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Luxury Mexico: Self-drive Yucatan haciendas and Caribbean coast

11 days from £1765pp

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Luxury Mexico: Self-drive Yucatan haciendas and Caribbean coast:
Trip Dossier

The Yucatán peninsula may at first sight seem to be a low, flat pan of marsh-fringed land covered with low forest and jungle, but it reveals a multi-layered history which you can explore by self-drive car hire while based at luxury countryside retreats and first class beach accommodation. Your car is pre-booked, your luxury accommodation reservations made in advance and maps provided. 

The region was enriched during the Spanish colonial era during a boom in the production of sisal, and vast estates (haciendas) supported grand residences. These fell into disrepair after the boom but have been revived as first class hotel properties retaining the style and character of their origins.  

Based there, you’ll discover vestiges of the once supreme Maya civilisation. Sites replete with temples and pyramids festooned with sacred carvings were, once abandoned, swallowed up by a rapacious jungle but are now gradually being revealed. The best known sites, Chichén Itzá and Uxmal are easily accessible; smaller, less well-known sites are always close to minor roads and with your own car you can explore at will. 

You’ll also visit graceful Spanish colonial towns with their friendly Maya inhabitants. At your beach hotel base on the soft-sand Caribbean coast, the luxury Belmond Maroma resort, there is time to laze on the beach, practice water-sports or visit other sites and villages.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in Cancún. Collect hire car.

Day 2

Drive to Mérida, continue to your countryside hacienda retreat.

Day 3

At leisure in the Mérida area.

Day 4

Drive to colonial Campeche via Puuc Mayan ruins including Uxmal.

Day 5

At leisure to explore the Campeche region.

Day 6

Drive to Mayan Chichén Itzá via colonial Izamal.

Day 7

Drive to the Mayan Riviera. Hand over hire car at first class beach retreat.

Day 8

At leisure on the Caribbean coast’s Mayan Riviera.

Day 9

At leisure on the Mayan Riviera.

Day 10

At leisure on the Mayan Riviera.

Day 11

Transfer to Cancún airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in Cancún. Collect hire car.

On arrival at Cancún airport you will be met by our representative who will escort you to the car hire office, a short walk from the main terminal.  The assistant will wait with you until you have checked the car and documentation.

Underwater sculptures

Day 2

Drive to Mérida, continue to your countryside hacienda retreat.

Set off westwards towards Mérida, capital of the Yucatán Peninsula. You have a choice of routes. The fastest is the dual carriageway toll road (‘cuota’), a dual carriageway along which you’d take 3hrs to drive the 315km.

The alternative, much more interesting in terms of culture and landscape but much slower and therefore longer, is the regional free road (‘libre’). 

This two-laned route passes through small towns and villages where the inhabitants follow a traditional slow-paced Yucatán way of life: animals and people may stray on to the road, there’s always plenty to look at (and out for). If you choose this route you will be rewarded by being able to stop off at the small Spanish colonial city of Valladolid – the libre road runs right through the centre - your first chance to experience authentic Mexico. It’s a pretty place of baroque churches and squat houses and shops brightened with pastel coloured façades.

Don’t miss the opportunity to head north from Valladolid to visit the partially restored Mayan archaeological site  Ek Balam, with its ziggurat-style structure, majestic arch and ball court.

The modern history of the Yucatán region was shaped by the henequén (sisal) boom in the 1800s. You have two nights based outside Mérida at a restored sisal hacienda the former opulence of which has been recreated in luxury accommodation.


Day 3

At leisure in the Mérida area.
Mérida was founded by the Mayan Indians but in 1542 it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores and became immensely wealthy, described as ‘the Paris of the New World’.
Its income came from the production of sisal, cactus fibres that are used to make rope, and it 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 Mayans 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.

You have a day at leisure to wander around the sunny streets, shop for local lace or one of the region’s famous hammocks; if you wish to venture further there is a plethora of small Mayan sites in the vicinity, a sisal hacienda which has been turned into a 17th century museum (Yaxcopoil) and Celestún, a pleasant little fishing and local beach resort situated in a wildlife sanctuary which shelters a plethora of waterfowl along with pink flamingos. 

Mestizo dancers in Merida.

Day 4

Drive to colonial Campeche via Puuc Mayan ruins including Uxmal.

Drive to Campeche (2hrs if driven direct along route 18) via the Mayan ‘Puuc Route’ fringed with dry scrub embracing four Mayan sites in a hilly region south of Mérida and the region's most captivating centre, Uxmal.  

A 90min drive south of Merida, the Puuc Valley is a fertile territory where you can visit Loltun (Stone Flower) caves with magnificent galleries featuring stalagmites and stalactites. or Labna with its beautiful arch and Sayil, dominated by a three-storey great palace. 

The ruined ceremonial temples of Uxmal constitute what is for many the most dramatic forest-clad Mayan site. It’s just over an hour’s drive 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. This is the site with the most mystical ambience.

You might also visit the site Kabah, where Chac also features in mosaic stone, with 250 masks on the Palace of Masks. 

Campeche is a Spanish colonial walled city listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site – you’ll find pastel-painted mansions built by aristocratic Spanish families, pristine white churches and the shady zócalo (main square); all of which combine to evoke the city's former era of glory. There's a lovely seaside promenade, perfect for a stroll at sunset.

 You'll be staying at another luxury hacienda in the countryside, about 30mins' drive from Campeche.

Xcalap Puuc

Day 5

At leisure to explore the Campeche region.

At leisure to explore the region. Once little visited it the state of Campeche has been growing in importance for visitors as many Mayan archaeological sites are excavated.

You can visit Edzná, Calakmul and Chicanna, for example, each with its own intriguing characteristics. 

Unlike the other Yucatán states which are mantled with light forest and brush, 30% of Campeche supports jungle and swamp, with flamingo-dotted marshlands and shady inlets along the Gulf coast: very different from the Caribbean beaches.

You may also take a refreshing swim in a ‘cenote’ (a natural limestone sinkhole typical of the Yucatán peninsula). 


Day 6

Drive to Mayan Chichén Itzá via colonial Izamal.

Return to Mérida and travel east to the lovely colonial town Izamal, nick-named the ‘yellow city’ after the golden colour in which the majority of the colonial buildings in the centre are painted. The town is dominated by a huge Franciscan monastery.

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

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.

Your accommodation is a short walk from the site and in the evening there may be the option to return for a Sound and Light Show.


Day 7

Drive to the Mayan Riviera. Hand over hire car at first class beach retreat.

Drive back down the toll or free road to the Mayan Riviera (4hrs). As its name suggests, this stretch of white-sand coastline has been comprehensively developed for tourism, with varying degrees of success from an aesthetic point of view.

As you head south the built up area thins out and there are some lovely exclusive hotel properties. You’ll be staying at one of these, on a beautiful crescent of pearl white beach. Here you will be met by our representative and hand back your car.

Belmond Maroma Resort

Day 8

At leisure on the Caribbean coast’s Mayan Riviera.

At leisure. Excursions can be booked from the hotel. You might visit Playa del Carmen  a pleasant family resort a little further down the coast with a lively pedestrianised centre overflowing with restaurants and bars.

Beach in Cancun Mexico

Day 9

At leisure on the Mayan Riviera.

You might consider a visit to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a natural protected area 2hrs south of Playa del Carmen. It is a small ecotourism and education centre, an example of sustainable development in sensitive tropical ecosystems.

The reserve embraces tropical forest, mangrove and savannah and a coast and offshore marine reserve. The area is abundant with wildlife particularly aquatic birds. Other inhabitants include monkeys, tapirs, turtles, ocelots and jaguars. Take a guided boat trip through the wetlands or hike through the jungle and discover the historical site of Muyil, an impressive Mayan temple.  You even have the opportunity to swim and float on the freshwater stream through the channels.

Floating through Sian Ka'an biosphere.

Day 10

At leisure on the Mayan Riviera.

You might opt for a day trip to Tulum further south on the Caribbean coast. The small town of Tulúm has small thatched palapa-style bars, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses flanking the main road which cuts through town and continues along the peninsula as far as Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

The nearby beaches are simply superb with sugary white sand and enticing turquoise waters. To cap it all, the white Mayan ruins of Tulúm are spectacularly perched on a cliff behind the main beach.

Tulum Mexico

Day 11

Transfer to Cancún airport for international flight home.

Essential information

Insurance and documents

Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. Additional Liability and Loss Damage Waiver (CDW without excess and inclusion of theft protection) is included as well as Personal Accident and Third Party insurance


Self-drive car, Chevrolet Aveo or similar with air-conditioning. Drivers must be at least 21 years old. drivers aged 21-15 must pay a small supplement locally (around £8 per day). 


Luxury restored countryside haciendas outside the cities of Mérida and Campeche. Resort hotel in Cancún for arrival night.  Exclusive, first class beach resort on the Mayan Riviera.


Breakfast daily.


We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Summary of nights

11 days, 10 nights: Cancún 1;; Mérida 2;  Campeche 2; Chichén Itzá 1, Riviera Maya  4.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• Car hire with assistance in Cancún.
• Road map of the area.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• Entrance fees to archaeological sites.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.


The unit of currency in Mexico is the Mexican peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$45 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more. US$200 is an approximate fuel allowance for this trip.    

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, such as Cancún and Mérida. Taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in many shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. Not all petrol stations accept cards.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.


Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are no really long days of travel on the suggested routes of this trip. The routes from A to B take about 3hrs (max) but you may well want to make a detour or stop off for a while. Roads are generally in good condition but less used routes may have potholes. Signage on major roads is good, especially on toll roads, less so on minor roads. Many people speak a little English but a smattering of Spanish will stand you in good stead.

If you have a disability that we need to be aware of, please contact us. 

In the months of June to August the weather is extremely hot and humid, you might want bear this in mind. July to November there are chances of tropical storms or hurricanes hitting the region.


The Yucatán peninsula is hot (around 30°C) and humid all year round. October - April is the driest and sunniest period. The hurricane season runs from July to November.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should take loose-fitting, breathable clothes. Comfortable shoes are important and sports sandals are useful. A sun hat, sun block and sunglasses are necessary, and you should take a light fleece for cool nights and a breathable/waterproof outer layer and/or umbrella, as well as swimwear, a towel, insect repellent and a torch. If you plan to go to good restaurants or out for evening entertainment, you might bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required).

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. 


Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following:  tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 


Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online

This costs $14 per person, and must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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