ucatan is home to the largest underground river in the world. This river is mostly covered by stone but in some areas the limestone has collapsed forming cenotes. These locations look like underground caves with beautiful turquoise water. Yucatan is also home to Tulum, a town very rich in nature and a place that will awaken your spirituality. A Mayan civilization also lived in this peninsula, and many ancient temples can be seen intertwining with nature. Mayan traditional ceremonies are still vastly practiced in the area and are easily accessible to visitors. My friend and I immediately knew we wanted to road trip through this peninsula.
Directly after landing in Cancun, we took a taxi to the ferry dock heading to Isla Mujeres. It’s a tiny island and it only takes around 30 minutes to drive from tip to tip and the main form of transport for tourists is renting and driving a golf cart.
Cancun International Airport – Ferry Isla Mujeres: $40 USD (private taxi)
Ferry Cancun – Isla Mujeres: $15 USD (round trip)
Golf cart: $50 USD/day
Where to stay? Nomade – private room for $150 USD/night
At the very southern tip of the island you will find Punta Sur, a site with picturesque scenery and cliff formations, also home of an ancient Mayan temple dedicated to the Mayan Moon Goddess. It is best to visit during sunset. There was a decent amount of people but the site is big enough that it does not feel overly crowded.
Entry fee for Punta Sur: $1.50 USD
Hours: 7:00am- 5:00pm
After our overnight stay in Isla Mujeres, we took the ferry back to Cancun and picked up our car we had pre-booked online from Europcar. We drove for 2 hours and headed straight to Tulum.
Car rental for 5 days with Europcar: $150 USD + $300 USD deposit
Eco Resort Azulik
Azulik is an eco-friendly resort located in the ocean strip of Tulum. As resort guests we were welcomed with a traditional mayan ceremony to cleanse and neutralize our energy, followed by a quick tour of the space. The resort has two restaurants, a museum, the beach front, clothing boutiques and a spa. Villas are their main form of accommodation.
My friend and I decided to book the Jungle Villa for two nights. The villa has a large round bed, a private bathroom, a ceramic bathtub with hot running water, and a big balcony with a jacuzzi. The resort also uses minimal electricity, meaning the villas only have one electricity socket, there is no air conditioning (only a fan), and no light. The villas are lit every afternoon around 5pm with candles. Wifi is only available in one of the resort lounges.
Jungle Villa: $650 USD/night
*prices will change depending on seasonal demand
Kin Toh Restaurant
So what’s the deal with the famous restaurant nests at Azulik? Do you really have to spend $1,000 USD to sit and eat on the nests? The quick answer is yes. However, resort guests get to enjoy some of these perks too. Our welcome to Azulik included a complimentary champagne glass to enjoy at either of their restaurants and there is one nest reserved at Kin Toh to be enjoyed by resort guests only.
We also had the opportunity to visit the large nest, which belongs to the sister restaurant inside Azulik, Tseen Ja. You can see the large nest behind me in one the following pictures. In the middle of the nest there was a DJ playing and they also have a bar. It is definitely a must to visit both as resort guests.
We arrived around 5:30 to have some drinks and watch the sunset, then we were seated for our dinner reservation at 7:00pm. Both my friend and I are vegetarian, and Kin Toh has a great vegetarian dish selection. Our dinner bill including 2 rounds of drinks, 1 appetizer, 2 main courses, and 1 dessert, totaled around $200 USD. We thought this was a great price for value, since the restaurant is an experience in itself!
Non resort guests can make dinner reservations, but do not have access to the nests unless booked and cannot visit both restaurants, only the restaurant where reservations were made.
Cenote Cristal and Escondido
The next morning after arriving in Tulum, we decided to check out some cenotes in the area. Our first stop was the Cenote Cristal and surprisingly enough there were only around 4-5 people there midday. It was very calm and nice. Across the street you will find the Cenote Escondido. It is not as visually appealing, but it is also worth the visit.
Entry fee for Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido: $6 USD per person
Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich
That same day we stopped by Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich. Be there for opening or an hour before closing to enjoy it on your own (there were 2 full tour buses when we were there and it was midday). Bringing snorkels is a great idea since they do not offer snorkel rentals there. And yes, the water is THAT blue!
Entry fee for Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich: $8 USD per person
After spending two nights in Tulum, we checked out of Azulik and drove straight to Chichen Itza. The drive is around 2 hours.
It tooks us between 1-2 hours to see the whole site, it is not that big. For me, it was nothing too special since I had seen Mayan ruins in Honduras. My German friend was seeing Mayan ruins for the first time so she found it very interesting.
Entry fee for Chichen Itza: $13 USD per person
Cenote Ik Kil
Very close to Chichen Itza is the Cenote Ik Kil. The cenote is huge and very impressive, but the area is already extremely commercialized and at 3:00pm there were around 60-70 people swimming in the cenote, which really takes all the magic away from the location. This is a place to visit during opening or right before closing to avoid the crowds.
Entry fee for Cenote Ik Kil: $5 USD per person
The next morning we started heading north and stopped by the Cenote Suytun. Most definitely my favorite cenote visited. We arrived there for opening at 9:00am. There were around 10-15 other tourists besides us. It has definitely become very commercialized as well and even during opening we had to wait in line to take a picture in the middle of the cenote, but we were very few people there so the experience was not spoiled.
After taking some pictures I decided to swim around for a bit. There are black cat fish in the water and they are not shy so you will see many of them. Swimming in this cenote was definitely a little bit creepy, but it’s all part of the thrill!
Entry fee for Cenote Suytun: $5 USD
Rio Lagartos National Park
After Suytun we drove straight to our last destination, Rio Lagartos National Park. We booked the 2 hour boat ride and saw flamingos, different kinds of birds, and at the end our boat driver found an alligator which is the highlight of the boat trip if you are lucky enough to see one. I was surprised of how accustomed they are to humans. Our boat driver gently pulled him from the tail and the alligator was ok with it.
We took the tour at a perfect timing and the sun was setting during our boat ride. Afterwards, we headed straight back to Cancun to turn in our rented car and spent the night at the Mezcal Hostel. We didn’t get a chance to see any of Cancun, but neither of us thought it sounded appealing at all anyway. We flew back to Miami the next morning and wished it had all lasted a little bit longer.
Tips & Recommendations
- Bring your own snorkeling goggles. None of the cenotes we visited offer to rent out snorkels. They are definitely worth it to bring to see the marine life and rock formations in the cenotes
- Buy a sim card. They cost $20 and will include 5GB. Our taxi driver stopped by a gas station so we could buy some right after landing in Cancun.
- Most of the roads in the Yucatan area are in great condition and are safe unlike popular belief. There will be some cities that have roads with batches but this is common in Latin American Countries. We also did not feel like local drivers drove as dangerously as people made it seem. If you are a confident driver, you will have no trouble driving around this area.
- When driving, always have cash for toll fees. When driving from Rio Lagartos back to Cancun, we stopped by a toll station and they only accepted cash. The fee was 300 Mexican Pesos ($15 USD). We had gotten rid of all of our cash since we were flying the next morning. The police officer asked us to give him something of value so he could resell and he would let us through. We did not encourage the corrupt behavior, but we had to ask the coming cars to spare some change until we got enough cash to pay the toll fee.
- Always wear reef safe sunscreen. Did you know your regular sunscreen contains harmful chemicals that contribute to the damage of coral reefs and marine life? Especially when visiting the cenotes, make sure to wear reef safe sunscreen. Some brands that you can check out are people4ocean, Badger Sunscreen, or Manda
- Our route: Cancun- Isla Mujeres- Tulum- Valladolid- Cancun (5 days/4 nights)
Tourism & its Ecological Impact in Tulum
Tulum is currently dealing with extreme tourism growth, putting its delicate ecosystem in danger. Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has stated that:
“80 percent of the cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula have some level of contamination, and researchers have found traces of the entire Tulum consumption cycle: skin-care products, cocaine, Viagra, and ibuprofen.”
I became aware of this after my trip and felt that it is important to share and help broaden ecological awareness for suffering destinations such as Tulum and encourage visitors to get involved in the conservation of its delicate ecosystems.