Mexico was never high on my ‘must see’ list for our nomadic adventures. My only experience with Mexico was one a day trip to Tijuana from San Diego 8 years ago and I was not impressed with what I saw. So I really didn’t have much intention on returning.
That is until I started reading blog posts from people who had spent time in various regions of Mexico. I started to realize there was much more to Mexico than I had seen. The areas I was reading about was exactly the type of place I love to visit.
One region I kept reading great things about was Riviera Maya. This is the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsular, which follows the Caribbean coastline from Cancun to Tulum.
From what I read about it, I knew this region was a touristy area with gorgeous white sand beaches with clear blue water. I don’t shy away from tourist areas like some travelers do so after hearing about how gorgeous the beaches were I was ready to give Mexico another go!
So we booked a ticket! We gave ourselves a month to explore the three main areas of Riviera Maya; Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. We split our time almost evenly between the 3 locations with a few nights in Merida as well.
To say I am glad I gave Mexico another shot is an understatement! I fell in love with this this country through and through. And now, I want to go back and explore even more.
I never realized just how beautiful this country is. I also underestimated the friendly people who call Mexico home. And the food! Oh my god, the food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten!
So I want to share with you what I loved about each area in the Yucatan Peninsular we spent time in.
Cancun was the only place I had heard of in this area before I started reading posts about Riviera Maya. I knew it as a place where college kids would go to for spring break. But that’s all I knew.
And while for a couple of months a year Cancun turns into party central, there is a whole lot more to it than that!
Downtown Cancun is not all that great but you don’t go to Cancun for the inner city, you go there for the gorgeous beaches. Just like most beaches on the Caribbean, the waters are warm and blue and the sand, soft and white. I will admit to being a bit of a beach snob and I really do expect white sand and clear waters at a beach!
We did spend most of our time chillin’ by the pool or on the beach, as it was a little bit of R&R that we were after, but we did venture out occasionally to see what else Cancun had to offer.
Ill be honest, we weren’t overly impressed with the rest of Cancun except for one place that we really did enjoy!
Isla Mujeres is a small island just off the coast and takes around 20 minutes to get there via ferry. For a small island there is a lot to do here! We hired bicycles and cycled the whole island, which was a lot of fun in itself. We visited the Dolphin Centre, the Turtle Farm, the lighthouse, the gorgeous rock cliffs and so much more. Read about our day at Isla Mujeres.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen was the one I was looking forward to the most. I had read so many posts from other travelers who had been here and all had wonderful things to say about it.
We stayed very central and were just one block back from the famous 5thAvenue, the main tourist strip which runs parallel to the beach.
We loved 5th Ave and walked up and down it most days. If you need anything, and I mean anything, you will find it here. The strip is bustling with gift shops, spas, hotels, boutiques, shoe shops, jewelry stores, art galleries and so much more. But our favorite part – The restaurants!
Every 3rd shop is a restaurant! There is so much to choose from including Italian, French, American, steakhouses, seafood and of course Mexican! We had some of the best food we have ever had on 5th Avenue.
I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the beaches here. They were a little seaweedy and not as inviting as the beaches we left in Cancun. But we weren’t too worried about it because we had lots of other things to do in PDC.
One of our favorite places we visited from PDC was X-Caret Eco Park. It had a bit of everything; wildlife, snorkeling, beaches, restaurants, river cruise, ruins and a lot more. We had an awesome day out here.
Tulum and I got off to a rocky start. We checked into our cute little ocean side bungalow to find it infested with cockroaches! The owner relocated us immediately and after a close inspection there was not a roach to be seen in our new abode. So I decided to give Tulum a second chance.
Needless to say I was very happy I did! Tulum ended up being our favorite of the 3 coastal areas we stayed at.
There isn’t a lot to do in Tulum but it is one of the nicest stretch of beaches we’ve been to, which for us was exactly what we were hoping to get from Tulum.
However, we weren’t going to sit on the beach all day everyday so we did explore a little.
The downtown area is very small and there’s not much going on there. It is a lot less commercial than its two sister areas, which for some people is exactly why they prefer Tulum.
Tulum does have one very cool thing to offer, besides the beach – Tulum ruins. We saw many Mayan ruin sites while in Mexico but these were our favorite. Perhaps not the most impressive but the backdrop is why people come here – It sits right on the Caribbean sea.
One thing we found hard in Tulum was getting around. There wasn’t a lot of public transport and the location of the hotel strip is quite a distance from any grocery store. There are plenty of taxis though so you wont have a problem hailing one down.
For someone who is looking for a relaxing vacation, Tulum would be the best pick out of the three.
We went to Merida on a whim. One of our readers on Facebook asked if we were going to visit Merida while we were in the area. I hadn’t heard of it but he had such great things to say we decided to head out there for a few days and the check it out.
On the way out to Merida, which is a 4 hour drive from Cancun, we stopped off at the most well known of the Mayan ruin sites in the area; Chichen Itza. These ruins were very impressive and we spent a few hours here wandering around getting to know the Mayan culture a little more.
From Chichen Itza we accidentally stumbled across The Yellow City, Izamal. As the name suggests the building in this city are painted yellow! I’ve never seen anything like it, it was very cool!
Merida is only 45 minutes from Izamal so we weren’t on the road very long before we reached our destination. What we found was the most colorful city we have come across! Buildings were painted various shades of blue, green. yellow, pink, red and everything in between. It was really quite something!
There are quite a few Mayan ruin sites around Merida and we saw three of them on our way back towards Cancun. Not as impressive as Chicken Itza or Tulum but still very interesting!
Merida is a much bigger city than the other three and there was a lot more to do here. But keep in mind this isn’t a coastal town so if it’s beaches you are after you should stick to the other three.
All in all we have the most amazing time in Mexico, much more than we were expecting to be honest. I will never again judge a country based on a one day trip just over the boarder!
Have you been to Mexico? What did you think?