A prime destination for adventure, relaxation, culture and food, the Yucatan Peninsula is home to the major cities of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Combining the long July 4th weekend with a few vacation days, I had an absolute blast exploring the area.
Read on for the top things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula!
Swim in a cenote
Years ago, a National Geographic cover sparked my curiosity with cenote diving. No matter if you’re a snorkeler, scuba diver or swimmer, exploring Quintana Roo’s cenotes is something you can’t miss!
But what exactly is a cenote?
A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Found in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings. They also believed cenotes were entrances into the underworld, and it’s not tough to see why!
The eroded limestone forms labyrinthine cave systems under the earth, and many have lost their lives over the years trying to navigate their way through the maze of tunnels (always remember to dive safely!) Cenotes are also a marvelous place to play around with light photography.
Read my comprehensive guide on how to visit and swim in cenotes!
One of the world’s greatest congregation of whale sharks, an hour boat ride outside of Cancun will bring you to these magnificent creatures’ feeding waters. In the summer months, it’s almost a certainty to see these friendly giants as they feed on plankton and fish eggs.
You can’t scuba with the sharks here, but snorkeling with these gentle giants is an unforgettable experience. Try to go extra early to beat the crowds, and don’t forget to bring your GoPro or underwater camera!
A lot of tours will also do a stop at Playa Norte, a lovely beach at Isla Mujeres, where they serve fresh ceviche made right on the boat for lunch. It’s a terrific way to end the morning.
Doable on a day trip, Cozumel provides some spectacular diving, along with a relaxed beach vibe you’d expect from an island. Spend your time chilling on the beach drinking a pina colada, or exploring what the shops have to offer!
The more sleepy neighboring city to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Tulum is way less touristy than Cancun or Playa del Carmen, and offers a variety of activities:
- Discovering Mayan ruins (the most famous being Tulum’s ruins by the ocean)
- Cenote diving
- Yoga retreats
After a long day in the sun and sea, food just tastes ten times better! Some amazing eats I’d recommend are:
- El Fogon – a famous, super affordable local eatery! Their famous tacos al pastor are only $1, and be sure to try their loco taco for $5.75 (basically a huge taco stuffed with EVERYTHING)
- Cheester – Mexico’s answer to California Pizza Kitchen, with 3 times the portions! Seriously. Huge, huge plates of pasta, salad and pizza, don’t be fooled by Cheester’s chain restaurant appearance. The food is spectacular and very filling. Be sure to try the spring roll appetizers! They’re filled with cheese and topped with a sweet sauce and pesto. So good
- Asadero el Pollo – local hole in the wall place that specializes in roasted chicken. Surprisingly, their recipe reminds me so much of Thai roasted chicken – almost identical in flavor, just with different toppings! Here, it’s served with rice, salsa, beans, and tortillas
- Blue Lobster – great surf n turf, and for a nice dinner downtown
- Chez Celine – for those looking to satiate their sweet tooth!
- Ceviche – you’re by the ocean in Mexico, it’s a crime not to eat some ceviche! This dish combines fresh raw fish cured in lime juice and mixed with onions, cilantro, salt and pepper. Delish!
Know the Yucatan Peninsula? Let me know some of your top things to do in the comments section below!