While the COVID19 pandemic is not over, only a few countries are now open for tourism. And Mexico is one of them! We are very happy that we have a lot of time to explore the country, but we fully understand that it is not the case for everybody. In this article, we want to show you that even with 10 or 15 days off, you can have a great time here in Mexico, in the Riviera Maya. Therefore, we created this complete itinerary to the Riviera Maya, packed with useful information. Additionally, we want to show you that it is possible to travel using only public transport – and not missing out on anything! Traveling by car certainly has a lot of advantages, but if you do not feel confident doing so, let us show you how amazing traveling by public transport can be!
* Remember to check your local travel restrictions before booking your next trip.*
As this article is a bit longer than our usual ones, we have split it into two main parts: the overview and the details. In the overview, you’ll find a map summarizing the different places we recommend you check out. In the detailed part, you’ll find a summary of each place, including the cost of going to these places by public transport, as well as a link to the full article when available. Enjoy!
Itinerary to the Riviera Maya: the Overview.
In order to give you an idea of the size of Mexico, the first map here below shows how small this part of the country is! The itinerary starts in Cancún, heads to Isla Mujeres, and then down to Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. From there, make your way to Tulum and Cobá before spending a couple of days in Bacalar.
Zooming in on the map, see below some more details of the route, along the Quintana Roo’s coast.
Details of the Itinerary.
Cancún is probably the most known place on Earth for parties and beautiful beaches. Thus, many travelers choose to arrive in Mexico through Cancún International Airport as it’s very easy and convenient. It’s a perfect gateway to the Yucatán peninsula. We have not stayed in Cancún very long as this is not the kind of place we are looking for, but after a long flight, it is always a good thing to chill there for a couple of nights before continuing your trip. And if you can find a good deal for an all-inclusive hotel right by the sea, it’s a win-win!
From Cancún, we quickly moved to the cute, yet tiny island of Isla Mujeres for a few days. The island has more of a backpacker and relaxed vibe than Cancún, and it was the perfect place to rest for a few days. Isla Mujeres is easily reachable from Cancún by the Ultramar ferry (300 pesos or US$14/11€ return tickets). And it only takes 15min. Keep in mind that there are different departure points to reach Isla Mujeres (Cancún Downtown or Cancún Hotel Zone), and prices might differ based on the route.
On the island, you can walk pretty much everywhere, but in order to reach some further places, you can rent a golf car, or use taxis (north to south by taxi, 100 pesos/US$5/4€).
Lastly, and despite being small, there are a few great things you can do on the island:
- Relax on Playa Norte.
- Take care of turtles in Tortugranja.
- Zipline over the turquoise water of Playa Garrafón.
- Explore Punta Sur with iguanas.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is like a little Cancún. A place where the party is everywhere! It is a great destination if you want to enjoy some time off with friends, in an easy-going town. Playa del Carmen is also cheaper than Cancún therefore perfect for a small budget! You may want to go there for the party but also if you are going to Cozumel, as this is where the ferries to the island are departing.
There are a lot of options to get there (from Cancún) by public transport. But the cheapest and most convenient is the minibus called “Playa Express”. The ticket is 42 pesos (US$2,1/1,7€) per person per way.
The island of Cozumel is a must-see if you are into snorkeling and/or diving. The island has some of the most beautiful reefs near its coast and is easily accessible by taking a tour or going to some of the beach clubs in the south of San Miguel de Cozumel (we recommend you check out Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park).
Except for the city of San Miguel, the island is covered in jungle. You can easily rent a car, scooter, or bike for the day and drive around the island, beach hopping, swimming, or searching for the nicest reef! A rental bike for the day is about 200 pesos (US$10/8,2€) and a scooter 400 pesos (US$20/16,4€), while a rental car is approximately 1000 pesos (US$50/41€). If you have the time, head towards Punta Sur Eco Beach Park for beautiful views and turquoise water.
The island is easily reachable from Playa del Carmen, using Ultramar or Winjet. The ticket price is standard 450 pesos (US$22,5/18,4€) return, and the ride takes about 30 minutes.
Tulum’s reputation has grown a lot over the past years and is currently peaking due to the increase of remote workers and digital nomads. Indeed, Tulum is an increasingly popular destination among young travelers looking for a cool, cheap yet trendy destination to drop their bags for a couple of days or weeks.
But let’s face it, Tulum is a great destination for any traveler looking for a great beach holiday, amazing food, and a lot of activities in the city’s surroundings. Lastly, the city is easily accessible by car, using highway 307 from Cancún or Playa del Carmen, but also with public transport either from the earlier mentioned cities or directly from Cancún airport (check out ADO for rates and destinations).
Cobá is an archeological site, roughly 45 kilometers away from Tulum. In our opinion, a must-see in this itinerary to the Riviera Maya. While you can stay overnight in Cobá, there are a couple of hotels and restaurants, but visiting the Mayan ruins together with the nearby cenotes is easily doable on a day trip. We thought that this site was one of the nicest ones to visit, as it is less crowded than Tulum ruins or Chichén Itzá and being in the middle of the jungle has something special too.
When in Cobá, there are three cenotes near the archeological site. Bike rentals are available in the village and the entrance to the cenote is 100 pesos (each/US$5 – 4€).
How to get to Cobá?
If you have a car, you can use the QROO road 109, “Cobá”. It is indicated all along and once you reach the town, the archeological site is just down the road – also indicated.
If you are using public transportation, there is one ADO bus per day (9.30 AM – sometimes return bus at 2 PM but should be confirmed at the ADO bus station), which cost 55 pesos (US$2.7/2.3€). However, if the schedule does not fit you, there are also colectivos (shared taxis) going there for 130 pesos per person (US$ 6.5/5.4€). A taxi would cost 500 pesos (US$25/20.5€) one way or 1000 pesos (US$50/41€) for the whole day, waiting time included.
A world-famous and reknown lagoon, located 215 kilometers south of Tulum. This is also our last stop on the Riviera Maya and southernmost point. Bacalar is a small village on the side of a beautiful lagoon, known for having 7 shades of white and blue. When visiting, just after the hurricanes and heavy rains, we could not see any of the lagoon’s shades and therefore it was a bit disappointing. If you are planning on visiting this area (which you should), check on some social media the water conditions and weather so you can plan your excursion accordingly.
As previously mentioned, Bacalar is a small and quiet village, but there are still quite a few things you can do!
- Rent a kayak and explore the lagoon.
- Go to the cenote Agua Azul (entrance 25 pesos/US$1,25/1€).
- Have a drink at the Akalki Hotel.
- Enjoy some sushi (or a drink) at Damajuana.
- Relax in the hammacs of “Los Cocalitos” (entrance 35 pesos/US$1,75/1,4€).
- Visit the fort of San Felipe.
Lastly, you can easily get to Bacalar if you have a car, you may use highway 307, directly from Tulum. If you are using public transport, there are a few buses every day from Tulum. The ride takes nearly 3 hours and costs around 300 pesos (US$15/12,2€).
⇒ And this is a wrap for this complete itinerary to the Riviera Maya, Mexico! If you have any additional recommendations, make sure to add them in the comments below. If you are looking for information on where to eat, sleep, etc. make sure to follow us on Mapstr (@thenorthernitinerary), all the places where we ate and slept are listed.
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