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Cancun To Merida: Foodies and Culture Itinerary

Updated: May 17

Many tourists visiting the Yucatan feel that Mexico is too unsafe to explore beyond the beaches and resorts, but it's simply not true based on my many experiences to Mexico. Follow me on this simply laid out driving itinerary through the Yucatan from Cancun to Merida, with stops in Valladolid, Izamal and more.


Note: Always Pack Tissues represents many tried and tested travel sites as what is called an 'affiliate' partner. That means if you click on my ads I may get a commission from a resulting sale.


a colonial street with yellow buildings

Driving From Cancun to Merida: A Few Thoughts To Consider Before Your Trip

Safety

Everyone's biggest concern - safety. From my experience, the journey was extremely safe. Roads, other than the numerous tope's (speed bumps) were well built and easily navigable. Many tope's are unmarked, so just be aware.


In some parking situations, be mindful that paying to park is essentially paying for someone to look after your car. It's worth it. Be aware some children may offer to watch your car for a fee. This is not the same as an organized car park and you should not pay these children.


Facilities Along the Road

The major roads have an occasional central median plaza for eats, restrooms and gas. Stop when you see one because there may not be many other off-road opportunities. They are clean and safe and often have very delicious offerings (not to mention cheap souvenirs!).


Rental Car Concerns

Renting a car in Cancun is very easy and a fairly streamline process. We rented from Hertz.


Beware that getting your car is a time consuming process. First you will be shuttled to a clean facility with a waiting room where you may speak to a rental desk agent.



Next, they will shuffle you from their desk to a confusing upsell desk. This person works for the Xcaret group and will try to get you to buy into some tours. They will start by asking you about your itinerary and they'll pull out a map, so you think it's car rental related. It's not. Politely ask to move on.


Next, you'll talk to the outside agent and show them your paperwork. You'll be asked to sit in another waiting area while your car arrives for you.


Be sure to video and photograph any issues with the car, including scratches, dents and interior issues as well.


You are now ready for your Cancun to Merida road trip!


Cancun Area - Riviera Maya


Day 1 - Riviera Maya


Stops:


El Pesquero Restaurant, Puerto Morelos

Starting at the Cancun airport, drive 25 minutes south towards Tulum and stop in a small fishing village called Puerto Morelos. Have lunch at El Pesquero (bonus: they have parking!). 


Toes in the sand, you can enjoy some fresh ceviche and mezcal or tequila cocktails while your kids play in the playset at the back of the restaurant.



Tours to Consider in Puerto Morelos


Food Tour From $80: If you have 2-3 hours, see an insider's view of the food and market spaces of Puerto Morelos.


From $85: Ready to get wet right off the airplane? Set sail on a catamaran from Puerto Morelos for a refreshing ocean dip. Lunch is provided.



Snorkeling tour from $40: A relaxing swim and sail doesn't do it for you? Then get under the water on this 2 hour snorkeling excursion from Puerto Morelos and finish the night at your Riviera Maya hotel.





A palm tree lined infinity pool welcomes guests at the Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya

Stay at the Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya - one of the newest Hiltons in the area featuring multiple pools, sea view rooms, a kids club and many restaurants.


Enjoy luxurious surrounds while sipping a mezcal cocktail, try some sushi at their sushi bar restaurant, or maybe even some upper crust cuisine from the Yucatan in their full service restaurant.


Burn up those well earned points here or use your super juiced American Express Hilton card here for extra resort perks.



Day 2 - Riviera Maya

Stops:



Aktun Chen Cave and National Park

This amazing place is found conveniently across the street from the Conrad hotel. Learn more about the Aktun Chen cave tour here on a separate post, or just go find out for yourself. A "dry cenote", this cave tour is a great option for families who aren't interested in water sports or swimming in cenotes all day.


Underground pool and walkway at Aktun Chen Cave

Prefer not to go on your own? That's cool, you can take this half day tour from $390 for the group, which takes you to both Aktun Chen and the archaeological sites at Tulum.




Do A Drive Through Of Tulum

Unless you are an influencer, partier, or generally one for less authentic experiences, I don't recommend spending much time in Tulum. I found that the road through Tulum offered zero views of beach, in favor of resorts, beach clubs, and other exclusive offerings, so we drove through to see what was to be seen without getting out of the car.


Feeling defeated, we headed back towards the entry road and found a hidden gem. Find this secret oasis restaurant and street that reminded me more of a visit to Bali than Mexico on the opposite side of Tulum's busy, inauthentic beach road.


From Tulum, when the road dead ends at Tulum Beach road, turn left. After about a mile you'll see a stretch of coastline and water with a palapa-roofed beach bar at the end of a peninsula.


Sandy floored restaurant on the water

Keep the car parked (there's a great lot there) and explore some of the souvenir shops and such before heading back to your cozy Conrad retreat. Tomorrow is a big day.



Valladolid


Day 3 - Coba and Valldolid


Stops:


Colorful sign in front of a convent that reads Valladolid
Valladolid sign in front of the Convento de San Bernardino

Coba Ruins

This ancient Mayan complex is one of the hidden gems of the Yucatan, and worth learning more about in my separate article here.


a girl stands between rock formations

You'll find a fun day spent here riding a bicycle or tuk tuk through the forest, exploring Mayan ruins, learning about Mayan culture, and enjoying nearby food and craft vendors.


There are many tours that visit this archaeological site, but you can definitely do it on your own. If you are one to package things together though, consider taking a tour like this one that includes a visit to a beach club for lunch. It also includes snorkeling with turtles at Akumal, which is one of my top 4 recommended activities to do off the beaten path in Cancun.






Valladolid Sites


Full of colonial charm, this city offers a different view of life in the Yucatan. While still busy, you will find mostly French tourists here and a notable lack of ostentatious Americans looking to get wasted.


Stroll picturesque Calzada de los Frailes to the Convento de San Bernardino or pop into the many shops along the way.


A local Mayan honey vendor in Valladolid
A local Mayan honey vendor in Valladolid

Stop at local merchants and try the Mayan honey you may have learned about in your visit to the Coba ruins. Or, learn more about the bees on an educational tour to Xkopek, which includes lunch and honey tasting.



If you are on time (they have odd/early hours), visit the Mercado Municipal - next to Cenote Zaci. Here you can have a cold beer at Restaurante Zaci while you watch visitors tiptoe into the cenote's waters below.


Tour lovers can optionally hire a guide for the day to show them around town as well.



Stay at Casa Tia Micha

Casa Tia Micha, around $100 USD a night for a double including a great breakfast. Pay in cash and get a discount.


a woman wearing pink stands in a yellow outdoor corridor

We loved the convenience to the center of town, the comfortable and clean rooms, and the morning surprises at the breakfast table were quite nice.



Dinner at Ix Cat Ik

No visit to Valladolid would be complete with stopping in for dinner at Ix Cat Ik for traditional mayan cuisine featuring the xcatic pepper.


Make a reservation well in advance online and bring cash, as they do not accept cards. Expect an all out feast of new flavors to ignite your senses, and if you're lucky, a tour from the owner to explain all of the Mayan flavors that have gone into the food.


Making tortillas over an open fire at Ix Cat Ik
Making tortillas over an open fire at Ix Cat Ik

Izamal


Day 4 - Ek Balam and Izamal


Stops:


Ek Balam

Similar in size to a day out at Coba, visitors to this region will want to make sure they stop at Ek Balam for its incredible structures.


stone carving of teeth

Carvings, pyramids and more wonders await, making those who go there feel like they've stepped onto a set of Indiana Jones. This is not to be missed! Learn more here.




Explore Izamal


Izamal's welcoming sign in from of the Convento de San Antonio de Padua
Izamal's welcoming sign in from of the Convento de San Antonio de Padua

Coined "The Yellow City", the idyllic backdrop will have photographers marveling at the wash of amarillo all over the buildings in this town. Vibrant and festive, you'll want to come for the photos but stay for the small town feel.


Enjoy some elote (street corn) from a vendor outside the Convento de San Antonio de Padua (worth a walk through and it's free!), or take a horse drawn carriage around the streets. Make time for a leisurely lunch and a stay at a local hacienda, or indulge in a full day tour of the city with private transport and an included horse and carriage ride.


Enjoy a delicious lunch at Kinich Restaurant, specializing in regional and Mayan dishes. Make a reservation online and make a note to try the chorizo appetizer and sopa de limon. If you are a gin fan, try and take home some Katun Gin!




Hacienda Sacnicte, around $112 USD including breakfast.


Shadowy room exterior at Hacienda de Sacnicte
Our room's exterior at Hacienda de Sacnicte

Enjoy the pool and have a meal at the al fresco restaurant. The food at Hacienda Sacnicte is outstanding - be sure to save room for a bottle of wine, raw tuna appetizer and pasta. All absolutely wonderful and one of the best meals of your trip to be sure!



outdoor corridor of a hacienda



Merida


Day 5 - Merida


Stops:


Merida Sites

Colonial and slightly upmarket, Merida may surprise you. I found Merida to be heavily influenced by European architecture, and that the 'main drag' by our hotel was a lively and posh place to be.


a girl walks down a street with vendors

Walk down the Paseo de Montejo and explore the towns' many markets and museums, and make time for lots of cold drink stops - the heat can be dreadful there!


If you ask me, taking a foodie tour of town is the best way to see Merida.


Stay at Rosas & Xocolate

Haciendas are plentiful in this area, but if you like to use points like me, the Marriott branded Rosas & Xocolate cost me only 35,000 points for a one night stay in the heart of town, including breakfast.


a pink building with a pool

Shop and Eat

Stop into the Posheria for a coffee and Pox (posh) drink, a favorite ancient elixir many do not know about. You'll want to take home several bottles.


Pox tasting in Merida at the Posheria
Pox tasting in Merida at the Posheria

Enjoy lunch at El Nuevo Tucho Centro, a family friendly mid range restaurant serving huge meat plates and ice cold beer. Live entertainment and great service make this place a win for ducking away from the Merida heat.


For dinner, we tried the pizza restaurant across from Rosas & Xocolate called Trattoria La Pasta Montejo. With streetside dining we enjoyed people watching and great food.




Playa del Carmen


Day 6 - Playa del Carmen


statue by the sea

A three hour drive from Merida and a one hour drive back to Cancun's airport, Playa del Carmen is a good home base for your final night's stay in the Yucatan. Basically bourbon street, this is going to be the only taste of Cancun that you need to feel like you've properly seen Cancun.


Enjoy strolling the main drag - shopping and eating or drinking is the main event, so pick whatever floats your boat and have fun!


We stayed at The Fives Downtown Hotel & Residences, Curio Collection by Hilton, which included an average to poor breakfast (especially after all the homemade goodies we got elsewhere!) but a great rooftop pool.






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Hi, I'm Maria!

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