Our 2 weeks in Mexico itinerary explores underrated Mexico City, ancient ruins lurking in deep jungle, hidden waterfalls, cenotes and some of the best beaches in the world.
Mexico is a proud mix of Mesoamerican heritage and Spanish colonialism. Aztec and Maya ruins poking through towering trees and twisting vines recall an ancient empire. Monstrous catholic cathedrals peering over picture-perfect towns demonstrate the influence of European conquerors.
The fusion of old and new, of American and European can be found in tasty food, creative cocktails and modern art.
Mexico’s palm-fringed white sand beaches are some of the best in the world. Azure blue seas contain reefs with a plethora of colourful fish, moray eels and sharks. It’s an exciting and varied destination to experience some truly great moments.
But it’s also vast and a 2-week Mexico itinerary can only scratch the surface. Therefore, this itinerary covers the highlights of the southern and eastern half of the country, avoiding the few more difficult places to visit in Mexico.
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HOW WE PUT THIS ITINERARY TOGETHER?
We spent 1 month in Mexico, heading from Mexico City down to the Pacific coast before going east to the Caribbean. Such a long road trip in Mexico was not without its challenges which we cover extensively in our Mexico road trip guide.
Based our experience driving around for a month, we have put together this itinerary to cover what you can see in 2 weeks while removing a lot of the stress of very long drives through some less-safe regions in Mexico.
The result is a fantastic 2-week itinerary which covers some of the best attractions Mexico has to offer.
However, this does mean we have some exclusions. We would love to have included the cultural capital of Oaxaca and the indigenous region of San Cristobal de las Casas, but those areas are more challenging to visit, less safe to visit on a road trip and would require more time.
DAY 1-3 / MEXICO CITY & TEOTIHUACÁN
We recommend starting your Mexico itinerary with 3 days in Mexico City.
A vastly underrated city, it has world-class museums, fascinating modern art, intriguing communist connections and a wild array of superb colonial buildings.
All the details are on our Mexico City itinerary, some of the main highlights include:
History // Explore the main sights of the Centro Historico including, Zocalo (the main Square), Templo Mayor and the Palacio Nacional.
Museums // Visit the fascinating Anthropological Museum in Chapultepec, the evocative Frida Kahlo Museum in the lovely suburb of Coyoacán, and the beautiful Bellas Art Gallery.
Day Trip // Head out to the remarkable pyramids of teh Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán.
On day 4, take a flight from Mexico City to Villahermosa and hire a car from the airport for 3 days. We recommend rentalcars.com who compare prices across all the major car rental companies. Read our guide to driving in Mexico for more tips.
Make the two-hour drive south to Palenque. In the afternoon, check out the chilled cafes and bars among the tree-lined streets of the town centre. In the evening head to El Panchán for the backpacking vibe, cheap food, wide-ranging cocktails and lively music.
On day 5 of your 2-week Mexico itinerary wake up early and head to Palenque Ruins. This Maya city was at its peak in the 9th century, but during the great Maya collapse the locals deserted it for Yucatán. What is left now are a beautiful array of ruined temples, palaces and carved bas-reliefs.
Arrive at opening time when tourist numbers and temperatures are both low. At this time in the morning, the light filtering through the jungle canopy caters for some beautiful photography. It takes 2 to 3 hours to look around.
WILD SWIMMING NEAR PALENQUE
Next, explore some of the waterfalls that lurk in the valleys and hills of the state of Chiapas. Drive west to Agua Azul, a gently flowing series of waterfalls turned turquoise by the mineral deposits in the water. Near the parking area, there are a collection of restaurants and cafes to grab lunch. It’s all a bit touristy but walk upstream a few hundred meters and the day-trippers dither away.
On the return drive to Palenque, stop at Misol Há, a much quieter and more serene destination to take a swim. A single waterfall descends into a natural pool surrounded by jungle at one of the best waterfalls in Mexico.
The ruins of Yaxchilán are set deep in the jungle and can only be reached by boat. They’re not as complete as Palenque, but their remote location and fewer visitors make it an excellent destination.
Leave Palenque early and drive to the pier at Frontera Corozal. At the pier hire a boat to take you upstream to the ruins. All boats use the same operator and a set price, which includes the return journey but not the entrance tickets. The rate is per boat, so consider sharing with other visitors to reduce the cost.
The 40-minute boat ride takes you up the Usumacinta river and entrance tickets to Yaxchilán are purchased just as you get off the boat.
Stroll the ruins paying particular attention to the finely carved stelae.
After a couple of hours find your boat to take your journey back downstream. Grab lunch from the cheerful ladies next to the ticket office.
On your return drive to Palenque, take a 30-minute detour to Cascada de las Golondrinas. The water is cold and the force of the waterfalls strong, so it’s an invigorating place for a swim. The setting is beautiful and there’s a small café to grab a few drinks.
It’s a long 7-hour drive up to the beaches of Yucatán, so it may be cheaper and more relaxing to return the car to Villahermosa and take another internal flight to Cancún. If you fly, hire another car from Cancún airport for 3 days, returning to Tulum.
Valladolid is a quiet yet extremely attractive Spanish colonial town. Spend the afternoon strolling its atmospheric centre which is set around a central square with a looming cathedral.
Have dinner at Conato 1910. Tucked in the back lanes of Valladolid, it has tasty food in an attractive courtyard with live music playing most nights.
This morning drive to Chichén Itzá, the best-preserved ancient ruins in the area and an essential on any Mexico itinerary. Arrive at opening time to avoid the worst of the crowds and consider getting a skip-the-line ticket in advance – the queues can be very long.
The site is a large expanse of ruins, some left untouched from when they were first constructed in the 9th century, while others have been meticulously restored.
The most striking sight is the pyramid El Castillo, designed as a Maya calendar. During the equinoxes, the sun casts a shadow on the north face of the pyramid giving the impression of a serpent wriggling down the staircase.
CENOTES AROUND CHICHÉN ITZÁ
After exploring the site, drive the short distance to Ik Kil cenote. A cenote is a natural sinkhole formed when the limestone bedrock collapses and exposes the groundwater underneath. Il Kil is one of the most beautiful with vines and tree roots reaching down along step vertical walls. The water is crystal clear and perfect for swimming or snorkelling.
Return to Valladolid for a late lunch, then collect two more cenotes in the afternoon.
Cenote X’Kekén (sometimes called Dzitnup) is an underground cave with a refreshing swimming pool at the bottom. It’s completely enclosed except for one small opening at the top.
Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman cenote is almost as beautiful as Ik Kil but without the crowds. There’s a cool swing rope beside the tree roots that reach to the depths of the cenote. The hacienda has a pool and bar next door, the ideal spot for a late afternoon beer and a great thing to do in Riviera Maya.
This morning head south to Cobá. Three groups of ruins lurk within the dense jungle, which are best seen on bicycles available to hire from the entrance.
The highlight is the pyramids of Nohoch Mul, with the highest reaching 42 metres. The climb up is a heart-pumping scramble but you are rewarded with magnificent views over the jungle.
Hop back in the car and drive to Tulum.
To finish the rest of this itinerary, a hire car is no longer required so we recommend dropping it off in Tulum. Even though you are charged more to drop off at a different location, it’s worth it. We have a guide full of tips about driving in Mexico.
Tulum, in our opinion, has Mexico’s best beach on the Caribbean. The town itself is set back about 3 kilometres from the beachfront. The dusty highway that divides the town makes it feel like a truck stop, but at night it transforms into a vibrant local centre with great food, live music and a cool, hippy vibe.
The town has much cheaper accommodation and a wide range of bars, restaurants and shops, but requires a taxi or cycle to the beach. The hotels on the front are mostly top-end resorts with great access to the beaches but nothing to do at night.
We stayed in town, at Elements Boutique Hotel. They provide bikes free of charge so we could cycle to the beach every day.
El Paraiso has a beach club open to the public (for a fee). With golden sand, crystal clear water, idyllic palm trees, good-looking people and great food options, it’s arguably one of the best-chilled beach clubs anywhere.
Tulum is not just known for its beaches. Old Maya ruins sit picturesquely perched on the clifftop overlooking the sea. Spend one morning strolling around the ruins.
Keep an eye out for the image of a man on a horse, the earliest indication that the Spanish had arrived in Mesoamerica. Read more in our guide to the best Mayan Ruins in Mexico.
DAY 12 – 14 / PLAYA DEL CARMEN AND COZUMEL
Stay – Soho Playa Hotel, Playa del Carmen // Travel – 1-hour taxi from Tulum to Playa del Carmen, 45-minute taxi to Cancún Airport
On day 12 of your 2-week Mexico itinerary, take a taxi or bus from Tulum to Playa del Carmen. Dump your bags at the hotel and head to Mamita’s Beach Club – the spot for a great stretch of sand in front of a fun and lively beach bar.
The food is good, the cocktails colourful and the people watching excellent. In the evening, stroll the streets as the party mood picks up. Almirante Pech was our pick of cool places to grab a drink and dinner.
SNORKELLING AT COZUMEL
Next morning, get up early and catch the ferry over to San Miguel (the capital of the island of Cozumel) for world-class snorkelling or diving. Grab breakfast at Corazón Contento, before checking in at Deep Blue Cozumel. This company offers a great service, with comfortable fast boats and friendly guides. Make sure you email them in advance to book. All the equipment you need is provided but with so many days on the beach you might want to get your own.
Have lunch at laid-back El Palomar, perched on the front just north of the pier. Sit on the stools at the counter overlooking the ocean as you sample the excellent fresh fish with a glass of wine.
After lunch amble the streets of San Miguel making sure you visit the Mercado and Plaza. Finally, grab a cocktail at one of the many bars before hopping back on the ferry to Playa del Carmen.
Wake up the next day and get a taxi to Cancun International Airport to wrap up your 2 weeks in Mexico itinerary.
GETTING AROUND MEXICO
Driving in Mexico can be challenging. It’s not recommended in the north where drug cartels can be a threat, and it’s very tricky around San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas where the quality of the roads is very poor. But, driving in Yucatan is easy and the road from Palenque to Yaxchilán is good and fast.
The only drive on this itinerary that may be awkward is the one to the waterfalls at Misol Há and Agua Azul. The roads often get washed away in floods, resulting in lots of roadworks and sizeable potholes. We also recommend you leave valuables in the hotel.
It’s not possible to drive in most parts of Mexico at night for the sheer number of potholes you’d need to avoid. Read our experiences and advice about driving in Mexico before you go.
CAR HIRE FOR THIS ITINERARY
This Mexico itinerary involves hiring a car in 2 separate locations. This is our recommendation after spending a month driving around the country. It avoids the difficult (and sometimes dangerous) driving areas and allows you to fit more in.
DAY 4 – On day 4, hire a car from Villahermosa Airport for 3 days, returning to the same location on day 7 before the flight to Cancún.
DAY 7 – On day 7, hire a car from Cancún Airport for 3 days, returning to Tulum.
Rental Car // We recommend rentalcars.com for your hire car in Mexico. They compare prices across all the major car rental companies.
Essential Reading // Before you embark on your Mexico Itinerary, read our guide to driving in Mexico with more information about hiring a car, and our Mexico road trip article which covers all the route we drove in Mexico and their varying degrees of success.
FLIGHTS IN MEXICO
While 2 internal flights might seem a bit excessive on a 2-week trip, in our experience, this is the best way to make the most of your time in Mexico. It reduces many hours of difficult driving and will allow you to see the best the country has to offer.
ARRIVE – For this itinerary, arrive at Aeropuerto International Benito Juárez, a short 15-minute taxi ride into the centre of Mexico City.
DAY 4 – On day 4, from Mexico City to Villahermosa.
DAY 7 – On day 7, fly from Villahermosa to Cancún.
DEPART – Depart from Cancún International
MAP / MEXICO ITINERARY
Our itinerary for Mexico covers 3 centres in this vibrant country. We start in Mexico City, followed by the central Chiapas region, finishing up with the ruins and sun-drenched beaches of Yucatán.
BEST TIME TO GO TO MEXICO
Mexico is a huge country and the best time to go varies from region to region.
For this itinerary, December to April is best with little rain and nice temperatures. Mexico City is high on the plateau and temperatures will range from 5°C (41°F) at night to 22°C (71°F) in the day.
Yucatan is at a lower altitude and, warmed by the sea, will range from 15°C (59°F) at night to 30°C (86°F) in the day. Perfect for early morning sight-seeing and afternoon sun baking.
Try to avoid Christmas, New Year and the Easter holidays when prices rise and sites are busier in this very Catholic country.
MORE READING FOR MEXICO TRIP
Mexico has a vibrancy and energy that hits you the minute you arrive. There’s plenty to explore in Yucatán near the biosphere reserve of Celestun, plus here are some more of our guides:
Aztec and Myan ruins in Mexico
How to develop your Mexico road trip
3 days in Mexico City
Our tips for driving in Mexico
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