So I went to Mexico. Coincidentally, the trip coincided with my birthday and it was my first time taking my sister backpacking. With two highlights, a special day to celebrate and the opportunity to introduce someone to travelling, the itinerary had to be just right.
In my research, I found that people mostly travelled between the Riviera Maya, Chichen Itza and only a few made it to Merida. Despite the Yucatan having so much to offer and wanting to see it all, I set the criteria for the trip:
- No long bus journies over 4hrs
- Every accommodation must have free wifi
- Breakfast has to be included
- No lower than 8.0 on Hostelworld and Booking.com
- Tours have to be limited – it’s all about travelling independently
- Maximum amount of beach time
With those rules, here is the itinerary that I created and it worked out great.
Day 1: Arrive into Cancun
Accommodation: Mezcal Hostel (it’s partyish but definitely recommended)
Check into hostel and catch up with my sister.
Day 2: Cancun/Valladolid
Accommodation: Hotel Maria Guadelupe (not recommended)
The original plan was to head straight to Valladolid to go to the cenotes – but the beach was calling. So we headed to Playa Forum in the morning and Valladolid in the afternoon. There was an issue with our booking (There was a sale on Booking.com but the hotel didn’t want to honour it. I believe they advertised that price as a way to lure travellers in but when you arrived tell you the real price). The new asking price was too high for me and my sister so after walking around town for a while, we found Santa Maria Guesthouse. No free breakfast but it had wifi so I didn’t complain. It’s close to the bus station and a supermarket and the owner is so helpful. I definitely recommend this accommodation.
Day 3: Chichen Itza and Xkeken (Cenote Dzitnup and Samula)
After grabbing breakfast, we headed to Chichen Itza via a local bus (save your money for the tour guide). It was hot at Chichen Itza so bring a hat and plenty of water – some tourists fainted whilst we were there. I know the overall tip is to visit Chichen Itza before the tour buses arrive, and I agree. When we were waiting for a bus to leave, within 5 minutes 7 full coaches pulled into the parking lot. Yea.
We left Chichen Itza via local bus and were let off to walk down the road. There was actually another cenote right at the beginning of the road but it wasn’t the one we wanted to see. After speaking to the security guard we knew we were on the right track and fortunately, a collectivo saw us and squashed us into his car for the 5-minute drive to Xkeken. Xkeken is the site to two cenotes – Cenote Dzitnup and Cenote Samula. We didn’t mind paying because it was still hot. As we say in Jamaica, “Di sun did stan’ up inna di sky.” We paid for both cenotes and a buffet dinner and spent the rest of the day swimming and eating. Both my sister and I agreed – Samula was the more beautiful out of the two. Refreshed and with full bellies, we paid for a taxi back into town and had an early night.
Day 4: Ek Balam
After a late start, we decided to go to the smaller ruins of Ek Balam. These ruins are a lot smaller than Chichen Itza but at least you can climb up them and get a glimpse of how big Mexico is. There’s a cenote on the site and because it was another hot day, we went for a dip and even ziplined over the cenote. When we got back in town, we strolled around the city in the cool of the afternoon and watched a local dance group practice in the park. Valladolid is small but there were more cenotes I wanted to visit and explore the town more. Despite the tour buses taking day trippers for a rest in the evening, Valladolid has a lot of charm.
Day 5: Valladolid/Merida
Accommodation: Nomadas (HIGHLY recommended!)
We left Valladolid later than we expected and so arrived into Merida at night. We walked to our hostel which was further from the bus station than we anticipated but we made it safe and sound.
Day 6: Merida
A lazy day, we left the hostel late and walked around the city of Merida. Merida is a foodie city and this was where my sister and I had the best street food the whole trip. Not only is it a foodie destination, it’s a beautiful city. As a solo female traveller, I try to avoid ‘romantic’ destinations because no one likes those sad pity parties. Yet I was glad I came to Merida because I see myself bringing a lover here. Forget Paris, Merida is my city of love.
Day 7: Progreso + Merida
Missing the beach and hearing that Progreso is not too far away, we jump on a bus and spent the day chilling out on the beach (maybe it’s because we are Jamaicans, but my sister and I definite beach bums). When we came back into town, there was another event happening so we went to check it out. Every week, there is a different event going on and we went to the Mayan show that showed which showed actors reenacting the Mayan game pok-a-tok and another night, different music styles throughout Mexico.
Day 8: Merida/Tulum
Accommodation: Hostel Che (my 2nd favourite hostel. Partyish but the only hostel that allows you to have multiple fruit portions)
We (unwillingly) left Merida but we were too late. The bus we wanted was sold out so we ended up arriving into Tulum at midnight! This should have been a day exploring the Tulum ruins or Cenote Dos Ojos.
Day 9: Beach Day
We woke up lazy and wanted sea therapy and were told that Playa Paraiso was the beach in Tulum so we went to check it out. Both my sister and I didn’t see what the hype was with Playa Paraiso when there were better beaches and beach clubs in the area (even after ordering food and drinks you had to pay for wifi…ok…*shrug*). Lots of waves and seaweed – I think this was because Playa Paraiso is next to Parque Nacional Tulum.
Day 10: Akumal
Our hostel organised a tour to Akumal and we went along. This is an amazing beach because just swim off shore a couple of minutes and you are snorkelling with turtles. This was also a calm beach so it’s great for those with kids. After spending the whole day at the beach (again), we go back into town and look for street food.
Day 11: Papaya Playa
What do you know, another beach day. This time, this was my favourite beach of the trip. So I found this beach because I didn’t want something within the park and I had a hunch that hotels outside of national parks won’t have any seaweed issues. And I was right. The first hotel outside of the national Park was the Papaya Playa Project. The actual beach is Playa Pescadores but we went to Papaya Playa Project for their beach club (it has free wifi!). This beach was everything. Our plans of staying until afternoon and then heading to another cenote went out the window. We spent the whole day, eating, drinking and swimming in the ocean. If I go back to Tulum, this is somewhere I would consider to stay.
Day 12: Playa Mambo
After enjoying ourselves at Papaya Playa we wanted a similar experience but something further down the strip and closer to the Sian Ka’an Reserve. The last hotel on the strip was Be Tulum and when we heard the prices they were asking ($50 per person minimum for food and drink) we turned left and looked for a different watering hole. That’s how we found Playa Mambo. This is a very close second to Papaya Playa – it’s almost a tie, I just preferred Papaya Playa. Another hotel that I would consider staying at, this place was so pretty and the staff amazing. And the beach was amazing – whilst swimming, a turtle came up for air real close to me and I realised I could have stepped on it and didn’t even know!
Day 13: Tulum/Cancun
Accommodation: Back at Mezcal Hostel. It was close to the bus station and affordable food.
It was hard to leave Tulum. Alas, the trip was coming to an end and we were flying out of Cancun so back to Cancun we unwillingly went.
Day 14: Playa Forum
We went to the beach…again :). The hostel had discounts for guests to spend time at the Mandala beach club so my sister and I decided to go. When we arrived the special was over so we couldn’t get in. The location is actually Playa Forum so we went back. This time round, it was the weekend so beds were hard to get and vendors were renting tables and chairs. We checked out Playa Delfines too and loved it. My second favourite beach. We walked all the way down pass where the locals are and found 1 guy renting umbrellas. The water was so clear. Another perfect day bumming at the beach.
Day 15: Isla Mujeres Trip
It’s my birthday! The hostel had snorkel tour offers so we decided to do the Isla Mujeres trip. The highlight of the trip. When we mentioned we were Jamaicans, that was when the real fun began. We took over their music, there was twerking and someone kept putting a drink in my hand ;). They sang me happy birthday in English, Spanish and the traditional Mexican way. People hugged us because we were Jamaicans. People took photos with us because we were Jamaicans. All me and sister could do was laugh and revel in the fun. Definitely a birthday to remember.
Day 16: Home 🙁
Both my sister and I struggled to go home. We had so much fun and bonded over this trip, we didn’t want it to end. Looking back, we could have explored more cenotes or visited other beach towns like Rio Lagartos or Puerto Morelos, but all this gives us more reason to return to Mexico.
Favourite memories: walking along the beach at Papaya Playa, eating street food in Merida, and the all the laughs I had with my sister.