We have spent a month in Mexico. The plan was to explore the South of the country, from Cancún to Mexico City. We discovered many places, we found plenty of hidden gems and we also realised some mistakes in our plans. Based on our experience, here you can find the perfect round trip itinerary around Mexico.
Tulum – 2 nights
Tulum can be a nice spot for resort and all-inclusive lovers. Nevertheless, it can be skipped in the bucket list of a perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. It might be disappointing though for backpackers and regular travellers who love freedom. Check here the disadvantages of Riviera Maya compared with some other beach regions in Mexico.
It can be a good beach destination, skipping the sargassum season, if you like to stick around your resort. It has many nice bars on the beach and quite professional services.If you are a restless person, there is not much to do there besides the Mayan ruins. The archaeological settlement is not bad for a visit, but it is less interesting than many other ones in Mexico.
Valladolid – 1 night
Valladolid is an innocent town. This is the entrance gate to Yucatán from Quintana Roo State and it is a good looking and welcoming town. Much less visited than Mérida, it is a perfect town to catch the vibe of Yucatán before arriving at the most touristy spots.
You can start the visit at the main square of the city: Pza. Francisco Cartón Rosado. There you will find the Church of San Servacio, the most popular icon of the town. Quite near you shouldn’t miss La Calzada de los Frailes, a beautiful colourful promenade with plenty of cool bars and restaurants. Following the promenade, you will arrive to San Bernardino de Siena Convent. Our advice is to stick around for dinner and don’t miss the daily evening mapping to learn a bit of the town’s history.
Moreover, Valladolid has plenty of things to visit nearby you cannot miss on your perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. We strongly recommend you to get to Chichen Itza from Valladolid and to choose any of its cenotes to cool down swimming after a culturally interesting morning.
Mérida – 1 night
The capital of Yucatán State is one of the most developed cities in Mexico. You might swear that is not true when you are in the outskirts but when you reach the center your opinion will change. This is an archetypical colonial city. It is colourful, with a nice combination of beautiful short houses and many huge ancient buildings and churches.
In Merida, the avenues are straith and well-organized. You can find nice cafès and restaurants with terraces. The vibe can be very European, especially in Paseo de Montejo. The city is full of Museums, parks and squares where you can spend a great time on your perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. You can pay special attention to Catedral de San Ildefonso and Palacio del Gobierno. And please, don’t skip to eat a classic marquesita.
Tlacotalpan – 1 night
The dreamy colonial town. Colourful houses, nice wide cobblestone streets and perfect squares with old Spanish style churches around. Walking a bit, wandering around, you will find a river where to choose your favorite restaurant with views. The gastronomy is excellent, you can find all the Mexican classics and products from the river and the nearby lagoons.
It is a bit tiring to arrive wherever you come from because in Veracruz State the road conditions can be very challenging. You can check here more about driving in Mexico. But when you arrive and relax a bit you will understand that it was worth it to come. The vibe is nice and the atmosphere friendly and safe. This is the perfect place in Mexico to end up the day drinking a Paloma on a terrace under the moonlight.
Ciudad del Carmen – 2 nights
Simply you cannot miss Ciudad del Carmen on your perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. Not because of the town’s beauty but to visit the coast nearby. Isla del Carmen, the island where Ciudad del Carmen is located, is especially beautiful.
Ciudad del Carmen has a nice centre and an outstanding beach which is almost empty most of the days in perfect beach weather. Nevertheless, if you would like to take a bath completely alone on a never ending lonely beach, just drive some kilometers from Ciudad del Carmen following the coast. Get ready for unique romantic moments.
Orizaba – 1 night
The perfect stopover from Veracruz to Ciudad de Mexico. We have never heard before about Orizaba and it was not planned to be on our perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. We just arrived there since it was in the Pueblos Magicos list of Mexico. And we didn’t regret our decision.
It seems to be a popular destination for weekends and a touristy spot in Veracruz State. It has a cable car, some nice hotels, restaurants and a charmy local vibe. We enjoyed strolling around, staying at the public parks and tasting the super cheap street food. If you want to skip the cable car just choose one of the hotels with a rooftop terrace.
Ciudad de Mexico – 2 nights
This is one of the most chaotic and huge cities of the world. It is quite obvious to say that Mexico City is a must-do on any perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico.
The distances are definitely challenging so just plan ahead what you want to do. Mexico City has many cultural activities, touristy spots and places you shouldn’t miss. Check here our bucket list for Mexico City. It is a good idea to save some days to visit the capital of Mexico and consider the option of renting a bike or a scooter to move around.
Puebla – 1 night
A delight. Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza is beautiful, but clean and organized as well. The center is big but welcoming besides the traffic that is still allowed where it shouldn’t be. There are many churches around and the footprint of the colonial past is very present on the huge amount of ancient buildings you can see.
Our recommendation for you is just walking around slowly. Check here our guide of Puebla, Admire every corner and any narrow passage you find. To sit down for a drink or meal, choose rather Zócalo or get to Sapos Alley and look for any place where you can drink a traditional cantarito. Watch out, it is too good!
Oaxaca de Juárez – 2 nights
The capital of the State of Oaxaca is a surprising city. More you stay, more you like it. It is not friendly nor organized. It is full of street sellers and terrible traffic. We could check personally that some of its cops are corrupt and they try to get your money. Anyhow, we can say it is beautiful and unique.
This is a indigenous capital and that is very present in daily life. You can see the diversity on the street and the flags and the banners and graffiti of some almost lost and forgotten fights. They have a nice gastronomy and their pride for mezcal you shouldn’t miss. Follow the colourful streets till Santo Domingo de Guzman Church. Don’t forget to get into the temple, that is the most impressive church in the entire Mexico.
Mazunte – 1 night
The town of Mazunte is a little beach town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast and is actually one of the country’s Pueblo Mágicos (Magical Towns). It’s got a welcoming vibe and you quickly come to understand that it’s the kind of town where people prefer the hippy lifestyle. Actually, and honestly, it felt like a fake hippy paradise, from where all real hippies already left a long time ago.
Mazunte is a very touristy spot, popular among U.S. youngs, and quite overpriced thanks to that. But nevertheless, the Pacific Ocean and its beach is incredibly beautiful, but luckily it is accessible from many other towns and villages too. Don’t miss Puerto Angel, which is same beautiful but much more authentic than Mazunte. Check here more destinations of Oaxaca State on our full review.
Salina Cruz – 1 night
Maybe the best is just simply avoid it. We chose the place because its convinient location. It was a mistake. There is not much to do there. In its favour we can say that we had the chance to understand how to fight against a pandemic. Yes, in the name of Covid-19, they introduced a law “Ley Seca – Dry Law” which forbids to sell alcohol in all stores & bars and the restaurants. Everybody knows now, thanks to the major of Salina Cruz, that muslim countries are Covid-19 free.
Bars and restaurants could sell food only for take away so we ended up in our room for dinner, We decided soon that we would leave as fast as possible the next moring. Fortunately, Salina Cruz is only a funny excepcion in such an amazing country.
Tonalá – 1 night
This is a calm town that seems to have grown out of the business opportunities of its surroundings. If you arrive here it won’t be to visit Tonalá actually. It will be to visit the natural lagoon and the nearby amazing beaches. In between La Joya Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean, there exists a rich strip of land with ranchos, local houses and amazing beaches with restaurants to enjoy the local specialities.
We recommend going from Tonalá to Puerto Arista or Playa del Sol, which is a bit more local and less touristy, and even keep going until Boca del Cielo. Boca del Cielo is beautiful but you may need to take a boat to reach the beach and the restaurants. You must pay for the parking and probably for the boat, depending on the deal with the restaurant you want to stay at. If you prefer freedom and easy-going spots, Puerto arista or Playa del Sol are better options for you.
Sant Cristobal de las Casas – 2 nights
I am sorry to say that San Cristóbal was disappointing for me. I expected an indigenous capital, and maybe it is, but you feel this etnic vibe better in Oaxaca de Juárez than in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Instead of authenticity you will catch up with a crowd of tourists that was even very present during the pandemic time.
Even though, San Cristóbal is beautiful, picturesque and interesting. You will find whatever you need as a tourist and you can have a really nice time. San Cristóbal is the perfect base to explore this part of Chiapas State so don’t miss Chamula and Zinacantán!
Villahermosa – 1 night
The capital of the State of Tabasco is a very average city. We ended up there because we pretended to go to Palenque but a funny riot blocked the road in Ocosingo so we needed to change our route and drive 10 hours more than expected.
The small center is not bad in Villahermosa, with a nice central square called Plaza de Armas, a couple of narrow beautiful streets, a beautiful historic building (Casa de los azulejos) and a viewing point on the river. Our advice is that you can use Villahermosa as a stopover, but you can skip staying longer than a night.
Palenque – 1 night
Palenque is a stunning archaeological site and a must on any perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. The town close to the Pre-Hispanic spot is made. partially because of it. Close to the settlement you can easily find restaurants and resorts where to relax after the visit.
This is a very popular spot for local tourists so be patient since you can catch up with some tricks to get an extra of your money. There are people trying to sell even information or offering themselves to keep your car safe.
San Francisco de Campeche – 1 night
We have never heard about San Francisco de Campeche. A group of rancheros said to us that was nice but didn’t expect something extraordinary. We were wrong. It is indeed extraordinary. San Francisco de Campeche is beautiful, clean a delight for a stroll.
The city has a beautiful center with plenty of colourful streets and many colonial buildings, churches and nice squares. The best is to stroll around and choose a favorite terrace on the street to have a drink and enjoy the local cuisine. You won’t regret it!
Celestún – 1 night
Celestún is local vibe on the beach! I wouldn’t say that Celestún has the most beautiful beaches or this is a must on your perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. But Celstún is charmy and very for local tourists so the food and the services are thought to please the proper Mexicans.
If you are looking for authenticity in a touristy place this is your chance of finding some. The prices are reasonable and to have a drink at sunset on the beach is priceless. In addition, if you are interested in nature you will find offers to spot flamingos and some other animals nearby.
Chiquilá – 1 night
To Chiquilá you will only go if you plan to catch a boat to Holbox Island. Chiquilá has very few things besides a port. Anyhow, the town provides the needed services to wait for the next day ship departures with comfort, such as local restaurants and bars. With no luxuries, they prepare good quality local food. There are a lot of cheap parkings to leave your car until you get back from the island. Closer to the port you go, cheaper options you will find.
Even being on the coast, in Chiquilá there are no beaches and it is hardly recommended not to have a bath since the water is contaminated and there are crocodiles from time to time. The best there is to admire the sunset from the dock in between the anglers’ nets.
Holbox – 3 nights
Espectacular but spoiled and overpriced. It is so beautiful that it is at risk of getting into the bad practises of Riviera Maya. This is an island where cars are not allowed. Golf carts are the vehicles on the island but there are so many that there are real traffic jams on the sandy streets of the island. Maybe there is less pollution but sometimes you can’t breathe either because of the sand they detach and the smoke of the exhaust pipes.
The white sand beach is really outstanding and some of the resorts and restaurants around it too. The bad point is that the government concessions of beach plots is making progressively more and more difficult the free access to the water and the sand on your own. But you will make it and you will enjoy the perfect temperature and the amazing views from the water.
The town is not well developed and seems to have some problems to fit the largent of tourists. Many of them are millennials. Our recommendation is to get a transport and go to Punta Cocos, a shallow and calm beach at the extreme of the island.
Cancún – 2 nights
Cancún is a must for a perfect round trip itinerary in Mexico. You can not skip it. There are actually two Cancún. The Miami looking like Zona Hotelera where you will find a crowd of luxury hotels with private access to the beach and the real Cancún town.
At Zona Hotelera your experience might depend on your hotel and the services you are paying there. In the real Cancún, there is a local city where the waiters, maids and all the people working for the tourists are living. In this real Cancún, you will find many services and the prices are reasonable but to go to the beach you will probably need to drive some kilometers and get into a private beach club or restaurant. It seems that access to the natural spots is only guaranteed in Cancún if you can pay for that, Fortunately, this is not this way in many other places in Mexico. Get information and choose where you go!
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