Drivers, Start Your Engines. Here’s A 7 Day Mexican Road-Trip Itinerary From S$1,000!
“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.
A rustic treehouse hotel overlooking the Mayan jungle, and sitting right on the beach; Azulik is perhaps one of the most enchanting places a person could ever visit.
No, we didn’t pay that kind of crazy money for a night of stay. But we did spend $50 USD per person for an “evening pass” which included a couple of free cocktails so we could enjoy part of the “jungle escape” experience without paying crazy money.
The views are magnificent. You have the Mayan Jungle one side, and the ocean on the other.
As neither of us had been in a “treehouse”, this was a pretty cool experience, and surely “Instagram-able” (though we don’t have an active Instagram account) enough that most Singaporeans would surely flock here for a visit despite of Mexico’s “perceived danger”.
Was the “Azulik Experience” really worth $50 USD? Perhaps not.
"Day 4" is going to be a long one; with exploring the Tulum ruins, swimming in cenotes and all. So, chilling above the Mayan Jungle with great views, and an enchanting atmosphere while downing a couple of cocktails, is a pretty nice way to end the evening.
Mexico is home to over 6,000 cenotes (natural sinkholes), most of which can be found in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The ancient Mayan’s considered them as “gateways to the underworld” and were even used for sacrificial rituals. In contrast, many “modern tourists” see cenotes as an ideal spot to take a refreshing dip on a hot day, and some, see it as another “Instagram-able” place they use to “get likes”.
We loved swimming in cenotes, even “The Girl”, who isn’t exactly a fan of water activities. As beautiful as white sand beaches are, between the sticky salty feeling you get after a day at the beach as opposed to the “clean, refreshed feel” after a swim at a cenote, we’d much prefer the latter.
[Day 6: Valladolid]
Today, is “Day 6”, and as of last night, you should have been having a good night sleep in the town of Valladolid.
You’ll be glad you did, because today is another long day (and drive). And this time, you’ll be visiting one of the 7 Wonders of the World; Chichen Itza.
But before that, you’re going to have to visit Mexico’s most “Instagram-able Cenote”, Suytun.
We rushed down to Cenote Suytun before 9am to ensure that we would be the first (our “Kiasu” nature coming out) in so we could get pictures without being bothered by other couples.
Suytun is a cenote with a huge waterfilled cavern, with a rock platform of some sort leading to the centre. Above, a hole in the cavern emits the sun’s rays and lights up that platform, making appear to be a sort of “stage with a spotlight”.
The best time to visit is actually after 12pm when the sun is stronger, but at that time, Suytun is extremely crowded. We opted for the less “Instagram-able” timeslot as we preferred the Cenote to ourselves.
Now, after a morning swim, it’s time to drive to Chichen Itza.
Like the Pyramids of Giza, it’s astounding how a structure such as this was ever built; at least during ancient times.
Chichen Itza was one of the largest and most powerful Mayan cities in its time. It’s ruler? Kulkulcan. In 1221, the Mayan’s revolted against the rulers of Chichen Itza. It is unclear what happened, but by the time the Spanish arrived, Chichen Itza was already abandoned.
The entrance fee’s are pretty painful. You’ll want to set aside around S$50 just for tickets alone.
Once you’re in, there are no signboards depicting the history behind this Mayan city and why it is considered a “Wonder of the World”.
It's tempting to pay more for an English speaking guide so you’ll understand what you’re looking at. We didn’t, because Chichen Itza was so touristy, there were tour groups all around us with guides talking so loudly, we practically had a free history lesson.
Near Chichen Itza is perhaps Mexico’s most famous Cenote; “Ik Kil”.
“Ik Kil” is open to the sky and is famous for its long hanging vines from it’s opening to the water. During the Mayan times, humans were thrown in as a sacrifice to the rain god, “Chaac”. Today, this former “graveyard” is a natural swimming pool.
Now, at most cenotes, you shouldn’t need a lifejacket. But at Cenote “Ik Kil”, because there are so many people waiting to get in and out of the cenote, you’ll find yourself having to tread water for a long time. So, if you aren’t a great swimmer, remember to rent a lifejacket for a couple of dollars.
If we were honest, Chichen Itza & Ik Kil were impressive. But “Wonder of the World”? We weren't totally blown away. In fact we were more impressed by Tunisia’s El Jem Amphitheater.
After the much needed refreshing dip at “Ik Kil” after your Chichen Itza experience, it’s time for the long drive back to Cancun. By long, I mean 4-5 hours on the road, which means you’ll be in Cancun just in time for dinner.
[Day 7: Cancun/Home]
It’s your last day in Cancun. Don’t waste it at the beach or trying out some new activity, the past 6 days have already been “activity filled” enough. It’s time to feel like a proper tourist again since your back in Mexico’s party town.
If you plan an evening flight out like we did, you’ll have plenty of time to knock back a few drinks while checking out the many shopping malls to stock up on your Rolex watches and Hermes bags, plenty of luxury boutiques here in Cancun, it isn’t “Trumps version of Mexico”.
So there you have it, a 7 day “Road Trip” across Mexico’s Yucatan from S$1,000 and up. The next section shows the cost breakdown in greater detail.
[Indicative Price Breakdown]
Here is an indicative budget on how much 7 day road-trip in Mexico’s Yucatan will cost you, depending on your preference; comfort or budget.
If you choose to travel the way “The Girl” and I did, in “comfort mode”, which is getting around by a decent 4WD, staying in a mix of hotels and motels, it’ll cost you S$1,300 and up.
On a tight budget? No worries, you’ll still be able to do this for around S$1,000.
If you compare the two, there is no compromise on activities and meals, we don’t believe in cutting necessities while on vacation. What we did cut, was on the type of car and accommodation, both of which are “wants” not “needs”. You don’t need a 4WD in the Yucatan, and you most certainly don’t need a private bathroom.
If you don’t want to splash the cash, get out of your comfort zone.
I only wished we’d thought to visit Mexico way earlier in our globetrotting days. It is THAT amazing a country to visit.
Great food, fascinating culture, very affordable prices, and with some of the most beautiful “travel surprises” at every turn that you’ll have to actually be there to experience for yourself. Seeing the beauty of a cenote in pictures isn’t anything like actually wandering into the jungle, discovering a turquoise pool in the middle of nowhere, before finally diving into its refreshing waters.
Mexico is without doubt one of the “must-drive” road trip destinations everyone should try in their lifetime. Australia’s great ocean road is amazing, and so is South Africa’s Garden route. If I were to rate a “road-trip” experience, driving in Mexico is right up with those two, or even possibly a notch ahead.
Without a doubt, Mexico certainly deserves more than a “since I’m in the USA, I might as well visit” sort a reason. It shouldn’t a be a “by the way destination” but rather, a “must do” travel experience.