5 Mistakes to Avoid: Seeing Mayan Ruins

  1. I should have done my research ahead of time to know that we didn’t need extra car insurance or a BMW which would attract police attention, and to keep all the paperwork with us in the vehicle. Even after all that trouble, I would still rent a car rather than rely on taxis and tour buses to get around. Everyone has their own travel preferences, but one thing the husband and I agree on is we hate group tours. We would almost always prefer to explore something at our own pace and not be shuttled around like sheep surrounded by a million other tourists. Yes, it’s a bit scary to drive around in a foreign country, but it was worth it for us to have the freedom to come and go when we pleased.
  2. I should have exchanged money before we left so we had a solid supply of Pesos for our trip. This was the only trip we’d ever taken where I hadn’t brought local currency with us from home. I always make the jaunt down to the bank tower downtown to exchange money before we go, but for some reason I just didn’t really prepare for this trip like I usually do. I think it was because I’ve been to Mexico a few times before and felt really comfortable travelling there. I figured we’d just grab cash at the airport or an ATM, but luck was not on our side on this trip.
  3. When I planned out our route from Playa to Chichen Itza, Valladolid, Coba, and Tulum, I should have made sure I knew were gas stations were along the route. We had a full tank when we left Playa, but the gas tank in the BMW was rather depleted after three hours on the road.
  4. We should have left earlier in the day to make sure we had enough time to see the ruins at Coba before they closed. Tulum is a quick jaunt from Playa, but Coba is about an hour and forty minutes away, so it wasn’t easy for us to take up another day on our trip to drive all the way back there to see the ruins. It’s totally feasible to see Chichen Itza and Coba all in one day, as long as you leave early enough!
  5. I shouldn’t have tried to see all three major sites all in one day. That was just plain stupid. If I had known that Coba and Tulum close at 5:00pm, I never would have tried to do it all in one day. Again, a perfect example of how I didn’t really take this trip seriously. I should have done my research!

Bonus Itinerary!

I’ve split the adventure into two days. The first day you’ll see Chichen Itza, have lunch in the historical town of Vallalodid, and explore the ruins at Coba. The second day you’ll see Tulum and stop at a Cenote on your way home.

I have also included links for Google Maps so you can check out the routes I’ve laid out below!

Just make sure to leave very early in the morning, wear comfortable shoes, and don’t pass up any gas stations along the way!

Day 1:

Seeing Mayan Ruins: Chichen Itza, Riveria Maya, Mexico
Seeing Mayan Ruins: Chichen Itza, Riveria Maya, Mexico

Leave Playa del Carmen at 7:00am.

Drive towards Chichen Itza, stopping in Cancun to refill your gas tank.

Arrive at Chichen Itza at about 10:00am. Spend two hours exploring the ruins and admiring some of the folk art sold along the pathways between sites.

Leave at about noon to drive to Vallalodid.

Have lunch in Vallalodid when you arrive about 12:45pm. There are a few little restaurants right near the square in the center of town. After lunch, take some time to explore the town and see the beautiful San Servacio Cathedral.

Depart Vallalodid by 2:15pm, and drive on toward Coba. You’ll arrive at about 3:30pm.

Spend about 90 minutes exploring the site, then depart at 5:00pm.

You’ll arrive back in Playa del Carmen about 6:45pm. Grab some dinner at Ay Chebala in the heart of town. Seventy-five pesos will buy you three tacos and a beer. Try the octopus (pulpo) tacos if you’re feeling adventurous. Pick up a six pack of Pacifico to take back to your hotel. Rest your tired feet and get ready for day two.

Here’s the route!


Day 2:

Seeing Mayan Ruins: Tulum, Rivieria Maya, Mexico
Seeing Mayan Ruins: Tulum, Rivieria Maya, Mexico

Leave Playa at 9:00am.

Drive towards Tulum, arriving by 10:00am. Explore the ruins early in the day before it gets too hot. You’ll need a little over an hour to see everything.

After you see the ruins, spend and hour looking through the shops near the site. Grab a fresh young coconut from a street vendor to rehydrate yourself; the vendor will lop off the top with a knife and hand you a straw to drink up the refreshing coconut water inside. Have a quick lunch of tacos al pastor, then try to find where you parked the car in the gigantic parking lot.

Depart Tulum about 1:00pm, when the heat of the day starts to get overwhelming. Get back on the highway towards Playa, and watch for the signs for “Indiana Joe’s” adventure park (you can’t miss them, they’re huge!). Pull off the highway at the adventure park and drive through the jungle to get back to the Atkun Chen Cenote.

Cenote (Underground Cavern), Riviera Maya, Mexico
Cenote (Underground Cavern), Riviera Maya, Mexico

Pay the extra few pesos to have the guide show you some of the strange and exotic animals they have on site before you go down into the Cenote. The guides speak excellent English and are happy to answer questions. Descend into the Cenote and soak up the natural beauty and ancient stories told by your guide. You may get a little chilly, but it feels amazing compared to the blazing afternoon heat above ground.

After your tour, drive back through the jungle to the highway and follow the signs for Playa. Head over to Aldea Corazon for a top-notch dinner in a beautiful setting.


Here’s the route!


If you’re interested in learning more about traveling in Riviera Maya, check out this guide book. Got questions? Leave them as a comment!

About the Author


Hi, I'm Anetta! Welcome to The Wanderlust Kitchen, where I share recipes and travel stories from all around the world. Here you'll find a world of recipes you can have confidence in. These recipes celebrate authentic food heritage as well as modern techniques and ingredients. I believe that food brings us together as much as it sets us apart. Be brave, try something new!

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  1. If you really want the best experience seeing Tulum, go before sunrise! it costs a bit more, but the sunrise from Tulum is breathtaking…. also, it gives you more time to explore the site before the tourist busses arrive… Also, in addition to Coba and Chichen Itza, they and carve out a chunk of a day to visit Muyil, just a few miles south of Tulum City… It’s a small pyramid temple but quite impressive…. then hike down to the beach through the jungle…. it’s swamp basically, with boardwalks…. there’s Mayans you’ll run into along the way charging admission, but do it and hire a boat to take you on the canals that cut through the marshes to the ocean… They take you to an old Mayan trade outpost, where you jump in and float down these canals for about a mile…. amazing!.

  2. We had a similar interaction with police when doing a very similar day trip. The only difference was the police officer suggested that we were travelling faster than the speed limit…in a wee rented Hyundai Atos that couldn’t even get to speed limit!

    Fast forward a couple of years and when we were in Cuba (Canadians – so no laws broken) we hired a driver for the day and a fellow from our resort acted as our interpreter. Including generous tips, the price was less than a car rental for the 24-day.

    We fed two families that day, visited places not as often gotten to by tourists, and whizzed by police check-points because our driver had paid the tolls, fines, lunch fees , or whatever you want to call them. Especially in emerging nations, this will be the way I get away from the tourist track. Oh, and a fellow traveler who rented a car to drive into Havana — he got stopped by police for a ticket that approached the price of our entire day… so much further behind than us.

    Just an alternate point of view on the whole rental car vs. taxi driver for the day scenarios.

    Happy trails!

    1. What a great piece of advice, Keith! I likely won’t be renting cars while traveling in the near future. Even in places where it’s safe, it’s still so expensive!

  3. I’ve also been to the Mayan ruins but I took a bus tour planned by a Canadian travel company. I enjoyed it hugely. For some reason or other, the Mayans really caught my attention and that’s why I went. In a foreign country I’d definitely recommend a tour like this.

  4. Try to come to my country Honduras and visit the MayanRuins in Copan they are spectacular, if you are I’d because they say that is not safe, it’s not true, or if you like the beach , you can take a cruise to the Bay Islands, there are three islands, Roatan, Utila and Guanaja, Roatan has beautiful hotels and the best coral reef.

    1. Sounds amazing, Patty! We’ve been thinking about doing a two-week trip to Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Roatan looks so beautiful!

  5. I’m am new to your blog, this is the first email I have received. Perfect timing, we are going to Playa Del Carmen in June. Great advice, and great photos. Looking forward to seeing all the sights in person!

  6. I visted the ruins back when disposible cameras were ever so popular, therefore I don’ t have any awesome pictures. Perhaps I will return again for super photos… oh and good food.

    1. That’s how my first trip to Europe was – the pictures are TERRIBLE. Plus, I had no idea how to take pictures, ha! I only took my iPhone with me to see the ruins, so my pictures are less than stellar. I’m really excited to sort through my Greece photos!