Last year’s travels included a tour of the Yucatán Peninsula and boy, was it an experience. I’d been many places up to this point, but although it’s so close to home, never Mexico.
I feel like every time I visit a new country I learn new ways to travel efficiently and my adaptability increases, and this trip was no exception.
Prior to traveling I consulted with multiple people for travel tips + recommendations, but nearly everyone I chatted with had stayed at or close to their resort for the extent of their trip… except my dear friend Nejc (pronounced Nates) Ferle, a sweet, daring and dauntless guy.
Nejc had gone to Mexico the year before by himself. He traveled the peninsula, made friends in his hostel and shared his travels with Cormac and I as we discussed our upcoming trip. Long story short, we heeded his advice and I’m not regretful of the things we did while we were there. But if I could go back and do it again, there are a few things I wish I had known.
Below is a list of 5 things we’d do quite differently, and 7 things we’d do again in a heartbeat:
Things we’d do different:
1. Bring cash and a single credit card
Renting a car requires a credit card and I’m not sure why I thought Mexico would be any different. I brought a debit card and that was it. We made an obnoxious amount of trips to the ATM (luckily there was one right next to the hotel), but if we could do it again, we’d bring a couple hundred dollars in cash and a credit card. If you plan ahead, this is plenty. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Plan ahead
Sometimes spontaneity is your best bet when it comes to exploring a new place, but with limited time it’s always a plus to have at a tentative idea of the sights you’d like to visit.
Cormac and I went with absolutely no plans at all. Nejc had told us of places to go, but we never planned anything out. I’d recommend making a list of “must see/do attractions” just to be sure your days can accommodate. We spent too much time on Yelp and Google Maps the evening before a day trip when we could have had it somewhat mapped out prior.
3. Be prepared to haggle
By day nine our lives were defined by haggling, which suited, because that’s the day we went to market, but I just think about all of the money we spent during our first few days in Mexico unknowingly paying outrageous prices for anything and everything. Start your haggling on day one and get good at it quick.
4. Know your transportation schedules and fares
If our day plans would keep us local we either walked or rode the bus to wherever we were going. Our bus driver asked for 3 USD each for a one-way that only went a few miles. When we got back to our hotel, our sweet friend (concierge) Jose that we’d gotten to know over our stay told us that it only should have cost us 1 USD. It was only a couple dollars, but it’s the point of the matter.
5. If you rent a car, offer to pump your own gas
Our first gas-getting endeavor was one for the books and Lord willing it will never happen again.
When stopping off, we pulled up behind a car who had just filled up their tank, and unbeknown to us, the gentleman pumping our gas for us had put the nozzle straight from the previous car’s tank into ours without resetting the meter. We didn’t realize until after we were asked to pay the equivalent of 60 USD that this had happened. Up to this point, gas had been 30 USD a tank. But you can’t argue with the meter, so we paid our cash, carried on, and pumped our own gas for the remainder of our trip.
Things we’d do again:
1. Rent a car
I can’t imagine visiting the Yucatan without a car. Tours to various sights across the peninsula can end up costing anywhere from 40 USD to 70 USD a piece, but with a rental car, you pay a few dollars for parking upon arrival, pay your entrance into the sight and end up saving loads.
A tour of Chichen Itza from Cancun, for example, started around 50 USD. We drove and ended up paying 13 USD each for both entrance to the sight and parking. Plus we were able to stop by Krispy Kreme on the way back (can’t do this with a tour group).
2. Stay in downtown
But don’t stay there. Let downtown be your base camp. We stayed at the Oasis Smart which was relatively close to the beach and a fraction of the cost of a beachfront resort. Because we wanted to travel around it made the most sense for us to cut costs with our stay. For days we’d spend at the beach we only drove a short distance. Staying downtown also gave us the opportunity to connect with more locals and eat more authentic (and cheaper) food.
3. Eat local
Our favorite restaurant was a hole in the wall Mexican food restaurant right across the street from our hotel. We paid 4 USD for our meal and were shocked when we got to the beach and paid 40 USD for the same meal. This actually happened.
4. Always get the guac
In Mexico, Guacamole portions are strong. Most orders fill up an entire dinner plate of the guacamole alone. (Most) restaurants on the peninsula don’t give receipts so I can’t give an exact quote, but guacamole is not nearly as expensive, even ratio-wise, to what you’d get in America. Just always get the guac. It’s better that way.
5. Pay for the beach umbrellas
The Mexican sun is intense, and sunscreen re-application has never been more real/needed in my life.
If you don’t pay for an umbrella you’ll pay in some other form — probably in aloe vera expenses. Either way, you’re money is going to Mexico’s tourism economy and you’re better off without the sunburn.
6. Pay for the touristy photos
One of my favorite moments ever was sitting in a downtown restaurant when a mariachi band approached Cormac and I, put sombreros on our heads, and sang “Oye Como Va.” I think it was my favorite because of how cheesy it was and how sunburnt we were and everything that had happened to us up to this point.
The restaurant photographer took a photo of us and I bought it for 10 USD. I was being ripped off and I know this. I’m a photographer. I order prints and know how much they should cost. But I needed it and now it’s hanging in my closet so every time I get dressed I look at it. I think about the song “Oye Como Va” so often that I’ve considered hiring a mariachi band for me and Cormac’s wedding reception specifically to play that song. Not sure if it’ll be an actual thing, but in all seriousness, this moment was monumental and now I have it forever. Pay for the touristy photos.
7. Bring a disposable underwater camera
If I had to choose one thing from this list to harp upon forever it would be this: bring an underwater disposable camera and use it to capture your favorite, most odd moments. This is a travel tradition Cormac and I first started in Mexico and I will do it for the rest of forever. It was the ideal way to eliminate the urge of posting to social media because we didn’t have the tangible photos yet. It probably saved numerous instances where we could have ruined our phones (i.e. swimming with turtles), and when we got the photos developed, we were able to relive our experiences with awful quality Kodak prints that now mean so much to us.