Do you have one month off and want to take your backpack on a little adventure? Fly in to Cancun and let the journey begin!
One Month Itinerary Through Mexico
Fly to Cancun and spend a couple of nights there. Join a pool party and dive right into the crazy party scene or just have a few Margaritas at a pretty beach bar. To recover spend the day in Isla Mujeres – a lovely little island with pretty beaches just in front of Cancun.
Take the bus to Playa del Carmen for beautiful beaches but a bit more relaxed atmosphere than Cancun. From Playa del Carmen you can start to explore the surrounding Mayan ruins in Tulum and Coba and the Dos Ojos underground cave (cenote). Join the snorkel tour at the Dos Ojos Cenote or, if certified, join the cave scuba diving tour – super beautiful :)
Take the bus from Playa del Carmen to Merida and stop at Chichen Itza on the way. The Chichen Itza Mayan pyramids are very impressive so you don’t want to miss them. Also wear your bathing suit as you might want to take a quick little swim in the huge cenote at Chichen Itza.
Day 8 – 11
On the first day just explore Merida by strolling around the Plaza de Armas and its lovely little alleys. Just take it easy, time to relax. Stop at a few nice restaurants and enjoy the scenery. On the following day or two, join a private tour to explore the surrounding hidden cenotes. There are various small underground caves less than an hour away. There are usually not many tourists so if you are lucky you will be one of the only few people there swimming in crystal clear water in an underground cave. On the other day in Merida join a tour that explores the wider area and teaches you about the local culture and customs.
Day 11- 13
Take the bus from Merida to Palenque to explore the Mayan ruins and enjoy the tropical weather. Ideally find a little rustic hotel close to the ‘jungle’. When I was there we had a little remote cabin for ourselves. At night there was a huge and incredibly loud thunderstorm with an unbelievably heavy rainfall. Totally enjoyed it! Also the Mayan ruins in Palenque were my favourite of all. It is not so super touristy and you can just take a book with you and relax on the same spot where thousands of years ago Mayan people walked past…. Quite a magical feeling!
Take the bus from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas, a lovely little town located in the Central Highlands of Mexico. Here you can relax, learn about the local customs and culture and just explore the beautiful town and surroundings.
Beach time again! Take the bus from San Cristobal to Puerto Escondido for a loooong week of cocktails on the beach, sunbathing and surfing.
Bye bye beach time. Take the bus from Puerto Escondido to Mexico City and explore the capital of Mexico during the last 5 days of your trip. Have you noticed how incredibly diverse Mexican landscapes are? So beautiful! If you want to add a bit more to your Things-I-Have-Seen-In-Mexico list, spend one day in Puebla, a little city next to Mexico City.
Whether you will prefer Cayo Santa Maria or Varadero largely depends on two things: (1) How much you enjoy parties and the company of lots of other tourists and (2) how much time you have planned for staying on the beach.
(1) The Tourist Factor Or How Much You Love Sharing Your Beach
While both, Varadero beach and the Cayo beaches, are incredibly beautiful, Varadero is much more crowded. Varadero is relatively famous and probably the most popular beach that is relatively close to Havana. Therefore there will always be other tourists. Also, younger people tend to go to Varadero rather than to the Cayos exactly because there is much more going on in Varadero. There are more night clubs and you will likely get to know other travellers without much effort. Hence, if you like going out and meet new people, Varadero is the beach you want. If you prefer a romantic couple getaway to a rather remote beach without loud music and lots of other people, choose one of the Cayos.
(2) The Time Factor
For the majority of tourists in Cuba, Havana is a must. If that holds for you too and you are not planning to stay at least a few days on a beach and time is limited, Varadero seems to be a good solution. It takes around two hours to get to Varadero and there are buses going from Havana to Varadero several times a day. There are even organised day trips from Havana to Varadero which bring you back to your hotel in Havana at night. It takes around 6 hours to go from Havana to the Cayo beaches but the bus schedule is not as straightforward. Hence, depending on whether you are taking a private bus operator or the state operator you need to plan a bit more time in to get to the Cayo beach. Therefore it makes sense to stay at least 3 nights over there to make it worth the trip.
Hence, if you are a party animal and have limited time, go to Varadero. If you are on a romantic honeymoon and want to spend a few days on a beautiful beach, drive up to the Cayos.
The Cayo beaches also make perfect sense if you are planning to visit other cities in Cuba as well (and have a few days allocated for beach time), e.g. Trinidad where you could pass by on your way back from the Cayo to Havana.
We decided to spend 4 nights in Cayo Santa Maria – which was absolutely beautiful and quiet :) Photos of Cayo Santa Maria below!
A couple of weeks back, we were in Cuba for circa 10 days. We spent circa 5 days in Havana, one day in Vinales and the remaining days in Cayo Santa Maria – one of the most beautiful beaches I have been to. Below some photos I took in the old centre of Havana. Whilst Old Havana must have been incredibly beautiful once, today it is in need of a huge amount of restoration. A number of buildings and houses have been restored to their former beauty but the majority looks quite run down.
Some streets just off more pretty streets look quite dodgy and dirty. Nevertheless it is quite safe to walk around everywhere. If you don’t look Cuban, you will be approached by lots of people trying to trick you into a free drink or trying to get money from you by helping you with directions. My best advice is to just ignore them. If you need directions, just approach someone randomly and they will help you (speaking Spanish helps a lot here!). Almost all of the Cuban people we met were super welcoming and friendly.
Internet is not working well in Cuba. You have to buy internet vouchers which are usually sold in bigger hotels. These hotels and a few bars are the only places where you will get wifi. The prices are generally 4-5 USD per hour of internet excluding drinks in the hotel. In lots of wifi places the internet is so slow that you can barely get anything done. Also book your travel in advance as it is such a pain to book it once you are in Cuba given the internet situation. In the end we went to a travel agency and booked our beach and Vinales trip the old school way. If you do need internet in Havana, go to the hotel Dos Mundos which has a beautiful roof top terrace with working wifi or if you like some live music and bar atmosphere, go to the bar Floridita. Both locations are in Old Havana. Outside of Old Havana, Hotel Capri generally also had a good internet speed.
Overall Havana was more expensive than I expected and is comparable with non-metropole cities in the US or in Europe. For instance we went to Cancun and Mexico City straight after Cuba and you get so so so much more for the same amount of money. Also there are no supermarkets like that in Havana. If you need a few different items that you would generally get in one location at home, you might end up going to a few different smaller shops to get all.
Other than that, Cuba was great and really interesting to visit from an architecture, cultural and nature perspective. Cuba just has its own special vibe which it will likely loose gradually. So plan your trip in advance, get all things done online before you arrive in Cuba and you will have a great time :)