Weekend Travels: Cancun and Tulum, Mexico

 

Day 1 – Arrival/Cancun

  • Centro Cancun
  • Mercado 28
  • El Cejas Seafood Restaurant in Mercado 28
  • Hotel Zone
  • Playa Linda
  • Playa Delfines
  • Carnitas Michoacan Restaurant

Day 2 – Tulum 

  • Tulum Ruins
  • Tulum Ruins Beach
  • Boat ride behind the ruins
  • Snorkeling trip

Day 3 – Chichen Itza Tour Day

  • Valladolid City
  • Kaua Municipality – buffet lunch and souvenir shopping
  • Chichen Itza
  • Cenote Ik-Kil

Day 4 – Last Day in Mexico

  • Playa Delfines
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Center of the Hotel Zone in Cancun

We arrived in Cancun at 11am on a Friday and were immediately greeted at the airport by salespeople selling us tours, timeshares, and rides. “No, gracias” became an automated response to everyone who approached us and we wondered if that was how our entire weekend was going to turn out. Once we found our way out of the sea of salespeople, we stepped out of the arrival doors and immediately spotted a Margaritaville kiosk. Curious, we approached it to check the drink prices and were immediately worried that we might need to spend a lot more than we had budgeted for a 4-day weekend.

Everyday Budget

Fortunately, we found out that it is definitely possible to not spend an outrageous amount of money even in Cancun. Public transit is very convenient, comfortable, and safe to use around Cancun and even all the way to Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The ADO bus between the airport and Centro Cancun costs about $78 MXN per person per way and are scheduled every 30 minutes throughout most of the day. City buses cost about $10 MXN per person per way within Cancun while collectivos–shared vans–cost a total of $81 MXN from Cancun to Playa del Carmen then to Tulum, with the ability to stop and drop-off or pick-up passengers along the way. Taxis and rental cars are more costly, but seem to be the best modes of transportation for places where public transit is scarce.

As for food, the Hotel Zone offers a variety of big-name restaurants, such as Señor Frogs, but they are more on the pricey end of the budget spectrum (e.g., a Corona costs $150 MXN at a restaurant in the center of the Hotel Zone while local restaurants charge about $20 MXN). Instead, we often ate at Carnitas Michoacan–a smaller restaurant frequented by locals and tourists alike a block away from our Airbnb rental on Km. 4 of the Hotel Zone–and found many others in Centro Cancun that are on the R1/R2 city bus routes. We also bought snacks and drinks at the Oxxo convenience stores to bring with us wherever we went during the weekend.

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Souvenirs aren’t really our thing, so we only shopped for a magnet to bring home and we bought it for about $30 MXN at the Hotel Calypso convenience store on Km. 4 of the Hotel Zone. The center of the Hotel Zone is filled with stores and sidewalk vendors selling a variety of souvenirs, but are more expensive than the items sold at the convenience stores or even by the vendors at Mercado 28. Since we also toured Chichen Itza, we found out that the vendors in Chichen Itza who sell souvenirs and handcrafted items charge the lowest prices.

The estimated budget is around $130-150 USD per day for local food, public transportation, Airbnb lodging, and tours for two people for three nights and four days. Of course, budgets will vary, but this should be a good starting point.

Transportation

  • City buses – R1 or R2 city buses travel within the Hotel Zone and between the Hotel Zone and Centro Cancun (about $10 MXN per person per way).

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    Bus Stop sign
  • Collectivo (shared vans) – The collectivo hub in Centro Cancun is located across the street from the ADO hub. They leave about every 15 minutes or as soon as they’re full. Their destinations are often printed on the vans, but they also stop to drop-off/pick-up passengers along the way to their destinations. We took collectivos to Tulum with a stop in Playa del Carmen to switch vans.
  • ADO bus – Convenient and reasonably priced transportation between the airport and Centro Cancun. Trips are scheduled every 30 minutes, so it’s easy to plan trips to/from the airport. There are also ADO bus trips from Centro Cancun all the way to Tulum Pueblo and Tulum Ruins, but they cost double the price of collectivos and have fewer trips throughout the day.
  • Taxis – More expensive than shared public transportation, but there are many of them throughout Centro Cancun and the Hotel Zone.
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Collectivo
  • Rental cars – The streets of Cancun and the highway to Tulum seem to be wide and not too busy. Driving shouldn’t be difficult, although we did see many vehicles being pulled over by cops.

 

Lodging

Numerous huge, popular hotels line Boulevard Kukulcan on the Hotel Zone with most of them situated on the beach side of the strip. We decided on renting an Airbnb place though because hotel prices were more than what we were willing to pay for and we did not want an all-inclusive hotel that would’ve consequently forced us to only eat food offered by the hotel. Carmen and Eli’s Airbnb on Km. 4 of the Hotel Zone in Cancun was perfect (maybe even too big) for us because we had our own bathroom inside the room, double sinks, a jacuzzi, TV, airconditioning, and a lovely view of the backyard pool and lagoon. Eli was also great with giving us tips (she told us about the collectivos to Tulum) and breakfast was included with our rental. Eli also set-up our Chichen Itza tour.

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Carmen and Eli’s Airbnb rental on Km. 4 of Cancun’s Hotel Zone

Tours

Tours to Tulum from Cancun averaged around $99 USD per person for the tour we wanted, or $150 USD for the roundtrip taxi ride we were offered plus another $50 USD for the entrance fees we had to pay at the different attractions. We decided to just go on our own by taking the collectivos to the Tulum ruins. Once we arrived at the entrance road to the ruins, a man at one of the information booths stopped us and offered us a map of the ruins and a couple different tour choices. The Basic Tour costs $70 MXN per person for a regular walking tour of the ruins, plus a $45 MXN fee for recording videos within the ruins, although we didn’t notice anyone checking. The Tulum Complete Tour costs $25 USD per person in addition to the $70 MXN and includes a boat ride to the beach side of the ruins to also check-out other ruins that are only visible from the sea, plus a snorkeling trip to a portion of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.

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Chichen Itza tours are more reasonably priced compared to Cancun-Tulum tours, although they could also get more expensive depending on the type of tour (e.g., private, early access, night light show, etc.). We did what seemed like the most common type of tour for $50 USD per person that we paid in cash to Eli, which included trips to Valladolid, Cenote Ik-Kil, Chichen Itza, and a buffet lunch in Kaua. The entire trip took about 12-13 hours, with the ability to specify pick-up and drop-off locations.

Beaches

There is no scarcity of beaches throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, from beaches with public access to those only available to hotel guests.

Cancun Hotel Zone

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Playa Delfines
  • Playa Delfines – Located at the south end of the Hotel Zone. This beach is frequented by less people, but the waters are rough. We had a great time just sunbathing and listening to the rumbling of the waves early in the morning on our last day.
  • Playa Linda – A fairly busy beach on Km. 4/5 (north) where  the Isla Mujeres ferries and the pirate ship shows are located.
  • Playa Tortuga – Located towards the south end of the Hotel Zone, but still north of Playa Delfines. The water is calmer than the water in Playa Delfines, although more people hangout here probably because of its proximity to most of the hotels.

52e3bf7c-3744-4433-8f57-92935a2fb460Tulum Ruins Beach – The ruins in Tulum are situated on a cliff overlooking amazing blue Caribbean waters. There is access to the beach either by using the wooden stairs from the ruins or heading towards the casual beach resorts that are located about 1000m from the ruins. The boat and snorkeling guides are located by the beach resorts.

Tips

  • Bring Mexican pesos. For some reason, people who bring US dollars get charged more (eg, $1 USD for bus rides compared to $10 MXN if paid with local currency).
  • City buses have designated stops, but they usually will stop anywhere that has enough space for them to stop on the side of the road to not cause traffic jams. Just be quick on getting on these buses.
  • Many people in Cancun speak Spanish and English and seem to be used to visitors asking many questions. So don’t be shy!
  • Public restrooms, such as at the collectivo hubs, often charge $5 MXN.
  • The restrooms and change rooms on the public beach plazas on the Hotel Zone are open from 9am-5pm only.
  • Chichen Itza tour pick-up times are sometime between 6-8am, depending on the tour company and the order of pick-up.
  • According to our Chichen Itza tour guide, modern Mayans speak between 5-8 languages fluently.

 

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