3 weeks in Mexico: The Perfect 20-21 Days Itinerary + My Best Tips


3-Week Mexico Itinerary: Best Things to do + Where to Stay

You’re planning to spend 3 weeks in Mexico?

Great idea!

To help you plan your trip, I have prepared the best 3-week itinerary in Mexico. It will allow you to discover the great diversity of the country while exploring several of its very interesting states.

Your trip will start in Mexico City, then you will go to Puebla, the birthplace of the Mexican Revolution, before heading to Oaxaca, known for its cultural richness!

You will then explore the fabulous Chiapas to discover its most beautiful natural sites, traditional villages, and the ancient city of Palenque, hidden in the jungle.

For the second part of the trip, you will tour the Yucatan peninsula, starting with Campeche, followed by Merida, the archaeological site of Uxmal, and a sight of the pink flamingos of Celestun.

You will visit the famous Mayan city of Chichen Itza and the colonial city of Valladolid, before resting for a few days on the paradise island of Holbox.

You will then arrive in the Riviera Maya, where the white sandy beaches of Tulum, the Mayan cenotes, and the Sian Ka’an reserve await you!

You will spend the last days of the trip in Playa del Carmen, which is ideally located to allow trips to the island of Cozumel and the underground river of Rio Secreto.

For each stage, I have included all my best tips as well as my hotel recommendations for all budgets!

So, what are the best things to do in Mexico in 21 days? Where to stay?

1) Mexico City (2-3 days)

Mexico City’s Benito-Juárez International Airport is one of the largest airports in Latin America and receives flights from all over the world!

This makes it the ideal starting point for your trip to Mexico.

Upon arrival, pick up your rental car.

For your 3 week road trip to Mexico, I recommend you to use Booking.com Cars, a compare tool. It’s the easiest way to get the best prices for rental cars!

Click on the button below to compare prices:

If you don’t plan to rent a car in Mexico City, here are your options for getting to the hotel:

  • Official taxi: you first have to pay at one of the taxi stands (they are all the same), and it will tell you where it will pick you up.
  • Uber: there is free wifi at the airport. You will need to specify the terminal and gate number when ordering your Uber!
  • Private transfer: for more comfort, you can choose this private transfer for groups of up to 3 people. Book your transfer here!

Here are some ideas for visiting Mexico City in 2 or 3 days:

My advice
If you want to learn all about this wonderful capital, check out my guides:

Staying in Mexico City

  • Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral (historic center): one of the best hostels in Mexico City. Clean dorms and rooms, amazing rooftop terrace with bar, great atmosphere and an exceptional view over the cathedral and the Zocalo, starting at 15$usd for a dorm and 32 $usd for a private room!
  • Hotel Villa Condesa (Condesa): if you are looking for a romantic hotel in Mexico City, this is a little oasis in the heart of La Condesa. It is an elegant house with small green terraces and tastefully decorated rooms. Rooms are spacious, breakfast is very good and the service is particularly attentive. Around 160$usd per night!
  • Casa Goliana (Roma Norte): high-end hotel with the best value for money in its category, located in an early 20th century house, typical of the Roma area. Rooftop terrace, comfortable rooms, very attentive staff, and good breakfasts. Around 190$usd per night
  • Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City (Juarez): this 5 star hotel is one of the best hotels in Mexico City, ideal for a business trip or a romantic stay. Located on Paseo de la Reforma between Colonia Juarez and Roma Norte. A large indoor garden, gym, swimming pool, spa, restaurant, and bar, Around 640$usd per night!

My advice
For the best areas and hotels in Mexico City for all budgets, check out my complete guide: Where to stay in Mexico City?
Pyramid of the Moon Teotihuacan
View from the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan. Photo Karla Acosta

2) Cholula and Puebla (1 day)

In the morning, leave Mexico City for Puebla, a state not to be missed on a 21-day tour of Mexico.

Go first to Cholula, known above all for its great pyramid: it is the pyramid with the largest base in the world at 400 metres per side!

You can walk through its tunnels to discover the different stages of its construction which lasted between 500 and 1000 years!

Then, spend the rest of the day visiting Puebla, only 25 minutes from Cholula.

It is a colonial city known for its traditional pottery, its cultural richness, and for its historical importance as the cradle of the Mexican Revolution.

You will be able to discover on foot the historic center of the city, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

  • The Zocalo, which is the main square of Puebla with its cathedral (the 2nd largest in Mexico!), its municipal palace, several restaurants, and cafés with terraces.
  • The Palafoxiana Library, which was the first public library in America (17th century) and contains 43,000 volumes!
  • The Chapel of the Rosary in the Temple of Santo Domingo (17th century), a great example of Mexican Baroque.
  • The International Baroque Museum, the Amparo Museum with its beautiful terrace, and the Museum of the Revolution.
  • The handicraft market of El Parian, the best place to buy traditional handicrafts such as the famous “talaveras”.
  • The Calle de los Sapos, a pedestrian street with colourful facades, restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars – one of the best places in Puebla to take pictures!
  • The neighbourhood of Analco, one of the oldest in Puebla, and the neighbourhood of Xanenetla which has become the heart of  street art for the city with its 75 murals.
  • Explore the secret tunnels built throughout the 17th and 19th centuries between the Puente de Ovando and the Pasaje Histórico 5 de Mayo
  • Discover Puebla’s forts area with the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe, the cable car and the free projection show (Thursday to Sunday at 8:45pm)

Also try Ancho Reyes, a local liqueur made with poblano peppers, and the traditional sweets of the Calle de los Dulces.

Spend the night in Puebla.

How to get to Puebla from Mexico City:

  • By car: 2h15 on the Mexico – Puebla/Mexico 150D highway
  • By bus: Estrella Roja or ADO bus to Puebla, departing from the terminal TAPO.

My advice
If you go by bus, I recommend that you only go to Puebla (without Cholula), because there is a lot to see.

However, if you want to go to Cholula from Puebla, take a bus from the CAPU terminal or the “Directo Cholula” bus from the Terminal de Autobuses Cholula y Anexas that leaves you 3 blocks from the pyramid of Cholula.

  • With a tour: it is a very convenient option to visit Puebla and Cholula from Mexico City if you are not traveling by car. It includes pick-up from your hotel, a visit to the Great Pyramid of Cholula, with lunch and a tour of Puebla’s main attractions. Book the tour here:

Staying in Puebla

  • Hotel Santiago: the ideal hotel for a cheap stay in Puebla, practically on the corner of the Zocalo, with a rooftop terrace offering a beautiful view of the cathedral. Rooms are only 30 $usd per night!
  • NH Puebla Centro Historico: a hotel in the historic center of Puebla, with a rooftop terrace that has a swimming pool, a gym, available parking, good wifi and a buffet with breakfast included, starting at 48 $usd per night!
  • Hotel Boutique Casareyna: a 16th century mansion next to the Bubas Bridge, converted into a luxury hotel that offers spacious rooms, a rooftop pool and jacuzzi, a gym and spa, parking and a hearty breakfast. Rooms with parking and breakfast start at 105 $usd per night!
  • Banyan Tree Puebla: this is my favorite hotel in Puebla, the perfect choice for a romantic stay or to enjoy real luxurious comfort in the heart of the city. There’s a terrace garden, a rooftop, a pool and spa overlooking the volcanoes, a restaurant with a terrace, and a good breakfast. For 226 $usd per night.
calle de los sapos puebla
Calle de los Sapos in Puebla

3) Oaxaca (3 days)

The state of Oaxaca is known for its rich culture, handicrafts and gastronomy!

There is a lot to see as it is a very large region, but as you will only spend 3 days in Oaxaca on this 21 day road trip in Mexico, this is what I suggest as a program:

Day 1 Oaxaca de Juarez City

In the morning, leave Puebla for the city of Oaxaca de Juarez, the beautiful capital of the state of Oaxaca.

The church and former convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman is a must-see in Oaxaca with its baroque façade, chapels, pure gold altarpiece and beautiful cloister with a fountain.

The church houses the Museum of Cultures, considered the most important museum in the state of Oaxaca, with an exhibition ranging from 10,000 BC to the 20th century.

There you will also find the famous Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca, with hundreds of species of plants from different regions of the state of Oaxaca, including a 5 ton cactus that is 1000 years old!

Don’t miss the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, the most famous market in Oaxaca, with its roasted meat aisle called “Pasillo de Humo“.

Besides meat, there is also a great variety of gastronomic products, making it the best place to try traditional cuisine at a good price: tlayudas, tamales, mole negro, Oaxacan chocolate, etc.

Explore the main square, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Oaxaca, the Government Palace with its beautiful murals, and take a stroll along the Andador Turistico, one of the most beautiful streets in Oaxaca with museums, art galleries, restaurants, and craft shops.

Overnight stay in Oaxaca!

How to get to Oaxaca from Puebla:

  • By car: 4h via Cordoba – Puebla/Mexico 150D, then Mexico 135D International Highway to Oaxaca de Juarez
  • By bus: 4h40 by ADO bus. I suggest you take the bus that leaves at 8:25 to arrive at 13:05 and not waste the day
The church and old convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Oaxaca

Day 2Hierve el Agua

70 km from Oaxaca City, Hierve el Agua is a set of petrified waterfalls with beautiful views over the valley.

You can walk along the trail to reach the bottom of the falls (20 min), and then continue to the water ponds and enjoy the viewpoints.

It is an amazing place to take pictures, as the scenery is unique, but you can also enjoy the hot springs all year round!

How to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca:

  • By car: take Highway 190 to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, then take the detours to Hierve el Agua on Highway 179
  • By bus: take a colectivo or bus from this bus stop to Mitla (50 min), then another colectivo from the Mitla bus terminal to Hierve el Agua (50 min)
  • With a tour: this is the best option so you don’t have to worry about transportation as it includes pick up from your hotel in Oaxaca.

The tour starts in Santa Maria del Tule to see its giant 40-metre high tree, then you will go to Teotitlan del Valle, famous for its textile handicrafts.

You will then visit Mitla, the second most important archaeological site (after Monte Alban), before going to Hierve el Agua.

The day will end with a visit to a traditional mezcal distillery, with tasting, before returning to Oaxaca.

You can book here:

I book the Hierve El Agua tour now! I book my place for the Hierve el Agua tour easily


Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

Day 3Monte Albán and small towns

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Monte Albán is the most important archaeological site in Oaxaca and a must-see on a 21-day tour of Mexico.

It was an important urban, political, and ceremonial centre, occupied for more than 1,500 years by the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs.

You can visit the museum site and climb the numerous structures with magnificent views of the surrounding area.

Monte Alban is only 20 minutes from the centre of Oaxaca City, making it easily accessible.

For the full experience, I suggest you take this tour to Monte Alban, which then takes you along the artisans’ route:

  • The village of San Antonio Arrazola, whose artisans specialize in the creation of alebrijes, which are colorful figures known throughout the country that often represent fantastic creatures.
  • Cuilapam de Guerrero, a town of Mixtec origin, where a Dominican monastery was built in the 16th century and is considered an architectural jewel.
  • San Bartolo Coyotepec, famous for its art of “barro negro”, a black clay pottery that can be seen being made in a workshop.

Book the tour here:

The archaeological site of Monte Albán

Staying in Oaxaca

  • Andaina Youth Hostel: Located in the heart of Oaxaca, only 300 meters from Santo Domingo Church and 800 meters from the Zocalo. Cozy and colorful dormitory or private room with shared bathroom, from 16 $usd per night, breakfast included. Strong points: the friendly atmosphere, the rooftop terrace, the free activities and tours. This is my choice for a budget-friendly hotel in Oaxaca!
  • Casa Barroco Oaxaca: Elegant room with balcony, just a few steps from the main square in a listed colonial house, with two beautiful patios, from 89 $usd per night. Strong points: the beautiful colonial-style building, the charming garden, the helpful staff.
  • Casa de Sierra Azul: Located in the historic center of Oaxaca, 200 meters from Santo Domingo Church and 600 meters from the Zocalo. Classic and cozy room with private bathroom, from 140$ usd per night. Strong points: the central location, the bicycles available for guests, the free parking, the delicious breakfast.
  • Quinta Real Oaxaca: Located in a former convent from the 16th century, 500 meters from Santo Domingo Church and 700 meters from the Zocalo. Elegant room and romantic atmosphere, from 260 $usd per night. Strong points: the stunning architecture, the outdoor pool, the gourmet restaurant. This is my choice for a luxury stay in Oaxaca!

4) San Cristobal de las Casas (3 days)

Leave Oaxaca to discover another must-see region on a three-week tour of Mexico: fabulous Chiapas!

Day 1 – Today you will head to San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas.

You’ll need to leave early to make the most of the day, as it’s a 9 hour journey.

If you are travelling to Mexico by bus, you can take the night bus the night before.

In San Cristobal de las Casas you can visit the cathedral, the Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya with its exhibition of 500 beautiful textiles from Chiapas and Guatemala, the Guadalupe church, and the Na Bolom cultural centre.

Stroll along Real de Guadalupe, a charming pedestrian street with cafes and restaurants.

Overnight stay in San Cristobal de las Casas

How to get to San Cristobal de las Casas from Oaxaca:

  • By car: 9h20 travel time via Carretera Oaxaca – Tehuantepec/Tehuantepec – Oaxaca/Mexico 190; La Ventosa – Salina Cruz Superhighway 185D; San Pedro Tapanatepec/Mexico 190 to Tuxtla Gutierrez and finally Carretera 190D to San Cristobal de las Casas.
  • By bus: direct night bus with OCC, departing at 10.30pm and arriving at 10.25 am. On Fridays and Sundays there is also a departure at 9pm with arrival at 8.55 am.
    The beautiful and colourful city of San Cristobal de las Casas

Day 2El Chiflón and the Montebello Lagoons

Today you will discover two of the most beautiful natural sites in Chiapas.

In the morning, start with the waterfalls of El Chiflón, hidden between the mountains and the jungle.

You will walk along the trail (1km) of an ecotourism centre that runs along five waterfalls, the highest of which is 120m high!

After the 1h-1h30 walk, continue to the Montebello Lakes, which are located on the border with Guatemala.

This 60 km² national park is home to some 50 lakes and has been declared a Biosphere Reserve.

Of course you can’t see them all, but I recommend the lakes of Tziscao, Pojoj, Cinco Lagos, and Montebello.

How to get to El Chiflón and Montebello from San Cristóbal:

  • By car: 2h to El Chiflón in the direction of Comitán de Domínguez. To get to Montebello Park (1h40) you have to return to Comitán, and take Highway 190 and 307. Drive carefully because there are many curves and speed bumps on the road!
  • By public transport: this is not a recommended option, as you will have to make several connections and the return transport will be quite complicated.
  • With a tour: this is the option I chose as it is the most comfortable since it is a very long day’s visit. The tour starts at 8am and ends at 8pm, with pick up at the hotel, free visit to the waterfalls of El Chiflón, and visit to 4 lakes of Montebello.

You can book the tour here:

The foot of Velo de Novia Waterfall, El Chiflón, Chiapas

Day 3 The Sumidero Canyon or Tzotzil villages

For this last day in the region, choose between two tours: the Sumidero Canyon or, to discover the local culture, the villages of Zinacantán and San Juan Chamula.

Option 1 – The Sumidero Canyon

It is a national park of more than 20,000 hectares that protects a large canyon formed more than 35 million years ago.

You can get different views of the impressive canyon by taking a boat ride on the Gijalva River (2h30) that runs through it and by following the route of the viewpoints.

Ideally you should do both to enjoy the full experience!

How to get to the Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal:

  • By car: take the Libramiento Norte highway and follow the sign “Calzada Al Sumidero” to the northeast
  • By public transport: if you travel by bus, I recommend that you do only the boat trip, as it is the most accessible. Take a bus (1h15) to Tuxtla Gutierrez, then another bus (45 min) to the main square of Chiapa de Corzo. From there, head to the Chiapa de Corzo pier.
  • With a tour: this is the option I chose like many travellers and I loved the experience! The tour is in small groups, and includes transportation from San Cristobal, the boat tour with the viewpoints, and a stop in the town of Chiapa de Corzo.

You can book the tour here:

I book the Sumidero Canyon Tour now!I buy my ticket to visit the canyon easily

The Sumidero canyon seen from the mirador

Option 2Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula

These traditional Mayan Tzotzil villages are only 30 minutes from San Cristobal de las Casas and can easily be visited in half a day.

In Zinacantán you can see the typical church of San Lorenzo and learn about the traditional weaving techniques for which the town is famous for.

San Juan Chamula is mainly known for its church, where you can see an impressive mix of Catholic beliefs and Mayan rituals.

My advice
These are autonomous communities that have their own laws.

It is important to follow certain rules, such as paying the entrance fee and, above all, not taking pictures inside the churches! 

How to get to San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán from San Cristóbal:

  • By car: to go to San Juan Chamula, take the Puerto Caté-San Cristóbal road (23min), and to go to Zinacantán, turn off at km9 onto Calzada Juárez/Zinacantán (24 min).
  • By public transport: by colectivo (15$mxn) leaving from the municipal market
  • With a tour: I went with a day tour and I recommend it because the guide’s information was very interesting. It includes a visit to Zinacantan (textile demonstration and tasting of pox, a traditional liquor) and a free visit to San Juan Chamula. You can booked it here:

Demonstration of the traditional weaving techniques in Zinacantan

Staying in San Cristóbal de las Casas

  • The Coffee Bean Hostel: a very cozy hostel with nice common areas, a restaurant and bar, a garden, terrace with hammocks, pool tables and several breakfast options, starting at 12 $usd in a shared dorm!
  • Parador Margarita: only 3 blocks from the main square and the bus station, it is a small haven of peace with a garden and very comfortable beds. Wifi and breakfast are included, only 46 $usd per night!
  • Hotel Diego de Mazariegos: a magnificent 18th century mansion with a preserved Mexican colonial style, a charming interior courtyard with a fountain and classic decoration in warm tones. The hotel has two restaurants and a bar. Wifi and breakfast included, from only 73 $usd per night!
  • Casa Lum Hotel Boutique my favourite accommodation in San Cristobal de las Casas! It is a small and sophisticated hotel decorated between modernity and traditional design. Includes a great restaurant, a terrace with a panoramic view over the city and a garden. A few steps from the main square, it is the ideal place for lovers, from 164 $usd per night!

5) Palenque (1 day)

Discover Palenque, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, which should be included in a 21-day itinerary in Mexico.

From San Cristóbal de las Casas it will take you between 5 and 5h30. To make the journey easier I recommend these stops:

  • Toniná: a Mayan site whose main pyramid is twice as high as Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun!
  • Cascadas de Agua Azul: turquoise waterfalls located in a Biosphere Reserve.
  • Misol-Ha: a 30-metre waterfall in the jungle where you can also go swimming!

When you arrive in the city of Palenque, take the time to have lunch and recharge your batteries before visiting the ancient city of Palenque.

This city, protected by lush vegetation, was one of the most powerful of its time, like Tikal in Guatemala or Calakmul.

Start at the Palenque Museum, one of the most important museums dedicated to Mayan archaeology, which offers a very good introduction to the site.

There are many structures to discover, such as the Palace, which is the complex of Palenque, the Group of the Crosses and the famous Temple of the Inscriptions where they found the tomb of the ruler K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (7th century).

If you have visited the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, you will have seen the impressive reconstruction of his burial chamber.

Spend the night in the city of Palenque.

How to get to Palenque from San Cristóbal de las Casas:

  • By car: take Highway 199 through Ocosingo (5 h). Misol-Ha and Agua Azul are on Highway 199. For Toniná, take the detours on Highway 218 in Ocosingo.
  • By public transport: 9h by bus direct to Palenque (departures at 5h and 8h). For Misol-Ha and Agua Azul, you can take a colectivo to Ocosingo, then another colectivo to Palenque.
  • With a a guided tour: considering the long trip, if you don’t have a car, the easiest way is to take the tour from San Cristobal de las Casas. It includes pick-up from your hotel, breakfast, visits to Agua Azul, Misol-Ha, and Palenque.

You can book directly here:

Staying in Palenque

  • Mitico El Castillo: the most unusual hotel that looks like a movie decor. It’s a castle that houses a room, a shared room, a swimming pool, and a kitchen. This is the best cheap hotel in Palenque, starting at only 14 $usd for a bedroom or 38 $usd for a room!
  • Cabañas Kin Balam Palenque: another budget hotel in Palenque that has the advantage of being in the jungle, with fruit trees and exotic animal sounds and within walking distance of the ruins. Includes a pool and a restaurant, starting at only 24 $usd for a dorm or 43$usd for a private room!
  • Adriana Villas: an oasis of tranquility ideal for couples, with rooms and villas in the jungle, a swimming pool, hammocks, large gardens, and a rooftop terrace. With delicious breakfasts included, starting at 80 $usd per night!
  • Chan Kah Resort village: ideal for relaxing during a family trip to Palenque, offering excellent value for money. Bungalows for 2 to 4 people, 2 large natural pools, a bar, restaurant and spa, from only 100$ usd for a bungalow!
The Mayan Ruins of Palenque

6) Campeche (1-2 days)

Campeche is a rather quiet colonial city, not very touristy, and its ancient walled city, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a lot of charm.

In one or two days in Campeche, you can:

  • Stroll along the city walls from Baluarte San Francisco to Baluarte San Carlos, which houses the city museum.
  • Visit the museum of Mayan architecture.
  • See the main square, with the cathedral, the cultural centre El Palacio, and Casa No. 6.
  • Take the tourist tram that takes you around the main attractions of Campeche (45min-1h).
  • Visit the archaeological site of Edzná founded in 600 B.C., just 1 hour from Campeche.
  • Taste the chocolates of Chocol’Ha, with its beautiful Mexican decoration.
  • Walk along the Malecon in front of the Gulf of Mexico, the perfect place to watch the sunset.

Read more on: My complete guide to Campeche!

How to get to Campeche from Palenque:

  • By car: 4h40 via Highway 199 Palenque-Pakana, then Villahermosa-Chetumal 186 to Escárcega and Highway 180D to Campeche.
  • By bus: there are two ADO night buses (00h50-6h50 and 2h20-8h20) and a day bus at 11:20 that arrives at 17:20.

Staying in Campeche

  • Melisa Hostal: very well located hostel in a beautiful typical house in the center of Campeche, friendly staff, with a small pool, access to a kitchen, and very clean and comfortable mattresses. Bed in shared room, from only 20 $usd per night
  • Casa Serena Beautiful Colonial Loft: a spacious apartment in the center of Campeche that offers excellent value for money. With air conditioning, a living room, kitchen, terrace, good wifi with breakfast included. Sleeps 2 to 4 people, starting at 125 $usd per night
  • Boutique Hotel Casa Don Gustavo: an elegant 18th century manor house completely restored on a pedestrian street in downtown Campeche. A beautiful blend of modernity and colonial decor, with comfortable air-conditioned rooms. Wifi, outdoor pool, jacuzzi and a very tasty à la carte breakfast await guests. Starting at 65 $usd!
The sight of the colonial city of Campeche as seen from the walls

7) Merida (2 days)

On the next leg of your 3-week Yucatan trip, leave Campeche for Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan.

It’s a city that, although larger and more touristy, will certainly remind you of Campeche for its architecture.

In two days in Merida you can:

1. See the flamingos of Celestún

The town of Celestún is the gateway to the Celestún Biosphere Reserve: the best place to see pink flamingos in Mexico!

You can get close to them with a boat trip (1h20-2h30) that will take you to discover the reserve and to swim in a natural pool.

In addition to the boat trip, you can also enjoy the beaches of Celestun, much quieter than the beaches of the Riviera Maya that await you later on in your road trip through Mexico.

How to get to Celestún from Mérida

  • By car: 1h30 on Highway 181
  • By bus: 2h30 with an ADO leaving from the Terminal Noreste
  • With a tour: it is also possible to take this tour to Celestún from Mérida with hotel pick-up, a boat trip to see the flamingos, a visit to the mangroves, and a lunch on the beach. Book it here:

Una colonia de flamencos rosados en la reserva de Celestún.

2. Strolling around the city of Merida

Mérida is known as the safest city in Mexico.

You can explore the Plaza Grande, home to the Casa de Montejo, the cathedral, and the Macay Museum, and then walk along Calle 64 to see its beautiful and colorful houses.

Visit the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya and its collection of 1000 archaeological pieces.

Walk along Paseo de Montejo to the Canton Palace, home of the Regional Museum of Anthropology of Yucatan.

At night, don’t miss the atmosphere of Parque Santa Lucia with its terraces and music!

If you want to live a local experience, I suggest this tour that takes you to the Merida market before taking a traditional Yucatan cooking workshop.

Book the activity here:

I book the market tour + cooking class in Mérida!I book my place for the gastronomic tour in Mérida

The Palacio Canton on the Paseo de Montejo, Merida

3. Visit the archaeological site of Uxmal

Uxmal was one of the most important Mayan cities, and a great ally of Chichén Itzá.

Built between the 5th and 6th centuries, it stands out for the richness of the reliefs on its façades, typical of the Puuc style.

You will be able to see the Pyramid of the Magician, the Great Pyramid, the Nunnery Quadrangle, the Mayan ball court and go up to the Governor’s Palace, which offers a beautiful view of Uxmal.

After the visit, you can also explore the Choco-Story chocolate museum with its beautiful tropical garden and the Mayan site of Kabah.

How to get to Uxmal from Merida:

  • By car: 1h15 on Federal Highway 261 towards Santa Elena. Parking costs 80 pesos. Kabah is further along the same road, 20 minutes from Uxmal.
  • By bus: 2h, ticket 84 pesos, 1 departure per day at 9h05 from the TAME terminal and 1 return at 15h
  • With an organised tour: this is the ideal option for not having to worry about transport! The tour from Merida includes transportation in an air-conditioned van, the guided visit to Uxmal with free time, and the visit to Kabah.

Book the tour to Uxmal and Kabah here:

I book the tour to Uxmal and Kabah now!I buy my tickets to Uxmal

The Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal

Spend the night in Merida.

How to get to Merida from Campeche:

  • By car: 2h15 on Highway 180 to Merida
  • By bus: 2h30 by bus ADO

Staying in Mérida

  • Nomadas: the best hostel in Merida with a very nice atmosphere, located in the center of Merida. It has a swimming pool surrounded by hammocks and plants, possibility of classes (yoga, cooking classes, etc.). Starting at only 18$usd per night!
  • El Gran Hotel: ideally located in the very center of Merida, right next to the cathedral. It is a very charming hotel, where time seems to have stopped with its colonial look and beautiful woodwork. There’s a restaurant, the rooms are spacious and the wifi works well. Good value for money, starting at only 59$usd per night!
  • Hotel Hacienda Merida VIP: this small, luxurious hotel is the ideal place to spend a few romantic days in Merida. Located in the historic center, it is an elegant hacienda-style building, illuminated by candlelight at nightfall. Here you will find a charming swimming pool, comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and a bar. Starting at 165 $usd per night
  • Hotel Boutique Mérida Santiago: this is a small, comfortable hotel with a colorful hacienda look, modern and with a traditional Mexican touch. There’s a swimming pool with sun loungers and umbrellas. With excellent homemade breakfasts and spacious rooms, it is the ideal hotel if you are looking for comfort without falling into luxury. Starting at 197 $usd per night

8) Chichen Itza and Valladolid (1 day)

Say goodbye to Merida and head to Valladolid, a beautiful colonial city that you can explore in one day!

On the way you will find the must-see of your Mexico sightseeing tour: Chichen Itza!

Founded in the 6th century by the Itzaes and then controlled by the Toltecs from the 10th century until the 13th century. It was, at its peak, the most powerful city in the entire Yucatan peninsula.

Today it is the most famous Mayan site in the world, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

In 3h you will see many structures (temples, plazas, platforms) such as El Castillo, which is the main pyramid of Chichen Itza, the astronomical observatory, the court for the Mayan ball game and the temple of the Jaguars.

To avoid long lines, I suggest you buy these skip-the-line tickets to Chichen Itza here:

I buy my fast access tickets for Chichen Itza! I buy my skip-the-lines tickets to Chichen Itza

After visiting Chichen Itza, cool off in a cenote.

For example, you can go to Cenote Zací in the centre of Valladolid. Also, if you eat 100 pesos in the restaurant of the cenote, the entrance is free.

Spend the afternoon visiting Valladolid.

Discover the Francisco Canton Park, the San Servacio Church, and the murals of the Municipal Palace, and then the San Roque Museum.

Stroll along the beautiful Calzada de los Frailes to the Convent of San Bernardino.

How to get to Chichen Itza from Merida:

  • By car: 1h30 by Carretera Costera del Golfo E/Mérida – Valladolid/México 180 E and Kantunil-Cancun/México 180D
  • By bus: the ADO bus leaves at 7.15 am and arrives at 9.00 am, it leaves you right in front of the entrance
  • With a tour:If you want a guided visit of Chichén Itzá, this tour is a great option. It includes hotel pick up in Mérida, a tour of Chichen Itza with free time, breakfast and lunch, a cenote stop, Izamal and Valladolid. You can book it here:

I book the Chichen Itza tour from Mérida now!I book the tour easily

How to get to Valladolid from Chichén Itzá:

  • By car: 40 minutes on the Gulf/Mexico Coastal Highway 180 E
  • By bus: there is an ADO bus at 16h30 that arrives at 17h but I think the timetable is not ideal and you will lose part of your day waiting. I suggest you take a taxi or colectivo to Pisté (8 min) and from Pisté take the bus to Valladolid (47 min).

Staying in Valladolid

  • Candelaria Hostel: The best budget option in Valladolid! A colorful hostel that is very well located in the centre, with a garden, access to the kitchen, and a bike rental. Good breakfast options are also included, from 17 $usd for a bed in a shared dorm or 38 $usd for a private room.
  • Real Haciendas: A small, charming, yet very quiet hotel with a swimming pool, clean rooms with comfortable king size bed, and a very good welcome. Starting from 57 $usd per night.
  • IMIX Hotel: A typical colonial house in the centre of Valladolid on the beautiful Calzada de los Frailes, nicely decorated with spacious rooms. Breakfast included, starting from 127 $usd per night.
  • Le Muuch Hotel: A hotel located 5 minutes away from the main park Francisco Canton Rosado. Excellent service, with indoor and outdoor swimming pools with hammocks, rooms with garden view, air conditioning, and a bar and restaurant. A la carte breakfast included, starting from 140 $usd per night.
  • Hotel Zentik Project: This is definitely one of my favorite hotels in Mexico and the best hotel in Valladolid! Beautiful Mayan-style cabanas with murals done by local and international artists. There’s a restaurant and bar, an outdoor pool with hammocks, and a saltwater pool in an underground cave. Very good breakfast included, starting from 380 $usd per night.
The famous site of Chichen Itza in the state of Yucatan

9) Holbox (2-3 days)

Follow your 21-day Mexico itinerary to Holbox, the ideal island to relax for the next few days!

In the morning, head to the port of Chiquilá and take the ferry to Holbox.

The great thing about Holbox is that, although it’s quite close to Cancun and Playa del Carmen, it’s far away enough from the hustle and bustle of the Riviera Maya.

People come here to relax with a margarita in hand and their feet in the sand. So enjoy it! 😊

There are small streets with lots of colorful murals and long sandy beaches, such as Punta Mosquito and Punta Cocos, not to be missed!

I also recommend you to take the boat trip (3 hours) to Isla Pájaros, Laguna Yalahau, and Isla de la Pasión, where you can see many species of birds and swim in a refreshing lagoon.

Between June and September, you can swim with whale sharks in the Yum Balam reserve!

How to get to Holbox from Valladolid:

  • By car: 3h50 by car on Carretera 180D to Cancún, then QROO5 to Chiquilá. Then take the ferry to Holbox (30 min trip, leaves every 30 minutes). Leave the car in one of the secure car parks as you cannot board the ferry with the car!
  • By bus: take a bus from Noreste Yucatan (4h) to Chiquilá, then the ferry to Holbox (30 min)

Staying in Holbox Island

  • Kin Camping: This is the best place to sleep cheap in Holbox! They are tents (camping) with double beds, hot water, a good atmosphere, hammocks, and a bar. They also propose several fun activities, from only 28 $usd  per night!
  • Casa Chujuk: A hotel offering excellent value for money, which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in Holbox! Very clean and bright rooms, with comfortable mattresses, a small pool to cool off, and good wifi, from 50 $usd per night!
  • Ensueño Holbox & Beach Club: Suites and flats with kitchenette for up to 5 people. Roof terrace, two swimming pools, a beach club with good food and music! Breakfast is included, from 130 $usd per night!
  • Beachfront Hotel La Palapa – Adults only: A nice hotel very well located near the centre, with a beachfront, and a quiet beach that has excellent cocktails at the bar. Spacious rooms and very good service. Excellent breakfast included, from 250 $usd per night!
  • Villas Flamingos: Located on a private beach on Holbox Island, this 4-star hotel offers cozy and colorful bungalows with private terrace and hammock. From 387 $usd per night, breakfast included. Strong points: the stunning sea view, the relaxing atmosphere, the friendly staff, the delicious food. This is my suggestion for a peaceful and charming stay in Holbox!
The best place to have a drink: Holbox beach!

10) Tulum (2 days)

It will be hard to leave a paradise like Holbox, but luckily this 21-22 day trip to Mexico continues in Tulum, which is also a destination known for its beautiful beaches.

Day 1 – Visit the ruins of Tulum and its beaches

In the morning, take the ferry back to Chiquilá and then take the road to Tulum.

Start with a visit to the archaeological site of Tulum, one of the most emblematic places of the Riviera Maya. It has to be said that it is situated in an exceptional location, facing the Caribbean Sea.

In 2h you will have time to visit the main structures of the site such as the Castle, the wall, the temples of the Frescoes, and the Descending God, then go down to the small beach.

Depending on the time of day, you can cool off in one of Tulum’s cenotes or head to the Beach Strip, the street in the hotel zone with various cafes and restaurants.

Afterwards, enjoy Tulum’s famous beaches, such as Playa Paraiso or Playa Las Palmas.

Spend the night in Tulum

How to get to Tulum from Chiquilá

  • By car: 2h30 on Carretera QROO 5 and then Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango – Coba/QROO 109
  • By bus: take a colectivo (leaving at 8:00 am or 11:30am) to Playa del Carmen (2h), then an ADO bus or colectivo to Tulum (1h)
The archaeological site of Tulum facing the sea

Day 2Sian Ka’an Reserve

Today, continue your three-week road trip to Mexico to the Sian Ka’an Reserve, located south of Tulum.

This is a large protected area, declared a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to a rich biodiversity and is truly a beautiful scenery.

As it is impossible to see everything in one day, you will have to choose between an tour to Punta Allen (1 day) or Muyil (half day):

Option 1: Punta Allen

Punta Allen is a fishing village that offers a more complete experience than most as it is actually inland from the reserve. The visit allows you to see the coast of Sian Ka’an with its beach, or take a boat ride to see dolphins, manatees, and other animals!

As the road is complicated (and not in good condition) you will need a car with good suspension, ideally a 4×4, to get there. Or you can take a tour from Tulum which you can book here:

Option 2: Muyil

Muyil is much closer to Tulum than Punta Allen. You will be able to see the Mayan site of Muyil surrounded by jungle, and enjoy the clear waters among mangroves and orchids.

As Muyil is easier to reach, you can even take the ADO bus (20 min) in the direction of Chunyaxché or take this tour from Tulum with lunch included:

Spend the night in Tulum

Sian Ka’an Reserve in the Yucatan Peninsula

Staying in Tulum

  • Mayan Monkey Tulum: an excellent value for money. Nice modern hostel with a good atmosphere, a pool, bar and garden. Including fast wifi, kitchen access, yoga classes, coworking spaces, and bike and motorcycle rentals. Dorms and private rooms starting at only 24 $usd per night.
  • Casa Almendro: if you are looking for a little more comfort, you will like this small cheap hotel in the center of Tulum. It’s a green oasis with a rooftop terrace with chairs and hammocks. There are king size beds and breakfast is included, from only 50 $usd per night!
  • Diamante K: is a high-end hotel but at a very fair price, which is exceptional in Tulum, especially for a hotel with direct access to the beach in the hotel zone! Bohemian chic atmosphere, including a restaurant, hammocks and beds on the private beach, and a massage service. Bungalows are 207 $usd per night.
  • Habitas Tulum: this small eco-friendly hotel with a chic design is ideal for a romantic stay in Tulum. It is a true oasis of peace, hidden among the palm trees, with a magnificent swimming pool and a private beach. There are also yoga classes on the terrace at sunset. From 371 $usd per night!
  • Kanan Tulum- Adults Only: this is the ultimate option for a luxury stay in Tulum. It is an ecological hotel for adults only, located on a beautiful private beach with hammocks and beds. With a fantastic rooftop terrace with a bar; the hotel also has an excellent restaurant, great rooms and a very friendly welcome. From 566 $usd per night!

11) Playa del Carmen (2-3 days)

For the last leg of this 20-21-22 day road trip through Mexico, return to Playa del Carmen.

This small town has grown tremendously in recent years, positioning itself as an alternative destination to Cancun, with some cheaper options and some easy to access beaches.

Many come here to party and hang out at a beach club, but what I really like about Playa del Carmen is that it is strategically located to explore the entire Riviera Maya.

Day 1 Rio Secreto Caves and Xpu-Ha Beach

Today, start by discovering the incredible world of Rio Secreto, one of my favorite places in the Yucatan!

This is a 600-metre guided tour that takes you through some semi-flooded caves and an underground river that forms part of a giant 40 km network of stalactites and stalagmites.

The tour alternates between walking and swimming in the crystal clear water, with a helmet, headlamp, and wetsuit as the water is cool.

Visits only take place in small groups in order to preserve the site and booking is compulsory:

After the tour to Rio Secreto, which lasts 3h-3h30, you can go to Xpu-Ha beach: it is one of the most beautiful beaches of the Riviera Maya, with its calm waters and white sand!

Or if you prefer, you can cool off in the nearby Cenote Azul.

Spend the night in Playa del Carmen

How to get to Playa del Carmen from Tulum:

  • By car: 50 minutes on Highway 307 along the Riviera Maya
  • By bus: 1h by ADO or colectivo bus

How to get to Rio Secreto from Playa del Carmen:

  • By car: 12 minutes, on Highway 307 towards Tuulm
  • By public transport: ADO bus or colectivo, frequent departures
Rio Secreto

Day 2 Cozumel Island

Easily accessible by ferry from Playa del Carmen, the large island of Cozumel is a must-see if you have 3 weeks to visit Mexico.

This destination is known as one of the best places in the world to dive because of its clear, calm waters and location which is very close to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

There are many reefs to explore, for all skill levels: Palancar, Columbia, Paraiso, Punta Tunich, Chankanaab, Santa Rosa, the Devil’s Throat (an underwater cave), and the Felipe Xicoténcatl wreck.

The island also has beautiful beaches: the Punta Sur reserve, the Chankanaab park, and the archaeological site of San Gervasio.

You can book the best tours to Cozumel here:

  • Punta Sur jeep tour with snorkeling and lunch at a beach club – Book it here
  • Entrance to Chankanaab Park with access to the entire park and a guided snorkeling session – Book it here
  • Snorkel tour that takes you to 3 reefs, ideal for families –  Book it here
  • Electric bike tour with visit to a cenote and beach, snorkeling, and tequila tasting – Book it here
  • Catamaran tour to El Cielo to see starfish, and also includes the Palancar reef – Book it here
  • A jungle adventure with quad biking, cave exploration, a cenote and tequila tasting – Book it here

For the best things to do on the island, you can read my guide: Top 15 Things To Do and Must-See Attractions in Cozumel

How to get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen:

  • If you are not going by car: 45min-1h by ferry from the Terminal Marítima Navega with Ultramar or Winjet Fast Ferry
  • If you decide to cross with your car: by ferry from Punta Venado with Transcaribe or Ultramar Carga
  • Several tours to Cozumel already include transportation from the Riviera Maya
The Chen Rio beach in Cozumel

Day 3 – Free day in Playa del Carmen

As this 20-21-22 days tour in Mexico covers a lot of ground, I think it’s a good idea to take this last day of your holiday in the sun to relax!

Relax on the beaches of Playa del Carmen like Playa Mamitas, Playacar or Punta Esmeralda, also walk along Quinta Avenida, the main street with many bars, restaurants, and shops.

To make sure you don’t miss anything about Playa del Carmen, you can read:

Punta Esmeralda

Staying in Playa del Carmen

  • Che Playa Hostel & Bar Adults Only: great hostel to meet other travelers and party, with a rooftop terrace that has a bar and a small pool, with several offered activities. Clean, with good wifi and a great welcome. From only 13 $usd for the dormitory or 37 $usd for a private room!
  • Hotel Lunata: a charming hotel with hacienda style decoration, which is hidden on Quinta Avenida, very close to the beach. Quiet, with a garden, rooms with balcony, and has very friendly service. From only 82 $usd per night!
  • Porto Playa Condo Beach Club: here you will find a spacious apartment ideal for a family, with fully equipped kitchen, living room and terrace. The hotel has a large swimming pool, a gym and a restaurant, starting at 172 $usd per night!
  • The Reef Playacar Resort & Spa: located on the beautiful beach of Playacar, just a few minutes from Fifth Avenue. Ideal for a romantic stay, with a beautiful tropical garden, two pools, a gym and a spa. 200 $usd with the “all inclusive” formula.
  • Hotel Xcaret Mexico All Parks All Fun Inclusive: it is definitely the best hotel in Playa del Carmen! Ideal for couples and families with children as this luxury hotel offers an exceptional package including meals and access to its parks (Xcaret, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xenses, Xoximilco, Xel-Ha and Xenote). Starting at 860 $usd per night, all inclusive.
My tip
Check out my comprehensive guide to find the perfect hotel or resort for your stay. Here’s the link: Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen? 

Return home from Cancun

Your return flight will depart from Cancun airport, a 1h10 drive from Playa del Carmen.

If you rented a car, allow enough time to return it before your flight.

If you are travelling by public transport, it is best to take an ADO bus, which will drop you off directly at the airport.

There are many routes a day, I recommend you visit the ADO website to check for timetables and to buy your ticket in advance.

Have a nice trip!

My advice
You want to spend some time in Cancun? Check out my articles:

Cancun from the plane

Renting a car for a 3-week trip to Mexico

Renting a car is for sure the best way to explore Mexico and make the most of your stay!

While it’s not super useful to visit the city, having a car is a must to discover the rest of the country.

To rent a car, personally, I always use Booking.com Cars, for a few reasons:

  • You can easily compare the rental cars prices between all the agencies: for sure the easiest way to find the best rate!
  • Cancellation is often offered free of charge: no need to worry if you change your mind
  • Booking Cars offers full insurance coverage at a lower price than the rental companies, so it’s an instant saving with no effort

Simply click on the green button to find your rental car at the best price:

My advice
There are many toll roads in Mexico so it is best to buy a TAG (pase de telepeaje – you can see the sales points here) as it is very convenient. Here are some reasons why:

  • You can pass quickly, and almost without stopping at the toll booth.
  • You don’t need to carry a lot of cash or take out your card.
  • It is easy to recharge the TAG in the application (AndroidIphone) or at one of the recharge points.
  • The application calculates the approximate cost of the journey (tolls + fuel) when you enter the arrival and departure points.
The toll booths on the Yucatan Peninsula

How to find the best price for your flight ticket

To save money on flight tickets, you can use our flight comparator for Mexico, in partnership with Skyscanner: it’s the guarantee to pay the best price for your international and domestic flights!

Map: My three-week road trip in Mexico

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You’re traveling in Mexico? These articles will help you!

Discover all my articles about Mexico: All my articles to help you plan your trip to Mexico are listed there.

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I have created this blog to give you all my best tips to plan your next trip to Mexico, regardless of your budget. I share detailed itineraries, advice about places to visit as well as recommendations for transportation, hotels and restaurants. I hope I will also help you to discover amazing off the beaten path destinations in Mexico!

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