Mexico: The Perfect 3-Week Itinerary
Backpacking around Mexico and want to see more than hotel resorts? Read our ultimate three weeks Mexico itinerary, which will take you from Mexico City to the Yucatan Peninsula via an endless number of colonial cities, Mayan ruins and beautiful scenery to the world's famous beaches. Get inspired by our perfect 3-week Mexico itinerary and plan a trip of your lifetime.
Despite its reputation, we found Mexico to be a very welcoming country and had a blast during one month we could thoroughly explore the most what this large country in Central America has to offer. Because believe it or not, Mexico is not only about expensive hotel resorts and promenades lined with shops and restaurant (although you will for sure stumble across places like this).
Mexico has beautiful sandy beaches, extraordinary ruins, colorful colonial cities, interesting cultural background, snow-capped volcanoes, crystal clear lakes and, of course, tasty cuisine. That's why it is great to have at least three weeks to have an opportunity to explore Mexico beyond the Yucatan Peninsula.
You do not have to worry, this 3-week Mexico itinerary will also include the sought-after activity such as relaxing on the beach for sure is, but having full three weeks will also allow you to see the less traveled backpacker's route.
This is the exact itinerary we followed (only in a slower pace as we were not on a strict schedule), so do not hesitate to get inspired and plan your own unique itinerary which will suit the best your preferences, interests, time and budget.
HOW TO USE THIS MEXICO 3-WEEK ITINERARY
When planning your Mexico itinerary, you can soon find out that from some countries flight tickets are cheaper to the cities on Yucatan Peninsula such Cancun than to Mexico City.
No worries, you can easily adjust this itinerary, you only need to follow it in reverse order. This is actually what we did as we crossed borders to Mexico from Belize.
Although this itinerary is not a loop (it even cannot be considering how large country Mexico is), but you have flight tickets to and from the same destination, there is no problem to take domestic flight for example from Cancun back to Mexico City.
Flight tickets are usually priced very reasonably, even when booking last minute.
HOW TO GET AROUND MEXICO
When planning your Mexico itinerary, it is also necessary to know in advance how you will be getting around the country.
We traveled around Mexico by bus, and in order to save time and money, we often used overnight buses when distances between destinations were huge. Even when you are on your vacation with limited time, you do not need to worry to travel in Mexico by public transport as buses were comfortable and usually ran on time.
On the other hand, you will be dependent on bus schedules, and when visiting Mexico during high season (between November to April), we recommend you always to buy tickets at least two days in advance to make sure you will be able to stick to the plan.
The most popular way how to get around Mexico is by rental car - you can hire a car either in Mexico City or in any larger city on the Yucatan Peninsula and then drop it off in different location. When traveling by car, always remember to incorporate time for rest or what is even better, travel with someone who can switch with you behind the wheel.
We must admit this itinerary is packed to the brim, and although the last week is more relaxing and includes lazing on the beach, in case you want to save time and energy, you can use a large network of domestic flights to get around Mexico quicker and efficiently.
When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.
SAFETY IN MEXICO
We believe that if Mexico is your first destination in Central America which you want to explore independently, you might have concerns about the safety in the country.
As we were traveling almost a year in South and Central America and Mexico was the last country on our itinerary we were somewhat used to reading about kidnapping, mugging, credit card scams, and drug-related crimes on daily basis, but we did not take it lightly. That's why we were cautious as usual and created our itinerary to avoid the most dangerous parts of Mexico.
Except for the classic threats such as pickpocketing in large cities like Mexico City, the least safe area on this itinerary is Chiapas state where one road between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque has been experiencing robberies and roadblocking in the past couple of years, but you have an option to take a different way.
THE PERFECT 3-WEEK MEXICO ITINERARY
Our itinerary starts in the capital city of Mexico, CDMX, and takes you slowly through picturesque colonial cities, and the best Mayan ruins to the most famous Mexico's destination where most of the travelers spend their entire holiday, the Yucatan Peninsula.
Let's dive into it.
DAY 1-2: MEXICO CITY
After a long flight, take your first day in Mexico City slowly.
The best place where you should be headed after your arrival in Mexico is Zocalo, which is the main square in CDMX where you can find the Metropolitan Cathedral and many government buildings around.
Once you get used to the different pace and atmosphere, walk around the historic center, and taste Mexican cuisine.
The second day head to Teotihuacan ruins first thing in the morning. Although Teotihuacan ancient city was not built by Maya people, it will give you a great introduction to some of the best archeological sites in Mexico.
Once you return to Mexico City, you can walk around the center and explore places you did not have time to see yesterday or travel a bit farther from CDMX to see neighborhoods where you can feel the authentic vibe.
DAY 3: PUEBLA
Puebla is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico boasting many churches, cobblestone streets, worthwhile museums and interesting sights in the city's proximity.
Puebla is only two hours away from Mexico City, therefore it is a popular gateway for locals who flood the city usually on weekends and on national holidays.
Generally, it is only up to you if you want to spend one more night in Mexico City and visit Puebla on a one day trip, or the other option is to stay in Puebla overnight.
Except for walking around the city, you can travel to a small village Cholula and take a trip to the national park to see two famous volcanoes Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl up close.
DAY 4-5: OAXACA
Oaxaca is one of those cities in Mexico, where you can meet many indigenous people, and where it is worth to do a souvenir shopping on one of many authentic markets.
Apart from the fact that Oaxaca is a colonial city where you can admire a splendid architecture, drink mezcal which is Mexican liquor made from the agave plant traditional for this region, you will still have time to make two trips outside the city.
The same day you have for exploring the city it is still possible to make it to Monte Alban, Zapotec ruins towering high above the city. Monte Alban is 10 kilometers from Oaxaca and you can get there easily by car or a shuttle. Monte Alban was once one of the most important and largest cities in Mesoamerica, and although it's been a while since last inhabitants left this place, it is still incredible to wander around large pyramids and imagine the former grandeur.
The second trip you can take from Oaxaca will take you to Hierve el Agua, a place high on the hill in the Mexican countryside which is interesting thanks to several pools where you can swim and enjoy amazing vistas, and then you can hike a short trail under calcified waterfalls.
DAY 6-7: SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
San Cristobal de las Casas is one of the must-visit places in Chiapas state. It is also one of the poorest parts of Mexico, so it is not a bad idea to travel here and contribute to the local economy.
At the moment you should avoid traveling the direct road between San Cristobal and Palenque and rather take a detour instead. San Cristobal is a beautiful colonial city, and although the historic center is pretty small, there are many things to see and do there, and that's why you should put the city on your 3-week itinerary.
Once you arrive in San Cristobal you will notice the climate is a bit different and the surroundings greener - that's caused by the elevation, and thanks to the higher altitude it is a great place where you can take a break from the suffocating heat most of the country experience during high season.
Apart from exploring the city, you can take a trip to nearby waterfalls or do our favorite one day trip to Canyon del Sumidero.
Thanks to its settings, San Cristobal is a great destination for biking, horseback riding, and you can also visit two nearby indigenous villages and see how the traditional textile is made.
DAY 8: PALENQUE
Palenque is a small town which you should put on your itinerary because of Palenque ruins.
When traveling from Mexico City, Palenque ruins will be the first ancient Mayan city you will see in Mexico.
Palenque is almost in the jungle, and if you had already visited Tikal Ruins in Guatemala, chances are Palenque ruins will remind you Tikal a bit as some of the structures haven't been excavated yet, and you can see how nature is still fighting to claim the site back.
It should take you approximately half-day to fully explore the site, so in the afternoon you can visit two waterfalls nearby Palenque, Misol-Ha and Agua Azul.
DAY 9-11: CAMPECHE
Campeche is the first of the series of colorful colonial cities on the Yucatan Peninsula you are going the visit, and it is also the least popular one, although we do not know why Campeche yet does not have the rightful place on every traveler's itinerary.
Nevertheless, we decided to visit Campeche for two reasons. First, the city itself is very picturesque, and as it lies on the coast, it was once an important place to protect this part of the Yucatan Peninsula against pirates, so you can see the defense system such as walls and forts here.
Another reason why we traveled to Campeche were Edzna ruins - other Mayan ruins less than one hour drive from Campeche.
If we said Campeche was not touristy, Edzna ruins were literally abandoned, and if you want to enjoy a half-day without crowds in a wonderful place, you definitely must arrive here.
Where to stay in Campeche | Budget: Hostal Casa Allende | Mid-range: Hotel Socaire | Luxury: Hacienda Puerta Campeche a Luxury Collection Hotel
DAY 11-12: MERIDA
Merida is the capital and concurrently the largest city on the Yucatan Peninsula, and another place you should include on your Mexico itinerary.
There are so many things to do and places to see in Merida or its near surroundings that the destination will easily keep you occupied for days.
Apart from eating your way around Merida and wandering its cobblestone streets lined with colorful mansions, churches, and parks, you can choose one of many cenotes in the near surroundings where it is possible to swim or visit other famous Mayan ruins, Uxmal.
Some travelers say Uxmal is even more beautiful than Chichen Itza, and although the entrance fee is similarly steep, you will for sure meet here fewer people, and the main structure Pyramid of Magician is for sure more than beautiful.
DAY 13-14: VALLADOLID
Although it is possible to visit Chichen Itza from basically every city on the Yucatan Peninsula, we chose as a base for traveling to the most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico Valladolid.
The main reason was not only the short distance to Chichen Itza, but also the fact the city was very photogenic and pleasant, and there were also several cenotes nearby where we could swim (one was even in the city center).
Honestly, we spent four days in Valladolid as there are so many activities to do and attractions to see, so if you have more time, we definitely recommend you to stay in the city a bit longer.
Remember to try fruit ice cream on the corner of the main square.
DAY 15-17: TULUM
Finally, the last week of this itinerary will take you to Riviera Maya.
The great thing about Tulum is that you do not need to spend the whole time here only on the beach (although it is for sure an option), but you have plenty of options on how to spend your time here.
Another worthwhile tip on what not to miss in Tulum are Tulum ruins, only a short distance from the city center. The beautiful Tulum ruins perched high atop a cliff overlooking the sea are one of the most heavily visited places on the Yucatan Peninsula, so arrive early before tours from hotel resorts.
In case you are not particularly a beach bum, we have one extra tip on what to do in Tulum - take a one-day trip to Bacalar, a serene turquoise lake not that far from Mexico-Belize borders.
DAY 18-19: PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Playa del Carmen is a typical resort city with many hotels, restaurants, and shops, but luckily this destination also has wonderful beaches.
From time to time Riviera Maya deals with seaweed which makes the swimming and relaxing on the beach less pleasant, so check the current situation before your departure.
In case you do not want to spend all three days on the beaches around Playa del Carmen, you can take a one-day trip to Cozumel island or travel to cenotes nearby.
DAY 20-21: CANCUN
Cancun is the last destination on this 3-week itinerary. Before your flight back home, spend some time on a beach or travel to famous island Isla Mujeres.
We know this itinerary is pretty busy, and in case something does not go according to plan you will have to sacrifice one of the beach days, but still, you should have enough time to enjoy beaches and relaxing by the sea in Mexico.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING MEXICO
What to pack for visiting Mexico depends on the season you plan on traveling in the country.
In most parts of Mexico, you can experience hot and humid weather, but it can rain during the wet season between May and October. During this time, afternoon showers are pretty regular, on the other hand, there are fewer travelers and prices are lower.
Here are five essential things you should have in your backpack.
Sunscreen | Sun in Mexico can be harsh, so do not underestimate skin protection.
Rain Poncho | It can rain anytime, but you should not leave rain poncho at home when traveling during rainy season by no means.
Moneybelt | For walking in the large cities, we recommend you keeping your money and credit cards in moneybelt.
Filtered Water Bottle | Water is not drinkable in Mexico, and buying a filtered bottled water is a great way how to reduce your plastic footprint.
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