I landed in Mexico on the start of my solo journey in Central America, I only properly explored the Yucatan coast and spent time in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum so this will be a review of those places. All of them are easily accessible by bus.
In Cancun I stayed at the Mezcal Hostel which I can recommend as a good mix of travelers with a very social setting and an awesome pool. They do allot of club nights where they will try to get a big group to buy entrance into a big club, but usually you can get in cheaper by going on your own.
Image by Drone
Cancun was spring break sentral, it was a neon city with flashy night clubs, drink promos and Starbucks, if Miami beach is your scene then Cancun is right up your alley. The beaches may have been powder white but they were also overcrowded and full of salesmen offering cold buckets of beers. If drugs is your thing this place is crawling with them l had not entered the city before whispered snatches of “cocaine” or “ecstasy” were being offered on the streets, even more brazen were the dealers in the club bathrooms, a quick lift of the garbage bags in the bins revealed a secreted stash of pills and cocaine that would make Escobar proud.
Entry to most clubs vary between USD 25-60 but as a woman – and a blonde one at that – l found most doors are opened wide and l didn’t pay a single cent for drinks or entry the entire time. After getting my fill of the crazy nightlife l made my way down to Playa del Carmen. In Playa del Carmen I stayed at The Yak probably one of my all time favorite hostels. From the free drink on arrival to the chill courtyard with hammocks, they even have a rooftop library its a pretty awesome place and with the best stocked common kitchens I have seen anywhere! Their buffet breakfast was unbelievably luxurious and you can go back as many times as you want for refills, I recommend staying in the 4 bed dorms for the best facilities. The beach at Playa del Carmen is not as nice as Cancun but the town itself is 10 times better.
Playa del carmen was still a bit touristic, the walking streets had rows of colourful shops all selling the usual “made in China” sombreros and hammocks. The night life was just as wild albeit on a less grand scale. Besides the usual cookie cutter clubs there were also local salsa venues where you could watch the locals sashay on the dance floor seemingly tireless.
Image by Ian
From Playa del Carmen l took day trips to isolated beaches to swim with sea turtles, cramming into collectivos, small mini-vans, that the locals use to get to routes not accessible by bus. I was also able to visit “chichen Itza” a big highlight of my time here. It is one of the 7 modern wonders of the world.
Chichen Itza is a gloriously preserved Mayan city with the famous step pyramid being the centre piece. The ingenuity that was used and knowledge of the stars is incredible for a Stone Age civilisation. I spent hours in 40 degrees heat imagining the people that walked those roads thousands of years ago and drinking in the stories told by our eloquent guide. Once you are in Cancun or any of the coastal towns you can find 100s of tour operators selling a package deal to Chichen Itza, they usually include a meal and some stop offs at local villages and cenotes. Package tour prices range from USD 50-USD 100
After Playa I was back on a bus heading to Tulum. In Tulum I stayed at Mamas Home a very laid back hostel with movie nights and the best home made breakfast I had in Mexico, I just wish they served more of it! It is not a party hostel and you have to be quiet after 11pm but they get everyone to go to a local bar so don’t worry about it not being social.
Although Tulum is well known due to the Mayan ruins by the sea, most people stay in either a hotel further down the coast or just go there as a day trip. That leaves the city of Tulum relatively untouched. No McDonald’s, Walmart or Starbucks are to be found and there was a very laid back hippy feel to the place.
Image by Pascal
Tulum was hands down my favorite place in Mexico, there were endless stretches of perfect beaches with barely a soul to be seen. I spent days detoxing by the ocean, catching up on novels and feeling at peace with the world. You can rent bikes easily in Tulum and its a perfect way to explore the coastline and access out of the way beaches, where it is not uncommon to find a whole stretch of sand to yourself, like the one below.
Image by Minda
Where to stay
If you are after luxury there is no end of fabulous all inclusive hotels, just check out Booking to start dreaming, but if a small social vibe is more your thing then I recommend looking at Hostelworld for a good overview and reviews of hostels. If staying in a dorm isn’t your thing you can usually book a private room and still partake of the activities and social setting of the common areas.
I also met some travelers who had booked some seriously amazing airbnbs on the Yucatan coast, some had rooftop swimming pools and private gyms as well! check our Airbnb for some amazing deals and don’t forget to use this link to get 35 off your first stay!
How to get around
Bus connections along the coast are very good and can be prebooked or bought directly at the central bus station. ADO buses travel frequently and have aircon and tvs. But if you book at the station you can get smaller cheaper buses without the added luxuries but easier on your pocket. If you are a more experienced traveler taking collectivos are a even better way to travel cheaply. They are small mini vans that will usually stop off at smaller towns and depart from set streets in the city. Ask a local and they will be able to point you in the right direction. To get an idea of prices getting from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen on a ADO bus cost MXN 60 (USD 3.30) one thing to keep in mind is that the symbol for MXN is a Dollar symbol don’t get confused and think that they are charging dollars though. There are also direct buses from the airport to all three cities, but if you want to save some money get a bus to the central station in Cancun and from there catch a Airport bus.
What to Do
Image by Gullien
Akumal is a small seaside town that is famous for the sea turtles that populate the shoreline. You can take a local collectivo here from nearby Tulum or Playa del Carmen and be relaxing on a beautiful beach while taking dips to snorkel with sea turtles and watch the tropical fish. You can rent life vests and snorkel equipment at the centre and you get to use the showers and changing rooms as well.
Image by Theklan
One of the seven wonders of the World it is a world-famous complex of Mayan ruins. A massive step pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the 6.5-sq.-km. ancient city, graphic stone carvings survive at structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors and the Wall of the Skulls. Nightly sound-and-light shows illuminate the buildings’ sophisticated geometry. Tickets at the door costs MXN 237 (USD 13.20). More info on Chichen Itza on this link .
Image by Webpounce
Cenotes are a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. The water in these underground caverns are cold and inviting and the air temperature is usually a starkly cool contrast to the boiling heat of the summer. There are 100s of Cenotes on the Yucatan peninsula and you can access them by a tour bus or local transport. Check out Lonely Planet’s guide to the best centones. Some cenotes are free but most charge a few dollars and allows access to changing areas and bathrooms.
Image by Robert
The ruins of Tulum stand high on a beautiful coastline, they have amazing views and cool breezes, plus a private beach! It costs MXN 40 (USD 2.20) to enter and there are acres of iguana covered ruins and seaside views. See this link for more info Tulum Ruins