Day Trips

You may be tempted to just check into Puerto Morelos and never leave, but our town is very well located to see the best of the Yucatan in a few daytrips.

You can travel by car, bus, collectivo or taxi. Our standard advice is get a travel guide and a map, always have lots of gas and do not drive at night.

Here are a couple of our favourite day trips.

Chichén Itzá – Valladolid – Mayan Villages

(updated December 2010)

We recommend this trip to everyone that comes into the shop. It’s especially nice if you have a rental car, but can easily be done by bus too.

If you are driving, you have options on which route to take. In the past we have always recommended the toll road, which is expensive but direct and quick. You can now also take the free road, using the Ruta de Cenotes road, which begins just south of Puerto Morelos. It will take you about thirty minutes longer, as you will pass through many villages and go over many topes (speed bumps) but you will save the heavy toll. The free road is fine, but do not drive it after dark. (Traffic and unmarked topes and construction sites could make this road hazardous. If it is going to get dark before you arrive back in PoMo, take the toll road.)

If you take the toll road, drive north towards Cancun and take the Chichén Itzá /Merida/Valladolid exit to the cuota (toll) road. The toll is hefty, about $267 pesos (about $22 US, but the road is in very good shape, quiet and very fast. The highway number 180 D. The D is for dinero!) The drive will take about two hours. You will go through two toll booths and there may be an army check-point at Chichen Itza.

If you take the free road, drive south towards Playa del Carmen on the lateral road beside the highway. Turn right at the Ruta de Cenotes road. This good road will take you all the way to Leona Vicario, where you will join the main free highway to Valladolid/Merida/Chichen Itza. Slow down when you approach any town, there are likely many speed bumps. The drive will take about two and a half hours depending on traffic. Drive the speed limit and watch for traffic attempting to pass on the two lane road. Note, if you take this road on the way back, there is only one sign marking the Puerto Morelos Corta (short cut). Do not miss this turn or you will end up in Cancun!

El Castillo

Chichén Itzá opens at 8:00 am, try to be there before 9:00 at least. Going early allows you to see most of the area before it gets too hot (there is very little shade) and also lets you beat the majority of the huge tour buses from Cancun that spill out hundreds of noisy tourists out on the site by around noon. Take water if you can and wear a big silly hat to protect your head from the sun.

As soon as you arrive at the site, head for the big pyramid (el Castillo) and climb it before the crowds do. Update: Since 2007 you can no longer climb the big pyramid at Chichen Itza. It may be a temporary ban or a permanent one. Please note you still can climb the big pyramids at Coba and Ek Balam.

After you have finished at Chichén Itzá  (usually 3-4 hours) take the libre (free) road to Valladolid. It’s a right turn as you exit the ruins.

Take Lots of Pictures!

You will pass through many tiny Mayan villages. Take note of the round stick houses with hard packed dirt floors that are carefully swept every day. Often you can buy souvenirs or fruit along the roadside.

Watch for topes (tope-ays), which are very large speed bumps. If you hit one at full speed, the undercarriage of your rental car will be neatly removed or you may be launched into space. Most topes are marked with signs, but there always seem to be a few wild cards, so be observant when approaching anything that looks like a town.

Valladolid

Valladolid is the REAL Mexico. An old colonial town that is missed by most tourists. Head for the centro, which has a large public square surrounded by a couple of hotels and restaurants. Along one side of the square a long row of Mayan women sell their wares, all wearing their immaculate white embroidered dresses. The ubiquitous Catholic church towers over the centro. We recommend having some lunch in Valladolid.

A few blocks from downtown is Zaci, an immense cenote. There is also a famous cenote called Dzitnup just outside of town that you can swim in. There is a small zoo outside it. (A map of the town is usually available at the tourist information office which is located right on the square.)

If you are in the mood to see another Mayan archaeological site, visit Ek-Balam just north of Valladolid. This has only recently been excavated and features some stunning detailed work. Very few visitors mean you will likely get the whole place to yourself. It’s a favourite of ours for just that reason.

After visiting the Ek Balam site, consider visiting the pueblo of Ek Balam. This is a tiny Mayan village which is home to Genesis Ek Balam, a retreat built by fellow Calgarian Lee Christie. You can stop here for a meal, a drink or a night. Lee has built an incredible facility that is designed to contribute to the preservation and appreciation of nature and the traditional lifestyle of the Maya. You’ll appreciate the relaxing surroundings and the beautiful gardens.

Take the toll road (or free road if it is early) back to Puerto Morelos. Get fuel before you leave Valladolid.

Important Tips:

Fill your tank in Puerto Morelos and again in Valladolid if necessary. There is only one gas station along the toll road and it’s a long way away. In an emergency gas can be purchased at the toll booths, but there are only two of those along the whole road to Chichén Itzá. In 2010 the tolls for a car were $214.00 pesos and $53 pesos each way. You will not have to pay the $53 pesos on the way back if you take the free road to Valladolid. (The toll all the way to Merida is $214 pesos plus $124 pesos…$338 pesos, about $26 US…Ouch!)

Wear a big silly hat at Chichen Itza!

Bring sunscreen and wear a hat at Chichén Itzá. The sun is strong and the shade is scarce. We bring water too, though it is available at the gate.

Wear good shoes. You will be doing plenty of walking and the steps on the pyramid are smooth, slippery and irregular.

Admission to the Chichén Itzá is around 100 pesos for adults and 10 pesos to park.

Arrive early and avoid driving after dark. The toll road is very good, but there can always be unexpected things on the road (animals, bicycles, pedestrians, unmarked construction sites)

You can extend this daytrip by staying overnight in Valladolid or Ek Balam. Hotels are inexpensive; in Valladolid we have stayed at Hotel San Clemente or Maria de la Luz. Either should be around $40 US. You can also stay at the Genesis Retreat in Ek Balam. Our friend Lee Christie has created a fantastic retreat with gardens and a natural pool. Check out her website here.

At Alma Libre Bookstore, we have current maps and guidebooks to help you get the most out of your trip. There are many destinations you can add to this trip. Ask us!

GPS locations:
Toll #1 N 20º 52.600 W0 87º 38.455
Chichen Itza Turnoff N 20º 48.400 W0 89º 04.287
Gas Station N 20º 44.634 W0 88º 13.759
Toll #2 N 20º 43.724 W0 88º 34.908
Valladolid N 20º 41.341 W0 88º 12.150

Tulum – Coba – Mayan Riviera

This is a good day trip by car, by bus, or even collectivo.

Breathtaking Tulum

Head out early for Tulum. The drive will take you about 90 minutes. The site opens at 8:00 am. It tends to get very hot and humid at Tulum, so an early hour will let you beat the crowds and the heat.

Note: If you are planning to see more ruins, we recommend seeing Tulum first. Seeing the spectacular Chichen Itza may “spoil” you for a small site like Tulum.

A relaxing afternoon

Tulum is not a very big site, it’s main attraction is it’s spectacular location. Most times when you see a tour book or magazine article on the Yucatan peninsula, the cover picture will be Tulum. It will not take you long to see the site. If you plan ahead and wear your swimming attire, you can run right into the ocean right at the site. Tulum is the only museum I know that has a beach!

Now you have a decision to make, you can either go on with the daytrip or walk south outside the gates and head for one of the little cabana hotels and spend the rest of the day on the beach. Lonely Planet voted the beaches at Tulum as one of the top 10 in the world, and we think they’re right. The beach is dotted with small hotels and restaurants, but it never feels crowded.

Towering Coba

Nohoch Mul at Coba

If you decide to go on, head for Coba. (You can always come back to Tulum later) This is a very large site that is still covered by jungle. There is plenty of shade but also mosquitoes, so bring your repellent. The site is so large that you can rent a bicycle for around 25 pesos. We didn’t but wish we had. They pyramid at Coba is the highest in the Yucatan. Hope you brought good shoes!

Now you have another decision to make. You could go north here and see Valladolid or go back to Puerto Morelos that way, or you can drive back to Tulum and meander your way up the Maya Riviera.

The town of Tulum has a number of shops & restaurants, but for the real experience of Tulum, keep going on the Coba road and head for the beach. The road north and south is lined with small hotels and restaurants and bars. They are all very small establishments though, and do not spoil the beautiful beach. This is no Cancun hotel zone! You may wish to spend the night in one of the hotels. Most are very rustic with cabanas right on the beach. Most have electricity for only a few hours a night, candles are provided. Muy romantica!

As you work your way north, back towards Puerto Morelos you can stop in at a few places:

Cenotes: You will pass many cenotes on your way home. These are fresh water underground lakes that are great for swimming, snorkeling or diving. There may be a small charge for admission.

Akumal: Beautiful beach and snorkelling. Many Americans and Canadians have homes here.

Puerto Adventuras: Big development of condos, homes and a golf course. You can swim with dolphins here or just watch them train them. This area should not be confused with Mexico. There is a shipwreck museum here that is worth a look. (donation)

Paal Mul: Of special interest to RV’ers, this area has been taken over by Canadians and American campers. Some have cemented their units in permanently and covered them with huge and elaborate palapas.

Playa del Carmen: A former sleepy fishing village much like Puerto Morelos, PdC did not grow, it exploded! Depending upon whom you believe this is either the fastest growing city in Mexico, Latin America or the Universe. Beautiful beach packed wall to wall with restaurants, bars and international tourists. The main street, Fifth Avenue has been pretty much handed over to pedestrians. Good place to walk, shop or have a meal. Shop owners and restaurateurs and the occasional time share hawker will aggressively solicit your business.

You can catch the ferry to Cozumel in downtown Playa del Carmen. It’s a 42 minute ride and costs 140 peos each way.

Playa Secreto: Shhh. A very rough road to a very nice beach. Lots of stylish homes & condos, but no town.

Important Tips

  • If you have a meal in Playa del Carmen, have a close look at your bill. Many restaurants add 15% for service, but do not tell you, causing you to tip twice. We had one tell us it was a restaurant tax. Hooey!
  • Restaurants in Playa are very competitive. Many will entice you in with low priced entrees, but nail you with over-inflated drink prices that are not on the menu. If your budget is tight, make sure you know what you’re spending. Many restaurants will hand you a card good for a free round of drinks or a percentage off your meal. Look for them.
  • The highway is very good quality, but everyone drives too fast. Drive the speed limit, especially the long 80 km/h (50mph) zone around Playa del Carmen. Local police watch this area very closely. Watch for topes (speed bumps) too on the highway in this area.
  • Bring sunscreen and wear a hat at Coba & Tulum. The sun is strong and the shade is scarce. We bring water too.
  • Wear good shoes. You will be doing plenty of walking and the steps on the pyramid can be smooth, slippery and steep.
  • You should really have a good map and a guide book to get the most out of this trip. Why not drop by Alma Libre Bookstore before you go.