2 Weeks Backpacking MEXICO - Yucatán Peninsula! | Itinerary & Budget
Updated: Jun 16
Most likely due to what I had seen in the media, I had always thought of Mexico as a far away, barren and dangerous country. Little did I know, Mexico is a fun, backpacker-friendly destination that really has so much to offer - including some of the best food in the world (in my opinion). I recently spent 2 weeks backpacking in the Yucatan Peninsula and loved it! In this blog post, I share my itinerary & budget for the trip!
Mexico is a huge country with many varied landscapes and so much to see. I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks travelling a small portion of Mexico in the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo. These states form part of the Yucatan Peninsula - a body of land that separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico. The Yucatan Peninsula is known for its tropical beaches, ancient Mayan ruins and resort towns.
I arrived in the Yucatan by way of Cancun. Cancun is a great spot to begin a Mexican adventure as cheap flights connect the tropical destination to the world.
During my time in the Yucatan I visited Cancun, Isla Holbox, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen and Bacalar:
I do realise that the portion of Mexico I saw is home to some of the most touristy parts of the country. I would love to come back and explore other states of Mexico and have a more authentic Mexican experience.
I stayed in Cancun for two nights either side of my trip to Cuba. These nights were pretty much a stopover but I did try to make the most of my short stay in Cancun and first taste of Mexico. Many people who stay in Cancun go to the 'hotel zone' to stay at an all-inclusive resort. There's not really too much to do in Cancun itself - but it is a good base to do a day trip to the popular Isla Mujeres.
I spent my short time in Cancun doing laundry, getting money out and sampling my first taste of Mexican food. On my first night in Cancun I found a local street food market with awesome cheap, authentic and delicious Mexican food! There are also a couple of large supermarkets in downtown Cancun - a good chance to stock up on snacks/necessities before heading out to explore the Yucatan.
Street food market in Cancun
Street art in Cancun
While in Cancun I stayed at the Mayan Monkey Hostel (which has recently changed its name to Nomads). It was one of the nicest hostels I've ever stayed in. It had an amazing rooftop infinity pool, really modern hotel-like dorms and they even included breakfast and dinner! The Mayan Monkey was also less than 5 minutes was from the ADO bus station which connects to Cancun airport and many surrounding destinations.
Isla Holbox (3)
From Cancun, I caught a bus to Chiquila (220 pesos / 3.5 hours) and then a ferry from Chiquila to Isla Holbox (150 pesos / 25mins).
Ferry to Holbox
Isla Holbox reminded me so much of Gili T in Indonesia. There are no paved roads and few cars, everyone gets around on golf carts or by bike! The island has a super cool, relaxed vibe. The town was recently host to a street art competition so incredible colourful artwork lines the streets. Isla Holbox is a great spot to chill out for a couple days by the beach.
Riding on the beach
Grafiti in Holbox
Grafiti in Holbox
It is also possible to see Flamingos and swim with whale sharks on Isla Holbox, but unfortunately I was there at the wrong time of year. There are many beach clubs where you can hire a hammock/sun bed by the beach for the day. In the afternoon, everyone gathers down by the water with a beer or two to watch the sunset.
Isla Holbox has great food. Tacoqueto was my favourite - a cheap local Mexican food joint with the most delicious food. I ate there every night for dinner! Le Jardin is a great spot for breakfast and Painapol does great smoothie bowls. Artesano does the most delicious vegan-Mexican food - I ate there multiple times!
Dinner at Tacoqueto
Smoothie bowl from Painapol
I stayed at Tribu Hostel which was really clean and had a great vibe. They offer free daily yoga classes and hire bikes out for less than $2/hr.
Getting to Tulum from Isla Holbox was a long travel day... I caught the 6:30am ferry back to Chiquila (220 pesos / 3.5 hours) and then a bus to Cancun (175 pesos / 3.5 hours) and finally and bus from Cancun to Tulum (178 pesos / 2.5 hours).
Tulum is made up of the downtown district and the beach road area. Downtown Tulum is filled with cheaper accommodation, souvenir shops and restaurants. The fancier hotels and restaurants are located on the beach road. If you're on a budget, it's best to stay downtown as the beach area is only a short 15-20min bike ride away!
Hiring a bike is a great way to explore Tulum. Many hostels/hotels have their own bikes for rent and there are many bike rental shops around downtown that lease bikes for the day for around $100-$150 pesos ($7-10AUD). Most of the town and surrounding areas are flat which make riding really easy!
Biking along the beach road in Tulum
One of the coolest things I did while in Mexico was a cenote dive. I did a double dive in Dos Ojos with Agua Clara dive shop. I wrote a full blog post about the experience here:
Diving in Dos Ojos Cenote
I hired a bike from my hostel for the day and used it to explore Grand Cenote and the Tulum Ruins for the day.
Grand Cenote is only a 15 minute bike ride from downtown Tulum. You do have to ride along the highway to get there, but there is fair room of the side of the highway so you're not likely to get run over by a truck! Grand Cenote is one of the most popular cenotes in the Tulum area so I wanted to avoid the crowds by getting there at 8am when they opened.
As most cenotes are privately owned, you do have to pay an entrance fee to visit them. Grand Cenote was no exception, it cost 180 pesos ($13 AUD) to get in. I was really pleasantly surprised by this cenote. The water was crystal clear and had turtles swimming around in it! I liked that they make all visitors take a shower before entering to protect the health of the cenote.
I enjoyed an hour or so of swimming around and exploring the caves of the cenote before the first tour bus arrived and ruined the peace...
The Tulum Ruins were an easy 20min ride from Grand Cenote or around 10-15mins from downtown. The ruins are a 13th-century, walled Mayan archaeological site perched atop cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
While you most likely will have have to battle with crowds of selfie-stick wielding tourists, I think a visit to the Tulum Ruins are worth it for the stunning views of the Tulum coastline. Plus entry is only 70 pesos ($5 AUD)!
Day Trip Playa Del Carmen
While I was in Tulum I took a day trip to Playa Del Carmen for the day. I caught a collectivo (shared taxi) for 45 pesos ($3 AUD) each way. Playa Del Carmen exists pretty much to serve American tourists and cruise ship passengers. The main tourist drag is filled with Starbucks', HNM, souvenir stores and locals trying to sell you boat tickets to Cozumel Island. The beach was also pretty rough and filled with seaweed. If you skip Play Del Carmen, you're definitely not missing out!
Playa Del Carmen
Tour to Chichen Itza
I was rather reluctant to book a tour to Chichen Itza as I usually hate the idea of being herded around on a bus tour with 60 other people and prefer to do things myself. But, doing Chichen Itza on my own would've taken a lot longer and been more expensive, so I decided to bite the bullet and book onto a bus tour.
The tour wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. First, they took us to Suytun Cenote which was really impressive but also where they tried to sell us 100 different over-priced things at a Mayan souvenir store. We then had a fairly average buffet lunch and finally got on our way to Chichen Itza.
Suytun Cenote (the struggles of relying on other people to take your pictures haha!)
It was super excited to visit Chichen Itza ( the third wonder of the world I have visited). Aside from all the merchants trying to sell you souvenirs, it was really epic. It was cool to learn about how the Mayans integrated the sun, moon and planets into their buildings. I learnt that Chichen Itza is built over a cenote - I never knew!
Tulum has a significant alternative/hippie/eco-chic vibe going on. So accordingly, there are plenty of funky, healthy and vegetarian-friendly eateries both in downtown Tulum and along the beach road. I really enjoyed the tacos from La Hoja Verde and the servings from Co.Conamor were huge! Many people rave about Burrito Amor, but I found them to be pretty average!
Tacos at La Hoja Verde
Lunch at Co.Conamor
When I arrived I stayed one night at Hostel Che but I wouldn't recommend Hostel Che if you like to sleep! The next day I moved to Chill Inn Hostel which was a lot quieter. They hired out bikes for only 80p/day and cooked up the most delicious (free!) breakfasts like tacos and nutella crepes!
To get to Bacalar, I caught the ADO bus from Tulum. The trip took 3 hours and cost 274 pesos.
I was pleasantly surprised by Bacalar. I had originally planned to only stay 1 night, but I'm so glad I extended my stay as Bacalar turned out to be my favourite place in Mexico. It was such a breath of fresh air to be away from the tourist hotspots and experience a more authentic Mexican town.
The little town of Bacalar is situated on Lake Bacalar which is also called the Lagoon of Seven Colours due to its bright blue and turquoise hues. The lake is so so beautiful, super clean and houses multiple cenotes. I really felt like I was in paradise!
I booked a 3 hour boat trip on the Lake through the Yak Lake House Hostel on my first day in Bacalar. We visited some of the natural cenotes that exist in the lake (El Cenote Negro and Elo Cenote Cocalitos), saw stromatolites (living rock-like formations that are some of the oldest living life on the planet) and swum at El Canal de los Piratas - a beautiful shallow spot with crystal clear water for swimming.
Public access docks
My major beef with many places in Cancun, Tulum etc, is that the coastline is owned by resorts and access to the beach often requires you hire a beach chair or buy drinks at the bar. The great thing about Bacalar is that it has many public access docks which are open for everyone to enjoy the lake!
If you're wanting to get out and experience the lake even more, many companies offer sunrise/sunset paddle-boarding tours, sailing lessons and also rent out kayaks.
There are some great food options in Bacalar. I ate at La Pina (The Pineapple) for the majority of my meals - the food is so good and cheap! I also really enjoyed lunch at El Manati - a part cafe, part gift shop, part gallery.
Lunch at El Manati
As I booked last minute over New Years, there weren't too many options available to me. I stayed at Casa Yunuem which was quiet, but clean and in a great location. However, I would recommend staying at The Yak Lake House Hostel as they have lake frontage and run regular tours and cool activities. I booked my boat tour through them which was great!
Sadly after Bacalar, my time in Mexico was up. Now on to the next adventure: Guatemala!....
I ended up spending more than I anticipated while in Mexico. Mainly because I visited over Christmas/New Years which is the most expensive time of the year. I tried kept costs down by walking everywhere/hiring a bike, refiling my water bottle at hostels, eating out at local restaurants and booking basic accommodation.
To give you a rough idea of what it costs to backpack in this area of Mexico I've included an estimate of what my common everyday expenses cost:
Hostel dorm bed $300-400pesos per night - $21-$28 AUD
Meal at a local restaurant $50-$100 pesos - $3.5-$8 AUD
Meal at a more touristy restaurant $100-$200 pesos $8-$15 AUD
Bottle of water $25 pesos - $1.80 AUD
Bus ticket average $175-$250 pesos for 3 hours - $13-$18 AUD
Bike hire for the day $100 pesos - $8 AUD
Day tour anywhere between $400-$800 pesos - $28-$60 AUD
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