Mexico is a popular winter sun destination. Why? Because in addition to its wonderful climate, white beaches and azure sea, it has an amazing cultural hinterland with beautiful sights. In addition, Mexico has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, especially along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Not for nothing is this destination high on our list to spend 3 months during the winter there.
Floor and her family went before us and had been traveling the world for 1.5 years when they descended on the beautiful Yucatan Peninsula at the end of their journey. Here they share their experience on Isla Holbox, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The result, an array of delicious vacation photos with their best tips! Want to know what their most favorite destination was? Then be sure to read on.
When did you start traveling and what countries were you planning?
I am Floor and live with my boyfriend Oscar and our five-year-old daughter Noor in Amsterdam. Travel was always a favorite when it was just the two of us and we got to take beautiful trips. That actually continued unabated after we became 1+1=3 🙂
Noor has turned out to be a real world traveler from the first moment and finds getting on a plane as normal as getting on a bus. I am happy that we see our love of travel reflected in Noor; the curiosity about other cultures, the interest in history and discovering new smells and tastes.
Changing course: living in freedom
In 2019, we radically changed course and opted for total freedom and adventure, our plan was to go out into the world for 18 months and make the most of the time we had before Noor was due for compulsory schooling and spend real quality time with the three of us.
That meant saying goodbye to our work and home for those 18 months. We had to step over a high threshold, but it felt liberating when we finally tied the knot and could start making concrete plans.
The ambitions were high in terms of intended destinations, but due to Covid, we were unfortunately not able to tick off everything. We would have liked to visit all the continents in those 18 months, which seemed quite realistic. In 2018, we had already traveled around the world in 3 months and that was so good that we were still itching for 2019.
Our 18-month adventure started in January 2020 with our first destination being Thailand. After Thailand, we traveled through Malaysia and then lived in Australia for a long time. Because of the Covid restrictions, we ended up in destinations that were not initially on our list. But in the end, it actually brought us to unexpectedly wonderful places such as Mexico, among others.
2. What surprised you most about Mexico and why?
The whole vibe was open, relaxed and friendly. The food is delicious. The small villages are charming and a bit dreamy, also because there were hardly any tourists, the pictures you could put on a post-card. Everything seems to be in slow motion, no stress, no rush. And that’s why we fell a little in love with Mexico.
The stories we heard were quite varied. From very positive to alarmingly negative in terms of safety. We deliberately chose a safe and quiet part of Mexico; Yucatan. Because we were traveling with a small child anyway and we didn’t really feel like having to be on our guard constantly.
We never felt unsafe and were happy to be in just the right places and to experience the relaxed way of life of Yucatan. And it was especially the moments in between destinations that touched us. Those beautiful deserted places, the small sleepy villages and the many cenotes you encounter along the way, where you can take a refreshing dip, the water is just really freezing cold.
3. What was it like to travel there at the time of Covid?
Coming from Costa Rica, it was relatively easy for us to book a plane ticket from San Jose to Cancun; we didn’t have to fill out lengthy documents or take a PCR test. By now we were used to some complications for entry, but traveling to Mexico was not too bad for us and has always been accessible to everyone.
4. What was your itinerary and what places did you visit?
We arrived in Cancun and then spent the first few days on Isla Mujeres. We visited Valladolid and Chichen Itza. Drove on to Merida. And drove east again to end up on Isla Holbox. Next stop was Playa del Carmen and last we visited Tulum before flying on to Florida via Cancun.
5.What was your favorite place in Mexico and why?
Then I must say Isla Holbox; a beautiful tropical mini-island with no cars. We hadn’t really pictured it and therefore didn’t have sky-high expectations. This little paradise had everything that makes us happy; white powder sand on the beach, blue green sea, relaxed, artistic and friendly island vibe, divine guacamole and aesthetic beach clubs.
For us, Isla Holbox stands head and shoulders above Tulum. It feels both down to earth and authentic; it does have the aesthetics in hospitality concepts, but without the misplaced pretense and hype of Tulum.
I would say very accessible and a very own way of life. Because there are no cars, you feel anything but rushed and immediately get into the island flow. The beach sand is whiter than white and all the streets are of fine sand, in terms of picture a dream. However, after a day of hard rain you are up to your ankles in mud if you want to walk somewhere, but then you go out barefoot.
You can stroll through the village and along the beach or take a golf-cart cab if you don’t feel like walking for a while. On every corner you can enjoy a refreshing cocktail and have a nice chat. Nice that most locals spoke English, my Spanish is rather non-existing and in other parts of Mexico I regularly had to communicate by hand and foot, which I can see the charm of. Note-to-myself: take a Spanish course.
The funny thing is that I have never received the tip; Holbox is a must-see. And did we end up there by accident, but now I would definitely state; definitely go to Holbox!
Especially a romantic getaway, but also highly recommended with a child. On Holbox we felt at home and would love to come back again.
6. Where did you all stay and what was your favorite hotel?
We slept mostly in hotels, but also rented houses on occasion. Very different in style and atmosphere. Our first hotel in Mexico was Riu Palace Costa Mujeres, a 5 star all-inclusive and there we enjoyed the outstanding service, the many pools and the Kids Club. Wonderful to acclimate the first few days with a cocktail in your hand in the pool and Noor happy in the Kids Club. This doesn’t have much to do with authentic Mexico, but it is carefree enjoyment of sun, sea and beach. Here we were able to relax and enjoy doing nothing for a while.
For a very different small-scale experience, I can recommend Arkah in Akumal. A charming little community run by a couple (she is from the US and he from Switzerland). Tastefully decorated lodges with a large shared pool. We enjoyed staying here and enjoyed the tranquility and green gardens.
7. How long do you recommend staying in Mexico?
For Mexico, I would recommend at least two weeks. Especially if you want to visit multiple places and also recover from jet lag. It took us 3 weeks for our Yucatan tour. Merida is a tough place to drive to. If you take this destination out of your itinerary, the trip becomes a lot more compact and can be done in two weeks.
8. Can you arrange everyting last-minute or do you have to book everything in advance?
We booked everything fine last minute, but that may have been a possibility due to the Covid perils as well. We traveled at an exceptionally odd time and it is hard to estimate what it would have been like under normal circumstances. I can imagine that in high season and after Covid restrictions are lifted it is advisable to book everything in advance.
By the way, I would skip the Cancun hotel strip altogether and drive on with screeching tires, we spent a few days here and barely ran away screaming. A certain breed of young American students (sorry, no offend) come here to party and the fine vibe we felt elsewhere was far from here. Fairly past glory, touristy in an annoying way and unfortunately little to be seen of authentic Mexico.
9. How is the price/quality ratio and the food?
This is very variable. In a small village you can eat excellent food for a few euros per person. Think of a simple taco and soup. However, in Tulum you will soon have to pay tenfold (and more) for the same dish, even if it is on a nice plate and artfully prepared and you are sitting on a designer chair…but that is what you pay for.
Partly because of the many American tourists, you are regularly expected to tip at least 20% on top of the additional tax. So it is possible that there will be at least another 30% on top of your bill. By the way, this is not applied in small restaurants in an abandoned village, but mainly in trendy tourist hot spots or places where they think they can get away with it.
10. What were your favorite hotspots?
- Ser Casasandra, Holbox
Aesthetically pleasing design with a beach vibe. You immediately feel at home when you walk in. Could easily be the subject of a photo report in an elegant interior design magazine.
- Aldea Kuka, Holbox
Grand and totally in the spirit of Holbox with lots of natural colors and materials.
- Nomade Hotel, Tulum
In restaurant Macondo you will imagine yourself in Marrakesh, on the beach you will find restaurant La Popular with its very own typical Tulum Beach atmosphere.
- Kunstwerk Daniel Popper
In Tulum, you are greeted by this towering wooden sculpture by Daniel Popper where the trunk is filled with plants.
- Raw Love Cafe, Tulum
Curious what else the hinterland of Yucatan has to offer? Then click here for my blog “Round trip with kids through Mexico, Yucatan” for an 8 day roundtrip starting from Playa de Carmen. This roundtrip that you can also do on your own takes you through the most popular cities and hotspots of the Yucatan Peninsula.