© 2018 YaninaTravels
I suppose to go on this trip to Mexico with my mother. She unexpectedly died to brain aneurysm. I still went and dedicated this trip to my Mom.
Mexico is a beautiful country, offering endless opportunities for exploring stunning beaches, lagoons, lakes, parks, ruins, cenotes, fantastic flora and fauna, and it’s famous with one of the best cuisines in the world! I visited Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for New Year’s and I spent 9 adventurous days exploring the area. For the first 5 days, I was based in Playa Del Carmen (PDC), taking day trips to the places I wanted to see. PDC is centrally located in the Yucatan Peninsula and it’s the fastest developing area in the entire Mexico. I stayed in Playacar, which is a beautiful and peaceful residential area of PDC. The last 3 days of my trip, I spent in Holbox Island.
MY BUDGET & COST BREAKDOWN: (9 days/8 nights) $2,127
RT Flight: $375 with United Airlines
AirBnb in Playa Del Carmen: $545 for 5 nights ($85/night + fees)
AirBnb in Holbox Island: $357 for 3 nights ($119/night)
Car Rental: $500 for 9 days ($55/day with insurance)
Food: 200$ (eating out)
WHAT TO BRING
Read my other post Traveling with Less: Travel Gear Guide
BEST TIME TO GO
High season starts December through April. Low season starts in May until the middle of December and that’s when the rainy season takes place as well. October until April is the dry season. Best travel time for budget travelers to Mexico is mid October until mid December.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are many cheap, nonstop and less than 3 hours flights offered from United States’s East Coast to Cancun (CUN). I used United Airlines and this time I didn’t use bonus miles. My ticket cost was $375 RT. You can apply for United Mileage Plus Explorer Credit Card and earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. To learn more about flying with bonus miles, you can read my other article How to Earn Air Miles and Points for Free Flights.
Renting a car in Mexico was the most challenging part of my trip preparation. Car rental is very expensive in Mexico and most car rental companies have bad online ratings. However, you would still need to rent a car if you want to stay away from organized tours and want to explore Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on your own terms. I rented a car through Thrifty. I made a reservation on their website a week prior my arrival. My reservation was showing a total amount of $60 for 9 days. Too good to be true, right?
After doing my online research, I found out that this is common for most car rental companies in Mexico. Be prepared to pay more, so you don’t get frustrated. My final car rental cost upon arrival ended up being $500 for 9 days. The local liability insurance in Mexico increases the final price. However, you must have a Mexican liability insurance with zero deductible, which can be purchased only in Mexico. Do not purchase any car insurance online prior to your trip, since it’s not going to be valid in Mexico.
Keep in mind that all car rental places in Mexico can be tricky. Watch out how much they are charging you, ask questions and smile. Being pissed at car rental employees in Mexico is not going to help you. Take photos of any pre existing scratches and dents on the car. Take video of the entire car with the car rental representative in it. Expect to spend about 2 hours for getting through customs at Cancun’s Airport, followed by the car rental process.
Another thing to keep in mind is that gas scams are a possibility. Therefore, each time you need to buy gas, you should pay in cash only, never fill up (200-300 pesos), watch the pump and make sure it’s zeroed out.
I booked a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom newly renovated, beautiful apartment on Airbnb. That place was an excellent centrally located base for exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. You can check out that accomodation and read my review there. If you’ve never used AirBnb before, you can accept my invite to join and get $40 off towards your first trip.
The national currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN). 1 US Dollar equals about 19 Mexico Peso. There is no real need to bring US Dollars in cash, since you are not going to get a good exchange rate. You should get Mexican Peso by going to an ATM and using your debit card. The bank exchange rate is the best one you can get. At most places you will need to pay with cash. However you can still pay with a credit card at some restaurants. Always pay cash at gas stations when loading gas, in order to avoid scams.
I was eating out every day in Mexico. Who wouldn’t? Mexican cuisine is among the best cuisines around the world! I was absolutely amazed by the Mexican food. However, I’m not going to lie that I was one of those people, who became obsessed with ordering ceviche, tacos, quesadillas, pico de gallo and not trying enough of the other food options such as chilaquiles, enchiladas, tamales, etc.
DAY TRIPS (from PDC)
1. Akumal Beach & Tulum Ruins
Akumal Beach is located in between PDC and Tulum. It’s only about half an hour drive from PDC. You can visit this wonderful beach to snorkel with turtles. There is no need to purchase a tour or hire a guide. Simply bring your own snorkel gear, vest, get in the water and enjoy. Right before the entrance of Akumal Beach, there is a small, cheap and offering amazing food “Loncheria Akumalito”. You can have a quick meal there before heading to Tulum Ruins. Keep in mind that the ruins close at 5 pm. The drive from Akumal to Tulum Ruins is only 25 minutes.
2. Bacalar Lagoon & Cenote Azul
Bacalar Lagoon is also known as the Lake of Seven Colors. You should leave very early in the morning from PDC to Bacalar, since the drive is about 3 hours one way. At the public beach in the area, you can find vendors offering 2-hour boat tour on Bacalar Lake. You can park your car there and get on the tour. You will see a beautiful scenery on this tour and also you will get a chance to take a mud bath at one of the stops. After the tour is over, head up to swim and snorkel at the stunning and nearby Cenote Azul. There is a restaurant there, which you can enjoy during your visit. Keep in mind that the cenote closes at 6 pm. Another restaurant option in Bacalar is the waterfront “Kai Pez”. It’s an excellent place for sunset watching as well. If you get tired and don’t want to drive in the dark, you might want to stay overnight in Bacalar and drive back to PDC in the morning.
3. Chichen Itza & Cenote Zaci & Valladolid
Chichen Itza is one of the most popular archaeological sites for visitors in Mexico. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the New World. Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza was a city built by the Maya people.
You should leave early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds at Chichen Itza. The drive from PDC is 2 hours one way. The entrance fee is 242 pesos ($12) pp. You can visit the amazing Cenote Zaci on your way back, which is another 45 minutes drive. Before you drive back to PDC, you can try some Mayan food at “Las Campanas” restaurant in Valladolid. If you are craving a dessert afterwards and you like street food, then get churros (fried-dough pastry) and marquesitas (crunchy crepes), sold by the vendors in the main square.
You can get on a 30-minute ferry ride from PDC and spend a day in Cozumel. The ferries are running every hour. You can purchase tickets directly at the ferry port. Upon arrival in Cozumel, you can get a taxi and ask him to drop you at the “Money Bar Beach Club”, where you can snorkel, sunbath (free beach chairs + umbrellas) and eat the most amazing coconut shrimp and shrimp quesadilla! You can easily spend the entire day at this spot! On your way back to the ferry port, you can take a walk at the waterfront, before returning to PDC.
5. Las Coloradas (Pink Lake) & Rio Lagartos
It will take you about 3 hours driving to get to the Pink Lake, which is in the fishing village of Las Coloradas. It’s part of Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. After the Pink Lake, you can drive to the colorful town of Rio Lagartos and have lunch at “El Perico Marinero” restaurant. I loved Rio Lagartos! If you wish, you can get on a boat tour, provided by the vendors at the waterfront. On the tour you can see pink flamingos, various birds and they might even bring you to Las Coloradas as well. Don’t forget to ask about the price first. The tour should cost you about 700 pesos ($40) pp. If you get tired and don’t want to drive back in the dark, you might want to stay overnight in Rio Lagartos and drive back to PDC in the morning.
6. Holbox Island
I visited Holbox Island right after the Pink Lake trip. I planned to spend 3 nights there. I drove straight from Rio Lagartos to Chiquila (3-hour drive). I parked my car at one of the paid parking lots by the ferry port. I walked to the port and purchased a ferry ticket to Holbox. The ferries are running every half an hour or so and they will get you to the island in about 20 minutes.
Holbox (“black hole” in Yucatec Maya) is an island north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Holbox Island is part of Yum-Balam Biosphere Reserve. There are on the cars on the island. You can rent a bicycle or golf cart. The accessible part of Holbox Island is so tiny, therefore I didn’t see a real need to deal with cart rental. If you are located in the middle of the island (downtown) like I was, it takes about an hour to walk to the east or west end of the island. You might need to rent a cart in case your accommodation is not located in downtown. Basically you can explore the entire island by foot for a day or two. For lunch you should try the grilled seafood platter at “Raices Beach Club and Marina” on the beach. If you want to try the famous lobster pizza, go to “Edelyn Restaurant”. If you are visiting in the months of June through September, you should book a whale sharks watching tour!