Last year I was hanging out in an airport waiting for my flight when an attendant called me to the counter, pulled me aside, and informed me that there was a shortage of seats on the aircraft. She arranged for me to catch another flight and provided me with an $800 credit voucher for a future flight.
Fast forward a couple of months. I'm sitting down with my partner price checking destinations that our $800 credit can cover. We quickly find out that if we want to travel internationally, we need to pick a popular nearby destination to keep costs under the value of our voucher.
We decided that a 14 day trip to Cancun was the best bet. It was close to our home in Austin, beautiful, affordable and warm. There was just one small problem...we totally weren’t interested in the resort (or tourist) scene. How could we explore this terrain in a way that felt intentional and interwoven with the authentic Mexican communities of the Yucatan Peninsula? We also couldn't comprehend the per night fee of $300 and upwards at a standard resort.
Well, instead of spending $300 per day to hang and drink on a resort beach, I decided to plan an adventure along the Riviera Maya that would cost about $300 in total.
Now, of course this doesn’t account for the total cost of the trip. For two weeks of lodging I budgeted $500, there is a budget for a car rental and gas of $475, an activity budget of $300, and a grocery budget of $200. This totals the trip at $1,475, which breaks down to $105.35 a day.
Not so bad when you consider that this is an all inclusive experience that includes all of your activities, transportation, food, and lodging within that price. This is merely a third of the cost of your average resort, and they don’t include several of the perks we will be getting within this itinerary.
How did I keep costs down? Well, I opted to do everything myself.
At first I thought that there would need to be expensive days where I invested about $200 into a tour package, just to take some pressure off of planning the whole trip. However, the deeper I dug, the more I realized this wasn’t an advantage to me! I enjoyed finding exactly what I wanted to do rather than having a tour company that only went to the top three destinations. I also wanted to be able to go during the “off hours” to attractions, to have some space and peace and quiet. I realized the prices were dropping to mere Pesos as I researched the actual entry fees versus the inflated tour rates.
Another way we kept projected costs down was by finding happy hours at local restaurants and renting rooms with kitchens to keep food prices down. We didn’t chose to stay in any hostels, but by taking advantage of this option we could have saved an additional $200-$300 and had a communal kitchen for affordable eating as well.
We chose to stay in Puerto Morelos, Bacalar, Playa Del Carmen, and Cancun. This creates a large loop that takes us all the way south along the Yucatan’s Caribbean coastline and back to the airport. The total driving time is 9.5 hours, but this is broken up over the course of 14 days.
Here is the breakdown of the day to day Mexico road trip itinerary with links provided for great resources, photos, and additional pricing information. It’s not perfect, but it’s our own, which makes it the best value of all.
Jan 16th: Arrive at Cancun at 12:26 P.M.
Pick up rental car
Check into our home in Puerto Morelos (25 minute drive from airport)
Swim! Hang! Eat! Be!
Jan 17th: Barrier Reef Snorkel Tour: $35
Jan 18th: Cenotes:
Siete Bocas (Carr. Pto. Morelos-Vallarta Km. 16, no phone, 8am-4pm daily, US$10 including life vest), so named for its seven openings (or “mouths”).
Lucerno Verde (Carr. Pto. Morelos-Vallarta Km. 17, cell. tel. 998/224-3731, 8am-5pm daily, US$5 including life vest), an open-air cenote surrounded by huge tropical trees.
Jan 19th: Transition Day. Checkout,Drive to Bacalar, arrive at 1-3p.m.
Jan 19th: Check into Airbnb at 3pm, take out a kayak and enjoy the lagoon.
Enjoy some Mezcal at Damajuana.
Jan 20th: Soul & Brunch At Selva Restaurant 9am
Visit The Kohunlich Ruins One Hour Drive from Bacalar, $5
(Another Nearby Ruin Option: Dzibanche)
Jan 21st: Cenote Azul
Jan 22nd: Transition Day, leave 10am. 3.5 hour drive to Playa Del Carmen
Local Beach Day
Jan 26: Tulum Day Trip: 1. Eat Seafood At Chamicos Restaurant 2. Playa Paraíso
& Las Palmas Public Beach 3. Dinner at Gitano (Gitano will be an additional budget item! Not an economical choice on our end but a nice treat)
Transition to Cancun
Jan 27: Arrive in the evening, settle in
Jan 28: Room for Mystery and/or Decompression
Jan 29: Room for Mystery and/or Decompression
Jan 30: Departing Flight at 12:26 P.M.
That’s it! Our wonderful two week adventure flying into Cancun and driving down the Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo completely on our own terms and within our own budget commences on January 16th, 2019. Will it all go to plan? Who knows! I will share any pertinent updates here, and hopefully this driving itinerary has provided you with at least a couple gems for your next trip to the #Yucatan region of #Mexico.