Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Yucatan Travel!
The Yucatan region in Mexico is one of the most geographically blessed regions I’ve seen anywhere in the world! From the towering beach resorts of Cancun, to the party town of Playa del Carmen, to riding in golf carts on Isla Mujeres & chilling with whale sharks on Isla Holbox, to swimming in secret cenotes & diving in Cozumel’s world-famous waters, to everyone’s new favorite boho retreat, Tulum ~ there’s something for everyone in the Yucatan. And it’s one of my favorite destinations for female travel. Find out why in this “Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Yucatan Travel!”
What to Pack for the Yucatan
Map of the Yucatan
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Chichen Itza, Mexico
Rio Lagartos, Mexico
Ek Bala'am Ruins
Is the Yucatan Safe for Female Travel?
Mexico has a bad reputation for travel in certain areas, namely because of drug & cartel violence, combined with notorious government corruption. That said, Mexico is a HUGE country. Not all of it is scary! In my opinion, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the safest areas of Mexico for female travel. Statistics back that up, too. Merida, the capital city, has the least crime of any of Mexico’s major cities. And because the Yucatan is so popular with tourists, both the government & local businesses have a strong interest in keeping tourists safe here.
Personally, I traveled all over the Yucatan for two months ~ by myself & with friends, & I have no qualms recommending it to other female travelers. There’s significant police presence in nearly all tourist areas (particularly in Playa del Carmen, where armed officers ride around in trucks)! I felt the safest in Cozumel, & exercised the most caution in Playa del Carmen & Cancun, particularly at night (mainly because of annoying drunk guys & aggressive touts). Use caution or avoid walking alone at night, don’t wear flashy jewelry, & trust your gut always.
Highlights of the Yucatan
These are a few of my favorite things to do on the Yucatan Peninsula. Click on any photo below to get more information about that specific activity or place…
Yucatan Travel Overview!
- Cancun = Big Hotels 95% 95%
- Playa del Carmen = Party Town + Touristy 100% 100%
- Tulum = Bohemian + Relaxed 95% 95%
- Cozumel = Diver’s Paradise 100% 100%
- Merida = Authentic Mexican Culture 100% 100%
Overview of Cities in the Yucatan
No “Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Yucatan Travel” would be complete without an overview of the major cities & attractions in the Yucatan ~ so you can find out exactly where you want to be…
Cancun: Big hotels & turquoise water are what Cancun is all about. And partying. This is where it all starts ~ as pretty much everyone flies into Cancun International Airport. Cancun has a “Hotel Zone,” literally one long strip of sand with virtually every major hotel chain on it: JW Marriott, Westin, & Ritz Carlton. There are tons of activities for kids here: like big pools, slides, etc. Best For: Families with kids, big groups looking to party, & anyone who wants to relax all day by the beach or pool. Cancun is very touristy though, & the town itself isn’t charming ~ so if tourists aren’t your thing, head elsewhere in the Yucatan. Search for hotels in Cancun here.
Isla Mujeres: Tropical island vibes, crystalline blue water, & golf cart transportation mean you’re in Isla Mujeres. A short, 13-km ferry ride off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a small island, just 4 miles long. It’s more relaxed than Cancun, less expensive, & less touristy, with plenty of snorkeling & diving options ~ plus a sea turtle farm. If you want a slower-pace than Cancun ~ Isla Mujeres is your closest option. Best For: Families, couples, & solo travelers who want a more relaxed, island vibe while enjoying plenty of water activities. Make sure to check out the underwater “sculpture” garden too! Search accommodations in Isla Mujeres here.
Playa del Carmen: An hour south of Cancun lies the party town of Playa del Carmen. It’s quite touristy (5th Ave is where it’s all happening) ~ but it’s also a ton of fun, with nightlife options galore. Accommodations are wide-ranging: you can stay in ritzy, all-inclusives right on the beach, party hostels, or cute, budget B&B’s. It’s also a great place to shop! The one major detractor: the beach here isn’t fantastic as those in Cancun or Tulum. It’s narrow & is typically packed; I personally didn’t find it relaxing at all. But, if you like to drink, party, & be merry ~ then Playa is your place. Best For: Big groups, young people, & anyone looking to party & shop. If it’s idyllic beaches you’re after, keep moving south towards Tulum. Search hotels in Playa del Carmen here.
Tulum: Tulum is THE new “it” place in the Yucatan. The beach here is exquisite. All the best hotels in town can be found along the beach “strip,” which runs right on the sand. Across a small, sandy road are restaurants & shops galore. The whole vibe is bohemian & relaxed, there are no high-rise hotels, & the beach is long & wide ~ perfect for strolling. Best For: Tulum is best for true beach lovers, who want less “chain,” more unique & boutique. It’s currently also a hot spot for Instagram all-stars ~ & the Azulik Resort in Tulum is one of its most photogenic spots, perched like little tree houses above the surf. Search all Tulum accommodations here.
Merida: About three hours west of Cancun lies the beautiful city of Merida. If you’re looking for authentic Mexican culture & are tired of tourists: head for Merida. I used it as my base for exploring the Uxmal Ruins, which are an hour south of the city. In between Cancun & Merida, there are literally hundreds of hidden cenotes (secret, underground swimming holes) to cool off in ~ so the sky is the limit for exploring here! Best For: Solo travelers, & anyone looking for authentic Mexican culture & architecture. Search hotels in Merida here.
Cozumel: Just an hour-ferry ride from Playa del Carmen lies my favorite spot in the Yucatan: Cozumel. Great food (the tacos!), phenomenal sunsets, & world-famous snorkeling & diving define this little island. The beaches here aren’t great ~ it’s all about the diving. As for nightlife, there’s some here ~ but you’ve got more options in Cancun or Playa. Best For: Cozumel is perfect for true water lovers, & is great for solo travel, with a very relaxed, safe vibe. For better beaches & nightlife, head to Tulum, Playa, or Cancun. Search Cozumel accommodations here.
Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Yucatan Travel
Isla Holbox: Wanna swim with whale sharks?? Then you better head to the quaint, car-free island of Isla Holbox. Because it’s harder to get to, it’s one of the least touristy beaches in the Yucatan. To reach it, you’ll need to drive about three hours from Cancun, to the small town of Chiquila. From there, take a ferry to the island. From May through September, try swimming with whale sharks in Isla Holbox, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Search all Isla Holbox accommodations here.
The Pink Sea: One of the Yucatan’s newest hot spots is a little off-the-beaten path, but sooo worth it! This is one place my friends & I absolutely had to see. It’s near Rio Lagartos, in the northern part of the Yucatan. My article on the Pink Sea is ranked #1 on Google’s search, & can be found here ~ it will tell you all you need to know about how to get there. We visited the Pink Sea on the same day as Chichen Itza, which is about two hours away. A long day ~ but sooo worth it! And make sure to swim in the fabulous turquoise waters across from the Pink Sea….they’re amazing!!!
Ancient Mayan Ruins: One of the greatest thing about the Yucatan Peninsula is the abundance of Mayan Ruins that exist all over this area. From the most famous one, Chichen Itza (two hours west of Cancun), to Ek Bala’am (north of Valladolid), to the Tulum’s coastal Mayan Ruins, & one of my favorites, the Uxmal Ruins (south of Merida) ~ wherever you stay in the Yucatan, chances are, there are ruins nearby. And nearly all of them have cenotes (underground swimming holes), which provide cool relief after walking around in the Yucatan heat.
Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Yucatan Travel
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Great overview! We’re headed to Isla Holbox this summer to swim with whale sharks…I can’t wait! Which ruins did you prefer ~ Chichen Itza or Uxmal? Aka is Uxmal worth the drive? Thanks a lot!
Hi Dennis! How fun ~ swimming with the whale sharks is STILL on my lifetime bucket list! Hmmm…we went to Chichen Itza right when it opened, & stayed at the Lodge at Chichen Itza (which was fantastic). I enjoyed the experience, but it was already really busy at 8AM! I personally preferred Uxmal, & found the main ruin super impressive, & sooo high! And there are many different vantage points you can find as a photographer, vs. Chichen Itza’s main pyramid sits in a large, grass area ~ & gives less opportunity for interesting shots. But both are worth a visit for sure!
This may seem like a strange comment,coming from a man, but I would love to see the pink sea! In fact, everything on your guide is a must for me. I would love to go snorkeling, and I think I am brave enough to swim with whales too!
Ha ~ I don’t think it’s strange at all for a man to want to visit the Pink Sea! It’s amazing, no matter what your gender ; ) And I’ve heard the whale sharks are very gentle creatures, so it should be entirely safe to swim with them. Thanks for your comment ~ hope you make it down there!