built from the stone of Maya pyramids torn down by the Spanish Conquistadors. Each evening, free cultural events take place in the historic district. Sunday is a big day for festivities that last all day.
Day 4: Celestún & Uxmal
From Mérida, Celestún is an easy day trip where travelers can combine a half-day on the beach with a boat trip to see flocks of flamingos in the ecological biosphere. From there, head south to the Maya ruins of Uxmal. If you're driving, choose from two different routes that take you past tiny Maya villages, crumbling Spanish haciendas, and more archaeological finds. Check into a hotel near Uxmal and tour the ruins; return in the evening for the light show. Explore the ruins further the next morning, when the temperature is much cooler.
Day 5: Campeche
Campeche is the best-preserved walled city in the Americas. The United Nations declared it a World Heritage Site in 2000, which secures protection for its narrow cobblestone streets and colonial-era buildings, painted in pastel colors. Check in and rest up: The next 3 days involve lots of road time.
Days 6, 7 & 8: Palenque & San Cristóbal de las Casas
Head south on Hwys. 180, 186, and finally 199 to Palenque. You can explore the magnificent pyramids here and, if you like, also see the ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilán, the next day. Spend one night in Palenque and the second night in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the most interesting city in Chiapas. From San Cristóbal, go with one of the local guides to see the fascinating Maya communities of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán.
Day 9: Calakmul, Xpujil & the Río Bec Ruins
Leave San Cristóbal early to head back up Hwy. 186 to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. It's a long drive through Escárcega to Xpujil and the ruins of the Río Bec area. Easy-to-access local ruins are Xpujil, Chicanná, and Becán. The ruins of Calakmul are perhaps the Yucatán's most mysterious and difficult to reach -- a 90-minute drive off the highway. The best way to see these ruins is to overnight in Xpujil or the eco-village of Chicanná and set out at dawn. If you decide to go to Calakmul, devote an extra day.
Day 10: Lago Bacalar
Xpujil marks the geographic halfway point; from here you're on your way back to Cancún. Head west to Lago Bacalar, and stop on the way to see the stone masks in the Kohunlich ruins, and then have a late lunch in Chetumal. Spend the night 37km (23 miles) north of the city at Rancho Encantado, a lovely eco-lodge on the edge of Lago Bacalar.
Day 11: Tulum
After an hour-and-a-half drive's north to Tulum, you'll reach one of Mexico's most alluring Caribbean towns. Plan to spend a night at a beach hotel, allowing time to visit the Tulum ruins and check out the incredible beach in front of them. Also consider a nature tour of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere, just south of town, with one of the local collectives of guides.
Days 12 & 13: Playa del Carmen & Cozumel
Take the drive up to Playa del Carmen, which can serve as a base to explore cenotes or even the ruins of Cobá. Playa is a chic town with a somewhat European flavor; be sure to allow yourself time to take in the cobblestone Quinta Avenida.
The next morning, you can take the ferry to Cozumel for a day trip of diving, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, or simply enjoying the beach. Stay for an early dinner and return to Playa for the night.
Day 14: Puerto Morelos
Spend your last day in Puerto Morelos, a slow-paced beach town just 31km (19 miles) south of Cancún.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.