“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people....”
- Donald Trump, 16/06/2015
As I planned our road-trip to Mexico, I found myself thinking. How much truth is there in Trump’s statement? I mean, I’ve watched enough films depicting murders and gang related violence in Mexico. Do I really want to go on a road-trip across Mexico with my wife?
Yeah we’ve been to many of the world’s most “complicated destinations”, but with a car, that’s different. Now we’ll have something of value with us in a supposedly dangerous part of the world. We’re relatively adventurous, but we’re not exactly looking for a carjacking experience.
So, on our first time to Mexico, we decided to head for the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico’s most touristy area, the home of the Mayan Civilization, and likely the safest area in Mexico for a road-trip.
And yes, Mexico was safe. Very safe.
Colourful colonial towns, Turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, lush green jungles dotted with ancient Mayan Ruins with mysterious rivers flowing through them; I would even go as far to say Mexico's Yucatan would make the ideal family vacation spot.
Again, I repeat, ideal for family vacations. Not just thrill seekers, friends, or couples.
“The Girl” and I arrived in Cancun, Mexico from Medellin, Colombia. However, for most tourists contemplating a visit to Mexico though, it’ll probably be on the back of a vacation to the USA.
IF you’re in the USA, and IF you’ve got a few more days to spare, MAYBE, just MAYBE, you’ll stop by Mexico. That’s the usual thought process of most Singaporeans.
I’ve never heard any of my friends say “Hey, let’s go to Mexico, and since we are there, maybe, we’ll stop by the USA."
This post is written on the assumption that you’re already planning to be in the USA. And just so you know, there are many cheap flights to Yucatan’s Cancun from major cities throughout the USA. So if you’re going to be in the USA, there’s no excuse for you not to visit Mexico.
Mexico is a HUGE country. And I mean so huge you could spend 1 month there and you still wouldn’t have tapped the surface. So, if you’ve a week, we’d suggest you not hop all over the country but focus on a particular region, and if you like the culture and experience enough, try the rest on your next trip.
This particular route we took is great for a week, and covers most of the Yucatan’s main highlights. We didn’t do the pink lakes and one or 2 other Mayan archaeological sites near Merida (Capital of Yucatan) because we’d seen pink lakes in Tunisia and we didn’t want to rush our trip just to include another couple of ruins, impressive as they might be.
So, if you’ve got a week, this itinerary will suffice. You’ll get to experience the partying in Cancun, enjoy some of Mexico’s best beaches, soak up the Mayan experience, and enjoy yourself exploring jungles, ruins, and waterholes. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones for a week.
On the topic of accommodation in Mexico, lets break it up into two; Cancun & the rest.
Accommodation in Mexico is in general, really affordable. By affordable, I mean you can easily get a decent room, with air-conditioning, private bathroom, free breakfast for like S$30+ a night. That’s like S$15 - S$18 per person per night!
Look at our room in the pictures above. Huge and spacious, fantastic value for money.
And now, let’s talk about Cancun. Cancun isn’t cheap. And you'll want to stay within the "Hotel Zone", that's where all the action is and that means "pricey".
A pint of beer costs S$13, Meals cost easily S$20 - S$30, the average water sport activity costs at least S$75 (for less than an hour).
Absolutely ridiculous prices considering the overall state of poverty that much of Mexico is in. But surprise surprise. When it comes to accommodation, prices in Cancun are very reasonable. We stayed in proper hotels for prices as low as S$ 50 a night, just S$25 per person. In fact, that’s like Bangkok pricing!
If you’ve been following us long enough, you’ll know “The Girl” and I always settle for the cheapest car. In all our road-trip adventures, regardless of whether desert or mountain, we’ve gone for whatever costs the least.
Imagine our delight when we landed at Cancun and realized that renting a car (Toyota) cost as low as S$30 a day!
There are many car rental companies in Cancun, and we’d suggest you not make any booking in advance and spend about an hour “shopping” for the best deals. There are “promotions of the week” or even “day” to be had.
We were offered a Jeep Renegade for S$40+ per day! After adding in taxes, it came up closer to S$60, but still, it was a steal. Finally, we could afford to drive something other than a budget 1L Japanese or Korean hatchback car.
Renting a car to get around the Yucatan is without doubt the best way to experience this part of Mexico. It’s highways are generally well maintained (with the odd porthole) and there are enough tourists about so you likely won’t be driving alone.
We had some trouble understanding the road signs especially in the dark of night with almost zero street lamps lining the roads, but other than that, driving in Mexico was a breeze.
On this trip, it was just “The Girl” and I. If we were traveling and sharing with another couple, renting a car would have cost almost nothing. A road-trip in Mexico is exactly like one of those cool drives you watch in the movies. Spectacular scenery, great weather, and very relaxed on rules; we could drive our jeep through the jungle and even right up by the water along the beach!
[The following is an indicative itinerary you can follow.
For more details, refer to our excel breakdown toward the end of the post]
[Day 1 & 2: Cancun]
Wow. Cancun at last. We’d heard a lot about this “party town” by the Caribbean Sea. Millions of tourists visit Cancun each year despite its rising murder rate, courtesy of its cartel related violence. 540 murders in 2018 alone.
“The Girl” & I arrived in Cancun from on a flight from Medellin, Colombia and encountered our first “roadblock”, delayed baggage. Damn, 1 hour wasted, and I was getting annoyed. But no matter, we’re on vacation.
Being Singaporeans, we spent another 1 hour negotiating and checking out the different promotions on offer by various car rental companies.
A Ford Mustang! At 75 USD per day! A Jeep Wrangler for that price too! That’s just slightly above our budget. Let’s go for it! Then we saw a Toyota, at 25 USD a day. Hmm, not what we’d like, but it was way cheaper. Perhaps we should be practical. And finally, we saw the perfect balance; a Jeep Renegade for 30 USD. It had more of a “road-trip” feel than a Toyota (we’re on holiday aren’t we?) yet not as extravagant as a Mustang. We’d take it.
With that, we began our Yucatan road-trip.
There’s lots to do in Cancun, and frankly, 2 days here isn’t anywhere close to enough. But if all you have is a week, it’ll do. This city is huge, and even the touristy “Hotel Zone” is really long, so driving is the best way to get around. .
If you’ve got cash to spurge (120 USD), kick off your trip with a scenic flight around the coast. But if you’re lacking in the cash department like we usually are, the “Scenic Tower” is fine as well at 15 USD.
Cancun and "the beach" go together. The beaches along the “Hotel Zone” are pretty decent, if not for a lot of seaweed. 20mins ferry from the “Hotel Zone” however, is Isle Mujeres, an quiet island just off Cancun with its “Instagramable” white sand beaches. Plus, you’ll get to swim with whale sharks if you’d like to. Oh, and there's a really cool "underwater museum" where you'll have to snorkel or scuba dive to see the many statues and structures on the seabed.
At night, it’s time to experience the famous Cancun nightlife. Mojitos, beers and free flow alcohol at the CocoBongo Show, a live performance cum unlimited drinks and a jam packed dance floor.
On day 2, you’ll want to just spend the day checking out the many shopping malls. Yes, paradise for Singaporeans. Hermes, Rolex’es and 20 USD Mojitos. Yep, that’s Cancun for you. The “Hotel Zone” is a very pleasant tourist part of the city that’s makes you feel like you’re on vacation instantly.
[Day 3: Playa Del Carmen/Xpu Ha/Cozumel]
Now, today is the day your “Road-Trip” officially begins.
Time to drive out of Cancun and head for Playa Del Carmen, another “beach town”, better quality beaches (in Xpu Ha) but with less shopping than Cancun.
A 45 min ferry ride away from Playa Del Carmen is Cozumel, a quieter alternative with fabulous spots for scuba diving.
I know we’ve been talking beaches so far. We didn't visit this place, but if beaches are not for you, “Xplor Adventure Park” is just a 15min drive from Playa Del Carmen.
Like it’s name suggests, this is the place you can zipline above the Mayan jungle, bash through the trees and rivers in amphibious vehicles, or paddle your way through underground rivers on a raft. This looks like "THE Mayan Experience”.
On hindsight, we wished we done this instead of yet another day at the beach, but oh well.
[Day 4 & 5: Tulum + Coba + Cenotes]
You can’t have a “Mayan Experience” without Mayan Ruins can you?
On “Day 4”, you’ll drive along the coast to visit the ruins of Tulum, Mexico’s 2nd most famous Mayan Ruins after Chichen Itza. After sweating buckets walking the ruins, it’s time to take a dip in the cooling waters of the Gran Cenote, 10mins drive from Tulum.
In the evening, you’ll enjoy cocktails and a phototaking experience above the Mayan jungle in the “Instagramable” treehouse ecohotel of Azulik.
You’ll then head for Valladolid, the nearest city to Chichen Itza on “Day 5”, but not before stopping to climb the ruins of Coba, the only ruins you’re allowed to actually climb on in the Yucatan.
Yes, and yet another dip in one of Mexico’s thousands upon thousands of Cenotes. This time round, just drive along any road you like, and stop at any random Cenote. They each offer a different feel, so it’s not just taking a dip in an underground pool of water, but rather, the anticipation of discovering a new Cenote that no one’s blogged about.
Tulum used to be the Mayan’s main trading port and was one of the civilizations most powerful city states during the 13th century. It was built like a fortress with walls on 3 sides and the Caribbean sea on the other.
A day at the Tulum Ruins will cost around 10 USD per person for the entrance fees and a tram ride from the carpark area to the actual archaeological site. Perhaps set aside another 8 USD per car for a day of parking, more, if you want to enjoy a Starbucks coffee as you marvel at the Tulum Ruins.
Yes, it’s that touristy now. You might want to pay 30 USD per person for a guided tour as opposed to reading signboards so you understand better; we didn’t though.
With no electricity of WIFI, it’s hard to believe that a night in this ecohotel costs anything from S$800, running into the thousands for a night.