Can you give me driving instructions from Cancun? It is an ongoing question and therefore one it is much easier to answer in the blog. Now I all I need to do is forward the link, and you can too!
The drive is actually very simple; turn right when you leave the airport and don’t turn again for about 4 hours until you see the giant sign that shows the left turn to Mahahual. Once you turn there, you can’t get lost since the road ends at the downtown oceanfront’s signature spot, the Mahahual Lighthouse. In some ways it is that simple. However, if you know a few details, like what lane for thru traffic to avoid city congestion along the way, or where the simple on and off gas stations are, it makes the drive easier and more enjoyable, as well as just another fun and interesting part of the trip.
The drive from Cancun airport to Mahahual is almost all on Hwy 307, the main traffic artery that connects Cancun, the State of Quintana Roo’s largest city located on its north tip, to Chetumal, the state capital at the south end of the state. The highway is a nicely done and a very well traveled road, with the first third being a 4 lane divided highway and the last two thirds being on a rural 2 lane, but nicely marked and shouldered, and recently built road. Almost all drivers will find this entire stretch of highway a very simple road to drive.
The Cancun airport is located on the southern edge of the city, so when you leave the airport, you will not need to go into the city. You will instead turn right, or south, on the only road that leaves the airport and onto Hwy 307. After you leave the airport terminal area, just get into the right lane which exits onto the highway. If you need gas, there are many easy on and off gas stations for the first hour and a half of driving. After that, when you pass Tulum, they become more scarce. If you need shopping for basic supplies, your best bet is to hit one of the large modern super stores along the way.
Once on the highway, you will drive about 15 minutes, where the first town you come into will be Puerto Morelos. Few will need to go into this town unless you are staying there for the night, (It is a great little town for any looking for a close place to the airport) so as you approach the town, stay in the left lane, as the right lane will be forced to exit from the thru portion of the highway onto the service road area for the town. This will take you through a couple stop lights before you will be then merged back out onto the highway. Just a waste of 5 minutes, so stay left as you approach Puerto Morelos.
After you pass Puerto Morelos, it is next stop Playa Del Carmen. It is along this stretch of highway where you will almost always encounter something you seldom see on the highways in Mexico; police radar. Careful to watch your speed as you go into and out of Playa Del Carmen, because this is one of the few places where the police will be watching it too. They love pulling over speeding gringos! You will also come to your first police “filter”. These are typical in Mexico, police budgets do not allow a car for every police, so filters are set up usually to slow traffic and allow police to find the bad guys. There are few roads here so instead of chasing the bad guys, they just wait. Cheaper and it seems to work because we don’t have many bad guys here. Just slow down as you approach and they usually allow all to just pass through. If they are looking for someone specifically, they might stop each car and look inside, but that is typical too, so don’t worry. If you are a car load of wild looking characters, the vehicle looks unsafe or suspicious, (yes, they profile in Mexico) they might ask you to pull to the side. Otherwise, don’t worry, they are just doing their job.
As you approach the city, the thru traffic should stay in the left lane and it will save you at least 10 to 20 minutes. Again, like in Puerto Morelos, the right lane becomes the city access lane. However, Playa Del Carmen is much larger, with lots more traffic lights and congestion at those lights. Lots of interesting stuff and some restaurants and such, so if you are not in a hurry, some might find some of the places interesting and want to stop in. The fastest way to get through Playa Del Carmen though is to stay left on the highway as you approach the city and take the thru traffic lanes like you did in Puerto Morelos.
After you have cleared PDC, there are no more stops until Tulum. You will pass the entry into many of the Riviera Maya’s nicest resorts along this stretch of highway. Both Xel Ha and Xcaret, two very popular water adventure parks are located along this stretch, as well as Puerto Adventuras and Akumal, very popular resort towns. Next stop is Tulum.
You will have been traveling for about an hour and a half when you arrive there and perhaps you are getting hungry or want to stop and buy some supplies, so this is a good area for both. There is a new and easy to get into and out of Chedraui Super Store in Tulum that is a grocery store, but also very good for things you forgot like sunscreen, a cooler, pharmacy or even a bathing suit or beach towel. They also have the best selection of beer, spirits, wine, as well as ATMs. As you come into Tulum, turn left at the first light that goes to the beach and the store is about ¼ mile down and on the left. (Hint: It is always good to use your bank cards at stores like this because they will give you the best exchange rate of anyone, which is the bank rate, usually 5-10% more than local exchange companies or businesses that take US dollars.)
If you are getting hungry, Tulum is a good place to stop, stretch and perhaps grab a bite to eat. As you come into town you will pass a Pemex gas station on your left and within a mile you will see another on your right, just before that Pemex on the right is a large “tope”, or speed bump. There is a really great fish and shrimp taco place on the right just as you cross that bump. It is a little palapa restaurant that is fast, cheap and really good tacos. You can’t miss it! If you drive further into town, you will find a glorieta (traffic roundabout) a few blocks after the first red light. If you want to try one of the many great restaurants along Tulum’s main drag, take the lane to the right at the glorieta and go down the services road. Just park anywhere along that stretch and stroll and you will find everything from Argentine steaks to tacos and pizza. Great shopping too, if you have the time. Once you are done, Tulum’s main drag is your same Hwy 307, so away you can easily jump right back on the road again. There is gas on the outskirts of Tulum’s south side, so if you are getting low, this is the last gas for almost an hour.
As you leave the south side of Tulum the road will narrow to 2 lanes and there is a new police filter there. From here on, it become almost all rural with the highway cut through thick jungle areas. The next town of any size is Felipe Carrillo Puerto and is about 45-50 minutes away. The fastest way through town is to stay on the main highway and go slow through the center. The street gets narrow and is crowded with activity so you need to watch for bicycles and double parked cars. It is a small city and takes about 5 minutes from one side to the other. In the center of the town is glorieta, and the surrounding area is the market area. If you have time, park and walk the couple blocks around that glorieta for amazing fruits, veggies, spices and even local clothing, handcrafts and supply stores. This is a Mayan town and the market is a real market, not a made for tourism attraction. No English here so get ready. There is gas in Felipe Carrillo Puerto and the easiest to get in and out of is the first one you see coming into town on the right. It is also the last gas until you reach Mahahual.
After leaving Felipe Carrillo Puerto, you will again travel another 45-50 minutes on another 2 lane stretch of road that is very similar to the area you just traveled to the south of Tulum. When you reach the small town of Lemones, you will be a couple kilometers from the turn to Mahahual. The signs are huge and you cannot miss the left turn. At this point, you are 56 kilometers from Mahahual and the drive should take you about 35 minutes. At the kilometer 10, there is a military checkpoint and you will most likely be asked to stop for a possible inspection. No worry, these guys, the military, are always professional and courteous. Checkpoints are common and really nothing to be concerned about. The easier you make their job, roll down your windows and turn on inside lights if it is night as you approach for example, usually the faster you get through.
As you approach Mahahual, at about kilometer 52, there is road that turns to the right, the Xcalak highway, that goes to the town of Xcalak and the end of Mexico. Continuing on toward Mahahual, you will then pass the only Pemex gas station in town and just past that is Tampalam Road, which goes to the north beach areas of Rio Indio, Placer and Ubero, as well as the south entry to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. Continuing on, you will eventually run right into Mahahual’s downtown oceanfront and lighthouse. Just before the lighthouse is a left turn that goes to the Puerto Costa Maya and through the newer residential area known as “Nuevo Mahahual”, or locally just called the “casitas”. The right turn just before the lighthouse takes you into the downtown area and emerges on the south beach road.
And it is as simple as that. The drive is safe and very easy and most can do it in about 4-4 ½ hours of driving time. Ask your concierge for more specific details or a custom itinerary designed especially for your group’s needs and schedule. http://sandalsandskis.com/Itinerary.html If you know how to do and find what you need, the drive to Mahahual can be just another fun part of the fun and adventure. It is a great way to really see and enjoy real Mexico, which is a place once explored, is loved forever. Saludos!