It didn’t matter that I’d been there before: we were craving comfort and the Mexico promised to deliver. The sun drenched breaches and glittering turquoise waters of the Quintana Roo coast, along with cheap prices and delicious food are a recipe for comfort… and definitely my kind of happy place. Garnished with a margarita or a Corona, of course.
Our flight from Lima had us landing in Cancun at a ridiculous hour, too early for the ADO buses to run. Instead of waiting another three, we coughed up our precious US dollars for a private transfer to Playa del Carmen. Transport over the next ten days couldn’t have run more smoothly: we’d just book our next journey on BusBud.com the night before a trip and show up at the station. ADO is a clean and organised service, running regularly for decent prices.
Playa del Carmen
Our typical day in Playa del Carmen consisted of breakfast on the rooftop terrace, exploring town on our way to the beach (we particularly liked Playacar) where we’d then have a picnic lunch and relax for a few hours before heading home to the rooftop pool. After we’d freshened up we’d head out in the evening. Playa del Carmen runs pretty thick with Americans at resorts, which brings with it a wide range of shopping. Conveniently Andy and I managed to pick up a few clothes in anticipation of arriving in Canada, which takes the pressure off a little when we get there (probably cheaper too)!
I’m normally against eating at the same place more than once (especially when I have a list of other places that are all meant to be good – as I did here) but we just got absolutely sucked in by El Fogon, and ended up eating there three nights in a row! By our last night, we had our ordering system down pat. (We actually ate brunch at El Nativo on the morning we arrived so we didn’t ONLY try El Fogan)
The tacos el pastor (shredded pork, onion, pineapple and coriander with salsa) at El Fogan were literally Mexican food heaven but on earth. They cost less than two dollars each and we just couldn’t stop ordering them. We also religiously ordered the guacamole and tried the quesadillas, fajitas and numerous other taco kinds across the three days. Of course the frozen margaritas were enormous – everything about this place is great! Just so you know, our meal never cost more than $20 each – inclusive of drinks and the tip.
I’d forgotten quite how far the town of Tulum was from the beach. It was way beyond our dwindling budgets to stay on the beach, so we were staying just on the fringes of town. The first beach we visited was Paradiso beach. The sand was so clean and white, the water so clear and blue – no wonder it was popular. After catching a taxi there, we walked home via the ruins which, although far, was actually a pleasant and shady walk.
We cycled to South Tulum beach. It was difficult finding an access point to the water as the whole strip is very privatised. We ended up just parking our bikes outside the CoCo resort and walking through, loosely pretending we were guests. I wish! There were fewer people here (not that Paradiso was overcrowded at all) and Andy declared it as the nicest beach he’d ever seen.
Seeming as we had hired bikes, we took the opportunity to visit the Gran Cenote. It was about a half hour bike from our house. It cost 200 pesos to enter (about $20) and after a compulsory shower to wash off any makeup / lotions / sunscreen or other chemicals that might pollute the water we dived right on in. We’d read horror stories of how crowded it might be, but it was absolutely fine and we had plenty of space to ourselves.
A cenote is a natural sink hole, so basically a cave-like formation to swim in and around. There are dozens in the area, all varying in features (such as depth, size, facilities etc). The Gran cenote was pretty big: you could see stalactites protruding deep down into the water, there were bats and turtles to spot and there was also a sunny grass area to dry off afterwards. I think we both considered swimming with the turtles to be a highlight and it certainly influenced our decision not to visit Akumal the next day.
We had originally planned to swim with sea turtles at Akumal (and I had loved the experience last time) but after reading a bunch of forums online we changed our minds. It sounds like tourism has become way out of hand, mainly through privatisation making access to the beach difficult/expensive and general overcharging and scams. I’d found it pretty annoying last time, being hassled by people trying to take me on a tour and making up fake rules to make money – for example that lifejackets were compulsory. Also, any spot that is so obviously overrun with tourism cannot be good for the environment, so we thought we’d give the turtles’ two less tourists to worry about. Our decision was made easier because we’d had such fun with the turtles at the cenote the day prior.
We stayed in an Air BnB in Tulum and actually cooked/prepared all our meals from home. We managed to use up most of the food we’d been accumulating and lugging around in our backpacks for the last two months, which was ideal for both saving money and losing weight from our bags. It was a cute Air BnB so it was a pleasure coming home after a big day in the sun to cook and relax into the night with Netflix and a glass of wine.
Last but not least, we caught a ferry from Cancun across to Isla Mujeres. I’d found us somewhere based on location, meaning we were super close to the ferry terminal, the beach and the main part of town. We also had a wee kitchen so we weren’t forced to eat out every meal: the island was relatively touristy and expensive. Our time in Isla consisted of lots of walks, lots of beaching and a daily ritual of grabbing a drink somewhere on the beach for sunset.
Our first night we had dinner at Ruben’s Cafe. We ordered tostadas and chimichangas. They were huge meals and felt very authentic. We also ate brunch at Mogagua Cafe: another authentic meal of chilaquiles (nachos soaked in sauce) and rolled tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs and covered in bean sauce. The portions were huge: we struggled to finish it all. Our unanimous food highlight on the island was at Polos Mango Cafe. Not only was it a super pleasant spot to chill out, the bottomless filter coffee tasted like cinnamon and the fish tacos with mango salsa were so incredibly yummy!
We had toyed with the idea of hiring a golf cart (most common) but considering the island is only 8km long we decided it was too spenny and ended up hiring bicycles instead. It ended up being a huge day: we swam at some beautiful beaches, ate at Polos Mango Cafe, and explored Punta Sur – a walkway with views and iguanas. About ⅓ of the way through the full cycle duration, I went over a bump and basically bungled my bike! It meant our pace was incredibly slow as I couldn’t get any momentum ever and had to walk the bike up any kind of incline. It was a bit of a nightmare actually, and after walking a lot of the way back (under a time pressure of 5pm) our sweaty selves pretty much fell into the ocean with relief! Good exercise though
We stayed our last night in an airport hotel as we had a very early flight to Cuba and they offered a free shuttle service. It was super flash with an amazing pool, spa, cheapish restaurant and delicious buffet breakfast. The best part is we get to spend another night there before we fly to Canada… so yeah, we’re pretty excited about that. But first – 8 days in Cuba!