5 Days in Mexico (2021)
Just wanted to hop on here to write about my recent trip to Mexico (Feb 2021). As travel begins to pickup again I wanted to share my experience in case anyone is looking to do a similar trip. We went to Mexico for 5 days (Wed-Sun) spending 2 nights in Tulum and 2 nights in Cancun. Below I will list where we stayed, ate, visited, and some Mexico tips.
#1: Important Things To Know
Exchange some money in the US before you leave or as soon as you arrive in Mexico. There are of course ATM's available but I would suggest looking up if your bank has international ATM partners so you can save on fees. 1 USD will give you 20 Mexican Pesos (Feb 2021).
There is Uber in Cancun, everywhere else you will need to take a cab and they only accept cash.
A lot of places take credit card but equally there are quite a few places that only take cash. We exchanged $200 USD each for two of us and it was enough for the 5 days.
At the tourist locations no one is ever trying to be nice or helpful, they want to sell you something, just kindly tell them no and keep walking. I will elaborate more on this below as I list some of the specific locations we visited.
Most people speak English but if you know any Spanish use it so you don't get ripped off.
In most places we visited "professional" cameras were not allowed or came with a hefty fee to use. Just be aware of where you are visiting and if they have these rules if you'd like to use a real camera.
Don't drink the tap water, you will get sick!
Wear plenty of sunscreen, even in February it was very hot.
#2: COVID Regulations
You do not currently need a negative COVID test to enter the country of Mexico. However, you will need a 3 day old test to get back into the United States. This will be checked at the airport in Mexico by the airline when you are checking in for your flight.
You can either show proof of a negative COVID test or show proof that you have "recovered" from COVID in the last 90 days. We did the latter which requires you to show the airline your last positive test and a Doctor's note.
Further information about COVID regulations is available here.
#3: Rental Car Information
If you are renting a car be aware that you must have Mexican third-party insurance. It is mandatory. You will see that the cars are very cheap to rent online via third-party sites like Expedia, however those prices do not include that insurance (even though it says it does) so your price will skyrocket when you go to pick up the car. We booked directly through Sixt which has all the fees up front and it cost about $170 total for the 5 days (Feb 2021).
As far as regular insurance to cover damages to the car, etc. if your credit card covers all those extras normally, it will likely work in Mexico as well.
You do not need an International Driver's License your US license will work just fine.
Driving in Mexico was fairly easy, google maps works great, and there are many signs in English in the touristy areas. Be aware of potholes, speed bumps, and roundabouts because there are a lot.
Chichén Itzá - Day Trip
We took a little day trip as soon as we arrived in Cancun. We had an early flight which had us driving from the airport at about 10 AM. It takes 2 - 2 1/2 hours to drive to this site but it is one of the new 7 wonders of the world and was really interesting to see! We flew in and out of CUN (Cancun International Airport) for reference.
You will have many people trying to sell you tickets to the site before you arrive. They start about 30 minutes away trying to tell you that you must buy a ticket now because they are not letting people in due to COVID, this is false. Purchase your tickets at the front gate and use the official Chichén Itzá parking. When you arrive there is a small check point where they will check to see if you are wearing face masks. Continuing down the road you will get many people waving you down with flags telling you to park or that they sell tickets. These are not official and just be aware that if you purchase anything from these people it will be at your own risk.
You will see a small guard house where you pay for parking and you can go to the lot. After parking, walk to the main building where you will see 2 ticket windows. You have to get a ticket from each window, they are separated because one is the admission to the site and the other is a federal tax that you must pay. They do take credit cards here and the price was about $50 USD total for 2 people. Both tickets will be checked on the way in. No food is allowed inside and buy water before you go in because there will not be any concessions once you are inside and it is very hot!
Tulum - 2 Nights
The famous Tulum. Think of Tulum as a more expensive South Beach, especially if you are staying in the Zona Hotelera. Yes, the restaurants are beautiful with their boho chic vibes but be prepared to spend a pretty penny. In my humble opinion, there is so much more to see in Mexico and Tulum is overpriced and very touristy.
Anyways.. I will still include what we did, where we went, etc. but just with that previously stated disclaimer!
To get to the ruins you must go into the area that has a large sign that says Tulum and Mystika. There you will be led to a gate where you can get a ticket to park inside. Once you park and start walking in there is a large flea market at the entrance but you have to keep walking towards the back-left. Here once again you will get many people trying to sell you tickets and tours. Keep walking! You will find a long road with signs that you are entering the archeological zone. Follow the road and then you will see a little tent where they will check your temperature and give you hand sanitizer.
After the tent you will see a ticket window, bathrooms, and small gift shop. Here they only accept cash and it must be exact so be aware of that. The entrance fee was 80 pesos (Feb 2021). Once again, wear plenty of sunscreen and be sure to purchase water before you enter, there are zero concessions or vendors once inside!
SFER IK is a really cool museum that is located next to the beautiful AZULIK hotel in the Zona Hotelera. The museum is solely based off it's architecture which is the art. You have to pay to enter, we paid cash at the door but I believe they also sell tickets online. They will make you take off your shoes to walk in and this is one of those places that does not allow a "professional" camera. I do recommend it though if you like architecture or want to get some unique photos!
It can be a little overwhelming to choose between all the different Cenotes that there are to visit in the Quintana-Roo area but hopefully this helps a bit. While we were there we visited Gran Cenote and Cenotes Dos Ojos so I will break them down below.
At Gran Cenote you can enjoy swimming in beautiful crystal clear water. You can also view some wildlife like turtles and bats inside a cave which was very cool to see. The entrance fee to come in is $300 pesos per person (Feb 2021). This is cash only and can also be paid in USD if you don't have pesos on you. They do make you shower and fully wet your hair before you climb down the stairs to see the actual cenote so be aware that you will need to do this. They have free lifejackets and you can rent out a locker and snorkel gear. I don't really remember how much the rental prices were but you are able to bring your own snorkel gear! They do not have any food/water to purchase on-site there are only restroom facilities.
This is home to two cenotes (The first and second eye as they call them) that you can visit plus a few add-ons that you can purchase with your entrance ticket. Here we opted for the base ticket price ($250 pesos per person - Feb 2021) which grants you access only to the two cenotes. If you want to add on they also have a bat cave which requires a guided tour or you can do a scuba diving tour. Life jackets are mandatory and you can grab them at either of the entrances to the two cenotes. These were definitely cool for snorkeling. I recommend either taking snorkel gear with you or renting there so that you can see all the amazing structures under the water. It is a large property, they have a few shops, a restaurant where we did grab a quick bite, and restroom facilities.
Cancun - 2 Nights
We stopped at the Cenotes on the way from Tulum to Cancun which got us in to our hotel on the later side. We only grabbed dinner that night and explored the hotel. The next morning we weren't really sure what to do so we booked an excursion to Isla Mujeres. You can get to Isla Mujeres a couple of different ways. They have a ferry or you can do a private excursion. We went for the private excursion with Cancun Adventures because we also wanted to do some snorkeling.
This tour was amazing and we had a blast I can't recommend it enough (This is not sponsored we paid fully and it was worth every penny). Follow the link or if you go through your hotel it is the Isla Mujeres Luxury Sailing Tour with Cancun Adventures. The tour was almost 6 hours and includes the following:
Transportation to and from your hotel
Sail to Isla Mujeres on a beautiful Catamaran
Lunch and unlimited drinks (fully unlimited alcohol, let's just say we took advantage of that)
1 hour snorkel stop (includes the snorkeling gear and lifejackets)
2 hours to explore Isla Mujeres on your own
*Pro Tip: do the 2:30 tour! I'll explain more below.
This tour is not private, you will be on a Catamaran with about 20 people including your party. So if that's not your jam maybe look for another excursion. This tour was great, the tour guides were fun/helpful but also let you have plenty of time just for yourself to soak up the sun. When we got on the boat we started with safety features, itinerary, and FAQs and then we set sail! The first stop on the tour is snorkeling for 1 hour, they do this before lunch is served/the drinking starts for obvious reasons. We snorkeled in a small reef which was not anything out of this world, but there were some really cool sculptures underwater. Unfortunately, the current was really strong that day so the snorkeling section was a bit shorter than usual.
Anyways the day continued, the next stop was Isla Mujeres with lunch and drinks starting to be served on the way. When we got to Isla Mujeres the boat docked at a sandbar where you had about 30 minutes to either take some pictures or go for a swim. Next we docked at Isla Mujeres and were able to explore on our own for 2 hours. The island is small and extremely accessible via golf cart. When you arrive you must exit through a gift shop, across the street there are a few people renting them out. It was $20 USD for 2 hours (Feb 2021) they give you the keys, a map, and you're off. Here you can drive to the Southern part of the island where there is a little lighthouse and a temple. You can stop along the way for shopping, eating, or drinking at small shops/kiosks.
If you aren't into renting a golf cart you can hang out at the beach or you can walk around the small town center where the catamaran drops you off. There is a restaurant there, a few bars, and lots of gift shops! After your time on the island is up you head back to the catamaran and set sail back to Cancun. This is where that 2:30 tour start-time comes in. If you take this tour you get to see the sunset from the catamaran on the way back and it was beautiful. Once again, 10/10 recommend this tour for a unique day trip from Cancun.
#5: Where to Stay
Airbnb - Neem Tulum
In Tulum your options are to stay in the very touristy Zona Hotelera or in the Tulum City Center. If you are splurging and are visiting Tulum for the party and fancy food, stay in the Zona Hotelera. If you are looking for something more quiet/affordable stay in the city center. The parking situation in the Zona Hotelera is a disaster so do keep that in mind if you are staying in the city and want to visit, I highly recommend taking a cab. They do have valet at specific locations however this might not be the best option if you're thinking of walking around for a long time.
We opted to stay in an up and coming area in the city called La Veleta. This is why we were able to get the price of $90 USD a night including all fees, services, and parking. The place was beautiful with 2 full bathrooms and a nice rooftop deck with a jacuzzi. It had all the "Tulum vibes" we were looking for in our stay.
The only disclaimer I would write for this Airbnb is that the roads are not fully paved in some areas so you will encounter some rough spots if you are driving. If you are not driving it may be a bit difficult to get a cab although the hosts were extremely nice and did give us a list of services that could be useful!
PS: If you've never used Airbnb before, it's honestly great and I use it for most trips. Use my link to save up to $55 on your first trip!
Hotel - Westin Lagunamar
For your stay in Cancun you also have similar options, staying in the Zona Hotelera or the city center, except in the Cancun the Zona Hotelera has way more affordable options and beautiful resorts with beach access. We stayed at the Westin Lagunamar with an outstanding ocean-front room for $147 USD a night all fees, taxes, and parking included (above is the view from our balcony).
#6: Where to Eat
This is a great spot for lunch or early dinner in the Tulum city center. They do not have tacos but instead a bunch of good quality seafood. They started us off with this fresh watermelon drink and then we ordered the Ceviche Chamicos that was so juicy and delicious.
This was my favorite meal of the trip by far! This is the spot for all your taco needs and a great option for breakfast or lunch (yes, its totally ok to eat tacos at 10 AM). Each taco is less than $1 USD and so flavorful. They also have "agua frescas" made with bottled water (so you won't get sick from them) in a ton of different flavors, these are the Jamaica and Tamarindo. Do not skip the cochinita pibil it is incredible!
This is a cute spot for a quick breakfast or lunch in the city center or in the zone hotelera (they have two locations). This place serves up açaí bowls, juices, smoothies, etc. Definitely very instagrammable and if you are working remote, this is a good place to do it!
We didn't get to eat here but I wish we had. I absolutely loved the space it had a very cozy yet chic atmosphere. We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of rounds of drinks. They had some really delicious cocktails with Mezcal here. One of the favorites was the Mama Lindo that had Tamarindo, mezcal, orange, orange liquor, and arbol pepper in it. The bartender was so nice and not to mention very talented. They gave us complimentary chips and salsa that were fantastic which should have been our indicator to sit and have a full meal here! This restaurant is also in a quiet part of the Zona Hotelera so you can have a more peaceful dinner.
Alright, you can take this recommendation with a grain of salt. AZULIK is THE place to be in Tulum and is known for its beauty and extremely interesting architecture. Don't get me wrong the hotel is gorgeous but it's extremely expensive and not really realistic for most people's budgets. I had read a lot about this restaurant and decided not to eat here because most of the reviews state that it is very overpriced for pretty mediocre food. We did decide to come here for drinks however mostly because I wanted to see the hotel. How it works is that you pay about $30 USD per person which includes 1 drink each and entrance into the restaurant/bar.
It was a really nice atmosphere, is extremely instagrammable, and the drinks were great (not $30 great) but be aware of a few key facts. There is security everywhere so you will not have access to any other part of the hotel, only the bar and the bathroom. Don't expect to see the sunset or the famous "nests" that the restaurant has because you are not allowed to wander into that section. You cannot use a professional camera, phones only. If you want to use a professional camera it will come with a hefty fee. The instagrammable areas are also really crowded and this was during non-peak travel times.
There are a lot of touristy places in Cancun especially in the hotel area. Since many of the hotels are all-inclusive there aren't that many options but this was a great one! Yes, it is touristy, yes they have locations in other places (including Miami which we didn't realize until we had already sat down) but nonetheless it was delicious. They have a large menu that includes seafood and steak. The bread they start you with is amazing and it is a huge portion. We definitely over-ordered, there is no need for an appetizer or side dish because all of the portions are huge. We got a few of the specials which included the fresh ahi tuna appetizer, tuna tacos, and the seafood paella. The drinks are also not to be missed they had an amazing Tamarindo mezcal drink. Overall, the food was fantastic, waiters were friendly, and it was a nice atmosphere.
We absolutely loved this little breakfast cafe just outside the resort area of Cancun. They had these fun smoothie-like drinks in a ton of different flavors. This is the mango with chamoy and the matcha which were both delicious. They also have sandwiches, waffles, and desserts but the waffles as you can see in the picture are not your typical waffle. They are kind of like waffle sandwiches and they were delicious!
So that is everything I have to share on my February 2021 trip to Mexico! Hope this helps you to plan and if you have any questions or need advice I am always available via DM.