Discovering Mexico: A Family-Friendly Itinerary for History and Nature Enthusiasts
Day 1: To Düsseldorf Airport
Day 2: Flight Düsseldorf-Cancun
Day 3: Cancun
Day 4-6: Isla Mujeres
Day 7-10: Tulum
Day 11-14: Bacalar
Day 15: Xpujil
Day 16-19: Campeche
Day 20-23: Mérida
Day 24: Izamal
Day 25-27: Valladolid
Day 28: Isla Holbox
Day 29: flight Cancun - Düsseldorf
Day 30: Back in Düsseldorf
We did this roadtrip in four weeks, we like to take it slow! You can drive round the Yucatan peninsula in two weeks, it will be less relaxing, but it is perfectly doable.
Day 1: To Düsseldorf
We've had hectic last weeks, so decided to approach our vacation as relaxed as possible. So our road trip through Mexico began in a hotel in ... Düsseldorf! We stayed at the Sheraton Düsseldorf Airporthotel, actually AT the airport. We have to take an early flight the next day. Staying overnight is a great alternative to getting up at 5am and rushing to the airport in full stress and then spending 17 hours on three different flights. Our cheap British Airways flights take us from Düsseldorf to London. Then we board an Airbus A380 bound for Dallas. And the final leg of the itinerary is a flight from Dallas to Cancun, about two hours and a half.
Hotel Düsseldorf: Sheraton Düsseldorf Airport
Day 2: Flight from Düsseldorf to Cancun
The three flight go super smoothly. The only thing that gives us stress is the short time between the flights. Especially in the US border controle can take quite some time! We have two hours and have to rush and run to get the flight to Cancun!
We rent a car from Europcar. A shuttle van takes us from the terminal to the pick-up point for the rental cars and after some bargaining over the exorbitant price for the extra insurance we could leave. There is a way to avoid this insurance shizzle: you rent a car from Sunnycars. The prices are higher, but you have all inclusive service. I definitely can see why people want to pay a bit more to have less worries. But I always compare and try to estimate the risk (good site to compare is Rent car.com). The hotel is fortunately only fifteen minutes away, because we are very tired after such a long day! We sleep 12h straight, bye bye jet lag!
Day 3: Cancun
About Cancun we can be brief: there is not very much to do here. At the Zona Hotelera you can drive around along the langune and megalomaniac hotels and you can stroll along the beach. But you won't find cozy affordable restaurants or bars here, it's all about expensive beachclubs and luxurary resorts here! Very handy here are the many exchange offices so you can start your trip with enough pesos! In the center of Cancun around the central square you will find some restaurants where you can eat a decent meal.
Day 3: Cancun, ferry to Isla Mujeres
There are several places where you can take the ferry to Isla Mujeres. But only from 1 place you can also take your car on the ferry. Isla Mujeres is a fairly large island and not cheap. So we find it convenient to have our own transportation on the island.
The most expensive crossings leave from Cancuns hotel zone.
The most popular place is Puerto Juárez, just north of Cancun. Here you already pay noticeably less than the crossings from the hotel zone. If you want to take a carferry you can only leave from Punta Sam, it's about 10 minutes north from Puerta Juarez.
We didn't make a reservation for the ferry, just being there at least one hour before departure is enough. The fair includes one driver with additional costs for each passenger. We paid 2000 MXN (approx €100) for a car with driver and three additional passengers (roundtrip).
Prices and schedules do change a lot, you can check it here!
The crossing itself went very smoothly. After about an hour we drove off the ferry onto the island. A quick check-in at the hotel and then 100% enjoy the vacation atmosphere: bounty beaches, delicious cocktails, upbeat music, .... we can get used to this!
Hotel Isla Mujeres: Nomads Hotel, Hostel & Beachclub
Day 4: Isla Mujeres
There is much to see and do on Isla Mujeres. The main reason we chose this island is because you can do Whale Shark tours there. From this island you have to sail for the least amount of time and thus the trip is the most enjoyable.
There are lots of organizations that offer these Whale Shark tours. You don't have to book these in advance. My task of the day: walking trough the streets of the small town on the island and comparing the prices of the tours as well as booking a tour for the next day!
Other interesting activities you can do on the island:
Swimming with Dolphins in 'Dolfin Discovery': Visit the dolphin encounter center and have a unique experience swimming and interacting with these incredible creatures. This will cost you over €100 so we chose not to do this one to have some budget left for the rest of our trip! So we just drove by it, this is a busy place!
Relaxing on the Beaches: Isla Mujeres has stunning beaches like Playa Norte and Playa Garrafón, where you can relax, sunbathe, and swim in crystal-clear waters. Probably the most beautiful beaches I've seen in my life. The water is like taking a warm bath!
Renting a Golf Cart: We have our own car to get around, but for anyone who hasn't: renting a golf cart is very popular here!
Kayaking and Paddleboarding: Rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the calm waters around the island.
Visiting Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm: Here you can learn about sea turtle conservation efforts and release baby turtles into the ocean during nesting season. The center is currently closed. It will probably open again later this year (but this isn't sure).
Exploring Underwater Art: Dive or snorkel to see the famous MUSA (Underwater Museum of Art) featuring an array of stunning sculptures submerged in the sea.
Visiting the Punta Sur Sculpture Park: You can enjoy the exceptional ocean views without entering the park ($10 entrance fee!!) and you can even see the not so spectacular sculptures without entering the park. Good to know: the sunrise is magnificent here and this is also the point where the sun rises first in Mexico (most eastern point).
If you like the really touristy things: Try jet skiing, parasailing, or fishing tours, which are widely available on the island.
Day 5: Isla Mujeres - Swimming with Whale Sharks, a once in a lifetime kind of experience!
The day before, I had booked our trip with Sea Hawk Divers. They provided the most info and offered the best service. Our day starts very early: at 7 am we leave for the Sea Hawk Divers office. Here breakfast awaits us, including pills against seasickness! After breakfast and briefing, we are taken to our boat. The boat is actually very small, there are only 10 of us. In addition to a few Americans, Fernando is also on the boat with his two children. This reassures me a little that I am not the only one who takes his children on such an adventure! After many instructions from an overenthusiastic guide and the putting on of wristbands "in case you don't remember which boat you belong to", we could leave. After an hour of sailing there is nothing to see except high waves. All the land around us has disappeared, we see a few more boats sailing in the same direction, so we cannot be completely lost yet. Only after about four hours we see many boats lying together, we have found the place! In pairs we are allowed to swim for about 5 minutes. The guide pulls us to the right spot. It is truly phenomenal! The immense animals come swimming slowly towards us, they don't care about us and swim on quietly. Definitely our National Geographic moment of this trip! We get to go in the water a second time. I want to take my gopro, find it in my backpack and by not focusing on the sea, my stomach turns immediately. So the second time I swam very nauseated, which is less enjoyable, but I got some nice images :). Unfortunately, I left my entire stomach contents behind with the whale sharks. So for lunch on the way back I pass. There is a second stop at the reef off Isla Mujeres. Here we get to snorkel for half an hour. Here, unfortunately, little remains of what was probably once very colorful coral. We get another meal at Playa Norte and a cool beer for those who feel like it. It is already late in the afternoon when we are dropped off at the office again. An absolute great day!
Price: 2700 MXN (incl breakfast, lunch and a snack; two dives with the whale sharks and snorkeling at the coral reef near Isla Mujeres)
Day 6: Isla Mujeres, ferry to Cancun and ride to Tulum
After a nice and tasty breakfast, we take the ferry back to the mainland. The route from Cancun to Tulum runs along the coast, but you don't get to see it. What you do see is one mega resort after another, occasionally interspersed with an amusement or adventure park. Not really the image we had of Mexico. This is a popular region for American tourists and you notice it in everything. You can pay with dollars everywhere and ATMs only give ... dollars!
Tulum consists of two parts: Tulum Pueblo, the town itself, and Tulum Beach. Tulum Beach is a long road along the beach with hotels, restaurants and beach clubs. Nothing is "ordinary" here. Each beach club has something special, a fairy-tale entrance, a breathtaking setting, a labyrinth-like route to get to the sea ... You really don't know where to look first here. But ... parking your car here is paying, entering a beach club is paying, wanting to sit on a terrace is paying ... and then you haven't eaten or drunk anything. Prices here easily go higher than Belgian prices. So if you have money too much: here you can get rid of it if you want to!
Tulum Pueblo has more charm, it is nice to walk around and choosing a restaurant here is really impossible, so much choice!
Hotel Tulum Pueblo: Casa Sofia Tulum
Day 7: Tulum
Today we will finally do what we have been looking forward to anyway: swim in a cenote. The temperature here fluctuates around 30 degrees every day so refreshment is always welcome!
There are lots of cenotes around Tulum. Our eye fell on "Gran Cenote. The pictures we see online are beautiful and it appears in every list of most beautiful cenotes and 'Gran Cenote' is located only a few kilometers from Tulum Pueblo.
Big surprise at the entrance: you pay 500 MXN per person (€25) here. Presumably we get gold snorkels or you get a welcome cocktail. No, this is just extremely overpriced! We are very early so we only have to share the cenote with a handful of other tourists, some turtles and bats. The cenote is beautiful. You can swim through a cave to a second open section and snorkel among the stalagmites and stalactites. There is also a nice picnic area and the toilets are very clean.
Places to eat in Tulum:
El Cielo (Tulum Pueblo) - popular breakfast place, the food is GOOD and not too expensive
Raw Love café (Tulum Beach) - a place at the beach where you can get in for free. Good place for breakfast or lunch with sea view!
Restaurant Casa Jaguar (Tulum Beach) - this place is so beautiful, and the food was maybe the best we ate in Mexico ... but that has its price. It is not cheap, but it is worth it.
La Hoja Verde - Vegetarian restaurant, so so so good!!
Day 8: Tulum - Tulum Maya ruins and cenote Yax-kin
Just outside Tulum Pueblo is a Mayan site worth visiting. The site is on the coast and from the temples you have a mighty view. But expect lots of visitors here! You pay 2x, a contribution to the state and the entrance itself. These can only be paid in cash. And if, like us, you don't have enough cash with you, a friendly smile is very effective in getting you in. There is little shade, so it is interesting to plan your visit early in the morning. It is a long walk from the parking lot to the entrance itself. You have to pass and pass restaurants and tourist stores, then if you can resist getting your picture taken with a parrot or iguana on your shoulder you have another walk along the mangroves to go before you get to the actual entrance. You can easily walk around the site itself for an hour or two. Despite the crowds, we found it very beautiful, mainly because of its location.
Parking: 160 MXN
Protected area fee: 58 MXN
Entrance fee: 90 MXN
Day 9: Tulum to Bacalar
Hotel Bacalar: Asilé Hotel Boutique
Day 10: Bacalar
Day 11: Bacalar
Day 12: Bacalar to Xpujil
Hotel Xpujil: Casa Las Lolas
Day 13: Xpujil to Campeche
Hotel Campeche: Hotel Castelmar
Day 14: Campeche
Day 15: Campeche
Day 16: Campeche
Day 17: Campeche to Mérida
Hotel Mérida: Hotel Mérida
Day 18: Mérida
Day 19: Mérida
Day 20: Mérida to Izamal
Hotel Izamal: Gardenhotel Macan Ché B&B
Day 21: Izamal to Valladolid
Hotel Valladolid: Casa Bamboo
Day 22: Valladolid
Day 23: Valladolid
Day 24: Valladolid to Isla Holbox
Hotel Isla Holbox: Alcobas Del Mar
Day 25: Isla Holbox
Day 26: Isla Holbox to Cancun
Hotel Cancun: Hilton Garden Inn Airport
Day 27: Flight from Cancun to Düsseldorf
Day 28: Back in Düsseldorf
Hi! We are Bart, Kris, Lore and Ruben. We are a family of 5, yes, we also have a dog named Spike.
Maybe we can inspire you to explore a bit more of all those beautiful corners of our planet? Go to our trips and find out!