The Yucatan peninsula, in Mexico, was the first stop of my trip.
Mexico is such a big and diverse country, which makes it particularly hard to visit it all. So, if you only have a limited time to spend in this amazing place, I would definitely recommend going to the Yucatan peninsula. This side of Mexico has a lot to offer, from the relaxing Caribbean sea, to colourful colonial towns, to Mayan ruins, to blue cenotes and, of course, delicious food. For this reason, it’s not surprising that this area is the most touristic and the most expensive in the country. However, it is still possible to travel here on a budget, if you avoid the big cities, like Cancun, don’t take organised tour to the main attractions, like Chichen Itza, and try to take public transportation.
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With only three weeks available, we started off in Cancun, to then head on to Valladolid, from where you can pay a visit to one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chicken Itza. After that, we moved to Merida for a week. Then we got a (long) bus all the way east to Bacalar. You will not need more than three nights here before moving on to Mahaual, a hidden gem almost on the border with Belize. After two days, we started heading north, stopping in Tulum for one night. The final stop was the Holbox Island, a place north of Cancun dominated by untouched nature and amazing wildlife.
Food you need to try
Queso fundido – To all cheese lovers out there, you are going to love this place! One ofYucatan’s specialties is queso fundido, or melted cheese. It usually comes in three varieties – plain, with mushrooms or chorizo – although some restaurants have more options, and it tastes as delicious as it sounds.
Queso fundido with mushrooms
Chaytas – Chaya is a vegetable that can only be found in the Yucatan, with a taste that vaguely resemble spinach. Often used to make drinks too, like agua de chaya, it can be used to make chaytas, something very similar to a crêpe but made with corn flour mixed with water and Chaya leaves, which is then deep-fried. Not too healthy, but well worth it.
Making chaytas at Hostel Nomadas
Poc chuc – This very popular dish consists of pork meat marinated in naranja agria juice, a small and bitter orange, cooked with onions and beans. The perfect mix of savoury and sweet. No vegetarian-friendly version available, unfortunately!
Panuchos – A fried tortilla filled with beans, lettuce and your choice of chicken, pork or, although not traditional, vegetables.
Getting around in the Yucatan is pretty easy and relatively cheap. Town buses usually cost between 10 and 15 pesos (less than $1) but they are very packed. For this reason, outside of Cancun, where distances are shorter, it could be worth getting a taxi, especially if you are with a group of people. You should ask how much it is before you get in the car, but drivers are generally happy to bring you at the price you ask for, as long as it’s reasonable. The highest we have paid was 150 pesos for a 20 minute drive outside of the main town.
San Gervasio Cathedral, Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico
In some smaller places you can get mototaxi. Do get one! This is quite an experience and you will get to go around like a local and enjoy a bumpy ride in the dusty streets for 20 pesos each.
For short trips to nearby towns you can use colectivos, small trucks that can bring up to fifteen people and are the cheapest way to get around. The only downside of using colectivos is that usually they don’t leave until they are completely full, so you might have to wait up to one hour before this happens.
For longer bus journeys across the peninsula, ADO buses is what you are looking for, with a regular service, comfortable seats, AC and low prices. First class buses are obviously more expensive than second class buses – sometimes double the price – but still moderately priced and much more comfortable (in particular if you have to spend more than five hours on it).
Useful tips: their app and website are not the best, as they don’t show all the available services, so you are better off booking your tickets at the bus station. If you are travelling to a big town/city where buses are regular, you can just show up 40 minutes to one hour before. If you are travelling to smaller places that are served only once or twice a day, it could be a good idea to book your tickets at least one day in advance, as tickets do sell out even for destinations you wouldn’t expect them to.
Currency and ATMs
Mexican pesos is the official currency here. However, US dollars are accepted almost everywhere, particularly in bigger towns and cities. 1€ is approximately 25 pesos.
In bigger places, like Cancun or Merida, you will find plenty of ATMs around, but it’s a good idea to withdraw some cash before you head to smaller villages, such as Bacalar or Mahahual. However, bear in mind that you can withdraw both US dollars and Mexican pesos from the ATM machine, and the symbol for both is $, so make sure you select the right currency at the start.
When to go
The Yucatán peninsula has a tropical climate, which means that temperature almost never drop below 25 C.
December to April are the dry season/winter and weather-wise they are the idea time to visit, although this is high season in the country and so prices are higher and places are more full of tourists. In addition, March and April are Spring Break months and the Riviera Maya is a popular destination for tourists from the US at this time. Also July and August are very busy times.
The rest of the year is considered low season, because it is also rain season, with a particular risk of hurricanes from June to October.
We visited the Yucatan peninsula between the end of October and November, because we wanted to spend there Dia de Muertos. Overall, while we experienced a few heavy showers in the afternoon – especially on places near the coast during the first 10 days, November was dry and super warm. Prices were reasonable during this time and we could find accommodation last minute very easily, as we chose to spend Dia de Muertos in the smaller Valladolid and not many tourists were there.
Video Diary – Mexico
Check out more picture on my Instagram page.
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