Flying into Cancun for two weeks. What do you recommend?
September 12, 2018 3:33 PM   Subscribe

A close friend and I are flying into the Cancun airport at the end of the month. We have two weeks, Saturday to Saturday (to Saturday?) and there's so much to see and do. My friend will be working remotely during the day for all but 4 of the weekdays we're there, around the weekend in the middle. Where should we go and what should we do?

We're going at the end of this month, for two weeks, Saturday to Saturday (to Saturday?) and there's so much to see and do. My friend will be working remotely during the day for all but 4 of the weekdays we're there, around the weekend in the middle. We will be renting a car. Budgetwise, we want to spend less than $100 per night total.

We want to explore a few different places: Isla Mujeres, Chichen Itza, Tulum, Sian Ka'an, and I just found Xcacel, Isla Holbox, and Akumal.
We want to do certain things: SCUBA diving though neither is certified, exploring cenotes, and, if possible, turtles! (do we need a red light?)

I know I dumped a lot here but that's what I got. I looked through older threads on here, but they were pretty old and not quite what I'm looking for. Any suggestions of specific places, hotels, tour companies, restaurants/food stands, etc. would be much appreciated!
posted by iliketolaughalot to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to dive, Cozumel is the place to do that - it's where I got the latter half of my certification. Isla is nice but the reefs aren't quite as extensive, as I recall. Tres Pelicanos is a great dive shop, and there's a hotel right around the corner from it (Casa Mexicana) that should suit you fine. Book in advance, though, their boats fill up.

Isla is nice for lazy days and snorkeling. Go to La Lomita for dinner one night and have the margaritas - they're in chilled clay cups, so they use less ice, and are strong and delicious. We stayed in the Marina Paraiso, but that might be a tick over your budget.

I honestly don't recommend Chichen Itza, as I found it way less interesting than I expected and we got up crazy early to see it. YMMV, though. We skipped Akumal after being told that they required a guide and a vest just to go snorkeling.
posted by tautological at 4:39 PM on September 12, 2018

Tulum is awesome. I would make that my home base.
posted by wowenthusiast at 6:15 PM on September 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I found the Cadogan guide to Yucatan & Mayan Mexico to be an amazingly well written guide to the culture and history. (Looks like the most recent edition is from 2009, so unfortunately you'll have to look elsewhere for specific recommendations.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:40 PM on September 12, 2018

Isla Mujeres is one of my favorite places on the planet, especially the beach and centro on the north end of the island.

Also, if you can manage it, think about switching Uxmal in for Chichen Itza. It's just as jaw-dropping and a lot easier to take in.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:00 AM on September 13, 2018

Just went to Tulum & Sian Ka'an in July - incredible. For Sian Ka'an, you will likely need to hire a tour. I thought this one was great, environmentally conscious and really emphasized indigenous culture (our boat captain was Mayan). We saw soooooo many animals, including through snorkeling (manatees, dolphins, turtle, nurse shark, tropical fish, crocodile...). Just a warning - you are not supposed to use sunscreen in the biosphere (because of the chemical damage to the coral reefs), so wear long sleeves/hat/etc. to avoid sunburn.

For Tulum, staying in the city/town itself (and not the strip of beach resorts) was a great base to see a lot of cenotes around the area. If you are interested in Mayan ruins, Coba is great and includes one of the last pyramids you can hike up. I would recommend renting a bike at the entrance of the park and biking through the ruins - very fun. Around Coba, there are 3 cenotes that are each very different, beautiful and less touristy than the ones closer to Tulum - Tamcach-Ha, Choo-Ha and Multum-Ha. Again, be mindful of not wearing sunscreen in the cenotes. Keep an eye out for the mot-mot, I saw some flying around the Tamcach-Ha cenote and was very happy.

If you need a fancy meal (unnecessary as the food is generally amazing), Arca in Tulum was out of this world, and more creative than any of the NYC dining experiences I've had in the last couple years.

One thing to be prepared for, the "sargassum" algae/seaweed infestation on the beaches. Not sure if that is still going on, but through July there was smelly, toxic algae on many of the public beaches that made the beach experience less than lovely. Some of the private resorts have trucks taking it away, but honestly, with the cenotes and sian ka'an, we had enough water activities that we did not miss the beach experience. Honestly LOVED Tulum.
posted by icy_latte at 7:33 AM on September 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

How's your Spanish? The entire Yucatan peninsula is geared up for tourism, but English can be relied upon along the coasts. Your money will go much further if you head inland, like half the cost of Cancun or Tulum. The ADO company has frequent, affordable, comfortable bus service between all the major cities, and the colectivo (shared van) can be used for shorter trips, so it's really a backpacker's paradise. We spent 4 days each in Merida and Valladolid and could easily have spent twice as long. We thought the ruins of Tulum were great, but the rest of the town sucked. Crowded, expensive, Anglo. And it's boiling hot everywhere, even in January. Also double-check on WiFi, we stayed in pretty nice places and it was spotty in all of them. Luckily there is 4G via Telcel (the Verizon of Mexico) so you can get a hotspot if you're desperate.

Cozumel is a 45-minute ferry from Playa del Carmen, it's a pretty long day trip but the SCUBA is supposed to be great there, though pretty challenging with a lot of current. You want a "Discover Scuba" tour where you'll be accompanied by an instructor. Go with a well-known operator, you want someone who takes safety seriously. Alternately, you could get certified for a few hundred bucks at home and go on a much more exciting dive. Stick to snorkeling for the cenotes.
posted by wnissen at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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