Welcome to the ultimate Yucatán backpacking guide.
The Yucatán peninsula, in southern Mexico, is a real backpacker paradise.
It’s a pretty big place, with stunning white sand beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, incredible coral reefs with world-class scuba diving, ancient Mayan temples, thick jungle, beautiful colonial towns, and a vibrant fun-loving culture.
While Mexico isn’t as cheap a destination as South-East Asia, your Yucatán backpacking adventure doesn’t have to break the bank. As long as you steer clear of the over-touristed (+ Instagram-obsessed) places like Tulum, backpacking in the Yucatán can be surprisingly affordable.
In this post, I’ll describe the best places to visit in the Yucatán, suggest some travel itineraries, discuss transportation options, safety tips, and much more to help you plan the perfect trip.
Best Places To Visit In The Yucatán
These are some of the best places to visit when backpacking in the Yucatán.
Isla Holbox is a small island off the north Yucatán coast, and is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve. The whole island is car free, so the only way to get around is by foot or golf cart.
Despite its growing popularity with foreign travellers and backpackers, Holbox is still very unspoilt. It has amazing beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and a wonderful lack of consumerism and mass tourism.
The marine and bird life on Holbox is simply stunning, with large numbers of tropical fish, sea turtles, whale sharks, pelicans and flamingos regularly seen here.
Isla Holbox has a very laid back vibe and is the perfect place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of city life. If you’re looking for a place to truly unwind, Isla Holbox should definitely be on your Yucatán backpacking itinerary.
Where to stay in Holbox
- Budget: Kin Camping
- Mid-range: Hotel Casa HX
- High end: Palapas del Sol
The capital of Yucatán state, Mérida is a beautiful colonial city located in the heart of the peninsula. Founded in 1542 by Spanish conquistadors, Mérida has a rich history and culture.
Despite being a relatively large city, Mérida feels much more like a small town. The streets are safe and pedestrian-friendly, making it a great place to wander and explore.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Mérida. Be sure to visit the main square, Plaza Grande, where you’ll find the impressive Cathedral of San Ildefonso.
For a taste of local culture, try to catch a concert performed by the excellent Yucatán Symphony Orchestra. Or visit the Regional Museum of Anthropology (Museo Regional de Antropología de Yucatán).
If you’re looking for a break from all the sightseeing, Mérida has some great restaurants and bars. Make sure to try the traditional Yucatán dish, cochinita pibil: slow-cooked pork marinated in achiote (a popular Mexican spice) and orange juice.
Mérida is one of the most liveable cities in Mexico, and is becoming known as a hotspot for digital nomads. Those who need to spend some time here working will find plenty of excellent cafes and co-working spaces, and a small yet thriving expat community.
Where to stay in Mérida
- Budget: Hotel & Hostal Boutique Casa Garza
- Mid-range: Acqua in Bocca
- High end: Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel
A walled colonial city located on the Gulf of Mexico, Campeche is one of the Yucatán’s most underrated destinations. Founded in 1540, Campeche was once a major trading port for the Spanish empire.
Today, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is renowned for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. The best way to explore Campeche is on foot, so be sure to wander the narrow cobblestone streets and discover all the hidden gems.
Some of the must-see sights in Campeche include the Cathedral of San Francisco de Asís, the Palacio Municipal (City Hall), and the Casa 6 Portales (House of Six Portals).
Where to stay in Campeche
- Budget: Melisa Hostal
- Mid-range: Bajo las Hojas
- High end: Hotel Boutique Casa Don Gustavo
A colonial city in the east of the Yucatán peninsula, Valladolid is often overlooked by travellers. However, this charming city is well worth a visit.
Valladolid is known for its beautiful buildings and lovely plazas. Be sure to visit the main square, Plaza de Santa Lucía, where you’ll find the Cathedral of San Gervasio.
To learn a little more about Yucatán culture, don’t miss the Regional Museum of Mayan History or the Nohoc Mul Chac archaeological site.
Valladolid is a great base for exploring the nearby Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá and Ek’ Balam (see below). These two sites are some of the most impressive in all of Mexico.
Where to stay in Valladolid
- Budget: Hostel Candelaria
- Mid-range: Casa Palagui Colonial
- High end: Hotel Posada San Juan
Río Lagartos is a small town on the north coast of the Yucatán peninsula. This remote town is famous for its pink lakes, flamingos, and salt mines.
Río Lagartos is one of the best places in the Yucatán to see wildlife. In addition to flamingos, you can also find crocodiles, pelicans, and a variety of other birds.
There are several companies that offer boat tours of the pink lakes. These tours are a great way to see the flamingos up close and learn about the ecology of the region.
Click here for more information and to book.
The nearby town of Las Coloradas is home to some of the largest salt mines in Mexico. These mines are open to the public and make for an interesting half-day excursion.
Most tour companies (including this one) that visit Río Lagartos also include a visit to Las Coloradas, so it’s easy to visit both places in one day.
Where to stay in Río Lagartos
- Budget: Hotel Posada Mercy
- Mid-range: Posada El Perico Marinero
- High end: Hotel Rio Lagartos
Isla Mujeres is a tiny island off the coast of Cancún. This idyllic place is a popular day-trip destination for travellers staying in Cancún or the Riviera Maya.
Isla Mujeres is renowned for its beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, and world-class snorkelling and scuba diving. There are many companies offering boat trips, snorkelling and diving expeditions. This one is particularly good.
Isla Mujeres is one of the best places in the world to spot whale sharks, especially between June and September, when they migrate through the waters around the island. These gentle giants are the largest fish in the world, and can reach up to 12 metres (40 feet) in length.
The island is also home to several Mayan ruins, including the Temple of Ixchel, an ancient fertility goddess.
In addition to its natural beauty, Isla Mujeres is known for its laid-back atmosphere. Despite its proximity to Cancún, there are no high-rise hotels or resorts on the island, and it’s remarkably unspoilt.
Where to stay in Isla Mujeres
- Budget: Casa Iguana Hostel
- Mid-range: Casa Barco Hotel Boutique
- High end: Casa de los Sueños Hotel Boutique
Bacalar is a small town on the south-east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, close to Belize. This remote town is famous for its lagoon, which is one of the most beautiful in all of Mexico.
The lagoon is dotted with islands and is surrounded by lush jungle. It’s a popular spot for swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing.
Bacalar itself is a fairly sleepy place, and is a perfect spot to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s becoming increasingly popular with backpackers, so you shouldn’t struggle to find a hostel or a cheap Airbnb here.
Where to stay in Bacalar
- Budget: Cabañas Alma Verde
- Mid-range: Hotel Maria Maria
- High end: Habitas Bacalar
Cozumel is another island off the coast of the Yucatán peninsula.
This idyllic place is renowned for its beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, and world-class snorkelling and diving.
Its location on the Mesoamerican Reef mean this is one of the best places in Mexico to see marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins, whale sharks, manatees, and a huge range of colourful tropical fish.
Cozumel is home to the Museo Subacuático de Arte, a unique and spectacular underwater art and sculpture exhibition. This is one of the most popular attractions on the island and is a must-see.
On the southern tip of the island, the Parque Punta Sur is an ecological park with gorgeous lagoons, pristine beaches, reefs and dense mangrove forests home to a wealth of animal, bird and plant life.
There are also several Mayan ruins on Cozumel, including the Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio, which was once a major ceremonial site and is now a wildlife refuge. The site is free to enter and is well worth a visit.
Where to stay in Cozumel
- Budget: Hostel Auikyani
- Mid-range: Hacienda Boutique B&B and Spa
- High end: Condumel
Other Places To Visit In The Yucatán
The following places are very popular with international travellers.
Personally, I think they’ve become too over-touristed and spoilt, and I wouldn’t choose to include them in my Yucatán backpacking route. But of course, the choice is yours.
Tulum used to be a sleepy little town famous for its perfect white sand beaches and its Mayan ruins, which are some of the best-preserved in Mexico.
Sadly however, in the last 10 years Tulum has become so popular a destination that the whole place now feels incredibly crowded, over-touristed and spoilt. Prices have gone through the roof, and there are swarms of tourists and “influencers” everywhere you go.
The beaches are no longer as stunning as they used to be, with large sections covered in loungers, beach clubs and tens of thousands of selfie-obsessed people trying to “find” themselves.
The main attraction in Tulum is the ruin site, which is still stunning, despite the crowds. The site includes several temples, pyramids, palaces, and an observatory. Owing to its cliff-top location, from several places you can get fantastic views along the Caribbean coast.
Check out this post on how to travel from Cozumel to Tulum.
However, for an accurate and excellent summary of why Tulum is no longer the paradise it used to be, see this post over on Nomadic Matt.
Where to stay in Tulum
- Budget: Hostel Oryx Tulum
- Mid-range: Suites at TreeTops Tulum
- High end: Casa Colibrí Tankah
Most international flights to the Yucatán land at Cancún airport. So the chances are you will pass through here at least once during your Yucatán peninsula backpacking adventure.
However, there are several reasons why I would not recommend spending much time in Cancún.
Firstly, the town is ugly and overpriced. The Hotel Zone is little more than a row of flashy hotels backing out onto a strip of overcrowded beach. There’s no atmosphere, no authentic culture, nothing.
If you want to stay in an all-inclusive resort with year-round sunshine, where you can sit by the pool and sip cocktails, but not do much else, Cancún would be a reasonable choice. But if you’re looking for an authentic Mexican experience, you won’t find it here.
Where to stay in Cancún
- Budget: Casa Bonita SM31
- Mid-range: Casa Kin33
- High end: Atelier Playa Mujeres
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen used to be an awesome little town popular with digital nomads and backpacker types. But today, it suffers from similar problems with over-tourism as Tulum and Cancún.
The streets are crowded with tourists, the beaches are packed, and the prices have exploded.
In some of Playa del Carmen’s backstreets, you can still find pockets of authentic Yucatán culture – great street food, little hole-in-the-wall bars, cantinas, and some excellent markets.
But overall, the town has become spoilt in recent years, especially the area near the seafront. It’s okay as a place to spend a day or two, but there are many other places that I’d recommend visiting in the Yucatán over Playa del Carmen.
Where to stay in Playa del Carmen
- Budget: Claro de Luna
- Mid-range: Hotel Villas Segovia Suites
- High end: Mvngata Beach Hotel
Which Mayan Ruins To Visit In The Yucatán Peninsula?
The Yucatan peninsula is world-famous for being home to several incredible Mayan ruins, which are well worth visiting if you’re exploring the area.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá is an ancient Maya city that’s located in the Yucatán jungle, about two hours from Mérida.
This archaeological site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico and should definitely be on your Yucatán backpacking route.
The main attraction at Chichén Itzá is the iconic El Castillo, a massive pyramid that soars 30 metres (98 feet) into the sky. Other highlights include the Temple of Warriors, the Great Ball Court, and the Observatory.
Be sure to arrive early to avoid the huge crowds that descend on Chichén Itzá later in the day. And if you want to avoid the crowds altogether, consider spending the night at one of the nearby camping grounds or budget guesthouses and exploring the ruins early in the morning.
Click here to book a guided tour of Chichén Itzá.
Ek’ Balam is another large Mayan archaeological site in the Yucatán jungle, 25 kilometres north of Valladolid. Although it’s not as popular as Chichén Itzá, Ek’ Balam is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re interested in learning more about the Maya culture.
While many archeological sites in Mexico no longer allow you to climb up the structures, at Ek’ Balam you can still climb up to the top of the highest one. From here, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views out over the site and the surrounding Yucatán jungle.
Other highlights at Ek’ Balam include the Temple of the Owls, the Acropolis, and several ornate stelae (carved stones).
Ek’ Balam is a great place to learn about Maya culture. There are several on-site guides who can provide information about the history and archaeology of the site.
Click here to book a guided tour of Ek’ Balam.
Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Yucatán jungle, about two hours from Mérida. This ancient Maya city was a powerful ceremonial centre in the region and is well-known for its pyramids, palaces, and plazas.
Together with Palenque and Chichén Itzá, Uxmal is one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico.
The main attraction at Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician, a massive pyramid that soars over 50 metres (164 feet) into the sky. Other highlights include the Governor’s Palace, the House of the Turtles, and the Great Ball Court.
If you’re interested in learning more about Maya culture, be sure to visit the on-site museum.
Click here to book a guided tour of Uxmal.
The beautiful Tulum archaeological site is located on the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo state, about 1.5 hours from Playa del Carmen.
This Maya city was built on top of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea and is well-known for its stunning views of the surrounding beaches and turquoise waters.
The main attraction at Tulum is the Temple of the Frescoes, a small pyramid that’s decorated with colourful murals. Other highlights include the Castle, the Temple of the Descending God, and the Great Ball Court.
However, as described above, I don’t think it’s worth spending much time in the town of Tulum or its overcrowded beach zone.
If you’re pressed for time, you could easily skip this destination and you wouldn’t miss too much. Or just spend day or two here, see the ruins, then move on.
Click here to book a guided tour of the Tulum archaeological site (departing from Cozumel).
Cobá is another ancient Maya city located deep in the Yucatán jungle, about half way between Valladolid and Tulum. This archaeological site is much less crowded than other Maya ruins in the area and is worth a visit, especially if you’re looking to avoid the crowds.
Cobá was founded almost 2,000 years ago, around 50 BC. At its peak, from the years 550 to 900 AD, it was home to roughly 50,000 people.
As well as being one of the oldest and largest ancient ruined cities in Mexico, Cobá is also one of the most atmospheric. In this way, it’s somewhat similar to Palenque, in Chiapas.
Many of the structures are at least partially hidden by the dense jungle, which echoes with the calls of howler monkeys, frogs, and tropical birds.
If you’re interested in getting further off the beaten path, consider renting a bicycle and exploring the site’s extensive network of Sacbe (ancient Maya roads).
Click here to book a guided tour of Cobá.
Best Travel Itineraries For Your Yucatán Backpacking Adventure
Of course, the best itinerary for your Yucatán backpacking trip will depend largely on how much time you have to spend, as well as your budget.
Here are some suggested travel itineraries, which you can use as a starting point to help you plan your perfect adventure backpacking the Yucatán peninsula.
Yucatán Backpacking Itinerary #1: One week
If you only have one week in the Yucatán, you will have to be selective. I recommend focusing on a couple of places, otherwise you will spend more time on buses or otherwise getting around than actually enjoying yourself in each place.
My suggested one week Yucatán backpacking route is as follows:
- FLY into Cancún
- Days 1-2: Valladolid
- Days 3-5: Chichén Itzá > Mérida
- Days 6-7: Cobá OR Isla Mujeres
- FLY out of Cancún
Yucatán Backpacking Itinerary #2: Two weeks
With two weeks, you can see a fair amount, but still won’t be able to visit all of the places mentioned in this post.
Here’s what I would suggest as a two week itinerary for backpacking in the Yucatán:
- FLY into Cancún
- Days 1-3: Holbox
- Days 4-5: Valladolid
- Days 6-9: Chichén Itzá > Mérida
- Days 10-11: Cobá
- Days 12-14: Isla Mujeres
- FLY out of Cancún
Yucatán Backpacking Itinerary #3: Three weeks
If you’ve got three weeks, you could follow the same itinerary as the above two-week one, but with a day longer in each place. This would make it more chilled and give you a chance to see more of each place.
Alternatively, you could add a few extra places to your Yucatán peninsula itinerary. For example:
- FLY into Cancún
- Days 1-3: Holbox
- Days 4-5: Valladolid
- Days 6-9: Chichén Itzá > Mérida
- Days 10-13: Uxmal > Campeche
- Days 14-17: Cobá > Bacalar
- Days 18-21: Isla Mujeres OR Cozumel
- FLY out of Cancun
Yucatán Backpacking Itinerary #4: One month
With a month to play with, you could definitely visit all of the places in this post, if you wanted to.
I usually prefer to travel slowly and spend a bit longer in each place, but you can use the below as a loose guide and tailor it to suit your preferences.
Suggested one month Yucatán backpacking itinerary:
- FLY into Cancún
- Week one: Holbox > Rio Lagartos > Ek’ Balam
- Week two: Valladolid > Mérida > Uxmal
- Week 3: Campeche > Bacalar > (Tulum, maybe)
- Week 4: Cobá > Cozumel > Isla Mujeres
- FLY out of Cancún
To be honest, if I was doing it, I’d probably try and spend a week on Holbox. Then a week in Mérida, then Campeche, finishing with a week in Bacalar (or maybe Cozumel). I’d do day trips to a few of the other places.
But that’s just me – I prefer to minimise the number of times I have to move all of my stuff around and unpack.
Visiting other parts of Mexico
If your Yucatán backpacking adventure is part of a longer trip to Mexico, you could always incorporate one of the above itineraries into your plan.
And of course, you don’t need to fly into and out of Cancún. Mérida has a fairly major airport with direct flights to all over Mexico and a few other places in North America.
Or you could always travel overland from western Yucatán into the neighbouring states of Tabasco, Chiapas, and beyond…
If you’re heading to Chiapas, two places I’d really recommend you visit are Cascadas Roberto Barrios (near Palenque) and Boca del Cielo (on the Pacific coast).
Transportation In The Yucatán Peninsula
There are a few different transportation options available in the Yucatán peninsula, including buses, colectivos (shared minibus taxis), taxis, and rental cars.
Buses in the Yucatán
Buses are the most common mode of transportation in the Yucatán. There are several bus companies that offer service between major cities and towns. These include ADO, Mayab, Omnibuses de Mexico, and Primera Plus.
The buses are usually comfortable and air-conditioned, and most of them have WiFi. You can either book bus tickets online or from the bus station.
If you don’t have the budget to hire a car, and don’t fancy sitting for hours in the back of a cramped minibus (see below), taking the bus will probably be the best way for you to get around.
Colectivos are shared minibus taxis that run on certain routes. A popular method of transport throughout Mexico, colectivos don’t have any fixed timetables, but leave when they’re full.
They’re often pretty cramped, hot, and the driving can be a bit dodgy. But they can be a fun way of getting about, especially for shorter journeys.
Also, colectivos are generally very cheap, so this might be a good option to consider if you’re backpacking in the Yucatán on a tight budget. All the more so if you’re a solo traveller.
Taxis can be a good option, especially if you have a group of people to share the cost with.
Of course, this will still work out quite a bit more expensive compared to buses. But they can be a good option for short distances or when you need to get somewhere quickly.
Taxis can be hailed on the street. Be sure to negotiate and agree on a price before the start of your journey. It helps if you can speak a little Spanish, as most taxi drivers in Mexico don’t speak much English.
Renting a car in the Yucatán
Renting a car is usually the most expensive option, but by far the most convenient.
Rental cars are a good option for those who want to explore the Yucatán peninsula on their own. The roads in the Yucatán are generally safe and well-maintained, and there are plenty of rental car companies to choose from.
Just be sure to check all of the documentation – and the condition of the car – carefully before driving away (I usually take a video). To minimise the likelihood of issues later on, it’s important to ensure that everything is as it should be before embarking on your epic Yucatán road trip.
Try to avoid driving at night, especially outside of major population centres. Animals often cross the road in the dark, and bandits holding people up isn’t totally unheard of.
I’ve had a couple of issues with Mexican hire cars breaking down in the past. These were eventually resolved, but it was a bit of a painful experience. Still, I find the freedom and convenience of having your own car usually greatly outweighs the potential risks.
The best deals on car hire in Mexico are usually found on rentalcars.com.
Click here for the latest prices.
Prices are usually lowest if you pick up the car from Cancún airport or Mérida airport.
Alternatively, try searching here:
How Much Does It Cost To Go Backpacking In The Yucatán?
The Yucatán peninsula is a relatively cheap place to travel, especially if you’re saving money by taking buses and staying in budget accommodation. (And not spending too much time in rip-off places like Tulum.)
Hostels, local food, and public transportation are all fairly inexpensive throughout Mexico, and there are plenty of free activities to enjoy as well.
Here’s a breakdown of some typical daily costs you can expect while backpacking in the Yucatán:
- Accommodation (budget / hostels): $10-20 USD
- Food (street food / cheap eateries): $10 USD
- Transport: $10 USD
- Activities/fun: $10-20 USD
Of course, this all depends on what you want to do, where you want to eat, drink and sleep.
But it’s totally possible to go backpacking around the Yucatán with a budget of $40 USD per day, especially if you don’t mind being frugal.
Is It Safe To Go Backpacking In Yucatán?
Overall, yes – backpacking in the Yucatán is generally safe.
As with any destination, it’s always important to take precautions and use common sense when travelling. But overall, the Yucatán is a fairly safe place to visit and doesn’t suffer from the same levels of crime and violence found in other parts of Mexico.
Of course, there are always risks when travelling, and no destination is completely safe. So it’s important to do your research before you go and be aware of the potential risks.
But if you take sensible precautions, backpacking in the Yucatán is likely to be a safe and enjoyable experience.
Here are a few things you can do to help ensure you don't become a victim of crime during your time in Mexico:
- Be aware of your belongings at all times.
- Don’t walk around carrying clearly expensive items (fancy cameras, iPads, jewellery, etc.) – be discreet with your stuff!
- Try to avoid being out on the streets by yourself at night in unfamiliar areas.
- If you do go out at night, take only what you need with you.
- Be careful when using ATMs (use the ones inside banks wherever possible).
- Don’t drive at night.
- Bring a padlock for securing your valuables at hostels, etc.
- Don’t leave drinks unattended in bars.
- Be sensible when using taxis, especially if travelling solo – if you get a bad vibe, walk away.
To be honest, most of these things should be common sense and apply wherever you are in the world.
Be sensible, and you’ll be fine.
Food & Drinks
The Yucatán peninsula is home to some of the best food in Mexico.
Cuisine here is a fusion of Maya, Spanish and Lebanese influences, and it’s absolutely delicious. There are lots of traditional dishes to try, as well as countless street food options.
Some of the Yucatán’s most popular dishes include:
- Cochinita pibil: slow-roasted pork dish, traditionally cooked in a pit filled with banana leaves.
- Poc chuc: Maya dish of stewed vegetables, and sometimes chicken, usually served with beans and rice.
- Sopa de lima: chicken soup flavoured with lime juice – a Yucatán classic!
- Huevos motuleños: a breakfast dish of eggs, crispy tortillas, black and/or refried beans, plantains, cheese, and other ingredients.
- Ceviche: Seafood marinated in lime juice and spices – originally from Peru, but popular throughout the Yucatán.
You’ll find these and many other dishes served by street food vendors and in local restaurants wherever you are on the peninsula. And of course, there are plenty of local snacks to enjoy as well, including yuca root fritters, empanadas, tamales, churros… the list goes on!
When it comes to drinks, you’ll find no shortage of fresh fruit juices and aguas frescas (fruit juice blended with water, sugar and a squeeze of lime). Some of my favourites include jugo de piña (pineapple juice), jugo de melón (melon juice) and agua de Jamaica (made from hibiscus) – they’re all delicious.
Of course, being Mexico, there’s also plenty of tequila, mezcal and beer to be drunk here too!
Can you drink tap water in the Yucatán?
In short, no. Tap water in the Yucatán is not safe to drink.
If you’re backpacking on a budget, it can be tempting to save money by drinking the tap water. But trust me, it’s not worth it.
Stick to bottled water instead – it’s not expensive, and you can buy big bottles for around $1 USD.
Or even better, invest in a GRAYL Geopress and help do your bit to reduce the amount of single-use plastic that ends up in the ocean. Click here to buy one.
If you want to visit the Yucatán and see the incredible places described in this post, but don’t want to have to bother with the hassle and logistics of organising your trip independently, you could always join a guided tour.
There are many different tours to choose from. Some are short day trips with guides, others are multi-day (or even multi-week) trips where all of your transport and accommodation is taken care of. It’s up to you what style of trip appeals to you most.
You can browse through and book some of the most high-rated Yucatán tours on Viator.
Or, take a look at some of these options:
Some Additional Yucatán Peninsula Backpacking Tips
Here are a few extra tips that you might find helpful when backpacking around the Yucatán.
Get a local SIM card
If you’re going to be in Mexico for a while, it’s worth getting a local SIM card. This will give you access to cheap data, which can be really useful when using Google Maps, booking accommodation & activities online, etc.
I recommend Telcel, as their coverage is pretty good throughout Mexico (including the Yucatán). It only costs a few dollars for several gigabytes of data, and you can buy a SIM card from most Oxxo convenience stores.
Learn some Spanish
The Yucatán is a popular tourist destination, so you’ll find that English is spoken by a fair number of people, especially in the more visited areas. However, it’s always appreciated when visitors make an effort to learn some Spanish, so please do try.
It doesn’t have to be much – just a few key phrases will do. But trust me, it’ll make your trip a lot easier and more enjoyable (and you’ll probably get better service/prices too).
Here are a few basics to get you started:
- Hello/Goodbye – Hola/Adiós
- Please/Thank you – Por favor/Gracias
- Yes/No – Sí/No
- Do you speak English? – ¿Hablas inglés?
- I don’t understand – No entiendo
- How much does this cost? – ¿Cuánto cuesta esto?
- I’m looking for… – Busco…
- Where is the bathroom? – ¿Dónde está el baño?
Best time to visit the Yucatán
The Yucatán peninsula has a tropical climate, with dry and wet seasons. It’s warm and humid throughout the year, and tends to be sunny, even during the rainy months.
The hurricane season lasts from July to September, although it does rain fairly often throughout the period from June to November. Hurricanes do periodically cause damage and disruption throughout the Yucatán, especially on the eastern Caribbean coast and the Riviera Maya.
You can theoretically visit the Yucatán at any time of year, although the weather is at its most pleasant from December to April. However, this is also the busiest time of year, so expect higher prices and more crowds.
If you don’t mind the heat and want to avoid the crowds (and save some money), then May or October are also good months to visit. Just be prepared for some rain.
How to get to the Yucatán
Unless you are coming from another region of Mexico or Central America, the chances are you’ll need to fly to get to the Yucatán.
It’s possible to fly to Mérida from a few other places in North America (including Miami, Houston, and Dallas), although most international flights go to Cancún.
Cancún airport is the third-busiest airport in Latin America, and the second-busiest in Mexico (after Mexico City). You can fly here direct from a large number of cities throughout North and South America, and Europe.
If you’re coming from Europe, I’ve found that TAP Portugal often offers the most competitive fares.
I use – and recommend – Aviasales to find the best deals on flights. Their search engine is really easy to use and often picks up on promotions and discounted fares that are missed by other comparison sites. You can search across a range of dates, and it suggests the best dates and times for you.
Give it a try! Click here to compare the cheapest flights available.
Do I need a visa to visit Mexico?
Citizens of the USA, Canada, UK and most European countries do not need a visa to visit Mexico. You will be given a tourist card upon arrival, which allows you to stay in the country for up to either 90 or 180 days (depending on the mood of the immigration official, seemingly).
If you’re planning on staying longer than that, you will need to apply for a visa from your nearest Mexican consulate.
If you do need a visa, I recommend using iVisa.com. Their online visa processing service is quick, secure, and easy to use.
What to pack for your Yucatán backpacking trip
The Yucatán peninsula is a tropical destination, so you’ll need to pack accordingly. Here are a few essentials to pack for your trip:
- Sunscreen (at least SPF 30 – don’t forget to reapply regularly, especially if you’re swimming or sweating).
- Insect repellent (ideally containing DEET).
- A hat & sunglasses.
- Swimwear (the Yucatán has some beautiful beaches and cenotes – i.e. natural swimming holes).
- Light, loose-fitting clothing.
- Comfortable shoes (trainers/sneakers).
- A universal power adapter, if applicable (Mexico uses the same type of electrical sockets as the USA and Canada).
- A first-aid kit (you never know when you might need it!).
What to wear when travelling in the Yucatán
The Yucatán is a warm and humid place, so you’ll want to pack light, loose-fitting clothing that’s breathable.
I usually just wear shorts, t-shirts and flip flops in this kind of climate. Though I always travel with a pair of hiking boots too.
Staying healthy while backpacking in the Yucatán peninsula
Although the Yucatán is generally a safe place to travel, there are a few things to be aware of in terms of your health.
Firstly, make sure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated – it’s easy to get dehydrated in the heat.
Secondly, be cautious of what you eat and drink. Stick to bottled water (or boil your own), and only eat fresh, cooked food from reputable sources. Avoid salads or anything else that might have been washed in tap water.
Finally, take basic precautions against mosquito bites. Use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers in the evenings, and sleep under a mosquito net if possible. This will help to protect you against diseases such as dengue fever and Zika virus.
(I caught dengue in Mexico – trust me, it sucks.)
If you take these basic precautions, you should be fine. However, it’s always a good idea to have travel insurance, just in case.
I personally use SafetyWing for my travel insurance. They’re excellent and I would highly recommend them.
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Final Thoughts On Backpacking The Yucatán Peninsula
The Yucatan peninsula is a beautiful and diverse region of Mexico that offers something for everyone.
Whether you’re looking to relax on a white-sand beach, explore ancient ruins, wander the streets of a beautiful colonial city, or experience traditional Mayan culture, you’ll find all this and much more.
So pack your bags and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime!
Have you ever been to the Yucatán? What would be your top Yucatán backpacking tips? What Yucatán itinerary would you recommend?
Let me know in the comments below!