You might think I'm crazy but, I have never been to Mexico before. I KNOW! Most American's first international vacation is to a city in Mexico or to Cancun for Spring Break but I never got the chance. When my gal pals wanted to arrange a girls' trip down past the boarder, I was all for it. Here are my highlights and travel tips from my week in Mexico accompanied by my 35mm film:
Tulum definitely surprised me. I bought a plane ticket with doing ZERO research and was wowed by this little paradise. I flew into Cancun, rented a car and drove the hour and a half to Tulum. The car rentals online look cheap (weirdly $6 for the week) but it actually works out to a normal rate with 'insurance' fees. I think renting a car is the smartest option. There are private shuttles but they can be pricey and cramped. You can get cheap flights by using Hopper or SkipLagged.
Once we arrived in Tulum, we stayed in a cozy Air BnB called Casa Toloc with bikes included. Halfway through our trip we moved to a new Air BnB that was incredible called Villa Guacamaya. The funny thing about Tulum is that nothing looks like much from the street but then, when you wander inside, these places turn out to be bohemian paradise.
Tulum has a central town but the magic is the long strip along the beach. I would suggest a car or bikes if you are a good rider! I am TERRIBLE on a bike and definitely almost crashed a number of times. Their amazing beach front hotels are great for exploring, dinner or drinks. We loved Zamas (good for affordable rooms and easy parking), Casa Malca (AMAZING rugs/atmosphere), Coco Tulum (has iconic white swing chairs), La Zebra (amazing beach and food) and lastly, Azulik (INCREDIBLE Kin Toh hammock restaurant. Crazy expensive but fun for one drink).
Tulum is also home to plenty of yoga and wellness retreats so it was vegan heaven. Some of our favorite food places included Burrito Amor (we went like 3 times), Raw Love (PERFECT Acai bowls), Mateos (live band, great drinks), Kibok (for coffee/breakfast on the back patio), Mama Matcha (smoothies with cute swings), La Hoja Verde (yum veggie friendly brunch), Tiki Tiki (charming bar for drinks), El Pez (beach front fish dinner), Don Honorio (cheap tacos) and Amansala Hotel (amazing curry + beachfront). We tried to have dinner at Hartwood but couldn't get a reservation and ended up at Rosa Negra (still yum). We didn't have a single bad meal in Tulum!
In Tulum we also visited some stunning cenotes (swimming holes). While my favorite was the Grand Cenote, some of the smaller ones are also charming and less crowded! Our final day we visited the Mayan ruins. Go early to avoid the busses!! From great food to even better swimming experiences, I would say a Tulum is a must visit.
After a few days in Tulum, Ellese and I ventured west to Merida. We heard that there was a charming city for a stop along the way and I am so glad we visited Villadolid. I loved their charming buildings and quite streets. We felt like we were truly in Mexico here. Although we were only here for an afternoon, I would suggest Yerbabuena del Sisal for lunch and walking along Calzada de los Frailes.
I would say that the only dark spot on our journey was the car ride into Merida. It would've been an easy trip had it not been for our rental car. We had been driving with expired tags the whole time! Ellese and I were stopped by Mexican police and it was quite the ordeal. Since we couldn't really communicate, they eventually let us go. Once we arrived in Merida, we spoke to some locals about our little mishap. We were told this happens often and that it sounds like we were asked for a bribe which can be common. Check your rental cars people!
While Tulum surprised me, there has never been a diamond in the rough like Merida. I was floored by the culture, architecture and overall plethora of activities. There are light shows, heritage dance performances and live performances nearly every night in the Parque Santa Lucia. The city offers home and garden tours, relatively close cenotes and even flamingo boat tours all within an hour or so. We stayed in the most incredible Air BnB in the historic district which was easily walkable to everything!
With our limited time, we chose to walk the city and explore the close by Haciendas. You can stroll along the Paseo de Montego or dip into local co-ops to see the variety of goods this city offers. We also visited some local museums and hotels to chat with some locals. The two Haciendas we visited were the closest to the city: Hacienda Yaxcopoil and Hacienda San Pedro Ochil. Both were stunning but San Pedro Ochil had food and was setting up for a wedding (so you know I was in heaven).
While we had some amazing food our whole trip, the places we loved in Merida were: Ponchos (cheap food with fun decor), Apoala (in the square), El Barrio (for breakfast) and Wayane (great breakfast tacos). I only wish we had stayed longer!
I will 100% be returning to Mexico in the near future. Don't be afraid to reach out with questions or comment below!