Soak up the Caribbean in these four destinations along Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.
The Yucatan Peninsula is a very popular destination in the Mexican Caribbean, offering intense shades of blue waters, white sand beaches and flares of the ancient and colourful Mayan culture. The natural wonders are truly beautiful and the Mayan ruins are captivating. However, I will preface this blog post by reiterating our love for places off the beaten track and with limited time to explore the Yucatan, we didn’t have much time to explore beyond the tourist traps.
Playa Del Carman and Isla Cozumel
Traveling around Mexico is somewhat of a challenge. You need to consider transport taking longer than expected when planning your travels. But hey, it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong. Our overnight bus from the pacific side had somehow shredded the rubber off the tyre but continued to drive along the road for a few good kms on metal rim. The bus finally stopped and left us stranded in the middle of the night. After anxiously standing in the cold of the desert for about an hour, fearing we’d miss our flight to the Yucatan, another bus finally roared up the road which we didn’t hesitate to jump on, even if we didn’t quite understand where it was going. Luckily it took us to where we wanted to go. We jumped in a cab and yelled “Aeropuerto! Pronto!”
After our disastrous overnight bus, a speeding taxi (which was largely encouraged by its passengers), 2 x flights, another bus and a tricycle ride, we finally made it to Playa Del Carmen and my, what a culture shock from the Pacific side.
There were tourists, development and wealth everywhere. It was hard to spot the locals and the prices were more expensive than Sydney.
After an exhausting session in transit, we found a bar where we enjoyed some margaritas before falling into a deep 11 hour sleep.
We awoke the next morning to board a very large touristy ferry to Isla Cozumel. Observing the masses of international foreigners prancing around in nothing but their speedos and taking selfies at every angle of the ship made for an amusing people watching journey.
To our surprise and disappointment, Cozumel was just as built up as Playa. We decided to rent a scooter and race away from the tourist traps. We blasted away so quickly, we ended up on the wrong side of the road. Confronted by beeping horns and Spanish voices screaming at us, we nervously found our way back to the correct side.
We circumnavigated the entire island and found a few cute little places to snorkel in the clear turquoise waters. We spotted more tourists floundering around in their yellow life jackets then fish.
After our day trip, we headed back to Playa on the amusing ferry ride again. We ventured into Fusion Bar, which was a cool little joint on the beach. We treated ourselves to some delicious nachos and dos piña coladas as we watched the sunset over the Caribbean.
We walked home via the famous Calle 5 and again, a wave of cultural shock came over us. Our conclusion of Playa was a resemblance of Vegas meets Surfers Paradise. Some would love this night life, and perhaps if you were arriving from a western developed world, you might appreciate it more. But us, arriving from authentic Mexico and the rest of Central America, rocking it out in our beach dresses and thongs didn’t relate to the others strutting their tight, short skirts and mega high heels. We were glad to be moving on to our next destination – Tulum.
We rode the ADO bus from Playa to Tulum. These buses depart from Playa every day from 8:00 am to 12:31 pm at 66 pesos for one way.
We made our way to the Weary Traveler Hostel, which has a great social vibe. The hostel is not on the beach but offers a regular bus to take you there. We ventured through the ruins and admired the intense turquoise of the sea.
The intensity of the heat was a lot to bear, so we left the ruins and headed towards the stark white sand and plonked ourselves on the beach, under some shade. The bus was due back at 5pm, but we thought that was far too early so we made ourselves comfortable in some hammocks, sipped on margaritas and devoured some guacamole to bid farewell to the day. The option of taxi back to the hostel was always there.
The following day, we ventured to Akumal where we heard you could swim with turtles. We caught the collectivo there, and to our disappointment, the beach was closed as defined by the red flag blowing in the wind. We questioned the local lifeguard and through broken English, we learnt that because it was windy you weren’t allowed to swim or hire snorkels. We looked around, it was slightly windy but nothing out of the ordinary. And secondly, people were still swimming, so again we questioned the lifeguard. He explained that if you own your own snorkel, you can swim at your own risk but you can’t hire them. We were flabbergasted. We turned away with heavy hearts and made it to a little cafe, Lucy’s Kitchen and treated ourselves to an acai and granola shake. When we calmed down, we headed back to the beach to relax and read our books. The slight wind which we first observed was actually quite strong and not before long, my entire body, book and sarong were covered in the tiny white sand particles, a very similar resemblance to cocaine! After enough sand whipping, we went back to Lucy’s for some lunch. It was a bit of a failure of a day so I recommend you take snorkel’s with you if you venture to Akumal – just in case it’s ‘closed’.
A lot of people make it to Tulum to swim or dive in the cenotes, a secret underworld of crystal clear, mineral-rich turquoise pools where Mayans communicated with the gods. At these hidden locations, you can swim or dive in crisp waters in magical caves. Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which has revealed a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools. Swimming in these cenotes is an adventure to embark on while in Tulum.
The Island of Women was my favourite place in the Yucatan. It was a Mexican Paradise with white sand and crystal turquoise waters. It was less built up than the other places, offering more of an authentic vibe. For all you honeymoon adventurers out there, this is a key destination for you in Mexico.
We stayed at Pocna Hostel, a rad little hostel which offered it’s own private beach sprinkled with a variety of hammocks to chill by day and a beach bar to dance by night.
After lounging around on the beach all day, we drank some margaritas and ate some chips and guac as we watched the sunset on yet another day in the Caribbean.
Back at the hostel, we were greeted with 2 for 1 margaritas, watched some live music and finished the night with some barefoot dancing on the sand at the beach bar.
The next day, after some Mexican Style Eggs, we hired a golf buggie for a couple of hours to explore the island. After a few mishaps, we were on the road driving, taking it all in but nothing super exciting to see. The action and best swimming spots were definitely up where we were staying. Nevertheless, it was good to explore. We stopped at Mango Cafe, top rated by Tripadvisor and we soon understood why. The mango chicken tacos were outrageously amazing.
We did it all over again that afternoon – lay near the lagoon waters of Norte Playa, laughing and frolicking in the shallows, exchanging travel stories with new friends. We ate shrimp tacos that night which was my third amazing Mexican dish that day, and of course finished with some margaritas – it would be rude not to!
We hope this provides you with some inspiration and information on where to island hop in Mexico. Happy adventuring!