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Free & cheap things to do in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

If you're planning a holiday to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, there are plenty of great options. Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum are probably the best known and most popular destinations. And they are all relatively close to each other. For those looking to lounge around a resort all day, we'd recommend splashing out on a lavish all-inclusive hotel package. However, Mexico can also be a great destination for those looking to budget while on holiday. If you're up for an adventure and hoping to see more of what Mexico has to offer, then we've got you covered with our top picks of free and cheap things to do on the Yucatán Peninsula.

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Weather-wise, the best time to visit the Yucatán Peninsula is the dry high season, which runs from December to April. During this time, the skies are clear and the ocean is calmer, making for the best snorkelling, diving and fishing. If you’re looking for a bargain, however, the cheapest time to visit the Yucatán Peninsula is the low season between May and November. Due to the high temperatures, accommodation prices are significantly lower.

We should also mention that while most of the things on our list are free, you'll need to access them either by car, taxi or public transport.

Our top picks for free & cheap things to do in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

Go to the beach

All right, pirates, we know this may sound a bit obvious. Let's be honest, you're probably going on holiday for a bit of beach time anyway, so why not make sure you hit some of the best public beaches Mexico has to offer? Here are our top picks - and yes, they all feature white-sand beaches and turquoise waters.

Akumal Beach

Not too far from Playa del Carmen, Akumal Beach is a popular beach hotspot for visitors and locals alike. This beautiful beach is home to stunning coral reefs, making it an ideal spot for snorkelling and diving. Remember to keep an eye out for sea turtles! Hotels, restaurants and bars are close by.

Cancun Beach

Cancun Beach is arguably one of the best beaches in Mexico. It stretches 14 miles, which means there's plenty of space for various activities, including snorkelling, paddleboarding, scuba diving and kayaking.

Delfines Beach

One of the largest public beaches in Cancun, Playa Delfines still feels tranquil, and is a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming.

Playa Tortugas

Tortugas is known for its energetic atmosphere and range of water sports activities. It's located in the resort area and is therefore a popular for tourist looking to go swimming, snorkelling and jet skiing.

Tulum Beach

About a two-hour drive from Cancun, Tulum Beach is famous for the 13th century Mayan ruins which stand atop a bluff, overlooking the beach. There are plenty of beach resorts and hotels in the area, so the beach can get crowded in peak season.

Norte Beach

If you are looking for a family beach holiday, this is the beach for you, with calm, shallow waters and safe swimming for children. It's located on Isla Mujeres, so you'll need to grab a ferry over, but you can make a day of it as there are also plenty of beach bars, restaurants and resorts.

Swim in a Cenote

Cenotes are freshwater limestone sinkholes, and the Yucatán has more than 6,000 of them. Cenotes are a Mayan symbol of duality - representing both life and death. Many offer free or inexpensive access and you can swim in their crystal-clear waters. Some popular cenotes to visit are Cenote Azul, Cenote Ik Kil and Chaak Tun.

Visit Las Coloradas - Mexico's Pink Lakes

Located in the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, you'll find a unique phenomenon: The pink lakes of Las Coloradas. The lakes get their colour from the salt. As the water evaporates, the salinity causes an explosion in the growth of red algae, plankton and brine shrimp, turning the water a reddish pink. Because the lakes are used for industrial sea salt production, you can't swim in them. You can reach the lakes by car, about a 3-hour drive from Cancun. There is an entrance fee to the lakes which costs $75 pesos or around £3.50.

Discover the Flamingos at Celestun Biosphere Reserve

About 1.5 hours west of Merida, towards the Gulf Coast, you'll find the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. Between November and April, thousands of flamingos flock to this reserve, making for a beautiful sight.

It's recommended to book a boat tour either from Merida (which includes transport to the reserve) or directly from Celestun. However, these tours can get pretty pricey - around £130 to £200 per person! If you're set on seeing flamingos, then we suggest hoping in a shared boat from the beach, which costs $1,572 Pesos per group of 6 which works out to around $71 Pesos per person, or £12. You can easily catch public transport from Merida to Celestun for around $56 Pesos each way, and explore the nearby beaches and mangroves for free.

Go snorkelling

The colourful coral reefs of the Yucatán are home to rare fish such as blue parrotfish and neon tetra. While scuba diving is definitely worth a try (head to Cozumel if you want to dive), snorkelling is just as good - and a lot cheaper. Plus, you can usually hire snorkelling equipment from your hotel for a small fee or pack your own!

Visit the Frida Kahlo Museum

Frida fans can visit the Frida Kahlo Museum, which is dedicated to the iconic Mexican artist and her work. The museum is located in downtown Playa del Carmen and admission is free.

Learn all about Mayan history

Possibly one of the best ways to learn more about Mayan history is to visit one of the many ruins. Most ruins are free to enter, and while some of the more famous sites have a nominal entrance fee, it's also possible to view the ruins from a distance or walk around the perimeter without paying to go inside.

Perhaps the most famous is Chichén Itzá, which is a 2.5-hour drive from Cancun. Although there is an entrance fee to the archaeological site ($614 Pesos or about £26 which we think is quite steep!), you can still see the majestic El Castillo pyramid from the outside.

Other ruins worth visiting that are a lot cheaper, if not free, include the Izamal's Kinich Kakmó Izamal Pyramid, Palenque, San Gervasio and the Coba ruins. While there is an entrance fee to climb the Nohoch Mul pyramid at Coba ($75 Pesos or £3.40), you can still walk around the site and enjoy the surrounding nature for free. The ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, are also worth a visit. There's an entrance fee ($90 Pesos or £4), but if you're too skint, you can also get a view of the ruins from the beach below.

Step away from the touristy areas to explore a more authentic Yucatán

While the tourist hotspots are popular for a reason, if you want to experience something a little more authentic, there are plenty of quaint towns and villages within driving distance. Here are a few that made our list:

  • Merida - The vibrant city of Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatán, is well worth a visit. The liberal use of white sandstone as a building material has earned it the nickname 'White City' from the locals. Explore the historic centre, admire the colonial architecture and visit the local markets.

  • Valladolid - The colonial city of Valladolid is known for its colourful buildings, historic churches and traditional markets. Take a stroll through the streets and admire the architecture.

  • Izamal - Also known as the "Yellow City", Izamal is another charming town well worth a visit. Its nickname comes from the bright yellow painted colonial buildings. Here you can walk up and down the streets and stop to visit the Convento Franciscano, which is free to enter.

Where to stay on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula

These are our top recommendations for all-inclusive hotels

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