Please plan my trip.
November 30, 2009 2:06 PM   Subscribe

We (two Seattleites in their mid-twenties) just booked plane tickets to Cancun over New Year's. I'm not interested in all-inclusive resorts or clubbing or vegetating at the same stretch of beach for an entire week. Now what?

We will be renting a car, but there are no plans as to where to drive outside of Cancun (maybe attempt a trip like this one?). We're also pretty well-equipped backpackers--I've been thinking about driving down the shore and sleeping at whatever camping grounds/beaches we find along the way. Is that a terrible idea? Do you have any specific recommendations as to places to stay/see?

How hot will it be at night? Neither of us speaks much Spanish, but that shouldn't be a problem, right? Will I need to have any reservations? Anything else I should be aware of? Thanks.
posted by halogen to Travel & Transportation around Cancun, Mexico (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Went on honeymoon there and am not really a big beach person - we both loved hanging out in cenotes which are amazing freshwater caves. Great for snorkelling. I would also love to return and check out the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve - camping there would be amazing.

Have fun - really jealous of you!
posted by laukf at 2:15 PM on November 30, 2009

Don't fall for any of the timeshare/tourist sales pitches at the airport. Other than that, there are a great many snorkeling/scuba diving trips that can be done, and a lot of bus tours inland to visit Mayan ruins, such as Chichen Itza. I have no idea if driving yourself is easily done as well, but I would imagine so.
posted by mikeh at 2:18 PM on November 30, 2009

Response by poster: That looks great, laufk! Do we need any snorkeling training (I've never done that before), and should we buy our own gear in the US?
posted by halogen at 2:19 PM on November 30, 2009

There were a number of "Starter Kits" when I was there where they would provide the gear, train you in a shallow lagoon, then take you into the caves, followed by a meal at a local native village. Check with your hotel, they may have arrangements with tour groups already set up.

If you go, take some cash with you - often times, the tour or the natives that host it have surprisingly nice souvineers you can pick up at the end of the trip. I got a pair of hammocs that were hand-woven after my snorkeling experience.
posted by GJSchaller at 2:24 PM on November 30, 2009

the Mayan ruins, particularly Chichen Itza, are not to be missed.
posted by gnutron at 2:32 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

We just rented gear at the cenoes but you can bring your own if you fancy. In some we took a guided toru (good for deep caves), other we just did our own thing. You should be able to pick up snorkelling pretty quickly (my wife did and she doesn't swim much).
posted by laukf at 2:46 PM on November 30, 2009

The last time I was in the Cancun area, I booked an excursion with Alltournative. I think they're a little off the beaten path and not so touristy.

No suggestions on where to stay since I usually stay at the AI resorts and veg on the beach.
posted by mamaquita at 2:50 PM on November 30, 2009

Driving is not a problem, though night driving might find large animals on the road so be careful after dark. Head out from Cancun and stay a night in Vallodolid, check out why the Vallodolid church is built in the wrong direction, and spend a day visiting Chichen Itza. Then head south and beachwards to stay somewhere near Tulum (years since we went, so can't remember place names, but there are many places to stay along the coast from cheap to pricey) and visit Tulum and maybe Coba, where it's impressive to see how much the jungle swallowed the un-developed ruins. Also be sure to swim in a cenote. Evenings won't be too hot. We didn't need much Spanish. We did make reservations, but I don't know how important they were. But really, get out of Cancun!
posted by anadem at 2:50 PM on November 30, 2009

It's been 10 years since I went, but...

Mayan Ruins: Tulum, Coba, Ek Balam, Chichen Itza. (We stayed here when visiting Chichen Itza.)

You should be able to rent a beach cabana just south of Tulum.

We hit the Xcaret water park one day, but that may not be your thing.

Our strategy was drive some place in the afternoon, find a room (or book by phone earlier), eat dinner and relax, then hit the sights early in the morning, finishing by midday, at which point it was time to drive to the next stop.
posted by fings at 2:54 PM on November 30, 2009

a 20 minute ferry ride from cancun will take you to Isla Mujeres, which is lovely - less touristy than cancun, great beaches, a turtle sanctuary, snorkeling
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:10 PM on November 30, 2009

Nthing Tulum. I was less interested by Coba, though it is really tall.
Poking around Playa Del Carmen was good fun.
posted by willpie at 3:29 PM on November 30, 2009

I'm also going to the Yucatan over new years. From what I've read, Tulum is a cant miss. Minimizing our time in Cancun as well.

posted by stratastar at 4:26 PM on November 30, 2009

I would not camp. I don't think it's quite safe enough but you are going at the most expensive time of the year so it could be a little pricey to do hotels. Most of the time I would say you don't need reservations- especially in this economy - but it is a busy time of year. You might want to check with about the camping questions.

Buy your own snorkle gear and bring it down. You can rent it lots of places but you'll save money if you ever plan on snorkeling again (oh and you'll want to!).

I would get out of Cancun as soon as you get the car.... Drive down towards Tulum. I think I would stop a night or two in Playa del Carmen. You can stay walking distance from the beach, places to eat and nightlife. Great food, great people watching - you can get a beer or two from a corner store or walk 5th Ave or sit on the beach and chat. Posada Freud or Posada Mariposa are pretty good cheap options (I think about 70 bucks for the holiday time per room).

While you are there hire a boat to take you snorkeling. You'll get some tips and get used to it and you can have them show you how to use your equipment.

On your way south hit Akumal. It is a little snorkeling park that is calm and great for your first solo trip snorkeling.

Then head down to Tulum... there's 2 parts of Tulum. The village or the beach. The beach is much more expensive for the most part but you can find a couple cheap places (Cabanas Copal isn't too bad but it's just a hut). Stay on the beach one night if you can just to enjoy the a bonfire and a night on an AMAZING beach that feels totally deserted at times. Then maybe stay in the village and use it as a bit of a base and drive to cenotes (Posada Luna del Sur is great).

See cenotes, some ruins, check into Punta Allen, Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve and have some fish tacos. great maps here- especially if you are going to drive. Be careful when driving- some places are considered "off road" so make sure you know the rules of your rental. Oh and blinker rules are a bit different and the main road goes FAST. The driving isn't difficult. Just listen to the rules of the road if they go over them at the rental place!
posted by beccaj at 4:36 PM on November 30, 2009

Shoot I meant - In Akumal there is Yakul, a snorkeling park....
posted by beccaj at 4:42 PM on November 30, 2009

See Tulum while it's still Tulum - the clock is already ticking. A few years ago, we could still find hotels on the beach road with just a few hours of generator electricity per day, but they appear to all have full-time juice now. (Still, Luna Maya was a great hotel, even the two cheap rooms which are cinderblock bunkers, and the Spanish restaurant there was fantastic. Try the paella.) Tulum is a good jumping-off point for cenotes, and we did a birdwatching tour down the road at Sian Ka'an that was really cool.

We've also stayed on Isla Mujeres and really liked it (Villas Punta Sur were the apartments we stayed in; the South end of the island was still recovering from some hurricane damage and it was kind of dead down there, but it was worth the tiny jaunt into town anyway.) Playa del Carmen has always been our base of operations (and there are tons of great hotels on or just off 5ta Avenida), we only use Cancun to get in and out.

Alltournatives is a great operation and I really liked the tour we did with them; we also did an ATV jungle tour (based out of PdC) that was probably extra fun thanks to the previous day's pouring rain, but even if you don't come out completely coated in mud it's a good time. Coba was fine, but there was a lot of it. If I ever went with a car I'd probably do Chichen Itza instead.

New Year's is fairly popular around there for vacationers, so I would suggest that if you don't book anything ahead, you at least save/print yourself an extensive list of resources. My impression is that there is very little legal beach camping, and if you could find a spot where you weren't run off by hotel security, you'd risk running into the people the hotel security are there to keep away. There are probably some good forums for camping/hiking/backpacking, though, and I would look there for the latest news.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2009

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