3 days in Mexico: Cancun, Tulum, & Playa del Carmen
Why did I choose Quintana Roo, Mexico?
Swimming in cenotes has been on my bucket list for a while, but I was never in a rush to go. I had a 3 day weekend in April and knew it would be a good time to take advantage of the extra day and make a trip out of it. Before I went, I had heard Cancun was very touristy with all-inclusive resorts everywhere (this is true) and it would be better to head south to Tulum to experience more of the culture. We ended up staying one night in Cancun, one night in Tulum, and one night in Playa del Carmen – all three cities were very different and I liked them all for different reasons.
Everyone speaks Spanish and some people speak a good amount of English. Often times, when I spoke English to someone, he/she would just reply in Spanish. Dustin took Spanish in high school so he has the basic words down, but if he didn’t, I think it would have been slightly difficult to communicate with anyone. He spoke in Spanish a lot more than we expected to.
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My Travel Time
It gets a little chilly in the morning and at night and warmer during the day. On the beach, the winds are strong so it didn’t ever feel like it was uncomfortably hot. Since it is tropical, there are tropical thunderstorms. Our first and third day were decently warm and sunny, but we also had a day of driving in heavy rain.
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My Flight Details
Airline: United, EWR – CUN (3-4 hour flight)
We took the subway then the NJ transit to the airport from Penn Station ($13 for the train and airtrain to the airport). From the Cancun International Airport, we were picked up by our rental car company to bring us to their office.
My Hotel Details
Real Inn, Cancun
We got in around 22:00 – 23:00 from NYC and needed a place to stay for the night. Real Inn was less than 20 minute drive from the car rental place/airport, but still close enough to the water. Real Inn is next to the lagoon and has a beautiful pool and gym. The rooms (including bathroom) was spacious and clean. The hotel has WiFi and air conditioning.
Elements Boutique Hotel, Tulum
This hotel isn’t right next to the beach, but closer to the city center. We had a rental car and the hotel provides bicycles (inclusive), so it wasn’t too difficult to get to the beach. For me, it was a nice location to be close to the beach and city center at the same time. There’s a small pool in the lobby and breakfast is served at the rooftop. This hotel seemed quite new and the room was a decent size. The design of the room is very simple and clean. This hotel also has WiFi and air conditioning. Parking is available, but parking on the side of the street near the hotel is fine as well.
Hotel 52, Playa del Carmen
Hotel 52 is just a 5 min walk from the beach and a quick walk to Quinta Avenida, which has many shops and restaurants. The room was decent, but the positioning of the bathroom was a bit strange. The sink was right next to the door and the toilet and shower were in a different area. The strangest part was the shower had no light once you close to the shower door, so I had to keep the shower door open, which created puddles in the “half bathroom”. The hotel includes WiFi and air conditioning. There is a parking lot available, but I just parked right outside on the street.
My Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen Trip Itinerary
We arrived really late to Mexico; it was a 19:00 flight, but we were delayed. From the airport, we took the rental car agency shuttle service from the airport to the agency to pick up our rental car. We drove from there to our first hotel.
We hopped in the pool at Real Inn Cancun for a quick second before we headed out to Tulum. We stopped by Walmart first to get sunscreen, water, and bug spray.
Cenote Azul: Cenotes are sinkholes created from the collapse of limestone bedrock, which then exposes groundwater from underneath. Cenote Azul was beautiful and had the clearest water I’ve swam in so far. There was a small rocky ledge about 4 meters high that people could jump off of into the cenote. In the cenotes, there are a lot of little (sometimes big) fish that are swimming alongside you, but also nibble on your dead skin. If something tickles and it’s not a leaf or a twig, it’s probably a fish! There are more shallow areas and areas that are slightly deeper for all different types of swimmers. Lifejackets and snorkels were available to rent. It costs 100 pesos per person to enter.
Cenote Dos Ojos: This cenote was different from Cenote Azul because its natural waters were in a cave. The water was a deeper blue and there were scuba divers that were swimming through the underwater caves. I loved this cenote because some parts were deeper. The water was also super clear. Life jackets and snorkel equipment is also available to rent. It costs 350 pesos per person to enter.
Matcha Mama Tulum: Their smoothies/drinks/bowls are New York prices, but I must admit, it was pretty freaking delicious! Their seats are swings; it’s quite relaxing to swing while eating an acai bowl!
Las Palmas Public Beach/Tulum Beach: A nice beach; there was a lot of seaweed on the shore.
Downtown Tulum: Lots of shops and restaurants around here – it was a lively area. We biked from our hotel to this area as the cost our hotel included rental bikes.
Kitchen Table: We had a reservation here (better safe than sorry). The food was higher end and more expensive than a local taco place, but still delicious. It was modern Mexican cuisine. The ambiance was nice and relaxing; they had an outdoor kitchen so we could see everything they were doing. We had a grilled deviled avocado, vegetarian tempura tacos, and pork ribs with mashed plantains and greens.
Taqueria Honorio: We had tacos for breakfast because this places opens at 6:00 and closes at 14:00. It was delicious and super inexpensive – there were a lot of locals and their tortillas are handmade. All seating is outdoor.
Chichen Itza: Ancient Mayan ruins – it’s a world wonder and UNESCO site. It was 2-hour drive from Tulum, but definitely worth the visit. To enter, it costs 254 pesos per person (and 30 pesos for parking).
Mamita Beach: Beach in Playa del Carmen; the beach is not too long. There was less seaweed on the shore than in Tulum, but still a decent amount.
El Fogon: Delicious tacos for a decent price! We ordered rajas quesadillas, taco al pastor and papaya/mango smoothies. We had 6 tacos, 1 order of quesadillas and 2 smoothies, which totaled up to around 250 pesos.
Amorino in La Quinta Street: Gelato for dessert (available in other countries as well)
Sunrise at Mamita Beach/Playa del Carmen Beach: Absolutely worth it to watch the sunrise; we woke up at 5:30 to make sure we could catch it at 6:30. People who were working on boats were getting ready for the day and we also saw people cleaning up the seaweed from the beach shore.
La Cueva del Chango: Breakfast! It opens at 8:00 and we ordered chilaquiles with eggs (with a “xcatic” chili and green tomato sauce), a sweet crepe with banana and nutella, and two juices (one papaya and one mixed). All this was for 300 pesos + tip.
Playa Defines: The bluest beach we saw during our days there. Waves are huge on these beaches. The famous ‘CANCUN’ sign is by this beach and parking is available nearby. This was by my favorite beach of the trip; it was long, there was less seaweed (maybe because we went in the morning after it got cleaned up) and the color was a vibrant blue.
We dropped off our rental car and took the shuttle service again back to the airport
Rental car/road trip tips
– Be careful of the speed bumps, they can really damage your car if you go too fast.
– The speed limit changes very quickly and often.
– If you get a dent in your car, make sure to call you rental car service immediately!
– Police try to take advantage of tourists. We actually got stopped by police 10 minutes in driving to Tulum from Cancun. The speed limit was 70 km/hr where we were at, but we were slower than that. The policeman told us that 40 was the speed limit a few seconds ago and it just changed to 70. He told us that we needed to give him our driver’s license and we could pick it up from the police station where we had to pay the ticket. Our rental car service told us specifically not to give ANY of our documents to the police and that they would just give us a ticket if we were actually guilty of speeding. We stood our ground, didn’t give the police our documents, and he said if we don’t want to go to the police station, we can just pay him now and there would be no problem. We asked him to issue us the ticket or we can follow him the police station. He spoke in Spanish the whole time and then asked us how much money we had in our wallets; we showed him we had no cash in our wallets and he just let us go on with our trip. Don’t let the police scam you and always ask for the ticket or to follow them to the police station!
– Avant Rent a Car is a good car service to use as they are open 24 hours, and their prices are inclusive of all required Mexican insurance.
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