Want to know which small towns in the Yucatan Peninsula are worth visiting? We’ll tell you all about them!
Quick Facts About Yucatan’s Small Towns
When visiting Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, many tourists gravitate towards Cancun. Some make their way to Playa del Carmen. Cruise enthusiasts are likely to find themselves in Cozumel.
But we’re going to talk about some of the smaller towns like Valladolid, Campeche, Holbox, Izamal, and a few more that we will get into. These small towns are worth visiting if you’re looking for a more authentic Mexican vacation experience.
Travelers that want a more immersive trip will love the atmosphere of these and the other small towns we’ll go over today.
Small Towns Worth Visiting on the Yucatan Peninsula
Without further ado, let’s get into our list of the best small towns on the Peninsula.
Isla Holbox is on the northern coast of the state of Quintana Roo, one of the three states (along with Yucatan and Campeche) that make up the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s a small island with lovely beaches and some great activities.
You’ll need to know how to get to Holbox, as it’s a bit off the beaten path. First, you’ll have to make your way to the town of Chiquila, where the ferry will take you to the Island.
Once you arrive there, you’ll be surprised to see no paved roads and no cars anywhere. The roads are dirt and the only cars are motorized golf carts.
A small, tropical island, Holbox is a safe place to travel. The beaches are scenic, and the sandbar stretches way out. You can walk a long way out into the sea and still be in waist-deep water.
Holbox Island is a great place to relax and get away from the big cities. Relax at one of the many beachfront bars with a refreshing cocktail.
The main square and the block or two that surrounds it is a happening area when sun sets, with many bars playing loud music and offering drink specials. Holbox can be as relaxing or as fun as you want it to be!
Nicknamed “The Yellow City”, Izamal is about an hour west of Chichen Itza. It got its nickname because all the storefronts, churches, and houses that line the streets of Izamal are painted the same yellow color.
It’s a very small town that contains the ruins of an old Mayan pyramid right in town!
At the head of the main square is a huge convent that you can walk around. Izamal isn’t a high-volume tourist destination, so there won’t be a ton of people there to compete with for pictures. It’s a quiet town where you’ll be able to enjoy the sights at your own pace.
You can get to Izamal by collective vans, local bus, or by private transportation. Once you arrive in the main square, you’re in walking distance of the convent, the pyramid, and a great hidden gem of a restaurant called Restaurante Kinich Izamal, where they have the best cochinita pibil!
Mainly known as a day trip from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a quality destination in its own right. It’s a small island town with some great cafes, shopping, and restaurants.
The downtown area gets a little touristy during the day with all of the day trippers from Cancun, but once you get away from the main square, you’ll find some very small and authentic restaurants like Minino’s, where you’ll find some great tacos and ceviches.
If you can get downtown early in the morning, you’ll have access to some of the best cafes, like Café Mogagua, to start your day with a nice coffee and bite to eat before all the tourists from Cancun show up.
There are also some unique experiences and tours available from Isla Mujeres. The tour to Isla Contoy for example, is quite exclusive because only 200 people per day are permitted by the government to visit Isla Contoy.
You’ll be able to visit the uninhabited island and spend the day at the quiet beach with an included lunch and come back home with a unique story.
Only about twenty minutes from Chichen Itza, Valladolid is a small colonial town with a lovely atmosphere. If you’re travelling around the peninsula, staying in Valladolid for a few days will give you a nice break between some of the big city destinations.
The main square has a picturesque park and a beautiful cathedral. There are cultural events and demonstrations almost daily in the square. You can see traditional dancers and musicians, especially in the early evening.
Close to Valladolid you’ll find some of the most beautiful cenotes on the peninsula. Check out the very photogenic Cenote Suytun. Cenotes Sac-aua, Tsukan, and Agua Dulce are all wonderful with slightly different aesthetics from open, to slightly covered, to fully covered cave cenotes.
The Mayan ruin site Ek Balam is close to Valladolid (and closer to Cenote Agua Dulce). This site is one of the best in the area. It sits amidst the jungle and the main structure towers over the canopy. You can climb up if you don’t mind a large number of narrow stone steps. The view is worth it!
Valladolid is a home base for all of these nearby attractions. After exploring the area during the day, you’ll find some delicious dining options in the downtown area, like Restaurante El Atrio del Mayab which offers high-quality authentic regional cuisine.
On the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the state of Campeche, you’ll find the state’s capital city of the same name. Campeche is a sleepy coastal city with a rich history.
Its position on the coast made it a naval trade hub, which in turn made it a target for pirates. Along the coast you can find remnants of old forts, watch towers, and turrets that were built to alert and protect the city and the port from these pirates.
One of the forts has been converted into an anthropology museum, so you can get a taste of the pirate history with the fort and its canons, and some regional Mayan history inside the museum.
There isn’t a lot of beach front in Campeche. Along most of the coast, the ocean comes right up to the side of the road that stretches along the water. This provides some excellent photo opportunities, especially for the sunset !
You can use Campeche as a home base for nearby attractions like the Mayan ruin sites of Edzna and Hochob. If you really want to get off the beaten path, you can go deeper inland to see the ruins of Dzibilnocac and Calakmul.
The downtown area of Campeche is surrounded by a fortified wall from the colonial days, more protection from pirates and other invaders.
If you’re used to big cities like Cancun and Merida, you’ll be thrilled at the prices in Campeche, as it’s the most budget-friendly of the cities on our list. Hotels, dining, and activities are cheaper here than any of our other recommended small towns.
On the eastern coast of the peninsula, along the coastal highway between Cancun and Tulum is the town of Akumal. If you want to get out of Cancun but don’t want to pay the high prices of Tulum beach, Akumal is for you.
In Akumal you can find a lot of the same activities as Tulum. You’ll find things like whale shark watching, tours of ruin sites like Coba, and tequila and mezcal tastings.
You can also find some beautiful cenotes around Akumal, like Cenote Azul, an open cenote that is one of the most picturesque in the area. There are even tours where you can ride ATVs through the jungle from one cenote to the next and the next!
The beaches of Akumal are very pretty and you can enjoy them for a much lower price than the beach club experience in Tulum, Akumal’s neighbor thirty minutes south.
Akumal is close enough to Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen to explore those bigger cities during the day if you’d like, then return to the smaller and more budget-friendly small town to have dinner and rest.
Summing Up Small Towns Worth Visiting on the Yucatan Peninsula
Staying in small towns is a good way to experience local culture, as larger cities like Cancun tend to cater more towards Americans. You’ll get a more authentic experience by venturing away from the cities and experiencing the small towns.
The architecture in the small towns of the Yucatan Peninsula has a more colonial feel than the bigger cities that are more built-up.
If you want a unique experience outside of the normal tourist trip, the Yucatan Peninsula has authentic regional food, lots of opportunities to practice your Spanish, and amazing sites to explore that will bring you home with stories that nobody you know will have experienced.
After visiting these small towns, you’ll be the envy of all your friends and social media followers!