Head towards Mexico’s Caribbean coast and you will find yourself in the Riviera Maya. Known for its fine soft white sands, Mayan ruins, and crystal clear waters stretching to the horizon, it is one of the most visited destinations in the Caribbean and a great destination for beach, yoga, and ocean solos. Having visited this region solo, I definitely recommend Cancun, Playa de Carmen and Tulum for solo female travel.
If you visit during mid May to September, you’ll also have the added bonus of snorkelling with whale sharks which migrate here each year. From swimming in sink holes to exploring ruins, here are my favourite things to do in Yucatan (just don’t forget to allow for some beach time too).
1. Visit Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres simply has to be visited. It is only 15 minutes away from Cancun by ferry and costs $8 each way. You can either go for a whole or half day depending on how much time you have. If you don’t fancy sunbathing you can rent a bike or golf cart, and spend some time visiting the Turtle Farm. This island is perfect for seafood so don’t forget to enjoy a ceviche or two. Take the ferry from Gran Puerto Cancun. Express boats leave every 30 minutes from 5am – 9pm.
2. Swim in a Cenote
Cenotes are so unique to Mexico and should be included with your favourite things to do in Cancun. Cenotes are sinkholes in the ground which create beautiful bedrock pools to swim and snorkel in. Zip lining and snorkelling through the caves is such an epic experience.
The more popular ones tend to be very busy and tours tend to be crowded. Two of the most popular ones are Cenote Ik Kil near Chichen Itza, and Cenote Dos Ojos near Tulum, a cave system with several sinkholes that have even starred in documentaries and movies.
Every year new sinkholes are discovered and there are approximately 6,000 cenotes across the region. You can choose tours which pick you up from your hotel and take you to different cenotes so you get a chance to experience these natural wonders in the Riviera Maya. Some tours also combine the cenotes with a visit to Chichen Itza on the same day.
3. Visit a Museum
With Mexico being the home of tequila, the Hacienda Tequila Museum located on the second floor of Kukulcán Plaza is a must see. It won’t take long either as it’s a short tequila tour with a small museum which shows the making of tequila. If you prefer to learn more about the ancient Mayan civilisation, head to Museo Maya de Cancun in the heart of Cancun to find out more. You can also visit San Miguelito, a small archaeological site at the same spot thought to be inhabited by the Maya over 800 years ago.
4. Go ATVing
If you love adventure, taking an ATV tour is one of the things to do on the Yucatan peninsula. These tours can be combined with zip lining for a day’s eco adventure, or just swimming in a cenote if you are short on time. Some trips also include a visit to a Maya Community and pick you up from your hotel.
5. Visit a Mayan Ruin
No visit to the Rivieria Maya is complete without at least one visit to a Mayan Ruin. They are scattered all over the region and are archaeological wonders giving glimpses into how people lived thousands of years ago.
The most popular Mayan site has to be Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, displaying the Maya astronomy, with temples and pyramids within its ancient complex. Seeing the iconic pyramid structure of El Castillo with its 365 steps (one step for every day of the year) is definitely one of those bucket list moments.
You don't have to go far to see the Tulum ruins as they are the only ones that have been built near the sea. The castle here (El Castillo), is one of the most impressive structures and the tallest one too. See the Temple of the Frescoes, used to track the sun's movements, before taking a dip in the stunning ocean below. They are the only Mayan ruins so close to a picture-perfect beach. Other Mayan ruins are Coba, which is a 30 minute ride from Tulum, and Ek Balam, near Chichen Itza.
6. Swim with Whale Sharks
If you plan to stay from May to September then swimming with whale sharks is one of those experiences that you just don't want to miss. Don't let the size put you off either as whale shark's teeth are really tiny and they are so placid that you can just swim around them.
Being in the same water and experiencing these giant whales up close is such an amazing experience but make sure you take an underwater camera with you to capture any shots. You have to take a tour to do this but the tours limit the numbers to avoid the sharks becoming disorientated. You can read my experience of swimming with whale sharks here.
7. Experience the Nightlife
If you love to party then you'll love the Yucatan peninsula. The most famous place in Cancun for nightlife has to be Coco Bongo. It is a show and nightclub with performance artists as well as a disco and is so much fun. There is the option with a Mexican dinner too so that you can meet others.
If you want to experience the nightlife in Cancun take a VIP Nightclub tour, a great way to go clubbing and see three of the best clubs in Cancun. To go to a club here you usually pay an entry fee for unlimited drinks so going with a tour is not only a great way to meet others but you’ll also have a reserved table instead of having to stand. Or spend the evening at Señor Frogs with a good social vibe, although a bit commercialised.
The Taco Tour meets in downtown Cancun at 1900 and is 2.5 hours long. It’s a good way to meet others and try the Mexican food and is pretty cheap.
8. Beach, Kite Surf or Yoga
If you start your trip in Cancun it's easy to travel to Playa del Carmen and Tulum, as they are only a short bus journey away (up to 1 hour 15 minutes). Most of the Riviera Maya towns are vibrant and touristy but that makes them great destinations for solos not wanting to spend all their time alone.
From Cancun it is only a short bus ride to Playa del Carmen which although is also touristy, has lots of restaurants and bars to choose from. From here you can visit Tulum and spend time on the stunning beach.
Since I have visited Tulum, 8 years ago, I have read that this beach town has become a bit pretentious with a hedonistic vibe. But aside from the partying it also has a bohemian vibe where you can kite surf and lose yourself in various yoga asanas. There is so much more to the Yucatan peninsula than just laying on the beach.
Have you been to the Yucatan Peninsula? I'd love to hear your comments below.
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