Our trip to Mexico was full of unforgettable moments, amazing flavours and exciting adventures. There were plenty of thrilling animal encounters, like for example with crocodiles, pelicans, coatis and sea turtles. We had the best tacos, guacamole and pico de gallo we’ve ever had and we discovered some fascinating, hidden ancient Mayan temples and pyramids. Renting a car for the whole trip proved to be an excellent decision and thanks to this we got to visit a lot of gems across the region we otherwise would’ve missed. Here’s a blog post about our two weeks in one of my all time favourite places in the world!
Why visit the Yucatán Peninsula?
Photo: Delicious tostadas con pulpo (tostadas with octopus) at Charlie’s in Tulum.
For someone who loves animals, history and palm-lined white-sandy beaches the word paradise doesn’t suffice when describing the Yucatán peninsula. This region really has it all! There are natural wonders and amazing landscapes aplenty, incredibly diverse flora and fauna as well as some of the (in my opinion) best food in the world. Ancient Mayan history is ever-present and you never know where you’ll stumble across a beautiful historical site.
Altogether, I’ve now spent a month in this region. You’d think at this point I’d feel like I’ve seen most of it. Yet, I once again find myself dreaming about my next trip to the Yucatán peninsula as there are still so many places left to visit (and of course wonderful spots to revisit as well).
Renting a Car for the Whole Trip
Photo: Driving towards Rio Lagartos to see flamingos and crocodiles.
Last time we visited the Yucatán peninsula we rented a car for just three days. For the rest of the trip we relied on taxis. The local public transportation, colectivo shuttle buses, doesn’t access all areas (especially spots that are more off the beaten path) and it’s not the best option if you don’t have a lot of time. You have to wait for the colectivo to fill up before it leaves, so you never know when it’ll be leaving. Good for travellers on a budget though as it’s very affordable to use a colectivo.
Taxis are surprisingly expensive in this region, so if there’s more than one person splitting the cost of renting a car and you want to see more than just the most touristy places a car might the best way to go. That is of course as long as you feel comfortable driving abroad – I know I wouldn’t, but I’m lucky enough to have a partner who’s a very experienced driver.
So long story short, we wanted to rent the car for the whole duration of our stay. As the taxi to and from the airport in Cancún to our hotel (located by Akumal, right by Tulum) would have been around 140 euros we figured the best option would be to rent and return the car at the airport, to save us the cost of the taxi.
This was one of the best decisions ever. Having the car for the entire stay made it possible for us to explore so much more! We could also spread out our excursions a bit more, whereas last time we had to cram in all our longer day-trips during the few days we had the car.
Snorkelling with Sea Turtles and Chilling at La Buena Vida
Photo: We got to see two beautiful sea turtles whilst snorkelling at Akumal Beach. This photo is from last year though, sine I didn’t bring an underwater camera this year.
I’ve been to some awesome destinations with beautiful spots to go snorkelling. Unlike most other destinations, Akumal offers amazing snorkelling right by the beach. In other words, you don’t need to go on an organised tour with a boat; the action is within swimming distance. Last year I missed having my own gear so this year I brought it with me, which proved an excellent decision. I had so much fun just throwing on my gear and diving right into awesome views.
Although there’s plenty to see all around Akumal, like colourful fish, stingrays and even lionfish (yes, we actually spotted this potentially deadly creature!), by far the best spot is Akumal Beach. Akumal means the place of the turtle and Akumal Beach is where you’ll find them.
We did this same adventure last year (although without our own gear) and this year the visibility wasn’t as good. But we still spotted some turtles and even a stingray.
Photo: Swinging away my blues at La Buena Vida restaurant in Akumal.
Just as last year, we headed straight to La Buena Vida at Half-Moon Bay afterwards. You know how sometimes you remember something better than it actually was? This was not the case with this beachfront restaurant. If anything, it was even better than I remembered. If you’re ever in the region, this is a must-visit spot. It might just be the best beach restaurant I’ve ever been to.
We revisited La Buena Vida two more times during our trip. Having dinner was so cosy, and I loved admiring the lights of Cozumel Island across the sea.
Climbing Ancient Mayan Ruins at Ek Balam
Photo: Climbing to the top of this structure at Ek Balam is an exhilarating experience.
During our last visit to Mexico I really wanted to visit Ek Balam, but there just wasn’t enough time, especially since we only had the car for three days. But missing out on a visit to this ancient Mayan city really bothered me, even one year on. That’s why this time around in Mexico visiting Ek Balam was a top priority for us.
And good thing it was, because this really is a special place. Although the highest structure is just 30 metres, climb it and you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. The views are just incredible! What’s more, this is one of the lesser-known sites, so it’s not crowded and if you arrive early you might even have the view all to yourself.
We spent quite a while admiring the amazing views over the thick jungle and ancient ruins.
As the day grew older the heat became too much to bear and we drove to the nearby city of Tizimín for lunch. This is a great place to experience local life, as it’s not a touristy place. In fact, you might not spot any other foreigners at all. Valladolid is perhaps prettier – Tizimín isn’t as scenic – but it makes up for it with its laid-back vibe and that chance to really immerse yourself into local life.
Diving into Carwash – One of the Peninsula’s Many Cenotes
Photo: Cenote Carwash (or Aktun Ha as it’s also called) is a great place for snorkelling or diving.
The Yucatán peninsula is known for its many cenotes (around 6000 to be exact!) and last year we were really blown away by the magic of cenote Sac Actun. So we wanted to try another cenote – this time an open-air cenote for a change.
Cenote Carwash is popular, but not as popular as some of the other more crowded cenotes. It also has an interesting story (the name stems from the fact taxi drivers used to come and wash their cars here) as well as a crocodile. So this seemed like the perfect cenote to explore.
I thought this was such a beautiful place and the water was so unbelievably clear. You should definitely bring your snorkelling gear if you visit. If you’re a diver this is supposedly a really amazing place to go diving. I had a fun time watching the divers disappear into the cave below as well as admiring the beautiful underwater vegetation (it’s like an underwater garden!). Unfortunately though, no matter how hard I tried to look for it, I didn’t find the croc.
Coatis, Pelicans, Flamingos and Crocodiles
Photo: I’ve seen flamingos only once in my life before this, so seeing this flock of about twenty flamingos got me very excited!
During our two weeks we saw countless animals. Needless to say I was over the moon! I love animals and spotting them in their natural habitat is one of my favourite things to do wherever I go.
There’s such an abundance of wildlife in this region you don’t have to venture into biosphere reserves to see animals, but I really wanted to visit the beach side of Sian Ka’an as I only saw the lagoon area last year. We drove along the beach road and saw plenty of pelicans and coatis (drive carefully here as wildlife crossing is a common sight).
Photo: I finally got to see a wild crocodile in its natural habitat. This small Morelet’s crocodile swam by during our tour of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.
During the last week of our trip we drove to Rio Lagartos and went on a boat tour of the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. We saw pelicans, flamingos and plenty of different species of birds (the area is actually home to nearly 400 species of birds). The highlight was spotting two crocodiles. One barely counts as I just saw the top of its head as it ducked under the water, but I got a good look at the other one that stayed around the boat for a while.
I liked seeing the villages of Rio Lagartos and San Felipe as well. Especially San Felipes colourful houses are worth checking out!
A Million Nachos and Frozen Margaritas Galore
Photo: The tacos at Antojitos La Chiapaneca are delicious! Prices are very budget-friendly, starting at around 10 pesos for one taco (around 0,5 euros).
Yucatán is home to some of the best food on the planet. I’d be impressed hearing someone visited this region and managed to loose (not gain) weight. Temptation is everywhere – from crunchy nachos dipped in rich guacamole to cheese-filled quesadillas and hearty sauces. Light isn’t the first adjective that springs to mind whilst describing the food.
In addition to this, the region offers amazing drinks. My personal favourites were the passion fruit margaritas and pineapple daiquiris I had at Taquería La Eufemia by Tulum beach.
Overall, I ate and drank a lot. A lot. Perhaps a bit too much, but I have no regrets. Everything was so good it was totally worth the few extra kilos. Besides, sometimes you just need to enjoy life.
Exploring Ancient Ruins with No Crowds
Last year we visited the most famous ancient Mayan sites of the region: Chichen Itzá, Tulum and Cobá. Naturally, these are also the most crowded. As mentioned earlier, we got to enjoy Ek Balam with just a few other visitors. But we found some even more forgotten ancient sites.
Photo: The largest structure in the ancient Mayan city of Muyil is this pyramid. Unlike for example Ek Balam and Cobá, you’re not permitted to climb this one.
Located just 20 kilometres south of Tulum and with an entrance fee of just 45 pesos, you’d think Muyil would be super crowded. But there’s basically no one around. I think we saw about ten other people during the whole time we were there.
Muyil was definitely a pleasant surprise. Not only was the site itself interesting enough, but the wildlife experience we got was also fantastic! Muyil is located within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and everywhere we went we could feel wildlife present. I even heard monkeys! For even more wildlife we paid 50 pesos to access the boardwalk that goes through the mangroves and has a great watchtower with views over the lagoon.
Photo: The colour of the water at the cenote in Xel-Há is just incredible. Although the water might look tempting, swimming is not permitted.
As if Muyil wasn’t deserted enough Xel-Há proved to be completely abandoned. We arrived a little before lunch and were literally the only two people within the archaeological area. We weren’t alone though, because the place was full of iguanas. It was pretty obvious there aren’t a lot of human visitors.
Xel-Há’s frescos got me super excited, as I’d never seen Mayan frescoes before. But most impressive was the breathtakingly beautiful and serene cenote. I could have spent the whole day gazing at the crystal clear turquoise water.
Discovering the Magic of Tulum
Photo: This impressive sculpture called Ven a la luz (Come into the light) is located on Tulum’s beach road. It’s made by South African artist Daniel Popper.
Last year we spent some time in Tulum (mainly Tulum beach), and while I liked Tulum I didn’t fall as madly in love with it as I did this time. I still agree with everything I wrote last year in my blog post about Tulum (link below). But I just felt the magic a bit more this time and now I have to say this has definitely become one of my absolute favourite places in Mexico, perhaps even in the world.
The beach by Tulum really is one of the most beautiful on the peninsula and something you shouldn’t miss if you’re ever in the region. We spent a lot of time hanging out by the beach, going for walks and chilling at a great beach bar: La Taquería Eufemia. This is one of the more budget-friendly options and my personal favourite. It has such a great laid-back vibe and there are dogs everywhere, which makes me so happy! The menu even has dog food for doggy customers.
Last year we didn’t explore Tulum pueblo that much, but this year we got well acquainted with it. We had some of the best food of our trip in Tulum pueblo.
My boyfriend who loves meat was practically in heaven while having tacos al pastor at the local street restaurant Antojitos La Chiapaneca. Now I’m not really into meat, but even I could taste that this was pretty awesome. And the tortillas they use for tacos are super soft, just perfect. Don’t miss this place if you’re ever in Tulum! It’s definitely nothing fancy, more of a street food type of place. But prices are super budget-friendly and like I said, the food is amazing. Give the horchata (typical Mexican non-alcoholic drink) a try as well!
No Trip is Complete Without a Few Disappointments
Photo: I was offered drugs three time during just twenty minutes walking along Quinta Avenida (pictured). Playa del Carmen just isn’t my cup of tea.
Even the best trip includes a few not-so-pleasant surprises. For one, we splurged on a five-star hotel, but it didn’t really live up to this. I’m used to living in budget-places and if I’ve booked a two-star hostel I’m not expecting luxury. But on the rare occasion I invest in something of the highest standard my expectations are a bit higher. Cockroaches falling from the ceiling, mouldy rooms and major renovations that weren’t mentioned while booking isn’t okay.
Las Coloradas was another disappointment. The pink lakes were something I was really looking forward to and was expecting to see bright pink waters (google it and you’ll see what I mean). Well, we arrived and… Yes, the water does have a pink colour, but it looked nothing like the pictures online. I guess many are quite heavily edited. But we didn’t really mind since we had such a great time on our boat tour. However, I wouldn’t recommend going all the way to Las Coloradas just for the pink lakes, personally I don’t think it’s worth it.
Perhaps the word disappointment is wrong when referring to this particular city, since I wasn’t expecting I’d like it. But Playa del Carmen definitely goes on my list of not-so-great excursions. This place was not for us; let’s just leave it at that. Luckily it wasn’t such a long drive there and it was easy to leave. I know some people love it though, so remember this is just my personal opinion.
A Great Trip With Time to Heal
Photo: Gracias por todo México! Espero volver pronto.
All in all, we had an amazing time in Mexico. In hindsight, perhaps a few more totally relaxed days without any adventures would have been even better. But I just can’t help myself; I get so excited since there’s so much to see!
It’s been a rough autumn coping with the loss of Bradley. For me it was an emotional trip, since I finally had time to process everything that’s happened and a lot of feelings surfaced in a very vivid way. But it was also very good to deal with everything. After all, that’s the only way to move forward.
By the middle of the second week I felt more healed and more like myself again. This region really is special. There’s something very spiritual about Tulum and whatever it is it really helped me. If there ever was a place that can mend a broken soul or heart, this is it.
I’m quite confident this wasn’t my last time in Mexico: Hasta la vista México lindo!