Mexico is one of those destinations that has never really been at the top of my travel list. Hell, the Caribbean has never really been at the top of my list (but I have since been to Saint Lucia and I am desperate to return to the Caribbean sea!), but back in April our friend’s decided to tie the knot in Mexico and we were lucky enough to be invited.
I didn’t go to Mexico with any expectations, just thinking it was a fly and flop typical-beach-destination (not my cup of tea), but oh I am so glad I was proved wrong.
David and I visited for 11 nights, and, while we certainly spent a lot of time on the beach sipping on a cocktail or two, it was one of the most exciting and adventurous holidays I have ever been on. I have previously written a post on five reasons why you should book your next holiday to Mexico, but this post is all about the logistics, where to stay, tips and advice and all the fun things you can do!
Everyone who has a holiday to Mexico coming up (you lucky duck!) *needs* to read this before they go.
Getting There & Where To Stay
Mexico is located within central America, with the Carribean coast to the east and the Pacific coast to the west. On my visit I was based on the Caribbean coast, flying into Cancun in the north of the Yucatan peninsula, which is in the south-east of Mexico. If you were to holiday on the Pacific coast, you would fly into Puerto Vallarta, located in the middle of Mexico, on the west coast.
The Carribean coast is much more popular (aka touristy!) than the Pacific coast, as the Yucatan peninsula is where a lot of Mayan history is, such as the famous Chichen Itza (one of the seven wonder of the world!) and the Tulum ruins. You can fly direct from London and some regional airports with approximate flight time from the UK to Cancun about 10-11 hours.
To give you a bit of geography, the state of this area is known as Quinta Roo and the district is known as the Riveria Maya. The Riveria Maya covers the main resorts along the Carribean coast, with Cancun in the north right down to Punta Allan in the south.
Within the Riviera Maya are a lot of resorts such as Playacar, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Aside from Cancun, many hotels along the coast are purpose-built meaning the only thing to do in that area is the hotel and the beach. We stayed in the luxury Azul Fives Resort in Playa Del Carmen, which was beautiful, but I would have liked the option to leave the hotel grounds and have a bit of a wonder and an exploration of the local town. The only option on where you could do this is Cancun, but Cancun is incredibly touristy and chock full of people.
When deciding your Mexican holiday you need to work out if you want a luxury hotel with a gorgeous beachfront setting and nothing else around? Or would you prefer something a bit livelier and the option to leave the hotel and have a wonder? If you picked option one, staying in a resort outside of Cancun would suit you more (choice of the resort would depend on your hotel preference and budget!) but if option two is more your style, Cancun is the better choice as there is so much going on!
Mexico uses two currencies; Mexican Peso and the US dollar. We took Mexican Peso with us, which is useful when we visited down-town Cancun, but if you plan to book a lot of excursions in resort, most hotels and operators accept US dollars.
The best time to visit Mexico, like the rest of the Caribbean, is between December and April, with the rainy season starting from May through until October. We experienced some rain and thunder storms on our visit in April, but this was only for two afternoons. The storms are unlike what we get here in the UK, it can be the most almighty storm but within a few moments the skies clear and its glorious sunshine again! September to November are considered hurricane season.
UK citizens do not need a visa to enter Mexico, but you will be given a immigration form on the plane for you to fill in and to be handed in at the airport when you arrive. Also, Mexico has a departure tax that you will have to pay at the airport on your return home. It can only be paid in cash, is per person, and is the equivalent of about £45. So make sure you leave enough money spare at the end of your trip!
Mexico has a reputation of being unsafe, but if you are staying in the resort areas than you would be perfectly fine. Make sure to always follow FCO advice though, wherever you go on holiday!
What To Do
It would be wrong of you to think that Mexico is just another typical beach destination as there is quite literally hundreds of things to do. From exploring historic Mayan ruins, day-trips to tropical islands, snorkling, ziplining and speed-boating, you certainty won’t get bored on your holiday to Mexico!
When visiting Mexico, a day trip to Xel-ha (pronounced shell-ha) is an absolute must. Dubbed a ‘natural aquarium’ Xel-ha is a large eco ‘theme park’ where you can swim, snorkel among tropical fish, ride down the lazy river on an inflatable rubber ring, swim with dolphins, sea-helmet trek and walk through tropical jungle.
Most hotels and operators provide excursions to Xel-ha and while it does get busy, the sheer size of the park is so huge, its not hard to find secluded little corners for yourself to sunbath and have a snorkel. I’m not a strong swimmer and don’t like water going up my nose – but I had a brilliant time. At first, snorkelling seemed alien to me but once I got the hang of it (with a lot of Davids help!), I grew to really enjoy it. Most operators will give you a full day here, but with there being so much to do, a whole day just isn’t enough.
If I were to ever go back to Mexico, I’d be heading back to Xel-ha in a heart-beat. Its not cheap, with entrance tickets anywhere between £90-£110, but it is completely worth it.
Xplor wouldn’t have been something that I would have chosen to do myself, but as we went as part of a large group, for our friends wedding, the bride and groom decided they wanted everyone to do an fun-packed activity together. Despite not thinking it would be my cup of tea, I had such a brilliant time!
Xplor is a jungle adventure park, where you can ride a buggy through the jungle, swim in cenotes, paddle on underground rafts and zip line. Just like Xel-ha, most hotels and tour-operators offer excursions here and you are given a full day to spend at the park. As there was 14 of us, we paid so we could have the official park photos (it was cheaper the more of you there are), and it worked out to be about £25 per couple. However, official park photos are expensive so maybe just have a giggle at the screens at the end instead!
Visit Downtown Cancun
Cancun is the main city in the Riveria Maya and is where a lot of activities and excursions are based. Our friend wanted to go on a speed-boat excursion but their appointment got pushed back until the afternoon. They decided to spend their morning shopping in the mall (Cancun is very Americanised!), but I wanted to see a more rural side of Mexico, so me and David hopped on the bus (which only cost 1 peso!) and went to down-town Cancun.
Milly, from Mini-Adventures, wrote a great piece on what to do in down-town Cancun, so I pretty much followed her guide. We visited Mercado 28, a market that is good for souvenir shopping, sat in an outdoor bar and had coronas, then ate in a traditional Mexican restaurant with the bill coming to the equivalent of £8 for two mains and two drinks! It was great to a locals-perspective of Mexico and certainly beat just visiting a shopping mall!
Isla Holbox (pronounced Hol-bosh) was my favourite part of my entire trip to Mexico and I would go back to Mexico in a heartbeat, just to visit Holbox again. The only way to reach Holbox is via the little port of Chequila which, from Cancun, takes approximately 2 hours by road. You then take a speed boat over to Holbox and if you are lucky you’ll see lots of tropical birds and perhaps even a flamingo on the way.
Isla Holbox is the epitome of island living, with white sandy beaches, the goregous Caribbean sea and colour bursting around every corner. There are no cars on Holbox, with islanders travelling around by golf buggy and there are no high-rise hotels to be found either. It is pure, tropical paradise and I am desperate to return.
If I still haven’t convinced you, these sixteen photos might.
There are so many excursions that we just simply ran out of money for, but here is everything else you can do in and around the Riviera Maya.
Chichen Itza One of the wonders of the world, there are plenty of operators that offer full-day tours to these ancient Mayan pyramids.
Speed Boats Available from Cancun, you can go on a speed-boat tour for around £45 for two hours.
Isla Mujeres Similar to Holbox, Isla Mujeres is a tropical island paradise that you can explore for the day.
Swimming with Dolphins Plenty of opportunities to be able to swim with Dolphins around the Rivera Maya, just ask your hotel which tours they offer.
Coco Bongos A must, when you are in Mexico! Coco Bongos is a entertainment night-club, which I imagine is similar to a Las Vegas show. Expect crazy performances, lots of music and plenty of alcohol.
What to pack As I widely underestimated Mexico, I only took beach-y stuff, BUT there is so much fun adventure to be had you want to make sure you have clothes that are comfy and you don’t mind getting wet. Shorts, trainers, vest tops – clothes that you could go zip-lining in throw on after a day of snorkelling! I would also recommend taking plenty of insect repellent and antiseptic cream, just in case you do get bitten. I got bitten alive in Mexico, as there are just so many critters flying about! Jungle spray is an excellent repellent.
Waterproof Camera We bought a Go Pro for our adventures, but if you don’t want to splash out (no-pun intended!), then I’d recommend a Seawag waterproof pouch for your phone. That way you can put your phone in the pouch and take pictures underwater. I’ve never used on myself, but they were selling them everywhere in Mexico and I saw a lot of people using them. Having a waterproof camera isn’t essential, but a lot of activities revolve around water and it’s a nice way to record your memories!
Lots of money You may not think you’ll need a lot of money for an all-inclusive holiday, but as there is simply hundreds of things to do in Mexico – you can easily spend a fortune. Excursions and activities are not cheap and if you end up doing 4 or 5 over the course of two weeks, it can start getting pretty expensive! If you aren’t able to take lots of spending money, hand-pick the 2 or 3 activities that you really don’t want to miss out on. I’d thoroughly recommend Isla Holbox and Xel-ha as must do’s!
So have I convinced you to to visit Mexico? It is such a diverse and beautiful place that I would thoroughly recommend adding to your bucket list. From the food, the people, landscapes and activities you won’t be disappointed with a holiday to this gorgeous destination. Any questions? Don’t hesitate to ask me below in the comments!
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