Road trip across the Yucatan Peninsula – Our adventure between Caribbean beaches and Mayan culture

The Trekkin' Crew in Yucatan, Mexico - Sophie is sitting on the beach enjoying the sound of the ocean

The saying " anticipation is the best joy" is no coincidence.
It's Monday. On the way to the coffee machine I meet a colleague. "One more week, Sophie."I grin, do a hop inside and realize: She's right. Only one more week and we're on a plane to Mexico. Mexico – I wonder what's in store for us there? We didn't plan much, but more about that later – now we have to pack first.

Before we take you on our big trip, here's some info about us:
We, that are Sophie and Patrick. Besides the mountains, we love traveling and discovering foreign countries & cultures. It's fortunate that I, Sophie, work at TATONKA, so we're equipped with the perfect companions for all of our adventures.

Yucatan road trip - Sophie sits on Pat's shoulders in front of a Mayan pyramid

Two weeks in Mexico and the big question: What should we take with us??

The question about the right luggage is quickly answered. At home we have two new models of our Yukon trekking backpack, which have to be tested in any case. For carry-on luggage and day trips on vacation, we also opt for the Vibe 25.

Up to here it was still quite simple. When it comes to the question of what needs to go in the backpack, things get a little more complex. I'm afraid I'm not as relaxed as Patrick, who will probably pack his backpack a few hours before he leaves.

I think I'm using a system that many ladies are familiar with:

Just put out what is supposed to come with, realize that this is way too much. Put half of it back on the side. Pack. Afterwards I filled up the last gaps with the stuff that was already on the "I'll stay at home" pile, knowing that there is way too much in the backpack.

Thank God the Yukon can take a lot of punishment. At the first test wear at home, I nevertheless resolve to travel more minimalist on the next vacation.

Monday has become Thursday. Tomorrow we start. Tomorrow. – I can not believe it yet. Quickly checked with the guys from the department where exactly to go and picked up last travel tips. Checked off the remaining tasks on the to-do list, set the out-of-office note, computer off, vacation on.

From Munich to Cancun including a short visit to Toronto

The weather the next morning does not match our vacation mood at all. Cold and gray. Wearing a thick jacket and cap, we make our way to the airport.

After check-in and security check, I get to enjoy a premiere today. I have often wondered how I, a self-confessed fear of flying, will cope with it. Now the time has come. Flight delay due to technical problems. Should I really get on this plane? I weigh the options, but the view of turquoise blue sea makes the boarding in the end but very easy. 😉 A few air holes and tomato juices later, we reach Toronto without major incident.

On the way to the road trip Yucatan - Sophie points to the board at the airport in Munich. It's off to Mexico

We use the 14 hours until the onward journey to Cancun for a flying visit. It takes us 30 minutes to get from the airport to downtown Toronto, where the first thing that catches our eye is the CN (Canadian National Tower) Tower. To get a first overview, this one seems perfect.

No sooner said than done. In 58 seconds we shoot from the ground to the visitor platform, from where we have a great view of the city and of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes. We enjoy the sunset and then stroll through the lively streets. After a few hours of walking around town, including icicles on our noses, we decide to head back to the airport for some more sleep.

A little tip for all of you who plan to fly to Mexico via Canada like we did: For each entry to Canada you need a so-called ETA (electronic travel authorization), which you can easily apply for online. The costs are about. 7 Canadian dollars.

On the way to the road trip Yucatan - The shining letters of the city of Toronto in Canada. Stopover on the way to Mexico

Buenos dias Mexico – Arrival in Cancun

A short airport night and four hours flight later we finally have Mexican soil under our feet. We spend the time at the baggage carousel betting on how long we will have to wait for our rental car.

Roadtrip Yucatan - Sophie is happy to see their rental car already waiting for them

Against expectation we are immediately received and after a short wait brought to the pickup station. Again, everything goes quite smoothly until we are shown our car. Of course we know which vehicle class we have booked, but judging by Patrick's look, he had probably imagined in his dreams how we would cruise through Mexico in an XXL SUV.

All set for the Yucatan road trip - Sophie's trekking backpack just fits in the rental car

Well … what can I say: This wish has not quite come true. We are totally happy when we get both backpacks with difficulty into the trunk of our Chevrolet Matiz, which is still very battered. When we ask the landlord why the car has four different tires, he sprays them with some kind of liquid to make them shiny again. OK – that should tell us that this is not a problem. Also the fact that we have only one license plate on the back of the car irritates us a bit at first, but it seems to be really usual.

Roadtrip Yucatan – The adventure begins..

Into the car. Radio on. Window down. Woooohhooo – Caribbean, here we are! From the airport in Cancun we set off to our first accommodation near Akumal. Here we will spend our first three days, arrive and make plans for our next trip. The first afternoon we use to explore Akumal a bit. Akumal itself is not very big. It consists of the village and a beach promenade where there are some restaurants, hotels, small supermarkets and souvenir stores.

Roadtrip Yucatan - Picture from the water towards the beach. Crystal clear sea in Akumal, Mexico

But the main reason why so many tourists come to Akumal are the sea turtles that can be found in the local bay. We got the tip to come snorkeling in the morning – then it is not as crowded as in the afternoon. We are not really fond of the idea of chasing the poor animals with all the tourists, but we set off the next morning in spite of everything. In fact, the beach is still very empty in the morning. We are told when we enter the beach that snorkeling is only allowed in a demarcated area. We are happy to see that the animals are at least given the opportunity to leave if the rush becomes too much for them.

We are a bit excited in any case. We still don't believe that we are about to see turtles here. But as soon as I put my big toe in the water, Patrick waves me over excitedly. Two animals nibbling on seaweed with pleasure. We enjoy the time, let ourselves drift on the surface and observe these wonderful animals.

Yucatan road trip - Sophie dives with a sea turtle in Akumal, MexicoRoadtrip Yucatan - A sea turtle in the crystal clear waters of Akumal, , Mexico

After some time we leave the turtles to the meanwhile numerous other visitors and go to a little secret tip of our hotel owner.
"If you like it a bit quieter," she says, "then don't spend your day at the main beach in Akumal, but drive a bit further south."No sooner said than done – this sounds just like what we had in mind. And we are not disappointed. Playa Chemuyil is worth every kilometer of extra drive. Hardly any people, almost only locals, no souvenir stores, just gorgeous white Caribbean beach and turquoise sea.

Roadtrip Yucatan - The Playa Chemuyil near Akumal in Mexico. White sandy beach, turquoise sea and hardly any tourists

Yes – you can definitely spend a few hours here. After relaxing a bit in the sun, we walk around the bay. I wonder what lies around the next "bend"? We are on our way and can't get out of the amazement anymore. But see for yourself:

Roadtrip Yucatan - Palm trees and waters at Playa Chemuyil bay in Mexico

Roadtrip Yucatan - White sandy beach and palm trees at Playa Chemuyil in MexicoRoadtrip Yucatan - White sandy beach and palm trees at Playa Chemuyil in Mexico

Bathing fun of a very special kind: Cenotes – natural pools in Mexico

It is hard for us to say goodbye to this great place, but our curiosity drives us onwards. Today we want to see one more thing, which is on top of our "must-see" list for Mexico: a cenote.

Cenotes are dreamlike, with water filled caves respectively. Holes, created by the collapse of porous limestone ceilings. You don't have to search long, there are actually a large number of cenotes distributed on the peninsula and also well signposted. Since most of them have been rehashed to be tourist friendly, d. h. toilets, showers, changing rooms and lockers are available, a small entrance fee is charged.

Yucatan road trip - underwater shot in a cenote in Mexico. Cenotes are gorgeous caves or holes filled with water

In addition, one often has the possibility to borrow snorkeling equipment. If you want to save some money, you bring your own. But you should not miss the view under the water surface in any case. For the very brave who want to dive completely into the depths, there are even diving tours offered. It is best to find out beforehand where this is possible.

The first cenote we visit is the Cenote Azul. Compared to many others, which seem a bit more cave-like, the Cenote Azul is a big string of natural pools above ground. The individual pools are interrupted by stones and partly connected with wooden walkways. Small cliffs invite to jump into the cool water. Today on Sunday there is a lot going on, so that it is difficult for us to find a place to stay. When we finally spread out our towel, we watch the hustle and bustle and are once again amazed at what nature can conjure up. In the course of our trip we visit the Grand Cenote, Cenote Samula and Cenote Ik kil and are fascinated by each of them.
With a small beer we let the evening end and make plans for the further journey.

Roadtrip Yucatan - Cenotes dreamlike caves or holes filled with waterRoadtrip Yucatan - Cenotes dreamlike caves or holes filled with water

By the way: After only one day we have grown so fond of our little Chevrolet that we have named it Pepe. 🙂

Together with him we start our road trip from Akumal across the Yucatan Peninsula and take you to the most beautiful spots:

Pepe, our beloved little runabout, is packed and ready for the big trip. So are we? But hello! The backpacks are stowed in the trunk, the map is ready, the next destination is set. Music on. Sunglasses on. Windows down & off to the streets of Mexico. Adventure, here we come! OK – admittedly this sounds like we have a 15 hour ride in the car ahead of us. In fact, it is only a stone's throw from Akumal to our next stop: Tulum is only a few kilometers further south, but has a lot to offer.

Tulum: Tourist town with charm and unique Mayan ruins

The center of Tulum is located directly on the main road that connects Cancún with the south of the coast, and is therefore not quite as inviting. If you want to stay a bit cheaper, you will find it here in any case. Much nicer, but also more expensive, is on the beach promenade. A small exception are the simple campsites, where you can camp in the Caribbean sand under palm trees with a view of the turquoise sea. Beside fantastic hotels with direct beach location and view to the sea you will find numerous small restaurants, stores & boutiques on the beach promenade.

Roadtrip Yucatan - The city of Tulum in Mexico offers a beautiful beach promenade overlooking the Caribbean Sea

If you stop in Tulum, you should definitely plan at least half a day to visit the Mayan ruins. Considering the buildings and their condition, it is certainly not the most impressive Mayan site, but due to its location directly at the sea definitely unique. Bring enough time to enjoy the flair and the great beach. Our tip: In the early morning or late afternoon is less busy. 🙂

Road trip Yucatan - Mayan ruins in the city of Tulum in Mexico

Coba – climb a 42 meter high Mayan pyramid

We set up our base camp in Tulum for two nights, as we would like to tackle something special from here. We have heard that there is actually still a Mayan pyramid that can be climbed. The aforementioned pyramid is located in the ruined site of Coba. During our visit we learn that Coba must have been one of the largest Mayan cities on Yucatan in Mayan times.

Yucatan road trip - Sophie and Pat pose on the steps of a Mayan ruin at the Coba ruins site in MexicoYucatan road trip - Sophie and Pat stand in front of a Mayan pyramid ruin at the Coba ruins site in Mexico

Accordingly, one covers quite a bit of mileage when visiting the site. If you like to go faster, you have the possibility to rent bicycles. We have time and so we walk to the pyramid "Nohoch Mul" in the center of the site. The ascent to 42 m is not to be mastered completely without effort at a temperature of 38 degrees, but it is worthwhile in any case. From up here you can enjoy an amazing view of the jungle. At a closer look in the background even now and then a few peaks of other buildings flash out of the greenery. This gives you at least a rudimentary feeling of how big this city must have once been. Fascinated by what we've experienced, we work up another good sweat on the way down: Once you see how far it goes down in front of you, you are happy about the existing rope as a climbing aid. . 😉

Roadtrip Yucatan - Sophie and Pat look down on the surrounding jungle of the Coba ruins site in Mexico from the Nohoch Mul Mayan PyramidTatonka Trekkin Crew in Mexico - The Nohoch Mul Maya Pyramid. On 120 steps it goes up 42 meters

Roadtrip Yucatan - Sophie sits on the Nohoch Mul Maya pyramid and looks out over the surrounding jungle of the ruined site of Coba in Mexico

On the way back to the hotel, we planned two more stops: Shopping & Sea. Patrick's enthusiasm is limited, at least at the first point, because he knows what to expect: I just insanely love to stroll through supermarkets in foreign countries & accordingly always need a little longer than desired. 😉 After I've had a good look at everything and there are a few unfamiliar things in the shopping cart in addition to dinner, we make our way to the checkout and then, as promised, to the beach. After sunset back at the hotel, our spaghetti "Mexican Style" is simmering and is a very successful refreshment after this great day.

Roadtrip Yucatan - Beach with palm trees near the Mayan ruin site of Coba near Tulum in Mexico

My tip: Baked goods and desserts can the Mexicans excellent. Have a taste of what the supermarkets have to offer.

Bacalar: Lagoon of the seven colors

On the Yucatan Peninsula today there are three states: Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan. The largest city of the peninsula and capital of the state of Yucatan is Merida. The city has about 750.000 inhabitants and is thus much larger than we had originally thought.

What draws us to Merida? Clearly the history and the great, colorful architecture from the colonial era. Since I'm a little bit sick with a cold and don't really feel fit for sightseeing, we make a little detour on the way to Merida, or rather, we go to the beach. Stopover at the Laguna de Bacalar. Here we just want to relax and do nothing. On the way to the south we don't know yet how perfect this place is for that. We already heard some great stories about Bacalar and its lagoon on our trip, but still didn't have it really on our list. In this case my cold is probably a stroke of luck. The lagoon, also called the Lagoon of the Seven Colors, is a freshwater lake that looks like the purest Caribbean, turquoise blue sea. We have never seen anything like this before. We check into a hostel right on the shore and decide to stay in the dormitory, because the wooden hut is right on the jetty and offers a fantastic view of the water from the bed.

Yucatan road trip - view of the Laguna de Bacalar in Mexico. It is also called the lagoon of the seven colors

Roadtrip Yucatan - A catamaran boat with a colorful sail anchors in the Laguna de Bacalar in Mexico

The first night I sleep really bad because of my cold, but I am rewarded in the morning around 5 o'clock with a fantastic view of the sunrise. I sneak out of my bed and lie down on one of the sun loungers on the jetty. Light winds, the sound of waves and the sun slowly creeping across the lake – moments like these are hard to describe, but they are exactly why I love to travel.

The next two days we do nothing but relax in the hammocks and sun loungers, read and swim. Actually, we wanted to rent a kayak and paddle through the lagoon – unfortunately, the hostel owner advised us against it because of too strong wind. Be sure to try it during your visit, we are very sure it will be worth it.

Colorful, colonial charm of Meridas

The cold is quickly history, and we saddle Pepe for the onward journey. Merida is waiting for us. The drive from Bacalar to Merida takes four hours, where we arrive in the late afternoon.

We are glad that we have already pre-booked our hotel and thus save ourselves the search in the nevertheless quite large city. So we have time in the afternoon to jump into the pool again before we leave to get a first overview.

Roadtrip Yucatan - In colorful capital letters you can read the name of the city Merida. In the background: the Catedral de San Idelfonso on the Plaza de la Independencia

Without a goal we start our first exploration tour and let the city work on us. It is a lot of fun to stroll through the colorful, historic alleys, even though it is still quite hot. Finally, we find a small restaurant on a busy square, where we end the evening with a delicious meal.

Roadtrip Yucatan - Pat at the counter of a restaurant in Merida, Mexico

Because of our stop in Bacalar we don't have much time for Merida, so we decide for a city tour. In addition, the temperatures are extremely high, which feels even higher in the alleys of the city without wind. Another plus: we learn many interesting things about the history of the city first hand and not from the guidebook. We were especially impressed by the fact that the Spanish had the Catedral de San Idelfonso built on the Plaza de la Independencia, the main square and center of Merida, from stones of the Maya temples that had been destroyed before. In addition, it is said to be the oldest cathedral in the continental U.S.

At the Plaza de la Independencia you can also find the city hall of Merida as well as the Casa de Montejo. Once the conqueror of Yucatan and founder of Merida, the Spaniard Francisco de Montejo, lived here with his family as well as his successor. Today there is a museum here, and the building houses a bank. Even if you belong to the type of museum muffle, like us, you should definitely risk a look. Since the entrance is free, you only have to invest a little time.

We enjoy the fresh breeze in the open bus and are enthusiastic about the fantastic architecture of this city. We snap our fingers and try to capture just about everything for home. In the meantime we have to remind ourselves from time to time to simply enjoy the view without camera constraint.

Roadtrip Yucatan - House facade in Merida in Mexico: The city offers a dreamlike architectureRoadtrip Yucatan - House facade in Merida, Mexico: In the city you can find a dreamlike architectureYucatan road trip - house facade in Merida, Mexico: the city is a must for all architecture fans

In the afternoon we sit down on the Plaza de la Independencia and watch the hustle and bustle. Afterwards we stroll over a market near the city center, have a delicious meal and say goodbye to Merida with a cocktail. Tomorrow it goes for us already again. We continue to Valladolid to visit the most famous tourist attraction in Yucatan: the impressive ruins of Chichen Itza.

Yucatan road trip - Pat and locals pose for a photo together in front of a small grocery store

World Cultural Heritage: Chichen Itza

One thing we can anticipate here :-): Yes, Chichen Itza is very touristy. And yes, also very, very crowded. Nevertheless, we think Chichen Itza is a must-see and should be on every Yucatan itinerary. Not without reason this Mayan site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was named one of the seven new wonders of the world. The temples, the ball court, the observatory and all other buildings of the complex are very well preserved and simply impressive.

Roadtrip Yucatan - Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, one of the most famous ruin sites in MexicoRoadtrip Yucatan - Mayan ruins at the site of Chichen Itza, one of the most famous ruin sites in Mexico

If you think about how old everything is here and at what time and with what means it was built – the madness. Probably the most famous and most photographed building of the complex is the pyramid Kukulcan, also known under the name "El Castillo. With a guided group near us, we pick up that today it is believed that the Maya built and used this pyramid as a calendar. For example, the total of 365 steps of the pyramid stand for the days in the year.

Roadtrip Yucatan - Sophie stands in front of a Mayan pyramid at the ruined site of Chichen Itza in Mexico

Even if you will never have the place to yourself, it is worth to go there first thing in the morning. We were on site around 8am, a few hours before the tour buses from Cancún arrived. In addition, it has the advantage that one does not enter in the midday heat. 😉

Holbox – Mexico's little paradise

Roadtrip Yucatan - With two Tatonka backpacks, Pat prepares at the port for the onward journey to Holbox, Mexico

We have seen a lot so far and before we fly back to cold Germany, we want to spend a few more relaxing days at the beach. Whether we still take you with us? Sure, shoulder your backpacks and off you go! Our next destination is Holbox. What awaits us here? We let ourselves be surprised.

In our travel guide there was not much to read about the small island, but on the net I kept coming across it. There was even talk of an "insider tip" there: no cars, no paved roads, natural paradise with white sandy beaches, mangrove forests, relaxed atmosphere – all these were things that the Internet had to report about Holbox. However, some travel reports also advised against a visit, since the sea is supposed to be not quite as great as z. B. in Tulum.

If something like that keeps us away? Of course not. 🙂 Now more than ever, thought our explorer's desire. In no time we have booked a parking place for Pepe (unfortunately he is not allowed to accompany us to Holbox), bought ferry tickets and are on our way.

And are we disappointed? NO. It is exactly as we have imagined it. Somehow a small, relaxed hippie island – so perfect that one could almost speak of kitschy. Or where every evening at sunset locals stand on the beach and ring in the night with a loud "making music" on a huge shell?

Roadtrip Yucatan - sandy beach in Holbox in Mexico

What can we say: We would have loved to stay here … and that's what we did. At least a few days longer than planned. At the end of our trip, we actually wanted to look around Cancún a bit more, but rather decided to spend two more days on Holbox. So we still have time to discover the island with the bikes. Finally, we'll just let a few pictures speak for themselves:

Roadtrip Yucatan - Sophie sits on the beach of Holbox in Mexico and enjoys the sound of the sea

We hope you enjoyed our little trip across the Yucatan Peninsula and that you will join us on our next adventure.

More impressions from Yucatan:

Roadtrip Yucatan - Sophie checking in at the hotel in Tulum MexicoYucatan road trip - bike in front of the hand-painted wall of a grocery store in Holbox, MexicoRoadtrip Yucatan - Sophie rides a bike along the beach of Holbox, pointing forward with an outstretched armRoadtrip Yucatan - close-up of a starfish Sophie is holding in her hands

Yucatan road trip - Sophie on her way to her hotel room in Tulum, Mexico. On her back she carries her Tatonka Yukon trekking backpackRoadtrip Yucatan - Small cafe on a street corner in Holbox, Mexico. The walls are painted with pink paintRoadtrip Yucatan - The two Tatonka Yukon trekking backpacks on the ferry from the mainland to Holbox

P. S.: Just a few kilometers away, in Belize, Ania and Daniel from the travel blog Geh Mal Reisen spent a breathtaking backpacking trip. Read what they have experienced in Central America.