Why I’m Going Back to Mexico – The Plans for my Second Solo Trip

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If you follow me on social media, you will probably already know that I am embarking on my second solo trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and I am leaving tomorrow morning! I previously visited the Yucatan only six months ago in May of 2015 for my first solo trip ever.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, various comments by people that I know, have been made to me about me traveling solo in Mexico, including the following:

“I hope you come back alive…”

“You are crazy.”

“Isn’t Mexico really dangerous? What about the drug cartels and gangs?”

It’s difficult to let these types of comments just roll off my back. I definitely find myself internalizing some of the fear behind these comments, which leads to me feeling a little nervous and to having doubts about my abilities to travel solo.

I have to keep reminding myself that other people are projecting their own fears and insecurities onto me, but I have a choice whether or not to adopt their beliefs as my own. I also have to remind myself that the people making such comments about my travels, have either a) never traveled to Mexico or b) only get their information about a country’s safety from the mainstream media (which tends to sensationalize violent and rare incidents and then make sweeping generalizations that such incidents mean that the entire country too dangerous to travel to). If our only source of travel safety information is the mainstream media and the government travel advisories, we would probably never desire to leave the comfort of our houses.

I also have to remind myself that what I am doing is not something that many people have the opportunity or desire to do. The fact that I am able to face my fears, break down the barriers and overcome my anxieties and the other challenges (ie. introversion) to traveling solo, is something that not many people do. And I think that’s pretty awesome that I am able to do those things.

I sometimes think to myself, “What if the success I had during my first trip was just a lucky fluke? What if I don’t meet any other travelers I can connect with? What if I get lonely and have to do everything by myself?”

It’s a battle in my mind sometimes between the rational side of my brain and the emotional side. My rational side researches everything possible about my destination – reading countless travel blogs and forums and reaching out to fellow bloggers and asking for their advice. But my emotional side thinks about the worst case scenarios and the doubts.

But I have to remember that I have traveled solo in Mexico once before and I know and believe that I am capable of doing it again.

Even in knowing and believing this, I have still experienced some anxiety and worry about my upcoming travels, as I do any time I step outside of my comfort zone and into the unknown. I have to learn to accept that there are many unknowns and uncertainties and that I cannot be in control of everything, but remember that God is in control.

I tend to over-plan everything in my life, so naturally, I have been spending all of my spare time lately researching and planning my travels in great detail. Of course, I also leave lots of room for relaxation and spontaneity and don’t plan everything down to the day.

Researching everything about my trip in detail is one thing that I do before traveling that helps me to feel prepared because I have a lot of knowledge about my destination. In turn, feeling prepared helps to increase my confidence and lessen the anxiety that I may have.

So getting back to the focus of this post…

Since I’ve been to Mexico before (6 months ago), you might be asking yourself, why would I go back so soon? 

In short, I have completely fallen in love with Mexico as a country. From the vibrant culture, to the delicious variety of food, to the Spanish language, to the gorgeous natural beauty (jungles, cenotes), to the impressive and detailed ruins from the ancient Maya civilization, and the warmth, kindness and generosity of the local people.

Mexico is such a vast country with a huge variety of landscapes and things to see, do and experience.

During this trip, I want to focus on exploring some my favourite places in-depth while also getting off the beaten path to discover more favourites and local hidden gems.

I am very excited to be going back to Mexico! I will be re-visiting three places that I went to during my last trip (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) as well as exploring three new places (Merida, the Puuc Route/Santa Elena and Campeche).

As my departure date has been getting closer and closer, I have been experiencing a mixed bag of emotions, from feeling excited, fearless and empowered to anxious, worried and fearful. Some days, I experience a range of all these emotions.

Even though I have traveled solo once before in Mexico, doesn’t mean I am immune to fear, anxiety and nervousness. It’s something that I have to deal with and overcome every time I travel.

As an introvert, traveling solo is definitely stepping wayyy outside of my comfort zone. Challenging myself in unknown territory is definitely difficult for me at times and it takes effort. I was so proud of myself for taking the leap and traveling solo for my first time to Mexico this past spring. Approaching complete strangers, meeting new people and making friends was surprisingly easier than I was expecting it to be and I met so many wonderful and interesting people – both fellow travelers and locals alike.

I learned a lot about myself, the Mexican culture and history, the Spanish language and other people, and gained so many valuable skills when I traveled in Mexico the first time. I became more independent, gained confidence in my abilities, became resourceful, learned how to handle a variety of challenging situations (learning Spanish on the go and dealing with the language barrier, navigating the public transport system, and finding my way around completely foreign places) and ultimately, felt so empowered that I had the opportunity to do something (travel solo) and experience such incredible beauty in our world, that many people do not have the opportunity to experience.

The purpose of my current trip is to hopefully discover more about myself, gain some clarity of my purpose and direction in life, travel deeper and explore more of Mexico (the colonial cities and towns, Mayan villages, cenotes and Mayan ruins), try new foods, and meet some amazing people who will maybe become lifelong friends.

I have been doing extensive travel research and planning for the past month or so now, and I have finally figured out my rough itinerary, so here it is:

November 12-15 – Tulum, Mexico.

November 15-18 – Valladolid, Mexico

November 18-22 – Merida, Mexico

November 23-24 – Santa Elena, Mexico

November 24-25 or 26th – Merida, Mexico

November 25 or 26th-28 – Campeche, Mexico

November 28-29 – Playa del Carmen, Mexico

I will not be writing any blog posts during this trip, but I will be writing comprehensive posts about the places I visited along with my stories and experiences after I return home.

If you are interested in following my journey in Mexico – the lessons I learn along the way, the challenges I face, the amazing natural beauty, the people I meet and the memorable experiences that I have – you can do so in a number of ways!

I will try my best to post photos daily on Instagram, summaries and photos from my day on Facebook, and random snippets of information, observations and thoughts along my travels on Twitter. I’ll be posting slightly different stuff on each platform, so you’ll get the full story if you follow me on all three!

I am so looking forward to meeting new friends, learning more about the Mexican culture, Mayan history and Spanish language, sampling some new foods, while exploring and experiencing the natural and ancient beauty of this wonderful and diverse country!

Adios amigos!

My Carry-On Packing List for 17 Days in Mexico

Carry-On Packing List

I am very excited to be heading back to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for 17 days (I leave bright and early tomorrow morning!), after 6 months of last being in the area. I will be traveling to Tulum, Valladolid, Merida, Campeche City and Playa del Carmen.

Even though I consider myself to be a minimalist, packing for travel always remains a challenge for me. I only first began packing a carry-on only earlier this year. Prior to that, I traveled with a huge suitcase and would pack it completely full of stuff. But after I returned home from my travels and unpacked my bags, I started to realize how little I actually used and needed.

So, on my first solo backpacking trip to Mexico this past May, I purchased a 48 litre backpack and a 12 litre daypack and challenged myself to pack lighter. This was the first time I packed carry-on luggage only and it was incredibly freeing! Physically, I had much less weight to carry around with me and it was so nice to be able to breeze through airports, bypassing the baggage drop-off and pick-up lines, while everyone else stood there… waiting.

On this current solo trip that I am about to take, I attempted to pack even less than what I did during my last trip. Even though I thought I had packed light last time, there was still stuff that I didn’t use or need! So during my packing, I took the time to really question every item that I wanted to pack, asking myself, “Do I really need this?” “Will I actually use this?” “Is this something I could buy relatively cheaply and relatively easily at my destination?” “Am I bringing this item solely for those ‘just-in-case’ scenarios?”

It took me a good chunk of the day (good thing it’s a Remembrance Day in Canada today, which means no work and more time to pack!) to finish packing but I think I am finally content with my list. It was a challenge and I know there is still going to be stuff that I don’t use or need, which is why I plan on writing a post when I return from Mexico, reflecting on my packing list – what worked, what didn’t and what I could do to improve for next time.

So now that I have finally finished packing, here is my complete packing list as I attempt to travel minimally for 17 days in Mexico, with only a 48L backpack and 12L daypack:

The Travel Gear:

48 Litre Gregory Cairn Women’s Backpack

12 Litre PacSafe Slingsafe 300 GII 

PacSafe Slingsafe 75 GII Purse

Liquids Bag (Under 100 ml):

My Liquids Toiletry Bag

My Liquids Toiletry Bag

Since I traveling with carry-on luggage only, all of my liquids must be 100 ml or less. I bought this Lewis N Clark Clear Plastic Toiletry Pouch from Amazon.ca and it works great for holding my liquids! It is made from a thicker plastic that won’t rip or tear, which is great and better than using a Ziploc bag.

Sunscreen 30 SPF

Insect Repellent

Hand Sanitizer

Travel Toothpaste

Facial Moisturizing Lotion – with natural ingredients and homemade from a company in Winnipeg that I love, called Just The Goods

Bug Bite Allergy Stick

Essential Oils – I love this Pocket Pharmacy from Saje! Their essentials oils smell amazing, they are pure and they work very effectively for a variety of ailments.

GoToobs filled with organic shampoo and conditioner (I love the brand Andalou and I can usually find their products for cheap at Winners in Winnipeg)

Contact Lens Solution

Natural Roll-on Deodorant – from Rocky Mountain Soap Company

Medical and Toiletry Bag:

Medical and Toiletry Bag

Medical and Toiletry Bag

In this packing cube, I have the following:

Travel-sized Hair Brush

Diarrhea Relief Pills – when you’re eating street food and at local eateries in Mexico, you never really know how the food was cooked.

Ziploc Bag With Various Medications – Advil, Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Sore Throat Lozenges, and Activated Charcoal

Emergen-C Vitamin C Powder – it is dissolved in water and is good for boosting your immune system to fight off colds

Wet Wipes – these hand and face wipes are a good alternative to washing your face at the end of the day.

Nail File – in case my nail clipper (not pictured) is found by airport security and confiscated

Q-Tips – gotta keep the ears clean!

Ear Plugs – to be able to get a good sleep if there are loud snorers in the hostel dorms

Band-Aids

Pepto-Bismol – in case of heartburn, nausea, indigestion or diarrhea

Hydrocortisone Cream – for itchy bug bites

Concealer – this is the only makeup item that I am bringing with me. I prefer the natural look, but I brought this just in case I get a huge zit or something that I would like to cover up.

Travel Flashlight – for finding my way to the bathroom in the nighttime at hostels and for exploring cenotes and caves.

Allergy Relief Pills – I am allergic to mosquito bites (and probably other bug bites as well) and strong fragrances.

Hair Elastics – I don’t want my hair touching the back of my neck when it’s super hot outside.

Travel Toothbrush – this handy little toothbrush folds up into a case, to protect the bristles.

Razor (not pictured)

Nail Clipper (not pictured)

Day Pack:

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Here are the contents of my day pack/personal item:

Two Anker External Chargers – these are great for charging my phone on-the-go.

Travel Power Strip To Go – electrical outlets are sometimes hard to come by in hostels, so this power strip allows you four outlets!

Eagle Creek Money Belt – this is where I keep my credit card, debit card, foreign currency and identification.

Tales of a Female Nomad (Novel) – I always bring one novel with me to read.

Travel Journal – I love writing and documenting what I did during each day, the weather, my thoughts and feelings, who I met, what I ate and how much money I spent. I bought this specific travel journal from Winners in Winnipeg.

Sunglasses – cheap pair from American Eagle

Lonely Planet Mexican Spanish Phrasebook – so I can attempt to communicate with the locals.

Cliff Bars and Kind Bars – for the plane and for general snacking in Mexico.

Contact Lenses and Case

Eyeglasses and Case (not pictured)

Travelon Packing Cube with Various Chargers, Cords and Combination Locks (for hostel dorm room lockers)

Kleenex

Homemade Hand Sanitizer

Just The Goods Lip Balm – natural, homemade and locally made in Winnipeg (my hometown)

Ear Planes – my eyes don’t pressurize on airplanes, so these handy earplugs help with that!

Miscellaneous: 

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Miscellaneous

These are random items in my backpack that don’t fit into any packing cubes:

Rain Jacket

Travel Microfibre Towel

Sandals – I actually bought these the last time I was in Playa del Carmen because the flip flops that I had originally brought, gave me the worst blisters ever on my first day in Mexico!

TOM’s shoes

Reebok Athletic Shoes

Glasses Cleaning Cloth (not pictured)

Headband (not pictured) – to pull my bangs off of my forehead on hot days.

Undergarments:

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Undergarments

This packing cube contains the following:

Socks – four pairs

Underwear – 17 pairs (one pair for every day. I don’t plan on doing laundry!)

Bras – one sports bra and one regular black bra

Clothing:

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Clothing

Deciding what clothing to take is always the most difficult part of packing for me. I think I have finally figured it out, although I know for sure that I won’t wear all of this.

Three T-Shirts – one Reebok athletic shirt (moisture wicking) and two solid-coloured Polyester t-shirts from H&M

Three Tank Tops – one cotton from Dynamite and two athletic tanks (moisture wicking) from Winners

One Swim Suit – tankini top and boy short bottoms

One Pair of Black Leggings

One Pair of Pants – from Eddie Bauer, beige-coloured with lots of pockets and they roll up into longer capri pants

Two Pairs of Capri Pants – one black athletic pair and one black baggy pair from Lululemon

Pajama Bottoms and Top – pink tank top (not pictured) and grey sweatpant-like shorts

One Cardigan – grey button-up long sleeved from Garage Clothing

Two Pairs of Shorts – both athletic, one is black and the other is a dark blue

One Sweater – 3/4 length, baggy, solid burgundy-coloured from H&M

Travel Purse/Identification/Important Items:

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Travel Purse/Important Items

My small PacSafe travel purse contains my most important and valuable items:

Canadian Passport

iPhone 5S

Canon Digital Camera

Foreign Currency – Mexican Pesos

Identification – driver’s license, debit card, credit card, birth certificate, insurance card, and provincial health card.

That’s everything I am packing for this trip! I am sure there will be items that I don’t use or need and will be writing a post when I return home, reflecting on my packing list.

What are some essential items that you have to pack when you travel? 

Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Playa del Carmen

Budget Accommodations Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, Mexico is a small city located one hour south of Cancun, along the Gulf of Mexico in the Mayan Riviera. It is a popular tourist destination and is known for its gorgeous beaches. Playa del Carmen features world-class nightlife, a variety of restaurants and cuisines to choose from – from authentic street food to traditional taquerias to casual international eateries to fine dining, and a shopping district along 5th Avenue – a walking street that is completely closed to traffic.

Playa del Carmen also has a wide variety of places to stay – from cheap backpacker hostels to budget hotels to unique guesthouses to Airbnb apartment rentals to expensive all-inclusive resorts along the beach.

If you are traveling on a budget and are looking for cheaper accommodations, this is my comprehensive guide for budget-friendly places to stay in Playa del Carmen that won’t break the bank.

I hope to show you that by staying in budget accommodations and traveling cheaper, you can save money so that you are able to travel slower and for longer periods of time.

Budget Hotels ($100 USD or less per night):

Hotel Colorado | Starting at $30 USD per night

Calle 4 Norte between Avenidas 20 and 25 

Hotel Colorado is a charming and laid-back small hotel with unique and colourful decor. It is clean, comfortable, simple and quiet. It is located a short distance off the tourist path and is within walking distance to the beach, shopping, restaurants, banks and the ADO bus terminals.

The hotel features a common terrace and garden, housekeeping services, a book exchange and library.

The private rooms offer a fridge, cable television, a fan or air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, private bathroom with hot water.

Hotel Colorado

Hotel Colorado

Official Website, HostelWorld, TripAdvisor

Hotel Casa Tucan | Starting at $50 USD per night

Calle 4 between Avenidas 10 and 15

Hotel Casa Tucan is a charming and colourful hotel located only blocks away from the beach, public transportation, restaurants, and shopping.

The hotel offers a swimming pool surrounded by tropical gardens, free Wi-Fi, parking, laundry services, and a relaxed and friendly environment. The hotel also features a small restaurant, library, internet cafe, car rental, and diving school.

Casa Tucan offers 30 different rooms from cabanas with palm roofs to standard double rooms to studios with air conditioning, fans, cable television, and some even have a small kitchenette. Some rooms even have a balcony or terrace. All rooms have a private bathroom.

Hotel Casa Tucan

Official Website, TripAdvisor

The Bric Hotel | Starting at $65 USD per night

Calle 28 between Avenidas 5 and 10

The Bric is a clean, comfortable and quiet boutique hotel that is centrally located just steps from 5th Avenue, with shopping, restaurants, banks, public transportation and the beach. The hotel provides luxury at an affordable price.

The hotel features a swimming pool, daily breakfast, housekeeping services, beach towels, private balconies and terraces, and cable television.

The hotel offers 14 charming rooms with en-suite bathrooms, air conditioning, and free Wi-Fi internet.

The BRIC Hotel

Official Website, TripAdvisor, Expedia

Hotel Villa del Mar | Starting at $60 USD per night

Avenida 10 between Calles 2 and 4 Norte

Hotel Villa del Mar is a clean, comfortable, and simple boutique hotel located one block from 5th Avenue with shopping, restaurants and transportation and two blocks from the beach.

The hotel features daily housekeeping services and free Wi-Fi.

All rooms offer air conditioning, a ceiling fan, a safe, private bathroom, satellite television and comfortable mattresses.

Hotel Villa del Mar

Official Website, TripAdvisor, Booking

Hotel Hul-Ku | Starting at $45 USD per night

Avenida 20 between Calles 4 and 6 Norte 

Hotel Hul-Ku is a stylish, modern, clean and comfortable hotel that is centrally located within walking distance to the beach, shopping, restaurants, transportation and other attractions.

The hotel features a garden, continental breakfast, beautiful shady courtyard, a wood terrace with hammocks and a beautiful fountain, on-site restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, guest computer, and free parking.

The hotel offers 26 rooms that are basic, clean and spacious and that provide natural lighting and have views of the garden. Rooms feature a balcony with resting area or terrace, private bathroom, air conditioning, cable television and free Wi-Fi internet.

Hotel Hul-Ku

Official Website, TripAdvisor, Booking, Expedia

Hotel Barrio Latino | Starting at $45 USD per night

Calle 4 between Avenidas 10 and 15

I stayed at Hotel Barrio Latino for one night during my solo travels to Mexico.

Hotel Barrio Latino is a simple, clean, comfortable and modern small hotel with a relaxing and peaceful atmosphere. It is located a short walking distance to the beach, 5th Avenue, shopping, restaurants, and transportation.

The hotel features a central courtyard surrounded by a lush tropical garden area, free continental breakfast that is served in the treed courtyard under a palapa roof, fast and free Wi-Fi, free international phone calls, and a guest computer terminal. The staff were polite and friendly.

The hotel offers 18 comfortable rooms. The rooms are entered from the outside and they all face towards the central courtyard. The rooms are quite charming, clean and spacious and provide large and comfortable beds, a safe, full private bathroom, a ceiling fan, air conditioning, small fridge and a small terrace/balcony with a hammock that looks out towards the courtyard. The rooms have a Mexican flavour to them, with the decorations and tile flooring.

To read my full review of Hotel Barrio Latino, visit this link.

Hotel Barrio Latino

Hotel Barrio Latino

Hotel Barrio Latino

Official Website, TripAdvisor, HostelWorld, Expedia

Hotel Banana | Starting at $45 USD per night

Avenida 5 and Calle 32

Hotel Banana is a simple and comfortable hotel with Caribbean-Mexican decor, located on the northern section of 5th Avenue with a quieter atmosphere. It is close to the beach, restaurants, shopping and transportation.

The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, 24 hour front desk, terrace, on-site restaurant, free Wi-Fi, and a small library. The hotel also provides beach towels.

The rooms are air conditioned and include a mini fridge, a safe, cable television and a balcony. They are cleaned daily.

Hotel Banana

TripAdvisor, Official Website, Booking

Hotel Riviera Caribe Maya | Starting at $80 USD per night

Avenida 10 at Calle 30 

Hotel Riviera Caribe Maya is a stylish, comfortable and peaceful hotel situated in a central location, a short walk to the beach, restaurants, and transportation.

The hotel features a small swimming pool with lounge chairs, pleasant courtyard, free Wi-Fi internet, 24 hour front desk and security, continental breakfast, private airport transfer for a fee, massage services, laundry services, local tour information and booking services, car rental services and complimentary beach towels.

The rooms are equipped with air conditioning, telephone, cable television, ceiling fan, safe deposit box, and a view of the tranquil courtyard. They are decorated with Mexican furnishings.

Hotel Riviera Caribe Maya

TripAdvisor, Official Website, Expedia

Hotel Luna Sol | Starting at $90 USD per night

Calle 4 between Avenidas 15 and 20

Hotel Luna Sol is a comfortable and modern hotel with a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere, located within walking distance of the beach, shopping, transportation and restaurants.

The hotel features a huge outdoor swimming pool with Jacuzzi, a poolside communal guest kitchen, free parking and free Wi-Fi in public areas. Other amenities include laundry facilities and coffee/tea in the lobby.

The hotel offers 16 comfortable rooms. All of the rooms have free Wi-Fi, private balconies or patios that overlook the hotel’s gardens, and cable television.

Hotel Luna Sol

Hotel Luna Sol

Official Website, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking

Hotel Playa del Karma | Starting at $50 USD per night

Avenida 15 between Calles 12 and 14

Hotel Playa del Karma is a comfortable, tranquil, modern and affordable boutique hotel located close to the beach, supermarkets, banks, transportation, shopping and restaurants.

This adults-only hotel is surrounded by tropical gardens and a lush courtyard, and features an outdoor swimming pool and free Wi-Fi.

The rooms provide air conditioning, a hammock, magnificent garden views, and private bathroom.

Hotel Playa del Karma

HostelWorld, Official Website, TripAdvisor, Booking, Expedia

Hotel Alux | Starting at $40 USD per night

Calle 14 between Avenidas 10 and 15

Hotel Alux is a friendly and clean budget hotel located just a few blocks from the beach and the famous Fifth Avenue, along with restaurants, shopping, transportation and other attractions.

The hotel provides free Wi-Fi as well as luggage storage.

The rooms offer air conditioning, cable television and private bathrooms.

Hotel Alux

TripAdvisor, Booking, Official Website

Hostels:

Hostel 3B | Starting at $20 CAD per night 

Avenida 10 and Calle 1 Sur 

I stayed at Hostel 3B for two nights during my first solo travels to Mexico.

Hostel 3B is a new and clean hostel with modern decor and a stylish boutique appearance, located on the south end of Playa del Carmen, one block away from the shopping district of Fifth Avenue and only three blocks from the beach. It is within walking distance to the ADO bus terminal, restaurants, shopping and banks.

Hostel 3B is a party hostel complete with local and internationally known DJs playing music nightly on the rooftop (it can get noisy at night if you trying to sleep). The hostel features a rooftop patio with lounge chairs, swimming pool, bar and DJ booth, a communal kitchen, fast and free Wi-Fi in the common areas (lobby and rooftop), board games, and book exchange.

You can choose to stay in dormitories ranging from 6 to 12 beds (mixed or female-only). The hostel also offers private rooms. The dorms are air conditioned, have private bathrooms attached to them, have large lockers big enough to fit a backpack, and comfortable pillows and mattresses.

Check out my full review of Hostel 3B at this link.

The hostel pool on the rooftop

The hostel pool on the rooftop

View of the hostel from the street (10th Avenue)

View of the hostel from the street (10th Avenue)

Lounging areas on the hostel rooftop

Lounging areas on the hostel rooftop

Official Website, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Booking, HostelWorld

Hostel Che | Starting from $17 CAD per night

Calle 6 between Avenida 15 and 20

Hostel Che is a friendly, fun and unique hostel with a social atmosphere and chill vibe and is centrally located only three blocks from the beach, two blocks from the supermarket and three blocks from the ADO bus terminal. It is close to shopping, restaurants and attractions.

The hostel features a guest kitchen, rooftop bar and music, themed social parties in the evenings, guest computer, free Wi-Fi, luggage storage, tour and travel information, 24 hour reception, fans and common areas to meet people, relax and have fun.

There are a variety of rooms to choose from, including private rooms and shared forms (ranging from 6 to 10 beds, female-only and mixed gender). The rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable.

Hostel Che

Hostel Che

Official Website, Facebook, TripAdvisor, HostelWorld

The Yak | Starting at $21 CAD per night 

Calle 10 Norte Bis between Avenida 10 and 15 

The Yak is a popular and well known party hostel with a friendly social atmosphere, centrally located in Playa del Carmen, close to restaurants, transportation, shopping and the beach but just a little ways off the busy tourist track.

The hostel features a bar, relaxing common areas, free Wi-Fi internet, free continental breakfast, hammocks, air conditioned rooms, luggage storage, BBQ facilities, a book exchange, live music, activity nights, housekeeping, 24 hour reception and security and a rooftop terrace.

The Yak offers simply decorated shared dorms (ranging from 4 beds to 12 beds, all of them are mixed gender) and private rooms, which all include a small kitchenette and fridge along with bathrooms and showers, as well as lockers in the dorms.

The Yak

The Yak

HostelWorld, Official Website, Facebook, Booking, TripAdvisor

Youth Hostel Playa | Starting at $17 CAD per night

Avenida 25 and Calle 8

Hostel Playa is a clean and fun hostel, centrally located a short ways off the tourist track, but close to transportation, restaurants, the beach and shopping.

The hostel features free Wi-Fi, luggage storage, a guest computer, fully equipped kitchen, free breakfast, good music, housekeeping, fans, swimming pool, rooftop terrace, hammocks and quiet lounging areas, BBQ area, secure parking, large garden area where you can socialize, living room with cable television, DVD player, books and board games. The hostel has a huge common area which is perfect for playing cards, relaxing, meeting other travelers, watching TV or reading.

The hostel offers shared dorms (ranging from 5 to 8 beds, female, male and mixed gender) and private rooms. The dorms include lockers, individual fans, mosquito nets, comfortable mattresses and all rooms have linens included.

Hostel Playa

Hostel Playa

Hostel Playa

HostelWorld, TripAdvisor, Official Website

Humble Bumble Hostel | Starting at $17 CAD per night

Avenida 30 between Avenida Constituyentes and Calle 18

Humble Bumble is a new, friendly and comfortable hostel with chic modern decor and a laid back atmosphere, located off the tourist track, but within walking distance to restaurants, local taquerias, supermarkets, shopping, transportation, and the beach.

The hostel features a rooftop terrace, small swimming pool, shared kitchen, and BBQ facilities.

The hostel offers a variety of rooms including shared dorms (female, male and mixed) and private rooms. All rooms have free Wi-Fi access, air conditioning and a private bathroom.

Humble Bumble Hostel

Humble Bumble Hostel

HostelWorld, Facebook, Booking, TripAdvisor

Hostal MX | Starting at $21 CAD per night 

Avenida 5 between Calles 10 and 12

Hostal MX is a newer and unique hostel in a rustic-style building with Mexican style and flavour and an abundance of vegetation. It is centrally located on the popular 5th Avenue and is steps from restaurants, shopping, the beach and transportation. The hostel has a peaceful atmosphere despite its location.

The hostel features a beautiful garden with tropical vegetation, hammocks, a bar, outdoor Jacuzzi, 24 hour reception and security, free Wi-Fi internet, included breakfast, housekeeping, linen included, lockers, book exchange, hot showers, and board games.

Rooms include 6, 8, and 12 bed mixed dorms.

Hostal MX

Hostal MX dorm

HostelWorld, Booking, Official Website

Tres Mundos Hostel | Starting at $14 CAD per night 

Calle 6 Norte between Avenida 20 and 25

Tres Mundos is a unique, colourful, comfortable hostel located within walking distance of shopping, restaurants, banks, transportation and the beach. It is surrounded by cheap eateries with tasty local food. This is not a party hostel but it does maintain a friendly social atmosphere and the staff treat guests like family.

The hostel features free and fast wireless internet, free continental breakfast, fully equipped kitchen, comfortable common area with cable television, rooftop terrace with hammocks, BBQs and big tables for relaxing and socializing with new friends, included linens, book exchange, laundry service for a fee, towel rentals for a fee, and tour information.

The hostel offers a variety of rooms including mixed or female-only dorms with 6 and 8 beds, with a bathroom ensuite or shared bathroom. They also have private rooms, with or without a bathroom ensuite. Two private rooms have air conditioning. All dorms have fans and lockers.

Tres Mundos Hostel

Tres Mundos Hostel

HostelWorld, Official Website, TripAdvisor

Xaman Eco-Hostel | Starting at $13 CAD per night 

Avenida 10 between Calles 4 and 6

Xaman Eco-Hostel is a simple and basic hostel, centrally located just two blocks from the beach and one block from 5th Avenue with restaurants, shopping, and transportation. The hostel uses recycled decorations, has lots of plants and uses earth friendly products.

The hostel provides complimentary breakfast, free purified and cold drinking water, free Wi-Fi, outdoor terrace and common lounge area, communal kitchen, luggage storage, and hot showers.

Room options include private rooms, a 4 bed female dorm and 10 bed mixed dorm. The shared dorms feature a fan and storage lockers for personal belongings. All bathrooms are shared.

Xaman Eco-Hostel

HostelWorld, Official Website, TripAdvisor, Booking

Siete Colores Hostel | Starting at $17 CAD per night

Corner of Avenida 10 and Avenida C.T.M. (Lane 46)

Siete Colores Hostel is a quaint, colourful, friendly and comfortable hostel located refurbished colonial house off the tourist path, but close enough to the beach, 5th Avenue, shopping, restaurants and transportation.

The hostel provides 24 hour reception, free Wi-Fi, luggage storage, book exchange, guest kitchen, common areas, housekeeping, hot showers, outdoor terrace, lounge with cable television, and board games.

The hostel offers a 6 bed male dorm, 6 bed female dorm and 7 bed mixed dorm.

Siete Colores Hostel

Siete Colores Hostel

HostelWorld, TripAdvisor, Facebook

Tequilita Hostel | Starting at $14 CAD per night

Calle 6 between Avenida 15 and 20

Tequilita Hostel is a party hostel with unique and colourful decor located a little bit off the beaten tourist path from the busy 5th Avenue, but still close enough to restaurants, banks, the beach and transportation.

The hostel offers free Wi-Fi, a communal kitchen, TV area, bar, outdoor terrace, luggage storage, common areas to relax and a book exchange.

You can choose to stay in a 6 bed mixed dorm, 7 bed female-only and mixed dorm, 10 bed mixed dorm as well as some affordable private rooms.

Hostel Tequilita

HostelWorld, Facebook, TripAdvisor

Hostel Buhos | Starting at $11 CAD per night

Avenida 15 between Calles 4 and 6

Hostel Buhos is a comfortable and stylish new hostel in Playa del Carmen, located only three blocks away from the popular and busy 5th Avenue on a quiet and less touristy street, but still within walking distance to restaurants, bars, transportation and the beach.

The hostel features air conditioning, hot water, free Wi-Fi, a guest computer, free purified drinking water, in addition to new furniture, mattresses, beds and fresh linens.

The hostel offers an 8 bed female dorm, 12 bed mixed dorm and a selection of affordable private rooms.

Hostel Buhos

HostelWorld

Popol Vuh | Starting at $17 CAD per night

Calle 2 between Avenida 5 and the beach

Popl Vuh is a small and simple hostel located in the heart of Playa del Carmen, literally steps from the beach and less than a block from 5th Avenue along with the ADO bus terminal, restaurants, banks, and attractions.

The hostel features free and fast Wi-Fi, a central garden surrounded by palm trees with peace and tranquility to relax, and a guest kitchen for you to prepare your own meals.

There are a variety of private rooms to choose from that include double rooms and a variety of cabin style-rooms. Select rooms have air conditioning, cable television, and private bathrooms. The other rooms have shared bathrooms.

popol

TripAdvisor, Official Website, HostelWorld, Facebook, Expedia

Airbnb:

Airbnb is a website where locals in destinations around the world can rent out a private room in their home or apartment or their entire home or apartment to travelers.

Playa del Carmen has TONNES of unique properties and rooms to choose from, in all areas of the city.

If you are planning on traveling slower and staying in Playa del Carmen for a longer period of time, Airbnb is a great option as you can find places that offer weekly and monthly rental prices. Airbnb rentals are also often much cheaper than staying at a hotel, more so for the long term.

Click here to get a $25 USD discount off your first booking when you sign up for Airbnb!

Volunteer Exchanges:

Workaway and HelpX are websites that connect volunteers to places in destinations around the world where you can help and offer your skills and time.

In exchange for volunteering 4-5 hours per day for 5 days a week, your host will provide you with free accommodation and sometimes food. Popular places where you can volunteer include backpacker hostels, guesthouses, local hotels, travel companies, farms, businesses and individuals.

This is a great option for budget travelers who wish to stay longer in Playa del Carmen while saving money on accommodation and food costs! You are also rewarded with the satisfaction of helping a local business or individual out.

You can check out the websites to browse through the volunteer listings and purchase a membership to contact the hosts.

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I hope that you have found this comprehensive budget-friendly accommodation guide to be helpful for your Playa del Carmen travel planning!

I value budget travel and slow travel and I kept these two travel styles in mind when making this list to help you save money on accommodation costs while traveling and helping you be better able to stay for longer in Playa del Carmen.

Have you been to Playa del Carmen? Stayed at any of my recommendations? Do you have any other suggestions for places to stay that you feel should be added to my list? 

Comment below and let me know what you think!

The Best Things To Do in Valladolid, Mexico

Best Things To Do in Valladolid

Valladolid, Mexico is a small colonial city with a slow-paced and peaceful atmosphere, located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula (approximately 2 hours west of Cancun and 2 hours east of Merida). The Mayan culture is very prominent and the city has a lot of interesting history. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined on both sides with pastel-coloured houses and buildings.

Valladolid is not frequently visited by many tourists, and most travelers arriving here only make a quick stopover in order to tour the nearby ruins of Chichen Itza and/or Ek Balam. The city is a little off the beaten path, which I loved. I loved wandering down the streets and being one of the few, and sometimes the only, tourist around. I also loved being able to more fully immerse myself in the language, while absorbing and learning about the culture through interacting with the local people and being able to observe the daily lives of the locals.

In 2012, Valladolid became known as a Pueblo Magico (Magic Town), which is an initiative led by the Mexican Tourism Department to recognize towns and cities in Mexico based on their natural beauty, cultural richness or historical relevance to the country.

This city is so charming and it is definitely worth at least two days of your time, but I would recommend more time, if you have.

Here are some of the best things to do and see while you are in Valladolid:

Cool off with an afternoon Swim at Cenote Zaci:

Cenote Zaci is a beautiful cavern-like cenote located in the middle of the city. This is a great place to go for a swim in peace, and it is likely you will be the only person there when you visit, as I was. The cenote can easily be reached on foot or by bicycle from the central area.

Located at Calle 36 between 37 and 39.

There are lots of bats and stalactites in an overhang area, and it is a great place for swimming. The water is a little murky, but don’t let that put you off.

I had the whole cenote to myself when I visited on my first afternoon in Valladolid. I wrote more in detail about this cenote in my post titled Cenotes of Valladolid. This cenote is absolutely gorgeous!

Cenote Zaci

Cenote Zaci

Cenote Zaci

Cenote Zaci

The beautiful Cenote Zaci in the middle of Valladolid

The beautiful Cenote Zaci in the middle of Valladolid

Wander the Streets and Neighbourhoods of Valladolid:

One of my favourite things to do when visiting new towns and cities, is to explore and wander the streets. You can often find hidden gems along the journey and it is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture, get off the beaten path and observe how the locals live.

There are so many gorgeous colonial buildings to admire in Valladolid, and a lot of them have unique and colourful doors that make for great photo opportunities! I recommend strolling through the neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the central plaza as well as those surrounding Candelaria Park and Plaza.

Exploring the residential streets and going for early morning walks in a new city is fascinating to me and one of my favourite activities while traveling.

Quiet early morning walk in Valladolid

Beautiful pastel-coloured buildings

My favourite set of doors near Valladolid’s market. So colourful!

Unique doors in Valladolid

One of the main streets in Valladolid

Explore the Ex-Convent de San Bernardino de Siena:

The convent is a great place to explore, and you may be the only person there, like I was!

Located at Calle 41A and 49 (at the end of Calle de los Frailes). The convent is easy to walk to from the centre of Valladolid, along Calle de los Frailes. It is about a 10-15 minute walk.

There is a lot of interesting history behind this place. The convent is huge and is a great place to explore! I enjoyed wandering around through the many quiet corridors and exploring the hidden stairways and small rooms (it is free to go inside the convent).

There is a courtyard in the centre of the convent. All of the walls in the corridors and the stairwells are painted the same pink pastel colour, so it is very easy to get lost if you aren’t keeping track of other landmarks or the direction from which you came.

Behind the convent, there is a beautiful garden with an old well that was built over top of a cenote. This served as the convent’s main water source. There is also a church inside the building that holds services every day.

There was a service in progress when I was exploring the convent and I was able to hear the lovely singing throughout the building.

It was eerie at times, walking into rooms off the main corridor and finding dark and hidden stairways to more small rooms. I was the only person walking through the convent at the time I was there (mid-afternoon). After visiting the convent, go for lunch or dinner at Taberna de los Frailes or Yerba Buena!

Pastel pink hallways inside the convent

Convent de San Bernardino in Valladolid

Take a Stroll Along Calle/Calzada de los Frailes:

This is a well-known historic street in Valladolid, also known as Calle 41A. It is absolutely lovely to stroll along, take photos of the many unique doorways and colourful colonial buildings and relax at Sisal Park at the end.

The street begins at the intersection of Calle 41 and 46 and is a diagonal street that runs from the city centre towards the Convent de San Bernardino. This is probably the most beautiful, pristine and well-maintained street in Valladolid. It is lined with popular restaurants, specialty shops and colonial homes painted in many bright and pastel colours.

There is a place called “Fabrica de Chocolate Artesanal Maya Chocol Haa,” in a bright red building about halfway down the street, going towards the convent. If you go inside, they will offer you free samples of authentic Mayan chocolate served in a variety of interesting flavours (tequila chocolate, for example). They also sell the chocolate in larger packages as well as chocolate products.

At the end of the street, you will enter into an open park area (Sisal Park) with the convent beside it. Spend some time relaxing at the park before exploring the convent, eating or heading back to your accommodation.

This is a beautiful street to go for a relaxing walk in Valladolid.

There are so many unique doors in Valladolid

Retro VW Beetle in Calle de los Frailes

Go Shopping At the Mercado Municipal:

Located at Calle 37 and Calle 32. It is easy to walk or bicycle to the market from the central areas of Valladolid. There is bicycle parking on the streets bordering the market.

This local market is the place to go for everything! There are aisles upon aisles of fresh meat and various animal parts (including intestines, heads, eyeballs, etc.), fruits and vegetables, toys, flowers, clothing, personal care products and cheap aguas frescas and traditional Mexican cuisine at the surrounding inexpensive taquerias. This is where the locals shop.

When I went on a Saturday morning, it was packed with locals and my friends and I were the only Caucasian travelers there. It was a very authentic experience and there were many Mayan women dressed in their traditional outfits selling fresh produce, baked goods and other house ware items.

The area where the meat was being sold was particularly interesting and disgusting (as a vegetarian) as butchers have individual tables set up up and down a few aisles, and the meat is cut up and displayed in the open. I observed pig’s heads laying on some butcher’s tables, intestines strung up along a clothesline, eyeballs and various other animal parts hanging on hooks above the tables.

Thankfully for me, there was a huge variety in fresh fruits! I purchased a bag of freshly sliced pineapple from a local woman for only 10 pesos (less than $1 CAD).

There were lots of fruits and vegetables that I had never seen before, native to Mexico, such as jicama, chaya, chayote, guava, and others. I love visiting markets when I travel, where everything is grown locally and is likely organic.

I love how open markets like this one are the primary place where the locals purchase their daily goods. It is neat that you are able to chat with and know the individual(s) who grew or raised your food. You just don’t get this type of exchange or connection with your food if you shop in a grocery store. It brings people together; meeting those who made your food and also meeting your neighbours and family members there.

Produce section in the local market

Meat section at the market

Relax at the main square, also known as the Zocalo or Plaza Principal (Francisco Canton Rosado Parque):

The Plaza Principal is a great place to relax and immerse yourself in the local culture and language during the day and experience its vibrancy and local activity in the evenings. The streets surrounding the main square are often closed in the late evening while there are dance and musical performances.

Located between Calles 39 to 41 and 40 to 42. This is the main park and central plaza, located in the centre of Valladolid, surrounded by historic and colonial style buildings as well as the gorgeous San Gervasio Cathedral on the south side.

All authentic Mexican towns and cities have a central square and park, where all of the activity happens. Locals gather here in the evenings to meet up with friends and family, relax on the benches, eat ice cream, and chat with one another.

The streets form a grid-like pattern around the central park, with odd numbers in increments of two going north to south and even numbers in increments of two going east to west.

The park is beautiful and there are lots of seating options in the form of white benches and lover’s chairs (two chairs joined together and facing each other). Vendors selling souvenirs, ice cream and Mexican snacks can be found along the paths throughout the park. There is a giant fountain in the centre of the park, with a statue of a woman in the middle of it. The park is relaxing and peaceful during the daytime and is a great place to observe the daily lives of the locals and absorb the Mayan culture. I visited multiple times during my time in Valladolid.

In the evenings, the main square transforms into a vibrant and bustling place filled with activity, as the locals gather to socialize, and shop and eat from some of the many vendors located around the park. There are often local music and dance performances held here in the late evenings (around 9 PM), which are fascinating to watch and are a great way to participate in the local culture.

There are a lot of birds that live in the trees in the park, and they can get very noisy at times! Cover your head when they fly by so you don’t get pooped on.

The only downside to the park was the fleet of big tour buses full of tourists, that would roll in from the Cancun coast beach resorts stopping briefly in Valladolid, either on their way to or from Chichen Itza. The park got really busy around midday with the influx of people but it calmed down again after a couple of hours.

Check out my post about the culture in the Yucatan, to read my story about attending the closing campaign for a local political candidate!

Musical and dance performance at Valladolid’s main square

The closing campaign for a local political candidate in Valladolid

The central park in Valladolid

The central park in Valladolid

Go for a Swim at Cenotes Xkeken and Samula:

Cenotes Xkeken and Samula are fantastic places to go for a refreshing swim!

Located approximately 7 km south of Valladolid, near the village of Dzitnup. These cenotes are located across the road from each other and can be easily accessed by bicycle or taxi from Valladolid. Both cenotes are completely underground, with only a small opening at the ground level for the sun to shine through and tree roots to reach down to the water below.

I wrote about them in more detail in my Cenotes of Valladolid post.

Cenote Samula

Cenote Samula

Cenote Xkeken

Relax at Candelaria Park and Wander the Local Neighbourhood:

Located at Calle 44 and 35. This is a beautiful park and plaza, with trees, benches, lover’s chairs, cafes and ice cream shops surrounding the park. There is also a gorgeous red church across the street from the park. The park exudes a calm and peaceful atmosphere, and there are always locals sleeping or relaxing on the park benches and chatting with one another. The residential neighbourhood surrounding the park, is also lovely. I enjoyed taking morning walks throughout the neighborhood streets and exploring more of the city.

Cathedral across from Candelaria Park

Admire Catedral de San Gervasio:

Located on Calle 39 between 40 and 42, across the street from Francisco Canton Parque on the south side of the park. This cathedral overlooks the central park and is a beautiful church with detailed architecture.

The cathedral still holds daily services, which are open for anyone to attend. It is beautifully lit up in the evenings and at night and there are often Mexican weddings taking place in the evenings here (when it’s cooler outside).

My friends and I watched a wedding here, while waiting for one of the evening performances at the park to begin.

Make sure to take a look inside the cathedral as well. The ceiling and statues are stunning.

Cathedral de San Gervasio in Valladolid

Gorgeous cathedral at Valladolid’s main square

Visit the Small Towns near Valladolid: 

There are many authentic and traditional Mayan towns and villages located within bicycle riding or taxi distance from Valladolid. I did not have the time to explore these villages during my most recent solo trip, however, I plan to visit them next time I am in Mexico. Hostel La Candelaria provides you with a bicycle route map to visit these towns. They also rent bikes for 80 pesos per day.

Some of the villages surrounding Valladolid include: Temozon, Chichimila, Dzitnup, Xocen, Tekom, Xcalaj and others.

Spend the afternoon at Cenote Oxman and San Lorenzo Hacienda: 

Located about 4 km south of Valladolid, this off the beaten path cenote was my absolute favourite that I visited during my solo travels. It is easy to get to via bicycle (you can rent from a bike shop in Valladolid or from Hostel La Candelaria) or taxi. There is a rope swing that you can use to swing across the water and jump into the cenote. It was so much fun! My group and I were the only people at the cenote during our visit, which created a tranquil and magical atmosphere.

The hacienda property where the cenote is located, has a large swimming pool, complete with lounge chairs and a bar. Access to the pool is included in the price of admission to the cenote. I ended up spending the entire afternoon swimming at the cenote and lounging by the pool with a Mexican beer! It was so relaxing.

I wrote about more in detail in my Cenotes of Valladolid post.

Cenote Oxman

Opening to Cenote Oxman

Cenote Oxman

Visit the Coba Ruins: 

Located approximately an hour from Valladolid, the Coba ruins are a great Mayan ruin to explore. They are not super touristy and definitely farther off the beaten path than Chichen Itza and the Tulum Ruins. You can get there by first or second class ADO bus from Valladolid or Tulum.

Since the ruins are spread out in the jungle, it is a good idea to rent bicycles for 40 pesos at the entrance. The entrance fee for the ruins is 65 pesos. You are able to climb and touch all of the structures and the view from the top of the Nohoch Mul (the main pyramid) is absolutely stunning!

The village of Coba is also very interesting to wander around and explore. There are some authentic restaurants that serve delicious traditional Yucatecan cuisine in the parking lot of the ruins as well as further down the road along the lagoon, at the corner where the bus stop is.

Spend a half-day visiting the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote X’Canche: 

The Ek Balam ruins are located approximately 20 minutes north of Valladolid. You can get there via colectivo taxi from Valladolid. These were my favourite Mayan ruins that I toured during my first solo trip to Mexico. The ruins and cenote are definitely off the beaten path, and at times during my visit, my group and I were the only ones there. The atmosphere is peaceful, magical and relaxing. You can climb and touch all of the structures and there are rooms inside of the ruins that you can enter! I recommend climbing the main pyramid at Ek Balam, and the view from the top is breathtaking. The ruins and the cenote are surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty and dense jungle, which I loved.

The entrance to Cenote X’Canche is located down a gravel path from the entrance of Ek Balam. Swimming in the cenote is a perfect way to cool off after climbing the ruins!

I wrote more about these ruins and the cenote in my posts titled The Ruins of Ek Balam and Cenotes of Valladolid.

The main pyramid at Ek Balam

Cenote Xcanche

Cenote Xcanche

The suspension bridge and wooden boardwalk around the interior of the cenote

The suspension bridge and wooden boardwalk around the interior of the cenote

Gorgeous structures at Ek Balam

Gorgeous structures at Ek Balam

The view of the other pyramids from the top of Ek Balam's main pyramid

The view of the other pyramids from the top of Ek Balam’s main pyramid

Spend the morning at Chichen Itza: 

Chichen Itza is located about 45 minutes west of Valladolid, near the town of Piste. You can get there via colectivo or second-class ADO bus from Valladolid. It is a magnificent ruins site, with many impressive structures to explore. Unfortunately, you are unable to climb or touch the ruins. I recommend visiting early in the morning when the site opens at 8 AM, in order to beat the heat and the crowds.

You can read more about Chichen Itza on my post titled Ruins of Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza

Intricate details on this structure at Chichen Itza

Intricate details on this structure at Chichen Itza

Beautiful detailed carvings at Chichen Itza

Beautiful detailed carvings at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

The gorgeous El Castillo at Chichen Itza

The gorgeous El Castillo at Chichen Itza

Have you traveled to Valladolid? What did you love about this city? Any suggestions for things to do that are not on my list? 

Let me know in the comments!

20 Reasons Why I Love Mexico

Untitled design

The first time I visited Mexico, was in 2011 with my family. It was my first trip abroad (aside from going to the United States) and we stayed at an all-inclusive resort near Playa del Carmen, in the Mayan Riviera. Even though we didn’t stray too far from the resort, it was absolutely amazing!

Since then, I have been to Mexico two more times with family and once backpacking as a solo traveler. With every trip, I have fallen more and more in love with this beautiful country!

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The beautiful beaches of Tulum

Mexico offers so much more than the all-inclusive beach resorts from Cancun to Tulum. The beaches are some of the most gorgeous in the world, but if you visit Mexico and stay on a resort property or the beach the entire time, you are missing out on so many amazing things. Mexico is a diverse country and there is a wide variety of activities to do and experiences to be had. You can swim, snorkel or dive in natural underground sinkholes known as cenotes, explore some of the many ancient Mayan ruins, see gorgeous waterfalls in the jungle, explore authentic Mayan villages, eat traditional Mexican food, engage in adventure activities like zip-lining over the jungle treetops, wander through colourful and colonial towns and cities, and much more. There are many things to do, both touristy and off the beaten path.

The country has an array of landscapes, from jungle to desert to mountains to beaches to colonial cities to traditional villages.

Mexico is definitely a country worth exploring. If you are staying at a resort, I highly recommend venturing into the “real” areas of Mexico in order to experience and interact with the country’s authentic culture, cuisine, language and people.

Backpacking through Mexico on my first trip as a solo female was an unbelievable experience!

Here are some of the reasons why I am in love with Mexico (in no particular order):

The Food:

There is no question about it, Mexican and Mayan food is absolutely delicious. In the Yucatan Peninsula, you can find tacos, panuchos, sopes, salbutes, huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, guacamole, paletas, aguas frescas, cochinita pibil, poc chuc, and so much more. As a fruit and veggie lover, I was in heaven with the constant availability of fresh produce. If you want to read all about the various foods you should sample in the Yucatan, then check out this post.

Mexico has everything from street vendors, to family-run eateries, to upscale restaurants serving traditional and authentic Mexican cuisine and regional specialties. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend trying the street food at one of the many food carts everywhere. It is fresh, spicy, delicious and authentic.

My favourite foods would probably be tacos al pastor, panuchos, huevos rancheros and guacamole. I loved the fresh fruit popsicles known as “paletas” for snacks and desserts. And my favourite aguas frescas (a beverage made with water, sugar and fresh fruit) flavours were jamaica (hibiscus flower), horchata (made from rice, vanilla and cinnamon), and sandia (watermelon). Visiting the local markets was one of my favourite things to do and there were so many exotic and delicious fruits and vegetables to try!

I loved eating at the street vendors and small eateries or “loncherias” (lunch restaurants). I was often the only Caucasian female tourist eating at these places, and it was fascinating to just observe the daily life of the locals around me, practice my Spanish with the restaurant staff and immerse myself in the culture.

Huevos Rancheros

Healthy Greek Salad

Panucho, sope and taco

Mexican People:

The majority of the locals that I interacted with in Mexico were super friendly, warm, welcoming and helpful; from the shop-owners, to the restaurant staff, to the bus/colectivo/taxi drivers, and more. They are so cheerful too! When I would go for morning walks and wander through the streets, the local people and shop-owners would say “buenos dias” (good morning) to each other and to tourists as they passed by on the streets and sidewalks. It felt really welcoming and I liked that everyone acknowledged each other, instead of just burying their faces in smartphones and keeping to themselves, as is the case in Western cultures.

I bought fresh coconut water from a local man in Tulum, during my walk through a residential neighbourhood near my hostel. He was so friendly and inviting, and offered for me to have a seat on a chair in his front “yard” (a cement block in front of his house). He spoke great English, as he worked as a scuba diving instructor at the nearby Dos Ojos Cenote, and we chatted about our lives. His mother (who spoke no English) also joined us outside. It was such a cool experience being able to interact and connect with the locals like that!

The Weather:

Compared to Canada, the weather is always warm in Mexico! I love the heat and visiting Mexico in May, which is one of the hottest months, was absolutely amazing for me. It can’t get much better than +35 to +40 degrees Celsius every day! Perfect weather for cooling off for a swim in the cenotes.

The Culture:

I am fascinated about culture, and the Mexican and Mayan culture is very interesting to learn about. I loved sitting in a park or wandering the streets and just observing the culture around me. If you want to read more about my cultural observations, check out this detailed post.

The Safety:

The mainstream media wants you believe that Mexico is a country that is much too dangerous to be visiting. However, they tend to generalize violence and crime in certain states (usually the central and northern border states) to the entire country, which is unfair. The three states that make up the Yucatan Peninsula, have some of the lowest violent crime rates in Mexico and is considered the safest region of Mexico. The crime rates are even lower than rural areas and large cities in the United States!

The Yucatan Peninsula is a very safe area of Mexico to explore, in addition to some other states. As a solo female traveler, I felt super safe there.

The Markets:

Visiting the vibrant local markets in Tulum and Valladolid was one of my favourite things to do in Mexico. The markets are colourful and a hub of activity, and most of the locals do all of their shopping here. They are colourful and busy and a great place to immerse yourself in and learn about the local culture while practicing your Spanish and getting off the beaten path. As I toured the markets, I was often the only Caucasian female tourist wandering around. It was such a cool experience!

Some of the markets are so big and it’s overwhelming at times, because there is just so much to see, smell and taste. The markets don’t just sell fresh fruits and vegetables, they sell everything you can imagine! There are toys, games, personal care products, shoes, clothing, handbags, spices, dry goods, herbs and more.

As a vegetarian (most of the time), walking through the meat section of the market was interesting and slightly nauseating. The aisles were lined with tables, with local men chopping up and portioning very fresh meat, and then bagging it up for customers. I saw almost every animal body part imaginable being sold to people… things that I had no idea people even consumed! There were animal eyeballs, heads, intestines (hanging from strings above the meat table), legs, hooves, and other body parts that almost induced vomiting as I walked by. There were so many flies sitting on everything, that I couldn’t imagine eating the meat… How is everybody not sick all the time? But it was definitely interesting to walk through the area.

My favourite sections of the market were obviously where the fruits and vegetables were! There were local Mayan women dressed in their traditional outfits selling their produce, which was fresh, local and ridiculously cheap. You could even buy freshly cut fruit pieces in a bag for only 10 pesos, which you could enjoy eating immediately! There was produce I was familiar with and then some exotic things that I had never heard of or seen before.

I recommend checking out some of the many markets when you are in Mexico!

Mercado Municipal in Valladolid

Market in Valladolid

Market in Valladolid

The meat section of the local market

The meat section of the local market

The Abundance of Retro VW Beetles:

Mexicans appear to have a fascination with brightly painted retro Volkswagon Beetles. They can be seen everywhere, and make for fantastic photo opportunities! I saw many different patterns and colours, including leopard print and hot pink.

Hot pink VW Beetle in Tulum

Cenotes:

Cenotes are natural sinkholes in the ground filled with clear, fresh water. They are often connected to expansive underground river systems that run throughout the Yucatan. The porous rock has eroded over time and has caved in to form these beautiful natural wonders. You can swim, snorkel or dive in them. Cenotes are unique to the Yucatan and there are thousands of them all over the peninsula.

During my first solo trip to Mexico, I swam in eight different cenotes around Tulum and Valladolid. They are so refreshing (especially after climbing some Mayan ruins!) and the water is so clear. Little black catfish live in many of the cenotes and they will swim around you. There were a few cenotes I visited that had A LOT of catfish, which freaked me out a little bit. I swear I felt one of them brush against my leg (but I can’t be sure), which is a strange fear of mine.

Nevertheless, swimming in these natural wonders is absolutely amazing. I really enjoyed visiting the lesser known and off the beaten path cenotes, like Cenote X’Canche near the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote Oxman near Valladolid (You can read more about the cenotes I visited in Tulum here, and near Valladolid here), because I (along with some friends from my hostels) were often the only people there. Being pretty much alone in such a gorgeous place, was magical and I loved the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, and being surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty.

Getting to and from the cenotes is usually pretty straightforward and easy using local transportation (colectivos, taxis, bikes, etc.).

Swimming in the cenotes should be a must on your list of things to do in the Yucatan! They are all so unique and beautiful in their own ways, so I suggest visiting more than one to see the variety. I highly recommend seeking out some lesser known cenotes, by asking your accommodation staff or any local for their recommendations. Guaranteed, they will know of a place that only the locals know about and visit. Those are the places where you can really get a feel for the culture, interact with locals and have unique and authentic experiences.

Cenote Zaci in Valladolid

Cenote X’Canche near Ek Balam

Cenote Samula near Valladolid

San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote near Valladolid

Valladolid:

Valladolid is one of my favourite cities in the Yucatan. It is a charming colonial city in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula, with a laid-back and slow pace atmosphere. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with pastel coloured low-rise buildings, all with such unique architecture and character.

I fell in love with Valladolid almost immediately after stepping off the bus. Most tourists only end up staying one or two nights in this city, in order to visit Chichen Itza and other nearby ruins and cenotes. But I believe that Valladolid is worth more than a two nights’ stay! There is so many things to do and see (check out my complete guide to Valladolid). There is a cenote in the middle of the city, colonial churches, a massive ex-convent to explore, a beautiful central park, delicious places to eat and much more.

I loved how prominent the Mayan culture was in Valladolid and it is a great place to immerse yourself in and learn more about the culture. Hardly anyone spoke English, and I enjoyed the challenge of practicing my Spanish and learning more of the language. I walked everywhere in Valladolid, and especially enjoyed wandering through quiet residential neighbourhoods where I was the only tourist around. It was fascinating to be able to observe the local life around me. I also loved admiring the beautiful colourful and colonial architecture.

Valladolid is a fantastic city, that is definitely more authentic of Mexico and further off the beaten path than Tulum and Playa del Carmen, which I loved. You will get a real feel for the culture here and have some pretty unique experiences.

Catedral de San Gervasio in Valladolid

Central Park in Valladolid

Colourful doors and wall in Valladolid

Cobblestone streets lined with pastel-coloured buildings

The Beaches:

When you inform people of your upcoming travel plans to Mexico, most people will assume that you are going there for the resorts and beaches. This is what I went to Mexico for during my first three visits.

I have visited the beaches at Playa del Carmen and Tulum and they are absolutely gorgeous, and the water is a beautiful turquoise colour.

I am not a huge fan of beaches (I don’t enjoy the feel of sand or how it gets in everything), so beaches are no longer the primary reason why I visit Mexico. But if you love beaches, this is definitely a great place to find them!

The beach at the Tulum Ruins

Secluded beach below the Tulum Ruins

The Ancient Mayan Ruins:

Mexico is well-known for its many ancient Mayan ruins. There are so many of them in the Yucatan! Learning history behind these ruins and of the ancient Mayan civilization fascinate me, and the ruins are a huge reason why I love and continue to return to Mexico.

My favourite ruins that I visited during my first solo trip was Ek Balam, which is a site located about twenty minutes north of Valladolid. The ruins were lesser known and were surrounded by dense unspoiled jungle. Very little had been done to modernize the site (aside from the entrance area and washrooms) and you were free to explore and climb all of the structures. I loved how “undiscovered” these ruins felt and it was definitely an off the beaten path experience!

I have also visited the ruins of Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba, which are all unique and amazing as well.

The main pyramid at Chichen Itza

The main pyramid at Ek Balam

Public Transportation:

Mexico has an amazing public transportation system; definitely better than Canada’s! The ADO first and second class buses are convenient, safe, comfortable and reliable. The local colectivos (shared shuttle vans) are fast and air-conditioned and do not operate on a fixed schedule, so it is easy to catch one whenever you need.

Tulum:

Tulum is a small village located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, along the Mayan Riviera. It has a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, and the locals are welcoming and friendly. There is so much to do in and around Tulum! You can visit the Tulum Ruins, wander the residential streets finding colourful street murals along the way, visit the ruins of Coba, swim at the beach, check out some of the many wonderful produce markets, and eat lots of delicious authentic Mexican food! Here is my detailed guide to Tulum, with everything else you need to know.

Postcard scene from the beach at Tulum

A colourful mural on a quiet street in Tulum

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Produce market in Tulum

The Amazing Hostels:

Mexico has so many amazing hostels! I stayed in hostels for the first time in Mexico during my solo trip. Of the three hostels I stayed at, they were all so unique and I had such positive experiences. I loved the colourful decor at the hostels, the extremely friendly and helpful staff and how easy it was to meet new people and travel friends. My favourite hostels were Mama’s Home in Tulum and Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid.

Mama’s Home had a beautiful outdoor courtyard in the centre of the hostel, with colourful paintings on the walls surrounding it, a large palm tree in the centre and hammocks to relax in along the edges.

Colourfully painted floor and walls in the outdoor courtyard

View of the hostel from the street

View of the hostel from the street

The outdoor courtyard

Hostel La Candelaria was located in a colonial building and featured a rooftop patio, a beautiful treed garden with hammocks behind the building, and even an outdoor kitchen!

Colourfully painted outdoor washrooms and showers

Colourfully painted outdoor washrooms and showers

The front of Hostel La Candelaria from the plaza/square

The front of Hostel La Candelaria from the plaza/square

View of the hostel from the garden behind it

View of the hostel from the garden behind it

The History:

Mexico’s history is fascinating. If you are interested in the Mayan civilization, there is so much history you can learn about the ancient ruins, the cenotes and the towns and cities. I recommend reading about the history of the places you plan to visit before you get there, so you have some background knowledge.

The Local Shops:

Something I loved about Mexico, was the lack of big department chain stores (in small towns and cities, like Tulum and Valladolid) and the abundance of small specialty shops that were locally-owned. Every shop has its own specialty. There is the “papeleria” which sells stationary and paper; the “tortilleria” sells fresh tortillas; the “floreria” sells flowers; the “paleteria y neveria” sells popsicles and ice cream. There are so many more that I could list as well.

I love supporting local businesses and individuals, both at home and when I am traveling, and I loved how easy it was to do that in Mexico.

Local woman in Tulum selling fresh fruit from a bicycle cart

Local convenience store or “abarrotes” in Tulum

One of many paleteria and neverias in Tulum

The produce market in Tulum

Affordability: 

When you hear people talk about traveling to Mexico, you might assume that it is an expensive luxury destination. While there are definitely some pricier areas and types of accommodation in Mexico, like boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts along the Mayan Riviera, traveling in Mexico doesn’t have to be expensive.

If you are traveling on a budget and independently, you can travel for very cheap, especially if you are willing to stay in hostels, eat cheap and authentic local food and use public transportation. The total cost of my 12 day solo trip to Mexico was significantly less than when I stayed at an all-inclusive resort for 7 days. You can read a more detailed report about what exactly I spent in Mexico during my solo trip here. On average, I spent around $50 CAD per day, but I could have spent even less.

It is also worth noting that the slower you travel and the longer you stay in one place, the cheaper your travel is going to be. This is because you won’t be trying to cram a bunch of activities and sightseeing into a short period of time, but will be able to space things out.

Mexico may not be as bargain cheap as South East Asia or Central America, but it is affordable. If you travel in the off-season, you’ll find even better value for your money outside the November-March season. May is a great month to travel to Mexico because it is between high season and rainy season. For budget travelers, you can get by on very little. The food is cheap as well as the local transportation.

The Spanish Language:

I love everything about the Spanish language. It sounds gorgeous and it has a nice flow to it. The grammar rules make more sense to me than those in English and I like that everything is pronounced how it is spelled. Spanish is the primary language spoken in Mexico and aside from the touristy cities and attractions, it becomes increasingly difficult to find English speakers. Even in Tulum, which is pretty touristy, the minute you step off the main highway with all of the souvenir shops, there were not many people who spoke English! Thus, it is essential that you know the basics of the language and a few key phrases, so you are able to express yourself with words instead of relying on body language, charades and other non-verbal forms of communication. I enjoyed the challenge of having to practice my Spanish skills!

The Colours:

Everything is so colourful and vivid in Mexico! The houses, traditional clothing, the food and the colonial buildings.

The Cathedrals:

There are so many cathedrals and churches in Mexico. The large cathedrals are often located on the main squares and parks in the city/town/village. They are all so unique, grand and beautiful with such detailed architecture. It was fascinating to wander around inside some of them and admire everything.

Catedral de San Gervasio in Valladolid

The cathedral across from Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid

The cathedral across from Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid

Catedral de San Gervasio at the main plaza in Valladolid

Catedral de San Gervasio at the main plaza in Valladolid

I hope that through this post, you can appreciate all of the amazing attractions, activities and gorgeous natural beauty that the country of Mexico has to offer!

No matter what kind of traveler you are – off the beaten path, independent, luxury, budget, family, solo female, adventure – there is something for everyone in Mexico.

It is definitely a country worth exploring!

Here are some other blogs that have written about their favourite things in Mexico:

http://globetrottergirls.com/2010/09/33-things-we-love-about-mexico/

http://themexicoreport.com/2011/03/08/things-we-love-about-mexico/

https://www.hotelesboutique.com/en/30-things-i-love-about-mexico/

http://www.alongdustyroads.com/posts/2014/9/10/21-things-we-love-about-mexico

http://www.crazysexyfuntraveler.com/26-reasons-love-mexico/

Have you been to Mexico? What do you love about this country?

Let me know in the comments!