Mexico has it all. Beautiful nature, hidden poverty, immense cities, Diabetes as one of the main causes of death, jawdropping cenotes and quite some drug trafficking up in the north. And great food, don’t forget great food. We tried to suck up as much as we can in this 3 week itinerary for Mexico. Make sure to also check out our itinerary in Namibia.
We chose to take this route for several reasons. We didn’t want to miss out on the beautiful nature in the southern part and decided to stay south of Mexico City because that area is often described as safer. We also wanted to see both oceans. Just because.
1. Mexico City
Mexico City is in no way like any other capital we’ve visited before. It is bigger, bolder and in a very strange way better than your average capital. the city is a melting pot of hundreds of different cultures, tribes, architectural styles and historic influences. Highlights just kept coming, but then again, there is no real highlight in Mexico City. It’s a place that offers highlights to any kind of tourists willing to go out and look for them.
What makes Mexico City so very special is the lack of ordinary. The entire city seems to be on a constant search for new extremes. The main square is the biggest we’ve ever seen and the Lucha Libre in the Arena Mexico would be a comedy show in any other country we’ve visited. Normal just doesn’t seem to exist in Mexico city. We would advise everyone to just start walking and who knows in which amazing place you’ll end up. Our personal highlights were:
- Lucha Libre in Arena Mexico
- The main square (Zòcalo)
- Walk around the business district of Mexico City
- A drink on top of the Torre Latinoamericana
- Streed food in numerous local markets
We stayed in: Casa San Ildefonso. Very decent and cosy hostel right in the center with a beautiful garden.
One of our favorite places in Mexico. Oaxaca is everything that Mexico City isn’t. It doesn’t feel very big, everyone seems to know each other, great food on every corner of the street and an atmosphere you’d come back for.
We reached Oaxaca with an ADO-bus. This company takes you through the entire country for a fair price at a very decent level of comfort. We checked in to our little hotel and almost went straight to the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. The smell is amazing, the hygiene levels doubtful. In one of the corners lies what can only be described as “meat street”. A dozen BBQ stands where you can order irresponsibly large portions of meat for pocket change.
What makes Oaxaca a truly special place is the people. Just wander around the main square at night and you’ll agree immediately. The city seems to be one giant community and there is a performance or market every single night of the week. Our personal highlights were:
- BBQ at Mercado 20 de Noviembre
- Wander around the main square at night
- Mezcal tasting
- Museum in the Templo Santo Domingo
We stayed in: Hotel Trébol in the center of Oaxaca. A nice hotel that was very cheap at the time we stayed there (May). The room on the ground floor did come with some noise though.
Monte Alban was our first historic site. And it did not disappoint. The location is spectacular. The ancient city lies on top of a hill that looks over a beautiful landscape.
Personal guides are quite expensive and the museum in the main building isn’t very spectacular, but the signs all around the site gave us more than enough background information to completely feel like Zapotecs living on top of a hill around 500 B.C. It’s one of Mexico’s many historic sites, but one of the few on which you’re still allowed to climb all the ruins. Quite a workout when it’s 40°C, but the extra views make up for it.
4. Puerto Escondido
If you’re ever tired of your job, your house, country and everyone you know… Then Puerto Escondido is where you wanna go. There isn’t much to do or see, but that’s the beauty of it. Its inhabitants are lazy, or as they see it “laid back” and that’s exactly how you will feel after a few days in Puerto Escondido.
Definitely try surfing at La Punta. Locals will tell you the waves are for beginners, but they’re not. Do not leave say goodbye to The Pacific before you had a Ceviche dinner in El Coste. A lovely place with tables on the beach and the most delicious ceviche you’ll have ever tried. Our personal highlights at Puerto Escondido were:
- Relaxing at Playa La Punta, much less touristy than some of the other beaches
- Ceviche dinner in El Coste
- (body)surfing on the waves at Playa Zicatela
We stayed in: Casa Losodeli, a true adults-only backpackers paradise with nicely airconditioned rooms and a pool that was a few degrees to warm to be of any use.
5. San Cristobal de las Casas
Colors, colors, colors are what we remember from San Cristobal. They’re everywhere and there isn’t one that you can’t spot during a walk around this beautiful hippie-town on an altitude of 2200 meters. We stayed here for 2 days only, but had the feeling we’d be happy to spend 2 weeks here as well.
Yes, there are churches, museums and great restaurants in and around San Cristobal. But nothing really stands out. And that is okay. The real highlight of this colorful city is in the discovery of many narrow streets, small food markets around the center and the endless cobblestones that take you through different neighborhoods. Ooh, and the walk up to the church on the hill isn’t worth the effort of climbing a thousand stairs in a million degrees. From San Cristobal, we took the bus to Agua Azul and Palenque.
We stayed in: Casa Margarita, a decent and cheap hotel. Similar to every single place in San Cristobal that you will find on booking.com.
6. Palenque and Agua Azul
Palenque was without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip. The location of the historic site, combined with the jawdropping size of some of the ruins takes you all the way back to 200 A.C.
Palenque is a very special place, and you don’t need a private guide to empathize with the ancient locals and their sometimes strange habits. Take a few hours to wander around because the historic site is the biggest that we have seen in Mexico as well.
On the road from San Cristobal to Palenque, we also passed along the waterfalls of Agua Azul and Misol-ha. The latter is good for picture, the first one is for swimming. The drive from San Cristobal was long and bumpy so a refreshing swim in the bluest of waters was more than welcome.
Although there’s not much to see in the modern city of Palenque, we did spoil ourselves a bit and enjoyed our stay in the way too fancy Chan-Kah resort village. A great way to charge our batteries for the rest of the trip.
7. Yaxhilan and jungle village
Of all the historic sites in Mexico, Yaxhilan is the one where you empathize with the ancient kings the most. It is literally so far from society that it almost feels like you’re time traveling back to the year 500. We arranged a trip starting in Palenque. A minivan took us to Yaxhilan, after which we went to a local village to spend the night there.
Yaxhilan lies very close to the border with Guatemala. When the minivan dropped us of, a 45 minute boat ride was still ahead of us before reaching Yaxhilan. We recommend to hire one of the local guides that are probably going to approach you anyway where the boat ride starts. We didn’t pay much, and he really knew what he was talking about.
After visiting Yaxhilan, the minivan took us to a local village hidden deep inside the jungle. We got a private hut that later appeared to be full of bed bugs 🙁 .
Besides that, the locals were super friendly, the surroundings beautiful and the next day we went on a hike in the jungle for a couple of hours. Our guide was an 11 year old girl that handled lianas in a way that Tarzan could only dream of.
She took us deep into the jungle (watch out for mosquitos) and showed us an amazing place to have a refreshing dive near some waterfalls. This 2-day trip was definitely worth it and Yaxhilan is a place that should be on everyone’s list when visiting this part of Mexico.
I don’t want to say that Merida disappointed us, because it’s a warm, very Mexican bustling city. But it kinda did.
It doesn’t have the pure beauty of San Cristobal, the charm of Oaxaca or the greatness of Mexico City. Merida is something in between. A beautiful in between though. If Merida was our first stop on the trip, this paragraph would look completely different, but it wasn’t.
Maybe we just didn’t stay in Merida long enough to enjoy it to the fullest. The only just bearable heath definitely had something to do with it. The main square is very relaxing and we did have one of the best dinners of our trip in this Peruvian restaurant close to the centre. Their pulpo with sweet potatoes is the best we’ve ever had. No doubt.
We stayed in: Hotel Plaza Mirador. a nice little hotel with a very necessary swimming pool and at walking distance from the city center.
Tulum, oh Tulum. The village itself is not particularly pretty, and is full of tourists. However, it seems like every single annoying, loud or snobbish tourist was sent straight to the luxury resorts further on the road and they didn’t bother us at all. What’s left are lovely laid back people, way too many dive shops, and some of the best little restaurants and bars we’ve stayed at. Ever.
We stayed for one whole week in this very special place, and we could have stayed another one. The possibilities never end here. Our highlights of the week were:
- Cenotes around tulum
- Relax at Playa Pescadores
- Fish tacos at Sabor de Mar in Tulum
- Diving in a cenote and at the reef
Our AirBnB host was so friendly to rent us his scooter for the day. It’s impossible to count all cenotes around Tulum, so we used this blog to guide us. We managed to squeeze 5 of 6 in one day, but you could also take your time and explore two good ones. There is one that we will always remember though. Cenote Choj Ha.
It’s as big as a decent football stadium, you pay around 3 euros to get in and you need to rent a car to reach it. It’s not close to Tulum, but that also keeps the tourists away and makes this place keep its magic for hopefully a very long time. We arrived in the afternoon and most of the time we had the entire place for ourselves. I don’t think my jaws have ever dropped so low as the moment we entered cenote Choj Ha.
One of the calmer, less touristy beaches around Tulum. If you want to sit comfortably, you need to spend a minimum in the beach bar. But you can just lay on the sand for 0 pesos as well. This was just a great place to relax after the traveling around for the past couple of weeks.
Fish Tacos at Sabor de Mar
This is the Tripadvisor review that we wrote about Sabor de Mar.
Oh sweet lord…
It almost never happens that, while you’re having your meal, you decide to come for more the next day.
The place looks ugly as hell, chairs are uncomfortable and I have never seen tablecloths that ugly. But who the fish cares… Their tacos and towers are from heaven.
Best meal we had in Mexico. And we had lots.
Diving in a cenote and at the reef
It was my first time, Ine has her Open Water Certificate. The instructor told me that he wouldn’t take us to the reef if i didn’t do well in the cenote, so the pressure was there. I managed and the first time diving at a reef is very special and definitely worth the money.
Other things we did
- We visited the famous ruins. Nothing special if you’ve seen Yaxhilan and Palenque. Tourists arrive with buses from Cancun. Not really our kind of people.
- Our AirBnB host advised us to visit Laguna Kaan Luum early in the morning. It’s a beautiful place and great for swimming.
- Had one obligatory cocktail at a fancy resort.
For our entire stay in Tulum, we stayed at this gorgeous AirBnB. It’s hidden right in the center of Tulum and offers nice clean rooms in a great location and a host that really helped us to explore the region.