If you are a tourist heading to Riviera Maya – I’m talking Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cozumel – you are likely doing the typical tourist thing by booking a week at a big fancy an all-inclusive resort. Which is great. All-inclusive vacations are a wonderful thing when you are looking for a way to relax and forget about your real life for a while. However, I’m a big believer that you cannot go to an all-inclusive resort, never leave the hotel property and then say that you went to Mexico. The truth is, you’re not experiencing the real culture of that place. You’re experiencing a fantasy/made-up world that really doesn’t exist outside of that hotel’s border. When you choose an all-inclusive, I suggest highly that you choose to spend a day or two experience the real life world of the country that you are visiting. Whether this be a guided tour booked through the hotel or an adventure that you do on your own. Get out there, experience some culture and see some wonderful things. Here are some great things to do while in Quintana Roo – which is the state in Mexico that you are in as you visit Riveria Maya.
Rent a Car & Drive
Driving around Quintana Roo is pretty easy as there is only one major highway (307). It takes about three hours to drive from Cancun to Chetumal which is the capital of Quintana Roo. Along that stretch, there are many great things to check out. As you drive just watch out for all of the topes! Topes are those wonderful speed bumps that come in a great variety of forms. They are heavily marked so they are not too hard to miss. Usually. When renting a car in Mexico, if you do not know how to drive a manual transmission, be sure to specify that you will need a standard transmission car.
Tulum & Coba Ruins
If you haven’t been to that area before, you definitely have to check out the Tulum ruins. It’s super duper touristy and busy there but it’s some of the most beautiful pyramids that you’ll see since they are right beside the ocean. Tulum is located just off of the highway 307 so they are very easy to get to. Coba is also worth checking out. There is a pyramid there that you can climb there and it’s a nice walk around – I think that they also rent bikes there if you don’t feel like walking.
Bacalar is a freshwater lake that is really beautiful. They call it the lake of seven colours and it’s where the locals hang out. If the locals think it’s good, you know it is. There is a restaurant there so you can make a day of it. My Mom and I love the garlic shrimp that they make. There is also a place here where you can rent kayaks and paddle around.
Swim in a Cenote
Swim in a cenote if you find one. There are a lot in Quintana Roo. A cenote is a sinkhole or natural pit that is full of water. I find them a little creepy because they seem bottomless so you have no idea what critters may be living down there.
Mahahual is one of my most favourite beaches in Mexico. It’s a bit of a drive but I think that it’s totally worth it. It’s a small town with a bunch of restaurants and bars right on the beach. You can hang out there all day and they will just bring you food from the restaurant. If you order fish, they’ll bring out a bunch that you can choose from and then they will cook it however you want. I usually get mine al ajo (with garlic). It’s super dreamy. Because Mahahual is a little out of the way, it’s not very touristy (at least when I was there last) but there is a cruise ship that stops there (which I actually think is kind of funny). We once went here by taking a bus super early in the morning from Chetumal. Nothing was really open but we found a bakery that has flan that was just out of the oven. We got one with some coffee and had it on the beach. I loved it.
Check out Chetumal & Eat Marquesitas
Chetumal is the capital of Quintana Roo and is about a three hour drive from Cancun. That’s where my sister has a house that she rents out. It’s not a beautiful town but if you are around, it may be cool to check out. There are also some ruins nearby called Oxtankah (pronounced “osch-tank-ah”). Most towns in Mexico are centred around a square but Chetumal doesn’t have one. Everyone hangs down near the water where there is a government building. Down there, there are lots of food stands that sell marquesitas which are basically crispy crepes with cheese inside. This is the only place in Mexico that makes marquesitas, so if you see anyone selling some, you should definitely try one. I love them!
Shop in Belize
There is a free zone on the border of Belize which is a short drive from Chetumal. There are lots of clothing stalls there and it’s easy to go there for the day which is kind of funny. “What did you do today?” “Oh, I went to Belize.” If you plan to do this, you do need your passport and Mexican tourist card. They will give you a visa to enter for the day.
Eat Real Mexican Food
Pull over and eat at any little restaurant that you see. Eat real life Mexican food. It’s inexpensive and it may end up being some of the best food your will experience. Try new things. Ask questions in your broken Spanish and hope for the best. When choosing the best Quesadilla spot, my brother-in-law always chooses the oldest lady cooking because he says her food will be the best. I 100% believe it.