Interested in backpacking Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula but not sure where to begin? This guide breaks down the basics (and budget) for planning your Yucatán backpacking itinerary!
Getting to the Yucatán Peninsula
Located in southeastern Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico. The peninsula is comprised of three Mexican states: Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. If traveling by air, the majority of flights into the peninsula arrive in Cancún or Mérida. Both are international airports. Budget airlines with flights from Mexico City include VivaAerobus, Interjet and Volaris. Aeroméxico also has affordable flights.
>> Don’t forget about Mexico’s Pacific Coast! Check out this Puerto Escondido guide for everything you need to know about the best beaches in Oaxaca! <<
I flew Volaris to and from Cancún. When I began planning this trip, I thought I would have to fly from Mexico City. Lucky for me though, Volaris has almost daily flights between Querétaro and Cancún. Querétaro’s airport is approximately 30 minutes from the city center. It was my first experience flying Volaris, and for the price ($1,598 MXN; $80 USD round trip), I was satisfied. But, travelers planning on only packing a carry-on beware. While Volaris does allow passengers both a personal bag and standard carry-on, the two items together cannot exceed 10 kg (22 lbs). They’re serious! Every passenger had their carry-ons weighed prior to boarding.
Things to do in Yucatán
Once you’ve made it to the peninsula, ground travel is more than manageable. I always encourage travelers to trip plan with a physical map in front of them.
Making you Yucatán backpacking itinerary
Decide which destinations pique your interest, and watch your trip come together right before your eyes.
Things to do in Cancun, Mexico
The Yucatán’s OG party destination with a plethora of spas and resorts to choose from. Lots of tours leave from Cancún, so if long bus rides aren’t an issue, you can take a day trip to most notable places on the peninsula.
Things to do in Tulum, Mexico
In recent years, this town has become a backpacker hotspot. Well-preserved Mayan ruins sit on the steep cliffs and overlook the Caribbean Sea. Accommodation is divided between the pubelo (town) and the zona hotelera (hotel zone).
Things to do in Mahahual, Mexico
Once a sleepy beach town, the completion of a cruise ship dock has awakened this Caribbean city. A variety of sleeping and eating options make it popular with both Mexican and international travelers looking for a place in the Costa Maya.
Things to do in Bacalar, Mexico
Maybe you came to Mexico for the ocean, but you’ll want to stay for the lagoons. Specifically, Laguna de Bacalar. Trade in the salt and seaweed for an afternoon in the lagoon of seven colors.
Things to do in Valladolid, Mexico
At some point, you may need a break from the crowds that flock to the peninsula’s white sand beaches. Getting off the beaten tourist track is as easy as moving inland. This colonial city makes an excellent base for exploring ruins and cenotes.
Things to do in Mérida, Mexico
Some historians consider Mérida the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas. The Spanish founded the city in 1592, but it had already been a center of Mayan culture and activities for centuries. Learn more at Mérida’s many museums.
Best things to do in Yucatán
Yucatán is one of the most popular places in Mexico and for good reason. There so much to see and do! When you’re making your backpacking Yucatán itinerary, don’t forget to include these incredible activities!
Explore the best Mayan ruins in Mexico
Because the Yucatán was once the center of the Mayan civilization, ancient ruins are scattered across the peninsula. Some of the better-known sites are Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Uxmal. Personally, I loved the ruins at Cobá and Ek’ Balam because you can climb to the top of the pyramids!
Swim in the best cenotes in Yucatán
So, what exactly is a cenote? A cenote is a natural pit which occurs when limestone bedrock collapses thus exposing subterranean water. In the Yucatán Peninsula, there are over 6,000 cenotes. Some are cave-like while others are open to the sky. Due to extensive natural filtration, cenote water is often very clear. Many lead to deeper underground cave systems, attracting divers from all over the world.
Where to snorkel with sea turtles in Yucatán
From its dense jungles to clear waters, the Yucatán Peninsula has incredible bio-diversity. There are many opportunities for observing wildlife. Akumal is one of the most popular spots for snorkeling with sea turtles, and tours cost around $700 MXN ($35 USD).
I took a chance on a $250 MXN ($12 USD) tour in Mahahual, and it ended up being a highlight of my trip! I saw three sea turtles, a stingray and lots of colorful fish. Two of the travelers on the same tour had also snorkeled in Akumal and preferred the experience in Mahahual. With fewer people swimming about, they said the water was clearer which made observing the marine life easier.
How much does backpacking Mexico’s Yucatan cost?
My two weeks in the Yucatán solidified my belief that Mexico is the perfect country for backpackers. Even though the Yucatán is one of the more expensive places to travel in Mexico, it’s still incredibly affordable. Budget-friendly options abound!
Since I was traveling with my boyfriend, we shared private rooms in hostels. The cost was generally equivalent to the price of two dorm beds. Maybe a few pesos more, but if you’re traveling as a couple, the privacy is worth it. Private rooms start at around $400 MXN ($20 USD) per night. Overall, hostel prices are cheaper the further you get from Cancún. But, regardless of where you are, there’s something for every budget.
While food and drink is usually a large chunk of my travel budget, that’s not the case in Mexico. In Mexico, it’s easy to eat well on the cheap. While in the Yucatán, I spent around $110 MXN ($6 USD) for lunch and $170 MXN ($9 USD) for dinner. Those prices are with a beer or two! Breakfast was typically included in my hostel stay. If you really need to tighten up your budget, you can eat at street stalls for next to nothing! I had some of the best tacos of my life for $40 MXN ($2 USD).
There are many transportation options in Mexico’s Yucatán. On a backpacking Mexico budget, you can definitely afford to combine car rental with bus travel and taxi travel. Plan your Yucatán road trip!
Car rental in Yucatán
The first week, I rented a car from Yes Rent A Car in Cancún. It cost $4,080 MXN ($216 USD) for six days. Since I usually travel by bus, having the car was a total luxury. The company is highly rated on TripAdvisor, and after experiencing their professionalism for myself, I can see why.
Bus travel in Yucatán
Bus travel is very popular in Mexico, and the Yucatán is no exception. With routes all over the peninsula, you should have no trouble getting where you need to go. For many destinations, travelers have the option of either a first or second-class bus.
At a slightly higher price point, first-class buses have seat assignments, air conditioning, bathrooms and fewer stops. Second-class buses are pretty much the opposite, but if you’ve got the time and need to save a buck, go for it! ADO is the largest company servicing the Yucatán.
Taxis in Yucatán
Traditional taxis are in most cities while ridesharing apps like Uber are frequently unavailable.
For longer journeys, you might consider catching a colectivo, which is sort of between a taxi and a bus. Flag down one of these taxi vans if you want a cheap fare and don’t mind a bumpy ride. The route is generally written on the front windshield. I went from Valladolid to Chichén Itzá (a 50-minute journey) for $35 MXN ($2 USD).
What can you do in Yucatán, and how much does it cost?
Popular activities in the Yucatán include visiting archaeological sites ($70-254 MXN; $4-13 USD), swimming in cenotes ($50-100 MXN; $3-5 USD), observing wildlife and just chilling on the beach. Unlike other destinations, it’s a little difficult to find completely free activities.
For example, there were no obvious public beaches in Mahahual. If you wanted to access the water, you did so through one of the beach clubs. But like the majority of Yucatán activities, the price was more than fair.
All you had to do was order a couple of beers, and you could use the beach as long as you wanted! In Mexico, you definitely get a lot for a little. I know you’re a broke little backpacker, but the people in the places you’re visiting need to make a living.
Is the Yucatán Peninsula safe?
In part due to its location, the Yucatán has managed to avoid the drug-related violence that plagues many parts of the country. Crime against tourists is rare, but as always, be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your belongings, and email copies of all important documents to yourself prior to traveling.
Do I need to know how to speak Spanish to vist Yucatán?
The closer you are to tourist hotspots like Cancún the more likely you are to find people in the service industry who speak English. If you decide to get off the beaten tourist track, communicating may be a bit more challenging, but just look at it as part of the adventure!
To make the most of your time in Mexico’s Yucatán, I highly recommend brushing up on your Spanish. Get started with this FREE Spanish Learner’s Resource Guide.
When is a good time to visit Yucatán?
High season in the Yucatán begins in December and goes through April. You can expect sunshine, warm temperatures and increased hotel rates. I visited during low season (June), and although it was quite humid, the rain mostly held off, and crowds were significantly thinner.
I originally planned the trip to coincide with the whale shark migration to Isla Holbox (June-September) but changed my plans due to iffy weather and my unresolved environmental ethics dilemma.
Have you ever visited Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula? Share your tips in the comments! If you’re planning a trip, let me know what cities or activities you would like to know more about!
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