5 Great Adventures in the Yucatan Peninsula

The Beach at Tulum Ruins in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Mayan Riviera
Sun bathing isn't just for humans. A lizard looking over the beach at Tulum Ruins.

The Yucatan Peninsula on Mexico’s eastern coastline is one of the most popular destinations for American tourist looking for an affordable tropical vacation. While the beachfront photos and spring break stories have always caught my attention, the region has never been on my radar for places I’d like to visit.

I’ve just always envisioned massive resorts, overcrowded beaches and drunken tourists disrespecting locals – a place I could live without.

Luckily, last month my father and I had a chance to spend 10 days traveling through the Yucatan Peninsula and put my preconceived notions to the test.  While I wasn’t completely off in my assumptions, I was pleasantly surprised at all the great things there were to do and see in the region.

Once you escape the overwhelming mega hotels, food chains and nightclubs of Las Vegas Cancun, you can catch an ADO bus or colectivo(mini-bus) and cruise up and down the main highway finding one great adventure after another.

My dad and I established our home base in the beautiful community of Puerto Aventuras and set out on a different adventure almost every day. Below is a list of my favorite experiences while visiting the picturesque Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles in Akumel, Mexico
Snorkeling with Sea Turtles in Akumel, Mexico

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

Take a trip to Akumel where the sea grass grows and the sea turtles glide through the crystal clear water like an eagle soaring across the open sky. For a couple bucks you can rent snorkel gear and swim out from the beach to where the break gathers an abundance of sea life.

We were lucky enough to find a few turtles cruising around away from all the other snorkelers and it made for a special moment as we just swam along side them and admired their beauty.

Chichen Itza Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
The incredible Chichen Itza Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Exploring The Mayan Ruins 

The 3 most popular Mayan ruin sites in the Yucatan Peninsula are Tulum, Chichen Itza, and the Coba Ruins. We managed to hit two of the three and were pretty impressed by what we found. Tulum was beautiful because it was right along the coast and our bus driver told us the beach next to the ruins was where you would find the best booties in the area. The beaches were beautiful (lead photo) but the booties were few and far between unfortunately.

We also spent a day at Chichen Itza exploring the incredible ruins that was once a central commercial and spiritual landmark for the Mayan tribes who lived in this region.  Thanks to Catherwood Travels who supplied us with a very knowledgeable archeologist we were able to learn so much about the site, history and significance of many of the ruins. If you make the trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, I would definitely take the time to explore these great sites.

El Jardin Del Eden Cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
Dad launching himself off a ledge above the Jardin del Eden Cenote in Mexico

Cliff Diving into Cenotes

A cenote is a deep natural pit, or sinkhole resulting from a collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. In translation, they’re awesome swimming holes with cliffs and caves that you can jump off, swim under and snorkel through.  There are hundreds of locations along the main highway from Cancun to Tulum that any colectivo will drop you off and pick you up.

Cenote Recommendations: Dzitnup (from Valladolid) Cenote with rope swing at Ek Balam, Casa Cenote, Gran Cenote, Heaven’s Door, Dos Ojos Cenote and Cenote Jardin del Eden.

Scuba Diving along the coral in the ocean along the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
Exploring the space.

Scuba Diving in Tropical Water

I’ve never been scuba diving before so Dad and I decided to get our “resort certification” and go explore the great deep blue sea. We did our dive certification at the hotel pool nearby and within an hour and a half we were all suited up and heading out to sea. We made our way down to about 45 feet where we skimmed over the incredible coral and admired the badass fish.

I can definitely see how people could get addicted to scuba diving – the incredibly intimidating and fascinating ocean and all its magical bits lures you in while keeping you at bay with what you might see next. I’d definitely like to get my official scuba license and travel deeper more often.

Deep Sea Fishing off the coast of Mexico
The one that got away. I swear it was 10 footer ; )

A Deep Sea Fishing Workout

I felt bad going deep sea fishing after the scuba dive excursion the previous day. After swimming around and introducing myself under water I was now back on a boat hunting my new friends. I’m just glad we didn’t go fishing first because I’m sure they would have been pissed.

Within the first 20 minutes of being out on the boat I had my first fish on the line and spent 15 minutes of nonstop reeling to try bringing him in. It was a good size Sailfish (looks like a sword fish or marlin) that leaped from the water and gave me a hell of a time. With one giant leap and crash into the water he managed to cut himself loose from my line and I lost him. I was exhausted.

Thankfully, we had a couple other guys on the boat, including my father, who were more successful. We ended up catching 3 big Sailfish, which are catch and release, however one swallowed the hook and died so we had to bring him on board so the sharks wouldn’t gather. It made for a great dinner.

Deep Sea Fishing off the coast of Mexico
Got 'em!

The moral of the story is, get off your ass and step away from the piña coladas and wet t-shirt contests long enough to go explore all the amazing things to see and do in and around the Yucatan Peninsula. I’d recommend booking a beach holiday through The Ultimate Travel Company and then taking a bus from place to place, avoiding all the overpriced package tours.

After this trip, I’ve realized this is a region I’d definitely like to revisit down the road because there is still so much I haven’t done. I’d like to visit some small towns like Merida, Campeche, Cristobal and Valladolid and explore some of the popular islands like Cozumel and Isla de Mujeres. Next time.

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


  1. I’ve been wanting to be there like 8 years ago but time constraints and work prevented me from doing so. How were the other spots? Yucatan boasts more attractions I’ve heard, here’s to hoping that you a part II post of your trip.
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  2. You know finding the best taco at a bus station is also a great adventure…

    But Valladolid, Campeche and Merida are also amazing places and I’m glad you didn’t try to squeeze them into 10 days because you would have rushed too much. Besides Mexico is so close there is always an opportunity for another trip.
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    1. After your recommendations Ayngelina, I really want to go back and check out the villages around the area. Next time… definitely!

    1. I’ve heard the same Chrystal, but everyone seemed so friendly and safe. I guess, like anywhere, you just have to be smart. I’m definitely going back soon.

  3. We tried three of your five recommendations while there last week, all three were a great time! We learned a little too during some of these.

    Great area!!

  4. Well, I say, Mayan Ruins is good historical place. The sculpture garden is nice, also walking there is freshing and good experience. I took ruins there and spent great time with my husband. Lovely trip!

  5. Sounds like fun and I think your doing a lot of things. I never been in Yucatan but the place is wonderful. The beach is very nice which tempted me to go and have some fun!
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