Mexico’s turquoise waters, colourful coral reefs and soft white sand are the perfect setting to unwind and get as much rest and relaxation as you need. You can spend hours reading your book laying on the gorgeous Mexican beaches, meeting the locals or gorging on delicious fish tacos. In this post I cover two incredible islands and how Cancun can actually be fun…maybe for a day or two.
Perfect for the budget traveller…
With very reasonably priced direct flights to get to this gorgeous destination, I make this a perfect holiday or backpacking trip for any budget, solo, traveller.
As this was a short trip for me, I flew in and out of Cancun. However, this may be a starting point for you on a long journey down through Central America or perhaps this is the end to your great South America/Central America backpacking trip. Perhaps you have travelled from Rio and you are at the end of your trip? If this is the case this will be the perfect end to your great adventure.
To give you a little context to how this trip came about…
I called a good friend of mine Paul, a couple of days before the London Marathon, to wish him luck before the big race. I met Paul in South America around 4 years ago at the beginning of my backpacking adventure! During our phone call he happened to mention that he was going to Mexico to rest once he had completed the run. Immediately, without even asking, I said I would start looking at flights and I would be going with him. Over the next few days, I had managed to book a last minute flight with Virgin Atlantic for around £500 return and was ready for 2 weeks of bliss.
Not only did I hijack Paul’s trip but decided to stay an extra week!
As I walked through arrivals and the warm air hit me, I saw Paul waving his arms frantically in the distance ready to greet me. Our trip had begun.
One Little Tip: My advice would be to fly in and head straight to Isla Mujeres.
This is exactly what Paul and I did. After catching up we headed straight to the ferry port and bought our tickets to what would become one of my favourite places in the world, Isla Mujeres.
The island was named “Isla Mujeres” since the Mayans worshiped the goddess Ixchel, who was the goddess of the moon, love, and fertility. As an offering the Mayas gave female figures to this goddess. When the Spanish arrived in 1517, they baptized the island as Isla Mujeres because of the Mayan worship.
The Ultramar passenger ferries run pretty late, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting straight over there, enabling you to escape a night in Cancun. It should cost around M$78 one way.
Where to stay
We stayed in Poc-Na Hostel, which is easy to reach by foot once you disembark the ferry.
Poc-Na Hostel has great social areas, FREE yoga in the morning, live music, a palm shaded private beach and breakfast included. Although I was with a friend on this trip, this hostel definitely rates highly for me for being able to meet others, when travelling solo.
Once we had dumped our bags Paul hurried me down to the beach and made me dip my feet in the warm sea water. Having been to Isla Mujeres before, Paul was desperate for me to appreciate the beach, even if it was 10 o’clock at night. It was pitch black except for the twinkling of lights from the sand blown roads leading to the beach.
“Just you wait until the sun comes up” Paul said.
When morning came, we headed straight down to the beach…WOW, it’s beautiful. If you love the Caribbean, you will love Isla Mujeres.
For me, it’s the perfect mix of the Caribbean, South America and the Philippines. The beaches, the food and the PEOPLE. Just stunning.
Things to do
Hire golf buggies and pick up a corona en route!
Snorkel or Scuba dive
Swim with Whale Sharks
Unfortunately the Whale Shark season runs from May to Mid September and I was unable to jump in with these big friendly giants on this occasion. Having swam with Whale Sharks in Thailand and the Philippines I can vouch for the fact his is truly a once in a lifetime experience! You will be in the water with as many of 5 and even up to 50 or 60 whale sharks at a time.
Playa Norte Beach
Once you step foot on this beach you may never want to leave. The water is warm and crystal clear, you can grab a cocktail from the beach bars and if you need to connect to the wifi it’s readily available here.
After a week of uncontrollable laughter, plenty of cocktails and fun in the sun, it was time for Paul to head home. With no plans for my week travelling alone, I was given a tip from another backpacker and decided to head to Isla Holbox.
One Little Tip: Always listen to recommendations from other backpackers. This is where you will find the best destinations.
Getting to Isla Holbox
After saying our goodbyes, I headed straight to the port and made my return ferry back to Cancun. From there I jumped on a bus that would take me to Chiquila. This took around 3 and a half hours to reach and from there it’s easy enough to get a ferry across to Isla Holbox. Isla Holbox is a laid back island with sand streets and no cars! You will reach the port and if like me your bag was completely busted you can grab a golf buggy taxi.
Isla Mujeres to Cancun – 30 minutes by ferry (M$78)
Cancun to Chiquila – 3 ½ hours by bus (M$114)
Chiquila to Isla Holbox – 30 minutes by ferry (M$78)
Total Price – M$270 = £11 or $14 US dollars
Where to stay?
Having read good recommendations for this place, I decided to stay at Tribu Hostel. As I was travelling alone, I opted for a dorm bed in order to meet as many new friends as possible.
Hostel Tribu is close enough to walk to the beach and has many activities available to book right there at reception! These include salsa lessons, FREE yoga and you can also book onto a kayaking trip with Jason. The dorms are clean and spread out across this unusual, almost tree like building (you’ll understand what I mean if you go). The communal area is a great place to chill in a seated hammock and meet new friends. If you haven’t brought your kindle with you, they also have a good book exchange! In the evenings, head to the bar for a cocktail or if you’re there on certain nights of the week, feel free to join in on the jam session.
Prices for a dorm start at M$170 and M$550 for a private room (Approximately £7.20 or £23 a private room).
After meeting a lovely girl called Cassie on the ferry over to Isla Holbox, we then joined another couple of girls called Bec and Sarah to celebrate Bec’s birthday by going on the Kayaking trip with Jason.
Although tough at times, this was a great day out spotting wildlife. After all the hard work, when you reach the end after a long hot morning, you can treat yourself to a beer in the sun at the beach bar. Swinging on the hammock and overlooking the gorgeous sunset was a perfect end to a fantastic day.
My plan was to stay on Isla Holbox until I had to fly home to the UK. However, with a couple of days left of my trip, I had a message from my housemate from University. She was flying into Cancun from Colombia and wanted to meet up!
It is such a small world…
If you like raucous clubs and chain food restaurants, then Cancun is the place for you. Hostels will have a list of club nights with deals and are more than happy to organise a night out for you. Or alternatively head to another part of town.
We were out looking for somewhere to grab some drinks and were taken to a recommended bar by our cab driver to a completely different side of town. We entered into a bar which housed a huge jukebox and we were the only patrons…hmmm. The drinks were cheap and we ended up staying and chatting to a couple of locals who were also enjoying our choice of the REM classic Everybody Hurts. This was definitely a unique experience. We sang and danced around for a while and were then taken to another local hangout. Whilst there I was introduced to a group who spoke no English, however one of the men in the group requested that I have my photo taken with his family.
It was a very weird experience, however having travelled Asia and more specifically India and having had people taking my picture everywhere I went there, I was completely used to this. Check out the horrendous photo below to understand just how awkward the moment really was.
Where to stay?
Jodie and I chose not to stay in Zona Hotelera and chose instead to stay in Downtown Cancun at Mezcal Hostel.
With air conditioned rooms, FREE Breakfast and Dinner, a pool, evening games and party tickets organised for you, this was a great place to stay. I even managed to win the karaoke competition one night and nabbed myself a free t-shirt.
The staff were more than accommodating and as there is a huge social area, it’s easy enough to meet new friends.
Prices for a dorm start at $16 or £13.
In order to get to the beaches, simply hop on one of the local buses (10.50 Mexican Pesos or 1 USD) for a 10 minute ride into town. The main bus station is extremely close by, which menas it is easy enough for you to jump on a bus to your next destination.
We stayed at Mexcal Hostel for a couple of nights and then moved into an airbnb with a couple of friends we met at the hostel. We stayed at a fantastic apartment that included a pool and huge teddy bear for Jodie to cuddle! The hosts were extremely helpful and was a great way to enjoy the last couple of nights in Mexico with new and old friends. You can sign up for airbnb here if you want somewhere a little more private to explore from, on your next trip.
When to go?
The best time to visit is from December to April, however this is the peak season. Even though the crowds are busier, you’ll experience near-perfect weather and find some of the cheapest flight and room rates for a winter getaway at the beach.
Currency – Mexican Peso (M$)
Language – Spanish and Mayo
Money – ATMs in most towns
Visa – Not required (for UK only)
Time – GMT minus six hours