My feet are dug into the sun bleached sand with sticky & salty skin from the sea and beach waved hair. I fainly hear a call for “cocos frios” (cold coconuts) and fresh mango, pineapple and papaya, while my coconut paleta (popsicle) dripping all down my hands. I am still in Tulum, Mexico. When deciding where to go for vacation we learned that we could get to Cancun using frequent flyer miles. We were going to go scuba diving in Cozumel, but after looking at the places to stay, the cost and time of me getting certified through PADI, we decided to stick to the peninsula itself and make this a budget vacay. Sticker shock definitely took over when we were pulling into different very rustic cabañas to find that they still wanted $40-$85/night. For a bed, and nothing else. This only pushed us harder to do it on the cheap, and here are the tips I pulled from this experience. Some I would do again in the future and some that I would change in the future…
If you do not fly frequently enough to have frequent flier miles, research a credit card that offers points or rewards that you can redeem for airfare. Check more out about those here.
Our tickets: 17,000 points + $75/person
We took the ADO bus to Playa del Carmen for about $12 for a much cheaper rental than from the Cancun Airport. The trip is about 1 hour. There is a stand when you leave Customs labeled ADO with prices listed to different cities.
Renting a car:
We were super stoked to find a rental car for only $4/day from an agency in Playa del Carmen (about 1 hour south of Cancun airport) and reserved it quickly. Only to get to the rental agency and have them tell us that it was mandatory to have insurance in Mexico in spite of us being covered from a credit card or they would put a $100,000 hold on the credit car…I’m pretty sure not even Jay-Z or Beyoncé have that kind of credit limit. (or whatever type of insurance you have). So the car went from $4/day to $26/day. Still not bad, but not what we were expecting. You will have to do the insurance.
Car rental total for 7 days: $180 USD Not expensive by any means and gave us a ton of freedom to tour around different cenotes and getting to smaller towns and beaches on our own accord.
Renting a car is something that I would change in the future, knowing that I would spend most of my time in Tulum. It was great being on our own schedule and having sort of a “hub” to keep our things in, but if looking for an even cheaper trip, instead I would take the ADO bus down to Tulum and take a taxi to where I was staying OR rent a bike (available in many spots in town) or take a taxi to the beach and rent them there (lots of places to rent at the beach as well) and use this as a primary source of exploration and getting around. Riding from the beach into the town of Tulum is a short ride with a bike path, so you can try local foods and hit up the grocery store, local dive shops, etc. You can even reach some ruins and cenotes by bike if you are adventurous. You can also use the local colectivos or private taxis (always check the price with the driver before you get in by simply asking “Cuánto?”). There are taxis EVERYWHERE!
Other than knowing someone who lives in Tulum and will house you, camping is the cheapest way to go. On the north side there is a place called Santa Fe that will offer very expensive cabañas ($85/night) for one with a bed and a hammock, which was double the price of another cabaña he offered, but discovered was occupied. I am not talking about beautifully constructed cabañas, I am talking rustic, cement floors, a bed and nothing else. Then he said he could offer us camping for $150 pesos/person, so we headed off to the Costco-esque store Chedraui (huge store on the road to the beach that you cannot miss) to pick up a tent and a sleep mat. This spot didn’t have much character and the camping spots seemed limited and were very out in the open so we packed up and left to explore in the a.m. on the south end. There was some camping on the beach towards the south end of Tulum at $150 pesos/person, which was reasonable, but the tents were about 1 foot away from each other and another place with the same price, much more space, with a private, nude beach and free WIFI. Both of these places offered showers and bathrooms. I didn’t like the idea of being so closed off, so we kept looking. There were big camping signs as we drove so if you are interested in these spots you can explore, but they don’t have names. (This is just an FYI).
Back at the north side we checked one last spot, which was where we struck gold. The place is on the road to Playa Maya and is called Camping Revolución. It had only been open for about 2 weeks and cost $100 pesos per person. They also rented out tents for $50 pesos/night. They were located behind a great beach bar called Poncho Villa, that had live music several days that we were there and offered food & drink with reasonable prices where you could sip your beers, tequilas or margaritas in hammocks or beautiful wooden beach chairs. I felt very safe here! One downside: The bathrooms are a bit of a walk (2 minutes maybe, but if you wake up at 4am like I always do, make sure you find a spot in the woods).
Food (saving the best for last):
Buy and prep your own to avoid eating out every meal of every day. San Francisco’s is more in town and El Chedraui is located closer to the beach, but there are many mini fruit/veggie markets in town as well. All are easily accessible by bike or car. If you have access to a kitchen, use it!
Quick food ideas:
Bananas and avocado wrapped in warm corn tortillas (8 pesos/kilo). About 3 pesos/tortilla. That’s about 20 cents per taco, people.
Totopos (tortilla chips) with guacamole.
Nuts. So many nuts.
Fresh fruit salad. My personal fave.
Hit up the local taco stands, fruit vendors and restaurants. Watch how they are handling their operation and if you don’t feel like it’s hygiene meets your standards, check somewhere else out.
Places to eat:
Fruit stands: Pineapple, mango & papaya-$2/giant cup
El Pan Comido on Osiris Sur & 307 (opens at 8am): Often vegan grilled eggplant amongst other veggies and hummus sandwich with ginger kombucha and an OJ. $7/meal
Taco stand on same side of the street as El Pan Comido (cannot remember the name)a few blocks east, but it has meat, vegetarian and vegan tacos along with coffee and almond milk. Too hungry to take pics. Oops. $.70/taco
Co. Con Amor Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant (open 10am-7pm Tues-Sun). Sandwiches, salads, health bowls and eggs. Also have healthy juices, smoothies and health-aides. Cool store in the back for more permanent residents looking for some obscure bulk items, like peanuts, turmeric, detergents etc. (aka beans, nuts and cleaning products).
La Reyna de Michoacan on corner of Alfa Sur by the plaza. (About 1 block east of 307). GREAT PALETAS aka popsicles. Do yourself a favor and get the paleta de coco or mango con chile. So darn good. Had one every day. All day, e’ry day. About $.70/paleta.
Zamas: On the beach on the south side of Tulum. Great ambience and great cocktails. This was one of our splurge nights including 2 appetizers, 2 drinks and dessert for about $35. Lighting didn’t allow for photos.
So much juice everywhere!
After deciding if we should stay in Tulum and explore some more Cenotes, someone recommended La Isla Holbox. A tiny island swapping golf carts for cars and beautiful turquoise calm waters.
This island was incredible. What is there to do? In the winter it boasts kite-surfing and in the summer you can snorkel with whale sharks. There are artesanal ice cream shops, paleterias, fun beach bars, massage huts on the beach. Definitely check out the sunset on this island at a small little beach bar with swings. (Walk past the dock towards the west and when you get to the turn in the beach, you will see the small bar on your left). In the early morning there is a sand bar you can walk out to without getting water above your thighs and have a lot of alone time while walking the strip. I found some pretty cool shells here, too!
We stayed at Las Cabanas de Ida y Vuelta in a campsite for 200 pesos/night (including breakfast), which we opted out of and refunded our 30 pesos/person. And one night in the boat bed, which was more romantic in theory. Very clean and mosaic tiled bathrooms, a shared and covered kitchen with food boxes, and cafe are a few of the features of this place. They have private rooms, dorms, hammocks, campsites and boat beds (pictured above).
Trip total: $835 (for 2 people for 8 days). Yup, that’s right.
I was not as attached to my camera this trip as I thought that I would be due to wanting to always be in the water. But if you like warm clear water with hammocks, exploring, good food and fresh fruit, go here!