Ah.. the Yucatan..one of the most beautiful places on earth. On the Yucatan, you can find some of the best dive sites in Belize, the most awe-inspiring ruins in Tikal or Tulum, and the wildest nightlife in Cancun. What more could you want? This area is blessed with blinding white sand, tropical scuba diving, ancient Myan ruins, and cenotes as far as the eye can see.
The best part? How accessible it is! Majority of the peninsula is covered with highways and roads, yet it doesn’t take away from its natural beauty. Look at this, you can reach all the sites listed, EASILY.
I did this trip two summers back con mi abuelo (grandpa) and it was spectacular. We spent 17 days in the region, and didn’t even get to see HALF of what if offered! But, what we did see was well worth it. This guide will not include everything there is possible, but it WILL include everything I did, and I’ll tell you, my itinerary was well worth it.
In it’s simplest form:
1) Cancun – Playa del Carmen
2) Playa del Carmen – Chetumal
3) Chetumal – Belize City
4) Belize City – Tikal
5) Tikal – Belmopan
6) Belmopan – Chetumal
7) Chetumal – Playa del Carmen
8) Playa del Carmen – Cancun
In a more detailed form:
We arrived in Cancun, and picked up our car (more about that later). This route could not be easier. To get from Cancun all the way down to Chetumal, it is one road: Rt. 307 South. No turn-offs, no merging, just straight. Between Chetumal and Belize City, you obviously must cross the Mexico/Belize border. Normally, this is pretty simple, but if you have a rental car, it can be a little confusing.
Once in Belize, you HAVE to be careful when reading your directions. Although there are only, maybe, eight or so paved roads in all of Belize, the roads are poorly marked. If you make one wrong turn, you could be heading that direction for hours and have no idea.
The next milestone is the border between Belize and Guatemala. This border… let’s just say it can be a little more hectic. There will be a whole section on border crossings, forms, etc. Don’t worry.
Once you get to Tikal, you just turn back around, and go right where you came from!
The only possible way I know of is by car rental. There could POSSIBLY be bus systems, but that’d be a lot of changing of buses, and scheduling, etc. With a rental car, you set your own pace, and go exactly wherever you’d like.
In Cancun, there are dozens of car rental services, including Hertz, Avis, Economy, and many other big name companies. If you have a certain alliance, then so be it. I have no preference as to who you should book with.
On the other hand, I can tell you who NOT to rent with, and that’s American Car Rental. These incompetent bafoons couldn’t tell the difference between an apple or orange, let alone successfully rent out a car.
Yes, I realize it’s difficult to get the right paperwork to take rental cars across international borders, but I’d be hard-pressed to say we were the first to do it. These guys acted as if we were trying to smuggle cocaine, and were freaking out getting us the paper work. THEN, they gave us a faulty vehicle. One that didn’t have working wind-shield wipers (which proved to be important when it monsoon-ed the next night). We had to wait an entire day for a replacement car, throwing off our schedule. They didn’t do anything to compensate either… What a bunch of chumps.
Where to Stay
Cancun: After we arrived in Cancun, and picked up our faulty car, we checked into the Fiesta Americana, located right on the main row of beach-side Cancun. I honestly can not speak highly enough of this hotel. They’re inclusive breakfast was spectacular, highlighted by fresh fruit and made-to-order omelettes. Their pool was large, arsty in the way it was made, and had a basketball hoop and volleyball net. They even had an employee who’s job it was organize games of each. Their beach was as white as could be, and was made even better with full service of drinks and food! I honestly couldn’t tell you how much it cost per night because we paid via rewards points.
Playa del Carmen: The In Fashion Hotel in Playa del Carmen was just that, “In fashion”. We were forced to book last second due to the car fiasco, but that being said, their rates were fantastic. I think it was something like $50 a night for two people, literally ON the main avenue (which is obviously the place to be).
Belize: Once you make it down to Belize, your options for housing drop significantly. We stayed at the Princess Hotel and Casino, located right on the water. They’ve got a nice dining facility associated with it, and a pretty extensive casino on the ground floor.
Tikal: In Tikal, we stayed on site at the Jungle Lodge. It reminded me of scout camp, bare minimum. But, their employees were fantastic. We were one of two families staying on site and they treated us as if we were on of their own. By the end of our stay, they memorized our drinks, knew our itinerary, and genuinely asked how our activities were. They even set us up with a tour guide during our stay. NOTE** The acceptance of card here is minimum! Bring a LOT of cash. The closest bank is roughly an hour away, in Isla de Flores.
What To Do
Cancun: As previously noted, Cancun is notorious for its nightlife, especially during college holidays when students travel down. It does have more to offer though, including secluded beaches, jet skiing, water skiing, any water sport you can imagine, and golf. I suggest all of these things! When your relaxing on the beach, it’s not hard to find jet skiing vendors, or any other sport for that matter. The vendors know this is a touristy area, and for the most part speak English fairly well.
Playa del Carmen: When you get to Playa del Carmen, the idea is basically the same, but is also known for its fantastic shopping street, 5th Avenue. The avenue runs along the beach, so it is quite common to hop back and forth from the beach to the shopping. Another excursion unique to Playa del Carmen are the day trips out to Cozumel, a luxury beach resort.
Before you depart for Chetumal, be sure to stop about an hour south to the ruins of Tulum, an ancient Mayan civilization located right on the water, providing a spectacular scene.
Chetumal: I’m going to be honest, the Capital of the Quintana Roo state was more of just a mid-way point. We needed a place to crash for the night. That being said, if you wanted a real Mexican cultural experience, this is the place to go, because you’ll get it.
Belize City: Everyone’s familiar with the Blue Hole, and Belize’s fantastic scuba diving. Well, have you ever heard much about mainland Belize? Probably not, because there’s not much there. Belize is known for it’s scuba diving, therefor, visit Belize for its scuba diving, because you will quickly find yourself bored in Belize City.
Tikal: One of the largest, most well preserved ancient ruins site in the world. So what do you do? You see the ruins. They’re breathtaking. Deemed by CNN as one of the major world wonders, and it is just that, a wonder! You can tour the park by yourself, but I really suggest getting a guide. He/she will help you understand the history and how the ancient Myans lived. Be prepared though, you can spend hours in this park walking, and still not see everything. Either dedicate a lot of time, or really plan what you want to see because, otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot.
Also, remember how I mentioned that the closest ATM was an hour-ish away in Isla de Flores? Well the excursion to the bank quickly become one of the highlights of the trip! The beautiful island town in the middle of Guatemala was a subtle mixture between European and hispanic influences.
Belmopan: The skimp Belizian capital lacks in excitement itself, but on the outskirts of the “city” there is the Belize National Zoo. With this being technically my first trip to a jungle, there were a whole lot of animals I had never seen before. It was a really cool experience, because it showed how different the landscapes and environment are, even though there only a hundred miles away from the deserts of Mexico.
Complications You May Encounter
Belize/Guatemala Border: There are a few times where a service fee must be paid upon entrance/exit to a new country. But, of course, they never tell you this prior to arrival. I suggest you arrive on scene with ample amount of cash, in order to pay these fees. This fee is roughly $35 USD per person. When my Grandfather and I arrived, we weren’t equipped with any quetzals, so we were forced to settle for a poor exchange rate with some hagglers who were waiting near by for chumps like us.
International Rental Car Paperwork: Crossing international borders with a rental car is a tedious task, but possible. For starters, before you depart for the Yucatan, make sure you call ahead of time to your rental car agency and ask for the correct paperwork to get your car past a border. In essence, you need proof of permission by the company that you’re allowed to take their car abroad. Even more of a burden, you need two copies once you arrive at the border. One for you to keep, and one for the immigration agents to.
The Yucatan is the international playground for anyone who’s interested in a mixture of beautiful beaches, and history. I’m sure anyone who’s reading this already has a extensive bucket list, but you can add a few more 😉 Hopefully I’ll see you there soon!
Have you had any experiences in the Yucatan that you’d like to share?? Comment below, or better yet, write your own post and tag me in it! Cheers