Zócalo is the main square in central Mexico City, it’s formal name today is the Constitution Square. Today this square is the center of all events in CDMX. During our visit we saw thousands of people celebrating holidays there. The President’s Palace and Metropolitan Cathedral are located there as well. There are multiple shops, museums, and restaurants on the narrow historical streets around the square.
For this day we had only one activity planned – snorkeling in MUSA (underwater museum of art). It would be much more fun to dive there but we don’t have our certificates yet 🙂 The museum has 500 sculptures 3-6 meters deep divided into separate galleries. The objective of creating this place was to save the coral reef by providing an alternative destination for divers.
We booked our tour in advance with Aquaworld organization. We took a really early public bus to their location from the downtown. Since we had some time before our event we also walked around and visited one of the public beaches (Playa Ballenas). In Cancun all beaches are considered public, however, access to them is blocked by private hotels. However, there are several paths between hotels that provide access to the shore.
The snorkeling tour is 3 hours in total. It takes 40 min to get to the museum, 30-40 min to snorkel, then our guide took us to a really nice shallow beach on Isla Mujeres, after which we returned to their base. Other than snorkeling it is also a lot of fun to simply relax on a speedboat and enjoy the views. I’ve never seen the water of such color anywhere else!
On the way to Isla Mujeres:
Stop by the beach:
After our tour we dried ourselves, changed the clothes and headed directly to the airport to catch our flight back to Mexico City that landed 2 hours before the New Year. Needless to say, after all those adventures and water activities we didn’t have enough energy to stay awake for long 🙂
This day we planned to get to Cancun downtown and make 2 stops on our way: Akumal and Playa del Carmen. Akumal is a small town 30 min drive from Tulum. It is famous for its unforgettable attraction – turtles! The best part of it is that it is possible to swim with them 🙂 Once you get to the turtles beach, as always, there will be people showing you where to park for a small fee. There will be multiple people offering snorkeling tours that are quite expensive, however, you can snorkel on your own too. The beach is divided into 4 areas where snorkeling tours go. If you walk past them you can easily swim there on your own, turtles are everywhere and it totally depends on your luck whether you’ll find them or not. We had our swimming goggles only and regretted not buying full snorkel set but we still had a lot of fun in the water. The water is not deep but you can’t stand. We swam for approximately 40 min and during that time chased multiple fishes and saw 2 turtles.
Our second stop was in Playa del Carmen. It’s quite a big active city. If Cancun hotel’s zone consists of all-inclusive hotels mainly Playa del Carmen is a party city. The main street is full of shops, bars, and restaurants.
After we returned our rental car we went to Cancun downtown using ADO bus. During the holidays season it was much cheaper staying there compared to the Zona Hotelera. We had our dinner at a famous La Parilla restaurant.
Gran Cenote is only 10 min drive from Tulum city center. It’s an awesome beginners cenote as it is not large, easily accessible, not expensive. The water is relatively warm, you don’t need a wetsuit. They have lockers, however, we had our waterproof pockets for valuable stuff that we swam with. You can either rent a snorkeling kit or bring your own to be able to see stalactites and stalagmites, and small fishes. We had our own swimming goggles and that was more than enough. They also have hammocks and areas for relaxation. Note, that you need to pay with cash almost all entrance fees in Mexico.
Tulum was one of the last cities built by Maya. Its main purpose was sea trade. There are multiple buildings in the complex, however, the most outstanding is the castle standing on a 12-meter cliff and overlooking the Caribbean sea. There is also an access to the beach so you can refresh during the hot day and go back to exploring the ruins 🙂
In the morning we headed towards the Ruins of Tulum and made a stop next to the nearest Starbucks for our morning coffee. Since it was already very crowded it was the closest parking available too. There is a tram going from Starbucks to the ruins, many shops, and restaurants and there is also a square where we witnessed the Danza de los Voladores or the Dance of the Flyers. It is an ancient ritual when 4 dancers descend to the ground tied with ropes. The fifth participant dances on top of a 30-meter pole. It is believed that performing this ritual will ask the gods to end a drought.
Please follow the links below to see more information about the ruins and Gran Cenote:
We spent the rest of our day in Playa Paraiso. There is only one road going there and there was a terrible traffic jam. If we knew that in advance we would just walk. There are parking areas along the road or multiple beach restaurants offer free parking if you have a drink.
Chichen Itza was a largest pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people. It is located approximately 3 hours drive from Cancun. Driving in that area is very easy as there is just one main road going to the complex. Just watch out for all speed bumps, they are literally everywhere even on highways, sometimes with no road signs! When we arrived to the place there was a huge line for tickets, however, it took us less than 40 min to pass it. Chichen Itza is a large complex with multiple buildings and its own cenote on the territory. In contrast with Teotihuacan, it’s not allowed to climb the pyramid in Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza is also one of the New7Wonders of the World!
This day we had our early morning flight and landed in Cancun around 8 am. We had a reservation for Alamo car, however, when we came to their office they told us that there are no cars left, that they keep cars only for prepaid customers. Since our plan was to visit multiple places we decided to check every rental office nearby to see if anyone has any cars left. It was a holidays period and other rentals tried to give us a car for $150 per day! Luckily, at the last moment, we found Budget rental who gave us a decent price and a good car. All these adventures delayed us for at least an hour but after receiving a car we headed to Valladolid for coffee first.
Valladolid is a nice small town established by Spanish people. Most of the places were still closed but we found a very nice Hotel Meson de Malleville where we had our coffee and breakfast.
After having our energy recovered we headed towards our main destinations of the day – the world’s wonder Chichen Itza and incredible cenote Ik Kil. Since these unique places deserve separate attention please follow the links below to see more information about them:
We had our flight at 4 am the next day thus we decided to spend this day in Mexico City and went to Xochimilco. These canals are all that is left of the lake on which Mexico City was built. Many people come here to enjoy a boat tour. Official price per hour is 350 MXN per boat, however, local people do all they can to charge tourists more (they tried to charge us 1000 MXN at first). Other boats will try to sell you overpriced souvenirs or ask money for listening to their songs. You can politely decline everything that is offered and just relax and enjoy the cruise. This place was also declared a World Heritage Site since 1987.
We spent our evening in a famous Cafe de Tacuba that started its operation in 1912!
We were looking for a one day trip from Mexico City with a short drive and remembered that local people recommended Tepoztlan. Surprisingly there is no well-organized information about that place on the Internet. After reading some articles I was not sure where we are going to end up but since all our other considered places were further away we decided to go anyway. It was such a great decision to visit this place as it became one of our top things to do in Mexico. It’s only one hour drive by bus from the Southern terminal. The bus stop in Tepoztlan is 15 min walk from the city center. Taxi drivers offer to give a ride but it’s a short easy walk downhill.
Tepoztlan is famous for the remains of El Tepozteco temple built on top of the nearby Tepozteco Mountain. It has a temple to Tepoztecatl – the Aztec god of the alcoholic beverage pulque. There is also a small pyramid built on the hill.
The first place that we wanted to visit in the center is the UNESCO World Heritage site – the former Convent of the Nativity dedicated to the Virgin of the same name, built between 1555 and 1580. To get there we had to go through Tepoztlan famous market.
Ex-convent of Dominico de la Natividad:
After a quick walk around the town, we decided to go visit the archeological zone with the pyramid. To get there you just need to walk through the whole city on its main street.
The city’s main street:
Google maps estimate the pyramid to be 1 mi away from the city that requires 30 min walk. Unfortunately, this is not as easy. The pyramid is located on a high hill with a steep way up on uneven rock stairs or sometimes just rocks. Every time you think that it must be the end of the way when there’s another steeper part ahead. It took us 40 min to get to the top with several brief stops. For comparison, it took us 18 min to run down (run, not walk). It’s totally worth suffering this way as there are multiple nice surprises waiting there!
The way up to the pyramid:
The views from the top:
The best part of this adventure is meeting the coatis! The coati is a member of the raccoon family and is a very curious animal as you can see from the pics and video below 🙂
Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city located 40 kilometers away from Mexico City. It is approximately 1 hr drive by bus from the Mexico City (buses leave from the Northern terminal frequently, no need to buy tickets in advance). Everyone knows Teotihuacan as a place of pyramids. The mysterious Pyramids were built around 100 BC in an ancient city and were abandoned centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs, who called this place the Birthplace of the Gods.
The city’s central road is called “Avenue of the Dead”. When you enter the territory first thing you’ll see is the massive Pyramid of the Sun (third largest in the World after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza). Pyramid of the Moon is placed at the other end of the complex. The Avenue of the dead is approximately forty meters wide and four kilometers long.
We had limited time this day as we were invited by a local family to join them for a traditional Christmas dinner thus we decided to spend the first half of the day in Chapultepec park which was within the walking distance from our apartment in Mexico City.
Chapultepec Park (or forest) is one of the largest city parks located on a Chapultepec Hill. Chapultepec Castle was built there in the colonial period. The park is divided into three sections and contains the castle, the Chapultepec Zoo, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Rufino Tamayo Museum. We didn’t visit any of those due to our time constraints (everything was open till 5 pm).
This evening we had our first unforgettable experience of this trip – our friend’s colleague invited us to celebrate Christmas dinner with their family and a very cute dog! We spent an evening talking about different traditions of our countries and getting to know Mexican people better. We’ll never forget the taste of all home-made food that we tried that night. Before even trying the main dishes we were full by eating different snacks including cheeses, salsas, salads and much more. I won’t be able to name those dishes properly but for the main course we had shrimp soup, specially prepared codfish, vegetables in mole sauce, dumplings, spinach bread and much more! And I got that secret shrimp soup recipe for myself! Can’t wait to prepare it at home 🙂
While planning this trip to Mexico we had several concerns. Multiple articles advise against visiting this country, driving there, getting out of tourist places (“you’ll be robbed, kidnapped, carjacked etc”). We prepared ourselves carefully by having a detailed plan, insurances, safety pockets, local contacts etc. However, to be honest, everywhere we went to in Mexico I felt much safer than, for example, in Paris or Brussels. Local people are very friendly and helpful. Every time we got lost somewhere we received help and directions in Spanish most of the time. Mexico City is huge and we walked in different areas there and never felt any threat. We visited some places around Mexico City and also in Yucatan state and each new day brought new amazing experiences. I’ll remember Mexico as a sunny country with friendly people, amazing diverse nature, delicious food and drinks, and unique experiences!
We had an early morning flight from San Diego that landed around 1 pm in Mexico City. It took us less than 30 min to leave the airport and catch an Uber to get to our friend’s place. While in the car we thought that it would be challenging to drive in Mexico City and we were glad that we decided against renting a car. Traffic can get very heavy but the biggest challenge is their roads system – drivers literally need to change lanes every 500 meters. I would definitely recommend using public transportation or Uber. It cost us 5-10$ to get anywhere within the city on Uber with a waiting time 5-7 min.
Since we had half of the day for exploring we headed to the National Museum of Anthropology. It is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico located in a beautiful green area within Chapultepec Park. The museum contains significant archaeological and anthropological artifacts from Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage and it is really impressive as you can see from the pictures below.
Cenote Ik Kil is only 10 min drive from Chichen Itza. There is an ample parking lot next to it and we had no issues parking. The cenote is about 60 meters in diameter and about 40 meters deep. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful cenotes in Mexico. The waters of Ik Kil were considered sacred by the Mayans who performed here human sacrificing to their rain god. The best part of the visit is that you are allowed to swim in the cenote and even jump from a small hight (see videos below). It was exactly what we needed after a sleepless night, long drive and a very hot day!
Flight: San Diego -> Mexico City -> Cancun -> Mexico City -> San Diego Duration: 10 days Mileage: ~350 in Yucatán area Starting point: Mexico City Countries: Mexico Budget for 2 people: $2930 ($1500 flights, $215 hotels*, $275 car rental, $125 gas and taxis, $50 buses, $420 food, $90 tickets, $140 snorkeling, $115 airport parking)
Day 1: fly to Mexico City, visit Museo Nacional de Antropología
Day 2: explore Chapultepec park, dinner with local family