Country Review & Recommendations: Mexico (Riviera Maya)

My Mexico (Riviera Maya) Review:

I dedicate this post to my friend Laurie, who is considering a trip to Mexico this coming summer. I was going to start by writing a post on Belize, which I visited before Mexico, but figured I’d help a friend out first. I’ve also decided I would write about my travel adventures in a backwards order, since those are the trips I remember the most (in theory).

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The beach, as you’re driving along the Tulum Beach Road (2016)

So, Mexico. Mexico is one of the biggest countries in this world, therefore it is normal that we weren’t able to visit all of it in one trip (besides, we decided to add a second country in). Therefore, this post will be about the Riviera Maya area, which spans (more or less) from Tulum to Cancun. We chose to visit Mexico (and Belize) in the summer of 2016, as we didn’t want to buy expensive flights to Europe, but still wanted nice hot weather.

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Colorful streets of Valladolid (2016)

Mexico was a great country and a great trip. I loved the food, the sights and the beaches. We spent about a week in Mexico, starting off in Tulum and ending in Cancun. We took the overnight bus from Belize City in order to get to Tulum, which was cheap but a bit of a struggle. There were a few stops that involved waking up and getting your shi*t together, like customs and then buying a new bus ticket (for the Mexico leg of the journey). So, we finally arrived at the bus terminal in Tulum around 4 a.m. Half asleep, we hailed a cab to our hotel, where we were allowed to sleep by the pool in the garden (along with the mosquitoes).

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Views of the beach and ruins in Tulum (2016)

We started things off in Tulum, which had been recommended to me by my friend Leila. She had just been the year before and told me I’d really like it. Well, she was right; I loved Tulum. I loved the beach road with all the boutique hotels, spas, shops, bars and restaurants, the beach (wow!), the archaeological ruins and of course, the food. The first thing we did there was head to the beach. We also rented a car (we got ripped off by Hertz – beware!) and visited the famous Chichén Itza Mayan ruins, Ik Kil cenote, Valladolid and the Tulum archaeological ruins.

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2. Ik Kil cenote (Riviera Maya, 2016)

A few days later, we took the same tourist bus that got us into Mexico, to Playa del Carmen, where we proceeded to take a ferry to get to Cozumel. We chose to stay in a resort there and just relax (and eat, and drink). Personally, I was a bit disappointed by Cozumel. I’d heard great things and it definitely did not live up to my expectations. While our resort, the Allegro Cozumel All-Inclusive (booked via booking.com) was nice (very good quality to price ratio), the beach wasn’t that great (in comparison to the ones in Tulum, Cancun and Belize). Maybe we should have ventured out of the resort, but couldn’t be bothered for the amount of time we were there and the cost of getting around by taxi (it was something between $10-$20 USD to go from the ferry in town to the resort).

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Views of the beach from the Papaya Playa Beach Club (Tulum, 2016)

After two days of that, we took the ferry back to the mainland and caught the tourist bus to Cancun, where our hostel was located right by the beach and the nightlife. The beach in Cancun was beautiful, with its aqua waters (although there was a lot of algae on certain parts of the beach). The night life was also pretty crazy, with the number of nightclubs, bars, half naked girls dancing on podiums, venues and restaurants. Overall, a very successful trip. Definitely didn’t feel like coming home at the end and going back to school!

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Delicious food and drinks at the Papaya Playa Beach Club. Pictured: octopus tacos, shrimp quesadillas, Modelo especial cerveza and a michelada (beer cocktail – very popular in Latin America) (Tulum, 2016)

My Mexico (Riviera Maya) Recommendations:

8. Cancun sunset

 

Cancun had one of the most intense sunsets I have ever seen. Unfortunately my pictures do not do them justice, but you can still see the intensity that I’m talking about. As well, the sunsets occur on the river side and not the beach side.

7. Drive the Tulum Beach Road

 

Another unfortunateness (is that a word?) here, as I don’t have very many photos. While we were driving on the Beach Road, we stopped to take some photos of the ocean, but it was difficult to stop anywhere else along the road, as there was a decent amount of “traffic” and not many places to stop. But still, you can take my word for it. If you are in Tulum, make sure to drive along the Beach Road, for stunning photos of the beach, the boutique hotels, the jungle side restaurants, the outdoor bars and the boutiques. Everything is so bohemian chique.

6. Cancun Beach

 

In my opinion, Cancun’s beach (I’m talking about the colors of the water here) was nicer than Tulum’s beach (the touristy part along the Beach Road, not near the ruins). The downside is that it is very touristy and the ambiance is definitely not the same as in Tulum (hence why Tulum Beach is ranked higher).

5. Chichén Itzá (Riviera Maya)

 

Visiting Chichén Itzá while in the Riviera Maya region is a must; just like visiting the Eiffel tower is when you’re in Paris. These Mayan ruins were very impressive, obviously starting with the main pyramid. There are many additional complexes worth visiting, so make sure to allocate a few hours to visiting this site.

4. Valladolid

 

On our way back from Chichén Itzá, we stopped in the colorful town of Valladolid. I don’t recall where I found out about this place, but as soon as I saw there were colorful buildings involved, I knew I wanted to go. Take the time to drive up and down the two main streets of this town, where all the colorful buildings are located.

3. Tulum archaeological ruins

 

On our last day in Tulum, we headed out to the archaeological ruins early, as it gets very hot around midday (and there is no shade at the ruins). The ruins are set atop a cliff, which overlooks the ocean. Down below, the beaches are stunning, as they are rarely visited by tourists (my understanding was that there was a staircase from within the complex which allowed you to go down to the beach, but we didn’t go, so I’m not 100% sure). The ruins are also inhabited by some giant iguanas, which roam around like they own the place (don’t worry, they’re not dangerous).

2. Ik Kil cenote (Riviera Maya)

 

As previously mentioned, I first saw a photo of Ik Kil on Instagram and knew we’d have to go when we’d be in Mexico. When you first get there, you see the water hole from the top-down. You have to go down a staircase, all the way to the bottom, until you reach the water. There, you’ll find people swimming around and jumping off of a ledge into the water. The whole experience is kind of magical, as it seems like something straight out of a science fiction movie.

1. Papaya Playa Beach Club & Tulum Beach

 

Alex and I both loved the Papaya Playa Beach Club and the Tulum Beach; as proof, we went twice in three days. When we first pulled up into the parking lot, we didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as you enter the grounds, everything is so cool, well laid-out, well designed and pretty. And best of all, there’s a beautiful beach waiting for you at the bottom, with individual beach tents and beds. The food and drinks were also very good.

As always, did I miss anything worth seeing? If so, leave me a comment below! 🙂

Wanna know more about Mexico? Click here for the foodie aspect of my trip! 

UP NEXT: something much closer to home! (Montréal)

*All pictures are my own (or taken by someone with my device)

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