The Yucatan Peninsula is a magical place with so many exciting things to offer. I had the opportunity to spend a week traveling in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula during my spring break, and it was everything I could have hoped for. I went with my boyfriend, Mario, so we were able to split the cost of traveling between the two of us. I share my experiences below, along with my one-week itinerary and other recommendations I have for visiting the area.
Things to Know Before Your Trip
- Climate: November through May is the dry season in the Yucatan peninsula with average temperatures of 70 to 90 °F (21 to 32 °C). June to November is hurricane season, so it is often hot and humid with increased rainfall. The average temperatures during this time are 75 to 93 °F (24 to 34 °C). Also, the further inland you go, the hotter the temperatures can reach.
- Language: Spanish is the official language in Mexico, but you will find many places that have English-speaking employees to accommodate tourists.
- Currency: Mexico uses pesos and also uses the dollar sign symbol ($) for their currency so be sure to ask which currency they are referring to (1 USD = 19.18 MXN pesos)*
- You cannot drink the tap water!!!
- And please do not flush toilet paper down the toilets! Mexico does not have plumbing systems designed to handle this and can lead to clogging. You must dispose of your toilet paper in waste baskets next to the toilet.
*At the time of writing
There are many choices on where to stay at in Mexico: resort hotels, boutique hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs. I decided against giving price estimates for these different categories since they are always so variable. Instead, I listed the places I stayed at below and share my experience with them.
Hotels: Many hotels come with all-inclusive packages and if that’s what you’re looking for, I am not the one to ask because that price point is way out of my budget. I think these packages are great, though, if you’re the type of person who wants someone else to plan your vacation out for you. I’m not that type of person. I love having the freedom to plan out my own days, so I opted against staying at these resorts and hotels. The benefits of choosing this option are not having to worry about planning entertainment since they usually provide events for you to do and they, also, usually provide transportation to and from the major locations, such as the airport and tourist destinations.
Hostels: Hostels are a very different experience. They are essentially shared rooms that are rented out to travelers. You will often find many bunk beds within a single room to accommodate as many travelers as possible. While this option is significantly cheaper than staying at hotels, it can also come with a greater risk if you aren’t careful. Because you are sharing your room with strangers, you never know what could happen. Usually, you can meet amazing new people from all over the globe with similar interests as yourself, but you can also become a target for theft if you flaunt your valuables to the wrong people and/or forget to lock them up in a locker. Many budget travelers opt for this option, however, since it is so cost-effective and can bring more excitement. I think this option is also perfect for solo travelers who are looking to meet new people (but don’t forget to interact with locals).
Airbnb: If you haven’t heard about Airbnb, it’s an amazing tool that lets locals rent out their living spaces for travelers, usually for a fraction of the cost of staying at a hotel. There are various types of residences that you can find on here, from hostels, private rooms, entire apartments, and entire houses. You can also find expensive, luxurious homes to stay at, as well, if that’s what you’re looking for. Airbnb has lots of options, so I always like to book from her, and I also love knowing that my money is going directly to the locals instead of hotel chains, where that money hardly ever reaches the local community.
During our entire stay in Mexico, we used Airbnb to save money. While it wasn’t the most glamorous option, we were looking to save as much as possible. Our Airbnb’s on average only cost about $20 per night for the two of us so it was extremely affordable. I wrote my experiences with each Airbnb below:
- Cancún: We stayed at two separate Airbnb’s for the day of our arrival and the day before we left. Honestly, I would not recommend either of these places unless your goal is to be as cheap as possible. Unfortunately, the first Airbnb had an ant infestation, but because we were only staying for one night, we did not pay much attention to this. I did really like its location, however, since it was a short walk from the Cancún ADO bus terminal in the city center, which made it a lot easier for us when we first arrived. The second Airbnb had issues with check-in (probably a rare problem), but I would not recommend it because of its location. There was not much around this area, so we didn’t get to explore as much as we had hoped. We did find amazing food deals, so there is that, but I would still suggest looking elsewhere.
- Tulum: Our Airbnb was located in the center of Tulum, which was convenient for exploring the town area, but not so convenient for exploring the beachfront. I thought this Airbnb was a great deal, though, and it’s also cheaper to stay in the town center, so we were okay with this option. I really enjoyed my stay here so I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a cheap option in town.
- Valladolid: This Airbnb was very nice for the price we paid. It is a small room with no kitchen, but we didn’t need much since we only stayed there for a night. I would recommend it for anyone planning a very short stay here since it’s cheap, but the location was not the best so you may need to take taxis to get around.
If you are new to Airbnb and want to book through here, please use my invite link to create a new account. You will be rewarded up to $55 in Airbnb credit just for using my link to sign up. I will also be rewarded up to $30 in credit only after you complete your first stay with Airbnb.
Getting around your destination is an important component of any trip. For me, it turned out to be my greatest expense. Minimizing how much you travel back and forth will help cut costs while also saving time. Below I listed the main modes of transportation in this area:
- ADO buses: ADO buses are first-class coach buses that provide transportation to various of the popular city destinations. They only stop at specific bus terminals, so it’s important to check before you purchase your ticket. You can buy your tickets at the bus terminal or online if you’re a Mexican citizen. You can also look up the bus schedules online to help plan your travel times. The ADO buses were crucial for my trip since they allowed me to travel from city to city at a fair price.
- Commuter buses: These buses can vary and are a lot harder to navigate than the ADO buses. From what I can understand, commuter buses can stop at various locations within a city to pick people up and you can pay for your ticket as soon as you hop on. However, finding these bus stops is not easy. I haven’t been able to find an online map to where these are located, so you really need to ask locals to figure out how to navigate this bus system. I think we ended up on a commuter bus when we booked our tickets from Valladolid to Cancún at the bus terminal. I could tell it was commuter because it had about a million stops and took us so much longer to reach our destination, but it did end up saving us a lot of money in the end.
- Taxis: The taxi industry has a monopoly over the area so you will not be able to find Uber or Lyft here. You can sometimes bargain with them for lower prices, but usually the prices aren’t overly outrageous. You will find taxis almost anywhere you go. We often just walked to a busy street and flagged one down, but you can also call and schedule to have a taxi ready for you whenever you need one.
- Biking: You can also rent bicycles to use during your trip if you’re planning on exploring a single city. Most bike rentals offer daily fees that typically range from $5 to $15 per day. We only rented bikes in Tulum and found that it was not too difficult to find places to rent bikes here. We ended up paying $5 per day for each bike and we were able to keep them with us for the duration of our stay in Tulum. I know Cancún also offers bike rentals, but we were not in Cancún long enough to need them.
- NO UBER OR LYFT
Day 1 & Day 2: Cancún
We landed in Cancún’s airport and took an ADO bus from the airport to the Cancún center bus terminal, which was close to our Airbnb. We planned to head over to Tulum so we only stayed for one night in Cancún. Before we left, we visited La Zona Hotelera, which is the beachfront hotel zone of Cancún. For breakfast, we ate at Restaurante Natura, which we found from just walking along the street. I ordered enfrijoladas with agua de jamaica. It was very delicious food and the restaurant itself is so stunning. It’s covered with vegetation, so you feel like you’re outside in nature. It was also reasonably priced, so I definitely recommend eating here!
After breakfast, we wanted to explore the beachfront, but we quickly found out that it was difficult to get onto the beach unless you purchased something from one of restaurants or stores. This is going to be a common theme in the area since much of the beachfront is now privatized. We ended up buying something in the gift shop of the Hard Rock Café and they let us go onto the beach from there. We walked along the beach, and while it is so absolutely gorgeous here, we found that the sand was very difficult to walk on barefoot (at least where we were at). I’m not sure why it felt so bad, but Mario thinks it was construction debris (idk). Because we didn’t have much time, we only explored the northernmost section of the beach strip. After that, we taxi-ed back to our Airbnb and took an ADO bus to Tulum.
Days 2 & 3 : Tulum
Our bus trip from Cancún to Tulum took about three hours. After we were checked in, we explored town and ate at our favorite Tulum taquería, Antojitos La Chiapaneca. You can find the best fifty-cent tacos here! Honestly, this place is so good and affordable that we probably came back a total of five times. If you go to Tulum and don’t eat at this taquería, you are missing out.
The following day, we ate açai bowls at Matcha Mama for breakfast. It was my first time eating an açai bowl, and it was so delicious! You feel so reenergized after eating this nutritious meal, and the bowls look so cute, too! However, I do think the prices for this place are incredibly high (for Mexico). I ended up paying about $10 to $11 for this açai bowl, which is about the same price you would pay in the U.S.
Later on, we got bike rentals and went to explore the beachfront. Like Cancún, most of the beach is privatized so we ended up staying at Hip Hotel Tulum for a couple of hours. They initially told us that we had to pay $25 each person to be able to stay there all day, but after a couple of hours, we wanted to explore more of the area so we decided to leave. We ended up paying for the two margaritas we bought instead of the original amount they wanted us to pay. It was a really cute area to relax though, so if you’re interested in hanging out on the beach all day and are okay paying a little more, this place is a really nice place to chill.
After we explored the beach, we visited one of the public beaches, Sunrise Beach, which was more like a rocky coastal area. There was really not much this area had to offer besides being able to look around, so we didn’t stay here long.
Afterwards, we visited La Zona Arquealógica de Tulum, which is Tulum’s Mayan ruins. This area used to be a seaport city around 1200 to 1400 AD until the Spaniards began colonizing the area. The ruins really surprised me because they are a lot larger than I had expected. I’m incredibly impressed at how well-preserved the ruins are, too. You can still see the outlines of streets the Mayans had constructed during this time, which is so shocking to me. I love being able to visit areas and learn the rich culture and history behind them. We explored the ruins without a tour guide, but if you prefer having someone explain every detail, you can easily find a tour guide to show you around.
Days 4 & 5: Tulum
For breakfast, we ate at Burrito Amor which offers these interesting burritos wrapped in banana leaves. I was a little confused by this because I’ve never seen burritos cooked this way, but they tasted delicious! I got an egg and cactus (huevo y nopal) burrito with a green smoothie, and they were both so good. The restaurant is also very cute and close to the main road, so it made biking to our destinations a little easier. Afterwards, we visited Cenote Calavera because it was the closest cenote to our Airbnb. Cenotes are freshwater swimming holes that are formed naturally from the erosion of limestone. They often have stalactites and stalagmites, as well! It was so much fun to jump down into this cenote and the crystal clear water surrounded by a cavernous area made the experience even more surreal. I would say that this cenote is very tiny, so if you’re visiting kind of late, you will have a harder time enjoying yourself, so try to come here early!
After visiting Cenote Calavera, we were on our way to El Gran Cenote when my bike tire popped, so we ended up walking back to town and didn’t get to visit that cenote until the next day. Instead, we went to the other public beach in Tulum, Playa Paraíso, and this one was much better than the other public beach we visited. There is a longer strip of beachfront that you can walk around on without being told that you need to buy anything to be there. It also has a cool leaning palm tree and many hammocks that you can lounge on, so I’m a fan. Afterward, we explored more of the bougie beach strip before calling it a day. We were able to find this gorgeous restaurant called Zamas, where we sipped on some margaritas and enjoyed the setting sun. The food prices here were very expensive, so we just chose to enjoy the view before eating dinner in Tulum’s center.
For dinner, we went to El Mariachi Loco, and I can honestly say that I am so in love with this restaurant. They have a live mariachi playing songs constantly, which makes it so much more exciting to dine here. The food was also very delicious and legit (and so were the prices). It’s not fifty-cent taco cheap, but it’s definitely worth it to see live entertainment.
The following day, we visited Casa Malca, which (supposedly) used to be Pablo Escobar’s vacation home. I have no way to verify these facts, but it’s a cool place to visit either way. It’s now an upscale hotel and restaurant, but thankfully we were able to wander around without having to pay for anything. They also have this modern interactive art exhibit setup outside which includes swinging couches and humongous curtains that are worth seeing.
Afterward, we went to Ojo de Agua in search of some smoothies, but they ended up being closer to milkshakes with ice. Oh well. They were super delicious! And the restaurant is adorable! I also like how they use wooden reusable straws, which shows some conscious effort to be more environmentally friendly. Overall, I really enjoyed visiting here and I definitely recommend it.
Days 6 & 7: Valladolid & Chichen Itza
Early in the morning, we left to visit El Gran Cenote since it was our last chance to do so before leaving Tulum. We had to make our visit somewhat rushed since we had to check out at 11 AM, but we were able to bike there and back with time to spare. El Gran Cenote was 100% worth the trip though. One of the locals told us to skip the trip there, but I’m so glad we didn’t listen because I got to swim with turtles! Oh my god, that was the best thing ever. I LOVE turtles, so I was gushing about it for the longest time. This cenote is also a lot bigger than Cenote Calavera and the water looks crystal clear here, so it was another surreal moment.
What I loved about El Gran Cenote was that they offered lifejackets and snorkeling equipment to rent for those who need them. I’m not sure if Cenote Calavera had some since they didn’t advertise it much there. El Gran Cenote also offers locker rentals so you can keep your stuff guarded if you’d like, but a lot of people left their things outside anyway. It’s nice to know that there’s a lot of trust between people here.
Because we really wanted to visit Chichen Itza before we left, we took the ADO bus from Tulum to Valladolid. We booked an Airbnb for the night before we wanted to visit Chichen Itza just to give us more time to chill. We explored Valladolid for a little bit and ate some food at a local restaurant before resting for the next day. To get to Chichen Itza, we took a taxi from Valladolid and were lucky enough to find someone who was willing to wait for us and drive us back. He was so kind and obviously had so much love for Valladolid. Mauricio, if you’re reading this, you’re the man! He charged us about $40 for everything, which sounds expensive but considering that he devoted about two to three hours for us, it’s not so unreasonable.
Even though we arrived at Chichen Itza at 8:30 AM (half an hour after it officially opened), it still had a very long line. We ended up waiting half an hour just to get through the line! My only advice for visiting here is to get here as soon as you possibly can because it’s so much nicer to be able to explore a place without having crowds to make you upset and your photos will look nicer, too. Also, it can get really hot here since you’re further inland, so coming here earlier in the morning won’t be so harsh because the sun isn’t at its peak yet.
Another important note is that you can find many tour guides here that speak various languages. I saw some guides wearing the flag of the nation they represent, such as France, for example. Again, we chose not to get a tour guide, but this was mostly due to our time constraints since we had to check out of our Airbnb at 11 AM. I would suggest not booking how we did since we ended up having to scramble a little bit and didn’t get to wander around as much as we could have.
Overall, Chichen Itza was an incredibly memorable experience and I highly recommend that you visit here if you can. It’s so amazing to be able to walk around this ancient city and witness the immense influence the Mayan civilization had over the area. I loved learning about the rituals that were performed here and the astrological skills that were used in building El Castillo (the giant pyramid Chichen Itza is known for). For example, during the winter and summer solstice, El Castillo is designed in such a way that serpentine shadows are formed that will connect with the snake heads at the base of the pyramid. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s interesting to learn about it. I’d say Chichen Itza has rightfully earned its title as one of the wonders of the world.
Days 7 & 8: Cancún
We ended up back in Cancún for the remaining day of our trip and we were so tired that we only ended up in the area of our Airbnb. While there wasn’t much excitement in the area, we did find an amazing local taquería that served us five tacos, two tortas, and a liter of Coke for $7! Honestly, coming back to U.S. prices really stung considering how cheap our last meal in Mexico was. I wish we had more time to explore Cancún, but one week didn’t give us much to work with. I definitely plan on coming back to this area because there’s just so much to see and it’s gorgeous year-round so you can visit here at any time and get bikini weather.
Being able to visit the motherland was an amazing experience! It was my first time in México, and it did not disappoint. Of course, I know that a lot of this area is designed for tourists and being Mexican-American means that I should be visiting areas that are less touristy, but I found the real México here, as well. And I can’t say I regret coming here because it’s absolutely gorgeous. This area is so rich with culture and history that you could come back a dozen times and still learn something new about this area. Not to mention that it’s also home to the largest underground freshwater river system in the world! From snorkeling to ziplining, sunbathing to scuba diving, there are so many activities to do here that it should be a top destination for everyone.
Also, be on the lookout for my next blog post on how to travel Mexico while on a budget! I’ll be going into detail on how you can travel as cheaply as possible in this area. Thanks so much for reading!