Is Mexico Safe For Solo Female Travelers?

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When I told my friends, family and co-workers that I had decided to travel to Mexico for 12 days on my own, I received mixed reactions. “You’re going to Mexico?!” said a lot of them, with a tone of disapproval and concern for my safety.

A lot of people thought I was crazy for traveling to Mexico, especially going solo, alluding to their perception of Mexico as a dangerous country for solo female travelers. One person even said to me, “I hope you come back home alive.” That was quite a shocking sentiment to hear! There were so many questions. What if I got kidnapped? Murdered? Caught in the crossfire of drug cartel violence or gang shootings? Everyone was worried about me. I told them I would be meeting fellow travelers along the way and would be staying in hostels, but in saying this, their list of fears only grew. Every time someone told me that they were concerned for my safety in Mexico, it created doubts in my mind about how safe I would really be traveling there and I questioned my decision to travel solo, so many times. I had conducted thorough and detailed research, spending countless hours browsing through travel blogs and forums, and there was a common theme of how safe people said they felt in the Yucatan. I was convinced that everything was going to be alright. But despite my research, I still had some doubts in the back of my mind. I thought that maybe I should just cancel my flights and stay at home in the safety and comfort of my own home. I had fears and anxieties too and so many questions ran through my mind like, “What if I don’t make friends?” “What if I get lost and can’t find my way back?” “What if I get murdered?” “What if I can’t speak the language or navigate the language barrier?” “What if I get robbed?”

When you do something against the expectations and the norms of the majority of society, people start to notice. Traveling solo is not considered “normal” by many people in the older generations. Society expects us to conform to the typical lifestyle of the majority, namely; going to university/college, getting a typical “real-world” career in the 9-5 world, climbing the corporate ladder, getting married, buying a house, having children, working your entire life while going on one short vacation every year, and finally, retiring and only then, pursuing your passions and traveling. If you stray too far from this life projectory and question the status quo, people will start to question your decisions and often disapprove. When people see others make the same choices as themselves, they find validation in their own choices. This helps to reinforce that their decisions were “good” and that they are “normal,” by following society’s expected life path. However, when they see someone who is choosing to make a different decision by going against the majority and doing something considered to be “unconventional,” they start to question the past decisions they have made and this brings about an insecurity about whether they have made the “right” ones.

When you tell people that are going to be traveling solo, they often impose their own insecurities onto you. Don’t let these impositions influence your decision of whether or not to go to Mexico.

Obviously, I didn’t cancel my plans and I did travel solo. I faced my fears, ventured into the great unknown and took a big step outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t let the opinions of other people influence my decision to go. I didn’t let other people impose their own insecurities onto me. I went against what the majority sees as “acceptable.” I learned a lot about myself in the process of solo traveling and about the world, the Mexican culture and other people. It was a life-changing experience and I would encourage all women to travel solo at least once in their lifetime.

The people I told about my upcoming solo travels, told me how brave they thought I was to be traveling alone to Mexico. They reiterated that was something they would never even consider doing. I felt like people thought I wasn’t capable and that made me want to prove it to them even more, that I could travel alone successfully and safely. I am tired of women being portrayed as weak and not as capable as men, of traveling solo. If a man informed his friends and family that he was traveling solo, he would likely not receive the same level of concerned reactions. Us women are just as strong and capable as men and we need to prove it!

The same people that were telling me how dangerous Mexico was as a travel destination, were most often also those who either: A. Had never been to Mexico but were basing their assumptions and knowledge of the country from media reports and things other people had told them, B. Had been to Mexico but not recently, and C. Had been to Mexico but only stayed at all-inclusive resorts while never venturing to see the “real” side of Mexico.

Take the advice and warnings that these kinds of people will give you, with a grain of salt, but definitely do some follow-up research on their concerns about the safety of Mexico. In addition, take the government travel advisories with a grain of salt as well. They want to cover their butts if anything happens to tourists there, so their reports about safety in a country are often very grim-sounding and negative. If travel advisories are your sole source of information, the doom and gloom writing of these advisories will have you start believing that the entire world is too dangerous to explore!

Consult non-biased (ie. not media reports) and recent sources. These can include travel forums like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum and Trip Advisor and travel blogs of bloggers who have been there recently. Get in touch with bloggers and ask them about their experiences, safety and how comfortable they felt in Mexico. Type into Google, “solo female safety in ____ (place).” Ask questions about safety on travel forums to other travelers who have been there.

But remember to keep in mind that everybody’s experience is subjective, not objective. You will have a different experience than other people and everyone has differing perceptions of a place. Don’t choose not to go to Mexico, just because one person you talked to or read about, got robbed there or had another bad experience.

When you come across people with negative experiences, look at the circumstances surrounding the experience to determine how likely you believe these types of experiences will happen in the future. Did the incident happen at night? Did it happen in a well-populated or isolated area? Was the individual involved behaving in a way that disregards typical safety precautions (ie. were they walking drunk, on a rural road, late at night?) or disrespects the local culture (ie. were they dressed in a way that the locals would perceive as inappropriate?)? Was this event perhaps provoked by the individual or someone else involved? Are there ways that this incident could have been prevented (maybe by choosing not to walk late at night on a rural road)? What can you do (steps to take) prevent incidents like this happening to yourself or anyone else?

Find out which areas of a city or place are not recommended as safe places to visit. Every city has a “ghetto” where bad things are more likely to happen. Find out where these areas are. Ask the locals or hostel staff when you arrive in your destination about the areas that you should avoid. Ask people on travel forums and read blogs to get an idea before you leave.

When a lot of people think of Mexico, they often picture a dangerous country with lots of drug and gang violence, murders and kidnappings. This type of image comes from the way the media portrays Mexico in the mainstream news. Whenever there is a headline story about Mexico, it almost always focuses on crime and violence, and often involving tourists. This kind of image sticks in peoples’ minds and the news is often the sole source where people get their information from. Often times, you will not find people doing further research with other sources, such as travel blogger websites and travel forums. The problem is that the media tends to sensationalize these stories and as a result, imply that the violence in Mexico is generalized and occurs everywhere in the country.

There is definitely crime and violence in Mexico, but not at the frequency that the media will have you believe and not all regions of Mexico are dangerous. Traveling to some of the northern and central states would present far more risks to travelers than going to the Yucatan, Campeche, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo or Chiapas. These states have the best safety record and the lowest crime statistics in the country. The occurrence of crime against tourists as well as locals, is very low.

There will be crime and violence in every city, and every country in the world. You can’t avoid it. However, in Mexico, the majority of crime is concentrated in the northern Mexican states that border the United States, or along the Pacific Coast.

The truth is that the Yucatan Peninsula is a very safe area of Mexico, safer than you might think. The peninsula is known to have the lowest crime rate of all the states in Mexico, with less crime than most major US cities. Visiting the Yucatan Peninsula (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) as a first-time solo female traveler, I felt completely safe walking in the towns and cities alone and with friends, during the day and at night, in all neighbourhoods and areas. I felt safe taking the public bus transportation (ADO company) alone. The ADO buses in Mexico are very safe, convenient, and comfortable. I also felt very safe staying in hostel dorms as a solo traveler. It was always easy to meet fellow travelers and the hostels I stayed at had very friendly and relaxed atmospheres, which I loved.

The key for solo female safety, is to use the same common sense that you would use anywhere in the world, even in your home city. Be aware of your surroundings and belongings, stay alert to what is happening around you, do your research and educate yourself about safety concerns and common scams in your destination, secure your valuables, blend in to the local life as much as possible, and walk with confidence.

It shocks me when I hear people saying that all regions of Mexico are unsafe for travelers. If you take the time to read travel forums and blogs about traveler’s recent experiences traveling in Mexico, you will know that this is largely untrue and most people have positive experiences. What people don’t understand is that Mexico is a big country and there are some places where you are more likely to encounter dangerous situations than others. Just like the United States, there are cities and neighbourhoods in Mexico with more crime than others. You wouldn’t hear someone advising you not to visit the United States just because the city of Chicago has a high crime rate. It’s the same for Mexico. Some cities and regions have high crime rates but many don’t, and many are safer than you might think. Bad things can happen anywhere in the world, not just in Mexico. I believe that solo females traveling to Mexico are no more unsafe than they are in their own home countries and cities. There is always the chance that you will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I you take the normal safety precautions and have some common sense, it is unlikely that you will encounter any trouble in Mexico.

Your safety in Mexico and in any country, depends on many factors. Thing like your behaviour and the general precautions that you take to protect yourself, are both areas that you have the power to control. Be aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times. Dress respectfully of the culture and place you are visiting. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t drink to excess and lose all inhibitions. Don’t start fights with people and provoke others. These are things that are all common sense and should be followed anywhere you go, even in your home city. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is something that you have no control over. Don’t stress yourself out thinking about all of the worst case scenarios that could happen to you in Mexico. Negative and harmful events and situations can happen anywhere you go, not just in Mexico. Do what you can to protect yourself and stay safe, and don’t worry about the rest.

As a society, we need to stop making excuses for not traveling to certain places and stop letting fear hold us back from exploring new territories. You can never be guaranteed of your safety, anywhere in the world, even in your own city. All you have to do is use common sense, listen to your gut instinct if you feel like something is “off,” and be assessing your level of risk in any situation or place.

Mexico is a country that is filled with diversity, from beautiful beaches to mountainous canyons to lush jungles to deserts to awe-inspiring ancient Mayan ruins to varieties of unique cenotes to small authentic villages to charming Spanish colonial cities and more. The food is also delicious. The Mexican people are very welcoming, friendly and helpful and I experienced this first-hand when I traveled in the Yucatan.

Mexico is an amazing country and is very easy to navigate for first-time solo female travelers and backpackers. The public bus transportation system (ADO) is convenient, safe, and comfortable and is better than the transportation systems in many Canadian and US cities. The first class ADO buses have air conditioning, luggage storage at the bottom of the bus, washrooms and Spanish movies playing on TVs at the front of the bus. Second class buses are often older first-class bus models but are still comfortable and safe. They do not have washrooms or movies, however. Colectivos are white 12-person shuttle vans that are a cheap, safe and convenient way of getting around in the Mayan Riviera area and in the Yucatan. They have no fixed schedule and leave from their destination when they have enough people to fill each seat in the shuttle van. I felt very safe taking colectivos. I took a few taxis with hostel friends and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe (except for some of the drivers who would speed down long stretches of highway!). There are hostels in pretty much every town and city and the ones I stayed at were charming, friendly, and relaxed and I had an overall wonderful experience. I never felt unsafe in the hostels I stayed at, they were located in quiet and safe neighbourhoods and I always felt like my valuables and belongings were secure in the hostel dorm lockers.

Tips for Solo Female Travelers to Mexico:

Use the same common sense that you would in your own cityBe aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times. Be cautious but not paranoid. Look around you, pay attention to what is going on and make observations.

Listen to and trust your gut instinct when a person, environment or situation doesn’t feel right or uncomfortable. Leave the environment or walk away from the person and don’t be afraid of offending anyone. Remember, your safety is your top priority.

Research your destination before you leave – Know the culture, customs, dress, safety issues and common scams. Know how the public transportation works. Research the safety of the neighbourhoods and destinations where you’re staying, by reading travel forums (Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and Trip Advisor), blogs and reviews of hostels. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for online, then post your own specific questions to travel forums and wait for other travelers to respond. Once you arrive at your destination, ask the locals, hostel staff or tourist information centre which areas, streets and neighbourhoods are safe for solo women.

Walk with confidence and always look like you know where you’re going – Even if you are lost, don’t pull out your map or guidebook in public and trying to figure out where you are or where you need to go. You instantly become a target and can be easily taken advantage of because you are a lost tourist. If you need to consult your map, go into a restaurant or store to do so, or ask the staff at a local shop or restaurant to give you directions to your destination, and to show you on the map. You want to avoid looking like a naive tourist, if you can. When you’re exploring a new city, look straight ahead when you’re walking, look like you’re on a mission and know where you’re going. Study your map before you leave and plan your route, if it makes you feel more comfortable. Give off the vibe that you’re not someone to be messed with.

Don’t get drunk and don’t walk back to your accommodation alone at night – This should be very common sense. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re traveling. You are a prime target when you’re drunk and when you’re walking alone and you can easily be taken advantage of or harmed.

Safeguard your valuables – Cash, credit and debit cards, your VISA or tourist card and your passport and other identification should be kept either on your person (in a locked compartment in your daypack or in a money belt) or locked away in a hostel safe or secure locker in your hostel dorm at all times.

Blend in as much as possible – Don’t wear expensive jewelry or clothing, and don’t publicly advertise your wealth (ie. Don’t be pulling out your expensive camera or iPhone while walking down the street all the time).

Ignore catcalls and potential street harassment – You may experience some street harassment from local men, usually in the form of stares, whistles, or shouts from cars or trucks driving by. During the day, this is generally harmless and these people will likely not going to cause you harm. There is usually a lot of people during the day on the streets and it’s unlikely that someone would take a chance on making too much of a scene. Just ignore it and keep walking with confidence. Don’t respond to it. Don’t turn and look at them and don’t make eye contact. I only experienced this once in Valladolid, Mexico, when a group of friends and I were walking in the evening back to our hostel from a restaurant. A truck with Mexican men sitting in the back, whistled as they drove by us. It was harmless and although this is always a slightly uncomfortable experience for most women, I did not feel scared or concerned in any way.

Dress respectfully of the culture – The Mexican culture is very conservative and they tend to dress as such. The locals do not wear shorts (unless they’re visiting the beach) and the women do not wear revealing clothing.

Try to plan it so your flight arrives in your destination during the day – It would make me nervous to be arriving in a new city in a foreign country in the middle of the night. It is more difficult to locate transportation to your accommodation and you have to be more aware of everything around you at night, especially as a solo female. If you arrive during the day, you have time to get oriented in your destination and explore your surroundings a little.

Safety before budget – Choose hostels or other accommodations in areas that feel safe to you, even it costs a little more than you would like to pay. Choose transportation that has a better safety record than taking chicken bus type of transportation, if you feel uncomfortable. Always put your own safety first, even if you’re on a budget. Your life is worth more than saving a few dollars.

Learn some of the language – Bring a phrasebook with you and learn some basic phrases and sentences before leaving home. Know how to order food, buy a bus ticket, and how to ask for help and directions.

When taking taxis, ask the price before getting into the vehicle and negotiate if you do not feel that the price is fair. Whenever I took taxis in Mexico, I was always with hostel friends. I felt completely safe taking taxis and I would have no hesitation in taking them even if I were alone.

These safety tips apply to anywhere you go, not just Mexico. They are universal.

So is it safe to travel to Mexico alone? Absolutely. Through my 12 days in Mexico, I took public buses, colectivos and taxis, rode bicycles, stayed at hostels, walked alone during the day, walked with friends during the evening and at night and traveled independently to ruins and cenotes.

I never felt like I was in danger and always felt safe through all of these experiences and situations. I never heard about any crimes against tourists occurring in the areas I was traveling through (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) or against any fellow travelers. I met many other solo female travelers who were doing the same thing as I was and none of them had experienced any troubles along their journeys.

Just trust your instincts, use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times, and blend in as much as possible. Take the same safety precautions you should always take when traveling anywhere, or even in your home city.

Here are some more resources about solo female safety in Mexico:

http://indianajo.com/2014/10/is-mexico-safe-part-1.html

http://indianajo.com/2014/10/is-mexico-safe-someone-part-2.html

http://twenty-somethingtravel.com/2014/02/lets-talk-safety-mexico/

http://globetrottergirls.com/2010/08/travel-in-mexico-safe-or-not/

http://wherespablo.com/safe-travel-mexico-solo-female/

http://www.ismexicosafe.org/

http://www.curiositytravels.org/safe-places-to-visit-in-mexico/

http://bigtravelnut.com/solo-woman-in-mexico/

http://www.wanderingearl.com/is-mexico-safe-to-visit/

http://howsafeismexico.com/

http://discovershareinspire.com/2012/02/uhhh-mexico-wheres-all-the-danger-a-recap-of-what-its-really-like/

http://revolutionfromhome.com/2013/04/the-mexico-you-dont-see-on-the-nightly-news/

http://www.la-viajera.com/2012/01/02/mexico-tropical-paradise-or-violent-hell/

http://alittleadrift.com/2013/06/solo-female-travel-safety/

http://www.nomadicmatt.com/female-travel-tips/

http://www.adventurouskate.com/top-10-travel-safety-tips-for-women/

http://www.adventurouskate.com/the-truth-about-solo-female-travel-and-safety/

http://www.globalect.net/2015/09/06/is-mexico-safe-for-travelers/

http://thriftynomads.com/how-to-travel-safely-in-a-foreign-country/

http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/15-09/is-mexico-safe-for-solo-travel.html

Have you traveled in Mexico as a solo female traveler? Do you have any safety tips or advice that I missed? What was your experience like traveling in Mexico?

Let me know in the comments!

The Complete Travel Guide to Valladolid, Mexico

Guide to Valladolid

Valladolid is a small and charming colonial city located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula (two hours from Cancun and two and a half hours from Merida) with pastel-coloured low-rise buildings and narrow cobble-stone streets. It is a beautiful city and there are so many fantastic photo opportunities!

I spent four nights in Valladolid during my first solo trip, staying at Hostel La Candelaria from May 27 to May 31, 2015.

Most tourists only spend a night or two in Valladolid, because of its central location to the Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza and Ek Balam as well as many cenotes. However, I think this city is amazing and well worth a longer stay to experience all that it has to offer.

Valladolid is located about two hours west of Cancun or two hours east of Merida, pretty much in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula. The city was named one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” (magical towns), which is a distinction given to towns in Mexico based on their natural beauty, cultural riches or historical relevance to the country.

The city was formed in the 1540s on top of the former Mayan town of Zaci. This city has a lot of interesting history and there are plaques throughout the city at various places of historical significance, explaining the history behind that particular location and its relevance to the city.

It is truly a beautiful and well-maintained small city. It felt authentic and the Mayan culture was very prominent, in the cuisine and especially in the clothing that the locals wore.

Valladolid is the perfect place to stay if you plan on visiting the surrounding ruins and cenotes, like Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Coba, Cenotes Xkeken and Samula and others.

Why You Should Visit Valladolid:

Located Close to Ruins and Cenotes:

It is centrally located and is in close proximity to stunning ancient Mayan ruins as well as natural beauty in the form of a variety of gorgeous and off the beaten path cenotes. The Ek Balam ruins are located only 20 minutes to the north, Chichen Itza is located 45 minutes away, the ruins of Coba are located 1 hour away, and there are cenotes within biking distances (4-7 km) south of Valladolid (Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman and Cenotes Xkeken and Samula).

Atmosphere and Beauty:

Valladolid is a tranquil and charming small city with pretty cobblestone streets and colourfully painted colonial buildings. The central plaza and cathedral are gorgeous – relaxing and peaceful during the day and vibrant and full of activity in the evenings and at night. It is an amazing city to explore and just wander around.

Culture:

The Mayan culture is very prominent in Valladolid. You will see Mayan men and women wearing their traditional clothing, making traditional handicrafts to sell on the street or at the market, cooking traditional meals, and speaking their native languages. Learning about the Mayan culture is fascinating for me, and Valladolid is the perfect place to learn more about it and become immersed in the local culture and language.

Less Touristy:

Valladolid is located a little further off the beaten path than the coastal areas of Tulum and Playa del Carmen, which is great if you love being one of the few tourists around. I could walk around the streets of Valladolid and not see a single other tourist. It’s a fantastic opportunity to practice your Spanish by interacting and connecting with the locals.

Colourful Colonial Architecture:

The colourful and colonial architecture in Valladolid is beautiful. Every building is painted a different colour or shade, and there are so many unique designs of doors and windows to be discovered by wandering around the city streets. If you are a photographer, Valladolid offers so many fantastic photo opportunities, from the unique doors and windows on the colonial buildings, to the amazing architecture, to the many colourful and retro VW Beetles, and much more.

When To Visit:

The cheapest and best time to visit Valladolid, in my experience, would be the shoulder-season months of May and November. During these times is when you will find the least amount of tourists and crowds and the best prices on accommodations and flights. The weather is hot and humid during May with average temperatures of +35 degrees Celsius in Valladolid. I didn’t experience any rain during the month of May.

The most popular times to visit Valladolid are between the months of December and March. This is high season, and there will be more tourist crowds, and higher prices for everything. The weather is “cooler” during these months – around +26 degrees Celsius on average.

Orientation:

Valladolid is designed similarly to many other Mexican towns and cities. There is a central plaza or park in the centre of the city (bordered by Calles 39 and 41 on the north and south side and Calles 40 and 42 on the east and west side), which is the main place where locals congregate and socialize in the evenings and on weekends.

The streets are laid out in a grid pattern. Even numbered streets run north to south and odd numbered streets run east to west.

I loved the predictable numbered system of the streets because if or when you get lost, it’s never too difficult to figure out where you are and where you need to be.

Where To Eat:

Check out my guide about the best places to eat in Valladolid for detailed information about where to eat in the city.

Getting To and From Valladolid:

ADO Bus:

Getting to Valladolid from anywhere in the Yucatan is easy by ADO first or second class bus.

Valladolid has a new and modern ADO bus terminal located at Calle 39 and 46, near the main square.

The first class buses provide direct service to the major towns and cities throughout the Yucatan and second class buses also include service to small towns and villages and often stop along the way to their destination.

From Tulum:

Walk to the ADO bus terminal in Tulum and purchase a first or second class ticket to Valladolid.

First class buses cost around 108 pesos one-way from Tulum to Valladolid. There are multiple departures throughout the day. Getting there takes around one hour and forty minutes.

The schedules are typically the same every day, but it would be a good idea to check the ADO bus schedule website the day before you leave just to make sure.

Second class buses cost around 84 pesos one-way. They take about two hours and five minutes to arrive in Valladolid, because second class buses stop in small towns, villages and along the highway to drop off and pick up people along their journey.

From Cancun:

There are no direct buses from the Cancun Airport to Valladolid. However, you can take a bus from the Cancun Airport to the Cancun city bus terminal or the Playa del Carmen terminal and then buy another ticket onward to Valladolid.

From the city of Cancun, first class buses cost around 186 pesos one-way and they take two hours and five minutes to arrive in Valladolid. There are multiple departures throughout the day.

Second class buses from Cancun to Valladolid cost around 105 pesos and they take around three and a half hours. There are buses running throughout the day.

From Playa del Carmen:

Playa del Carmen’s main ADO bus terminal is located on Avenida 5 at Avenida Benito Juarez. From this terminal, first class buses to Valladolid cost 186 pesos and take around two hours and forty minutes to get there.

Second class buses cost less than first class buses but they also take longer to arrive, because they stop at towns and villages along the way.

I have experience using the first class ADO buses, not the second class, and I chose this option because the buses are more convenient and get you to your destination faster. They were comfortable, air conditioned, and reliable. I traveled on the buses as a solo female traveler and they felt completely safe. There is luggage storage underneath the bus and you will receive a baggage ticket to claim your bag when you arrive.

You can check ADO first class bus schedules on their website at www.ado.com.mx and second class bus schedules on www.ticketbus.com.mx.

Getting Around Valladolid:

Walk:

Valladolid is not a very big city and it is easy to get around on foot, to and from anywhere in the central area. I felt very safe walking the streets alone as a solo female traveler during the day and in the evening.

Bicycle:

Bicycling around the central area of Valladolid might be a little tricky, as the area can get pretty congested with traffic and pedestrians during the day, but as long as you are aware of your surroundings and obey the traffic rules while riding on the streets, you should be fine. Remember, most streets in Valladolid are one-way only, so pay attention to what direction you’re driving in.

If you are staying at Hostel La Candelaria, they rent bicycles for 80 pesos per day or 15 pesos per hour.

Taxi:

If you need to get somewhere that is further from the central area and you don’t want to bike, you can easily get a taxi.

You can either flag one down on the street or approach one of the many taxis parked on the streets around the central plaza. There are also always taxis waiting outside of the ADO bus terminal, although the bus station is only a few blocks from the central plaza area.

Always negotiate and agree on a price with the driver before getting in. The taxi drivers in Valladolid only speak Spanish, so you will need to know some basic phrases (like telling them where your destination is and how much it costs to get there). Getting to the nearby cenotes outside of Valladolid (like Cenote Oxman, Xkeken and Samula) is easiest via taxi, but you can also bicycle there.

Colectivos:

There are random parking lots hidden behind colonial buildings and accessed via a narrow tunnel through the building, where you can find taxi colectivos (shared taxis) and regular colectivos (shared shuttle vans) to and from the surrounding small towns and villages and tourist attractions like Ek Balam and Chichen Itza.

These colectivos do not operate on a fixed schedule and they will wait until they have enough people to fill their vehicle before departing.

The taxi colectivo parking lot for the Ek Balam Ruins is located on Calle 44 between Calles 35 and 37. There is a tattered cloth sign hanging above the tunnel entrance, which leads to the parking lot in behind.

The colectivo parking lot for the Chichen Itza Ruins and the town of Piste is located on Calle 46, just north of Calle 39, and behind the ADO bus terminal.

Where To Stay (Accommodations):

I stayed at Hostel La Candelaria, located at Calle 44 and 35. It was amazing and I highly recommend staying there! You can check out my detailed review of the hostel here.

You can check out my detailed guide about other budget-friendly accommodations in Valladolid here.

Things To Do and See:

Check out my detailed guide on things to do and see in Valladolid here.

Money/ATMs:

Banks and ATMs are plentiful in Valladolid. Most of the banks are located in the area surrounding the central plaza. There is an HSBC (Calle 41 between 42 and 44), Banamex (Calle 41 between 42 and 44) and Bancomer (Calle 40 between 39 and 41).

Tours:

MexiGo Tours is the main tour agency in Valladolid (phone: 985-856-0777) and although I have not used their services, I have heard and read many positive reviews. They are located on Calle 43 between Calles 40 and 42 and they offer small group van tours of the regional attractions, like Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Rio Lagartos and the town of Izamal.

Tourist Information:

Valladolid has a tourist office located at the Palacio Municipal on the central square (Calle 40 at Calle 41. Phone: 985-856-2529 extension 114). They are open from 9 am to 9 pm daily. I did not visit the tourist office but heard good things about the information and advice they provide. They offer maps and English is spoken.

Emergencies:

Hospital General is located on Av. Chan Yokdzonot (phone: 985-856-2883), 4.5 kilometers south of the cuota highway. They are open 24 hours.

There are many farmacias (pharmacies) located everywhere in Valladolid (on pretty much every street corner, you will find one), for medical supplies and medication.

There is a Farmacia Yza located on the central plaza at Calle 41 and Calle 40 (phone: 985-856-4018), which is open 24 hours.

The local police are located at Parque Bacalar (Calle 41) and they are open 24 hours (phone: 985-856-2100). For any emergencies in the Yucatan, calling 066 from any phone is the equivalent to 911 in Canada and the United States.

Safety for Solo Female Travelers?

As a first time solo female traveler, I felt completely safe in Valladolid. You can read more about safety in the Yucatan on this post. You always hear stories in the media about all of the violence occurring in Mexico and about how unsafe and dangerous it is to travel there, but what the media doesn’t tell you, is that these incidents are often concentrated to certain areas of the country (mostly the northern border states and some central states). The Yucatan Peninsula and Valladolid in particular, have a reputation of being the safest places in Mexico. There is virtually no violent crime happening in Valladolid.

I walked alone and with friends from my hostel everywhere, during the day and at night, in busy areas and quiet residential neighbourhoods. I never felt unsafe in any way.

There was one time when myself along with two female and two male friends from my hostel were walking in the evening together from a restaurant near the convent back to our hostel, and a pick-up truck with Mexican men sitting in the back drove by and the men stared, whistled and yelled some comments in Spanish that we couldn’t understand. We just ignored them and kept on walking. I did feel threatened or unsafe at all. Catcalls from local men directed towards foreign females are common throughout Latin America. Although it is uncomfortable at times, the best strategy is just to ignore the person/people, don’t even acknowledge them and keep on walking with purpose and confidence.

Valladolid is a very peaceful, tranquil and slow-paced small city and I would not hesitate to recommend it to other solo female travelers. It is a great place to relax and explore. The Mayan culture is very prominent in Valladolid, from the way the locals dress, to the food, to the language. If you are interested in learning about indigenous culture and history, this is definitely the place for you. There are also lots of small Mayan villages surrounding Valladolid that would make for a fascinating visit. Valladolid is a destination that is more off the beaten path. There are definitely tourists in the city, but I often felt like I was the only one when walking around. You could walk for awhile and not see another Caucasian person or tourist, but yourself. The food is authentic and cheap in Valladolid and you can find a variety of Mexican and Yucatecan specialties (cochinita pibil, poc chuuc, etc.). There are also lots of small shops where you can buy handicrafts and hammocks from the locals.

Valladolid is also a great place to just walk around and admire the pastel-coloured colonial buildings. Walking through some of the residential neighbourhoods near Hostel La Candelaria was interesting, to see the types of homes that the locals live in and just observe the culture around you.

I loved checking out some of the local specialized shops, like paleterias/neverias (ice cream and popsicle shop), floreria (flowers), papeleria (paper shop/stationary), tortilleria (tortilla shop), ferreteria (car repair shop) and more. Valladolid does not have too much American influence (yet), which I enjoyed. All of their clothing stores and specialized shops are locally owned. There are no American chain stores or large department stores, except for the one Domino’s Pizza that I saw near the central park. Coca Cola does have a large presence in Mexico everywhere, from the tables and chairs at local restaurants to glass bottles of Coke being sold and consumed everywhere.

Valladolid feels very authentic, and it is difficult to find people who speak English. I enjoyed the challenge of being forced to practice my Spanish, everywhere I went. The staff at Hostel La Candelaria speak English, however, many shop owners, restaurant staff and transportation staff do not. I was in need of band-aids and a nail clipper and had to perform charades at the local pharmacy because I did not remember the Spanish translation for what I needed. Thankfully, the staff understood what I was looking for and helped me to find it.

I highly recommend visiting this sleepy colonial city with so much small town charm in the Yucatan! I also recommend staying here for more than just one night (as most tourists to the city only stay 1-2 nights in order to be in a central location and in close proximity for visiting the nearby ruins of Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and various cenotes).

Valladolid is a wonderful city to explore and it definitely deserves more than just a stopover!

More information about Valladolid:

Valladolid Wikipedia Page

Valladolid WikiTravel Page

Yucatan for 91 Days

Jasmine Wanders

Globetrotter Girls

Have you been to Valladolid? What did you love about the city? Would you return for another visit? 

Let me know in the comments.

The Costs of Traveling the Yucatan on a Budget for 11 Days

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Many people stay at all-inclusive resorts or pricey boutique hotels when they travel to Mexico. But I want to show you that Mexico does not have to be an expensive destination. Mexico is very affordable and is great if you are traveling on a budget and independently.

Here is a breakdown of exactly what I spent on my first solo trip to Mexico:

Where I Traveled:

I traveled to the towns/cities of Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid.

Number of Days:

12 days – May 21, 2015 to June 1, 2015

Type of Travel:

Budget, Independent, Solo Female, Off the Beaten Path

Accommodations:

I stayed at three hostels (one each in Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) and one hotel in Playa del Carmen. At the hostels, I slept in both mixed and female-only dorms, ranging from 4-6 beds.

Food:

I ate mostly at locally owned “loncherias” (lunch eateries) serving cheap and authentic Mexican cuisine and also a few nicer restaurants that were still reasonably priced. I also bought fresh fruit at the local markets.

Transportation:

I used the first-class ADO buses, taxis, colectivos (shared shuttle vans) and bicycles to get around in Mexico. All of these options are safe, convenient, reliable and comfortable.

Flights:

I purchased my flights from the Canadian airline company WestJet on a Tuesday night, about three and a half months before my travels.

I seem to have the best luck with finding flight sales on Tuesday nights, and I ended up paying about $200 less than I was expecting to.

My flight was from Winnipeg, Canada to Cancun, Mexico with one connection each way (Toronto, Canada on the way there and Calgary, Canada on the way back home).

Activities/Sights/Attractions:

Many of the activities and attraction entrance fees in Mexico are cheap or very reasonably priced. The most I paid for an entrance fee was $18 CAD for the ruins of Chichen Itza.

Entire Trip Cost Per Person:

$1385.52 CAD – This price includes flights, food, transportation, accommodations, activities and tips.

$692.90 CAD – This price includes I spent in Mexico, excluding the cost of flights.

Average Cost Per Day Per Person:

$62.99 CAD per day which includes everything I spent in Mexico (note: this also includes the beachside massage that I got in Tulum, which increased my daily average).

$58.21 CAD per day is the cost of everything I spent in Mexico, minus the cost of the massage in Tulum.

It is very easy to spend this amount or even less while traveling throughout Mexico.

Breakdown of Travel Expenses – How Much Did I Spend?:

Activities/Sights/Attractions:

The total cost of all the attractions I visited while in Mexico was $85 CAD ($1020 MX pesos). Included in this total, was visiting the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam, along with nine cenotes (Gran Cenote and Casa Cenote near Tulum; Cenote Ik’Kil, Cenote Xkeken, Cenote Samula, Cenote Zaci, Cenote X’Canche and Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote near Valladolid).

Flights:

I paid $585.36 CAD for my flight with WestJet from Winnipeg, Canada to Cancun, Mexico (with a connection in Toronto, Canada on the way there and Calgary, Canada on the return flight). I purchased my flights about three and a half months in advance of my trip, because there was a flight sale on the WestJet airline website.

Food:

I spent a total of $212.92 CAD on food and drinks during my travels in Mexico. I bought fresh fruit from the markets and street carts, fresh juices and smoothies, ice cream and popsicles for snacks, ate the free breakfasts that my hostels provided, and ate out at local eateries for lunches and nicer restaurants for dinners.

My average daily cost for food was $19.35 CAD. Very cheap!

Transportation:

I spent a total of $99.40 CAD on transportation, which included using the first-class ADO buses to get from one town/city to the next and local colectivos (shared shuttle vans), taxis/taxi colectivos and bicycles to get around while in my destination.

I spent $55.66 CAD on the ADO buses. Next time I travel to Mexico, I will definitely use the second class buses more often, as I realized they are essentially the same as first class, minus the fact that they do not have a washroom on board or a TV with Spanish movies playing. They are also cheaper than first class buses.

I spent $32.08 CAD on taxis and colectivos to get to and from the ruins and cenotes and $11.66 CAD on bicycle rentals in Tulum, to get to and from the Tulum ruins and the beach.

My average daily cost for transportation was $9.03 CAD.

Travel Insurance:

I spent a total of $107.26 CAD on a comprehensive travel insurance plan from the provider World Nomads. I purchased this prior to departing for my trip. Thankfully, I did not need to use it.

Accommodations:

I spent a total of $215.92 CAD for 11 nights’ accommodation. I stayed at three hostels in smaller dorms with 6-8 people (one mixed dorm and two female-only dorms) and one nicer hotel in Playa del Carmen which costs $67.02 CAD for one night.

My average nightly cost for accommodations (including the hotel stay) was $19.62 CAD and excluding the hotel, it would have been $13.53 CAD.

The cost for one night at Mama’s Home Hostel (6 bed mixed dorm) in Tulum was $14.05 CAD. The cost of one night at Hostel La Candelaria (6 bed female-only dorm) in Valladolid was $12.40 CAD and the cost of one night at Hostel 3B (8 bed female-only dorm) in Playa del Carmen was $21.55 CAD.

Miscellaneous:

I spent $80.58 CAD on miscellaneous expenses. This included souvenir shopping for my family, a massage on the beach in Tulum, personal care items, toiletries and locker rentals at cenotes.

Notable Expenses:
Chichen Itza Entrance: $18 CAD (220 pesos)
Ek Balam Entrance: $15 CAD (181 pesos)
Beachside Massage: $50 CAD (600 pesos)
Gran Cenote Entrance: $12.50 CAD (150 pesos)

Tips for Budget Travel in Mexico (Yucatan):

Here are some suggestions for traveling cheaper and sticking to your budget while traveling in Mexico:

Travel in the Off-Season:

High season in the Yucatan begins around mid-December and continues into March. The weather is warm and there tends to be less rain during this time. Low season begins in April and continues to December. In my opinion, the best times to visit Mexico would be in the months of May and November. These are the shoulder season months, which occur immediately before and after the rainy season, and the weather is hot and gorgeous! The costs of accommodations and flights are significantly cheaper during these times as well. I went during May to the Yucatan and the temperatures averaged out at around 35 degrees Celsius every day. It is super humid and hot, which is what I love. If you can stand these kinds of temperatures, traveling during off-season and shoulder-season can save you a lot of money and there will be less crowds of tourists!

Eat at Local Taquerias or Loncherias Serving Authentic Cuisine:

Taquerias are local eateries that serve authentic Mexican tacos and other traditional cuisine and loncherias are family-owned places that are usually open just for lunch. Eating street food is also an adventure and you will find the most authentic Mexican food at the local street food carts.

These places serve cheap and delicious traditional cuisine with everything from tacos to guacamole to panuchos to huevos rancheros and many other classic Mexican foods. Eating where the locals eat is a great way to practice your Spanish, immerse yourself in the culture, and save money.

Cook Your Own Meals:

Every Mexican village, town and city will have a local market where you can find every fruit and vegetable imaginable. The markets are a great place to visit to find ingredients for meals at a cheap price. If you are staying at a hostel, hotel or Airbnb rental that has a kitchen, you can cook your meals there. Sharing your food with other people is also a great way to make friends! I loved visiting the Mexican markets, because it was a great cultural experience and I enjoyed buying fresh and local produce.

Stay in Budget Accommodations:

Hostels are a cheap accommodation option for budget travelers in Mexico. I loved the colour decor and uniqueness of the ones that I stayed at. If sleeping in a hostel dorm isn’t your thing, many hostels also offer private rooms that are still much cheaper than staying at a hotel. The websites HostelWorld and HostelBookers have a huge inventory of hostels to choose from! Another budget accommodation could include renting a private room in a local’s house or apartment or renting an entire house or apartment using the website Airbnb. If you sign up for Airbnb using this link, you will get a $25 USD or $33 CAD credit that can be used towards your first booking!

If you are looking for short-term accommodations that are completely free, than Couchsurfing might be right for you. This is where locals offer up their couches or share beds for you to sleep on for free, in exchange for good conversation and maybe some help around the house. If you are planning on staying in Mexico for a longer period of time and desire to travel slower, then house sitting might be a good option for you (Trusted Housesitters has the most listings for housesits) or volunteering in exchange for free accommodation and food (you can purchase a membership to HelpX and/or Workaway to browse listings and contact hosts in your destination).

Use The Local Public Transportation:

Mexico has an amazing public transportation system. It is one of the best I have used. ADO is the primary bus company in Mexico and they have an extensive network of buses that can take you to many places around Mexico. They offer first-class buses which have a washroom on board, luggage storage and air conditioning as well as second-class buses which are pretty much identical to first-class buses, minus the washroom (and they are older model buses). The second class buses are slightly cheaper than the first class ones, but both are still very reasonably priced. The ADO buses are a great option to use when you are going from the airport to your destination, and then from each town/city to the next on your list.

The buses are convenient, safe, reliable and comfortable.

Colectivos are shared shuttle vans that are the most popular transportation option for the locals. They do not operate on a fixed schedule like buses do, and they wait until they have twelve passengers before departing. Colectivos are cheap, air conditioned, comfortable and fast! They are a great option for visiting ruins and cenotes from your destination.

Get Off The Beaten Path:

Choosing to participate in activities or visiting attractions that are lesser frequented by tourists and considered more off the beaten path is a great way to save money. There are definitely some famous attractions in Mexico that are still worth visiting, for obvious reasons, such as Chichen Itza. It is a Wonder of the World and very impressive to see.

A great way to learn about off the beaten places to visit, is by asking the locals or your hostel/accommodation staff for their recommendations. A local that I met in Tulum recommended visiting Casa Cenote, which was absolutely beautiful and well worth the visit! It was also significantly cheaper than other popular cenotes in the area and I was one of the only people there at the time, which created such a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.

The staff at my hostel in Valladolid recommended visiting Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote, and it ended up being my favourite cenote that I visited during my travels! My group and I were the only ones there and it was absolutely magical.

Travel slower:

Traveling slower and not cramming a bunch of sight-seeing and activities into a short period of time, is another great way to save money. I love researching and planning my travels in great detail prior to leaving home, but I always make sure to leave room for relaxation, spontaneity and days or even half-days where I have nothing planned. During these times, I would often spend time immersing myself in the local culture and observing the life of the locals, by just sitting at a local park, wandering through the streets of the town/city or just relaxing in a hammock at my hostel and journalling or reading a good book.

How Did I Save Money for this Trip?

If travel is important to you, you have to choose to make it a priority. I have set up a separate savings account at my bank, where I deposit a large chunk of my bi-weekly paycheck from my full-time job, on the morning of my payday. Through online banking, you can also set up your account to transfer a set amount of money automatically, and you can decide on the amount of money you are going to transfer and choose how often you want the transfer to be made. If the money is transferred on your payday, you won’t even realize that it’s gone. Right now, I am able to transfer a significant portion of my paycheck into my travel savings fund (between $650-$800 CAD per month), because I live frugally and simply in my daily life. This is my number one method for saving for travel.

If you find that you are not saving as much as you would like to be, then you also have the option of getting a second job in order to make your travel dreams a reality.

Track your income and expenses for a month or two to see where you spend your money. It can be very eye-opening when you see this written out on paper. Then, decide which categories of spending you can cut back on (rent, entertainment, makeup, clothing, car payments, eating out, alcohol, smoking, etc.). Some options might be: getting rid of cable TV, eating out less often, drinking less alcohol or eliminating it from your life altogether, stopping smoking, spending less money on clothing and entertainment, eating simpler and healthier to save money on groceries, biking or taking the bus to work, etc. There are many ways you can save money, you just have to make that choice.

The entire cost of my trip was less than $1400 CAD. When I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico with my family, I paid almost $1800 CAD.

I hope that through providing my detailed budget breakdown, that I have showed you that travel in Mexico can be very affordable for the frugally-minded and budget-conscious independent travelers, and that staying at an all-inclusive resort is not the only option available to you.

Have you been to Mexico? What was your budget like? How much did you spend?

Let me know in the comments.

Minimalist Packing For 11 Days in Mexico’s Yucatan

Minimalist Packing Mexico

In the past when I have traveled, I always brought a massive suitcase filled with various clothes and shoes for those “just in case” scenarios and every possible weather forecast.

The problem is… I always end up wearing less than half of the stuff I brought with me. And I still have to lug that big suitcase around with me at airports and hotels.

I finally realized, it’s not worth it. When I went to Mexico with my family in January 2015, I purchased a smaller suitcase (one size bigger than the carry-on size) and filled it. It was much easier to carry around, but I still didn’t wear everything that I had brought with me!

So for my first solo trip to Mexico in May 2015, I decided to be true to my minimalist self and simplify even further. This time, I purchased a 48 Litre backpack. I was very limited in what I could bring and packed lighter than I ever have in the past. However, upon returning from Mexico, I realized that even with this smaller sized backpack, I could still pack less next time! I had brought a lot of medical and first-aid supplies with me for those “just in case” times, but I realized that there are pharmacies everywhere and most of those items, I could have bought for cheap in Mexico, if I had needed them (the only first aid items I used, that I had brought, were band-aids and essential oils).

Here is my original packing list for Mexico in May for 12 days (I have put a star beside each item that I probably wouldn’t bring next time and that would be easy to find in most destinations):

Items Purchased Prior to Solo Trip:

  • Gregory Cairn 48 Litre Backpack – Mountain Equipment Co-op
  • PacSafe Slingsafe 300 Gll Daypack – Journey’s Travel
  • Sleep Mask and Ear Plugs – Wal Mart
  • Anker Astro Portable Charger External Battery – Amazon
  • Anker Astro Mini Compact Portable Charger – Amazon
  • Packing Cubes – Amazon
  • Combination Padlocks – Atmosphere

First-Aid/Medical Items:

  • Ibuprofen/Tylenol – I just put a handful in a small Ziploc bag instead of taking the whole bottle. You could also get a travel sized bottle.
  • Allergy medication*
  • Pepto Bismol*
  • Band-Aids
  • Gauze Roll*
  • Antibiotic Ointment Cream*
  • Essential Oils (Peppermint, Lavender, Tea Tree Oil)
  • Activated Charcoal Capsules* (for food poisoning)
  • After Bite for Mosquito Bite
  • Homemade Mosquito Spray
  • Cotton Balls
  • Cold Medication* (could buy this anywhere)
  • Cough Drops
  • Emergen-C Powder* (didn’t need, didn’t use)
  • Feminine Hygiene Products – these are harder to find in Mexico, so if it’s that time of the month while you’re away, I would recommend bringing them
  • Tea Bags* (didn’t use them – it’s too hot for tea in Mexico)

Documentation/Essentials:

  • Passport – make sure it is valid
  • Driver’s License
  • Travel Insurance Card/Certificate/Policy Information and Contact Numbers
  • Contact Number Document – family at home, airlines, travel insurance, accommodations, banks
  • Debit and Credit Card
  • Foreign Currency Cash – I brought only pesos, no American dollars
  • Important Documentation – flight itinerary, accommodation confirmations, scanned copies of identification, insurance information and policy

Miscellaneous:

  • Journal and Pens
  • Money Belt
  • Sunglasses
  • Contact Lense and Solution (travel sized)
  • Glasses, Case and Cleaning Cloth
  • Sleep Mask and Ear Plugs
  • One or Two Books
  • Extra Large Travel Towel – Atmosphere
  • Plastic Grocery Bags – used for storing wet bathing suit and towel in your backpack, so you don’t get the rest of your stuff wet.
  • Small Ziploc Bags – you never know when you might need them
  • Combination Locks – for hostel lockers and locking compartments of backpack and daypack in hostels
  • Watch – good for checking the time when you’re out exploring and don’t want to pull out your expensive iPhone around locals
  • Spanish Phrasebook and Guidebook
  • Snacks for the plane
  • Water Bottle

Toiletries:

  • Natural 30 SPF Travel-Sized Sunscreen – Saje
  • Go Toobs Clear and Squeezable Shampoo and Conditioner Containers – Amazon (filled with Andalou organic shampoo and conditioner)
  • Clear Plastic 1 Quart Zip Up Bag for Liquids Under 100 mls – Amazon
  • Rolling Hair Brush
  • Nail Clippers
  • Q Tips
  • Hair Elastics
  • Bar of Soap (stored in a plastic Ziploc baggie)
  • Shaving Razor
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste – Green Beaver Natural Toothpaste
  • Roll-on Deodorant – Rocky Mountain Soap Company
  • Fabric Lululemon Headband x2
  • Lip Balm – Natural
  • Homemade Hand Sanitizer
  • Wet Wipes
  • Dr. Bronner’s Soap – used as a laundry detergent for hand-washing my laundry in hostels

Electronics:

  • Cellphone and charger
  • Point and Shoot Camera, Charger, Extra SD Memory Card and Case
  • Belkin Multiple Plug Adaptor
  • Anker External Charger and Portable Charger
  • Mini Flashlight

Clothing & Shoes:

  • Packing Cubes
  • Leggings x1
  • Thin Pants x1* – I would not bring pants next time if I went again in May. It’s the hottest month of the year in Mexico and I only wore those pants on the airplanes, but could have gone without.
  • Hooded Zip Up Sweater x1* – No need for a sweater in Mexico in May. Just a long sleeved thin shirt would have been fine.
  • Athletic T-Shirt x1
  • Athletic Tank Tops x2
  • Pajama Tank Top x1
  • Athletic Shorts x3
  • Athletic Capri Pants (Fitted) x1
  • T-Shirt x1
  • Flowy Tank Top x1
  • Long Sleeved Cardigan x1
  • Underwear x12
  • Socks x4
  • Bras x2
  • Bikini x1
  • Athletic Long Sleeve Top x1
  • Women’s Baseball Hat x1
  • Athletic Running Shoes x1
  • Flip Flops x1

My packing philosophy is “keep it simple,” the same philosophy that I use to guide my life. You hear it being said so often, but seriously, pack light! It’s being said for a reason.

I would recommend packing enough clothing to last you for 5-7 days, no matter how long your trip is. You can always find a place to do laundry or wash it in the sink with soap, wherever you happen to be. There is no reason to have a different outfit for every day of your travels and it’s only going to affect you negatively, as you have to carry everything around with you wherever you go.

Don’t take anything you can’t stand to lose. In other words, don’t pack your favourite outfits, your most expensive jewelry, etc. As you may have noticed, I do not bring any jewelry, makeup, hair straighteners, or any fancy and expensive clothing or electronics (just my iPhone and camera, which are with me at all times). Only take an item with you if you don’t mind if it gets lost, stolen, wet or ruined (or you wouldn’t be absolutely devastated if it did).

Take clothing that dries easily and is moisture wicking, if possible.

Don’t overpack and only take items that you truly need. When you are packing and laying everything out, pick up each item and ask yourself, “How often will I use this?” “Can I survive without this on my travels?” “Will this be of value to me?” “Can I find this item or something similar at my destination?”

Be honest with yourself and don’t pack stuff that only fits into the “just in case” scenarios.

Be conscious of the stuff you bring and question all of. A good rule of thumb is, if it can be easily found and bought at your destination, don’t bring it with you. Buy it there, if you happen to need it for those “what if” scenarios (this often applies to medical and first aid items).

Packing light is a process and it takes practice and time. You’re not going to get it perfect the first time around and that is okay. Every time I travel, I always realize that I brought too much stuff and didn’t end up needing or using certain items. I learn lessons about packing every time I return from a trip and apply them to my packing on the next trip.

Just keep improving with each trip you take and keep packing lighter and minimizing. The less stuff you bring, the more likely you are to realize how little you actually need to survive. It is a liberating feeling to experience.

Happy packing!

The Ruins of Tulum, Mexico

Ruins of Tulum

I visited the Tulum Ruins during my first solo trip to Mexico. I had previously visited these ruins with my family, but I wanted to come back and explore them on my own.

Gorgeous ocean next to the ruins

Quick Facts:

Where are the ruins located?

The Tulum Ruins are located approximately five minutes north of the town of Tulum (by car) and one hour south of Playa del Carmen, along Highway #307.

The magnificent El Castillo

How do you get to and from the ruins independently?

You can easily get to the ruins via taxi from the town of Tulum, colectivo (shared shuttle van) from either Tulum or Playa del Carmen, ADO bus from Playa del Carmen or Cancun, or by bicycle from the town of Tulum.

Taxis from the town will cost around 70 pesos to the ruins, and they will drop you off at the entrance. You can catch a colectivo along the main highway running through the town of Tulum, if you just stand anywhere along the boulevard on the south side of the road (going towards the ruins). Colectivos drive by all the time and will stop for you, as they do not operate on a fixed schedule. Colectivos cost around 30-40 pesos and they will also drop you off at the entrance. Just tell the driver where you want to go and then grab an available seat in the van. You pay when you reach your destination.

You can catch colectivos from the parking lot at Avenida 15 and Calle 2 in Playa del Carmen. Listen for drivers calling out the names of destinations, and when you hear Tulum, head to that van. You can also ask the drivers where they are going. You may have to wait a little while until the driver finds enough people to fill his van. Make sure to tell the driver that you want to go to the ruins (las ruinas) not the town and they will drop you off there for about 40 pesos. Once you are finished exploring the ruins, you can find the colectivos lined up along the road that takes you from the ruins entrance to the highway.

There are first class ADO buses that run between Playa del Carmen and Tulum on a regular basis. You can check the schedules at www.ado.com.mx. The buses will stop at the ruins first, on the way to the bus terminal in the town of Tulum. You will get dropped off at the intersection of the highway and the short road that leads to the ruins (about a 10 minute walk). The first class buses from Playa del Carmen to the Tulum ruins cost about 62 pesos. You will have to check the bus schedules for buses returning to Playa del Carmen.

The colectivos and ADO buses will drop you off on the highway at the intersection of a road that leads to the ruins. You can walk approximately 1 km towards the ruins or take a little tourist train for about 20 pesos. There are a lot of information booths lined up along the road. Do not buy tickets or tours from them, as they will not be authentic tickets. Wait until you get to the official ticket booth at the entrance of the ruins to buy tickets.

You can also choose to rent a bicycle in the town of Tulum. I rented from Kelly’s Bike Rentals (located on the main highway running through town, just past Calle Satelite while walking towards the beach) and paid 60 pesos for the day (regular 80 pesos, but if you stay at Mama’s Home Hostel, you get a discount). There are other bike rental shops located along the main highway through town as well but they all cost around the same. Make sure to bring your driver’s license with you, as the rental place will keep it as collateral and give it back to you when you return the bike. You are provided with a bike lock. There is a paved bike path that runs along the highway all the way from town to the ruins, and riding there only takes about 20 minutes one-way. It felt very safe and it was nice not having to worry about the highway traffic. Once you arrive at the ruins, there is a place for bike parking right next to the ticket counter at the entrance, or you can just lean your bike up against any tree near the entrance and lock it there.

Kelly’s Bike Rental in the town of Tulum

Cost of Entrance:

65 pesos (as of May 2015)

Hours:

8 AM to 5 PM CST.

How much time is recommended to explore the site?

The Tulum Ruins are small and compact and you do not need more than two hours here. I spent about 1 1/2 hours in total. There is a small beach that you can access from the site and if you are planning on swimming there, you could choose to spend the entire morning, afternoon or day at the ruins.

View of the ocean from the cliff

Ruins

Tips:

Bring lots of water with you to stay hydrated. The ruins site is wide open with hardly any shaded areas and once you have paid your entrance fee, there is nowhere to purchase water.

Wear a hat and lots of sunscreen (natural if possible), to protect your skin from sunburns.

Eat before you enter the ruins, to stay energized and prevent fainting from the extreme heat. There are no stores or carts to buy food from once you are inside the site.

You are not able to touch or climb any of the ruins in Tulum.

Bring a swimsuit and towel. There is a gorgeous beach area below the cliff where the El Castillo is situated, and it can only be accessed from the ruins site. You spend some time swimming in the ocean here to cool yourself down.

Wear good sneakers. Climbing hills and stepping on rocks while wearing flip flops would not be a smart idea.

You will need at least 30 minutes to see the ruins (though in my opinion, you would miss out on a lot if you left after only 30 minutes). I spend about an hour and half at the ruins and went through at a leisurely pace. I did not go swimming at the beach, so allot yourself more time if you plan to swim.

Get to the ruins as early as possible, preferably when they open at 8 AM. By midday, the ruins get very crowded with many different tour groups and the sun is extremely hot.

The sunny and wide open ruins site

The Tulum ruins are situated on a rocky cliff overlooking the beautiful turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The site is small and open and the structures are much smaller than those at the sites of Coba and Chichen Itza. Nevertheless, they are still beautiful and interesting to learn about.

Ruins

I decided to visit the ruins around lunchtime/midday, which I quickly realized was a bad decision, considering that it’s also the hottest time of the day (and I visited in May, which is one of the hottest months in Mexico)! The bike ride from town to the ruins was absolutely exhausting, but thankfully there were a lot of gas stations along the way where I could buy some ice-cold water to keep me going.

I am pretty proud of this photo! The stunning El Castillo overlooking the ocean waters

Midday is also the busiest time to visit the ruins, and there were crowds of people everywhere. This made the atmosphere less relaxing and peaceful, than I prefer. It was also difficult to take good photos of the ruins without people getting in your way.

Ruins

If you are planning on visiting the ruins, I suggest arriving around the time the ruins open at 8 AM, in order to beat the heat and the crowds. Also, bring lots of water with you, as they do not sell it at the ruins!

As you enter the road to the ruins from the highway, you will be bombarded with people trying to sell you tours. Keep bike riding or walking past them and buy your tickets at the official ticket booth at the end of the road.

I had to take a selfie!

Despite the challenging bike ride to get to there, the ruins were worth the effort.

The view of the El Castillo overlooking the ocean was gorgeous! There were also some other interesting structures around the ruins site to visit and the history is interesting to learn about.

A big guy!

This was one of the bigger iguanas

One of many iguanas spotted at the ruins

There were large iguanas everywhere, sunning themselves on the rocks or hiding in small cracks in the ruins, with only their tails sticking out. There was also a set of wooden stairs that takes you down the cliffside to a small and beautiful beach, directly underneath the ruins. Bring your swimsuit and a towel if you plan on checking out the beach.

Ruins

Secluded and quiet beach area below the ruins

The only downsides to visiting these ruins, is that all of the structures are roped off and you cannot touch or climb anything. I disliked how crowded the ruins were, but I did visit during the busiest time of day. If I had gone during the early morning, I am sure my experience would have been better.

The El Castillo with wooden steps leading to the beach below

The area surrounding the ruins was very commercialized and developed for tourists, and sadly, there was even a Subway near the parking lot. There was also a large market-style shopping area before you got to the ruins selling overpriced souvenirs.

If you are hungry or thirsty after visiting the ruins, the road running from the site to the highway is lined with tourist-priced restaurants. I ended up buying fresh coconut water for 50 pesos, which is double what you would pay in the town of Tulum.

Strange looking tree growing out of the cliff

Overall though, I really enjoyed visiting these ruins. They are located close to both the town of Tulum and Playa del Carmen and make for a good half-day or full-day trip.