quick weekend vacation in the yucatan!
December 19, 2009 2:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a quick three day trip to the Yucatan, and need suggestions for a nice, quiet and local town to relax by the beach and spend time around nature.

I'm in Florida for work in late Jan, and found a cheap ticket to Cancun, Mexico that works out perfectly! I plan to spend three days there (I will fly into Cancun and rent a car, probably out of the airport)

I do not, however, want to spend time in Cancun or Cozumel - i'd like to find a small, friendly town or regional city outside that area that I can stay at, preferably close to the beach. Cheap is good, I don't need a nice hotel by any means. A local place is fine.

I have lived abroad in Latin America before, have driven in Latin America before, and speak Spanish decently well. So my question here isn't about the logistics as much as I'd like a good suggestion on where I should go (and how much I might budget for it). Driving distance up to 3.5 hours from Cancun is fine. Nightlife is not important, cultural stuff is of interest, relaxation is paramount.

Thanks MeFi!
posted by waylaid to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We loved this inexpensive and unpretentious place which is just up the road from a very long and interesting beach. The food is great here, too. You need a car to get there, and sharp eyesight as the turnoff is not easy to spot from the road. The peninsula is dominated by resorts and resort people, but if you want a local town, there are a couple in easy driving distance, including the very, very American and touristy Playa del Carmen.
posted by bearwife at 3:20 PM on December 19, 2009

Tulum - I stayed here in spring. It was extremely relaxing. The photo's do not do it full justice. Aqua ocean, pristine white sand beaches, pretty & quiet, especially in the evenings. The owners are Argentinian & make a great evening meal, be it fish or meat. The breakfasts were my favorite. Lots to see & do in the vicinity such as the nearby Tulum ruins, but I highly recommend Cobal ruins & lots of local Cenotes.
posted by sequin at 3:53 PM on December 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have wanted, for a while now, to try Isla Holbox (the "x" is pronounced like "sh"). According to this NYT article, it's a 2.5-hour drive from Cancun. At Chiquila, catch a ferry to the island. Friends who've been say it's relaxing, quiet, clean, beautiful. Less touristed than Tulum or Playa del Carmen, let alone Cancun.

If you're looking for something closer to Cancun, you could go directly from the airport to the harbor and catch a ferry to Isla Mujeres. It's pretty well traveled, but nothing like Cancun and not a bad place for a quick weekend. Most of the action is from day-trippers staying in Cancun. After they catch a boat back to the mainland, it quiets down for the night. Though there is a short-ish main drag with restaurants and bars.
posted by donpedro at 5:56 PM on December 19, 2009

Another vote for Tulum.
posted by anadem at 10:25 PM on December 19, 2009

I was going to recommend Isla Holbox as well, but then I thought that you might want nice beaches. The beaches in Isla Holbox are okay, some of them nicer than others, but the ones right in the town square are not that great, more used as small fishing boat launches.
The good thing about Isla Holbox is it's absolutely charming. It's more of a place where Mexicans go to vacation, with some Europeans. Pretty much every hotel is on the beach. It's a very small town that can be walked in about ten minutes total, and it doesn't cater to tourists that much at all, not like Tulum or Isla Mujeres, which are both meccas for tourists. What I really loved about it was renting the golf carts everyday (that's how people get around there, as there are only about 4 cars on the island) and taking them on the sand roads all over the island. Use the golf carts to get to the better beaches west of town. The beaches will be mostly empty regardless. When I was there we didn't see a single person on the beach at all, but it may have been off season.
I stayed at a nice hotel that had small private cabins and a great pool, called the Villas Delfines. I would recommend it.
In the main square in the town there are often gatherings or parties on the weekend nights where everyone congregates.
It can be ugly, with some poverty and requisite starving stray dogs, but it is also real and gives you a glimpse of how the people really live their day to day life as you pass by their homes with all their doors and windows open. The people are very friendly, often inviting you to join them for a meal or festa if you get into a conversation with them. One night we were just wandering and walked right into the middle of a childs birthday party that they had set up in the middle of the street, with Pinatas and all. All the kids offered us candy and the adults invited us to join in. Great memory of the place.
There are a few different food options, a restaurant or two that are directed at tourists, and of course the small bakeries and the stalls in themain square the night of the festas.
It's a very easy drive from Cancun, and there are lots right by the ferry where you can park your car for $2 a day.
I went before they were hit by hurricanes a few years ago, and I know that the whole island was under water at one point, so you might want to check to see what has happened since then. Also, if you're looking for waves, it's in the Gulf, so the water is very calm.
With regards to Tulum and Isla Mujeres, I think that they are both very touristed at this point, however, Tulum is still very relaxing. With Tulum, the hotels and resorts are on the beach, and you have to drive into town or to another resort if you want to eat anything different than whats offered at your hotel. I highly recommend Posada Margarita as a restaurant there. It's Italian, and some of the best italian you will ever eat on a beach, They also have rooms.
If you want to be able to walk to everything, Isla Mujeres works well. I don't like Isla Mujeres, because it's 100% touristy, but the beaches are nice and there are plenty of eating drinking shopping spots if thats what you are looking for. Keep in mind that cruise ships stop there, and the diving is not good anymore.
I would say that Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox are at opposite ends of the spectrum experience-wise, with Tulum kind of in the middle, but leaning more towards the Mujeres end of things.
posted by newpotato at 6:44 AM on December 20, 2009

I highly recommend Puerto Morelos. It's very easy to reach from Cancun (you wouldn't even need a car, necessarily--you could just take a collectivo), yet has a (relatively) local small-town feeling, a decent beach, and good snorkeling.
posted by mkuhnell at 7:26 AM on December 20, 2009

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