It’s no secret - I love a road trip and I love to travel without spending the big bucks. Should you feel the same way and are considering Mexico as your next destination, then this blog post is for you. For this itinerary you want to have about two weeks and use Cancun airport.
You can also visit most of these destinations by public transport but you will have to set some more time aside or miss some sights. But trust me, you will enjoy having a rental car in Mexico. There’s nothing like the freedom of rolling the windows down, singing along to a good road trip playlist and stopping wherever you like, whenever you like.
As always - here is my google maps list to all sights and stops you might want to con derider along the way.
Renting a Car in Mexico
Renting a car in Mexico does come with its challenges, but with a little research you’ll be just fine. Be aware that some companies try to charge double for various things such as insurance (once online and again in person when you pick it up). So make sure to look at reviews to compare different companies. We rented a car in person straight from Europcar at Cancún Airport. This cost us about £650 for a basic car, with full coverage insurance and additional driver for two weeks. As a group of three splitting the cost, this wasn’t too bad. As always when renting a car, remember to bring a credit card and make sure to take photo /videos of the entire car on the spot when you get given the keys.
Wondering what driving in Mexico is like? Let me tell you: You drive on the right hand side. Most roads on this route are fairly well maintained, you only encounter gravel roads leading to sights occasionally. There is only very few toll roads and you pay for those on the spot. Be aware of speed bumps - they are basically everywhere! Police checkpoints are fairly common, but we only had great experiences. Keep and eye out for dogs, iguanas, raccoons and other wildlife crossing the roads. Overtaking and having you hazard lights flashing is super common under locals. It really isn’t a trick place to drive (especially compared to Asia) and using common sense is traffic rule number one.
Cancun (1 night) - Cancun is very busy and touristy, don’t waist your time here (there is nicer places waiting). Have a night in Cancun to relax after your flight, stroll downtown and have the first of many tacos. Should you land early in the day you can also start your road trip up the coast straight away. While crowed, you can still find nice beaches around Cancun and have a good time if you are willing to spend a little extra.
Tulum (2 nights) - again, Tulum along with Playa del Carmen and Cancun is flooded by tourism, but a good location to base yourself for day trips. If you fancy splashing out and going partying in fancy beach clubs and resorts you’ll find plenty here. But there’s also cheap hostels, good eats and awesome cenotes (freshwater swimming wholes). On your way up stop at tropical beaches and sights along the way. On day two head inland from Tulum to Coba to see Mayan temples, spot wildlife during a walk through the national park or boat safari and don’t miss the less crowded, cheap and cristal clear cave cenotes in the area.
Mahahual (2 nights) - I loved this little slice of paradise. Palm trees, white sand beaches, small restaurants and dive schools. Ideal to spend a couple of days working on the tan, relaxing in a hammock, having a massage on the beach, snorkelling or scuba diving. Unfortunately I was sick and couldn’t go diving, but the reef and marine life is supposed to be amazing.
Bacalar (2 nights) - located on a massive lagoon right at the border to Belize, Bacalar is often referred to as „the Maldives of Mexico” for a reason. Jump of jetties into blue water, take a boat tour and soak up that holiday feel. The close by “Cenote Azul” costs next to nothing and “Mr. Taco” serves insanely good, affordable food all day long. (Try their burritos - you’re welcome)
Valladolid (1 night) - this is your gateway to the famous world wonder “Chichen Itza”. With roughly 4 hours from Bacalar, this is the longest drive of your road trip but worth smashing out. Explore the city and get up early the next morning to drive to Chichen Itza for when it opens, to beat the heat and the crowds. Should you be chasing the instagram shots you can stop at Cenote Suytun (just be prepared you won’t be the only one).
Merida or Progresso (1 night) we opted for Progresso which is a small ish, local town over the bigger, more well known city Merida. Merida is supposed to have good museums and art, Progresso has beaches and is more laid back. Should you choose Progresso, check out “Gingers Jungle Rescue & Restaurant”. They do delicious food that supports their dog rescue. You can even go meet their pups.
Rio Lagartos (1 night) - keep your eyes peeled on the drive here, you should be able to spot massive flocks of birds including flamingos amongst the salt flats and pink lakes. Stay for the night and book a sunrise boat safari in the national park. You get taken out on a small boat to spot crocodiles, birds, enjoy sunrise and finish the tour with a dip into the golf of Mexico.
Playa El Cuyo (1-2 nights) - calm blue ocean, a long white sandy beach with an island feel to it. This place is still fairly free from tourism and you can bask in the sun amongst locals and dine in small restaurants. One of my favourite money saving hacks is to stay in cheaper apartments or airbnbs, but then visit fancy hotels with swimming pools by the ocean by simply buying a drink or two there. Whilst of course some resorts don't allow any outsiders, most places will happily let you use their facilities and spend the day.
Holbox Island (2-3nights) - You can reach Holbox via a short 20 minutes ferry ride. Simply park your car near the pier and book a ticket on the spot. Ferry’s run all day, every half an hour. Once you get there, stunning sunsets, lots of street art, and little beach bars are you waiting on the car free island. The island is easily walkable but bicycles and golf carts can be rented and depending on what time of the year you visit you can see bioluminescence and whale sharks. Low tide allows you to wonder along a sand bank surrounded by clear, blue water all the way to a nature reserve. Holbox has a little animal rescue called „Refugio Animal Holbox“ that allows you to take out dogs for beach walks and meet their puppies, so you are guaranteed great company.
Puerto Morelos or Playa Del Carmen (1-2 nights) - these are both good spots to position yourself before flying out of Cancun. Puerto Morelos is less busy, while Plays del Carmen calls for a party. Whichever you choose, there is cenotes, souvenir shopping and beaches on hand. Alternatively you can also take a (day) trip to Cozumel Island or opt to spend your last days in Cancun.