Mexico: The home of tacos, tequila, mariachi, and more the 122 million people. Covering nearly 2 million square kilometres, Mexico is a vast country with far more to offer than a hedonistic spring break. Steeped in ancient history (the earliest civilisation can be traced back to the Olmec culture from 1500 BC), Mexico has a whopping 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other nation in the Americas. All this history makes for an epic road trip hopping from site to site, broken up with burrito fuel stops of course.
This list focuses on the Yucatan state in the southeast of the country, famed for its Gulf of Mexico beaches and Mayan ruins. The area is easily accessible from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, so you can easily add a road trip onto a beach break if you want to let your hair down in Mexico’s young party capital.
- Merida is the largest city in the peninsula area. Built on the site of the ancient Maya city T’ho, meaning ‘city of five hills’ it’s now a vibrant cosmopolitan city full of museums, art galleries, shops and great restaurants.
- The ancient city of Chichen-Itza is a must-see even though it’s something of a tourist trap. Get there early to soak up the full wonder of the pyramid-shaped Temple of Kukulkan.
- The Uxmal Ruins is part of the Puuc route of Mayan sites, along with nearby Sayil, Xlapak, Kabah, and Labná. The ruins cover 150 acres with the Magician’s Pyramid the tallest structure.
- If you want a break from the dusty ruins, head to Xcaret Eco Park in the Riviera Maya to snorkel or swim with dolphins, visit the Mayan village or watch a traditional equestrian show.
- Stop off in Talum, the Mayan walled city with a spectacular coastline. There are many cenotes (sinkholes) and natural cave systems to check out in the area as well as the ancient city itself.
- The Coba Ruins are just half an hour from Talum and allow you to explore the extensive ruins under a jungle canopy. Brave the steep climb up the Nohuch Mul pyramid, the highest in the Mayan world, for a stunning view of the vista.
- The small city of Valladolid is mostly crowd-free and is a wonder to visit. Explore the pretty 16th and 17th Century streets and stop-by Casa de los Venados, a private home and museum owned by a friendly couple from the U.S. which houses the largest private collection of Mexican folk art in the world.
- Izamul, known locally as the Yellow City, is another important archaeological site and place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics where statues of the saints are said to perform miracles.
- Chaak tun is a cenote consisting of two caves that you can swim in. Less well-known than others, visitors are free to explore the nooks and crannies at their leisure whilst staring in awe at the stalactites. Don’t go if you’re scared of the dark, and be warned that is does get chilly inside the caves.
- The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is an oasis of wildlife and another World Heritage Site. Whether hiking or snorkelling, go to see dolphins, crocodiles, turtles and a haven of birdlife.
For more information on getting to Yucatan area, and for places to stay, check out the travel guides over at Visit Mexico andMexico Retold. And for more on planning a road trip in Mexico, the experts over at On the Road In have lots of detailed advice on getting around safely.
What do you think? Has a Mexican road trip sparked your curiosity—and if so, what do you most want to see?