A resort-free trip to Mexico

There is a lot more to Mexico than resorts and full days on the beach. Yes, I know many people head south to enjoy beaches, sun and sand in order to relax – and there is nothing wrong with that – but I just can’t be that person. Trust me, I tried! 

, mexico, quintana roo, beach, mexican beach

The beautiful coast of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

During our time in Mexico, we visited a beach twice and although the first time was really fun, we just couldn’t get into it the second time around. 

During the week we were gone, we visited Cozumel, Tulum and Play del Carmen (for a short time)! We balanced out being on-the-go and relaxing on the beach. Our itinerary was as follows:

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Overlooking the Caribbean from Cozumel, Mexico

Day 1: On the first day, we took the time to explore the downtown area of Cozumel, the boardwalk, eat some local food and check out the touristy places that cruise-goers flooded – we even popped into a grocery store! Cozumel is not massive, and a lot of it is actually untouched territory, so it really is doable in a day or two. The island of Cozumel is known for snorkelling and diving because of the coral reefs around the island. There is also the beautiful ‘other side’ of the island which is very remote – almost untouched and breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately we couldn’t get there without a car and renting one would mean using it for a whole day. We had to make the decision to let it go since there were other things on the mainland we wanted to see more. 

Cozumel is very tourist-friendly. We would walk around the downtown area, where our hotel was, until midnight and the bars that were open were full of tourists from the resorts or nearby hotels.

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Speed-ferry between Cozumel and mainland Mexico

Day 2: The first thing we did the next morning was get on a speed ferry to go across to Playa Del Carmen from Cozumel.

It takes only 45 mins and is only about $6 return. The tickets can be used on any day and it’s cheaper to buy it at the pier directly from company. There are a few desks along the pier but not all boats come back until late night. We chose the one that had an option to come back as late as 11 p.m.

Play Del Carmen’s beach area is really vibrant and this fun party-atmosphere goes until the late hours. You can find all of the well-known brands on their ‘5th Ave.‘ including Nike, Zara, Tous, Bershka and more!  Once we got off the boat, we had lunch along the beach and roamed around the stalls and shops before making out way up a few streets to catch a local bus. This bus was packed full with both tourists and locals and we paid about $5 to get from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum by bus. The local bus is really safe and a lot cheaper than taking a taxi. 

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Super-cute AirBnB in Tulum, Mexico

Once we arrived in Tulum, we checked into our really cute AirBnB and went for a stroll in the small town. We planned on going out to Chichén Itzá the next day so we went straight to the bus station to get details on tickets and scheduling. After coming across a full-day tour which was already pre-planned and included swimming in the Cenotes (sinkholes), visiting the ruins, lunch and visiting a small local town (Valladolid), we went with that option. This tour was a lot more expensive when I looked online and I was really glad to find it at a fraction of the price ($56) in-person.

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Picture-perfect, powder-white sand on the beach in Tulum, Mexico

After this, we went straight to Tulum’s famous beaches. Although we didn’t visit the Tulum ruins, we got to enjoy an afternoon at the beach and I cannot explain how beautiful it was. With powder-white sands and turquoise waters, this beach was heaven! We used the local bus or shared van, also known as a Colectivo, to get to the pathway to walk down to the beach and took it back to our AirBnB once we were done. I just wanted to keep taking photos!

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Waiting for our delicious vegan dinner at Restaurare in, Tulum, Mexico

Our evening in Tulum was spent at a beautiful Vegan restaurant called Restaurare. The vibe of this place was so amazing – almost making you feel like you are dining in the middle of a jungle. The restaurant was totally outdoors with the original trees still in place with dining tables setup around them. The food was really, really good but we were pretty full and couldn’t finish it all. We had Soy Tacos, Traditional Mole and Mayan Curry. If I could choose again, I would order less for sure! I would also try going to that area during the day time if I got the chance. It is right along the water and although we could hear it, and see the stars in the sky at night, it would’ve been beautiful to see in the daytime. Once we took a cab back, we ended our night strolling the downtown strip, enjoying the chill vibe of the small town.

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Waiting at a super-cute outdoor coffee shop before our tour starts!

Day 3: With an early 8:00 a.m. start to our full-day tour, we made sure we slept on time and woke up early to make it to our tour. This was a long day and we had our bags with us – thankfully we packed light and were assured the coach-sized bus would have cabins for our bags, which it did! We started this day at a general meeting spot with the rest of the group at a really cute local coffee shop. Again, this was a guided tour which I will cover in another post! We got back to Playa Del Carmen after this tour by about 8:30 p.m. and spent time having eating and relaxing on 5th Ave. before taking a 10 p.m. ferry back to Cozumel. This boat ride was one of the scariest ones of my life! It was pitch-black, in a speed-ferry and while everyone else looks normal, I felt like I was gripping my seat for my life! Looking back, it’s almost laughable but, at the time, I was pretty scared! Our hotel (which we didn’t check out of) was right by the ferry docks so we were able to get to bed right away!

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Good reads and good eats at the beach in Cozumel, Mexico

Day 4 & Day 5 were spent relaxing on the beach. On the first day we snorkelled and kayaked in clear turquoise waters and relaxed on beach chairs while eating guac and drinking delicious fruity drinks. It was my first time snorkelling and I had such a great time. I was a bit nervous at first around the fish but after a while, it really didn’t bother me. We paid to get into both of the beaches but this included one free drink and the activities. The second one we went to, Paradise beach, had a beautiful large pool, water games and activities, hammocks to relax in and a nice pier to walk down. This beach was really fun because it had that ‘resort’ vibe but I couldn’t imagine spending everyday there for a week. By the time we left, I was more than ready to go!

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Strolling along the boardwalk on our last day in Cozumel, Mexico

On Day 6 we spent time shopping for gifts, strolling the waterfront in a different direction than what we did on the first day, had dinner at an Italian restaurant a few blocks up from the main centre and then had delicious churros on the street of the main centre. I really wanted more on our last day but the stall didn’t open until the evening and we had a flight to catch!

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Waves crashing along the shore in Cozumel, Mexico.  A welcomed sight for a Canadian in February!

Cozumel was one of those trips we decided on very last-minute and I am glad I went. I don’t think I would have been able to spend all my time on the small island and both of us were very glad we went over to the other side. In the future, I think I would base myself in Playa Del Carmen instead of Cozumel but at the same time, this gave us the chance to have a much more laid-back trip in comparison to the ones we’ve had in the past. Each night we would go down to the local bars (our hotel was in the main square) and watch cover bands play, see breakdancers perform and just people watch while sitting on a bench under a tree. This was a nice trip and very different from other ones I have done. I would highly recommend Tulum to those who want to try a different type of trip to Mexico.

I would also really say skip the resort and enjoy the real, local culture. You meet so many more people this way, learn more about where you are and get the chance to eat really good food!

I will be sharing my tour and experience at the Chichen Itza in another post, really soon.

Below are some more photos from our trip. Enjoy!

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