2-Week Yucatán Mexico Itinerary
Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is one of the great travel destinations in North America, if not the world. The historical sites are impressive, the outdoor activities varied, the food is delicious and the people genuinely friendly. Of all my travels this was definitely one of the best trips we have done. As with all my itineraries, it is action packed so not for those who just want to relax on the beach all day taking selfies. Here is the perfect 2-week (16-day) itinerary summary.
- Day 1) Cancún to Valladolid
- Day 2) Chichen Itza, Ek’ Balam, and Cenotes
- Day 3) Yokdzonot Cenote and Mérida
- Day 4) Cenotes de Cuzama and Mayapan
- Day 5) Uxmal and Ruta Puuc
- Day 6) Edzná and Drive to Palenque
- Day 7) Waterfalls Agua Azul and Misol Ha
- Day 8) Yaxchilán and Bonampak
- Day 9) Palenque and the Bat Volcano
- Day 10) Calakmul and Río Bec
- Day 11) Becán and Río Bec
- Day 12) Kohunlich, Chacchoben and Tulum
- Day 13) Cenote Casa and Dos Ojos Scuba Diving
- Day 14) Cenote Carwash and Calavera Scuba Diving and Tulum
- Day 15) Coba, Cenotes and Cancún
- Day 16) Return Home
Detailed 16-Day Itinerary
Day 1) Cancún to Valladolid
Arrive in Cancún, rent a car, then immediately drive west to the town of Valladolid. Originally we planned on seeing some cenotes along the way but getting out of the airport took longer than anticipated. Valladolid is an old colonial town and by far our favorite town we visited during our entire trip. For chocolate lovers, make sure to stop by Fabrica de Dhocolate on a road called Calz de Los Frailes — You can sample all their offerings but we would recommend the salted honey chocolate which was as delicious as it sounds.
We stayed 2-nights at the hotel Casa Marlene. This was a great hotel in Valladolid and one of our favorites during our trip to Mexico. The staff spoke great English, had good recommendations and were especially friendly; even offering us a cold beer upon our arrival after a long day of traveling. The best part of the hotel is its wonderful location just yards from the main square making exploring Valladolid on foot very easy. The rooms and beds were clean and comfy. Breakfast was included and very delicious. The pool and garden area were great place to relax after a busy day. Parking on the street was free.
On our first night, we ate dinner at Restaurante El Atrio del Mayab right off the main square. A hotel recommendation, they had very good food and drinks. The back area is like a garden and a great place to sit outside. Best of all they had a woman making fresh tortillas by hand, so you know they were fresh.
Spend the night in Valladolid.
Day 2) Chichen Itza, Ek’ Balam, and Cenotes
Wake up as early as you can and drive west to Chichen Itza. Try to get there as early as you can to avoid the crowds. Since most people do Chichen Itza as a day trip from Cancún or as cruise ship excursion, staying in Valladolid gives you the advantage of beating the masses by an hour or two.
Being one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”, Chichen Itza is crowded for a reason and despite the crowds it is well worth the visit. The impressive “Temple of Kukulcan” pyramid, the largest ball court in the Mayan world and the sacred cenote are among the top sites to see here. Unfortunately everything is roped off so climbing is not allowed. There is a night show here every evening but we skipped it. After you are done exploring Chichen Itza, drive to the overlooked ruins of Ek’ Balam which are north of Valladolid. These ruins feature a large pyramid which you can climb and it is not nearly as crowded as Chichen Itza. The highlight are the amazing friezes along the main pyramid and the undeveloped jungle views from the very top.
From the Ek’ Balam parking lot you can walk to Cenote X’Canche to cool off. It is over 2-miles each way but the refreshing waters awaiting you at the end will only be made more enjoyable by the walk through the forest. You can hire a local to take you to and from the cenote on a bicycle rickshaws. Cenote X’Canche was the first cenote we visited on our trip and it was the perfect activity after a full day of ruin exploring.
If you have time, drive south to the other side of Valladolid and visit Cenote Oxman. We visited about 15 cenotes during our trip to the Yucatán and this was our favorite one. When we first arrived a tour bus was there but after 10-15 minutes everyone left so we had the place basically to ourselves. There is a high rope swing which was an absolute blast and is why this was our favorite cenote. If you like action, then this is the cenote for you.
In our final night in Valladolid, we ate at Hostería del Marqués and this was one of our better meals on our whole trip. The restaurant has a wonderful open courtyard area with a fountain so make sure to get a table overlooking it. The food was delicious and a good value for the quality. The staff was very friendly and helpful.
Spend the night in Valladolid.
Day 3) Yokdzonot Cenote and Mérida
Between Valladolid and Mérida is Yokdzonot Cenote. The view from the top was great and lots of birds and fish down below. We were there very early in the morning so the water was a tad cool, although later in the day I am sure it would have been perfect. The only downside is that there were no cliffs or other places to jump in. If you are tight on time or want to spend more time in Mérida, this cenote can easily be skipped.
Continuing west you will arrive in Mérida, the cultural capitol of the Yucatán peninsula. It is like a much larger Valladolid, which we enjoyed much more because it was smaller and more intimate, but there are a lot of things to do here making Mérida a must visit destination of any Yucatán vacation. Plaza Grande is where the action is and a good place to start exploring the city. Every night of the week Mérida has live performances or cultural actives so check with your hotel to see what is going on the nights you are there. We were there on a Monday night which is Vaqueria Night featuring traditional folk dancing and music in the main square.
We visited the Anthropology and History Museum which our guidebook said this was one of the best anthropology museums in all of Mexico but they were definitely wrong. I think they moved most of the interesting stuff to the newer museum on the north-side of Mérida a few years ago. The place is super small and can be easily done in 30-minutes. They have some interesting artifacts but only a few pieces and there are no English translations anywhere so you have no idea of what you are looking at. I would not recommend this at all unless you want to get out of the heat for a few minutes.
We stayed at the hotel Casa Del Maya which turned out to be one of our favorite hotels we stayed at during our trip. The owner is extremely friendly and knowledgeable with lots of great Mérida advice. The room and beds were clean and comfy. Breakfast was served right next to the pool and was one of the best on the trip (definitely a highlight of the hotel). The pool is perfect for cooling down especially if it is hot outside as it was when we were there. The grounds are like a garden with plenty of places to sit and relax. The only downside of this hotel is that it is several blocks away from the main square but that is no problem if you enjoy walking around and exploring the city on foot. Parking on the street was easy and free.
In our opinion, the food and restaurants were the real highlight of our time in Mérida. For lunch we ate at La Chaya Maya, the food was tasty and well priced for the quality. We sat next to a little open garden area so the atmosphere was perfect. For dinner we ate at Apoala Mexican Cuisine and was hands-down our best meal we had during our entire 2-week trip to the Yucatán! The food was absolutely fabulous and a great value for the quality. The restaurant is right on a beautiful square with big trees and wonderful atmosphere so we sat outside and listened to local musician play music. Our waiter spoke great English and was very friendly; he recommended many dishes each better than the last. We ordered a few margaritas and they were the best we had on the whole trip. We couldn’t recommend this place more.
Spend the night in Mérida.
Day 4) Cenotes de Cuzama and Mayapan
After a good breakfast, drive south to Cenotes de Cuzama. These are 3 different cenotes and getting to each one is half the fun. First you get on a rickety horse-drawn rail car and a local guide leads the tour. If another cart is coming the other way, one needs to get out and take the cart off the tracks so the other can get by. I don’t think there is a set order of doing each cenote but the first one we arrived at was a cave with a tiny entrance below a tree and a narrow swimming area below among stalagmites and stalactites. The second was absolutely stunning — A steep narrow ladder takes you down into a huge chamber with a tiny hole at the top where a bright beam of light shines down into the vibrant blue water. The final had a staircase entrance leading to beautiful pool of water below. The whole tour takes about 2 or more hours, depending on how long you spend in each cenote. Finding and getting to this place is very difficult, even our GPS was uncharacteristically unreliable. You will see many places along the way with people and signs trying to get you to stop — Don’t be fooled and follow the official road signs until you arrive at the real entrance.
The next stop is Mayapan which were some of our favorite ruins we visited and definitely underrated. There are several pyramids and structures you can climb, all the while having the entire place to yourself. These ruins are not to be missed. After you are done exploring, head south towards the Ruta Puuc region.
We stayed and ate dinner at The Pickled Onion B&B / Restaurant in the quaint but unremarkable town of Santa Elena. This hotel is perfectly located in Ruta Puuc region and makes an excellent base for exploring Uxmal and the other smaller ruins of the area. The grounds are like a garden with a small swimming pool perfect for cooling off after a long day of ruin hopping. There are multiple bungalows that are super fun to stay in, along with being both clean and comfortable. You do need to pay extra if you wish to have the AC turned on. The English lady that runs the place is super friendly and knowledgeable about the area. She comes out each morning during breakfast (with her cute dog) to visit with the guests and to offer travel advice. The staff is also very friendly. Breakfast is included and very good. Parking is also free. The only downside is that the restaurant for dinner is just OK and the margaritas were very bad, so best to stick with beer.
Spend the night in Santa Elena.
Day 5) Uxmal and Ruta Puuc
The major Mayan site in the Ruta Puuc area are the impressive ruins of Uxmal. The rounded “Pyramid of the Soothsayer” dominates the site but unfortunately cannot be climbed. The site is spread out with lots of buildings with stone carvings and architecture that were some of the best we saw on our trip. There is a nightly light show at the ruins but decided to skip it.
Across the street from the entrance of Uxmal is the Chocolate Museum (Choco Story). We only went here because we love chocolate and thought it would be really cheesy, but it turned out to be a great stop and nice change of pace. They had monkeys, jaguars, demonstrations, chocolate tastings and lots of information. I would highly recommend this museum to anyone, even those crazy people who don’t like chocolate. I think this goes without saying, but definitely buy some chocolate to take with you.
Spend the rest of your day visiting as many of the smaller and less crowded Ruta Puuc sites as you wish — All are small, close to each other and can be seen relatively quickly. First we visited Sayil known for its large pinkish multi-story palace unlike any other ruins we saw on our trip. Next it was Labná, famous for its pedestrian causeway, monumental arches and ornate temples. Kabah featuring intricate carved buildings and Maya glyphs (writing) was our next stop. Finally, it was Xlapak, the least interesting of our sites we saw that day so it could be easily skipped — It was however free.
Spend the night in Santa Elena.
Day 6) Edzná and Drive to Palenque
Today is all about the long-drive to Palenque. Break up the driving by stopping at the Mayan ruins of Edzná, which is well worth the visit. The site features many multi-tiered structures, pyramids (which you cannot climb) and courtyards. The site is compact so it doesn’t require much time to see. Best of all, it is out-of-the-way so it doesn’t get that many visitors as other ruins. The 2006 Mel Gibson movie “Apocalypto” was also filmed here. Continuing south, you will arrive at the small sea-side town of Champotón which is a great place to stop for lunch, especially if you like seafood.
The final push south you will arrive in the town of Palenque in the State of Chiapas. You can stay in either the town of Palenque or at a resort out in the jungle. We opted for the town because the prices were cheaper and because we did not want to keep driving back-and-forth to town every time we wanted to eat at a restaurant. We stayed at the Hotel Chablis Palenque, this place is perfectly located in the leafy La Canada neighborhood of Palenque. There are many great restaurants all within easy walking distance and it is just a few blocks to the main town square. The staff does not speak much English but are very friendly. Rooms are good, clean and comfy. The pool is great for cooling off after a day of exploring, although the Jacuzzi is not actual hot (although it looks like it would be). Parking is free in their secured parking lot. Breakfast is not included but there are plenty of cafes within walking distance if you require a jolt of caffeine to start your day. While the place is perfectly good it is not great either, however the prices are reasonable so it is definitely a good value.
For our first meal in Palenque, we ate outside at the Cafe Jade Restaurate, just down the street from our hotel. They had tasty food and drinks and prices were good for the quality so we would recommend.
Spend the night in Palenque.
Day 7) Waterfalls Agua Azul and Misol Ha
After a few days of exploring ruins and cities, today’s waterfalls are a nice change of pace. The drive to Agua Azul is probably the worst road conditions we encountered on our trip. In addition to the poor roads, a few times we were stopped by locals — The first were boys about 12-years-old using a wooden 2×4 with nails in it as a makeshift toll. Don’t worry they were stopping all cars, not just those of the tourists, and the tiny toll amount of about $0.25 USD is well worth the story you will get out of it. The second were a group of women wanting to sell us fruit and crafts, we kept the windows rolled up and acted confused, after a minute or so they let us proceed.
The first waterfall of the day is Agua Azul and is not just a single waterfall but instead a long stretch of dozens of falls each more amazing than the last. The impossibly blue waters set amongst the misty jungles made these perhaps the most memorable waterfalls we have ever visited. Bring a swimsuit and towel as swimming is allowed wherever you can safely get in. Plan on spending several hours exploring, swimming and hiking along the river. I should mention that the blue waters only exists for part of the year because in other months the water can be murky and brown. We visited in April which is considered a good time to visit giving us a good chance to see the waters at their most vibrant blue. Perhaps the biggest complaint I heard from others about Agua Azul is that vendors and people selling stuff ruined the experience and natural setting; while yes, there are a lot of vendors, they didn’t bother us at all (however your irritation-level may vary). We ate lunch at a restaurant along the river which was not very good and is where I think I got sick.
The final waterfall of day is Misol Ha which is just a single falls. The water flows off of a high cliff to a large pool below. Again, swimming is allowed but getting in and out here was be both slippery and tricky. A path leads behind the falls is well worth exploring. Expect to spend about 30 minutes to an hour here.
Returning to town we had dinner at Restaurant Maya Canada and was the best meal we had in Palenque. Located close to our hotel, they had outdoor seating and a great atmosphere. We would highly recommend this place.
Spend the night in Palenque.
Day 8) Yaxchilán and Bonampak
If doing both the ruins of Yaxchilán and Bonampak from Palenque it takes 12-hours round-trip, so get an early start. We left at 5am before the sun was up and returned just after 5pm. Save time by bringing food and drinks with you that you can enjoy in the car during the long drive (allowing you to skip both breakfast and lunch). The road to the ruins runs parallel to the Guatemalan border so there were a few military checkpoints we had to pass through, we successfully navigated them all without incident.
To visit the off-the-beaten-path ruins of Yaxchilán you need to go through the no-thrills town Frontera Corozal (which charges tourists a toll just to enter). Follow the not-so-well-marked-signs to a large parking lot and pay a fee to park your car. Use the restrooms here (for a fee of course) as there are no facilities of any kind at the ruins. While Yaxchilán is on a peninsula overlooking the river, they can only be accessed from a boat and Frontera Corozal is where you will hire the guide to take you to and from the ruins. Don’t forget to pay your admission fee for the ruins as that is separate cost that is not included in the boat transportation fee. The boat trip cost is relatively expensive but if you’re with a big group or you can team up with another group of tourists the cost per person will be much less.
The 45-minute boat trip down the Usumacinta River, which serves as the border between Mexico and Guatemala, is a lot of fun and expect to see crocodiles sunning themselves along the bank. Once you arrive, you will have 1-hour at the ruins. Bring a flash-light because there are several dark maze-like stone passageways which you can explore; watch out as they are teeming with bats hanging from the ceiling. Outside, we heard but did not see howler monkeys deep in the jungle. Make sure to look under all of the doorways and windows for intricate stone carvings that are remarkably well preserved. Trust me you will be glad you visited these ruins.
The final ruins of the day are Bonampak, which after Yaxchilán will seem like a breeze to visit. You cannot drive up to the ruins themselves, instead you will need to park at the entrance then hire a local to drive you the remaining several miles down a road that has more pothole than asphalt. At first these small ruins appear unimpressive but it is the decorative frescos, wall painting and murals, not the architecture, that were are here to see. The brightly colored walls features scenes of war is truly amazing. The museum in Mexico City has replicas of these murals but nothing beats the originals! To help preserve these delicate paintings, no flash photography or bags are allowed in the rooms.
Returning to town after a busy day, we enjoyed our final dinner in Palenque at the restaurant Cafe de Yara. Our meal was good, prices reasonable and the waiter was very friendly. He did not speak any English but we still managed to order what we wanted. We sat upstairs in the AC. After dinner we walked to the Restaurante Zanate Bar and went up to the top for a great view of the main square of Palenque. They have a good beer selection but we are really here for the views of the towns nighttime hustle-and-bustle. The music was really bad and blaring loudly which was the only downside of our experience at this establishment.
Spend the night in Palenque.
Day 9) Palenque and the Bat Volcano
The main attraction in Palenque are is of course the impressive ruins of the same name. Set amongst misty jungle mountains, it is easy to see why Palenque is considered by to be the most beautiful architecture of the Mayan world. The main pyramid cannot be climbed but many of the other structures and smaller pyramids can be. Just down the street there is a museum which can be visited for free with admission to the ruins. A large and impressively carved stone sarcophagus and amazing stone carvings makes the museum visit worthwhile.
After visiting the ruins, we went to Tropi Tacos for lunch and had a great meal. The staff was friendly although they did not speak much English; luckily for us, “tacos” is understood in all languages. We got an assortment of different tacos and each was very good. They came with an assortment of different sauces which made it fun to mix and match. We sat upstairs and enjoyed the view of the busy street below.
It was finally time to bid the town of Palenque farewell and make the long drive to the small town of Conhuas. Our hotel for the night was the Cabanas la Selva — First the good; the people that ran this hotel were friendly and helpful. The location is perfect for those visiting the ruins of Calakmul (just 5 minutes away from the entrance). However in all my years of traveling this is overall the worst place we have ever stayed. Being just one of two places in town (the other being $200 USD a night) this is a symptom of zero real competition and thus is way overpriced even at $60 USD a night. This place was basically a hostel — There is no toilet seat, no hot water, no water pressure, the grounds have garbage/construction material scattered about, TP was the scratchiest I have ever seen and the beds hard. Breakfast was included and was OK. Had this place been priced at $20 a night I would have not given it such a negative review, especially considering all the super nice places we stayed at on our trip for less or about the same cost. I would not recommend this place and would suggest staying in the large town of Xpujil instead.
If you do choose to stay in Conhuas or a nearby town, you have the advantage of visiting the Bat Volcano (AKA Zotz Cave). This was for sure the most unique thing we did during our trip to Mexico and it was completely free. Driving east from Conhuas you will see a yellow bat road sign, immediately to the left will be a small dirt parking lot with a path leading through the jungle to Zotz Cave. At dusk, millions of bats fly out of this cave — At first, just a few but in about 5-minutes it is literally thousands and it looks like a swirling eruption (thus the name “Bat Volcano”). So many bats are flying at its peak that you can feel the wind blowing from the flapping of their wings. It is a truly amazing experience and wonder of the animal kingdom! Make sure to bring a flashlight as it will be dark when you leave.
For dinner we ate at the Hotel Puerta Calakmul (this is the other hotel in town which cost $200 USD a night). The setting and atmosphere were great but the food we just OK, it was also really expensive so overall I cannot recommend this place. I don’t mind paying for quality food but this was just so-so.
Spend the night in Conhuas.
Day 10) Calakmul and Río Bec
In the middle of one of the largest biosphere reserves in Mexico are the impressive ruins of Calakmul. The small road south to the ruins takes well over 1-hour from the main road and park entrance. During the long drive, make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife because you will see lots. The ruins feature several structures and large pyramids that you can climb including the largest in the Mayan world. Unlike many of the other ruins we visited during our trip, these have not been cleared of trees so it is only when you climb to the top of your first pyramid that you can finally see the scope of the site and all the pyramids rising from the jungle. On the drive back you can stop at a small museum that can easily been seen in just 10-minutes. The museum has everything from prehistoric fossils (including a mastodon skeleton) to Mayan artifacts.
Once back out on the main road, spend some time exploring some of the smaller Río Bec ruins in the area. A quick stop at the ruins of Balamku, just north of Conhuas, is highly recommended. This site is known for having one of the largest surviving Mayan stucco friezes which are truly amazing. The friezes are behind a locked door so you will need to be let in by one of the staff members to see them. Next, head east to the town of Xpuhil and visit the small ruins of the same name which lay just west of the main village. These ruins feature an impressive temple that is too steep to climb (although we tried).
We spent 2-nights in a hotel just a short drive west of Xpuhil, called Casa Ka”an. This was such a cool place and one of our favorite hotels of our trip. We had our own bungalow which was like a little house complete with its own kitchen, mini-fridge, bathroom, separate bedrooms and eating area. Our front porch had nice chairs to sit on and a hammock to relax in. Each morning a girl would show up and make us a delicious breakfast. The staff was very friendly, helpful and spoke very good English. The hotels location made a good base for exploring the Río Bec area and its many ruins. Being so isolated there was not much light-pollution so you could see thousands of stars in the night-sky. The only issue is that there was something wrong with our bathroom while we were here, so there was a terrible smell emanating from it but we kept the door closed so it was not much of an issue.
For our first dinner in Xpuhil we ate at the Genesis Restaurant. While not much to look at, this place was amazing and was one of our best meals in Yucatán — Dollar for dollar it was the best hands-down because it was such a fabulous value for the quality of food we received. The staff was extremely friendly, helpful and spoke very good English. Every dish was better than the last. We visited for dinner but it was so good we came back for lunch the next day.
Spend the night in Xpuhil.
Day 11) Becán and Río Bec
Besides Calakmul, the ruins of Becán are the most important in the Río Bec area. This compact site features many structures and pyramids that you could climb. In many ways we liked it as much, if not more, than Calakmul, making a visit here a must-see. Almost across the street from Becán is Chicanná, a small site known for a building in the shape of a serpents mouth. These ruins are not that impressive so it could be skipped if you are tight on time or have had your fill of ruins.
After lunch, we headed east towards the ruins of Dzibanché and Kinichná which are off-the-beaten-path. Dzibanché is a great site featuring several pyramids that you can climb set among the jungle forest. Keep your eyes looking up as we saw a family of howler monkeys high in the trees. Only 3-miles away are the ruins of Kinichná which features just one very large structure, while interesting it could be skipped if you are short on time. Paying the admission to Dzibanché will get you in for free to Kinichná; so why not see it if you have already come this far?
Back in Xpuhil, we ate dinner at the restaurant Sazon Veracruzano. The staff was friendly, the food was reasonably good and the prices were not bad. Unfortunately the margaritas were not great, so stick to beer.
Spend the night in Xpuhil.
Day 12) Kohunlich, Chacchoben and Tulum
Driving east, the first of two ruins today is Kohunlich. We are here to see the “Pyramid of the Masks”, so named for the six huge stucco heads, each taller than a person, that line the staircase of the small pyramid structure. The masks alone makes these ruins definitely worth the visit. It should be noted that ruins of Kohunlich are not far from those of Dzibanché and Kinichná (which we saw the previous day) so they could easily be seen the same day; we just happened to see them on separate days.
The next ruins are those of Chacchoben featuring several small pyramids, none of which you can climb. These ruins are not very impressive and the sites proximately to a cruise ship port means that they can become swamped with sunburned cruisers if you arrive at the wrong time (as we did). Chacchoben can easily be skipped.
Continuing north towards Tulum, we made a quick stop at the town of Bacalar, known for the 18th-century fort of Fuerte de San Felipe and the amazingly blue waters of Lake Bacalar. We decided to skip touring the fort as it was very small and were satisfied enough with a quick stroll around it. If you are interested in pirates and have extra time it could be well worth a visit. While here, we visited the Mandala Cafe for a quick smoothie to-go that was good but not great. The staff was friendly and made everything fresh.
The most touristy of the towns we stayed in during our trip, Tulum was a disappointment. Expect to see lots of tourists more interested in drinking, taking selfies and lounging around by the pool/beach all day then people interested in climbing ancient pyramids and experiencing the culture of the area. However it is perfectly located for exploring the areas many attractions plus the lack of anything better, its abundance of hotels and restaurants makes it the perfect town to base yourself out of for the last leg of the trip.
Tulum is really two different towns — The first is the main town where the prices high and the second is the hotel zone along the beach where the prices are even higher. They are about a 15-minute drive away but the vibe of each is completely different. Your first thought might be to stay in the hotel zone near the beach but it is not the relaxing serine environment that you might be imagining. The area is jammed packed full of overpriced hotels, restaurants and shops almost on top of each other. To make matters worse the traffic is non-stop congested along its single completely inadequate road. While everything is only a few years old, it is obvious that zero urban planning went into this area and it has become a mess. The town on the other hand has plenty of its own hotels, restaurants and shops that are just as good if not better, but at half the price.
For these reasons we opted to stay in town at the hotel Coco Hacienda and were were glad that we did. The rooms and grounds were beautiful. The beds have cool lights under them, are super comfy and have nice silky sheets. The bathroom was huge and the shower had lots of water pressure. The 2 picture-perfect pools are great for both cooling off and for relaxing. Breakfast was not included but we still ordered some avocado toast one morning and it was very tasty. The staff speaks great English, is super friendly and helpful. Unfortunately the water out of the tap tastes bad (which is true in all of Tulum I believe) so they offer jugs of filtered water for your convenience. There is free parking in the parking lot. The only downside is that it is a few blocks from the main part of Tulum town but they offer free bikes which makes getting around a breeze. They even have two “sister” resorts directly on the beach in the hotel zone which you can visit. While hotel was very nice it did have a Disney-like resort and lacked the authentic charm of many of the other places we stayed at during our travels (an issue with all of Tulum hotels I suspect).
For our first dinner in Tulum we ate at Mateo’s Mexican Grill. This is a split review because one person loved their meal and the other did not. The margaritas were very good and the atmosphere along the beach was great. The only issue is that the prices were very high compared to that of Tulum city, but for the hotel zone along the beach it was probably average. Parking is available and free if you eat at the restaurant. I would only recommend if you are staying on the beach and don’t want to drive into town.
Spend the night in Tulum.
Day 13) Cenote Casa and Dos Ojos Scuba Diving
We did a total of 5 cenote dives over 2-days. Both were with the scuba company Agua Clara Diving Tulum. All our gear, transportation to/from the dive shop as well as lunch were included. The prices were very fair and competitive. Our divemaster for both days was Leo, he was super friendly and knowledgeable. It should be mentioned that cenote diving is really cave diving so those without much scuba diving experience or those who are claustrophobic should skip these activities.
Our first dive was at Casa Cenote, which was more like a lake. It was however the perfect warm up dive for the more challenging dives we would soon be doing. Next were 2 separate dives of “Barbie Line” and “Batcave Line” at Dos Ojos Cenote. Considered some of the best cave diving in the world, Dos Ojos is truly an unforgettable experience and among the most memorable dives we have ever done. Both dives at Dos Ojos featured underwater columns, stalactites and stalagmites. A photographer will take your photo as you are diving which you can later purchase digital copies for $40 USD.
After our 3 dives, we drove north to Cenotes Azul and Jardin del Eden, which are half-way between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. These two cenotes are more like lakes, thus are not as impressive as the other cenotes we saw on our trip so they can easily be skipped. Even though they are right next to each other they are separately owned, thus you need to purchase tickets to each individually. Of the two, Jardin del Eden was our clear favorite. There was a high cliff to jump off of which made it enjoyable. The water was nice and it was not too crowded. The second, Cenote Azul was the most packed of all the cenotes we visited during our trip; however we had bad timing as a large tour bus arrived at the exact same time we did. Had there been fewer people when we visited we probably would have enjoyed it much more than we did. There was a nice area to jump in and a fish cleaning station for your feet so we still enjoyed ourselves.
After a busy day of cenote diving, we enjoyed what turned out to be our best meal in Tulum and one of our favorites meals of our trip. Recommended by our divemaster Leo, the restaurant El Asadero in Tulum town will be a hit with carnivores as they specialize in grilled meat. The quality of the food and competitive pricing made this place a great value as I am sure it would be have been twice as expensive on the beach. We sat outside along the sidewalk and the atmosphere was enjoyable.
Spend the night in Tulum.
Day 14) Cenote Carwash and Calavera Scuba Diving and Tulum
Our final day of scuba diving started with a visit to Cenote Carwash, so named because people used to wash their cars here. Fortunately that is no longer allowed and this turned out to be another fantastic dive with incredible caves, fish, water lilies, ancient mayan pottery and a resident crocodile. This cenote would be fine to snorkel in as well but to see everything you need go scuba diving. Our final dive was at Cenote Calavera (AKA “The Temple of Doom”), so named because of the 3 entrance holes look like a skull from above. This was another fantastic dive with caves and an indescribable halocline which has to be experienced to be believed.
After our morning dives, we headed to the ruins of Tulum. If these ruins weren’t right on the ocean they probably wouldn’t be worth a visit as none of the structures are all that impressive. To make things worse they are very crowded and as a result everything is roped off. Don’t get me wrong, you will get amazing photos of the ruins next to the bright-blue Caribbean waters but your time here won’t be as memorable as many of other crowd-free ruins you will visit. There is a staircase near the cliffs that lead to a small beach where you can go swimming in the ocean so bring a swimsuit and towel if you want to cool off.
For our final night in Tulum, we dinned at the restaurant El Rincon Chiapaneco. This was recommended by a local and was a real local establishment. Our meal was good but the prices were even better (especially for Tulum which can get expensive) — Value-wise this place is unbeatable. This was also the only place in Mexico we ate at that did not serve any alcohol or beer, however they made up for it by offering huge fruit with ice drinks which were extremely refreshing on a hot summer night.
We don’t do much shopping on my travels but I was looking for good bottle of mezcal to bring home with me. So I wandered into El Burro Agavero and it was a huge mistake — This place is a total ripoff. There are no prices listed on anything so I think the owner just looks at you and sees how much he can take you for. In all my travels this could be the biggest ripoff and scam places I have ever seen. Do not go here under any circumstances!
Spend the night in Tulum.
Day 15) Coba, Cenotes and Cancún
Located about half-way between Tulum and Valladolid are the fantastic ruins of Coba. Even though it is very accessible to the major tourist and cruise areas along the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, it has not reached the same level of popularity of Chichen Itza or Tulum. This is good for us because it means fewer people than those other more popular sites. Coba is famous for its very large pyramid named Nohoch Mul that you can climb for fantastic views of the area. It is without a doubt the most spread out of all the ruins we visited during our trip so expect to hike several miles through the jungle if you want to see everything, unless you hire a local to take you around on a bicycle rickshaw.
Just down the street from the entrance of Coba are a group of 3 cenotes that are well worth your visit. Choose to visit 1, 2 or all 3 of them when you pay at the entrance (we chose to visit just two). The first and our favorite of the two was Cenote Tamcach-Ha which is a huge underground cavern with a high ceiling and a wooden staircase leading the the water below. There are 2 platforms for jumping — One really high and the ridiculously high. I jumped from the highest and when I hit the water it hurt just a little. The second was Cenote Choo-Ha which is like a cave with stalagmites and stalactites. The water here is very shallow and forms a ring around the center.
Just outside of the Coba ruins is a large lake with several restaurants along the side the road. We picked the restaurant El Cocodrilo for a quick lunch. We sat outside under a large shady tree overlooking a lake so the atmosphere was extremely enjoyable. The food was very tasty and well priced making it a good value. We both got a large fruit drink which was very refreshing. The staff was friendly and spoke OK English.
After lunch we drove to Cenote Chaak Tun which is just west of the town Playa del Carmen (about halfway between Tulum and Cancún). This was one of the more unique cenotes we visited during our trip to Mexico and the only that was guide required. Our tour guide was very friendly and spoke great English. The whole tour takes over an hour and there are lots of different places to explore. Basically it is like a cave that you must walk and swim through. The water is cold but wetsuits and masks were included with price of admission. After the tour there was a local tequila tasting and we saw howler honkeys in the trees. The place is more expensive than the other cenotes we visited on our trip and difficult to find but worth the effort.
With out trip winding down we drove back to Cancún and stayed at a cheap hotel near the airport. The Comfort Inn Airport is hands-down the worst hotel experience I have ever had in all my travels. This is solely because of the person working behind the counter which was the most rude person I have ever met. We stayed here on our last night in Mexico because we had an early morning flight and because it said a free 24/7 airport shuttle was included in the price. When we checked in the guy behind the counter was completely uninterested and acted like I was bothering him (which was unusual because everyone else we met during our trip was so unbelievably friendly). Before we went to bed we went to confirm the airport shuttle. He then informed us that the shuttle was only for those arriving and those departing were on their own. When I got my laptop and showed him that on their official website it said that the shuttle was included he informed us that “anyone can put up a website” and that website has nothing to do with them. When I showed him that Google Maps said that the shuttle was included he said that the listing was not created by or has nothing to do with them. When I showed him that TripAdvisor also said the shuttle was included he again said that it was outside of their control. Obvious total lies. When I asked to speak to someone else he said that we could only speak to him. When I ask him to call the corporate office he informed me that “his phone can only receive calls and he cannot make any calls out” (yeah right). This guy was a lying jerk. We then spent the next hour arranging transportation to the airport. The breakfast in the place was included but was very bad. All of this hotels online presence falsely states that a free 24/7 airport shuttle was included in the price to get people to book but does not actually offer that service. This is why a taxi is constantly waiting right out front charging an exorbitant fee for a 2-mile drive. What a ripoff! I would avoid this place for sure and would NOT recommend staying here!
Our final night in Mexico we drove towards the city center of Cancún and ate at Quesadillas Tierra del Sol. This place was fabulous! From the outside I was not expecting much but the food was delicious and unbelievably cheap. This is definitely a great value — We fed 2 people for the typical cost of a single dinner entree at most other restaurants we visited during our trip. Order at the counter and obviously the quesadillas are the thing to get, just pick your meat. There is a sauce station to add extra flavor and spice. It is a little difficult to find but worth the effort. The only downside is that no one here spoke English at all but we still managed well enough.
Spend the night in Cancún.
Day 16) Return Home
After an activity filled 2-weeks in the Yucatán, Mexico — It is time to head home.