It seems that Yucatan Peninsula travel is at an all-time high right now! With many weeklong, or more, itineraries for Mexico I wanted to offer some general tips for making your Mexico trip as smooth as possible. From housing recommendations to transportation advice to a few of the places to eat in Mexico, I break down the nitty gritty information you need to know for your adventure. So here are some tips and tricks that could help anyone contemplating Yucatan Peninsula travel, especially if you want to go to Cancun, Valladolid, and Tulum.
Cancun Travel Tips
Fly into Cancun for easy connections via bus
Cancun can connect you to any location in the Yucatan Peninsula, including Islas Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Tulum. Thus, it’s the most reasonable option if this area is where you are headed. After passing through customs, walk straight outside past the currency exchange, and you will see ADO buses ready to take you to many locations in the Yucatan. Mexico City’s airport could also be an option, but it’s more inland and further away from the Yucatan.
Exchange your currency in the airport
I know this may not be normal for other destinations with higher exchange rates, but I got the best one at Cancun’s airport exchange. The other smaller places I went to thereafter were still very good, since one U.S. dollar goes a long way, but the Cancun airport had the best one. Just be aware the airport may impose a 1000-peso maximum exchange from U.S. dollars. Again, on the U.S. dollar, that’s more than enough for the beginning of your trip.
Forget what you heard and use the ADO Bus and taxis
Getting from Cancun to any of the surrounding islands and cities such as Tulum, Valladolid, Islas Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, etc. is easy with the ADO bus system. I also caught one to the bus station near my Cancun hostel, and then another to head to Valladolid the next day. Mexico’s ADO buses are some of the nicest buses I’ve ever ridden. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive compared to buses I’ve used traveling around Europe. Taxis are also super cheap, sharing them or not, and ideal modes of transportation for Yucatan peninsula travel!
For a short stint in Cancun, stay at Mayan Monkey Hostel
Cancun was not the focus of my trip, so I only spent one night here. If you are just passing through and want to stay close to the bus station, this is the place to choose. It’s a 5-minute walk from the bus station and its cheap price of only $18/night includes breakfast and dinner. Mayan Monkey also has a great atmosphere for solo travelers. There are other food places within walking distance too. I reviewed the hostel in a separate post if you are interested and want to know more!
Valladolid Travel Tips
Valladolid’s most popular housing: Hostel Candelaria
Hostel Candelaria is the most popular hostel choice for Yucatan Peninsula travel while stopping in Valladolid. It is a small town in the Yucatan that has flown under the radar for a while, but with the emergence of Cenote Suytun it is on the rise. A colorful hostel that is half outside and half inside, I enjoyed meeting other travelers and grateful for the many fans in the room! From relaxing in hammocks to cooking a “family dinner” with other travelers, read my review of Hostel Candelaria here.
Stay in Valladolid to visit Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Cenote Suytun
If you are looking for the best location to stay to see Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, Valladolid is my pick! When planning this solo trip for my Yucatan Peninsula travel, I wanted to find a location that could easily get me from one sight to another. After searching for blog post itineraries, and looking at a map of Mexico, I stumbled upon Valladolid. Only about 45 minutes to an hour away from Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, going opposite directions, it was the best option. You can take an ADO bus, taxi, or colectivo to get to any of them. Additionally, it is less than a 20-minute ride to Cenote Suytun, one of the coolest cenotes I’ve ever seen. To see the Tulum Ruins, staying in Tulum Pueblo is best.
Indulge in the street food
I often travel for food! It is one of the best ways to understand a new culture, with street food being my favorite. You are often supporting a local business and are treated to a satisfying meal that represents the culture you are visiting. In Valladolid, I ate the best torta for only 23 pesos ($1.50), as I waited for my colectivo to Ek Balam while in a local’s street food truck area. To this day, I still want another.
Tulum Travel Tips
Wherever you end up, take a cooking class
Speaking of food, I decided to take a cooking class while I visited Tulum. I chose to cook and dine with Rivera’s Kitchen Tulum and ten absolute strangers from Australia and New Zealand. The chef, Lily, made the cooking class interactive and included traditional Mexican dishes that blended her Oaxaca roots with Tulum. This is a great class to take solo or with a group of friends! Lily gives historical context, delicious recipes, and humor to compliment a hands-on Tulum cooking class. I have a review on my entire experience with Rivera’s Kitchen Tulum if you are interested in learning more.
No judgement for eating tacos the entire trip
If there is a time to as many tacos as you please, it’s while you are in the home of tacos! I ate them every day I was in the Yucatan Peninsula and did not mind it one bit. My favorite place was in Tulum at El Rincon de los Chiapenecos, where four tacos cost only $2! My taste buds were beyond screaming with joy. For those staying in the eco-resort area, La Eufemia in Tulum is a solid option too. While El Rincon is in Tulum Pueblo, La Eufemia gives you a nice beach view to go with your meal and drinks.
Stay in Tulum Pueblo at Mama’s Home Tulum
Tulum has a whole line of eco-resorts to choose from, but Mama’s Home is the best hostel in Tulum for budget travelers. It is within walking distance from the bus station, and located in the heart of Tulum nightlife. The highlight of my time at Mama’s Home was every morning I woke up to a delicious, home-cooked breakfast. If you are seriously considering, check out my review of Mama’s Home for all the details!
General Yucatan Peninsula Travel Tips
Learn a few Spanish phrases
Though the Yucatan Peninsula travel route can be full of English-speaking tourists, it’s always nice to learn a few common phrases in Spanish. Locals always love when tourists show effort to connect in their language. It’s also a nice way to challenge yourself while on your trip. Some locals may talk to you in English regardless, but at least you tried something new!
Pack oregano essential oil for your water
Prior to my trip, everyone told me to only drink bottled water and another friend passed along this tip! Oregano oil is an anti-bacterial agent and great for anyone to use if you are worried about drinking the water in Mexico. I would especially recommend this for people with sensitive stomachs, just in case. Your water will taste a bit like oregano, or I just put too much in my bottle, so if you don’t like that flavor you may not like this. I had no problems and could enjoy all the food stomach-ache free.
Forget what you heard (again) and use colectivos
While this may not be the most ideal mode of transportation, it is one you should try. I heard good and bad experiences prior to going to Mexico, but overall I liked riding in colectivos. It’s like a local rideshare and I took it to see Chichen Itza, the Tulum Ruins, and the eco-resort area in Tulum. When paying for your ride, take sure you have exact, or close to exact, cash because sometimes the driver’s change is limited. If you need absolute comfort on trips under an hour, including air conditioning, a colectivo can be a new, welcomed adventure. If not, you always have the ADO bus as your next choice.
Enjoy nightlife when you can
Going out in Mexico can be a great time! In the city centers, there are many options for you to enjoy a tasty drink and some music. Places like Tulum make it easy because they are all in one area, so it is easy to bar hop and try multiple places in one night. Ask hostel staff about some of the best places to go out to bars or clubs. They’re your best bet for the best spot.
Take all the photos to document your travel
Everyone is on the prowl for the best photos. For any of the ruins, waking up early is your best bet to get a photo with no one in it or to beat the heat if you are going in summer. Here are some key places to get that dream shot in Valladolid.
If staying in Valladolid as your home-base:
- Chichen Itza, Cenote Suytun (have someone take it from above), and Ek Balam (which you can climb and get some cool angles), and Calle de los Frailes (the colorful street)
While in Tulum:
- Matcha Mama Tulum, Tulum Ruins, along the shopping streets, Pablo Escobar’s mansion
As someone who had only traveled internationally to Europe and Morocco, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Yucatan Peninsula. While I have studied Spanish and Latin America, visiting Mexico for the first time made me excited to explore other countries such as Guatemala, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, and Brazil. I think Yucatan Peninsula travel is doable and I am already plotting my return, solo or with friends! Though Mexico gets a lot of bad press, as black, female, solo traveler, I had no serious issues. Happy exploring the area for you.
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