<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RVers Guide to the Yucatan
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RVing The Yucatán

by David Eidell 

This article is designed to be an RVing supplement to the volumes of standard travel literature available for the Yucatán peninsula including its Mayan archeological ruins.

The Lay Of The Land

The Yucatán peninsula is as flat as a pool table. Roads are built on solid limestone rock and are quite straight. After weathering countless curves and grades to get there, most RV'ers breathe a sign of relief and realize that the Mayan pyramids and shimmering cobalt waters of the Caribbéan aren't far away. After the Pacific Riviera Beaches and Copper Canyon, the Yucatán peninsula ranks number three on RV'ers favorite Méxican destinations.

The state of Yucatán is one of three that occupy the peninsula. Campéche in the southwest has an overabundance of shoreline oil drilling, and tank storage facilities that interfere with many of its otherwise pristine beaches. Quintána Roo on the other hand offers some of the most beautiful shoreline and beaches to be found on México's East Coast. On the other hand Yucatán and Campéche have the more interesting cities to visit (Mérida and Campéche respectively). Quintána Roo has but two non-tourist cities of any size, the first is Chetumál which has few attractions for RV'ers, the second is Valladolíd which is a hidden Maya gem.

Getting There

México is shaped like a left-slanted, backward "J". The most expeditious route to Yucatán from just about anywhere in the United States parallels México’s East Coast. Entry into México at Laredo Texas is popular. From The US West Coast, entry into México through East Texas is preferred because it allows for shorter driving distances fewer toll road miles and less expensive U.S. gasoline. An Eastern entry is preferable because if you trace an imaginary line from Cancún Northward, it intersects the United States near Pensacola Florida (!). Many RV’ers wish to do a "circumnavigation" of México’s West Coast and the Yucatán peninsula. This route enters or departs México at Nogáles Arizona, with the other border crossing options being El Paso or Laredo, depending on the inclusion of a colonial cities itinerary toward the end of the trip. Allow five days of hard driving travel time between Cancún and Laredo. The West Coast tour follows the coast to Juchitán, then enters the mountains of Chiapas. From there most folks visit San Cristobál de Las Cásas Chiapas, then journey Northward to Yucatán. At Francisco Escarcéga you can turn right and head directly for the Caribbéan coast or continue straight to Mérida.


The weather is typical of southern México: Winter is the cooler and dryer season, while summers can be oppressively hot, humid, and rainy. Because the peninsula bulges into the Caribbéan and Gulf of México, many late summer Caribbéan hurricanes make landfall on the peninsula (Official hurricane season lasts from June through October). Late April through early June is the hottest time of year. Temperatures can climb to one hundred fifteen degrees at inland locations such as the ruins of Chichén Itza, and the capitol city Mérida. On the other hand, late winter and early Spring "Nortes" that intrude southward from the United States, can render the Yucatán shoreline overcast, windy and chilly -- usually three to five days at a stretch a fact the Cancún Travel Brochures conveniently omit. (México’s most dependable warm winter weather is found on the West Coast from Manzaníllo Southward.) For the most part though, expect January daytime highs to be in the seventies to low eighties at the beach, nighttime lows will drop into the fifties. At Chichén Itza the temperature may be ten degrees warmer. Visiting the interior during periods of cooler weather (when visitors at Cancún are grumbling) would be considered astute planning. Many repeat visitors remark that November and December are their favorite months in Yucatán. Winter crowds have not arrived yet, the water is warmer than it will be in January, and as a bonus summer rains will have left the vegetation green and lush.

Mayan Ruins

The top archeological sites in Yucatán are busy places. Stores, shops, snack bars, vendors and parking directors, greet the visitor. Parking an RV at Tulúm can be challenging when a dozen tour buses converge in mid-morning. Indeed it is necessary to arrive at popular attractions no later than mid-morning. After ten AM legions of giant buses arrive from Cancún. Sightseers re-board their buses for the trip back to their hotel at three PM, so a clever RV’er may wish to consider taking a siesta from noon until three (during the heat of the day). Your entry fee is valid all-day. Sundays are free (and crowded).

The Mayans constructed their edifices to please their Gods, and not to comply with human ergonomics. As such you will discover that climbing the steps of a pyramid or temple is unlike climbing a flight of stairs. Some steps are two feet or more high, with less than a twelve-inch ledge. The sheer vertical rise of many structures is daunting for individuals with a fear of heights. Stone flooring on the rooftops of the temples may be rough or uneven. This is no place for sandals. I wear a pair of lace up hiking boots to reduce ankle sprains and skinned shins. Visitors with physical disabilities would do well to ponder the ramifications of tumbling down those rugged blocks before blithely striking out for the summit. Yucatán’s fierce sun has claimed thousands of over-enthusiastic temple visitors through heat exhaustion. It’s best to approach the physical exertion part with restraint and planning. Smart RV’ers tour the shadeless ruins with a wide brimmed hat and loose long-sleeve clothing. Packing a one-liter "sports bottle" of purified water and a wad of toilet paper is also considered to be wise planning.


The Méxican government has developed many tourist aids at the archeological ruin sites and principal among these is the legion of official guides that lead groups at specified intervals during the day. The guides are professional; some are moonlighting archeological students from México’s national universities. Unless you are an accomplished student of Mayan culture and history you will learn much and be more than entertained by a guided tour. I consider a guided tour to be money well spent.

The Food

Yucatecan dishes evolved apart from mainland México’s. Indeed forty-five years ago the peninsula wasn’t even connected to México by road. Today it’s common to find Burritos, Chimichangas, and Chilaquiles, in tourist restaurants but in smaller towns and villages especially those with a heavy Maya influence expect to find surprise dishes on the menu. Venison (called venado) is a staple meat. Tamales are an art form. In fact many entrées are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The Yucatán peninsula is "Ground Zero" for the infamous Chile Habanero, the hottest chile on the planet. I always gingerly sample sauces and condiments before plunging in.

 The Critters

The tropics always play host to lots of insects, reptiles, and exotic mammals and this part of México is no exception. Bumping into a truly dangerous animal such as a Jaguar or poisonous snake would be extremely unlikely. However if your plans happen to include machete swinging your way, through undeveloped ruins, or hiking down jungle trails with ankle-deep humus, wear tall boots and watch where you place your hands. Mexicans loath snakes and they will go well out of their way to eradicate even the non-poisonous kind. For the average tourist the question of snakes will involve nothing more than tall-tales around the campfire.

Jaguars are solitary creatures and a jungle full of plump Yucatecan deer and wild pigs keeps them obese and satisfied. They are creatures of the night and since few tourists prowl jungle trails by moonlight this really isn’t an issue. Jaguars would never attempt to gain entrance to a motor vehicle anyway they are far too shy.


This tropical scourge isn’t common, nevertheless it cannot be ignored the ramifications are just too severe. México has for years conducted intensive mosquito spraying, and dwelling sterilization for malaria. Even the most humble palm frond beach hut is sprayed annually. The chances of encountering a malaria carrying mosquito are slim. But the further you go into the jungle and the later into deep summer you stay, the greater your chances of encountering the particular mosquito species that harbor the disease.

Prevention is overwhelmingly successful. Ask your family doctor for advice about prevention with anti-malarial medicines. Most require that you start taking them one or two weeks before arriving in Yucatán. Mosquito repellents such as Cutter’s‘ with 100% DEET are effective.

Special Note: Don’t let the subject of malaria scare you away from visiting this area! The bare fact is that millions of visitors have visited Yucatán in the last thirty years and only a half-dozen summertime jungle bashers have contracted malaria. This is a summer rainy season issue. I camped on a remote beach near Belize through one summer and my Méxican neighbors reported that malaria was quite rare.

Chichén Itza

Perhaps the third most recognized temple ruins in the world (after the pyramids of Egypt and the cloud fortress of Peru’s Macchu Picchu). The site has plenty of parking. A small RV park is located a mile to the North before the village of Píste. The RV park ("Stardust Inn") has about twenty-two spaces, with hookups (air conditioner use is not recommended). A "Suburbano" transit bus plies the route between Píste and Chichén Itza hourly.

The ruins are located between the city of Mérida Yucatán and the mega-resort of Cancún to the East. Prospective visitors will find reams of published material about Chichén Itza. The site has changed little in fifteen years, so reading the dozens of articles that have appeared in National Geographic would be a good start. Maps and guidebooks are sold at the site. 


Uxmál ends up a favorite archeological site for many visitors. It is larger, wilder, and more exotic than Chichén Itza and features a hugely popular laser light and music show during high season evenings at nine PM. Uxmál (Pronounced oosh-MALL). Parking is easier than at other Yucatecan archeological ruins sites. Many RV’ers decide to overnight (no hookups) in the parking lot.

Uxmál is located 48 miles south of the city of Mérida on highway 261. Nine miles further still is the Camping Sacbe (sock-BAY) RV park operated by a friendly family. This is both a pretty and well-run campground. You will have to provide your own transportation to and from the ruins as there are no local buses on this route.


The setting, depicting a stone fortress sitting atop a forested knoll astride a shimmering turquoise sea has set many hearts to fluttering. Tulúm is a photographic masterpiece, and is perhaps the signature postcard scene of Mexico. While offering a memorable image, Tulúm disappoints some temple aficionados because much of the ruins are in poor condition and are usually swarming with visitors. Nevertheless the site is worth visiting and choice Caribbéan camping beaches are not far off.

There are a dozen developed and undeveloped campgrounds to the north of Tulúm on the coast highway. The well run Paá Mul is the most northerly of the bunch and offers full amenities. Chemuyil offers primitive camping and a stunning beach setting. Indeed camping on the fifty mile stretch of Caribbean beaches is what attracts many long-term RV’ers to Yucatán in the first place.

Other Ruins Sites

The peninsula is literally bursting at the seams with undeveloped ruins sites. Most are primitive and without guide services. Parking can be Ad Lib, and security at deserted sites is an issue at night. National Geographic magazines and published hardcover works on the Maya are your best source for details about the sites. A GPS satellite position locator would be an important accessory if you decide to wander into the jungle. 

Buying Artifacts

Pre Colombian artifacts are contraband, but unfortunately illegal artifact sales to tourists are common. México is very touchy about having its heritage sold to the highest bidder and possession is considered theft. Many buyers unwittingly pay dearly for freshly baked and aged counterfeits. Even better quality reproductions are available at concession shops at the ruins and they come with a receipt that will prevent you from getting into hot water at a future road checkpoint. You can also tell fellow tourists who brag about scoring a huge artifact buy that U.S. Customs automatically seize a discovered artifact and charge the possessor with a felony. 

The Other Coast

The North and West Coasts of Yucatán offer great camping and far less hectic traffic and congestion than the Caribbéan coast. The beaches aren’t as white, the sea is not as blue but the people are very friendly and the cost of restaurant meals and camping is about one-third that of the other side of the peninsula. The beaches are nicer than Padre Island Texas, and the seawater is green but usually warm enough for comfortable swimming. This area is definitely worth the drive if you are near Mérida. Progresso to the north has vast flocks of white and pink flamingoes. Celestún to the West is a collection of ramshackle buildings, excellent palápa seafood restaurants, and hundreds of miles of vacant beaches. The peace and solitude that you were craving on the shores of the Caribbéan are found on this coast in abundance. Finding a place to park is a snap; most restaurants will let you park somewhere on their property free.

The Cities

Mérida is the capitol of the state of Yucatán. Its nickname is "The White City". Yucatecans consider themselves separate from the rest of México and visitors will find male descendents of the Maya to be less "Macho" than the average Méxican man. Mérida itself was the economic nucleus in the heyday of the hennequin boom when the fibrous plant was used to make sisal rope for sailing ships. Abandoned hennequin fields surround Mérida, and many of the plantation haciendas have been restored. There are many pedestrian malls, plazas and parks and the city still radiates a colonial charm that delights present day RV’ers. If your spouse has gotten a little uptight during the long journey, hire a horse drawn cab for a half-day tour of the city. Two local beers are worth sampling. Both are Pilsner types and many tasters rate them above other Méxican Brews. Look for: Carta Clara and Montejo.

Campo RV Rainbow, is the best choice for a Mérida campground. From the south (mainland México) take the northern periférico bypass road around Mérida. At the highway interchange to Progresso, make a right and head for Mérida. The campground appears almost immediately on your right. Some pull-throughs for extra long rigs. About ninety useable spaces. One mile to the right as you exit is a huge shopping center with ultra modern stores.


Valladolíd (pronounced Vye-yah-doe-LEED) is the largest authentic Maya city in Yucatán. To date it is relatively untouristed and makes a delightful day trip or even overnight destination. There are parks and restaurants and homes with verdant flower gardens. Sample some authentic Mayan fare. There is a large Cenóte close to the city.


No visit to Yucatán is complete without a tour of the planned mega-resort of Cancún. Perched on a sand spit shaped like a giant sideways "7", the resort lures thousands of fly-in visitors from all over the world. To see what all of the fuss is about, take a walking tour of a super luxury hotel. When you eventually tire of the brass fixtures, time-share hawkers, glass doors and marble floors you might search some of the local markets for gringo treats and perhaps your hometown newspaper. Parking spaces are rare but a determined search will eventually uncover one. Tour bus drivers are not as talented as route bus drivers. Give them plenty of room when maneuvering through traffic. Tour busses exit Cancún at eight AM headed for attractions and they start converging around four PM. Try to time your RV driving to avoid the two periods.


Famed oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, made the island of Cozumél instantly famous after he filmed its local underwater reefs and fish then aired the program on worldwide television in 1963. Today the island is a snorkler’s and SCUBA diver’s Mecca. Like Cancún, Cozumél is a package travel center with hordes of three-day visitors arriving and departing on rumbling jetliners. Prices are high and traditional relaxed attitudes have been replaced with a production line mentality. Nevertheless, the island is worth a visit. Periodic ferries carry people (no vehicles) to Cozumél City from Pláya del Carmen. Parking a large rig is possible, but this is a big tourist magnet and security for an isolated vehicle and contents must be weighed before leaving for the island. I try to enlist a small group of children to watch my rig. A group is less likely to get bored and wander away and a collective consciousness plus vigilance thwarts many would-be thieves. I’ll flash a handful of coins to get the children’s attention and pay them upon my return.

Isla Mujéres

"Women Island" is located to the north of Cancún, and is a popular day-trip destination for hundreds of Cancún visitors looking for a sliver of "old México". Access is by passenger ferry. Over the years, Isla Mujéres has shed some of its charm and acquired some of Cancún’s prices. Nevertheless, it’s still a desirable side-trip. Swimming is safe on the sheltered inland side only. 


Located on the border with Belize, the capitol city of the State of Quintána Roo is an important supply center for the region and is a waypoint for a loop journey of the peninsula. 

Not Exactly The Yucatán, but…

Three outstanding attractions are located between Mérida and San Cristobál de las Cásas in the state of Chiapas. Most RV’ers include the latter city in a Yucatán excursion, so I have composed a description of three attractions below:


The Mayan archeological ruins at Palénque may be the high point of your México archeological experience. Not only are the temples spectacular, the setting is captivating. The site is located on a rain forest hillside. Rain Forest is entirely different than jungle. Three tier trees form a dense canopy over the forest floor. Some plants that you will see have individual leaves that would almost cover a Volkswagen Beetle. In early morning mist rising from the nightly dewfall obscures and makes mysterious the edifices and surrounding jungle. At night roving bands of Howler Monkeys broadcast the sound of the jungle right to your front door.

There are two major campgrounds near the ruins. The Los Leones is more modern than the Maya Bell, but the latter is closer to the jungle. The weather here is usually very warm and humid. Air conditioner use is not recommended due to the makeshift wiring in the campgrounds. Many folks run their generator to cool their coach and the Maya Belle campground may offer a little more elbowroom to disperse fumes.

You may hear of a shortcut trail that leads from the Maya Bell to the ruins site. Women alone should not hike this trail as incidents of harassment by frustrated Méxican Romeos have been frequently reported.

Agua Azúl

The name means "Blue Water" and it’s a National Park. Imagine a robust river that splits and further divides several times as it descends from the mountains. The setting is deep in the jungle, and the clear water bubbles and ripples over white limestone. It’s color ranges from baby blue, to turquoise and finally sapphire. The effect is striking and contrasts with a fluorescent green jungle. There are many pools, and riffs to wade and swim in. Some sections are obviously dangerous (immediately above a fifty foot waterfall for example), and are marked with warning signs. The water is warm. The parking area at the entrance is large. A small fee is charged for overnight parking. Keep your stuff under lock and key as the area is fraught with light-fingered perusers. Generally the park is quite safe and should present no undue concern to the security conscious RV’er. Mid-day break-ins are rare, but keep your drapes closed, and windows locked.

The entry road to the park winds down a rather steep hill. Under-powered rigs especially those with tall gear ratios should keep this in mind. Getting out wouldn’t be a challenge if a straight pull were done without stopping midway. Towed automobiles could exit separately.


Misol Ha

Another National Park. Further downstream (towards Palénque to the East) than Agua Azúl, is a large waterfall and huge swimming hole beneath it. As beautiful as it’s rival but in a different way, Misol Ha is a shorter drive from the highway and offers primitive overnight camping.

Satellite Dish Television Reception

Yucatán is well outside of the footprint of US satellite broadcasts. Bring some favorite movies or better yet, bring a camcorder and make your own.

Internet Cafes

The following cities have one or more Internet cafes: Campéche, Chetumál, Mérida, Cancún, and Cozumél. Rumored to be on the way are cafes for Valladolid, Isla Mujéres, and Palénque.

Telephone Service

Ultra modern debit card telephones are found in all settlements of 3,000 or more. Smaller villages always have a long distance telephone office. Calls to the United States incur a one-dollar per minute toll with the debit card, and two dollars per minute if a long distance operator in a telephone office places the call.


Medical Service

Campéche, Mérida, and Chetumál have second tier IMSS hospitals which can handle all but the most sophisticated medical procedures. Cancún has many medical doctors that were schooled on the United States and whom speak excellent English.

Air Service

Mérida and Cozumél have international airports with direct service to México and much of North America. Chetumál, Mérida, and Campéche have large inter-México airports.


Speaking from a novices position, most professional photographers and amateur buffs bring lens filters for dazzling sunlight and the reflection of sunlight off water. A Polaroid filter is handy for taking pictures of swimming fish and the depths of limestone sinkholes called cenotes. I bring an assortment of film of different speeds. Hint: I replace all camera batteries before I leave home. Batteries for VCR camcorders are available only in the largest Méxican cities and they are costly and very difficult to find.