Mexicans are often surprised to find out that I, an American from the US, had never ridden in a taxi or a tourist travel bus in my entire life, until I moved to Mexico. (No, school buses don’t count) They are then even more surprised to find that I am pretty typical American in that way. We drive, we don’t use taxis or buses. In the US, taxis are very expensive and buses can’t compete with cars and airplanes, so we just don’t use them, which is also why we don’t think of using them as a way to vacation, instead of driving. However letting others do your driving is a far better way to enjoy the area and to prove it, I’m going to give you the ” Ultimate No Driving Quintana Roo Vacation Trip.” Follow the below 7 night trip and see a little bit of all of Mexico’s very best Caribbean towns, and do the entire trip, without a car. You’ll fly into Cancun but head south and enjoy the Riviera Maya towns like Puerto Morelos, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and finally to Costa Maya and Mahahual.
The idea of this trip is to show how the transportation system works and the cost, showing that it often makes more sense to just let someone else drive for you. You might not want to hit all the towns, but I will and you can adjust your trip to better meet your wants and needs. This trip is for the group who want what would typically be called a “modest” vacation package. The hotels are clean and nice, but in the price range for this trip, they are not palatial. The hotels are priced in the $50-$100 US per night range and work well with the buses and taxis. Having said that, let’s go!
When I first arrive in Cancun, after the long flight, customs and immigration and so forth, I’m usually ready to get someplace and chill. I could get to the hotel zone in Cancun in 5 minutes, but I really do not care for the “Orlando Cancun ambiance”, so I’ll instead head south about 15 minutes, to a small town on the ocean called Puerto Morelos. From the airport, there is a very nice first class bus system called the ADO, that does service to Playa Del Carmen, and that is the bus you will take south. This bus goes direct to Playa Del Carmen ($12 US per person) but will stop in Puerto Morelos ($6US per person) if you ask. The driver will drop you at a bus stop on the highway and you can taxi ($5 US) into the oceanfront downtown area from there in about 3-4 minutes. There are usually taxis right there but if not, there is a taxi portal on the other side of the highway, and you just go under the underpass to get to them. Don’t worry, there is an easy pedestrian walk that makes it very easy and safe.
In the downtown, I like Posada Del Moro, a small little hotel that is a block off the main downtown square, or Zocolo. The little picturesque downtown beach has a lighthouse and several shops and restaurants around the zocolo and the surrounding streets. Take your pick, the restaurants are great! The hotel has just a few rooms, and a lovely garden plunge pool area in the center. Not expensive, includes breakfast and the rooms are clean and very comfortable. The walk to the closest beach restaurant is about 2 minutes! Relax, Puerto Morelos, like all the Yucatan peninsula states are very safe and friendly, so you can stroll the town your first night and enjoy the tranquilo ambiance!
In the morning, whenever you are ready, you taxi back to the ADO depot on the east side of the highway, the opposite one you were dropped off at, and buy your ticket to Playa Del Carmen. There is no ticket booth on the west side of the highway, where you board the bus. A bus going there will be by about every half hour or so, depending on the time of day. By the time I get out the the convenience store and start looking at some ceramics for sale next door, the bus stops and away I go. There will be time for ceramics later.
When I arrive in Playa Del Carmen, about a half hour trip, I don’t need a taxi because the bus depot is right on 5th Avenue, just the place I want to be for a day. Lots of great places to stay within easy walking distance.
For this trip, I’m going to splurge and spend $80 a night at Hotel Delphin and get a penthouse room. Three flights of stairs kinda suck, but the view is awesome. You overlook 5th Avenue and the Caribbean Ocean from your private terrace. Each has loungers and a small table and chairs for relaxing with coffee in the morning sunrise. It is just a short 3 block stroll down 5th Avenue from the bus station. And, I’m right in the middle of the 5th Avenue district, the most cosmopolitan and international tourist area in Mexico.
Great shops, restaurants, clubs, galleries and boutique services, all in a safe, clean and most of all, walk-able area. The beach is less than 100 yards away, so I can enjoy any number of beach clubs for the day, or do a bar crawl along 5th avenue. The ADO bus terminal is a hub for many local popular destinations too, so you might want to spend a few days extra in PDC and bus to places like Xel Ha, a popular water park on the ocean, or take a day tour to Chtizenitza. Lots of fun stuff can be day tripped from the ADO terminal.
After a fun afternoon and evening in Playa, I enjoy my breakfast the next morning around the corner at Casa Adela, and do a little shopping I wasn’t sure about last night. By the time I’m done, it is time to go on to Tulum. The ADO has buses going from PDC to Tulum all day, so you can leave anytime you want. The trip is only about 45 minutes and costs about $6 per person. The bus will drop me in the Pueblo area of town, which is the strip along highway 307, the main highway that goes from Cancun on the northern tip of the peninsula, to Chetumal, the state capital at the southern end of the state.
The beaches in Tulum are about a mile away, and a $10 taxi each way for a small car up to 4 people. However, I like the ambiance of the pueblo area of Tulum, and always skip the beach hotels and stay there when I’m passing through. There are many very nice places to stay that are easy walking distance, or a short taxi ride from the bus depot. For this trip, I’ve chosen the Secret Garden Hotel, because it is just a quick 3 block walk from the bus depot, so I don’t need a taxi. This is a nice little place with the most cool little garden areas, and nice clean rooms at a very low cost. The taxi portal is right by the bus station, so when I’m ready to do the beach crawl in the morning, I can get there in just a few minutes. But for this afternoon, I’m going to just stay in the pueblo and shop my way to lunch.
Back on the main drag, there are many places to choose from that are great, but I like the guys at the Mariachi Restaurant a few blocks down. A big plate of alambre and lots of ice cold beers in the shady, open aired dining room is a great way to spend a few hours. I’ll shop the other side of the street on the way back, and perhaps hit one of the garden hammocks back at The Secret Garden for an hour siesta to rest up for the evening. Happy hour at one of the sidewalk restaurants, where you can spend several hours meeting people from all over the world. There are many to choose from, so try a couple. Each usually have their specialty drink you might not want to miss. When I finally get hungry again, it is late enough that Diaz Tacos is open, so away I go for steak tacos and cokes. No they don’t have beer, so don’t ask! I just go for the tacos. After that, if I still have any energy, I might have a few tequilas at one of local night spots, before strolling back to the hotel.
In the morning, after big breakfast, I’ll take a backpack with blanket, sunscreen and a wad of money, and away I’ll go on my Tulum beach crawl. I love the Tulum beach, especially the south end of it, closer to the entrance of the Sian Kaan biosphere. That is an area with sparsely spread out little cabana boutique hotels and restaurants. I just have the driver drop me somewhere before the Sian Kaan entrance, and I just start walking back from there. I stop along the way to swim, go into the little restaurants and have something cold to drink or eat, or perhaps a massage, many of which are offered at various places. I must say, Tulum attracts an interesting mix of tourists and I always meet some of the most fascinating people on the beaches there. When I have had enough cerveza and sun, I just walk out to the road and a taxi going back into town will pass by in less than 5 minutes. If you are in a restaurant, most can call their driver friend too, and they will be happy to come and take you back. Depending on far you walked, the rate back to town usually about $10 US. A shower and the last night out on the town before the 9:00 AM bus to Mahahhual.
For an early riser like me, the 9:00 AM bus leaves plenty of time for breakfast before the ride. For the last minute guy, there is fresh coffee and packaged snacks at the ADO terminal before you get on the bus. It usually arrives in Mahahual around 11:30 and drops you in the center of the downtown. There are taxis right there that can take you to your in-town hotel for $20 to $30 pesos. ($2-$3 US) There are always taxis waiting right there. For me, I scored big time, because my concierge found me an off the beaten path place, an apartment above his friends restaurant, for $90 US a night! It is a studio apartment that the owner rents out when he is not using it, so it has everything; queen size bed, kitchenette and most important, an oceanfront balcony! The beach club downstairs is closed for the low season, except for Saturday night, when it is disco night. No problema, I won’t be here that night, so they can party all night and it will not bother me.
Since I’m located right on the malecon, I can take my pick of beach clubs and restaurants for hanging out in during the day. Since I want to relax a little and enjoy what is the most beautiful beach in Mexico, I’ll pull up a lounger at the Tropicante and enjoy cold drinks and great food the first afternoon. No need for a taxi this day, as it is an easy stroll there and to all the downtown malecon area. A trip to one of the area reefs on a snorkel boat costs me $25 US and they provide everything. After that, an hour massage on the beach and a few more cold cervezas in the lounger. Ahhh … Mahahual!
For dinner, I’m going to go to Padrino’s, a local evening sports bar/neighborhood restaurant, in hopes of catching a big game I want to see. I’m lucky, they have it, as well as an evening special of cochinita pebil, one of my favorites. Slow cooked and shredded pork in a citrus pepper sauce, with purple onions and habanero salsa. A couple Modelo Negras and it becomes the perfect bar dinner. Que rico! After dinner, I stroll a couple blocks to the taxi portal, and grab a $20 peso ($2 US) back to my apartment. It is only a 10 minute easy stroll, but the dinner and the cervezas are saying take the taxi.
In the morning, my concierge has the taxi pick me up ($20 pesos) and drop me at Native Choice for my trip to Chacchoben ruins and village. We spend most of the day touring the ruins, which are an hour away, and then go into the village and meet locals and even had a local lunch. Amazing trip, and a really great bunch of people. When we returned, there was still time for a swim before dinner. Blue Kay, a beach club and cabana hotel is next door so I hit the water and snorkel around for an hour before bellying up to their beach bar for a cold cerveza. That of course leads back to the balcony chase lounge, which of course leads to siesta before dinner at Ibiza Sunrise. After dinner, I’m going to try my hand at the pool tournament at Carolina’s Bodegita neighborhood bar.
For day three in Mahahual, I’m going to go remote. My concierge has set up a taxi to take me to a small remote beach hotel, Mayan Beach Garden, about a half hour north of Mahahual. The round trip is $80 US, which is pretty much what a car rental, full insurance and gas costs per day, so it is really not that bad. And, I don’t have to drive! The driver dropped us and agreed to pick us up 6 hours later and we were able to pay him when he returned to get us. That assured us he would return on time, and he did, just as our concierge had promised. Mayan Beach Garden is a small boutique hotel with their own restaurant that serves unique local dishes. The owners are from the US, and they do a great job. I strolled beaches, snorkeled some of the most incredible areas, ate and drank all day and even napped a while in a hammock. If you want to have a perfect beach day with no crowds and a slice of paradise all to your self, do a remote beach day from Mahahual.
For the last night in Mahahual, I chose the restaurant at Luna De Plata. This is an Italian place, one of the oldest restaurants in Mahahual, that serves traditional and Caribbean style Italian dishes, like lobster pastas and shrimp ravioli. Watch the moon rise over the ocean from their upstairs dining area. Spectacular! Again, because it is on the downtown malecon, no need to taxi. Enjoy the oceanfront stroll back!
The next day, it is flight out day, so I have an afternoon flight to the US. I have arranged to take the AGI shuttle back to the airport. This is a direct service they run on the weekends and costs $70 US per person. They leave from the Tropicante, so I just walk there, grab a coffee, and check my email while I wait for the 7:00 AM shuttle bus. By mid-day, I’m at the airport and ready to fly home. A whole week along the Mexican Caribbean and I didn’t have to drive a bit. And neither do you!
Let your concierge help you set this same trip up for you. No worry, we can customize the trip for you. Your perfect trip is no problem for us, so just let us know when you are ready. Hurry too, we’re keepin’ your drinks cold. Cheers!