The new Maya Train is set to transform travel to the Yucatán Peninsula, and the change has already begun.
The 900-mile, $28-billion dollar, Maya rail or El Tren Maya, has a route map that loops through international airports, artisan pueblos, cities, and other tourist attractions in five different states. For the first time, it is possible to cruise the mesmerizing and mysterious inner Yucatán Peninsula by train.
The Maya Train is one of the largest, most hastily completed, environmentally wrought, and most ambitious tourism expansion projects of our time. One that Mexican President, Luis Obrador, modestly dubbed “the greatest construction project in the world”!
From the route map to fares, important dates, and of course, controversy, here’s everything you need to know.
The Maya Train schedule isn’t set in stone, yet
Since its first ride in December 2023, the Maya Train has carried more than 15,579 passengers on 144 trips. However, the train is launching in stages. Right now, this means it leaves only a few times a day, several days a week, and not all stations and stops are open.
Notably, the Cancun to Tulum to Chetemal to Escarega (Quinta Roo into Campeche) sections will not open until the end of February 2024.
Currently, the train only goes roundrip from Cancun to Merida and Palenque leaves from Cancun at 9am. Return times are less clear on the website. Once fully operational, the Maya train is expected to leave every two hours.
Eventually, you’ll want to take the train for short distances too. If you’re staying in say, Vallidoid near the ruins of Chichén Itzá, you can take the Maya train to the site instead of driving. Staying in Cancun and want to see Tulum? Just hop on the train.
For the most current schedule, your best bet is to keep checking the Tren Maya website.
How much does the Maya Train cost? (Does it make sense?)
Like train schedules, Maya train prices are not entirely clear just yet, though a few prices have been posted.
According to the Tren Maya website, you can take the train’s longest stretch, from Cancun to Palenque (a small jungle village with stunning waterfalls and ruins), for $2,123 pesos ($125) each way for tourist class and $3,391 pesos ($200) for premier class.
The same round trip flight takes an hour and a half and cost $135 round trip, much cheaper. It seemingly pans out when you consider saving on a hotel or Airbnb if you take the train, but then why spend 12 hours on a train when you can take a pretty quick flight? Presumably, the lower carbon footprint.
But the train is great because you can discover new places. If you want to wander a romantic colonial city, get off at Merida, about 5 hours from Cancun, it’s just $735 pesos ($43) or $1,173 ($60) each way. Not much more than you’d pay for the bus, yet a much smoother ride. (It’s a shorter flight than Cancun to Palenque but the price tag is nearly triple, in the $350-$600 range.)
No explanation could be offered for the difference between economy and premier classes found in ticket and the other accommodation types they are marketing: standard (Marketing term: Xiinbal), dining (Janal), and overnight trains (P’tal).
Print tickets will be available at select stations. A QR code sent to your phone if you purchase online.
When will the Maya Train open in Tulum?
In February 2024, the segment connecting Cancun to Tulum will be complete. It will offer a scenic excursion, connecting the Riviera Maya via rail with stops for Playa del Carmen, Xcaret, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum. If you’ve ever sat in traffic on Route 307, you know how much this train means.
However, this is the last section of the Maya Train route is one of the most controversial, as it is constructed over a delicate system underwater rivers and cenotes.
Maya Train: Understanding the Local Impact
Maya Train controversies go beyond the typical operation setbacks that occurred at launch. It was 20 million over budget, the food vendor pulled out months before opening day, and the train experienced technical difficulties causing delays on day one.
Environmental groups have raised concerns about the ethics of the rail and how it was built in the first place. The final route of the Maya train traverses Mexico’s prime Cenote territory. Even raised on viaducts, the delicate underground cave system has been disturbed and could be jeopardized.
Deforestation and habitat disruption are also an issue. The government accounts for 3.4 million lost trees though environmentalists claim the Maya Train has eliminated 9 million. Additionally, there are reports of home and land owners being forcibly displaced along the route. There are currently 25 legal complaints against the Maya train, according to The Guardian.
The government offers the promise of economic development and a greener way to travel to offset these concerns. Despite the lavish resorts along its coast, the Yucatan is perennially one of Mexico’s most impoverished states.
No matter where you stand, the Maya Train is happening
The economic impact of tourism dollars in these regions must encourage environmental repair and economic development for it to work for local communities. It is up to us, as travelers, to do more than understand our part in supporting the local hotels, restaurants, and guides in the ancient Mayan heartland. We have to demand it.
It’s a good thing there’s enough to fall in love with to keep you coming back to this part of Mexico for years to come. With that in mind, here are a few, but by no means all, of the stops along the train route that are worth exploring.
The Maya Train Route Map: 12 Places to Explore
There will be 42 stops in total when complete. This includes stations in colonial cities and pueblos magicos, a designation given to towns that offer visitors a “magical” experience through natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. Plus stops at tourist attractions like Mayan ruins.
Here are few of many stations and stops along the route worth booking a ticket.
1. Palenque, Chiapas
- Palenque Archaeological Zone—An impressive Mayan archaeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Agua Azul Waterfalls—A set of beautiful waterfalls surrounded by the jungle
2. Candelaria, Campeche
- Xtacumbilxunaan Caves—Check out rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, underground tour.
- Candelaria River—Boat rides, nature, fishing, and wildlife watching.
3. Escárcega, Campeche
- Calakmul Archaeological Zone—Explore ancient Mayan ruins in a sprawling jungle setting.
- Cenotes Miguel Colorado—Discover stunning natural sinkholes near Champotón.
- Laguna de Terminos—Experience diverse wildlife on serene boat tours in a vast lagoon.
4. Edzná, Campeche
- Five-Story Temple—Marvel at the grand, palatial ceremonial complex and a cool evening lightshow.
5. San Francisco de Campeche
- Colorful Streets—Stroll through vibrant, pastel-facade houses and cobblestone lanes and great base camp for Edzná ruins.
- Malecon—Enjoy a scenic walk or sunset along this 2-mile Gulf of Mexico promenade.
6. Boca del Cerro, Tabasco
- Pantanos de Centla Biosphere Reserve—One of the largest and most biodiverse wetland areas in Mexico.
- Usumacinta Canyon—A spectacular fluvial canyon, home to a large amount of flora and fauna.
- Yaxchilán—An ancient Mayan archaeological site located on the banks of the Usumacinta River.
7. El Triunfo, Tabasco
- Comalcalco Archaeological Zone—A Mayan archaeological site built with baked clay bricks, the only one of its kind.
- Hacienda La Luz—An old cocoa farm that offers tours to learn about the chocolate production process.
8. Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo
- Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve—Experience the natural beauty with boat journeys, safaris, and river floats.
- Pueblo Felipe Carrillo Plaza—Visit the plaza to learn about local history and explore coral reefs.
9. Bacalar, Quintana Roo
- Kayak Through the Lagoon—Explore cenotes, Pirates’ Channel, and Bird Island by kayak.
10. Chetumal, Quintana Roo
- Oxtankah Ruins—Visit this ancient Mayan city to witness its unique Mayan-Catholic architectural blend.
- Calderitas Village—Enjoy seafood and relax by the sea in this picturesque village near Chetumal.
- Manatee Sanctuary—Learn about and observe these gentle sea mammals in their natural habitat.
11. Valladolid, Yucatan
- Colonial City—The city is considered one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico, and it’s a great destination to experience the local culture and lifestyle and base for Chichén Itzá.
12. Merida, Yucatan
- Historic Center—Visit the Merida Cathedral, Casa de Montejo, and discover the colorful streets around Plaza Grande.
- Day Trips—Use Merida as a base for day trips to sites such as Chichen Itza, cenotes, and Mayan villages. The city’s central location makes it an ideal starting point for the Yucatan Peninsula’s natural and historical wonders.
How to Buy a Maya Train Ticket
Tickets can currently be purchased via a government website. But, be patient as the train is still in its soft launch phase.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Please do! I’m a one-man team for this website, so any help is sincerely appreciated.