Cancun may be the number one tourist destination in the whole of Mexico, famous for its five-star resorts, powder-white sands hugged by teal-colored seas, and balmy weather, but it lacks something other Mexican destinations have in abundance:

Cultural value.

Young Woman Tourist Admiring A Colonial Cathedral In Valladolid, Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula, Latin America

Unlike a majority of Mexican cities, it was not settled during the Mayan or post-Hispanic period, having been founded only in the late 20th century as a resort city, especially to accommodate Americans in a then-underdeveloped Caribbean Coast.

Fortunately for Cancun visitors, they no longer have to choose between luxury and culture, as the new Maya Train, which launched recently, links the Caribbean hub to 4 beautiful inland colonial gems, making it easier to go on a trip from the glitzy Hotel Zone:


Old Colonial Houses In Valladolid, Yucatan State, Mexico

The first point of interest on the Maya Train route, departing from Cancun Airport, is Valladolid, a charming town best known for boasting a wealth of Baroque monuments, including its very own San Gervasio Cathedral and a 16th-century convent.

This fortress-like Convent of San Bernardino of Siena is one of the most important Spanish-built religious structures in Mexico, drawing in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, and it’s the leading attraction in Valladolid.

Around the historic center, visitors will also find colorful low houses lining narrow one-way lanes, the landmark Casa de los Venados, now a museum housing Mexican folk art, and quaint plazas flanked by colonial buildings.

Young woman back view wearing hat walking throung the arch corridor in the historical part of Valladolid town, Mexico (1)

Distance from Cancun (Airport): 100 miles

First departure from Cancun (Airport): 7:00 a.m.

Arrival in Valladolid: 8:46 a.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 1h46

Second departure from Cancun (Airport): 4:30 p.m.

Arrival in Valladolid: 6:29 p.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 1h59

Ticket price (Tourist Class): US$27.89


Yellow-Colored Convento de Santo Antonio de Padua In Izamal Seen Through The Arched Terraces, Izamal, Mexico

Next up in line, Izamal is perhaps the most Instagrammable small town in all of Mexico, due to its distinct yellow-washed townscape – nearly all buildings are painted in warm yellowish tones – and mix of Spanish and Mayan architectural feats.

Among them, there’s a large Franciscan Monastery, named after San Antonio de Padua, whose open atrium finished in 1561 is still second in size only to the Vatican’s, and the imposing Kinich Kak Mo pyramid, erected by the pre-Columbian peoples in times immemorial.

As it sits only 161 miles west of Cancun, Izamal can be easily visited as a day trip from the Mexican Caribbean, though travelers are advised to check train timetables in advance as they might not be too frequent on certain days, and cancelations may occur.

Yellow Houses In Izamal, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Distance from Cancun (Airport): 161 miles

First departure from Cancun (Airport): 7:00 a.m.

Arrival in Izamal: 9:05 a.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 3h5

Second departure from Cancun (Airport): 4:30 p.m.

Arrival in Izamal: 6:35 p.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 3h5

Ticket price (Tourist Class): US$48


Aerial View Of Plaza Grande, Merida, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, Latin America

Capital city of Yucatan (the state, not to be confused with the wider peninsula) Merida is one of Mexico’s great cultural capitals, up there with Mexico City, Guadalajara and Oaxaca: it is home to the third largest ‘Old Town’ and oldest cathedral in the mainland Americas, and it’s incredibly safe to visit.

The Cathedral of Merida is a stunning 16th-century effort built with the help of disassembled stones from neighboring Mayan ruins, and it towers above a pedestrian-friendly maze of cobbled streets lined by brightly-painted facades and signorial mansions.

Besides the fascinating History, Merida has time and again been described as the safest major city in the country: whether you’re exploring vibrant local markets, exploring the church-dotted center, or dining out in the evenings, you can do so knowing it’s highly unlikely harm will come to you.

Central Avenue Paseo de Montejo in Merida

Distance from Cancun (Airport): 192 miles

First departure from Cancun (Airport): 7:00 a.m.

Arrival in Merida Teya: 9:59 a.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 3h59

Second departure from Cancun (Airport): 4:30 p.m.

Arrival in Merida Teya: 7:16 p.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 3h46

Ticket price (Tourist Class): US$57.76


Aerial View Of Independence Square, San Francisco de Campeche, State Of Campeche, Mexico

The furthest one from Cancun, San Francisco de Campeche (commonly shortened to Campeche) serves as the capital of its namesake state, and similarly to Merida, it combines the very best of the Mayan and Hispanic Worlds.

We’re talking archaeological zones dating back centuries, and one of only two colonial cities in the Americas that have retained their defensive city walls, an accomplishment that’s helped it be inducted in UNESCO’s carefully-curated list of World Heritage Sites.

With its ethnic barrios, traditional restaurants, and storied chapels – Guadalupe’s has an accumulated 500 years of History – it is the perfect complement to the more entertainment-driven, coastal Cancun (unlike Valladolid or Izamal, however, it’s too far for a day trip and will require an overnight).

Colorful Street In Campeche, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, Latin America

Distance from Cancun (Airport): 303 miles

First departure from Cancun (Airport): 7:00 a.m.

Arrival in San Fco. Campeche: 12:31 p.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 6h31

Second departure from Cancun (Airport): 4:30 p.m.

Arrival in San Fco. Campeche: 9:23 p.m.

Estimated journey time (without delays): 5h53

Estimated journey time (without delays): 5h53

Ticket price (Tourist Class): US$57.76

You can book your Maya Train tickets – and check the latest timetables and available travel dates – here.

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