Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – By Land and By Sea

Ask people what comes to mind first when they think of a trip to Mexico and most will provide an answer that includes sandy beaches and all-inclusive resorts. In addition to those experiences, Mexico offers so much more, especially for nature lovers and adventurers.

Visitors have an array of destinations and travel styles to choose from in Mexico and the country offers some of the best wildlife spectacles on the planet. Mexico ranks fifth in the world as far as countries with the most species. Forget about mega-resorts and nightclubs. This itinerary places travelers in the heart of the Yucatan’s wildest places for an unforgettable adventure by land and by sea.
When: January through mid-February is sailfish season; June through mid-August is whale shark season
Duration: 7 Days/ 6 Nights

Destinations

  • Tulum: The first night of the trip will be spent at a beachfront hotel in Tulum, gateway to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. During the summer, loggerhead and green sea turtles nest on Tulum’s beaches.
  • Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: In Mayan, Sian Ka’an means ‘Origin of the Sky’. Located on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula, this biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef. The diversity of life in Sian Ka’an is exceptional.
  • Chetumal: Founded by sailors, Chetumal is a city divided between the ocean and the jungle right at the end of Mexico’s Caribbean coast. This corner of the Yucatan Peninsula is called the “cradle of the mingling of races”. It is here where the Mayan princess Zazil Ha married a Spanish sailor with whom she bred the first generation of mixed blood Mexicans.
  • Caobas: The Mayan jungle of Caobas, an unprotected area near Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, is home to the largest population of jaguars in Mexico.
  • Akumal: “Place of the turtles” in Mayan. Akumal remains an important site for three species of sea turtles (green, loggerhead, and hawksbill).
  • Isla Mujeres: Less than 30 minutes by ferry from Cancun, this Caribbean island is a long way from the bustle of mega-resort vacations. With almost perfect year-round weather, Isla Mujeres is a haven for beach and water enthusiasts. It’s also the ideal starting point for whale shark and sailfish encounters.   
  • Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve: Established in 2009, this protected area guarantees the protection of the region which contains waters rich with organic material. This concentration of nutrients allows for a diversity of marine species, including large congregations of whale sharks and sailfish throughout the year.

Sample Itinerary


DAY 1: Arrival/ Tulum ~ Upon arrival to Cancun International Airport, you’ll be met by your guide who will be traveling with you for the duration of the trip. Transfer to peaceful Tulum located in the Riviera Maya and gateway to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. You have the rest of the day to enjoy Tulum’s white sand beaches and calm bay. During the summer months, Tulum beach is a nesting area for loggerhead and green sea turtles, both endangered species. Overnight at Papaya Playa. (D)

DAY 2: Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve/ Chetumal ~ Start your day with a visit to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. In the language of the Mayan, Sian Ka’an means ‘Origin of the Sky’. Located on the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, this biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef. The diversity of life in Sian Ka’an is exceptional. The tropical forests are home to charismatic mammals such as jaguar, puma, ocelot and Central American tapir. The reserve also provides habitat for a large number of resident and migratory bird species and a diversity of marine life, including four species of nesting sea turtles.

After lunch, continue south to the coastal city of Chetumal where you’ll spend the next three nights. Founded by sailors, Chetumal is a city divided between the ocean and the jungle right at the end of Mexico’s Caribbean coast. This corner of the Yucatan Peninsula is called the “cradle of the mingling of races”. It is here where the Mayan princess Zazil Ha married a Spanish sailor with whom she bred the first generation of mixed blood Mexicans.

This evening, you’ll meet Dr. Gerardo Ceballos, one of Mexico’s leading jaguar researchers and conservationists. Dr. Ceballos’ groundbreaking research has led to the protection of vital ecosystems in Mexico, a global “hotspot” that shelters a variety of endangered species. He has conducted the longest and most complete study of jaguars in Mexico and recently finished the country’s first jaguar census on a national scale. His pioneering work has led to conservation strategies designed to protect jaguars from further decline. Overnight at Rancho Encantado. (B,L,D)

DAY 3: Caobas ~ The jungles of Caobas, an unprotected area near Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, may be home to the largest population of jaguars in Mexico. Full guided day searching for jaguars and wildlife viewing in Caobas. Camping tonight (all gear provided). (B,L,D)

DAY 4: Caobas/ Chetumal ~ Another full day of wildlife watching in Caobas before returning to Chetumal for the evening. Overnight at Rancho Encantado. (B,L,D)

DAY 5: Chetumal/ Akumal/ Isla Mujeres ~ Today you’ll head north up the Caribbean coast with a stop at Akumal en route. You’ll have the opportunity to snorkel with juvenile green turtles as they feed on sea grass beds in Akumal Bay.

Upon arrival to Isla Mujeres you’ll be met by your local guide that calls Isla “home”. This evening, your guide will explain how whale shark and sailfish tourism is boosting the local economy and aiding in marine conservation. Overnight at Casa de los Sueños. (B,L,D)

DAY 6: Isla Mujeres (Snorkeling with Whale Sharks or Sailfish) ~ Option 1 (January through mid-February): At this time of year, sailfish with groups of up to 30-40 individuals congregate around bait-balls of sardines. Experience the thrill of being surrounded by sailfish while the cooperatively feed, a strategy previously thought to be implemented exclusively by marine mammals.

Swimming with sailfish - Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Option 2 (July through mid-August): During the summer months about 20 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, upwellings bring abundant plankton close the water’s surface. This concentration of food results in what may be the world’s largest congregation of whale sharks. We’re not talking about a few sharks. We’re talking about dozens. On peak days, more than 400 whale sharks have been counted in the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve.

Swimming with whale sharks - Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

In either season, you’ll be in the heart of the action! Overnight at Casa de los Sueños. (B,L,D)

DAY 7: Departure ~ After a final morning on Isla Mujeres, transfer by ferry and road to Cancun International Airport in time for your flight home. (B)

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DETAILS

Meals: B=Breakfast; L=Lunch; D=Dinner

Pricing from $2975 per person based on double occupancy. Minimum group size of 6; maximum group size of 10.

Package includes full-time guide/ driver from Day 1-Day 5, accommodations, camping gear for overnight in Caobas, guided activities as listed on a private basis, and ferry tickets to/from Isla Mujeres.. A donation to whale shark conservation efforts will be made on behalf of all trip participants.  

Exclusions: international airfare, optional activities, add-on extensions, passport/visa fees, gratuities, taxis on Isla Mujeres, and travel insurance.

This sample itinerary is a suggested outline.  It can be customized to best suit your travel plans.