Travel guide to the Yucatán Peninsula
It seems this year so many people I know are spending some time in Cancun or the surrounding area. In a slight detraction from the normal format I figured my next travel guide would be to the Yucatán Peninsula.
From so many people who I have spoken to it seems Cancun has had its time. The place to be is Playa Del Carmen a short bus ride away from Cancun and somewhere I was fortunate to visit on my gap year travels in 2011.
Where to stay (purple on map)
It gets to the stage where the best hotels become one of the same. Check out some of the links below in my travel guide for hotels in Cancun and the Riviera Maya along side some of my hotel picks.
- Hostel – Casa del Shiva – Though slightly outside of the city centre of Playa del Carmen this superb hostel offers great value for money and even a swimming pool.
- $ – Apart Hotel Casaejido – Great value for money and great location close to the centre of Playa del Carmen.
- $$ – Holiday Inn Express Playacar Riviera Maya – Superb location and part of the trusted Holiday Inn brand.
- $$/$$$ –Barceló Costa Cancún – All inclusive hotel, great ratings in Tripadvisor and great value for money.
- $$/$$$ – Barceló Maya Palace – Fantastic all inclusive hotel along the Riviera Maya for a great price.
- $$$$ – Rosewood Mayakoba – True luxury and relaxation at this Rosewood run resort.
To see & do
Here are my travel guide recommendations on the things to see and do in and around the Yucatán Peninsula.
- Scuba 10 – I really cannot recommend these guys enough (hence why they are first on my list). I learnt to scuba dive with Irene and Gerardo of Scuba 10 and had a really great few days. Though smaller than many of their competitors in Playa Del Carmen, Gerardo and Irene offer a super friendly service, combined with excellent knowledge of the local area. Both are also very keen on the sustainability of marine life – something which others I have dived with sadly haven’t engaged with so much. If you don’t want to dive Scuba 10 can also organise snorkelling trips to the sea and the nearby cenotes (underwater caves).
- Visit a cenote (see #1 on the map)– You can snorkel, scuba dive or just swim in a cenote. My first ever dives were actually in cenotes due to a storm in the sea which made it unsafe. As scary as it was, I knew I was in safe hands with Irene from Scuba 10 and there was something totally fascinating and peaceful in a strange sort of way about being in an underwater cave – totally enclosed and not subject to the wave actions of the sea. Watching Irene swim through a crevasse with me following is an image what has stuck in my head for quite a while.
- Chichen Itza – Chances are you have come across an image of the main pyramid at Chichen Itza at some stage during your research in to the Yucatan peninsula. Though in my opinion not as good as the Mayan ruins of Palenque (some of you may disagree) the ruins at Chichen Itza are nonetheless fascinating and tell and interesting story. I would definitely recommend hiring a guide to really immerse yourself in to the history and culture of the Mayan civilisation. Click here for details on getting to/from Chichen Itza.
- Tulum – Also worth a visit are the picturesque ruins of Tulum set right along the coast. Though not as impressive as other ruins, it’s the idyllic location which makes Tulum stand out from the rest.
- Akumal – The beach at Akumal is beautiful within itself much like the beach at Playa del Carmen. Where Acumal wins however is that it provides the perfect habitat for turtles. Hire a snorkel set from the dive shop for around $5-10 snorkel out and within minutes you are bound to find a turtle or two (if you are there at the right time of year). Good practise dictates you keep your distance from the turtles so as not to disturb them.
- Nightlife – Playa Del Carmen has a whole host of nightlife. Check out the beach front at night and you are bound to see a fire show or something just as mesmerising. Just round the corner from Scuba 10 is Coco Bongo– ever popular with tourists and locals.
- Visit Xcaret – A theme park close to Playa del Carmen, with a guaranteed great day out. Be warned though tickets don’t come cheap by Mexican standards.
- Visit Mérida – Capital of the Yucatán state and largest city of the Yucatán Peninsula. This beautiful city is full of history and architecture. Enjoy Mexican culture at its finest here as you wonder through the old city. Check out the cathedral. Though simple inside, it has a large cross and was once visited by Pope John II. This comes with a personal recommendation from me due to its sentimental value as it was the first place I could reflect on my journey throughout Mexico in 2011. If you have time spend a few days here.
- Cancun Underwater Museum (part of Aquaworld)– A pretty cool find. Snorkel or dive amongst this artificial reef created by submerged statues.
- Enjoy the beaches – The Riviera Maya (coastal band starting just north of Playa Del Carmen) is the place to be for the best beaches the area has to offer. Relax, take in some sun and enjoy a tipple or two on these stunning beaches.
Chances are you will end up in Cancun at some stage even if you are just going there to fly in/out of Mexico. When I was in Mexico transport was relatively cheap along the peninsula though numerous people I have spoken to have said its super expensive to travel. Here are my tips for cheap transport around the Yucatán Peninsula. You have three options:
- Taxi – $$$
- Buses – $ – The ADO buses are Mexico’s equivalent of the National Express buses with connections around the Yucatán Peninsula. Though limited in services they get the job done for cheap prices. For more information on the ADO buses click here [Spanish only]. There are also buses to and from Cancun Airport which is great! There are also numerous other buses running in the area.
- Collectivo buses – $ – Super super cheap and a great option by which to get around. These are air conditioned vans that run from Cancun to Playa del Carmen then from Playa del Carmen to Tulum, and back, all-day, every day. Get in one of these, wait for it to fill up with passengers (you probably won’t have to wait longer than 10 minutes) and you can be on your way. The advantage is you can ask the driver to drop you exactly where you want to provided it isn’t too much out of the way. If you aren’t at a terminal of the collectivo just hail a bus down on the road and they will stop for you if they are empty. I took the collectivo from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum, then Tulum to Acumal and Acumal to Playa del Carmen, all without any problems. For more information on the collectivo buses click here.
Eating and drinking (yellow on map)
In Cancun and Playa del Carmen you are bound to find a number western style places to eat. You know you are in a touristy place when you see a Starbucks in the area. Chances are you are probably staying at an all inclusive resort, so more likely than not you will probably have food and drink options there.
If you are in Cancun check out Avenida Tulum (#1 on map) and Calle Yaxchilan (#2 on map) which have lots of eating places.
If you are in Playa Del Carmen check out Avendia 5 (#3 on map) for eating and places. Head towards the beach a couple of blocks away for some beach side bars or check out Coco Bongo nearby.
If you are looking for an authentic Mexican experience check out Las Quekas (#4 on map)- Calle 14 bis. NTE esq. Avenida 30 y Calle 10 bis NTE. y Av 15, Playa Del Carmen (close to the Walmart). Be warned though authentic Mexican food is very different from the Western concept of Mexican food. Though, I can personally recommend this place.