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The Yucatan Peninsula is one of my favorite destinations in Mexico, and when you visit, you’ll understand why this 320 km (200 miles) area is so beloved by tourists from all over the world. For one, it boasts some of the best beaches in Mexico and an abundance of incredible activities, but it’s also home to some really fun towns and cities including Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and more.
With most tourists choosing to spend a week or two on the Yucatan Peninsula, it can be hard to know what tours to fit into your itinerary – there are so many incredible tours on offer here! From a catamaran sailing cruise to swimming with whale sharks in Cancun to visiting the iconic Chichen Itza, which tours you choose can make or break your vacation!
Which is why I’m writing this blog post! I’ve done the research for you and only included the best and most highly-rated tours on the Yucatan Peninsula.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a significant amount of time on the peninsula and had the opportunity to experience many tours in this region. Therefore, I’ve been able to narrow the list down to just ten can’t-be-missed tours!
The BEST Tours in the Yucatan
1. Chichen Itza Tour
The famous Chichen Itza – I’m sure you’ve heard of it! This UNESCO heritage site is undoubtedly the most popular Mayan site in Mexico, if not the world! And so, this national treasure just had to make it on my list of the best tours in the Yucatan Peninsula!
To put it simply, if you’re staying anywhere within the Yucatan, you HAVE to add a tour of Chichen Itza to your itinerary!
And why you may ask? Well, not only is Chichen Itza one of the best examples of Mayan history, but it is also the most visited archaeological site in the country. It covers a massive area of 4 square miles and is estimated to have been constructed in the year 550! The most visited building within Chichen Itza is El Castillo, which is the main temple at the site. This pyramid-like structure is a huge 24 meters high (and the temple at the top is an additional 6 meters!) – making it an impressive 30 meters tall!
But that’s not the most fascinating thing about El Castillo, what we found so interesting is that this giant structure is, in fact, the world’s biggest man-made calendar! Because each of its 4 sides has 91 stairs, equalling 364, and when you add on the platform at the top, you get 365 – which is the number of days in the year.
Another area within the site that we think is well worth checking out is The Great Ball Court. The biggest in Mesoamerica, it measures 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 feet.) The Mayans played a sport known as Pitz here, which is best described as a mix of basketball and soccer and is understood to be the first team sport in history!
Chichen Itza is approximately a 2.5-hour drive (193 km/120 mi) each way from Cancun and 151 km (94 miles) from Tulum, 64 km (40 miles) from Playa del Carmen!
In my opinion, the absolute best way to ensure you have the best experience at Chichen Itza is to book on a guided tour – because that way, you don’t need to drive yourself there, and you have the added bonus of a knowledgeable guide who will teach you some fascinating facts. There are tours to Chichen Itza available from pretty much every tourist resort on the Yucatan Peninsula.
For example, this specific tour from Cancun departs before dawn; so that you have several hours to explore the archaeological site. Transport is included, and there are several meeting points within the Cancun hotel zone where your driver will pick you up/drop you off. In addition to Chichen Itza, you will have the chance to visit Valladolid, Selva Maya and Cenote Saamal cenotes. Plus, a lunch buffet is also included in the price, which is just $45 USD per person!
While if you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, this particular tour is highly rated and includes all entrance fees (most don’t), breakfast, lunch, an English-speaking guide, and hotel pick-up in Playa del Carmen and surrounds. It’s actually one of the best day trips from Playa del Carmen!
And finally, this Chichen Itza tour from Tulum is a top choice and includes an English-speaking guide, your entrance ticket, as well as a stop at Ik-Kil Cenote and Valladolid. Transport to/from Tulum is also included!
Related Read: another awesome tour of Chichen Itza is this Chichen Itza Night Show, which is so memorable!
2. Scuba diving Tour
If you love the water, one of the best things you can do in the Yucatan Peninsula is to join a scuba diving tour. The crystal clear and warm waters surrounding this peninsula are teeming with colorful fish, turtles, manta rays, and even whale sharks (more on that later!) Scuba diving tours are available from most towns in the Yucatan, and what’s great too is that there’s a tour for every ability – so, no matter if you’re a newbie to the sport or dived plenty of times before, you’re sure to find the perfect scuba diving tour from my list below.
If you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, there are two highly-rated scuba diving tours that we highly recommend. This discovery dive with an experienced instructor is ideal for beginners. On this particular tour, you’ll get to dive in two different locations, during which you’ll learn all about diving. But before entering the open water, your instructor will teach you some basic skills in a pool to ensure you’re comfortable. No PADI certification is required for this activity!
While if you want to get PADI certified in Playa del Carmen, you can choose from a 3-day or 5-day course. This 3-day PADI certification course involves two days of diving and one day of classroom-based learning and includes all equipment, and you’ll even get a certification card upon completion.
While from Cancun, this scuba diving tour is unique because it explores the awesome Museo Subacuatico de Art, aka the Underwater Museum. This is, in fact, the biggest underwater museum in Mexico and boasts over 500 sculptures! Alternatively, if you’re a beginner, you should book this Cancun scuba diving tour which explores the most popular diving spots in Cancun while being guided by a pro diver.
The island of Cozumel is one of the best places to learn how to scuba dive, thanks to the calm crystal clear waters here. There are a plethora of beginner tours on offer here, but we loved this private Scuba Course costs just $85 USD.
And last but not least, if you decide to base yourself in Tulum and you’ve dived before, you can book a cenote diving tour. Yep, here in Tulum, this unique cenote dive experience involves two 40-minute dives, one in Dos Ojos Cenote and the second in Casa Cenote – two of the best cenotes in Tulum! This type of diving can be dangerous, so follow the instructions of your experienced guide at all times! This particular tour includes all your equipment, an expert divemaster, transport, go-pro photos, and video!
3. Sailing Tour
A great way to enjoy the Yucatan’s stunning turquoise ocean without getting wet is to book a sailing tour. On such a tour, you will be treated to incredible coastal views and may even be lucky enough to see marine life like dolphins, whales, and sea birds!
Many of these tours include unlimited drinks, lunch, and snorkeling! In fact, we think a sailing tour is one of the best tours you can book in the Yucatan Peninsula. And lucky for you, I’ve listed the most highly-rated ones in the region below!
This catamaran sailing tour with a buffet lunch departs from Cancun and takes you out to the breathtaking Isla Mujeres. On this 7-hour tour, you will be able to enjoy several hours of swimming and sunbathing on a white-sand beach or even try out some snorkeling from here! A major plus is the open bar on offer and the fact it’s very reasonable at just $55 USD per person.
And from Playa del Carmen, I highly recommend this luxury sailing and snorkeling cruise because it’s a great price for the chance to sail on a beautiful French-made catamaran!
Finally, this luxury sailing experience from Tulum is a brilliant option if you’re staying in that area, and it also visits Isla Mujeres, which we love!
4. Mexican Cooking Class
Mexican food is my favorite cuisine in the world; I just love the intense flavors and variety of options. There are many authentic Mexican cooking classes available all over the Yucatan, where you can learn how to make yummy tacos, tortillas, and salsas, plus some traditional dishes such as mole sauce or tamales. Some classes will offer you the opportunity to create “Cochinita Pibil,” a Mayan dish composed of slow-roasted pork which has been marinated in a blend of lime juice and spices and then cooked in a unique clay oven!
It is essential to pick the right cooking class for you because they are all unique! For example, some include a trip to a local market to buy your ingredients, and others include tequila or mezcal tastings! So, which one you choose depends on the experience you’re after! Below, I’ve listed the top-rated cooking classes on the Yucatan Peninsula!
When I stayed in Tulum, I was delighted to learn about this Mexican cooking class! I completed it during my time there, and with the skills I learned, I can now cook a delicious Mexican feast for my friends and family! It’s a 3-hour tour and involves the preparation of a 3-course meal (soup, main, and dessert) as well as making your own salsa and tortillas. It costs $87 USD per person!
While if you’re staying in Merida, you get the chance to visit a busy local market to select your ingredients for this particular cooking class. Because it includes a guided market tour as well as the cooking class it’s essentially two activities in one, and for just $79 USD per person, I think that’s great value for money!
On Cozumel Island, this 3-hour farm-to-table cooking experience comes highly recommended. It takes place in the middle of the island, which is the main farming area on the island, and offers stunning views while you cook. Not only will you learn about the local cooking method on this tour, but you’ll also learn about the farming techniques used in this region. This particular tour also costs $79 USD.
Related Read: if you’re staying in Cancun be sure to check out the best Mexican restaurants there!
5. Deep Sea Fishing
If you’re a fishing fan, you may already know that the fishing off the Yucatan Peninsula’s coastline is fantastic, and in fact, Cancun and Playa del Carmen are two of the best places in Mexico to go deep-sea fishing. If you’re unfamiliar with this sport, it’s more commonly known in the U.S. as ‘big game fishing’ and is done in waters that are a minimum of 30 meters (100 feet) deep!
On the Yucatan Peninsula, most deep sea fishing operators work on a ‘catch and release’ basis, which is great because it means that the fish can keep growing and reproducing. In this large region, the type of fish that’s caught varies by season; for example, from February to April, you can catch barracuda, kingfish, and shark. And between April and August, tuna, blue marlin, and mahi-mahi can be caught!
There are heaps of deep-sea fishing tours on offer from both Playa del Carmen and Cancun. And from Cancun, there are some private but pricey full-day tours; that are suitable for a large group traveling together (can accommodate up to 14 people)
But if you’re a couple or a smaller group, this option may be too expensive for you. Therefore we recommend this group fishing tour which includes all fishing equipment as well as complementary beer and soft drinks. First-time fishermen or fisherwomen are more than welcome, and your captain will help you to catch something! This boat departs at sunrise from Marina Chac Chi, which is located in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
While in Playa del Carmen, there too are plenty of full-day private tours such as this one. And although expensive, it actually works out quite reasonably if there’s a large group of you. This particular boat has a fun and knowledgeable crew who will ensure you catch something and have a good time!
6. Si’an Kaan Tour from Cancun
Sian Ka’an Biosphere is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico, so naturally, one of the best things to do in Cancun is a tour here. The name translates as ‘gate to heaven,’ and when you visit, you’ll understand why. It’s a truly unique part of the country and boasts a barrier reef with heaps of marine life, as well as mangroves, tropical forests, and marshes! And if you’re a bird-lover, then this particular tour from Cancun is the perfect choice for you because over 300 different species of birds call Sian Ka’an home!
Interestingly, there are two entry points to the reserve, and each entrance offers a completely unique experience. For example, Muyil is 153 km (95 miles) from Cancun and is the closest entrance to the resort town, and it’s in this part of the reserve that you will get to explore the inland jungle, Mayan ruins, mangrove forests, and wetlands.
The second entrance is at Punta Allen, and this is where you should explore if you want to explore the marine side of Sian Ka’an – this part is where you will see saltwater lagoons and stunning Caribbean ocean beaches!
Whatever option you choose, both require a lot of driving from Cancun, which is why I recommend this full-day tour from Cancun. It’s a long day at 10 hours total and enters via the Punta Allen entrance. On this tour, you’ll have the opportunity to stroll among the mangroves, explore the Muyil Mayan ruins, and see the canals from a boat. Of course, you’ll get to swim in the turquoise water too – which is lovely and warm! A boxed lunch is also included in the price.
7. Buggy Tour to a Mayan Village from Playa del Carmen
And now for an awesome Yucatan Peninsula tour for the adrenalin junkies reading – this fast-paced buggy adventure gets you off-the-beaten-track and into the jungle to see a cenote and a Mayan village, Your vehicle of choice will either be a 2-seater or 6-seater buggy – depending on how many of you there are in your group. Beware, though, the buggies can reach speeds of up to 80 kmph (50 mph), so this particular tour is not for the faint-hearted!
If you’re keen on some thrilling fun but are feeling a little nervous about driving such a high-powered vehicle, don’t worry, you’ll be given a detailed safety briefing before you speed off. It’s also essential that you’re not afraid of getting dirty because at the end of the tour you will likely be covered in dirt and mud!
As I mentioned above, you’ll stop twice on this tour. The first stop is at a stunning underwater cenote with bright blue water where you can cool off with a swim. And the second stop is at a typical Mayan home where you can meet the friendly locals, and if you’re lucky, they may even cook a traditional dish for you to try!
This particular tour is reasonably priced, in my opinion, at $107 USD! And transport to/from Playa del Carmen is included in the price. My top tip is to wear old clothes and shoes (ones that you don’t mind getting dirty) because, as I said, you’ll be covered in dirt at the end of the 4 hours. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen; that much is for sure!
8. See the Best Cenotes in the Region
The Yucatan Peninsula is renowned for its cenotes, a system of underground caves, rivers, and sinkholes connecting to the sea. Would you believe there are thousands of cenotes on this peninsula? However, only a couple are worth visiting or can be visited – some are not accessible to the public!
Ik-Kil cenote near Chichen Itza is one of the most-visited in the region and was used by the Mayan people as a place of sacrifice. In fact, when it was discovered, pottery and bones were found on the floor of this cenote! Visiting Ik-Kil is one of the most popular day trips from Cancun, and a guided tour is the way to do it! This particular tour from Cancun stops at Ik-Kil and another cenote and also includes ziplining through the jungle and tequila tasting! The tour is 5 hours long, and some complimentary tacos are provided at the end of the tour!
And if you’re staying in Tulum – lucky you, as many of the best cenotes are located in the Tulum area. Even though you can drive yourself from Tulum to these cenotes if you have a rental car, I recommend booking a guided tour because that way, you’ll learn some interesting facts about the cenotes and the Mayan people!
This Chichen Itza and cenote tour from Tulum combines two of the best activities on the peninsula – cenotes and Chichen Itza. The cenote you will visit as part of this tour is the famed Ik-Kil cenote, as mentioned above! You’ll also get to explore the city of Valladolid on the tour, and transport to/from Tulum is included in the price – it’s easily one of the best day trips from Tulum.
While from Playa del Carmen, the best and most popular cenote to visit (in my opinion!) is Cenote Azul, which is just 20 minutes from downtown. This cenote is large and open and costs 150 pesos ($7.50 USD) per person to enter.
9. Swimming with Whale Sharks
Next up is a truly bucket-list-worthy tour option on the Yucatan Peninsula – swimming with whale sharks! In fact, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of only a couple of places worldwide where you can go swimming with these giant whales. Even though their name is scary-sounding, whale sharks are also known as the “gentle giants of the ocean” because they only eat plankton. They can be as long as 10 meters and weigh up to a whopping 19,000 kg!
From most towns along the peninsula, you can join a whale shark tour in which you’ll get to swim alongside these slow-moving creatures. But the best tours are available from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Isla Holbox, and Isla Mujeres. The tours typically cost from $100 to $175 USD, depending on where you depart from and the inclusions.
It’s worth noting that the whale shark season here runs from June 15 to September 15.
This 8-hour tour allows you to snorkel and swim alongside the whale sharks as well as manta rays and turtles. Transport is provided from either Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum, and breakfast at the pier is provided before you jet off in the boat in search of whales. There’s an open bar on board, and experienced guides will point out any marine life and sea birds along the way to the swimming spot.
While if you’re staying on Isla Holbox, this 7-hour tour is the best choice and includes the chance to snorkel the ‘cuevones’ reef. Breakfast and snacks such as freshly caught ceviche are also included!
And from Isla Mujeres, this whale shark snorkeling tour is 5 hours long, and also includes a stop at a stunning beach on Isla Mujeres. Transport to and from either Isla Mujeres or Cancun is included in the price, as well as snacks on board and a complimentary margarita!
Related Read: Learn all about swimming with the whale sharks in Cancun!
10. Isla Holbox Tour from Cancun
One of my favorite destinations in all of Mexico is Isla Holbox, a hidden gem of an island that’s car-free, home to stunning beaches, and boasts a quirky, bohemian vibe. Located to the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Holbox is the place to escape if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busier resorts like Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
The town on this island is essentially a fishing village with sandy streets and wooden houses, and the island, too, is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, which is home to amazing creatures like pelicans, flamingos, and herons. But one of the main attractions on Isla Holbox is the chance to swim with whale sharks. In fact, it’s considered one of the best places in the world to swim with these majestic creatures!
As peaceful as it seems, the word is starting to get out about how unique this island is, and so, as you can imagine, one of the most popular tours to do from Cancun is a tour to Isla Holbox! The tour is highly rated and includes transfers from Cancun to the ferry port and the ferry ride over and back. On this tour, you’ll first stop at Isla Pasion – which is aptly named because it’s shaped like a heart! I’m sure you’ve come across photos of it on Instagram! You’ll then have a few hours to explore Isla Holbox on your own; a 1-hour bike rental is even included in the price and is the best way to get around this small island! Alternatively, if you don’t fancy cycling, you can rent a golf cart for an additional fee. Prices for this tour start at $115 USD, and spaces are limited!
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Mexico in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your renal will be much cheaper!
Thanks for reading!
And there you have it -I’ve painstakingly narrowed it down to 10 of the best tours in the Yucatan Peninsula to help you make your vacation to this stunning region s memorable as possible!
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you found this guide to the best tours in the Yucatan helpful! If you did, be sure to check out more of our Mexico blogs such as: