10 Days on the Yucatan Peninsula
Running short on time before we had to be in Canada, we made our way from Belize overland into Mexico at the Santa Elena border point. Our first stop was Bacalar, which we had heard about from several travellers on the route south.
Most people who visit Bacalar stay at the Yak Hostel, right on the lake, but we opted for the Kulu Tubohostel, because who doesn't want to sleep in a tube room with a pool and a giant inflatable duck? Plus they had puppies! And free bikes!
Lake Bacalar is a great, small town to explore by bike. There are several stops along the lake that make for a fun day in the sun. We visited Cenote Azul first, and found a small dirt trail through the bushes to a free entrance to the water instead of paying to use the restaurant dock on the other side. Then on the way back to town we stopped to swim with the stromatolites in the brilliantly blue lake. Since we were in Mexico, we at street tacos for pretty much every meal.
Next, we headed north in a collectivo to Tulum. Again, we stayed slightly out of town at JOY and took full advantage of the free bikes. We continued our exploration of cenotes by visiting the Gran Cenote and then cycled to the beach in Tulum National Park. The highlight of our few days in Tulum was definitely the ceviche at El Camello Jr. A "small" mixed ceviche is big enough to feed two since they bring you a huge basket of free tortilla chips with bean dip and pico de gallo.
We wanted to visit Chichen Itza, but didn't know the best place to stay. We decided on Valladolid because it seemed most accessible by bus and collectivo, and was only 45 minutes away.
The town itself is a less-touristy gem. The central square is the typical layout with a circular fountain in the middle, a church on one side and colourful colonial building all around. Every night at 9pm (depending on the time of year) there is a free light show at displayed on the outside walls of the Convent of San Bernardino of Siena that explains the history of the town in both English and Spanish.
Another must-see in the town is the Casa de los Venados. This is a private home that holds a collection of more than 3000 pieces of Mexican folk art. Free tours of the house are offered in the morning at 10am.
We also visited two nearby cenotes- Xkeken and Samula. The set up is very touristy, with a big entrance gate that leads to both and gives you an option to buy entrance to one or both. Thankfully when we visited it wasn't too busy, so the cenotes were pretty empty despite the setup around them.
Our trip to Chichen Itza did not disappoint. We left Valladolid before 7am to make sure we were there for the 8am opening. We were actually the first two people inside. I would highly recommend getting there before 10am when the vendors are set up and the tour buses start to arrive. It can get a little overwhelming with people at this point.
But before the masses arrive, it is a beautiful and peaceful site to explore. El Castillo, the huge pyramid in the center, instantly takes your breath away. All around it there are spectacular structures to explore. The intricate detail of some of the carvings is unbelievable. Chichen Itza is one of the New 7 Wonders for a clear reason and definitely a must visit in the area.
We headed to Playa Del Carmen by bus and as soon as we arrived we knew we were in tourist country. A $1-2 taxi ride was now $10-15 and the restaurant prices were insane (comparatively to the rest of the cities we had been to). We opted not to go to Cozumel and instead explored the waterfront area.
There are a few hidden gems here, like happy hour margaritas, the incredibly cute Nuestra Señora Del Carmen Chapel and free performances in Parque Fundadores. Try to catch the Voladores de Papantla as they perform their Mayan ritual, swinging from the high central pole.
Our final stop in Mexico was Cancun, only because we had to get to the airport. We avoided the hotel strip (Playa was enough of the tourist scene for us) and did a little exploring by foot in the central city, but only had one day. We only scratched the surface of what Mexico has to offer and already have Mexico City and Oaxaca added to our travel list. I would highly recommend venturing outside of the resorts and tourist cities and seeing what the real Mexico has to offer. Plus the roads are some of the best we have experienced compared to all of South and Central America. The food, the people, the cenotes...the food...there are so many things to love about this country that you can't truly see in an all-inclusive.
Want to read more about Mexico? Click below to head over to our post about Mexico City and Oaxaca:
Questions about travelling in Mexico? Email us and we will be happy to help!