Updated: May 20
Mexico had been on my bucket list for quite some time, last December we finally managed to visit and chose for the Yucatan peninsula.
This region of Mexico is quite safe but also the most visited side. As Mexico is open for tourists a lot of people go there now and especially around the Holidays.
If you are looking for the authentic Mexico: the best places to visit here are: Valladolid, Bacalar & Merida. If you like the beach & the underwater world: Isla Cozumel, Tulum, Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox should be on your list here.
Practical information and travel tips when visiting Mexico
- When you arrive at the airport in Cancun you need to fill an immigration document. At the airport you will see a kiosk mentioning you need to download it digitally but WIFI at the airport doesn’t work properly and you will get the document at the immigration desk. It’s very important to keep the paper you receive back until the end of your trip!
- When you visit both Yucatan and Quintana Roo, please keep in mind that there’s a time difference between both regions. So in Valladolid it’s one hour earlier than Cancun/Tulum, …
- Bring your binoculars: there is much wildlife to spot In Mexico, especially birds!
- It’s common to give tips in Mexico, they are never included, a tip of 10 or 15 % will do, but note that if you don’t think the service is worth it it’s not obligated.
- When you like the underwater world, bring your snorkeling gear. Best places for snorkeling are: Bacalar, Akumal, El Cielo and the cenotes.
- In Mexico they love coriander and they add it to almost every dish. If you don’t like it, ask for a meal ‘sin cilantro’
Traveling around in Yucatan peninsula
Of course, you could hire a car, it’s best to book it in advance with a car rental like sunnycars. The roads are ok, but the driving style is different than in Europe.
We hired a car at a local car rental and the state of the car was terrible.
For traveling between places we always took the Adobusses it’s a very good service and quite punctual as well. You can download the app on your mobile and book tickets in advance. Sometimes it’s necessary to book at least one day in advance but we travelled during high season. Tickets are quite cheap and the busses all have airco (take a sweater, because it can get really cold) and have comfortable seats. No additional fee for your luggage but I would recommend taking your valuable things with you on the bus.
To visit local places, we often used bike rental, don’t do this in your hotel, they will charge more than the local bike rentals. The bikes were in good condition and we paid about 50 $ for 4 bikes for 2 days in Tulum.
Taxis aren’t expensive either, but make sure to discuss the price before getting in. The taxi drivers use different prices from 40 Mexican pesos to 120.
Colectivo’s are a cheap way of traveling around and visiting sights. It’s the transportation the Mexicans often use too. We paid 40 pesos to go from Valladolid to Chichén Itza for example. The colectivo is mostly a mini-van where you can sit with around 15 people, they arrive every 5 minutes and are often equipped with airco.
Recommended tour to visit Yucatan peninsula in about 12 days:
Cancun – Isla Cozumel – Tulum – Bacalar - Valladolid – Cancun
This is the route we took, but you could also go to Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox instead of Isla Cozumel. We didn’t visit Playa Del Carmen (only for taking the ferry) or Cancun, because these places are very crowded. We only stayed one night in Cancun because of our arrival time, if you arrive in the morning I would recommend going straight to one of the Islands mentioned above.
This island is easily reachable by ferry, it takes you about 30-40 minutes to go from Playa del Carmen to Isla Cozumel. You can choose between two companies: ultramar or Winjet (the last one was a bit cheaper and takes you even faster). If you want to sit outside you need to arrive early as these places are taken quickly.
Staying on Cozumel is best at the West coast, the main city on Cozumel, San Miguel de Cozumel is right across the ferry terminal. There is also a big cruise terminal on that side of the island, I would recommend not to stay close to this last one.
The best things to do here:
- Take a tour around the island (car hire is available everywhere, but please take full insurance). Visit Playa Palancar, this is a very nice public beach with a nice bar/restaurant and there are some raccoons living there as well. It’s also a good start to go on a snorkeling or diving tour to El Cielo and the beautiful reefs of Palancar & Colombia.
- Drive to Punta Sur Eco Beach park: the entrance isn’t very cheap, but the views are definitely worth it. Spot some amazing birds here and go to the crocodile lake. The park closes at 4pm so make sure to arrive on time here.
- El mirador is another place where you can have a stop to take some beautiful pictures.
Recommendations of restaurants: Hemingway’s & Sereno (both have beautiful views, perfect for sunset dinner and great food)
In Tulum we stayed at Pueblo Tulum because the beach area was very expensive in the holiday period. We rented some bikes and these were perfect to access the beach area and the cenotes and for doing some sightseeing in the neighborhood.
What should you visit in Tulum?
- The Mayan Ruins of Tulum are worth a visit (access only 80 pesos per person), at the entrance there were a lot of cute coatis that came to greet us! The location is amazing next to the seaside. You can find a lot of iguanas sunbathing between the old stones. Tulum Ruins are open daily from 8am to 5pm. It might get crowded because a lot of people come to visit here. Going early is a good idea!
- Cenotes! When you are visiting Tulum you absolutely need to go to the cenotes: we did Cavalera, which is rather small and you really need to jump in it (got out of my comfort zone there). Car Wash, officially named Cenote Aktun Ha. The nickname carwash arose from its unusual past, as it’s near the main road from Tulum to Coba it was used by passing drivers as a convenient car wash station because of the large open-air pool. It’s amazing to swim in the crystal-clear water there. I got lucky and spotted a turtle swimming. The cenote is also home of a resident crocodile. Cenote Azul: a very popular cenote among the Mexicans. The water is very clear and beautiful, you can jump from a platform.
On this picture my daughter and I are wearing our swimsuits from byjessicarey. We absolutely love these because they are beautiful, comfortable and 100% made from regenerated materials (like rescued fish nets), no sweatshops involved either!
- The beach of course! There are some nice beach clubs or you can choose a public beach like paradise beach. Although the famous statue ‘Ven a la Luz’ isn’t at the entrance anymore it’s still great to visit raw love café, there’s a second one in Tulum pueblo as well.
- Akumal: my ultimate dream was to swim with sea turtles. One of the best places to do that is at Akumal (you need to take a guide and a life jacket). We paid 400 pesos (about 20$) to enter per person.
We went there from Tulum by colectivo, which was very cheap.
Restaurants in Tulum
These are the best places to eat we found in Tulum:
- Raw love café (great for breakfast or lunch) only vegan
- Del Cielo, Tulum pueblo: the best breakfast we had!
- Burrito Amor: here they make the most heavenly guacamole and burrito’s
- Bonita Tulum’s Burger bar: great burgers and life music
- Sabor de Mar, great food at good prices. We had to queue for half an hour at the entrance but was worth it
Why should you add Bacalar to your itinerary? It’s about 3 hours drive with the Ado bus from Tulum. The atmosphere is completely different as the one in Tulum, more authentic and quieter.
Must do’s here are: go to the lake of Bacalar for some sailing, kayaking and snorkeling, visit Los Rapidos, well known for it’s 7 blue-shaded lagoon and the ‘living rocks’. Open daily from 9am to 6pm. And of course, Cocalitos, where you can chill out in hammocks or sit on a swing in the water.
Restaurant: La Playita, amazing view on the lake and very good food.
The last place we visited was Valladolid, more to the center of Yucatan. Be aware that the there is a time change of one hour, so it’s one hour earlier. It was about a 4-hour drive from Bacalar. Valladolid is also a more authentic city with a beautiful park and some great cenotes in the neighborhood, it’s also a great place for a visit to Chichén Itza.
What to visit?
- The old colonial center with its beautiful park: Francisco Canton and the most beautiful street: Calzada de los Frailes. (Tip go to Wabi Gelato, they have the best ice-cream in town) or grab a Marquesita from one of the food stalls in the park, it’s worth the queue!
- Some more cenotes to visit, like Samula, Ik Kil, Oxman. We went to visit Suytun.
- And of course, Chichén Itza. This new wonder of the world is amazing. I would advise you to take a guide there as well to understand more about the Mayan culture. There are guides available who speak many different languages. The entrance fee is not cheap about 600 pesos per person (about 30 $). There are also many vending stalls inside the complex, but I still would recommend a visit.
Food and accommodation
We had the most amazing experience in Valladolid by staying at Le Muuch Hotel. This hotel I would highly recommend. It has excellent rooms and the decoration is fabulous. There are two swimming pools, very cozy corners to sit and relax. Go and visit the terrace on the second floor and the rooftop terrace, it’s great to just chill out here in one of the hammocks and read a book. Breakfast was very good as well.
Restaurants in Valladolid
For a very cheap meal you can go to the Bazar Municipal, here you can find a lot of great but cheap food stalls.
Casa Conato: very good Mexican food, and a great garden
Papparazi: Italian food with a real Italian cook, the pizzas are big, take a medium, more than enough for 2.
You can find the full itinerary of this trip on the app Travogram, look under @ingepincket