In June 2016 we arrived in Cancun to start our year long journey through Central and South America. With only three weeks in Mexico it soon became apparent we could have spent much longer exploring this huge country full of friendly locals, changing landscapes and beautiful scenery. Our path took us through the northeastern Yuccatan Peninsular and Quintana Roo regions where we were lucky enough to check out the following five amazing destinations. This our top five tips of Where To Go In Mexico.
1. Valladolid. – Friendly colonial town with a hidden gem that can’t be missed.
Not only filled with beautiful cobbled streets and old but well preserved colonial architecture, Valladolid has it’s very own cenote (water filled sinkhole) right in the middle of town.
Take a short stroll from the square and be transported back in time to a huge hidden pirate like cave (think Goonies) full of crystal blue water, its reflection shimmering off the shadowy stalagmited ceiling. Bring your swimmers so you can jump in and take a cooling dip away from the blistering heat of the day. Once you’ve dried off, check out the brilliant Casa De Los Venados a huge private house/gallery open to the public once a day at 10am. Here you’ll find countless pieces of Mexican folk art and some original Frida Kahlo’s in amongst this sizeable personal collection.
As a bonus the local Mayan people that live here are the friendliest (and shortest!) in the region. Valladolid is the jumping off point for many local attractions including…#2
2. Chichen Itza – The crown jewel in the Mayan Empire.
One of the seven wonders of the world and for good reason. The temples here are incredibly well preserved, absolutely massive and will surely blow your mind. The Mayans ability to build such gigantic solid structures so long ago is a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance.
Make sure you arrive early to beat the package tour buses on their day trips in from Cancun. If you can get there when gates open at 8am you’ll have a good two hours of prime photo opportunities before the hordes descend. See also Ek Balam – it’s lesser known but equally impressive cousin down the road.
3. Tulum – Beaches to melt your Heart.
You don’t have to check out the Mayan ruins here if you’re already ruined out. There’s better elsewhere and if you’ve explored Chichen Itza or Ek Balam these are probably okay to miss. The real gem here is the incredible beach. Miles of powder white sand and turquoise blue waters gently lapping at your feet as you soak up the afternoon sunshine. We’ve been lucky enough to visit a few world class beaches and this one is definitely top 3.
Join the locals away from the high end tourist hotels on the top end of the beach. Head south to Playa Paraiso and you’ll find long stretches of beautiful secluded sand where you can while away the hours topping up your tan in the ultimate paradise.
4. Baccalar – The Lagoon Of Seven Colours.
Most people heading south skip this small provincial town but in doing so make a big mistake. It used to be a fairly major industrial trading post for the logging trade but since that stopped 10 years ago tourism is slowly gaining ground, and rightly so. The huge tranquil lake is an impossible turquoise blue and changes colour depending on where you are and what time of day it is.
There’s a number of wooden pontoons stretching out across the water where you can lounge for the day getting ridiculously hot before cooling off with a swim in the crystalline lagoon. There’s also small sailing boats for hire – we spent a great afternoon exploring the various swim holes, ancient stromatolites and deep cenotes, on a catamaran complete with a captain for less than $15 US each.
5. Holbox – The Whale Shark Island.
The baby island of the northern coast and as such hasn’t developed as quickly as it’s bigger sister, Isla Mujer. However this laid back paradise Island where no cars are allowed is quickly gaining traction as a must visit destination. Long deserted beaches and some of the most jaw dropping sunsets we’ve encountered mean it should be high up on any backpackers Mexico itinerary.
There’s also the famous whale sharks to swim with between the months of June to September – if you’re lucky enough to find them. For more detailed info on Holbox see our previous blog post HERE
Where we Stayed:
As usual our max budget is generally $25 US per night for a private double room with bathroom.
Valladolid – Air BnB, Search for ‘Cuarito Privado Para Dos’. Lovely host Greisy has a few basic but homely rooms in a cute courtyard 10 mins from main square. Super cheap ($10 US) so an absolute bargain. Coffee machine and hammocks seal the deal.
Tulum – Air BnB – Many options available. We stayed with a great host Carlos, who went out his way to see we had everything we needed. Top Tip: stay in the pueblo (town) about 3km from the beach for big savings on accommodation. There’s a regular collectivo shuttle bus that takes you back and forth for less than 50c each way.
Baccalar – Pato de Perro – awesome little hostel with lovely owners right on the main square.
Holbox – Tribu Hostel – voted one of the top 20 budget hostels in the world. This one was a bit more expensive at $45US per night but we were treating ourselves 🙂
Most International flights arrive directly into Cancun Airport.
The ADO Bus Company provides cheap, safe and reliable transport services all over the region with a range of options from luxury to second class to suit all budgets. Most bigger towns have an office where onward travel can be arranged. The cost of bus travel in Mexico is very reasonable and works out to be about $2 US per hour for the second class service . However if you go down that route be prepared to ride with a chicken or two on the seat next to you!
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