Similar to my Costa Rica trip in 2017, I wanted to escape the harsh Canadian winter. At first, Shelly and I were deciding on either Hawaii or Mexico’s Yucatan. We decided that Hawaii was a bit too much to do in the week we booked off as Hawaii was a 15 hour flight from Toronto compared to the 4 hours to Cancun, Mexico. Rather than using G Adventures, we decided on planning the trip ourselves. Below is our journey exploring Mexico’s Yucatan!
Before we start, all our food commentary for this trip can be found in our Top 5 Eats of Riviera Maya & Yucatan.
Currency Info: In January 2018, the exchange of the Mexican Pesos is around:
- Canadian Dollar: 15 MXN to $1 CAD
- US Dollar: 19 MXN to $1 USD
Playa del Carmen
After our flight arrived in Cancun, we directly went to Playa del Carmen, where our we would be spending the first 2 nights of the trip. I wanted to take a local bus to get to Playa, but as soon as you get out of the immigration and customs in the airport, there is a barrage of companies offering you rental cars, private taxis & buses, vacation rentals, timeshares, etc. Now I am usually pretty good at avoiding these things, but one of taxi companies got to me. For a steep price of 830 MXN ($55 CAD), we would get picked up straight from the airport to our AirBnB in Playa del Carmen, which was a distance of 55 km. We took this as it was a quick and easy ride to our AirBnB.
The AirBnB that we stayed at was quite far from the tourist area and the downtown beach (15 min bike ride). But what was nice is that it was close to Punta Esmeralda, a really great beach that is pretty secluded from the many tourists of Playa del Carmen. This small modern studio was a great stay that came with 2 free bikes to use. The room was quite clean and fresh and well worth the $60.82 CAD per night. I highly recommend this place if you are staying in Playa del Carmen.
Another reason we stayed at Playa was that we wanted to go to Xplor Park. It is a nature park which has a number of activities such as zip lining through trees, driving ATVs, exploring limestone caves and underground rivers. I felt that the zip lining there was just subpar, as my zip line experience in Costa Rica was a lot better. But what I enjoyed was driving the ATVs through hanging bridges, jungles and caves. Exploring the underground caves swimming was also q highlight The park also includes an all you can eat restaurant (which we ate for lunch and pre dinner) and an all you can drink smoothie bar. I booked this from their website in advance as you get a discount, which came to $124 CAD each person.
I really enjoyed my time in Playa. It offers a more relaxed environment compared to the busy Cancun. There are lots of foreigners that live here long term and I can see why, it’s an amazing beach town with great food and a great vibe. While walking on the streets, we randomly came across YouTuber Mark Wiens, so we had to take a photo with him.
On the way to Tulum, we took the ADO bus. Its a popular bus company that has routes all over this part of Mexico. We booked it in the bus station in Playa for 80 MXN ($5.33 CAD) per person. You can also book with Busbud.com in advance for around the same price.
Tulum is home to a popular Mayan archaeological site that overlooks to the sea. Where we were staying was part of Tulum Pueblo, which is the town next to the ruins that supports the surrounding tourism. The place had lots of restaurants, bars, and other amenities to cater visitors.
We got another Airbnb in Tulum, which was another awesome stay. It was located off the main strip but only a 5-10 minutes walk to all the fun bars and restaurants. The room was clean and comfortable, and there were also free bikes to use! A night stay was $66.55 CAD.
We decided to go on a snorkel tour along with seeing the Tulum Ruins. We first visited the ruins, which was cool but nothing spectacular. We then headed to one of the public beaches beside the ruins and head out to snorkel some of the coral reefs nearby. Along the way, we were able to take some closer shots of the Tulum ruins from the water. We spent the next 40 minutes snorkeling the waters. This whole tour was 505 MXN ($33.67 CAD) per person, which we probably overpaid for. If you are only planning to see the Tulum Ruins, the entrance fee is 70 MXN ($4.67 CAD).
Originally the plan was to rent a scooter and explore the nearby Mayan ruins and cenotes (more on that later), but the only scooter rental store ran out for the day. Therefore, we decided to rent a car instead.
With the car, our first destination was the ruins of Coba. A 50 minute car ride from Tulum, the Coba Ruins was my favourite Mayan Ruin and a definite must visit! It has the Nohoch Mul Pyramid, a 42 m (137 ft) tall pyramid that boasts a remarkable view of the Yucatán and one that you can actually climb! Just be careful of coming down as the steps are steep. You can also rent bicycles and explore the surrounding ruins which are surrounded by the forest. It was well worth the 140 MXN ($9.33 CAD) entrance fee.
We hit up our first cenote, the Gran Cenote. Cenotes are natural pits, or sinkholes which are scattered all over the Yucatan peninsula. A short 10 minute car ride from Tulum, Gran Cenote is reachable even if you do not have access to a car. Cenotes are probably the best way to cool yourself from the hot weather in the Yucatan. This cenote has clear blue waters and an extensive cave system that you can explore! The Entrance fee is pretty steep at 180 MXN ($12 CAD), but I still think the experience was worth the fee. Extra fees apply if you want to rent out life jackets, lockers, or snorkel gear.
Turns out having a car in Mexico made travelling so much easier. Initially, I was debating on whether renting from the start or just taking public transportation. I decided on taking public transportation as I heard stories of police pulling over tourists and asking for bribes. But driving around made it so much easier to get to many different ruins and cenotes which are often pretty far from cities. I highly recommend it as we were able to have “off the beaten” path experiences such as eating roasted chicken off the side of the road, visiting lesser known cenotes, and just being able to stop anywhere. Because of this, we decided that we would continue to rent the car and drive it to Valladolid and Mérida, rather than our initial plan of taking the bus.
Valladolid is a small town between Merida and Cancun, which offers a great base for exploring close by Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Coba. It is also rooted in the Maya and Yucatan culture and history. We stayed here for one night in this quaint Airbnb (it has since been taken down), and was enchanted by the small colonial town. The central town square is surrounded by picturesque colonial style buildings.
This is where we tried authentic Yucatan food. El Meson del Marques is pretty touristy as it is a part of a hotel, but has wonderful atmosphere helped by the quaint fountain and courtyard. It feels like you are back in the colonial era as they have done a really good job in preserving and restoring the historic building. Unfortunately, the food was nothing amazing. We got the Poc Chuc, which is a grilled pork dish, and queso relleno estilo, a stew with stuffed cheese and meat. Both are signature Yucatan dishes. These dishes and a bottle of water will set you back 330 MXN ($22 CAD). Therefore, I recommend eating a lighter meal or for drinks to enjoy the friendly service and nice environment.
Just outside the town, we hit up Cenote Suytun. The breathtaking views of this cenote justifies the entrance fee of 70 MXN ($4.67 CAD). You probably have seen pictures of this cenote on Instagram! There is an opening at the top where it allows sunlight to shine on the clear blue waters and reflect onto the stalactites.
Located a couple of blocks from the heart of Valladolid is the Cenote Zaci. It may not be the most picturesque but it was my favourite cenote because we had all this space to ourselves. It was the least crowded of all the cenotes I have been to. You can also jump off from pretty high ledges (at least 3 metres high) onto the water, which made it even more fun. All this fun was had for 30 MXN ($2 CAD)!
The following morning, we headed to Chichen Itza which was a 45 minute drive away from Valladolid. If you head there early in the morning (around 9AM), you will beat out a lot of the crowds. Most of the tourists come from the resorts of Cancun, Playa, and Cozumel, which are 2 to 3 hours away. Therefore the hoards of tour buses won’t get to Chichen Itza until after 10AM. Because we got there early, I was able to get pictures with El Castillo with no one else in the background! If you are planning on driving there, make sure you go to the official entrance, as there are hotels surrounding that also have entrances to the archaeological sites. The official entrance fee is 242 MXN ($16.13 CAD) and parking is 30 MXN ($2 CAD).
Our last stop of our road trip was Mérida. It is the capital and the largest city of Yucatan. Like Valladolid, Mérida has an abundance of beautiful colonial buildings but at the same time, its a modern city with shopping malls, theatres, art galleries, and museums. Mérida has a rich cultural life with many free concerts, performances and other events held daily. Our first day, we went on a free walking tour provided by Pink Cactus. It was a fun and informative tour as we got to see many of the attractions of the city and got to learn the stories and legends of the city and each historic monument.
The city sponsors many cultural events during the week, free of charge. We got to experience a Chinese heritage festival, complete with a dragon dance performance.
On Sundays at the Plaza Grande, the streets around the square are closed to vehicles, and comes alive with craft vendors as well as street food stands. Paseo de Montejo, the beautiful, tree-lined boulevard, lined with mansions also closes. Here we found free bikes to rent for an hour. Check out for the Telcel booth!
The great weather, the rich history and culture, the friendly people, the delicious and abundant food made me love this city! I can definitely see myself living here for a couple of months.
We stayed in this city for two nights at the Nomadas EcoHostel. We got a private room for 460 MXN ($30.64 CAD) per night. This hostel is an amazing stay in Merida. There is an amazing vibe with a pool and lots of hammocks to lounge. They hold lots of free/cheap activities such as yoga, salsa, cooking demonstrations. They have an amazing breakfast with omelets and fresh fruit available to eat.
We decided after staying in AirBnBs and hostels to treat ourselves in an all inclusive resort called Temptation Cancun Resort for our last night. This definitely blew our budget as one night cost $194 CAD per person! It was a great all inclusive resort.
However, even though it included all our food and drinks for the stay, we realized that it wasn’t worth it as we could have booked just as nice accommodation with even better food for so much less.
After we checked out our last night, we headed to the airport. We flew back to Toronto where we would face reality of coming back to winter in Canada.
Tips & Advice
- Always pay in Mexican Pesos (MXN). Paying in any other currency, there will be some unfavourable impact for the exchange.
- There is no Uber (aside from Merida), so make sure when you are using taxis, that you ask how much it would be to get to your desired location before you get in.
- If you are heading to Tulum Ruins, do not park at the main entrance. I had to pay 160 MXN (10.67 CAD) for parking there. Next to the ruins, there are public beaches (Playa Maya, Playa Santa Fe) and you can park on the road there. Check Google Maps!
- If you are driving, do not park at the corners and on curbs with yellow lines.
- If you are planning on to visit a lot of cenotes, bring snorkel gear beforehand rather than renting each time to save money
- Don’t be afraid trying the street food. This is often where you get the most delicious and authentic Mexican food.
- We were able to stay at really nice stays at such affordable prices by staying in Airbnbs. For those who have not tried Airbnb yet, sign up with my referral link and you will get $45 CAD off your first booking!
Bonus vlog footage:
The Sum of Exploring Mexico’s Yucatan
To be honest, I did not expect too much from trip. At the time, I just wanted to get away from the cold and go to somewhere that was sunny and warm. Little did I realize that this would be one of my favourite trips. I enjoyed the friendly people, the yummy food, the colourful culture & architecture, and amazing weather.
Prices here are also super affordable and great value for what you get! This definitely will not be my last time in Mexico! The ten days we were there we spent a total of $ 1,337 CAD each. Included in this was our return flight with Interjet from Toronto for an amazing $268 CAD! I found this deal through yyzdeals.com, an awesome website notifying great deals coming out of Toronto Airport.
We could have saved more by not doing the all inclusive resort in Cancun and continuing staying in Airbnbs and/or hostels and eating local cuisine.
Because we got it last minute, we paid a premium for our rental car in Tulum. We paid 3758 MXN ($251 CAD) for an initial two days, and then another two day extension with dropping the car off at Merida. If you are planning on renting a car, I suggest you book it with Rentalcars.com. They are my go to rental car website they have more rental companies and better prices compared to other sites like Expedia and Kayak.
Aside from these two, I was pretty pleased on how much I spent and what I got in return.
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