Private Journeys

Family Mexico: A self-drive adventure

11 days from £2,035pp



map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún. Collect hire car and drive to your hotel not far from the centre of town.

On arrival at Cancún airport you will be met by a representative who will escort you to the car hire office, a short walk from the Terminal 2 or short escorted drive from Terminal 3 with assistant. The assistant will wait with you until you have checked the car and documentation. Your car will be a mid-sized Chevrolet Aveo (or similar) which will be your companion for 11 days. Other sizes of car are available but terms and conditions are subject to change.

The adventure begins! Pile your family into the car and drive off to your hotel close to the town centre.  Cancún straddles a lagoon on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatán peninsula. It's a purpose-built resort. Beautiful beaches, good diving and water sports are the main attractions. If you have a bit more time you might linger on for a day or two (speak to us about lengthening your stay) and consider visiting the underwater sculpture park - children and adults alike will be amazed...

ShutterStock ©

Day 2

Drive to Chichén Itzá, Mayan archaeological site.

Drive inland to Chichén Itzá, the grandest and most well organised of all the Mayan sites, dominated by the huge, symmetrical, stepped El Castillo pyramid.

The drive from Cancún to Chichén Itzá is around 200km and will never take less than 2hrs even if travelling directly on the toll (or cuota) road. But we recommend that you take the free road (libre). You’ll encounter more speed bumps but you will pass through small villages at a slower pace and get a better feel for Mexican life in the Yucatán.

En route you might want to visit the laid-back colonial town of Valladolid with its grand church and peaceful plaza. It's also a good spot from which to visit one of the cenotes which pit the peninsula. Cenotes are steep-sided freshwater sinkholes fed by underground rivers, deep enough for you to take a dip into their sparkling clear turquoise and emerald waters.

When you arrive at your accommodation you can enjoy the lovely gardens and the pool.. It's just a short walk from the site, which you will explore tomorrow.

ShutterStock ©

Day 3

Explore Chichén Itzá.

Locally you can avail yourself of a local guide to explore the ruins if you wish, which we recommend as it will bring the history alive. But after that children may enjoy being able to discover its pyramids, macabre sculpture and temples, on their own; it's safe and well laid out.

The origins of the site are mysterious. It has the largest and best-preserved ball court in the Americas: the venue for an ancient ritual game that was played throughout the continent, but which is still not fully understood. Archaeologists have not been able to determine whether the losers or winners were decapitated, but judging from the gory carvings along the base of the court’s walls, someone certainly came to an unpleasant end.

Tom Parrott ©

Day 4

Drive to Mérida, lively colonial and Mayan city..

Continuing on the toll road the journey would take approximately  two hours direct but if you choose to stop en route we recommend Izamal ( 64km east of Merida) known as the yellow city as all its major buildings including an impressive Franciscan monastery are painted a deep mustard. The local food market is known for its venison tacos. 

Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatán. The city was founded by the Maya but in 1542 it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores and became immensely wealthy, described as the ‘Paris of the New World’. The city was culturally and geographically isolated from the rest of the country until transport infrastructure reached it in the 1950s.

Today, Mérida retains a lovely colonial centre, with a mix of opulent and crumbly buildings but it is a modern, bustling, thriving city, with lots of local character, some excellent places to eat and good shops and markets. The inhabitants, descendants of the Maya and the colonists, love a good fiesta, and you may well find one going on, with live music and street stalls, while you are there. Stroll around the sunny streets, shop for local lace or one of the region’s famous hammocks.

ShutterStock ©

Day 5

Guided tour to sisal hacienda Sotuta de Peón.

Today you can leave your car behind: - you have a guided excursion delving into the history of the Yucatán region and how it was shaped by the henequén (sisal) boom in the 1800s. The trip begins with a drive to a working henequén hacienda, Sotuta de Peón, 35km south of Mérida. The experience transports you back to the colonial era, as you witness the entire henequén production process - from plant to fibre, from fibre to finished product - all using century-old machinery. Ride out to the farming fields on an authentic wooden cart pulled by mules, with the option of a refreshing swim in a nearby cenote. 

Lina Fuller ©

Day 6

Guided explorations of Mayan site Uxmal.

Today you have another break from driving. You'll be collected and driven on a group tour to the ruined ceremonial temples of Uxmal, for many the most dramatic forest-clad Mayan site. It’s just over an hour from Mérida, but you enter a different world. The site is dominated by the majestic Pyramid of the Magician, inhabited by birds and bats, alongside which is an elegant ‘nunnery’ quadrangle with Puuc-style complex stonework pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. The rain god Chac is represented by grotesque stone masks - kids will love him!

In the early evening, go to a local restaurant for dinner, returning to the ruins at 8pm for an atmospheric Light and Sound show The performance is held in Spanish but English-speaking visitors receive a translation. Afterwards, return to Merida. 

MEX_Uxmal_iStock_643838822 copy

Day 7

Drive to Chiquila and Holbox island.

It's back in the car today to drive north to the coast at Holbox. Isla Holbox is separated from the Mexican mainland on the tip of the Yucatán peninsula by a shallow blue lagoon which attracts migrating flamingos. With virtually no vehicles permitted on the island, the streets in the lazy village are made of sand, and you get around in golf buggies. There’s a virtually uninterrupted stretch of powder white beach on which to sunbathe, but there is scope for other activities: 

You leave your car at a secure parking area (pay locally) at Chiquila, the ferry port on the mainland side, and then take a 15 minute ferry ride to the island. Golf carts are available there to carry you to your hotel for a few dollars.

There are several options you could take to get to Chiquila.  You may be able to do the journey in a little under three hours if using the main roads primarily. Alternatively you could take the bumpier highway 176 from Merida heading east towards the Tizimin junction at which point you can visit the spectacular ruins at Ek Balam or head to the coast to see flocks of flamingos at Rio Lagartos. If taking this route check the last ferry to Holbox and make sure you don’t miss it!

Tom Parrott ©

Day 8

Relax on Holbox island; optional swimming with whale sharks.

In season, May-Sept, the migratory path of whale sharks brings them close to the tropical waters of Holbox and Contoy islands, - this is one of a handful of places in the world they visit and where you can view them.

If you are there at this time .you can take an exciting optional adventure swimming with whale sharks. None of the family will forget the experience of snorkelling with the largest fish on the planet - whale sharks grow up to 15m in length and might appear daunting, but they are very docile creatures, eating only plankton. From the end of May to mid-September, them. The place where you depart on your search for these beasts is just 10 minutes from the hotel area of Holbox. Transfers from the hotel to the dock and back are included. as is a picnic lunch, soft drinks, snorkelling gear and life jacket. Guides are trained and experienced. During your trip, priority will be given to swimming alongside the whale sharks as long as possible.

ShutterStock ©

Day 9

Day at leisure on Holbox.

There's lots to do on Holbox island, You can kayak through the mangroves; visit the flamingo-dotted Passion island; or hire bikes and ride to the ecological reserve at Yum Balam where the beach is strewn with driftwood and iguanas cling to the trees.


Mary Anne Nelson ©

Day 10

More time on the beach on Holbox.

Explore the island in a golf cart, take advantage of the water sports the hotel has to offer, or just relax on the property's sun-loungers, by the pool or on the beach. The sunsets here are some of the most colourful in the world.

Tom Parrott ©

Day 11

Drive to Cancún airport for international flight home.

You will probably want to take the most direct route to get back to drop your car off in Cancún with plenty of time, so allow at least 3 hours to take the (regular) ferry, collect your car from Chiquila and head south via Kantunilkin to the toll road back to Cancún airport.  

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

View Extraordinary Inspiration

Real Latin America Experts

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Ben Line
    Ben Line - Travel Consultant

    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Consultant

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Consultant

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.

Meet the team