I traveled this route with one rental car by booking directly from Italy. This itinerary can also be done very well with the buses of companies such as ADO but you will have to carefully evaluate the travel times which are quite relevant. A good choice could be to opt for overnight trips.
An itinerary of this type allows you to dive completely in Mexican culture. You will be able to get your own idea of the Mexican people and better understand the areas of the country that you are going to see. You will notice a profound difference between the areas of Yucatan and those of Chiapas, you will admire and probably you will love San Cristobal de las Casas, Mayan ruins they will fascinate you and the sea will conquer you with its wonderful colors. This one that I show you in the photo is not the sea, it is the Bacalar lagoon. Exceptional colors here too.
DIY Mexico: General Practical Aspects and Costs
Here are some important aspects of this trip to Mexico. I summarize my choices and my costs so that you can get an idea. You will find many topics widely covered in the tips for safe and organized travel to Mexico.
Period: 7 -> 24 August 2016 -> effective in Mexico from 8 to 23.
Total nights: 15
Flight to Mexico: used the Madrid - Cancun route with Air Canada both outward and return. On the way there are two stopovers (Brussels and Montreal) on the way back two more (Toronto and Frankfurt). Euro 570 A / R.
Flight to Madrid: used the ryanair from Bergamo to Madrid T1 about 230 euros including hold baggage.
Total flight price to Mexico in August: € 800
Displayed: unnecessary. When you enter the country they affix a stamp that allows you to stay in Mexico for 90 days. Extendable by another 90. What you actually need is a passport with a residual validity of not less than six months.
Car: chartered with from Italy with Rentalcars (I recommend you to put it among the FAVORITES) a nice Toyota Yaris petrol station with automatic transmission (automatic transmission essential). You can load 2 large suitcases effortlessly.
Mexican areas affected: Yucatan, Chiapas, Quintana Roo
Car rental cost: 365 euros (including limitation of the excess) + 70 euros for additional driver.
Km traveled: 2745
Unleaded petrol fuel cost: about 14 pesos per liter, the equivalent of about 70 euro cents. I spent a total of 140 euros on petrol throughout the trip.
Road signs: to say it is bad is to pay him a compliment. The horizontal signage is almost non-existent, the vertical one is present but leaves something to be desired. The parking lots are almost all free but the problem is to understand the color of the stripes. I told you more about it in the post on tips for Mexico.
Motorways / various carts costs in pesos:
- 235 on the exit between Cancun and Valladolid
- 60 on the highway between Campeche and Palenque
- 20 Palenque exit
- 60 A / R between San Cristobal and Chiapa de Corzo (paid at the Chiapa tollbooth)
- 10 each at the first entrance to the Misol Hà waterfalls
- 20 each at the second entrance to the Misol Hà waterfalls
- 20 each at the first entrance to the Agua Azul waterfalls
- 40 each at the second entrance to the Agua Azul waterfalls
Parking costs for archaeological sites in pesos:
- 30 Chichén Itzá
- 30 Uxmal
- 50 Cobá
- 120 Tulum
- Palenque free of charge, parked on the street.
Economic internal transport: to move within the cities, or to make short sections of this Mexican itinerary, you can make use of the Colectivo. These are mini-vans that allow you to move around for a few pesos. Beware that they usually start only if complete.
Exchange euro / pesos in August 2016: 1 euro = 19/20 pesos, 15 pesos at the airport
Hotel booking: all accommodations booked from Italy. I used the portal for about half the nights Booking.com and for the other half Hotels.com. I was very happy, I had no problem with it.
Hotel costs in Mexico: in my case I went from a minimum of 12 euros per night for a double room with private bathroom in San Cristobal to a maximum of 37 euros. Most of the hotels I have stayed in did not include breakfast. It is also possible to spend less by going to the hostel.
Food costs: they are very variable depending on where you are. The cheapest place is definitely San Cristobal, the most expensive place is the Riviera Maya. I can give you an idea of the prices by telling you that the continental breakfast at the bar / club / restaurant varies from 50 to 85 pesos per person. Meals range from 50 pesos to 200 and go for fish dishes.
Tips: the "tip”Is part of Mexican culture. The tip is generally around 10% of the amount spent. Often it is added to the final bill, other times you have to leave it (if you want it is not mandatory). If you pay by credit card it will be the same POS that will give you the possibility to choose between 5-10-15% tip.
Public bathrooms: you can find them everywhere, but you will hardly find them completely free. Sometimes there is an attendant in front of the bathrooms who asks you for 3 pesos, other times 5 pesos, other times it is at your expense based on the "propina" you want to give. Anyway they will give you your ration of toilet paper before you enter the bathroom or "sanitary" as it is called in Mexico.
Topes: in Italy there are bumps, in Mexico there are topes. The name is also cute in itself, the fact is that once you return from your trip to Mexico you will hate them. They are bumps made of concrete that even if they are taken at low speeds, 10 km per hour for example, are really high. The problem is that Mexico is littered with topes and especially on the road between Palenque and San Cristobal they will be your worst nightmare.
Mayan sites visited: Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Palenque, Cobaáe Tulum
Visited beaches: Playa Paraiso, Akumal, Playa Delfines and Bacalar Lagoon
Cities visited: Valladolid, Merida, Campeche, Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chapa de Corzo, Bacalar, Tulum, Puerto Morelos.
Excursions independently (I mean without agency): Sumidero Canyon, San Juan Chamula and turtle snorkelling in Akumal.
Time zone in the Yucatan area in August: in this period it amounts to 7 hours less than in Italy.
Climate in Mexico in August: it is not exactly the best month to go to Mexico, the winter months (as far as Italy is concerned) are certainly more appropriate. In August there is the risk of happening in a rainy period. At least in my case the few showers that have occurred have been quite fast. Some rather intense showers followed by the sun. Surely one aspect to consider is the high humidity that does not give respite.
Insurance: stipulated online for the sum of 118 euros (valid for 2 people) including elimination of the deductible.
Wi-Fi: good or bad it is present a little everywhere, the problem is that it doesn't always work great. In the hotels where I was often present in the common areas, in the room it hardly worked. In restaurants when it is present it works much better. Some squares, such as in Bacalar, allow the use of free municipal wi-fi.
Data connection: if you need to use your phone connection, be aware that coverage is lacking outside built-up areas or archaeological sites. In some stretches of scattered Mexican roads, the normal GPRS connection is also missing.
Map of our journey between the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas
Towards San Cristobal de las Casas and back
Mexico travel itinerary: 16 days / 15 nights
I'll bring you back what my tour was. At the end of the itinerary you will find some experience to add if you have the opportunity.
Day 1: Arrival in Cancun, visit and night in Valladolid
Unfortunately, I didn't get to see this nice Mexican town at its best, I had problems with my missing suitcase and therefore I know more about the shopping centers than the city itself in Valladolid. The impression I got of this city with colonial houses is that it is liveable and the people are very serene.
The square is beautiful: as green and elegant as all the squares of the other Mexican cities seen. I chose to stop in Valladolid since it is a few kilometers from both Dnitzup Cenotes that you give Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. It is a perfect base to anticipate the tourist horde of people from Cancun on their way to the archaeological site.
- Cancun -> Valladolid: 160 km - 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Day 2: Visit of the Dnitzup Cenotes -> visit of Chichén Itzá -> Transfer and night in Merida
As I told you before, Valladolid it is the ideal destination to be ready in the morning to visit the archaeological site and the cenotes. I will tell you about both the Mayan site and the cenotes in specific posts. I assure you that i cenotes of Dnitzup they deserve and you can't help but stop for a nice bath. In the late afternoon you can move to Merida and start exploring the city.
- Valladolid -> Cenotes: 7 km - 15 minutes
- Cenotes -> Chichén Itzá: 41 km - 40 minutes
- Chichén Itzá -> Merida: 120 km - 1 hour and 30 minutes
Day 3: Quick visit of Merida -> Transfer to the archaeological site of Uxmal -> Night in Campeche
Merida (here you can read what to see in Merida) did not leave its mark. It will be due to the enormous traffic that grips it, it will be due to a center that told me little, the fact is that apart from the main square I did not like the rest. Big square it is certainly the cornerstone of city life. In addition to the cathedral, the main buildings overlook the square. The square reflects the conformation of all the other squares seen during my trip to Mexico, it is very green and strewn with benches, obviously it is definitely lived by its inhabitants.
After the fleeting visit to the city, I advise you to proceed to the beautiful Uxmal. It was the Mayan site I liked the most after Palenque. In total we saw 5 mayan archaeological sites (click to go to the article) and this was particularly impressed by me because uncrowded e really impressive.
You can reach it in a couple of hours by car Campeche and spend the evening in one of its lively alleys. You will appreciate the evening Campeche, on the other hand it is a seaside town and this gives it a certain charm.
- Merida -> Uxmal: 84 km - 1 hour and 10 minutes
- Uxmal -> Campeche: 166 km - 1 hour and 50 minutes
4th Day: Visit of Campeche -> Transfer to Palenque -> 1st night in Palenque
Campeche it deserves a visit of at least a day lost between its market, the colonial houses, the square and the beautiful malecòn. Unfortunately, time is running out and above all it is a tyrant. Half a morning is enough to appreciate it. At least 4 hours of travel await you to reach Palenque.
- Campeche -> Palenque: 360 km - 4 hours and 30 minutes
5th Day: Visit of the Ruins of Palenque -> 2nd night in Palenque
This day will be one of the most beautiful of your trip to Mexico, you will appreciate the charm of the ruins of Palenque and you will be amazed at the capabilities and potential of a people like that of the Maya. If you take the tour with a guide, as I will advise you in the specific post, you will understand a lot of Mayan culture and you can also take a tour in the forest with a lot of explanations of the various plants and a dip in some natural pools. The duration of the tour is just over 3 hours, the rest of the time you can dedicate to the discovery of Palenque city (even if I don't recommend it) or relax in the hotel since the next day an interminable "crossing" awaits you.
Day 6: Transfer from Palenque to San Cristobal with a visit to Agua Azul and Misol Há -> 1st Night in San Cristobal
From this point on, the itinerary of the trip to Mexico DIY continues in the truest and most genuine Chiapas. On the road from Palenque to San Cristobal are the famous ones Misol Há and Agua Azul waterfalls. In reality Misol Hà is a single waterfall but very impressive.
After stopping in Misol Há, continue on to Agua Azul and here my advice is to stop and enjoy this place to the fullest. I stayed there for a couple of hours if not more. It is a magical place that will surely involve you a lot from many points of view, I will tell you about it in an ad hoc post. Obviously the bathroom is discounted, you will not want to proceed by San Cristobal without having taken a bath in the Agua Azul waterfalls, when does it happen again ?!
From Agua Azul proceed for San Cristobal. Kilometers and kilometers of curves that will take you to 2100 meters of the most important city of Chiapas. These kilometers will make you think, they will introduce you to other sides of Mexico, shades that are not the glossy ones that can be found on the artificial (in some ways) Riviera Maya.
- Palenque -> Misol Há: 27 km - 45 minutes
- Misol Hà -> Agua Azul: 45 km - 55 minutes
- Agua Azul -> San Cristobal: 158 km - 3 hours and 30 minutes
7 ° Day: Visit of San Cristobal and excursion to San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan -> 2nd night
La city of San Cristobal de Las Casas (click to go to the article) will charm you. Enjoy the Plaza 31 de Marzo, stroll down the lively Calle Real de Guadalupe, climb the Cerro di San Cristobal and admire the city from above. If it should be Sunday take a tour of the Cathedral, if you find the mass you will be able to see how the city is deeply and silently religious.
The second part of the day could be dedicated to two excursions to the nearby villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. Many agencies offer you organized and well-paid tours. You can do it all alone in complete autonomy, just set the navigator and the game is done or for more peace of mind buy this tour organized .
- San Cristobal -> San Juan Chamula: 11 km - 25 minutes
Day 8: Autonomous excursion to the Sumidero Canyon -> 3rd night in San Cristobal
If you find a beautiful day you will be faced with an exaggerated show. In case it is a dark day it will still be a beautiful excursion. Also in this case the agencies offer it as a guided tour. Since I like independence, I did everything "DIY". Reach Chiapa de Corzo and from there depart the lances that cross the Canyon.
- San Cristobal -> Chiapa de Corzo: 55 km - 1 hour
Day 9: Transfer to Bacalar lagoon -> 1st night in Bacalar
Considering the distance, considering the topes, considering the limits ... you will spend the whole day in the car. But not all evils come to harm. During this crossing you will see them all the facets of Mexico, you will pass from a poor part of the country linked to agriculture and the manufacturing arts to a slightly richer and paradoxically more idle part of the country (definition of Italian residents). You will see the landscape change radically. From the mountains to the lagoon, from the hills full of corn to the ranches of the plain, from a thousand colors of green to a thousand colors of blue ...
- San Cristobal -> Bacalar: 700 km - 10 hours and 15 minutes
Day 10: Relax in Bacalar lagoon -> 2nd night in Bacalar
La Bacalar lagoon it deserves a stop of at least one day, it was a nice discovery on this trip to Mexico. Unfortunately, I didn't have much luck with the weather and found a not exactly friendly day. Despite this, the colors of the lagoon were fantastic, it really brings peace. Keep your expectations low as regards the country itself: poorly maintained and a bit gloomy.
Day 11: Transfer to Tulum and visit of Coba -> 1st Night in Tulum
A straight road that cannot be straighter will take you to Tulum. Everyone knows Jumpsuit for its beaches and for the beautiful Mayan site overlooking the sea, these are indeed its excellences. The city center is sad though. Growing up around the ring road, this small town is dotted with hotels and resorts to the right and left but doesn't excel in liveliness. Great base for viewing ruins of Cobà, ruins of Tulum and of course enjoy the relaxation of the Caribbean sea. In the late morning / early afternoon, you will reach Cobà. This site was the one that struck me least among the Mayan archaeological sites I visited, but if you are in the area you cannot fail to see it.
- Bacalar Lagoon -> Tulum: 211 km - 2 hours and 20 minutes
- Tulum -> Cobá: 48 km - 45 minutes
Day 12: Visit to the ruins of Tulum and sea at Playa Paraiso beach -> 2nd Night Tulum
First you will reach the ruins of Tulum the more you will see them without the mass tourism that pours into the site every day. The sooner you will conclude your visit to these fascinating testimonies of the Maya and the sooner you will be able to enjoy the Mexican sun of the beautiful Playa Paraiso
Day 13: In search of turtles in Akumal -> 3rd night in Tulum
Another phenomenal beach and bay is that of Akumal with his turtles. I was only there for half a day but it would be worth a whole day because most of the time is spent soaking in search of turtles.
- Tulum -> Akumal: 28 km - 25 minutes
Day 14: Playa Paraiso again
Day 15: Transfer to Puerto Morelos -> Playa Delfines, beach in the Cancun hotel zone
The choice to go to this small town on the Riviera Maya is dictated by the fact of approaching the airport. There Puerto Morelos beach it's not much. So, I preferred to move to a beach that I hadn't budgeted for, Dolphins Beach. I absolutely recommend that you include it in your itinerary in Mexico.
Day 16: Return of the rental car and return to Italy.
Possible alternatives to be included in this travel itinerary
- Cancun area you will have the opportunity to do theexcursion to the island of Holbox . A whole day in contact with nature and you can also swim with whale sharks. I spoke to several people who have had this experience and they were all extremely satisfied. It is an experience that is not cheap, it is certainly something special.
- Isla Mujeres. You could put a hit and run on this well-known island. Initially it was in my plans, then I excluded it as I would have been too tight with the times. Many add it to the itinerary and you could even do something very very beautiful: a catamaran ride to Isla
- Cozumel Island. Another interesting and at the same time larger island to visit. However, I did not investigate it because I was sure I could not include it in my itinerary.
- In the Yucatan it is full of cenotes, I have only visited two. Also in the vicinity of Tulum there are important cenotes such as Dos Ojois with adventurous activities such as diving.
- Merida area, if you have time, you could enter the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. The excursion takes you the whole day but you will be in close contact with unspoiled nature.
- Tulum area there is another biosphere that unfortunately, I have not had time to visit. This is the Sian Ka'an Biosphere
- San Cristobal area there are tons of other possible excursions. Among these is the beautiful Montebello Lagoon. It is a bit far but from the photos it looks gorgeous.
- Other noteworthy Mayan sites: Ek Balam north of Valladolid (I didn't go there but Martina talks very well about it Pimpmytrip), Calakmul in the deep south of the Yucatan almost on the border of Belize, and finally Yaxchilan and Bonampak on the road that leads from Palenque to Guatemala.
Recommended hotels for this trip to Mexico
These are the hotels I've been to, all booked from Italy. For each one I will list the costs incurred and objectively what are the strengths or weaknesses.
The prices shown are for 1 night per double room, NOT per person. They include a private bathroom. They do not include breakfast.
Valladolid -> El Zagual Colonial (click to see the hotel) - 24 €
Located in a secluded position from the center of Valladolid it is the ideal solution to be already in the front row the next morning for the ruins of Chichén Itzá. The environment is very nice, the managers are friendly and the à la carte breakfast is cheap and plentiful.
Value for money: 8
Merida -> Yucatan Vista Inn (click to see hotel) - 30 €
It is not in a great area of Merida, the rooms are dated and the cleanliness leaves something to be desired. The strong point of this accommodation is the quirky and friendly English owner. Certainly a way to improve your pronunciation.
Value for money: 7
Campeche -> Hotel Catedral (click to see the hotel) - 28 €
Perfect location, 5 minutes walk from the beautiful main square. Spacious and clean room with air conditioning. Breakfast in this case included but with little choice.
Value for money: 8
Palenque -> Hotel Villas Kin Ha (click to see the hotel) - 32 €
Palenque doesn't offer much as a city and in fact most of the resorts / hotels are on the road leading to the ruins. The location is therefore great. Only a few kilometers away from the ruins. The hotel is very nice, surrounded by nature. In the evening it is possible to have dinner and the prices are good. The quality of the dishes is also good. Recommended.
Value for money: 8
San Cristobal -> La Garita Cabanas (click to see the hotel) - 12 €
Yes, you read that right, 12 euros for a room with 2 double beds, private bathroom, mini-kitchen and veranda with a view of the city from above. It is a couple of kilometers from the center but with the car it only takes a few minutes. It seems to be (actually it is at 2100 meters) in the mountains and every morning you wake up with a beautiful view. There are also solutions for large groups.
Value for money: 10
Bacalar -> Cabanas Hostal & Camping (click to see the hotel) - 38 €
This is a hostel located at the end of the inhabited area of the Bacalar lagoon. Has shared bathroom and showers. This is cabanas. The hostel is very special. The strong point is the structure on the lagoon complete with hammocks. Also wonderful to see the sunrise from the deck chairs. Breakfast is included and can be continental or Mexican. I recommend this hostel as regards the magical view that you have on the lagoon, as regards the cabanas I recommend them only if you want to have a special experience.
Value for money: 6
Jumpsuit -> Green Tulum (click to see the hotel) - 35 €
Aesthetically beautiful with a very nice central pool. The name suggests that everything is linked to the ecological aspect and obviously also to the green understood as nature. In fact, the rooms are surrounded by greenery. Only the supporting structures are made of concrete; the rest of the furniture is all wood or bamboo. Breakfast is not included but there is a wide choice on the à la carte menu. Prices in Tulum average, a continental desayuno around 80 pesos, or about 4 euros. Very helpful owner.
Value for money: 9
Puerto Morelos -> Hotel Posada Amor (click to see the hotel) - 30 €
It is a few meters from the main square of the town and from the beach itself. The owner was very courteous, a lively and sunny lady. The entrance is very nice and there is also a nice bar where you can have breakfast as if you were at home. In fact, they have espresso and croissants that I struggled a lot to find during my trip to Mexico. The room is nothing special, spartan but clean. No frills. Also recommended for the evening as next to the bar there is a small place where they make excellent cocktails.
Value for money: 8