Missing Wallets, Sunburns, Diarrhea, Mosquitos & More
The Yucatán was one of the coolest, and probably most underrated, places I’ve visited yet. It’s full of beautiful beaches, sparkling cenotes, ancient ruins, and amazing food. But like any trip, there were a lot of road bumps along the way and a few things I wish I would have known in advance. This is a compilation of all the things I learned and tips I’d give to anyone interested in making the most out of the area.
Take the buses
This saves so much money, especially in the Cancun area where the taxis will take every cent you have. I took the bus everywhere. It’s only 10.50 pesos and you can jump on a bus and get off anywhere along the route. You can take the R1 straight to the beaches, or do as I did and take random buses until you’re completely lost. But either way, you’ll get around without paying a fortune. For long distance travel take the ADO. These buses are amazing and for really cheap tickets, you can hop on an ADO almost anywhere around the Yucatàn and enjoy AC and a movie on the way. From the airport, the ADO is also really cheap. Don’t get a taxi or a shuttle if you want the cheapest mode of transportation. I took these buses to Valladolid, Tulum, Chichen Itza, etc.
Seek out all the Cenotes
The cenotes were one of my favorite unique aspects of the area. Since the Yucatán has a limestone foundation, giant sinkholes formed over time and as rain and ground water filtered into them, these sinkholes transformed into the most amazing swimming holes. Some of them are completely open-air, others more cave-like. You can find fish in some of them, cliffs for jumping, and little waterfalls as water trickles in from above. Many are even known to house remains from Mayan sacrifices. There are literally hundreds of cenotes in the area so check out as many as you can.
Keep your entry registration form
I made this mistake and had to pay a dear $30 for it. That might not seem like a steep price, but it definitely was since I had no wallet or any form of payment (explained later in the article). I arrived at the airport ready to head back to the States. But alas, it was not so easy. They asked for my immigration forms, which I didn’t have, then proceeded to tell me I had to pay for a replacement. Well I had lost my wallet during the trip and had spent all my pesos before arriving at the airport. While on the plane to Mexico, I didn’t realize the immigration forms I filled out were supposed to be turned back in as you exited the country. Somehow I missed the message printed on the bottom that explicitly told you to save the paper for exiting the country. Despite the uselessness of the form, I had to go buy a new one that basically provided information that my passport stamp could have shown. This definitely seemed like a money-making ruse to me, since the immigration office was full of people like myself that had not realized keeping the small slip of paper was necessary. If it wasn’t for my friend, who lent me the money for my new immigration form, I would’ve been in a much worse situation.
Pay extra attention to your belongings
This was an unfortunate plague for me and my friend. The Yucatán is fun. It’s full of beaches. Cancun is full of clubs and bars. You leave your bag on the beach while swimming, set it down when you’re going to the bar for more drinks, forget about it on the seat next to you on crowded buses. It’s easy to lose track of things here. I wouldn’t even say I felt like pick pocketing or theft was a more serious threat here than other regions I’ve visited. But the beachy lifestyle makes it easy to be negligent. Sipping margaritas on the beach sounds like a great idea until you can’t find something the next morning because you left it in the sand. Within the second week, my friend left his wallet on a beach, never to find it again. Lucky for him, I was able to withdraw money from an ATM. Unlucky for us both, the night we stumbled up to an ATM, I left my debit card in the machine and didn’t realize it until the next day. Moral of the story? Be extra vigilant or you might end up like us, in a foreign country without any money in your pocket. Really be careful of your own laziness and negligence because you could sabotage your own trip.
Use sunscreen. For real
As someone that rarely burns, I often avoid to oily sunscreens. So for our first beach day, my friend and I laid out on the warm sand and soaked up the sun without any protection. Thinking I was only getting an awesome tan, I became worried on the bus back home when my skin was still warm and slightly flushed. The flush turned into a sunburn, and in the 95-degree heat and extreme humidity, it was so uncomfortable. I was always sweating because there was no AC, and it stung my sensitive skin. My friend had it a lot worse than me. His entire body became a lobster shell, which he continued to shed throughout the duration of the trip. Luckily, my sunburn cleared up in a day or two and I began applying sunscreen liberally every time I walked outside. My burn also turned into a tan and I didn’t have problems the rest of the trip. But the lesson learned? Don’t be arrogant. Use sunscreen even if you “don’t burn”. The last thing you want is the pain and discomfort of blistered skin in the hot, salty, humid climate of southern Mexico.
Check out all the Mayan Ruins
The history here is breath-taking. There are Mayan ruins everywhere. Your first stop has to be Chichen Itza. I never really understood how grand the pyramid was until I was staring up at it. Granted, it’s a long bus ride to get here from Cancun, but worth every minute. Plus you can scratch off one of the wonders of the world from your list.
There were other Mayan ruins sprinkled all over the place. My favorite was actually Ek’Balam where you could climb the ancient ruins and pyramids, walk inside, and explore the surrounding jungle. Getting here wasn’t the easiest as we had to bus to Valladolid then find a collectivo to the ruins. But it was well worth it. My friend and I released our inner Indiana Jones as we jumped across the jungle ruins. As it’s not one of the better-known ruins, there were only a handful of other people touristing and we basically had the place to ourselves.
The Tulum coastal ruins were also breathtaking. The structures sat against a beautiful ocean backdrop and there were plenty of beaches to explore after seeing the ruins. This was also a full day trip from Cancun. We decided to snorkel at a beach in this area and swam with sea turtles.
I was really excited to see the Cobà ruins but I was actually a bit disappointed. The tourism at this site was obnoxious. But there was a giant pyramid to climb that offered an amazing view of the surrounding jungle. Good luck getting a picture without any other tourists in the shot.
I loved this cute little color-splashed town. We stopped here a couple of times during our long day trips, as there are plenty of restaurants and ice cream shops to choose from. There’s a giant Spanish colonial style cathedral and a cute plaza to explore filled with vendors selling churros and palletas. It’s also a great base for exploring nearby ruins like Chichen Itza and Ek’ Balam and the many cenotes in the area.
Notice the local wildlife. And mind the insects
Coming from Texas, the wildlife here was so intriguing. I saw little brown foxes near our hostel, huge birds soaring the beaches and city areas, and heard all kinds of weird frog sounds at night near the water. When we were swimming at Playa Delfines, we spotted a swordfish. And while snorkeling at Tulum, we saw several giant sea turtles as well as a huge variety of colorful fish. Iguanas ruled the land, especially around ruins. Also note that you should probably invest in some mosquito spray, as I was bit up my first couple of nights.
Prepare for digestive distress
I’m not saying you will get sick. And I’m not telling you to avoid the food or water. But I will say that you are going into a new environment, trying new foods, and you will be exposed to new pathogens and substances your body isn’t used to. Luckily, I didn’t have too much of an issue, although occasional upset stomach did occur. My friend, on the other hand, ended up in bed for a full day with some sort of 24-hour stomach bug or food poisoning. The point is, introduce new foods slowly and don’t munch out on all the street food you can get your hands on until your body is comfortable with the water and some of the spices and ingredients of the region. Prepare in advance and maybe bring some Tums or Pepto in your carry-on. Or just pick up some Loperamido from a pharmacy in Mexico. But the food is so delicious and you definitely can’t pass it up. My favorite thing to try were all of the tropical fruits. There were fruits I’d never heard of, like mamey, tuna fruit, and jobito. I often grabbed an horchata then sliced up a mango to enjoy as I lazily relaxed in a hammock.
Which brings me to my final tip. Everything works itself out in the end. Enjoy the beauty of the Yucatán, embrace the tropical lifestyle, and relax.