Yucatan Peninsula-yes, it's in North America!

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Yucatan Peninsula-yes, it's in North America!

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1. Posted by oddgrace (Budding Member 35 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Hi fellow travelers! I'm looking for a bit of guidance for starting my Mexico/Central America trip. While I will be exploring Mexico City and around through to Oaxaca and the Chiapas, I will be meeting my boyfriend there in April so have decided against that as a starting point on my Central America trip. Yes, I know, it then makes sense to start at the bottom (Nicaragua or Costa Rica) and work my way up, but the truth is I am most excited about Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, and would like to spend as much time in these areas without time restrictions as I can, so I figured I'd start in the Yucatan Peninsula (Feb 5th I fly in) and make my way down through Belize and into Guat (and wherever I end up in late April, will fly to Mexico City to do that area). That background aside (as I know many would advise alternate routes, myself included!), I am having trouble figuring out where and how to start in the Yucatan.

On one end, I am very keen for the beautiful beaches, cenotes, cities, ruins, adventure activities, etc. But I am also DESPERATELY trying to avoid the tour group circuit as much as I can in this area. I know I won't avoid it and of course know that the beauty of the area is why it is so popular! But I am hoping to find a nice middle ground of being a backpacker without the overexposure of tours. From what I've read, I'd like to explore Isla Holbox, Merida, Valladoid and around, Tulum and around, down to Costa Maya before crossing to Belize. As I'll be flying in from LA, it makes the most sense to fly into Cancun (direct 1 way tix for $150 US) but I really, really don't want to stay in Cancun or the hotel beaches around there! I've looked into flying into Merida ($170-$210US), which is more expensive and longer in flights but if it's a lovely place to stay a few days I wouldn't be just "getting out quickly" which might cost even more money. And I'd at least start in one direction and move along instead of moving back and forward. But is Merida a lovely city in which to start travels or is it, too, a tourist trap like Cancun, and would I be better off flying into Cancun, spending a night, and heading to Isla Holbox? As far as time frame goes, I can stay as long as I want (though thinking 2-3 weeks in the Peninsula would be around sufficient?) and for budget I'm a backpacker and stay in hostels and like local buses but outside of that have a pretty good budget for up to say $70 or $80 USD per day if it turns into that. This is a long post without much content so I apologise....it's a very hard area for me to start in as I usually travel a bit more off the beaten track at least at first! Just trying to figure out how to get started really....thanks for help!

2. Posted by Borisborough (Moderator 1138 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

A couple of years ago we flew into Cancun, arriving about 3pm, and caught a public bus straight outside the airport to Valladoid, arriving there around 6pm. We stayed in a hostel there, went to Chichen Itza by public bus early the next morning and pretty much avoided all the later tour buses. A bus back to Valladoid for the night there again followed by a bus to Tulum. There should be cheap places on the beach to stay there because it's not peak season. You can catch a public bus down to Chetumal and then the ferry to San Pedro and Caye Caulker. It's all very easy to do independently and it's definitely possible to avoid the tours. Enjoy!

3. Posted by Teoni (Respected Member 616 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

I personally wouldn't stay in Cancun. The city is quite drab, building after all only started in 1970s and it was just to capitalise on the economy of resorts and beaches. Apart from the resort strip it doesn't seem anyone cared about making where the workers lived nice so I personally found it a depressing city. Merida is a gorgeous city and definitely worth staying, lots of history, amazing architecture and fabulous indigenous cuisine, it was one of my favourite cities in Mexico. Another place worth considering is Playa Del Carmen while it is touristy it is more geared to the backpacker scene and well connected to the major attractions. If you are looking to avoid tourist buses going early or later to major attractions is the general rule. After 10:30am the buses start trickling in by midday it is packed and the around 2pm I found they start to disappear.

In Belize if you visit San Pedro it will be packed with tourists. While still a little touristy I found Placenia to be a more chilled out alternative and if you visit Punta Gorda or San Ignacio the tourist numbers drop dramatically. In terms of ruins Altun Ha best avoided around midday especially if a cruise ship is in port at Belize City. If you want something less touristy Caracol is a good alternative though you will need an escort to visit if you don't have your own vehicle, off the beaten track Lubaantun is a good one though not sure you can visit without your own vehicle.

I visited Tikal with about three hours till closing and it was free and clear of all tourist buses. In fact it was really quiet, relaxing and very enjoyable experience. To be honest I never crossed paths with any tourist bus in Guatemala even when visiting Antigua. I don't know if I got lucky or perhaps there just aren't that many tourist buses in Guatemala.

4. Posted by oddgrace (Budding Member 35 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Thanks to you both for that information! Good to know that if I do have to fly into Cancun I can just arrange so that I get in early enough to hop right on a bus from there, but sounds like Merida would be an excellent city to start my trip in- it sure does look beautiful in photos! Teoni, did you stay in a hostel in Merida you would recommend? I'd like something clean and central and cozy but really don't want a party hostel vibe! Thanks again for all the great info!

5. Posted by Teoni (Respected Member 616 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

When I did the Yucatan and Central America I hired a car so I was restricted to accomodation choices that had some form of access to a parking facility. Unfortunately Mexican hostels don't fit that bill so I didn't get to experience Mexican hostel culture. However the Merida side of the Yucatan doesn't seem to attract much of a party crowd so I can't imagine the hostels would have much of a party scene. The partygoers seemed to be concentrated on the Cancun, Playa Del Carmen side. I stayed near the town square in Merida and wondered around in the evening, (most of the locals seem to be around at this time probably because it is much cooler than in the day) and most party I saw were the buskers who play traditional tunes. Some of the locals would start dancing around them. I found most of the fellow travellers in Campeche and Merida came for the history, architecture and culture.

[ Edit: Edited on 18-Aug-2017, at 02:23 by Teoni ]

6. Posted by piglet44 (Budding Member 26 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

We flew into Cancun (in February) and then immediately got a bus just outside the airport to Playa Del Carmen and stayed there for a few days. That was easier and we got to see the beach on the way (about an hour trip) it was a great way to start off our trip. WE stayed in Toucan hotel which was a small cheap hotel with small pool about a block from the beach.
We then got ADO bus to Valladolid, then Merida and from there bus to Chiapas. WE explored Palenque and then on to San Cristobal de las Casas. From there we took a bus to Oaxaca. IT was a fantsastic trip and a very beautiful country with lots to see and enjoy.We stayed in a mix of cheap hotels and air bnb places.

[ Edit: Edited on 18-Aug-2017, at 06:29 by piglet44 ]

7. Posted by jjacques27 (Budding Member 2 posts) 46w 1 Star this if you like it!

Hi there,
If you want to visit the Yucatan peninsula you can start from either Merida or Cancun. Yes, Cancun is not worth spending any time there, unless you go to playa delfines or one of the islands, like isla mujeres, holbox, etc. However, I do recommend going south of Cancun towards Playa del Carmen or Akumal, which although touristy, you will find lots of things to see and do there, which does not necessarily mean following tour buses.

I did the whole Yucatan peninsula a year ago, starting from Cancun and ending in Cancun. Rented a car for the whole trip. Roads are good all over and you can use google maps for directions. We also found it to be quite safe. If you want to go to the beach I recommend Mahawal, which is north of Chetumal. It's a really nice beach and not too crowded, and you still can do some activities there.

You can do the whole Yucatan peninsula in 2 weeks if you rent a car. You would need much more time if you want to use public transportation. Just be aware that in order to get to some of the off-beaten path places where tourist buses don't go you will need your own transportation.

This is the route that I took last year for the Yucatan peninsula trip, which we did middle of December. I wouldn't include Chiapas though since it would take more time to get there.


8. Posted by Borisborough (Moderator 1138 posts) 46w Star this if you like it!

Quoting jjacques27


Hi Jjacques27

Please note that we don't like members posting links to external sites because they are often promotional things from first-time posters who are looking to gain a commercial advantage from the link (either from the advertisers on their own site or from customers). I've looked at your link and all I can see is a map of your route and directions from one place to another and no advertising. If any other full members see anything commercial on the site, it will be flagged and deleted but, at the moment, it looks very useful so I'll keep it in.

If you want to record routes and share them, please use the TravellersPoint maps - you can easily add trips to your profile, show places you visited and routes either overland, air or sea. And by filling out your profile and trips and add a photo (of yourself, not a stock photo), you appear to be a more credible traveller and adviser and probably more likely to be taken seriously.

Looking forward to seeing more of your posts! :):):)

9. Posted by oddgrace (Budding Member 35 posts) 46w Star this if you like it!

Thanks so much Jacquuis for the great itinerary map that was awesome! Did you go to Laguna Bacalar? I hear its a fav! And thanks to Borisbourugh for being the best regulator ever!

I leave in a week, so exciting!


10. Posted by Teoni (Respected Member 616 posts) 46w Star this if you like it!

Did you go to Laguna Bacalar? I hear its a fav!

Laguana Bacalar is gorgeous. When you get a sunny day the water is brilliant blue. Unfortunately we didn't expect it to be so amazing so we only stopped on the side on the way to Chetmutal, if you can give yourself time to explore the area.