Relax in the hammocks at Los Rápidos, Bacalar, float down the canal, and enjoy some good eats.
Step out of the Hotel Zone in Cancún and the beach at Tulum. There are so many interesting little places to visit in Costa Maya!
Whether you call it the Yucatán Peninsula, Costa Maya, or Riviera Maya, most people know of the Cancún Hotel Zone, probably Playa del Carmen for Spring Break parties, likely the massive Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, and possibly the lovely beach of Tulum. The truth is that these are only the tiniest bit of what the area has to offer. If you ever have the opportunity to spend some time exploring the many fascinating areas of the Yucatán Peninsula, you will discover that it is rich in culture, natural wonders, and historical sites. Each place has its own personality and you'll find some odd treasure everywhere you go.
Here are 5 places you may not have thought to visit, that will give you that "yeah, this is travelling" moment.
1) Chaak Tun Cenote, Playa del Carmen
Chaak Tun Cenote near Playa del Carmen.
Chaak Tun Cenote caves with crystal clear water and stalactites.
There are so so many cenotes, many of which are not even marked on a map. They vary from large sinkholes where you swim beneath long hanging vines to underground caves full of stalactites and stalagmites. Chaak Tun, for it's close proximity to the big party town of Playa del Carmen is nothing short of amazing. It's mainly used for cruise ship tours, so not every taxi driver is familiar with it. But that said, there is nothing about it that feels touristy. Chaak Tun is a gorgeous cavern cenote that can be visited with almost no crowds if you go at the right time.
By 1 or 2pm the cruise ship tours (all decked out in wetsuits, river shoes, and hard hats) have left. You'll be fine in bare feet and swim suits and you don't really even need a snorkel & mask. Take a taxi and make sure that they come back to get you in a couple of hours as you will be on a dirt road with zero taxis coming by.
A guide is supplied free of charge (please tip though) who gives information on the cenote as you swim and walk through beautiful caverns with crystal clear water. Smaller groups even get to visit some areas that larger tours do not go.
2) Eco Camping Hotel, Valladolid
Sleep in an old airplane in Eco Camping Valladolid.
Sleep in a VW Bug in the Vocho Hotel Valladolid.
Also known as the Vocho Hotel because the rooms are IN Volkswagens! Located in a quite setting just outside of Valladolid, this eco-conscious hotel boasts solar, fresh cenote water, included breakfast, and even a natural pool with nibbling fish. Soak in the groovy atmosphere, relax in the hammocks, view the stars through the stargazing telescope, and enjoy the bonfire (also in a VW bug by the way). Choose from tents, VW bugs or vans, or even a suspended airplane!
3) Tejones Garden, Puerto Morelos
Jardin de los Tejones, Puerto Morelos
Watch out for crocs? I hope the tejones can read! Can you see their glowing little eyes?
Feed the tejones in the evening and they'll come right outside the fence.
Right near the OXXO as you arrive in the fishing town of Puerto Morelos is an unassuming little area called the Jardin de los Tejones. It just looks like a little fence in front of some bushes, but bring some crackers here in the evening and the little lemur-looking critters will come out of the woodwork. Quite literally. They come scampering from out of nowhere in the trees to get some treats. I have yet to see a crocodile there but I'd imagine if any of them cruise over from the lagoon, that they are quite happily fed on their on tejone treats. :(
The up and coming town of Puerto Morelos itself is worth a few days to enjoy the beach, central square, and a great selection of restaurants. Be sure to try some empananadas at Pizza Nostra.
4) Parque de las Palapas, Cancún
Parque de las Palapas - hang out here in the evenings to get a taste of the real Cancún.
Lots of delicious greasy food made to order.
The actual city of Cancún gets greatly ignored by most tourists. I love staying in the city in my favorite area near the Parque de las Palapas. In the evening, locals gather here for their kids to play, watch local entertainment, and enjoy inexpensive local food from the park vendors. One winter we actually saw a free performance of The Nutcracker performed on the large stage in the park along with hundreds of locals!
In addition to the park, you can find some great hotel deals for a nice place with a pool, there is a large grocery store within walking distance, it's right by the main ADO bus station, and there are may restaurants, shopping, and clubs nearby.
To get there from the hotel zone, take the R1 bus and ask them to drop you off at the Palacio Municipal. Cross the main road to get to the park.
5) Los Rápidos, Bacalar
Los Rápidos, Bacalar - a unique place to spend an afternoon.
Enjoying a michelada at Los Rápidos
What a cool and unique place to spend an afternoon! Visiting the lake at Bacalar is spectacular enough. The black cenote and the perfect turquoise waters of the Pirate Channel would be enough to satisfy. But the off-the-beaten-path Los Rápidos really is a must-do in Bacalar. It quickly became one of my new favorite places.
The restaurant is down a dirt road off the main highway about 13km south of Bacalar town, where you pay a 50mxn each entry fee. As you exit the other side of the building there are tables and chairs along the water and even partially-submerged hammocks.
Los Rápidos is located on the narrow channel that divides the lagoon of Bacalar with the lagoon of Xul-Ha, creating a steady current. The channel is lined on both sides with stromatolites (rock-like formations created by colonies of microorganisms) and because of the limestone bottom, the color is unbelievably blue.
Walk upstream on the right side of the channel as far as you are comfortable going. River shoes are best but it can be done in bare feet. Then jump into the water and float back down to the restaurant where there are ropes across the water to catch yourself. Order some food an a michelada then sit among the fishies in the hammocks in the water.
See Floating Through Ancient Stromatolites at Los Rápidos, Bacalar