Lazing on a beach or contemplating museum displays is all right, but some travelers crave a little more action. The Yucatán has plenty to offer active travelers, including kiteboarding, fly-fishing, kayaking, and mountain biking. This tour is a workout for the eyes too, taking you to some of the peninsula’s most stunning (and little-visited) natural areas, from tangled mangrove forests to limestone caverns filled with the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen. The only thing this tour doesn’t include is snorkeling or diving on the coast, which are covered in a list of their own.
Ease into things by spending a day stand-up paddling (or SUPing). It’s challenging but fairly easy to master, and especially rewarding in the Riviera Maya’s warm clear water. Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, and Cozumel are all great places to start. Farther afield, Xpu Há, Tulum, and Mahahual are fine alternatives.
Kayaking is another low-key, easy-to-learn activity, and perfect for exploring the Riviera Maya’s rich mangrove forests. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Laguna Bacalar, and Isla Holbox all have fascinating kayak tours that include paddling through mangrove canals, spotting birds, and locating hidden beaches and lost Maya ruins.
Today’s the day for pushing yourself. Why not try kiteboarding? Isla Blanca and Cozumel are good for both, with perfect wind, forgiving surf for beginners, and some surprisingly challenging spots for the more advanced. If you want to head inland, Isla Holbox and Progreso also have first-rate kiting schools.
You may want to spend a second day kiteboarding—few people master it in a day! Otherwise, dig out your sneakers and sign up for a mountain bike tour. Both Tulum and Laguna Bacalar have fun and moderately challenging rides, pedaling through the jungle to little-visited Maya ruins and remote beaches.
You’ve gotta be getting tired by now. Spend the day fishing, either trolling in the ocean or fly-fishing in the region’s vast coastal flats. Cozumel is ideal for the former, as well as for the latest craze: spearfishing. Sian Ka’an and Xcalak are world-class fly-fishing spots, brimming with tarpon, permit, bonefish, and snook.
Get up bright and early to be at Cobá archaeological zone at opening. Of all the Maya ruins, this one is the best for bird-watching. It’s not uncommon to spot toucans and parrots. Cobá also is an impressive ruin, with the second-highest pyramid in the Yucatán Peninsula, affording awesome views of the countryside. You can rent bikes near the entrance and explore the ruins on wheels. A short distance away is the Punta Laguna monkey reserve, a perfect place to visit after a late lunch.
Drive to Mérida. If you get an early start, you’ll have time to stop at the beautiful colonial town of Izamal or the cenotes of Cuzamá, where you’ll take a horse-drawn cart through abandoned henequen fields, then descend ladders into underground caverns for a cool swim.
Take a day trip to Celestún and take a flamingo tour. You can get there on your own or book a tour with one of Mérida’s many tour operators. Head back to Mérida and check out a museum and one of the free nightly cultural performances.
Spend the next day visiting some of the grutas (caves) along the Puuc Route south of Mérida. Calcehtok is the most adventuresome, with local guides offering 2-5-hour tours of this huge cave system. The longest tours go about four kilometers (2.5 miles) and reach a tiny chamber where human bones were left from ancient Maya ceremonies. Nearby, Aktun Usil offers a look in a sacred Maya cave, with hieroglyphics, cave paintings, rock carvings, even handprints, in silhouette, on the ceiling high above. Not far away, Loltún caves are much tamer, with paths and lighting, but fascinating nonetheless.
Then make your way back to Cancún, Cozumel, or the Riviera Maya for your final night in the region.
Spend your last day enjoying the Yucatán’s other great natural wonder: the beach. The beaches in Cancún, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Playa del Carmen all have plenty to keep you active—swimming, sailing, SUPing, kayaking, parasailing, volleyball, soccer, and more.
Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Yucatán Peninsula.