A Remarkable 3 Week Mexico Itinerary
Breathtaking cenotes deep in the jungle, impressive ancient ruins, quaint cobbled streets lined with vibrant buildings, beautiful fine white sand beaches and dramatic mountain vistas are a few of the things you can experience in this wonderful country. Continue reading our Mexico itinerary for more!
Mexico is a vibrant, colourful country with so much to offer every kind of traveller. Steeped in history, each civilisation has left behind treasures waiting to be explored. Scattered around the country are hundreds of ancient ruins dating back to the Mesoamerican civilisations. The Spanish also left their mark, leaving behind wide opulent plazas and colourful colonial architecture.
Mexico is also full of endless adventures! Hiking in breathtaking cloud forests, snorkelling amongst colourful corals and tropical marine life, swimming in cascading waterfalls and diving in natural sinkholes are just some of the things you can experience in this outdoor playground.
Just looking for some rest, relaxation and a bit of luxury? Head straight to the Riviera Maya where endless pristine white sand beaches sit peacefully nestled amongst lush mangrove forests and turquoise ocean.
This three week Mexico itinerary is the perfect introduction to this incredible country. You’ll start with a few days in Mexico City before continuing on to Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, Campeche, Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen and finally Bacalar.
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Three Week Mexico Itinerary
Mexico City (Day 1 – 5)
The first stop on your Mexico itinerary is Mexico City; one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Americas.
Wary of Mexico City’s past, I was slightly apprehensive before arriving. However, the city has cleaned up its act and remodelled public spaces into gorgeous parks. This, combined with colonial architecture, iconic artwork, delicious food and a rich cultural heritage rewards visitors with a truly memorable visit and a wonderful introduction to vibrant Mexico.
One of the best things to do in Mexico City is to explore the Historic Centre. Centred around the massive Zocalo Plaza, this is the city’s beating heart and where you’ll see defining characteristics of the two cultures that defined the city. This area is vibrant and home to historic landmarks, iconic buildings, museums, fascinating architecture and street vendors.
Another must-do in Mexico City is to visit the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco; the Venice of Mexico. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of miles of waterways you can explore on colourful trajineras (boats). It’s a pleasant activity for a few hours where you’ll pass other trajineras selling food and drinks and others with mariachi bands. Keep your eyes peeled for Isla de las Munecas (Island of the Dead Dolls), an eerie plot of land where dolls are hung from trees.
Oaxaca (Day 5 – 8)
Next on your Mexico itinerary is Oaxaca; a firm favourite amongst visitors and you’ll quickly see why. The colourful colonial streets ooze charm through their vibrant and fascinating architecture, traditional festivals, art, spectacular diverse scenery and delicious cuisine.
An absolute must-do in Oaxaca is to people watch in the Zocalo. Grab a drink in one of the cafes or restaurants that line the bustling plaza and soak up the atmosphere. The Zocalo is popular with locals and tourists alike. Hawker stalls sell everything from handicrafts and textiles to jewellery and knick-knacks. Families are out playing and socialising in the evenings and tourists are visiting the historical buildings in the surrounding streets. There’s always something going on.
My favourite thing to do in Oaxaca was hiking in the Pueblos Mancomunados. Located high in the mountains, these are eight remote villages protected under a unique ecotourism project. They’re home to the Zapotecs; an indigenous people of Mexico who have recently turned to ecotourism to help with economic hardships.
There are over 100-kilometres of walking trails between the villages rewarding you with incredible landscapes such as caves, waterfalls, canyons and panoramic lookouts. To make the most out of your visit, stay overnight in one of the villages.
For some truly jaw-dropping scenery, head to Hierve el Agua. This natural phenomenon appears to be frozen water cascading off the cliffs into the valley below. The falls are located in a beautiful setting with panoramic mountain vistas. There are also two warm mineral pools at the cliff-edge you can swim in.
Other Oaxaca highlights include the Templo de Santo Domingo, the ancient Monte Alban ruins, souvenir shopping in the numerous markets, mezcal tasting, and eating all the delicious Oaxacan cuisine.
San Cristobal de las Casas (Day 8 – 11)
Your third destination on your Mexico itinerary is my favourite city in Mexico; San Cristobal de las Casas. San Cristobal is the cultural heart of Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas. Chiapas has one of Mexico’s largest indigenous populations and is scattered with dozens of traditional Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages.
San Cristobal beautifully fuses modern comforts and ancient traditions. This, combined with quaint colonial architecture, cobbled streets, colourful markets, and delicious food make it a wonderful base to explore the diverse landscapes of Chiapas.
San Cristobal sits in a small valley surrounded by green hills and pine forests. Situated at an altitude of 2200 metres, it has a cool climate and the air is always clean and fresh. The city is worth a visit on its own but it’s also surrounded by incredible natural scenery including turquoise waterfalls, endless mountain vistas, imposing canyons, and forested-lakes.
One of the top things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas and on this Mexico itinerary is a boat trip on the Sumidero Canyon. This canyon is a geological fault formed millions of years ago and is considered to be one of the most spectacular places in Mexico. The walls reach incredible heights of 1200 metres in places and have some beautiful features. Keep your eyes peeled for spider monkeys and crocodiles!
For some breathtaking scenery, check out Lagunas de Montebello National Park; an area of almost 60 striking blue and turquoise lakes, a vast pine forest, a variety of wildlife, and impressive Mayan ruins. There are numerous activities you can do from swimming in the lakes to hiking in the mountainous forest and even rafting to a cenote!
The ancient ruins of Palenque can be visited from San Cristobal on a day tour combined with the spectacular Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls. It’s a very long day so I’d recommend a night in Palenque if time allows, but if time is limited, this is an option.
Some other highlights include El Chiflon; five giant waterfalls tucked inside a beautiful valley, strolling around the city’s picturesque streets, souvenir shopping in the markets, and for some gorgeous views across the city, climb the stairs to Templo de Guadalupe.
Campeche (Day 11 – 13)
Next on your Mexico itinerary is another colourful colonial city; Campeche. Campeche is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, an incredibly touristy part of Mexico with places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Campeche, however, hasn’t yet made it on to the main tourist trail so it’s a lot quieter and feels a world away from this mayhem.
The best thing to do in Campeche is to explore the historic old town. Uniquely, Campeche’s old town has outer walls and fortifications as a result of the pirate attacks on the Caribbean port in the 17th and 18th centuries. The walls still exist today and you can walk along parts of them for a different perspective of the city’s colourful buildings.
Within the city walls, the narrow cobbled streets are lined with buildings of every colour imaginable. You’ll find dozens of cafes, eateries and bars with chairs and tables outside you can sit at and soak up the atmosphere. Prices also remain low thanks to the lack of international tourism.
An absolute must-do in Campeche is to explore the malecon. The malecon is a walkway along the waterfront located just outside of the city walls and is a lovely place to come for a stroll. The best time to come is just before sunset once the temperature has dropped and everyone comes out to watch the sun go down, socialise with friends or go for a run.
Alternatively, you can rent a bike and explore different parts of the coast along the waterfront. You can also continue on after the malecon has run out and you’ll reach Fuerte San Miguel. Perched on a hill with stunning views across the ocean, it’s another great place to watch the sunset. The fort was built as a secondary protection against pirates and consists of a large moat, drawbridge, and large stone walls. There’s also an archaeological museum containing many Mayan pieces of art and jewellery.
Other highlights in Campeche include; the Maya Architecture Museum, the pedestrianised street Calle 59, the light show on the square, and eating delicious seafood in one of the seafront restaurants.
Cancun (Day 13 – 15)
Next on your Mexico itinerary is a couple of days to unwind as the past two weeks have been pretty full-on!
Cancun is the party capital of Mexico, so if you’ve been craving a big night out, now’s your chance. Zona Hotelera is the primary tourist area and where you’ll find most of the resorts and nightlife. There is one road Kukulkan Boulevard which runs from one side of the Hotel Zone to the other.
If this sounds like your idea of hell, however, Cancun has a lot more to it than just bars and clubs. Stay in Downtown Cancun which will give you a taste of local culture with small boutiques, green parks, Mexican wrestling, and street food vendors. It’s very well connected so you can experience the Hotel Zone without staying there if you wish.
Something I was very surprised at, was how clean and beautiful the beaches in Cancun were! Part of me was expecting very busy, dirty beaches, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Cancun has 21 kilometres of coast with soft white sand and turquoise waters. If you’re looking for a beach with a lively atmosphere, head to Playa Forum located behind the renowned Coco Bongo and filled with restaurants and bars. Chac Mool Beach is perfect if you want something more laidback or want to explore the underwater world with numerous operators renting out water sports equipment. Playa Delfines is one of the largest beaches in Cancun and has no hotels, resorts, or shops lining it so tends to be quieter.
If you’re wanting to get out and explore further than the beaches, Cancun is packed full of things to do and places to see. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichen Itza, is easily visited in a day. This was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatan Peninsula and is one of the largest sacred sites in Mexico.
The Yucatan Peninsula is renowned for amazing cenotes. These are natural sinkholes formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock exposing the groundwater underneath. There are over 6000 in this area alone and you can swim, snorkel, and even scuba-dive in them. Some of the best cenotes near Cancun are located along the Ruta de Cenotes (Cenote Route).
Isla Mujeres (Day 15 – 17)
Just off the coast of Cancun is Isla Mujeres. This small, picturesque island is home to idyllic beaches, a colourful town centre, yoga classes, and numerous water sports.
The best way to explore the island is by golf cart. There are plenty of places you can rent one from and it’ll only set you back around $35 for the day. There’s one main road that travels the whole way around the island so it’s impossible to get lost.
One of the highlights to explore on your golf cart is Playa Norte; one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. This long stretch of fine white sand lined with palm trees is on the north side of the island and although it can get quite busy, is still worth a visit.
Temple Ixchel, honouring the Mayan goddess of happiness, fertility, and the moon is also worth a visit. Around the ruins, you’ll find an extensive collection of art and rock sculptures, hidden cliffside beaches, and maybe even spot some iguanas.
One of the best things to do on Isla Mujeres is to visit the Cancun Underwater Museum. This isn’t just any other museum, it’s actually located on the seafloor! Installed to primarily promote coral life in the area, there are over 500 statues and other structures that make for incredible diving, snorkelling, and even glass-bottom boat trips.
Some other highlights of Isla Mujeres include a trip to Isla Contoy; a natural wildlife reserve and bird sanctuary, swimming with whale sharks, admiring the colourful street art and watching the magical sunsets.
Playa del Carmen (Day 17 – 19)
Playa del Carmen is often viewed as Cancun’s little sister. However, although you’ll find shopping malls, bars, and restaurants, it’s nowhere near Cancun’s level of chaos. As well as beautiful long white sand beaches perfect for relaxation, Playa del Carmen is a great base for exploring more of the Yucatan’s treasures.
Staying in Playa del Carmen allowed for me to experience my favourite activity on my Mexico itinerary; swimming in cenotes. There are a few different types of cenote; open, semi-open, and underwater and you’ll be able to visit each of them here.
My favourite cenote is Jardin del Eden. This is a large, open cenote set in a thick tropical jungle. The water is so clean and crystal clear it’s perfect for swimming in. You can rent snorkels or even scuba dive to see the fish and impressive rock formations.
Chuuk Tun Cenote is underground and 100% worth visiting for a completely different experience. This cenote consists of two caves with really impressive stalactites. You need to have a guide for Chuuk Tun but it’s fascinating learning about the history and how the Mayans believed cenotes were a portal to speak with the Gods and used them for sacrificial offerings.
Other things to do in Playa del Carmen include a day trip to Cozumel; a small island known for spectacular beaches and snorkelling, salsa dancing, watersports, and swimming with sea turtles in Akumal.
Bacalar (Day 19-21)
The last stop on your Mexico itinerary is Bacalar; one of only a few Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns) in Mexico. The ‘Magical Towns Programme’ is an initiative to promote rural towns around Mexico that offer visitors special experiences because of their traditions, historical relevance, natural beauty, cuisine, and cultural richness. Its intention is to increase tourism to more localities.
Bacalar is situated in Southeast Mexico, almost at the border with Belize. For this reason, it’s quite tricky to get to with no large hubs nearby and therefore doesn’t see the crowds that other places do. Trust me when I say, you want to make the effort to get here!
The main draw to the town is Bacalar Lagoon which is absolutely breathtaking! It’s also known as the Lagoon of Seven Colours boasting seven different shades of blue and it’s nothing short of spectacular. The colours of the lake also change as the depths and time of the day change!
Bacalar Lagoon is Mexico’s second-largest body of water measuring 43 kilometres in length and 2 kilometres wide at its widest point. The lagoon is actually a series of waterways fed by underground cenotes that lead to the Caribbean Sea and has an incredibly diverse ecosystem.
One of the most amazing things to do in Bacalar is to rent a kayak and paddle out on the lake either at sunrise or sunset. I’d definitely recommend sunrise as it’ll be a lot more peaceful with fewer people around. Sunset, however, is still magical!
The beautifully clear, warm waters of Lake Bacalar are also an excellent place for a swim. However, to protect the ecosystem, you’re not able to wear any suncream so make sure you’ve got a cover-up you can wear in the water.
Some other things to do in Bacalar are standup paddleboarding, sailing, snorkelling, swimming in cenotes, relaxing on one of the many docks around the lake, and exploring Fort San Felipe.
Everything Else You Need to Know on Your Mexico Itinerary
When’s the best time to visit Mexico?
In general, the driest months for any Mexico itinerary are December to April. However, although this means the best weather, it also means more crowds and higher prices. I was there in November when it was still a bit cooler and there were fewer crowds. During the three weeks I was there, I only experienced a couple of days of rain and only in the afternoon.
The rainy season runs from June to October but it’s the coast that’s affected the most. Central Mexico usually experiences heavy afternoon showers.
How do I get around Mexico?
I travelled this exact Mexico itinerary on buses. Buses in Mexico are very convenient and if you’ve travelled on buses in places like Vietnam and Cambodia, you’ll find them seriously comfortable!
ADO buses are the most popular and offer different levels of luxury. I always travelled on the cheapest option (OCC) and the seats reclined, there’s plenty of legroom and also air-conditioning. If you’re travelling on a higher budget there’s GL class which offers more luxury and plush chairs.
It could also be worth taking some internal flights if your budget allows as travelling between key destinations can take quite a while.
If you want complete freedom and you’re confident enough to drive, renting a car is a fantastic option!
How expensive is Mexico?
Mexico is extremely affordable; especially outside of the tourist hotspots. Street food meals can be as low as $1 and the same for a beer/tequila. Meals in more upmarket restaurants can start at around $7.
For a private room in a hostel, expect to pay anywhere from $25 a night; this was quite standard around the country. I also stayed in some little guesthouses for around $20 a night.
4* and 5* hotels in the cities can range from around $50 to $200 a night. If you’re keen on some all-inclusive luxury when you’re in Cancun/Playa del Carmen, you can get some fantastic deals starting from just over $100 a night for two people.
Do I need a visa?
As a UK passport holder, you don’t need a visa to visit Mexico as a tourist. You will, however, need to complete an immigration form and have this with you when you enter and leave the country.
What currency do I need?
Mexico uses the peso. At the time of writing, 1 USD is 20.29 MXN
What plug do I need?
You’ll need either plug type A or B. Both have two flat parallel pins and B has a grounding pin.
I hope you’ve found this Mexico itinerary useful in helping you plan your trip. Check out our other Mexico posts for in-depth guides to some of the key destinations on this list.
Feel free to leave a comment or contact us if you have any other questions 🙂