Yucatan & Quintana Roo : Where to go

Travellers and Tourists alike, Mexico ticks boxes on the bucket list. When planning a trip one can often find themselves bogged down with a map unsure where to start. Yet in today’s world, our social media society enlightens on where to go & what to see when travelling.

So México : it’s a pretty big country and there’s a huge differences from region to region. For myself and Phoebe, we decided to start our Central America adventure in East Mexico; along the Caribbean Coast – starting in Cancun. On reflection it is a perfect place to start as the majority of places to go are relatively close (bus journeys ranging from 30mins – 2/3 hours). Furthermore following the coast into Belize is pretty simple stuff.

Before elaborating on where to go, every traveller/vacationer should download Hostelworld and MapsMe. Both are super handy & really easy to use.

CANCUN

Cancun is famed for its beautiful beaches and the perfect holiday destination. It is also a great place to step into Mexican culture and plan the onward journey.

Where to stay:

There’s a ton of top-end places to stay in the Hotel Zone, and tbf if you have the money I totally would. The views from beach to ocean are pretty incredible. There’s also a few hostels in that area but are most likely the top end of the hostel prices.

Selina Cancun Lagoon Hotel Zone

Personally I didn’t stay here, but some people did recommend it to me and if you want to be right on the beach with views of the neighbouring lagoon- this might be for you.

Selina Cancun Downtown

Phoebe and I stayed here and it definitely is worth the recommendation. Selina is a chain of hostels and you can tell as it is efficiently run with aspects of a Hotel running throughout: an excellent restaurant, ranges of dorm sizes and private suites, pool & bar area and, excursions that are bookable. It’s also a hub for meeting people: we met a range of people from all over the world. An infectious atmosphere throughout the hostel.

What to do

Beach Bum

If you’re looking to completely chill for a few days – the beaches in Cancun are amazing. Along the Hotel Zone there’s various beaches that you can get to.

  • Playa Las Perlas
  • Playa Langosta
  • Playa Tortugas
  • Playa Chac Mool
  • Playa Marlin
  • Some beaches are more favourable with the locals and vice-versa with tourists but all are easily accessible if you’re staying in that area and from downtown. Unlike the UK, the buses in Cancun are really reliable and are so frequent. To the beach from Downtown is the R1 which was about M$20 Peso and they run 24/7. This was the kind of information we just had to pick up.
  • Chichen Itza

    Although it’s not in Cancun, it would be the perfect place to get an excursion to go to and see Chichen Itza. Named as World Heritage Site and “New Seven Wonders of The World” and is also one of the most famous Mayan Ruin Temples in Mexico. Open from 8am-4pm. Adult prices are M$200 Peso and from M$700 for guided tours. Due to its fame, Chichen Itza is very busy and swamped with tourists so you can’t climb the temple like similar ruins. Still of course, worth the visit.

    Isla Holbox

    The island north of Cancun, about an hour away excl the ferry onto the island. Smaller than neighbouring islands and is far less touristy. Met some people who went to this island and said it was beautiful. Ferries run to Holbox from the port town of Chiquila from 6am- 9pm. Costs around M$80 peso. Cancun to Chiquila is relatively simple as ADO buses are frequent. Isla Holbox is also way more relaxed compared to Isla Mujeres as it’s a smaller island. If Phoebe and I knew how beautiful it was before going to Isla Mujeres, we probably would have done it instead.

    ISLA MUJERES

    The island just east off of Cancun. So many people had suggested and recommended Phoebe and I visit, so we did. There’s various ports in Cancun to get to the island with constant ferries running either every half hour – to every hour. Puerto Juarez is the cheapest port with a return ticket at M$70. Getting to Puerto Juarez is equally as simple with the R6 bus dropping you right outside; again only M$20.

    Where to stay

    Other than upmarket holiday homes and hotels, there’s only 2 hostels on the island.

    Balu Hostel

    This particular hostel is ideal for any traveler really, it’s pretty central on the island and has a ton of varied size dorms. They also provide excursions from the hostel such as snorkelling for a discounted price to rival companies in the town. The average price per night for a 10 bed dorm was £10 but it obviously fluctuates depending on peak seasons.

    Poc Na

    We didn’t personally stay at this particular hostel but we did go check it out. A lot of people recommended this particular place because it is famed for having beach parties in the evening – so if you’re into that kind of thing it’s definitely worth the visit. Not to mention, it’s situated on the beach with perfect views from the hammocks onlooking the shore. Like many hostels, they had a bar and restaurant included. Average prices for the 6 bed dorm was approximately £20- the price is significantly higher because it is on the beach front and they had a significant tax onto the price advertised online. Similarly to most hostels, they include shuttles, tours and activities.

    What to do

    Snorkelling

    Isla Mujeres is famed for its beautiful beaches and vibrant clear-blue sea and so snorkelling is the top thing to do there. With dozens of companies on the island, it’s not hard to find a good deal and often hotel/ hostels offer good rates too. We paid roughly $40 for a snorkel tour that included lunch. Depending on how much you pay and who you snorkel with, you can see the underwater sculpture museum MUSA.

    Sadly our GoPro died when we were snorkelling so had to search a pic of the MUSA 😦

    Scuba Diving

    Do one better than snorkelling, and gain your PADI. Although we didn’t do it ourselves, we knew a few people that had and by all accounts it was incredible. This particular island is popular for Scuba Diving as it’s a great place to spot Whale Sharks. Mexico PADI courses do sit at the more expensive end of the scale in comparison to Honduras or Nicaragua.

    Turtle Farm

    The island does offer alternative activities, especially when the weather isn’t on your side. The turtle farm is a rescue and education centre for turtles. Depending on your type of vacation it might be worth the visit. Entry fees are approx $20.

    Dolphin Discovery

    Similarly to the turtle farm, there is also a Dolphin Discovery on the island. Our snorkel boat drove past the centre and by all means it is very popular with vacationers. Prices range from $100 – $170 depending on the desired experience.

    PLAYA DEL CARMEN

    About an hour south of Cancun, is the popular tourist town of Playa Del Carmen. I personally preferred this town to Cancun as it was more vibrant for travellers and tourists alike. With beautiful beaches, excursions to the local island of Cozumel and a variety of bars and restaurants; it is a perfect place to spend a few days.

    Where to stay

    Again with the handy HostelWorld App, it was very easy to find options of hostels in the town. We spent a few days at 1 hostel but I wouldn’t recommend it so I’m not going to bother mentioning it – however we did move to the Selina.

    Selina

    We chose to relocate to the Selina because as previously mentioned they’re reliable and clean. The Selina was also situated in the centre of town and close to the beach. Prices ranged from £7- £15 depending on dorm sizes. As the town is more touristy for holiday makers, the prices do vary considerably.

    What to do

    Obviously being a town, there’s plenty of places to go and things to do.

    Cozumel

    There’s ferries that leave Playa Del Carmen everyday to the local island of Cozumel. Theres a variety of companies that sell tickets to the island, some being: www.mexicowaterjets.com and www.granpuerto.com.mx with tickets from M$155 return. Bigger than Isla Mujeres and Holbox, there’s far more places to stay and a wide scuba diving community is based on the island. We didn’t end up getting to the island because Phoebe sprained her ankle but by all means I would wish I had and would recommend it.

    As previously stated, Cozumel is famed for its beautiful diving sites. Both in Playa Del Carmen and on the island, there’s a ton of companies that sell excursions. Prices for snorkelling are approximately $50 and Scuba Diving can be anything from $150-$450 based on previous experience.

    https://thisiscozumel.com

    If you’re interested in Snorkelling or Diving in Cozumel, here are a few of the best snorkelling sites:

    • Santa Rosa Wall – perfect opportunity to spot a barracuda and vibrant coral

    https://youtu.be/vmprp5rHwiw

    • Punta Sur Reef – coral caverns, tunnels and fish explorations
    • Colombia Shallows – shallower dive, diverse coral to be seen, along with an ubundant fish species to be seen.
    • Palancar Gardens – 25m of wide, long reef. Damselfish, parrotfish and anglefish are popular sitings.

    Some noteworthy activity companies:

    Skydiving

    Skydiving is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, however few actually go on and do it. Both Phoebe and I had discussed our want to skydive but didn’t think we would actually go through with it. The hostel Selina was where we ended up booking the skydive but the company is https://www.skydivemex.mx. They were super professional and I would recommend them 100x over. Prices for the skydive was approx $250 and you can pay more to include photos and videos.

    It was genuinely the best thing I’ve ever done. The most exhilarating and breathtaking experience of my life. And for an added bonus, we landed on the beach. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Phoebe and I had so much adrenaline afterwards, we were on a high for about 5/6 hours.

    Alternative things to do in Playa

    • Caverns at Rio Secreto

    • Paddleboarding
    • Party at Coco Bongo
    • Parque Fundadores
    • Salsa Dancing at Zenzi

    TULUM

    About a 40 minute shuttle from Playa Del Carmen is the town of Tulum. Famous for its archeological site of the Mayan Ruins and beautiful Cenotes.

    What to do

    Ruins

    The ruins of Tulum are situated on the coastline making them far more interesting. They are just out town but close enough to cycle there and enjoy the views. Bike hiring is approximately $5 and it took us about 30 minutes to get to the site entrance. Regardless of the day, Tulum Ruins are always busy which is important to bear in mind, especially if you’re travelling with young children. Entry tickets are M$70 with guided tours at M$100+. I’d say it’s a little overpriced but is still worth the visit.

    Cenotes

    “A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.”

    So all across Mexico there are thousands of Cenotes, varying in size and structure. Many are easily accessible and swimming is welcomed. There are many in and around Tulum.

    Using the app MapsMe it’s pretty easy to locate a Cenote and find a route to get there:

    • Cenote Calavera

    Cenote Calavera is really close to the town and is much quieter than neighbouring cenotes. It’s also very popular to scuba dive in. Open from 9am – 4pm and costs around M$100.

    • Gran Cenote

    Far more popular with tourists as it has designated swimming areas and has public facilities such as toilets and life jackets. Equally as beautiful with turtles swimming amongst the people also. Open from 8am – 4.15pm with tickets costing M$150.

    • Cenote Carwash

    A pond like Cenote – bigger and deeper. Popular with scuba divers. Open from 9am-5pm and entry is M$50 with life jackets and toilets available.

    • Cenote Crystal

    Cenote Crystal is very close to Cenote Escondido so it might be worth doing both at the same time. Took about a 5 minute taxi to get here as it’s just out of town. Again open from 9am-5pm and entry is M$100. There’s also a platform to jump from at this Cenote which was pretty fun.

    • Cenote Dos Ojos

    Named one of the best cenotes in Tulum as it has a 70 metre depth that connects to a 400 metre passageway. With its fame, the price of entry is more expensive sitting at M$200 and M$350 for divers.

    Of course there’s tons of cenotes in and around Tulum so it’s worth looking on some more in-depth sites or search up on MapsMe.

    https://www.everysteph.com/cenotes-tulum/

    Tulum is a bustling town so there’s also a bunch of great restaurants, bars and hotels that are perfect for any vacationer and traveller. There’s also parties happening around the clock.

    • Hostel Che Tulum
    • Casa Babel
    • Lum
    • The beehive Experience
    • ContainMe

    BACALAR

    3 hours south of Tulum is the small town of Bacalar. Many people end up skipping the town because it’s a little out of the way and it pretty dead. Best way to get to the town is by ADO bus, it cost about M$250. The main thing to do in the town is to see the Lagoon. Hostels and Hotels in the area are relatively cheap but don’t use Hostelworld so Booking.com is the way forward in this area.

    I’d recommend spending only 2-3 days here: see the lagoon and visit Los Rapidos which is roughly 30 minutes away. Los Rapidos is faster flowing water currents upstream that are great to swim in. Not many people know of it but I’d 100% recommended it to people visiting the area. There’s a restaurant on site with other facilities such as kayak hire, lifejackets and toilets. Entry was M$100 and is open all day.

    After Bacalar, we caught an ADO bus into Belize – stopping in Chetumal.

    Chetumal is a great place to stop, especially if your planning an onward journey to Guatemala rather than Belize or to get a speed boat to the islands of Caye Caulker in Belize.

    Obviously each traveller and vacationer is different and have varied interests when travelling to a country, these are a few of my recommendations of where myself and Phoebe visited. Yet, of course there’s plenty of other places to go and things to see in the Yacatan and Quintana Roo regions of Mexico.

    HELPFUL INFORMATION AND TIPS

    • The currency is Mexican Peso – M$ – try and use the currency instead of Dollars. Even though dollars are widely used, many of the local people don’t know the exact exchange rate so will often give you the incorrect change.
    • When entering Belize from the Mexican Border, there is an exit fee – it was around M$400 which is roughly $20. Make sure you have this cash on you when crossing the border because there are NO ATMS and they won’t let you through without paying. Some passengers argue with a flight so they don’t pay but it’s definitely safer just to have enough cash. I found out the hard way and had to borrow money from another girl on the bus.
    • There are many Colectivos in Mexico which is often cheaper than a regular taxi or a larger bus. Colectivos are little mini-buses that are for the public. They’re definitely worth using.

    • Many international phone companies rack up the price for Data Usage and calls but many hostels have free WiFi. If they don’t there are tons of Internet cafes in and around towns in Mexico.
    • Tax is often not added to advertised prices of hostels – it’s important to bear in mind when searching for a cheap place to stay.

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