A Simple Guide to - Quintana Roo, Mexico

By WanderingMonkey | Apr 11, 2021
North America > Mexico > Quintana Roo

The Land of the Maya:
Where do I start? Mind-blowing history, remarkable people, incredible culture and an absolutely sensational location. With beautiful coastal destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum already on everyones list and not forgetting the amazing historical sites of Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and Coba, the Rivera Maya is a must see and do in your lifetime.

For me personally, Tulum has always been in the top three on my bucket list and it's the perfect start to this blog, but I'm going to leave it until last and share with you some other exciting places in the land of the Maya.

First stop is Bacalar, the lagoon of seven colours or from what good friends told me at the time of living there, it's actually seven shades of blue. Bacalar is simply put, spectacular!

Only a two and half hour drive from Tulum, Bacalar has the second largest body of fresh water in Mexico fed by the underground cenotes that cover all of the Yucatan Peninsula. Even though it is surrounded by lush jungle and vegetation you have this feeling that you are sitting next to the ocean in the Caribbean and I promise you this is a little treasure in the southern east tip of Quintana Roo. With most of the tourists partying in Cancun and taking sexy selfies in Tulum you will find that over this 55km lake its pretty quiet and you can easily find places that give you the feeling the whole place is just for yourself and it finally doesn't feel like you are in little America.

Originally being a city of the Maya civilisation, in 1543 it became the first city in this region to be taken and controlled by the Spanish and was not retaken back by the Mexicans until 1902. In 2006 Bacalar was named Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town) due to its importance to tourism and culture. However it is still off the beaten track and you will find a slice of the real Mexico here; like me and many others its difficult knowing whilst writing this that everyday Bacalar will attract more and more foreign visitors. Whilst being hopeful it doesn't become a bustling resort like Cancun, with its ancient Maya sites, jungle and crystal clear water you just know its magic and its a must on anyones list.

Hire and explore the lagoon in a kayak. Use lots of sunscreen.
Visit Fort San Felipe. If you love history and pirates its a must see.
Sit on a dock and watch the sun go down. Absolutely stunning.
Dive into Cenote Azul. One of the deepest cenotes in the area at 90 meters.
Visit the shipwreck in the pirate channel (canal de los piratas).

Next stop! Mahahual, once a small fishing village that now has a cruise-ship dock and is becoming a nice hub for tourism, still actually felt like a beautiful quiet and relaxed coastal town. One of the main things I noticed whilst spending the day here was I never actually felt like I was in Mexico; I could've been sitting on the beach in Cuba or Jamaica for all I knew. Once all the tourists have left the town and embarked on the next part of their journey, everything seems to slow right down at a pace where you feel like you are in heaven and you are taken away to the Caribbean.

What I really loved about this place was the chance to snorkel and being completely honest if you are on a drive through the Yucatan Peninsula, don't hesitate to stop off here for a few days, not only is snorkelling a highlight here, but if you're an avid scuba diver then you will no doubt already have Banco Chinchorro on your list of dives spots being that this coral atoll is the second largest in the world.

With its small restaurants and bars, reefs and white sands along this village, I found this to be the ideal quaint tourist town.

Dive, dive and dive, I missed out so don't you miss out too.
Snorkelling. Simply amazing and hours of fun.
Check out the Lost Mayan Kingdom Park.
Explore the Malecon.
Its a beautiful beach town, enjoy it.

One of my personal favourites during my time living in the Yucatan Peninsula was visiting the ancient Maya city of Cobá. I have no doubt that after visiting this wonderful archaeological site you will still miss something.
Nestled in the vast jungle that spreads right across the Yucatan, this ancient site still hasn't been fully excavated and is thought to be one of the largest cities of the Maya civilisation. Amazingly this site wasn't opened to the public until the 1980's and yet still mostly buried underneath the surrounding jungle.

The major highlight at this site is getting to climb the Ixmoja pyramid, among the tallest pyramids in the Yucatan peninsula. Standing at 42 meters it gives you the most incredible view over the Yucatan as you can see above. But be warned it can be a slight challenge on the way down and it is advised that you use good footwear.

Walking around this site gives you the feeling that you have just gone back in time and you really sense that this ancient and wonderful civilisation was extraordinary, with its shear mass, cenotes and lagoons close by I really suggest you take the whole day to explore.

Bring extra water.
Take your time and enjoy the abundance of surrounding nature.
Leave the flip flops at the hotel and bring good footwear.
Beat the crowd and go early. It gets busy so if you want to climb Ixmoja pyramid without silly humans then get to that first.

Boom! Bucket list achievement completed and I couldn't have been more excited visiting the ruins of Tulum or what is thought to be Zama "city of the dawning sun". For so long this place has always had a place in my heart and I was destined to go there once I stepped on Mexican soil.

Tulum itself will give you all that is expected in a small Mexican town and there are some wonderful places to eat, drink and dance until your heart is content. It is the street vendors that are not to be missed here so make sure you work your way through the streets and although I would love to share with you everything about the town I'm going to be selfish and hold it back for a follow up post.

Moving on to the ruins I found this archaeological site to be quite charming and pleasant to walk around, but maybe that was due to enjoying the sunrise on the beach first and getting through the gate early, which I totally recommend if you want a little time for yourself and don't want to fight selfie sticks throughout your wonderful tour. The site itself once a trading route is situated on the edge of a cliff facing east and surround by walls for protection, with its exceptional views of the Caribbean Sea in front of it and an amazing little beach underneath this is probably one of the most photographed places in the world.

I managed to visit Tulum three times during my stay in this region of Mexico and the big highlight for me here was actually taking a step back away from all the hustle of the tours and relaxing on the green facing east towards El Castillo soaking up the fact I accomplished a life long goal; also the fact that view is the best you can get of the whole site.

Try a morning walk along the beach towards the ruins at sunrise, it's simply marvelous!
Beat the crowds and enjoy the incredible site by yourself.
Bring a lot of water and sunscreen.
Make sure the camera is fully charged with back up.
Relax and let the iguanas do their thing.

Honourable mention
Muyil Ruins
This is a little gem if you want to avoid all the hustle and bustle of Tulum.
Muyil, settled in 300BC makes it an older settlement than both Tulum and Coba. Nestled in the northwest of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, this is a mysterious, magical and enlightening place to come, with its winding wooden path taking you through the lush vegetation towards the Laguna de Muyil and Laguna Chunyaxché. You will not be disappointed.
If you have a head for heights then check out
El Mirador Sian Ka'an, an amazing watch tower that sits overlooking the whole of the Sian Ka'an below.

Impressive Cenotes
The coolest cenote around Tulum with two small holes representing eyes and a large one for the mouth to jump into its crystal clear water, its only right the translation is Skull. Enjoy a fish pedicure while you are relaxing on the rope swing.

By far this has to be one of the best cenotes just due the colours alone, with places to sit and grill, cabins to stay in over night and surrounded by jungle. It's a no brainer if you make it here. Also has the bonus of a swimming pool.

Aktun (carwash)
Crystal clear waters, wildlife everywhere and a paradise for Divers, located between Tulum and Coba, this is a beautiful stop for a much-needed cool off.

A 10 minute drive from Coba you enter via a spiral staircase into an amazing circular cavern that has no natural daylight shining through. This is big, deep and scary if you don't like not being able to see what's below your feet.

A cave full of stalactites and warm waters that connect to Tankach-Ha. It is equally stunning and mysterious. Make sure you take a shower before you jump in so it doesn't effect the turtles and fish that live here.

Favourite hangouts
Pancho Villa
Great staff, good food and on the beach it is a brilliant location for chilling in front of the Caribbean Sea.

Mateos Bar and Grill
Heading towards Punta Allen this place serves up live music, great food and good cocktails, but not just that will keep you here. Heading up its maze of stairs you will find a chill out room full of hammocks and at the top you will be able to watch the best sunset over the entire Yucatan Peninsula.

Final thoughts
This region as stated at the top is remarkable and mind-blowing, and I will also add irresistible and awe-inspiring. Sometimes I wish I were an archaeologist just so I could spend days at a time on the sites themselves. Full of history, wealth and beauty you don't need to stay in a luxury hotel by the swimming pool all day. The Yucatan Peninsula offers jungle adventures, cave diving, white sandy beaches and can also take you back in time. It literally has something for everyone here, whilst families are enjoying the fun at Xcaret, couples can plan their dream wedding on the white sands of Tulum, not forgetting the many Yoga retreats, boutique stores, beach bars and that heavenly turquoise water gently crashing against its shoreline.
Quintana Roo is surely one of the best places in the world and has that much to offer visitors. I don't think it's possible to write every detail in one post, so I'm keeping it for the follow up.

Peace, love and travel.

Wandering Monkey

Things to do Coba Archeology North America History Itinerary Maya Mexico Quintana Roo Tulum Architecture Bacalar Mahahual

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Written by WanderingMonkey
Hello everyone I am Paul and now having over 20 years experience living, working and travelling this charming, engaging and magnificent planet, it is now the time to share my knowledge, experiences and stories of my life as a Wandering Monkey. ​

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