Our trip to Mexico started and ended with a visit to Mexico City (CDMX). From there, we took a domestic flight via Interjet to Cancún with plans to go on a 1.5 week road trip around the Yucatán peninsula. To read about our time in CDMX, check out this post.
The Cancún airport is one of the nicer airports we’ve been through. It’s brand new, super clean, and fairly well-organized. We arrived in Cancún at about 5:30PM, and it was going to take us about 3 hours to get to Valladolid, our first destination. So we quickly picked up our barebones rental car through Easy Way Rent a Car in Cancún and hit the road right away. If you ever fly into Cancún, make sure you catch a glimpse of what the landscape looks like from high above. You’ll see a flat, dense jungle, only broken up by long narrow roads that connect the small towns together. It was quite a sight! Driving from one town to another around the Yucatán is therefore literally a straightforward drive -- you just keep going on the highway as it goes through each town. However do be mindful of your gas tank, because gas stations are few and far between and not on every corner in town like North America.
I’ll break up this Yucatán blog post by city/town, highlighting our favourite moments and recommended activities within each location. Keep in mind that at the time of our trip, our kids were about 18 months (Micah) and 6 months old (Judah), so the activities that we have chosen to do were ones that favoured safe and memorable experiences for them as well.
A word about the weather: when in rains, it POURS. While it was hot and sunny 90% of the time, it rained almost every day of our September trip. The downpours are sudden and intense, but are over in a few minutes.
Because we were driving so much, we decided to bring our car seats with us for this trip (even though they weren't strictly enforced). Do note that it is illegal to drive with a child in the front seat of the vehicle, and that you'll face steep penalties if you are caught with your baby sitting with you in the front.
Stop #1: Valladolid
We arrived in Valladolid just a bit before 9PM. Our hotel there, Hotel Posada San Juan, is hands down one of the best accomodations that we’ve stayed in. The rooms were very spacious and comfortable, the entire place was so kid-friendly, and the people… man. The people were some of the best we’ve met around the world. I can’t stress enough how much we recommend this place. If you’ve got kids, STAY HERE. They’ve got toys and books that can keep your mini-explorers occupied. The pool is nice and near the rooms. Our room had two large beds, a hammock, and tons of extra space to set up cribs (in our case, the hotel arranged for a crib for Judah, and Micah slept in his Shrunks bed). The staff always had a high chair ready to go for us during meal times, and if that wasn’t enough, our friend Gabriel the concierge so warmly greeted us each day, offering to take Judah so that we could eat in peace. He would walk around with “baby Hoo-dah”, show him the various interesting spots around the hotel, and play with him. Other staff often offered to entertain Micah too. Staying here felt like staying at my grandma’s place, where you feel known and cared for as soon as you walk through the doors.
Valladolid was my favourite stop in our Yucatánean adventure. The town is charming and so darn beautiful with all the colours and textures. We experienced our first cenote here too.
Where to stay:
- Hotel Posada San Juan
Where to eat:
- Try the food court in the Zocalo (public square). I recommend the Sopa de Lima (Lime soup with chicken), which my toddler really enjoyed.
- We also popped into Restaurante El Atrio del Mayab for dinner. They had decent food (try the Cochinita de Pibil! It’s a great local Mayan dish), we especially liked their green juice.
Sites to visit:
- Swim in Cenote Zací
- Walk around the picturesque Calz. de los Frailes and take in all the beautifully coloured buildings and storefronts. There are shops and restaurants here, but we found them a little too expensive.
- Cenote Yokdzonot (It’s an hour drive west, Chichén Itzá is on the way if you go there)
- Chichén Itzá, a large site with ancient Mayan ruins. We skipped it in favor of Uxmal (more on that below)
- Ek' Balam is supposed to be another interesting archeological site, however we didn’t have the time to check it out.
Stop #2: Merida (via Izamal/Tixkokob)
En route to Merida, we decided to make two quick pit stops: in a yellow town called Izamal and a small artisanal town called Tixkokob. The city centre in Izamal was painted yellow, reportedly due to a visit by Pope John Paul II back in the 90s. If you’re looking for fun Instagram-worthy spots to take a few pics, this would be it ;). Don’t forget to visit the church as well, the courtyard around the church was a short but fun walk. It was super hot when we arrived, so we quickly took a few photos, had some lunch at Kinich Izamal and left. Then we headed out in search of hammocks. We had been told by a local from Merida that the best Mexican hammocks are made in Tixkokob, so we wanted to check it out. Fun fact we were told that Mayans have been making great hammocks in The Yucatán for thousands of years, with many present day Mayans still choosing a hammock over a bed.
We only stayed an hour or so, ended up meeting an older man who told us about a “factory” that his family had. So we went to visit his home factory “Hamacas De Juan Pool”, chatted with his family, saw the creation process, bought a hammock, and went on our merry way. Although the best hammocks come from Tixkokob the quality can vary from shop to shop. These ones are very good quality and we definitely recommend popping into their small shop.
On to Merida we went. Merida is a fun city that features a good mix of hipster cafes, juice bars, historical sites, nearby beaches, and commercial shopping malls. I think my favourite place here was the fresh juice bar just outside of our Airbnb, where large fresh juices were $2! Micah enjoyed his fair share of green juice, which is saying something for a toddler that can pick and spit out the tiniest vegetable I unsuccessfully try to hide in his food.
Where to stay:
- Las Escaleras Guest House - Our Airbnb was beautiful, clean, and cosy and had a crib for us to borrow. It was also in a great location, especially with a cool cafe, awesome juice bar and good restaurants within walking distance. It is a 165-year old colonial house so it has lots of quirky (read: cool) features, not to mention having a really fun rooftop hangout spot with an amazing view of the city (we watched a thunderstorm while lying in the hammocks one evening!). The only thing was that our room felt a little small for our family of four. With a crib and an air mattress on the floor, there wasn’t a ton of space for the toddler to roam in. Not a deal breaker or anything (especially since we spent most of our time out and about), but good to keep in mind.
Where to eat:
- Pola Gelato shop - Fun little heladería that offered some respite from the smouldering heat.
- Peruano (Peruvian restaurant) - We were headed back to our car after stopping in for gelato when we walked by this Peruvian restaurant. And we are so glad we did! The food was delicious, the service was great, and the atmosphere was really fun! We hear the ceviche is THE thing to get off the menu, but we didn’t get to try it. Also, a fun little thing they do is bring your bill via a handcrafted little drawer unit that was full of little treats (Micah enjoyed the marshmallow!), and your bill is hidden in one of the drawers!
- Dadaumpa Italian restaurant - We met the brothers who ran the place, and they were super friendly. The family is from Italy and closes up shop for a month every year to go back home. They make their fresh pasta in-house, so the food was super good. Delicioso!
- Manifesto Cafe (Calle 59) - Seriously good coffee. Really cool atmosphere. Not to miss if you’re a coffee lover!
- La Prospe del Xtup - They had a good selection of a variety of Mayan dishes. The servers were super friendly and were very understanding of our kids who were at the tail end of a loooong day.
Sites to visit:
- Museo Mundo Maya Mérida - A great museum that highlights the history of the Mayan culture. We lucked out and came on a day that the admission was free.
- Mercado Lucas de Galvéz - No Mexico trip is complete without at least one market day. The crowded, busy streets, lines of little stalls and shops, selling anything from fish to shoes to hammocks.
Stop #3: Bacalar (via Uxmal)
We skipped the very famous Chichén Itzá ruins for two reasons: 1.) we had heard that it has become pretty tourist-y, and 2.) we didn’t want to pay the steep entrance fee, lol. We do however enjoy history and archeological sites. So when we learned about the lesser-known Uxmal site, we didn’t want to miss it. It was far cheaper to get in, and way less busy. It did not disappoint! We drove to Uxmal on our way out of Merida into Bacalar, which was just over an hour drive. Like most outdoor activities in Mexico, we recommend going early to miss the afternoon sun. We were there first thing in the morning when it opened, and were able to walk through the entire site before the tour groups started to arrive. Tip: when you walk through the entrance and see the first big pyramid, clap your hands and listen for the echo. 😉
After our visit to the Uxmal ruins, we were back on the road headed towards our next destination. Bacalar is a beautiful lakeside town / ex pirate cove. We’d had a busy trip thus far, so our goal was to unwind and relax, slow down and just take in the beauty around us. We spent virtually all of our short time here in the water (okay, I mostly sat around the dock while the boys played in the lake). Unfortunately we didn’t get to go out and try one of their boat tours (which included a stop at a nearby Pirate Channel!!!), which is what this area is supposedly known for.
Where to stay:
- Los Aluxes Bacalar - Our room was a few steps away from the lake itself. Thanks to our kids, we were up bright and early in the morning and we headed down to the lake right away. It was about 7-8am, and I guess all the party people were still asleep because we had the whole area to ourselves. It was glorious. They have these chairs, swings, and fun little docks, so there are various hangout places if you just want to lounge by the lake. On our last day we rented one of those little boat dingy-type things and drove around the lake. We didn’t quite make it all the way to where Pirates used to hang out, but it was a fun experience nonetheless. 😀
Where to eat:
- Taqueria Alambre 13 - On our way out of town, we were hoping to eat lunch at Tacos de Cochinita, however, they were closed when we came by. We ended up just eating across the street at Taqueria Alambre 13 and we were so glad we did! Their portions good, and the meal was super affordable. Everything was made fresh to order.
Sites to visit:
- Hang out at the lake and ENJOY! Take a boat trip if your schedule permits it, but the biggest thing we’d say is to make sure you sit back, relax, and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.
Stop #4: Mahahual
Thanks to our friends who had recently visited Mexico, we heard about a quiet beach town called Mahahual. This little town comes to life whenever cruise ships dock, but goes back to what feels like a ghost town the rest of the time. There were no docked cruise ships upon our arrival, so when we first got there, I was worried that we would be bored! Fret not; the quiet allowed us to enjoy the water peacefully, and the beach was shallow and calm enough that we could let Micah play in the water without fear of a crazy wave randomly coming or him falling into giant dip in the ocean.
Basically, the way it works around Mahahual is that various hotels and restaurants “own” a section of the shore, so you need an “in” with one of the local storefronts/restaurants in order to set up in their chairs on the beach or you pay them. Thankfully, we ended up chatting with a local restaurant owner (Jaime) and he offered the use of their shore for our stay, even though we were not staying at the hotel where his restaurant was at. When we arrived the next day, they had everything set up for us. One of the servers, a fellow mama, just loved seeing our kids and playing with them and often reminded me that I didn’t need to order something from their restaurant in order to keep using their beach. She even made up a little bed with chairs and blankets for Judah while we ate dinner one evening.
Where to stay:
- Koox Matan Ka’an Hotel - We chose a hotel that was just across the street from the ocean because it was a little bit cheaper. We didn’t think there was anything too special about the Koox hotel, but the price was decent enough so we went for it. The biggest bonus was that we were given a HUGE room, so there was lots of space for Micah to run around; however, it was located on the 4th floor and there were no elevators. Carrying luggage up the stairs was a hassle, and Luke had to do it himself while I watched the kids. Despite our stairs issue, we enjoyed the stay here. The ample space was a good tradeoff for us, even though we were not directly across the ocean. We stayed away from the pool in favour of the ocean.
- An alternative place that we considered was the Nacional Beach Club, which was located right on the shore. Some of their rooms feature a patio facing the water, so they definitely have some of the best views in the area. The rooms are smaller than the one that we had in the Koox hotel, but the oceanside views are a good tradeoff.
Where to eat:
- Jaime’s at the Blue Reef - They’ve got the best ratings on TripAdvisor, and they deserve it. The restaurant owner, Jaime, is usually around and loves to chat with people. We chatted with him a fair amount, and we learned that he had once lived in British Columbia! He so generously offered to let us hang out and use their area by the water, which was very handy during our stay Mahahual.
- La Tartaleta Panaderia (Bakery) - Such a gem! Just walk by the place and the smell of fresh sweet bread will captivate you. Pick up a few treats, and get a fresh green juice or a smoothie somewhere else (there are tons by the shore), and delight in a nice little snack while enjoying a nice long walk on the beach.
- Nacional Beach Club - This is the same as the alternative hotel I recommended above. We knew they also had a restaurant so we popped in one evening to see what was on their menu. The owner, a Texas native, happened to be around and he was just coming back from a boat trip with some friends and he said he was grillin’ some meat and making a good old Texas BBQ and he asked us if we wanted to join the meal. How can we turn down an authentic Texan BBQ on a Mexican beach? It was some of the best BBQ we’ve had. It didn’t hurt that we were sitting in a palapa by the water ;)
Stop #5: Tulum
And finally, the last stop on our Yucatán road trip: Tulum! It is an up-and-coming destination, so it was considerably busier than the lesser-known towns like Mahahual and Bacalar. When we were doing research, we learned that Tulum is kind of a hot spot for yoga-loving, health + wellness hippies. It’s pretty easy to escape the tourist traps by going half a block off the main drag. We didn’t have a whole lot of time here, so our time was split between stuffing our faces with tacos, swimming, and picking up a few souvenirs.
Where to stay:
- This eco-friendly jungle house - Hands down the best Airbnb we’ve stayed at in all of our travels around the world. It was the perfect size for our little family. And we loved that we had our own pool (I’ll just forget about the time we went swimming at night and I turned around and saw a giant spider on the edge of the pool a foot away from us…). The area that the house was located in was just being developed so the road that we were on was unpaved and pretty sketchy. We were a bit wary at first, but that all went away as soon as we stepped into the property.
Where to eat:
- La Coqueta - The atmosphere was fun, the food and prices were just okay. Could be a fun little stop on your way to the Gran Cenote! Definitely a spot for tourists.
- Koko Cafe - We stopped here for breakfast one morning, and Luke enjoyed their smoothies and their chilaquiles. I think they’re mostly known for their donuts, though we definitely enjoyed their breakfast dishes more. :)
- El Rincón Chiapaneco - On my list of top 3 favourite taco joints, hands down. The prices were super duper cheap. This place is definitely more casual and more geared towards locals (as opposed to the tourist/ex-pat oriented establishments). I recommend their fresh green juice with your tacos. :)
- Antojitos La Chiapaneca - Also great tacos. I wanted to keep ordering more tacos as if I was at an all-you-can-eat buffet (and with prices like theirs, it’s much cheaper than buffets back home!).
Sites to visit:
- El Gran Cenote - My favourite of the three cenotes that we visited. This was by far the most tourist-y one that we’d seen, but because of that, it was a lot more organized. The bathrooms were very clean and well-maintained. I was able to rent a life vest that gave me the confidence to swim around in a dark cave that had bats flying overhead (with the two kids in tow, no less!). The water was pristine, and when you’ve had your fill of swimming, you can lay down a mat and relax by the manicured lawn surrounding the area. It was safe for kids and both Micah and Judah really enjoyed their time!
- Playa Pescadores - A fun last beach day before heading back to Mexico City for our flight back home to Vancouver. The water was beautiful, the white sand was great, and at the time of our visit, it was fairly peaceful. I think this spot is usually where people going on boat tours/ocean adventures start their trips. It was a free, public-access beach so you don’t need to stay at one of the resorts to have access to the shore and there’s even change rooms huts.
If you’re reading this, it likely means you got to the end after reading through our Yucatanean adventure, so thanks for indulging us and letting us share our story. We hope you enjoyed it!