The Riviera Maya: Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Bacalar

So you found it. You find a cheap as shit flight to Cancun and booked it, didn’t you? And now you’re like what else is there to do in Cancun besides get drunk? You were prepared to stay at an all-inclusive resort, maybe take some guided tours, and then go back, and get more drunk at your hotel with other Americans. I mean, you work hard, and you deserve this vacation, right? Plus all of your friends have done it, it’s your time. Their pictures looked great! Only one thing, literally everyone you know has done it and you don’t even like those people. You have this deep, burning suspicion that actually those people are basic as fuck and you have this desire to want to do something different. Well, this blog post is for you, non-basic person. Read on to make this basic experience as least basic as possible

The Yucatan Peninsula is made up of three states: Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. You may also hear the name “Riviera Maya which is an area that runs from Cancun until Tulum and is the most touristic strip in all of Mexico. Because this area operates strictly off of tourism, it is just as safe and developed as any other heavily touristic city. In short, this is a hella touristic and basic-ass trip, (which isn’t always bad) but just know what to expect.

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How to get there

You can get to Cancun direct or you can fly from Mexico City for less than $100 if that was your first stop.

Before Leaving America

You don’t need to do anything, but bring your passport

The Language and What to Pack

English or Spanish is acceptable here.

If someone seems like they don’t know how to speak English, they can definitely understand you speaking English, but maybe don’t know the words to relay back to you a response. But most people speak English.

How not to look basic as fuck on this trip, please click on this link: How Not To Look Like A Basic Bitch While Traveling.

What to pack: BIKINIS. PASSPORT. END OF STORY

Transportation from the Airport

To get to downtown Cancun from the airport by taxi is about $30. And that is $30 too much. I suggest the following things:

 

Cancun

Before booking a trip to Cancun, 100% jump of a bridge and kill yourself. You will have more fun doing that than actually being in Cancun. Cancun is basic bitch heaven. Imagine a fusion of Vegas and Miami in Mexico with all inclusive resorts and unlimited drinking. You will find all drunk White people, and Mexicans trying to make money off of the drunk White people, with no culture whatsoever. Cancun is basically a continuation of the United States and I will judge you if you actually enjoy this place.

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If you MUST stay here, check out Holbox or Isla de Mujeres, instead. Never been to either of them and have no interest in going there, but if I HAD to stay in Cancun, those are the two places I would end up. My final advice is to get the entire fuck out of the area.

As soon as you land in the airport, catch the ADO bus (it is air-conditioned) right outside of the terminals and head to Playa del Carmen for 146 pesos or $8. It’s only one hour away and the buses depart every 30 minutes.

 

Playa del Carmen

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Now, I’m an asshole cause I just told you to catch a bus to Playa del Carmen and SURPRISE it ain’t that much less basic. Playa del Carmen is the ideal place for a girl’s trip, bachelor party, etc. because the condos are actually amazing, the view is gorgeous, and everything is within close proximity so a car is not needed and you can hobble home drunk at any time of the day. However, hoards of people do this every year throughout the year so this isn’t exactly a place for rest and relaxation.

 

What to avoid in Playa del Carmen

Be prepared to pay Western prices here. You’re not saving any money, nope. The entire strip is packed with shops that are selling the exact same things for exorbitant prices. DON’T BUY ANYTHING. You’re better off shopping in Mexico City, where everything is 500% less than what they are charging you there.

If you need to exchange money here, do so at a place OFF of the strip, and you will get a way better exchange rate. The farther you walk away from the bus stop, the better the exchange rates get. The beach is deceivingly blue from far away, but up-close is brown. I didn’t put my precious body into that ocean not for one second.

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Where to stay in Playa del Carmen

The AirBnB I stayed at is listed here. At the time it was $120/night which I negotiated to $99/night, had maid service, a gym, 2 televisions, key code, and rooftop pool that was mostly empty all of the time. It was one block to the beach and next to restaurants and bars and a little ways away from the tourist trap.

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What to do in Playa del Carmen

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In Playa del Carmen, you can take day tours to the Mayan ruins like Coba or Chichen Itza. Coba you can walk on, Chichen Itza you cannot.

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Chichen Itza is an incredibly long day tour. Take snacks and be prepared to be incredibly exhausted. The tour guides, I believe, cost around $50 and you hire them on site. However, their information may or may not be accurate. Good luck. My best friend went and looked up some of the information told to her. Completely wrong. I didn’t bother wasting my time. If you’re into these things and still want to see some ruins in Mexico, I recommend the Pyramids of Tenochtitlan near Mexico City.

On the strip in Playa del Carmen, there will be a ton of vendors trying to sell you day trips to water parks and all that shit. Skip it, unless you want to pay $150 to ATV to a cenote for 2 hours. Let me show you how to do a cenote for $10.

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A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone that exposes groundwater underneath. It can be either salt or fresh water and people like to swim in them. Historically, they have been used as sacred spaces by the Mayans and were sometimes burial grounds or places of sacrifice. You may find skeletons at the bottom of them. I would look up which cenote you’d like to visit and make sure it is not a sacred place. Respect the culture. The two most famous cenotes are Cenote Azul (located near Bacalar –scroll down for more information) and Dos Ojos (located near Tulum).

 

 

How to get to a cenote near Playa del Carmen

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With that said, remember when your mom told you to stay away from sketchy white vans that stop on the side of the road to talk to you? Ignore that. A collectivo is that sketchy white van that drives up and down the highway picking up people who flag them down charging them $1 or $2 to hop on for a ride. They could take you anywhere in the Yucatan. Beware though, this van gets packed. Like PACKED. Like a little Mexican man may or may not be sitting in your lap by the end of the trip. But it’s 700 times cheaper than a taxi and definitely cheaper than that wack ass tour they tried to sell you. Plus the ride is not long so just deal with it.

There are 3 cenotes relatively close to Playa del Carmen and are very near to each other. The one I recommend is El Jardin del Eden. The Tulum bound collectivos pick up on 2nd street in Playa del Carmen. They will ask you where you’re going and just say Cenote Eden or Barcelo Hotel.   It is 30 pesos for one way or $2. You’ll be driving down the highway for a while and they will drop you in front of a fancy resort hotel named Barcelo. Cross the street and walk a little further. You’ll see a large Cenote Jardin del Eden sign and follow the dirt road back to the cenote. The more sketchy it seems, the more you’re going the right way. The walk is about 7-10 minutes.

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Entry is 100 pesos or $5 per adult and is open from Sunday-Friday from 7:00am-5:00pm. Closed Saturdays. Sundays may obviously be busier because people have the day off. You’ll need to bring your own towels and biodegradable sunscreen, but they do have bathrooms.

The other two cenotes are next to this one and you can visit them all if you want.

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Now how to get back to Playa del Carmen…walk back out to the highway and flag down a sketchy white van. They pass by fairly frequently. If one doesn’t stop, it doesn’t mean he didn’t see you, it means his van is full.

Now let’s move onto the best part of this trip…Bacalar.

Bacalar

Bacalar is a hidden gem at the end of the Rivera Maya. Tourists usually stop at Tulum and then head back to Cancun to catch their flights. But Bacalar is the best and most tranquil place I’ve ever been to in Mexico and only one more stop over.

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How to get to Bacalar

To get to Bacalar, you must take the bus from Playa del Carmen or Cancun to Chetumal. The price is around 290 pesos or $16 from Playa del Carmen and takes around 4 hours. Once at the bus stop you’ll need to catch a taxi 10 mins to Bacalar. The price is dependent upon your negotiation skills but should definitely not be more than your bus ticket. Have your address ready to show to your driver.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this destination.

 

Where to stay in Bacalar

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I stayed at Los Aluxes de Bacalar because of this bad ass swing set on the property. They also have the best Micheladas I’ve ever had and a really friendly (but slow) staff. There is a masseuse on property and the rooms are clean and nice. I believe one night stay was around $75 USD but I’ve seen it for around $50 on European websites. If you’d like to reserve a room ahead of time they require a deposit, but you could probably just show up and still get a room. Just call ahead of time to make sure. The number is 011 52 55 5350 9645, their email is aluxeshyr@hotmail.com, and address is Avenida Costero No.67.

Spanish would be helpful at this site.

If Los Aluxes is out of your price range, Hotel Laguna Bacalar was also recommended by a friend and had great reviews.

 

What to do in Bacalar

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What to do in Bacalar, you ask? Well, NOTHING. Literally you can walk out of your hotel room into a crystal clear oasis of glittering blue water that is actually warm to the touch. The deck will lead you out and you can either swim or take a kayak out to the laguna. Once you jump in, you’ll find seashells and white sand (maybe a bit of mud here and there). Bring a book to read, swing on the swings, get drunk off of the sun, micheladas, and the tranquility of life, and enjoy your travel partner. The best 2 days I’ve ever spent in such a long time. To say we left feeling depressed is an understatement. I wish we would have skipped Playa and Cancun and spent the entire time in Bacalar.

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There are other things to do in the area. There are ruins here and there, you can explore the Zocolo, and also visit the famous Cenote Azul. I did none of those things. Literally, I did nothing and it was glorious.

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I recommend eating in your hotel. The restaurants in the city are definitely a lot cheaper, but maybe not the most sanitary. Also, taxis are hard to come by back to the hotel at night. Luckily one of the hotel workers got worried for us and came with his own personal car to see where we were and picked us up. Otherwise we would have been standing on a dark corner in Nowheresville, Mexico until the morning.

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In short, Bacalar is not a place to be passed up, in fact it should be the only place you make the effort to see. European travelers have already caught onto this amazing getaway, so don’t miss out!

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Now how to get back to Cancun to catch your flight back home: When you’re first dropped off at the bus stop in Chetumal, check what time the buses leave back to Cancun (or Tulum or wherever you’re off to next.)  The bus ride is 6-7 hours so it might be a good idea to stop in another place on the way back and spend the night just to split that trip up.)  Now, there are two buses leaving from the Chetumal station to Cancun- Mayab and ADO. The Mayab is significantly cheaper, something like $30 in comparison to $45. So obviously we took the Mayab bus.

Needless to say, you get what you pay for because it started raining for the entire bus ride back. But it wasn’t just raining on the outside of the bus, it was also raining on the inside of the bus. So we sat for many hours soaking wet, eating Cheetoes, or whatever the vendors were selling on the buses, and laughing to keep from crying.

So maybe, stick with ADO unless you want a full cultural experience.

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Some alternative trips to this itinerary are listed below:

Tulum

At the bus terminal that you were dropped off at in Playa del Carmen, catch a bus to Tulum which leaves everyday from 8am-12:30pm. It should be around 66 pesos or $4. I have never been here, but I hear it is fantastic and would like to go someday. Check it out and leave me a comment for suggestions on what to do and where to go!

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Belize

Only $37 by bus from Bacalar. I’m not interested in ever going to Belize since it’s a tourist trip but it could be fun…

 

Life and Culture

Culture is pretty different in the Yucatan in comparison to that of Mexico City and the north. People are shorter, darker, and have more indigenous features. Regardless, the Riviera Maya is not a place where you’re going to pick up on any real Mexican culture. This is strictly a place for tourists. If you’d really like to pick up some culture, I suggest heading to Chiapas or even Guatemala to learn about the Mayans and the influence on the area.

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4 days on the Riviera Maya including air fare, hotel, and transportation, but not including alcohol or souvenirs was $500.

 

6 Comments

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  1. I’ve been to Tulum, Playa, and Isla. This last time I visited I only stayed between Isla and Cancun. It’s what you make of it. Great post!

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    • Hey, Eli! I saw you in your pimp-ass resort sipping champagne and enjoying life. As anything, it definitely is what you make of it and I’m sure was a great vacation and super fun. But I came to Cancun to see more about the Mayans and I found nothing. The two days I spent in Cancun just reminded me of a nicer Miami and I was searching for something more authentic. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

  2. Fun and informative read! I don’t see any mention of the stromatolites. Did you check those out?

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  3. Tulum is fantastic – at least for the four hours I got to spend there. I love the history of the ruins and it’s impossible to take a bad picture of the ocean and cliffs.

    Have you been to Merida? I spent two weeks there a couple years ago and fell in love. HIGHLY recommend!

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