Heading to Mexico and not sure where to start? There is honestly SO MUCH to do in this amazing country, and it’s hard to narrow down where to go. That’s why I’ve created this perfect 2 week Mexico itinerary for first timers. So you can stop agonizing and start having fun!
From the beaches of Tulum to the otherworldly cenotes of Valladolid, I spent 3 weeks backpacking around Mexico and distilled everything down into this perfect 2 week itinerary. I hope you enjoy!
A 2 Week Mexico Itinerary
This 2 week Mexico itinerary focuses solely on the Yucatan peninsula, visiting Cozumel, Valladolid, Tulum, and Bacalar.
Although many Mexico itineraries suggest visiting multiple different regions in Mexico, while I was planning my trip I found that there was so much to do in just the Yucatan Peninsula that I didn’t want to leave it!
In addition to this, the Yucatan Peninsula makes the perfect place to start if it’s your first time in Mexico. Thanks to Cancun, it has a huge tourism industry already, meaning that you won’t be completely on your own, and can easily find English speakers (though your attempts at Spanish will never go unnoticed!). Move beyond Cancun, though, and you’ll be greeted with an amazing array of great beaches, Mayan ruins, and jungle adventures.
Finally, focusing in on one region means that you can slow down a little bit. You don’t have to deal with 10-hour long bus rides or expensive regional flights, and you can really get to know the places that you’re visiting!
Fly into Cancun
The easiest way to start off your Mexico itinerary is to fly into Cancun Airport. In general, you’ll find the cheapest flights to Mexico here, and it’s also the closest to everywhere you’ll be visiting.
One you land in Cancun, though, I highly suggest getting out of dodge as fast as possible. Unless you’re interested in all-inclusive resorts filled with other foreigners and crazy nightlife (aka my two worst nightmares), Cancun has nothing to offer you.
So instead, head straight to your first destination: Cozumel!
Cozumel | 4 Days
Best known as a cruise port and day trip from Playa del Carmen, the island of Cozumel is actually a destination in its own right. Not only is it home to some amazing restaurants, but it’s one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world! And when the cruise ships leave for the night, you’ll have it all to yourself.
How to Get to Cozumel
Getting from Cancun Airport to Cozumel honestly couldn’t be easier. While there are, technically, flights from Cancun to Cozumel, this is a bit extra (and not very eco-friendly!). You can cheaply and easily get to Cozumel by bus & ferry, which is what I suggest.
When you land in Cancun and go through immigration, you’ll come into a hall with several different booths in it. Head over to the ADO booth, where you’ll see times for upcoming buses all over the Yucatan. They also sell combined bus & ferry tickets to Cozumel here, which is what you’ll want to buy.
Once you’ve bought your ticket, they’ll point you in the direction of the right bus, which will be going to Playa del Carmen. Hop on for the approximately 1 hour drive!
Once you get off in Playa del Carmen, it’s a short, 5-minute walk from the bus station to the ferry terminal. At the ferry terminal, you’ll likely be approached and shouted out by people trying to sell tickets, but you already have one.
Simply say no and go to the booth for the company you bought a ticket for at the ADO booth at the airport. There, you can pick up your ticket for the ferry and head on board for the 45-minute crossing over to the island of Cozumel.
In total, your trip should take around 2 hours.
Things to do in Cozumel
By far the best thing to do in Cozumel is to scuba dive! This was actually my whole motivation for visiting Cozumel, as it’s one of the best diving destinations in the world. I spent 5 days on the island and spent most of my time there getting PADI Open Water Certified, which has been a dream of mine for ages!
If you’re not a fan of diving, though, not to worry. There are plenty of snorkeling tours of Cozumel as well as loads of things to do on land!
One of the most popular land-side things to do in Cozumel (that I’m super bummed I missed out on) is to take a road trip around the island. As it’s a pretty small island, this can be done in a day, and you can hit some of the best, more off-the-beaten-path spots this way. Here’s a great guide to road tripping Cozumel!
And, of course, you can’t miss out on all of the great food that Cozumel has to offer. A few of my favorite restaurants on Cozumel were Casa Denis, Quatro Tacos, and the Lobster Shack.
Where to Stay in Cozumel
I stayed at 2Tank Dive Hostel in Cozumel and definitely recommend it if you’re on a budget and/or looking to dive while you’re on the island. They actually offer a free night in a dorm bed for each day that you dive with them! Their facilities are basic, but it does the trick.
If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, I’d still recommend steering clear of the all-inclusive resorts that plague this part of Mexico and instead go for a smaller, boutique hotel. Here are a few options!
- Casa Frida – $$ – A super charming, newly renovated bed and breakfast just a few blocks from the ocean
- Kinta Kan Boutique Hotel – $$ – Modern, affordable boutique hotel with a pool surrounded by hammocks
- Amaranto Bed and Breakfast – $$ – Colorful and quirky bungalows. They also offer scuba diving services!
- Hotel B Unique – $$$ – A luxurious boutique hotel experience right by the ocean (you can apparently snorkel right from the hotel), but not an all-inclusive, so you’ll actually be forced to go out and try some of the delicious food Cozumel has to offer (oh no!)
Valladolid | 3 Days
After a few days of sun and sand, it’s time to head inland for a bit of adventure. From Cozumel, you’ll move on to Valladolid, a charming colonial city that serves as the perfect base for Chichen Itza and cenote-hopping! It’s the perfect spot to add to your Mexico itinerary!
How to Get to Valladolid
Getting from Cozumel to Valladolid won’t take you more than a few hours, and is super easy to do by public transportation. Simply hop on the ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen and head back to the bus station. From there, there are frequent ADO buses to Valladolid. You can buy tickets online here.
Things to do in Valladolid
There are a huge number of things to do in Valladolid, but the two things that you absolutely can’t miss are day-tripping to Chichen Itza and biking to nearby cenotes!
As one of the new 7 wonders of the world, Chichen Itza is a huge tourist destination, and can become super crowded thanks to hordes of day tours from Cancun’s resorts. However, by staying in Valladolid you have the chance to get there before anyone else because you’re so close by, meaning that you’ll have the place practically to yourself if you’re able to get up early enough! And let me tell you, it is absolutely worth it.
Besides beaches, if there’s one thing the Yucatan Peninsula is known for, it’s cenotes – the cave sinkholes that make for otherworldly swimming locations. Valladolid is the perfect gateway to the Yucatan’s cenotes (there’s even one in the center of town), and you can actually simply rent a bike and visit several of them in one day!
If you’re looking for things to do in the city of Valladolid itself, you’ll definitely want to make a visit to the Iglesia de San Servacio, the historic colonial church. The Calzada de los Frailes is a great picture spot, and if you’re interested in local culture then a walk around the Mercado Municipal is a great choice!
Where to Stay in Valladolid
I stayed at Hostel La Candelaria on the recommendation of Brittany’s Adventures (whose blogs about the Yucatan helped me so much in trip planning) and absolutely loved it. Located off a courtyard in the center of town, this charming little hostel has a fantastic garden and delicious homemade breakfast every morning. I couldn’t recommend it more!
If you’re looking for a non-hostel experience, here are a few other great hotels in Valladolid:
- Casa Quetzal Boutique Hotel – $$ – A quiet getaway in the middle of town with comfortable beds and a spa
- Hotel El Mesón del Marqués – $$ – Mid-sized hotel in a gorgeous building from the 17th century, right on the main square next to the Iglesia de San Servacio.
- Hotel Zenti’k – $$$ – An incredibly interesting boutique hotel just outside of downtown with Mayan-style rooms, an art gallery, and a salt-water cave.
Tulum | 4 Days
If you spend any time on Instagram at all, you’ll know that Tulum has become a must on any Mexico itinerary. While it honestly wasn’t my favorite place on this trip (and in fact, there’s a fair amount I didn’t like) it does make a great base to explore more ruins and cenotes and get a bit of beach time in as well. And you can’t deny that some of the food there is to die for.
How to Get to Tulum
From Valladolid, you can grab an ADO bus straight to Tulum. The journey last about an hour and a half. Once you arrive at the Tulum bus station, you’ll need to take a taxi if you’re staying in Tulum Playa. In Tulum town, you can likely walk to your hotel if you don’t have too much luggage.
Things to do in Tulum
There are absolutely LOADS of things to do in Tulum on your Mexico itinerary, and it’s kind of hard to know where to start!
Of course, you’ll need to visit the Tulum Archaeological Zone. These ruins perched on the side of a cliff are absolutely breathtaking, and there’s actually much more than the tiny bit that you see on Instagram to explore! You can get a taxi or bike there.
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Do you think this palm tree knows how famous it is? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ By FAR the most photographed spot in all of Tulum is the ruins perching over the beach, and this curvy palm tree is in all of them. He’s probably just chilling though, trying to get closer to that gorgeous ocean.
If you’re into Instagram hotspots, then you’ll definitely want to devote a day to strolling down Tulum Playa, which is home to boutiques, beach clubs, and colorful cafes. My favorite was Matcha Mama. As it turns out, it’s not just a great Instagram backdrop – their smoothies are actually delicious!
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Do you love smoothies? If so, Tulum is the perfect destination for you. ???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tulum is absolutely FULL Of restaurants and cafes selling smoothies and smoothie bowls, and Matcha Mama is BY FAR the most Instagrammed of them all. Thankfully, they don’t rely on their Instagrammability for business because their smoothies are still some of the best in town. Definitely a must visit if you’re ever in Tulum!
In addition to the classic Instagram spots in Tulum, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path things to do as well, including visiting a few different cenotes. For day trips, you shouldn’t miss exploring the Coba Ruins or heading out to Sian Kaan Biosphere and floating down the lazy river–one of my favorite memories from my Mexico trip!
Where to Stay in Tulum
Because I was with my mom for this part of the trip, we actually stayed in a pretty nice hotel (gasp!) – The Mango Tulum Hotel. It was located at the edge of Tulum Town, so was still budget-friendly, but also had all of the amenities you’d expect in a mid-range hotel (including a hot shower!).
I also extended my stay in Tulum for 2 days after she left, and moved down to the only hostel in Tulum Playa – Hostel Bambu (for now). While it’s honestly a little sketchy, it is by far the most budget-friendly spot you’re going to find in that part of Tulum, which is where I recommend staying if you want the stereotypical Tulum experience.
If you’re heading to Tulum any time after November 15th, 2019, though, then I would definitely check out Selina Los Lirios Tulum, which is opening then on the main strip of Tulum Playa. Selina is my favorite boutique hostel chain, and this place is definitely going to be the place to be!
There are also, of course, plenty of other awesome places to stay in Tulum, including some seriously fancy hotels. Here are my top picks:
- XScape Tulum – $$ – If you’re looking for a budget option that still oozes Tulum, then look no further. This design-led hotel is located in Tulum town, so is easy on the wallet.
- CoCo Tulum – $$$$ – Simple, stylish rooms right on the beach and part of a popular beach club. The white swings their are Insta-famous.
- Villa Pescadores – $$$$ – This place has a serious dessert island feel to it. But, you know, with absolute luxury thrown in.
- Papaya Playa Project – $$$$ – One of the most popular resorts for the Insta-famous. I spent a day at their beach club and it was expensive but amazing.
Bacalar | 3 Days
Off-the-beaten-path and with an entirely unique selling point (its “Lagoon of 7 Colors”), Bacalar was my favorite destination on my 2 week Mexico itinerary. It was quiet (beyond a small backpacking community) and absolutely gorgeous. The perfect place to escape the crowds and actually relax!
How to Get to Bacalar
From Tulum, it’s a 2 hours bus ride to Bacalar. You can catch the ADO bus at the bus station in Tulum. It will then drop you off at the side of the highway, where it’s a short walk into town – about 20 minutes to the edge of the lagoon. You can also grab a taxi for a few dollars.
Things to do in Bacalar
Although it’s much quieter than other spots on the Riviera Maya, there are still plenty of things to do in Bacalar that make it worth adding to your Mexico itinerary. For an absolutely bucket-list worthy experience, I couldn’t recommend a sunrise SUP tour more.
Another super popular thing to do is take a boat trip around the lagoon to all of the most popular spots, including an open-air cenote, Bird Island, and the Pirate Lagoon! You can also rent a kayak and explore the lagoon on your own.
Another popular thing to do in Bacalar (that I’m super bummed out I missed) is to head to Los Rapidos, the river that feeds into the lagoon. There’s a restaurant there where you can grab a cerveza and just relax in the water!
Where to stay in Bacalar
I stayed at the Yak Lake House in Bacalar, which is honestly THE place to be. There are technically other hostels in town, but this one is right on the lake, has its own pier, and is truly one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. They have different events every night (including a margarita making class that was maybe just a little bit too much fun), sunrise SUP and boat tours, kayak rentals, and even organize trips to Los Rapidos! Be sure to book in advance so you get a spot.
If you’re looking for a hotel in Bacalar, here are a few recommendations:
- Hotel Casa Lamat – $$ – An absolutely AMAZING looking eco hotel that’s right on the lake with gorgeous cabanas, an onsite restaurant, and boat tours.
- Amigos Hotelito – $$ – A simple hotel on the lake
- La Albarina – $$$ – A design-led boutique hotel with a super unique location right between the two cenotes in the lake.
- Mia Bacalar – $$$$ – A serious luxury boutique experience that is probably quite a bit like Tulum was a few years ago. Gorgeous design with plenty of privacy.
Getting Back to Cancun
When it’s time to leave Bacalar, there’s 2 ways you can go: onwards to Belize, or back to Cancun to fly out. To get to the airport, take the bus back to Tulum, where you can then get a bus to the airport. It will take 4-5 hours total, so if you have a flight early in the morning you may need to spend a night in Cancun.
Other Places to Add to Your Mexico Itinerary
If you have more than 2 weeks for your Mexico itinerary, or want to swap out some of the destinations I mentioned here, there is still so much in the Yucatan to explore. Here are a few spots that are incredibly high up on my bucket list:
- Isla Holbox – Without any roads and with amazing, unspoilt beaches, Isla Holbox is the perfect place to get off-the-beaten-path. Stay at Tribu Hostel.
- Merida – This colonial city has become a major destination in the last few years (several travel bloggers have actually moved there!) and is definitely a place to add to your list.
- Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve/Las Coloradas – These gorgeous pink lakes are a must see.
- Izamal – Also known as the yellow city, Izamal is just south of Merida and is a feast for the eyes.
Mexico Itinerary Tips
As I round off this Mexico itinerary post, I just want to leave you with a few extra tips and tricks to help make your trip as smooth as possible!
How to Get to Mexico
There are several different airports that you could fly into for this itinerary: Cancun, Cozumel, and Merida. Flights to Cozumel, while convenient if you’re planning to visit, can get really expensive, so I recommend simply flying into Cancun and then taking the bus from there.
If you’re planning on heading to Merida, then it doesn’t hurt to fly in there if you can find a good flight. Otherwise, just fly into Cancun. This is where you’ll find super cheap flights to and there are absolutely loads of transport links to the rest of the country from there.
When to go to Mexico
Honestly, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Mexico.
The dry season is from December to April, which is when the weather is warmest and there’s virtually no rain. It’s also when most people visit Mexico, so you’ll be dealing with more crowds, but it’s honestly so easy to get off-the-beaten-path that I wouldn’t worry about it. I went in January and had a great time.
The wet season is from May to November, but there will also be less crowds then.
What to Pack for this Mexico Itinerary
In addition to sundresses and sunglasses, here are a few things I highly recommend you don’t leave for Mexico without:
- A travel towel – A microfibre travel towel like this one will come in super handy for trips to the beach and the Yucatan’s many cenotes
- Reef-safe sunscreen – Normal sunscreen is actually super damaging to reefs and other ecosystems, so I highly recommend brining along reef-safe sunscreen if you’re planning on getting in the water. You’ll also be asked not to wear regular sunscreen at many cenotes.
- Hiking boots/good walking shoes – If you’re planning on visiting any ruins or taking some more adventurous adventures, a pair of shoes that’s good for walking is definitely a good idea!
Final Thoughts on this 2 Week Mexico Itinerary
2 weeks in Mexico is the perfect amount of time to really dive in deep to the Yucatan Peninsula and get a great taste of what the country has to offer. I promise you you’ll become obsessed and start planning your trip back before you even leave!