3 weeks in Mexico, Yucatan Peninsular

We crossed the border from Belize into Mexico ready to enter our final country on our world adventure. Ok, so we still had a stop in England before arriving in the Isle of Man – but that soooo doesn’t count! So here we were looking at the map wondering what to do with our 3 weeks in Mexico.

I know I’ve said Mexico, but we soon found out that its not the ‘real’ Mexico. This area is kinda like the hotspot for American holidaymakers. It’s hard to find the hidden beauties, culture and local life amongst the resorts. 

But that’s not too say it’s not a nice area. The cenotes were one of our favourite places to visit. They all had a uniqueness that we enjoyed and they were certainly great for cooling off in!

The Yucatan peninsula just strongly sways towards a holiday destination in central America that doesn’t require much thinking.

How to get to Mexico

Cancun is the main arrival hub. In fact when we arrived at the airport ready for our departure the area was crammed with American tourists. There were literally hundreds of mini vans transporting groups of wildly excited holidaymakers to their resorts. It was a bit crazy! 

If your travelling from the UK, then there are lots of flights to Cancun. It really is an easy access point.

As for us, we were travelling from Belize and so crossed the overland using Belize shuttle. We’d heard some stories beforehand that suggested we were going to get fleeced at the border with tourist & exit taxes.

As it happens we totally were, but by the Belize side!! Apparently, the border guards did us a favour by giving us a reduced price for the kids. Ahmmm… it turns out kids are free 🙄

Once we got to our vehicle we proceeded to cross into Mexico. We were only given the forms at the gate so meant we were slightly delayed filling them all in and with only 1 officer on duty. But luckily there was only us there! It turns out we also didn’t have to pay any further taxes. 

We later found out that the tourist tax would actually be paid in Cancun airport on our departure. It was very easy and there’s a counter in the airport where you can pay either Mexican peso or US dollars. This only applies if you cross a land border and was around M$580 pp (cash only). 

 

Getting connected

Our global SIM cards didn’t work in Mexico and so we also had to buy a local SIM card.  It was actually fairly seamless. We just visited a Telcel shop and got a pay as you go SIM.  The cost was M$100 + M$100 for 15 days of 1500mb (unlimited). It suited us for the 3 weeks we were there.

Supposedly you can purchase these in Supermarkets but you have to ring a number to get it connected, so I think it’s better to go to a Telcel store.

 

Getting around Yucatan Peninsular

We travelled everywhere on ADO buses.  You can book these online (albeit a spanish website – but you can use Chrome to translate the page) or we used Bus bud.  There was never an issue with our bookings and we boarded the bus with the bar code received.

There were other bus companies which were all travelling similar routes and seemed quieter but the same style buses.  Very comfortable and easy to get around. Albeit many people do tend to hire cars.

 

Our 3 weeks in Mexico

We crossed the border from Belize to Mexico and spent just under 3 weeks exploring the Yucatan Peninsular:

Lake Bacalar – 3 nights, 

Tulum – 3 nights 

Playa Carmen – 2 nights

Valladolid – 4 nights

Isla Holbox – 5 nights (christmas)

Cancun Airport -1 night

 

Where to go in Yucatan Peninsular

Lake Bacalar

Of all the places we visited, this was my favourite. It was just so beautiful. You don’t need long there. But a few days to enjoy the lakes and the colours is a must!! 

We arrived late at night to a beautifully lit square (it was christmas) with a small number of eateries around the square and some food carts. It was a lovely little hub. 

Our accommodation was situated directly on the square, but as it wasn’t noisy it was perfect. A few people opt to stay on the lake, and these can be fairly well spread. But this also allows for an easy swimming opportunity. As it happens we were happy with our choice of Otoch Pixan Hotel. 

The one thing that did surprise us was that the prices for food. The current rate is M$25 to £1 averaging £5/£6 for a basic meal. When you are traveling on a budget that’s quite a high cost! We did find some local taco places which were cheaper but with small portions you needed to order more to fill you up 🤷🏻‍♀️. 

The prices were definitely higher than we expected. I’d read beforehand that Mexico was a cheap option in central America. But I don’t think this includes the Yucatan (tourist) peninsular.

Anyway, while at Lake Bacalar we kayaked on the lake – which was hard work, but fabulous. We stopped at several sites including the pirate canal and cenote la bruja.  The journey was tough work against the winds! 

We also hired bikes and cycled to 2 cenotes; Azul & Cocalitos.  Each cenote was completely different. One was a deep cavernous hole, the other was on the lake and ankle/knee deep the whole way. 

The rest of the time was walking around the town and lake. A very enjoyable few days! 

Tulum

I struggled with researching this next stop. It’s a complete mixed bag. There’s accommodation on the beach, but the town is situated about 15 minutes drive away. Now that’s not a major issue, but as this is a beach destination its a bit of a disadvantage being in the town. Yes, the reverse is that the accommodation on the beach is much more expensive 

Clearly, cost over convenience won in our case, but you need to consider your requirements before booking here.

We did enjoy visiting the gran cenote with its underwater cave and turtles!

We visited playa paraiso (the tourist beach).  It’s quite a long beach and you get dropped off at a small car park and walk from there. You can just drop your bum anywhere. But actually if you walk along the beach for a bit you get to some Palm trees (in front of a resort) so you can get some rest from the sun.  If you have the money then you could consider paying for a sunbed, but at nearly £10, we decided not! We just took a picnic and enjoyed the beach. 

The town itself had quite a few supermarkets, tourist shops & plenty of eateries.  But it didn’t really have a town centre was really just a main road with accommodation primarily set one road back.  It is a good central location to access sites around the area as nothing is too far away.  

We found that most people hired a car in the area, which seemed logical as the sites were quite sporadic. But with that comes parking touts!  Be vigilant and always check parking options by reading forums to get up to date information about where to go, otherwise you will get stung by the waving men in colourful tabards.

 

Playa Carmen

Eek!  Not a great destination at all for a traveller.  It’s a holidaymakers paradise and reminded me of Benidorm in Spain.  It definitely wasn’t our style – so why did we go? O.k, that was my fault, we were getting close to christmas and I needed a few gifts for the boys and get wrapping paper etc…  This was the place to do it. It ticked a box for us, but wasn’t somewhere I would consider returning to. However, we did land on our feet with a VERY cheap studio apartment, with a good location, for a couple of nights!

We did check out the beach one day, but it really wasn’t that appealing – not compared with Tulum anyway. 

But if you are looking for a busy town with lots of bars, eateries and resorts – than this is the one for you.  I’ve heard this place is better than Cancun so I dread to think what that is like! Definitely not one for the budget conscious traveller.

 

Valladolid

A much better destination for us with a more authentic mexican feel, a bit like Lake Bacalar.  It was a town which welcomed tourists on a regular basis but they just tended to pass through on the way back from Chichen Itza.

We were contemplating Merida, but reviews suggested these towns were similar and as travel fatigue were beating me back we decided to stop for a few days.  I had heard after that Merida was very beautiful and worth a visit if you have time.  

As luck would have it, I’m glad we were there for a few days, as Jasper was poorly while we were there.  This put paid to some of our planned activities but I think we’ve got off lightly on this trip.

As for things to do!  There’s plenty. We did a free walking tour one evening, it gave a history of the city and guided us around key areas that maybe we wouldn’t have visited usually.

As I mentioned above Chichen itza is not far away and there are regular Collectivos heading to the area.  We got the 6am bus in order that we arrived for the 8am opening time. There was already a queue at the ticket desk when we arrived at 7.30am, but the place got significantly busier when we left with all the tour groups.

There are plenty of Cenotes too, one in the centre of town which we had a great time jumping into and swimming around.  The one we did want to visit (but couldn’t as Jasper was poorly) was Cenote Xkeken and Cenote Samula. I believe one has a rope swing and look awesome inside caves!  Definitely check it out.

Isla Holbox

An island situated off the West Coast and only 2 hours away from Cancun.  It’s a small place, but slowly the developments are coming in.

Unfortunately the island’s beaches and most of the coast around Mexico have been plagued with a seaweed problem (which we encountered 1 day during our visit).  It tends to arrive April until August. But we were there in December and there was a cold front which brought high winds and seaweed. It’s actually as a result of pollution that this seaweed is becoming an increasing problem.

But overall the island is a well kept and small scale island, especially compared to other areas of the Yucatan peninsular.  And the seaweed did disperse a few days later.

We stayed in a lovely hotel with a rooftop bar and random pool which was never used.  But it overlooked the main square where everything was happening. It was a perfect spot.  

The island had lots and lots of eateries and seemed to attract lots of younger families.  Our boys enjoyed the park area in the square each evening and even joined other children playing, which was nice.  

However, there’s not a whole lot to do other than enjoy the beach, so if you are after a relaxing break – then this is the place to go!

Conclusion

I didn’t feel I got a real taste of Mexico, but that’s ok as it was a nice easy ending to our travels.  A bit like a holiday.

On one hand it would have been nice to have ended on an adventure, but on the other hand my travel fatigue beat me.  And my head is already half way home. I mean in these last 3 weeks I think we’ve left/lost more items than at any other time in our trip.

The area has it’s Mexican qualities but you just need to go and look for them.  The beaches and waters around the Tulum are lovely and make for a nice resort holiday, but I preferred the less tourist area of Lake Bacalar.  

We loved Isla Holbox for it’s chilled vibe and easy going style. And even though it was peak season being Christmas we weren’t overwhelmed with it! I’m glad we visited and experienced the Yucatan peninsula. But it’s not somewhere I would return to.

 

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