Mexico. Where to go, what to do and where to eat in East Mexico.
The Eastern part of Mexico the peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean see, consists of three provinces: Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
This area is perfect for backpacking or a road trip as it’s a very safe and beautiful part of Mexico.
We’ve made a great road trip on the Yucatan peninsula and I’m sharing all my tips in this travel blog. As always I’ll tell you what to do, what to see and where to eat.
We’ve rented a car in Cancun but the bus is also a good option in this area. Keep in mind that not every agency will let you drive the car to other countries, use America car rental if you do want to cross the border with Belize or Guatamala.
You’ll probably arrive in Cancun, a city with two quite different areas. You’ve got the strip with many hotels, restaurants and white sandy beaches and the actual city itself.
If you’re staying in the city itself I recommend Grand City Hotel, very reasonably prized, spacious rooms and a pool. You can get some pub food and enjoy live music at Bar 666 next door.
If you’re staying in the hotel zone, book early to avoid sky-high prices. In the city center you’ll find authentic taquerias where the locals eat, in the hotel zone you can expect the more touristic restaurants.
Two good food options in the hotel zone are the Surfin Burrito and Le Natura. At Le Natura they have many vegetarian options like quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas and fajitas. Pictured are the vegetarian enchiladas with spinach, cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion and avocado. They have a very nice outdoor seating area with many plants.
Chichen Itza is a must-see when you’re in South East Mexico. Get there early to avoid the tour busses. The grounds open at 8am and most tours arrive around 10 or 11 am. Beware that if you travel from Cancun to Chichen Itza you’ll cross a time zone.
The Maya ruins at Chichen Itza is one of the seven new wonders of the world and definitely one you should cross of your list! You can find much information about Chichen Itza in many other places, so I’ll refer you to them for more information.
Mérida is a lovely little town with a lively town square. It’s the perfect stop for a stroll and a nice meal. I recommend La Chaya Maya. This restaurant is housed in a beautiful colonial building and has a nice courtyard. You can get all Yucatan staples here from tortillas to empanadas. They’re famous for their Cochinita Pibil (marinated pork) but also have many vegetarian options. You can get both their panuchos (crispy corn tortillas) as their salbutos (handmade corn tortillas) Mayan style for a meatless meal. Or go for Yucatans most famous vegetarian dish: Papadzul. This is corn tortillas filled with chopped hardboiled eggs, topped with tomato sauce and pumpkin seeds.
In the area Campeche, there’s also a city called Campeche, it’s a nice town with a few sights like a town square with the Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion Cathedral. If you’re looking for a nice place to eat you should check out Calle 59, this street is lined with restaurants. Since the climate is always nice in Campeche, all the restaurants have outdoor seating in this car-free street. We went to Bavit. Although their tagline is Steaks & Wine, they also have many options for vegetarians.
If you have time you can drive from Campeche to Palenque, the Maya ruin site is a 5 hour drive away from Campeche.
We drove from Campeche to Chetumal. It’s a long drive (5,5 hours) but you can make it into a day trip and stop at some of the Maya temples and ruins along the way, you can find several along the 186 road.
Chetumal is a non-touristic border town, many people here will only speak Spanish so the menu or ordering your food might be a challenge if you don’t speak the language. We stayed in Hotel ABH, it’s obviously a business hotel as it’s super clean and large. It’s not very cosy but you’ll get a spacious room. And it’s around the corner from a great restaurant: El Taquito. This taqueria is very popular with locals and it’s understandable why: they have a lot of choice and their tacos come cheap! With only a dollar per taco you can stack up on all their flavors like chorizo, pollo a la plancha or mushroom.
From Chetumal you can drive south to Belize if you have the time.
Just a short ride north of Chetumal you’ll find Laguna Bacalar, a beautiful lake that stretches north for 40 kilometers. It has beautiful turquoise water and many nice restaurants along the way for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We stopped at the laidback Casa Tortuga for breakfast. My boyfriend went for the tacos with chicken and I had a vegetarian sandwich with panela cheese (Mexican cottage cheese) lettuce and avocado.
Mahahual is a little beach town at the Caribbean Sea which is way less touristic than the cities more up North. I mean, it’s focussed on tourists but doesn’t has the mass tourism that you’ll find in the cities mentioned below. Mahahual a nice beach road filled with small shops, bars and beachside massage tables where you can get a 60 minute massage for only 300 pesos (€15)
As opposed to Mahahual, Tulum ís very touristic. It’s hard to visit the beautiful beach as almost every meter of it is bought by a big resort. You’ll have to pay big to spend the night at one of them, so I suggest you sleep somewhere else and just visit one of the restaurants of the resorts for breakfast. Which is exactly what we did! We stayed at the beautiful Loto Tulum apartments, you can read more about these spacious, nicely decorated apartments with private swimming pool here. And we had breakfast at Mina, the restaurant of the fancy Maria del Mar hotel. This way we had an affordable (yet lovely) apartment and breakfast with our feet in the sand and a view of the beach.
At Mina they have many vegetarian options on their breakfast menu like poached eggs, yogurt with homemade granola and french toast with seasonal fruit. I went for the gluten free banana hot cakes, served with fresh fruit.
In the evening it’s nice to go out for dinner at one of the many restaurants at Avenida Tulum, the main road in the city center. Just stroll around and decide where you want to eat as the there are many options. You could go to Burrito Amor where they have vegetarian and vegan burritos, or go to Encanto Cantina and have dinner in their garden behind the restaurant so you won’t notice the busy road. At Encanto they also have good vegetarian options, like a portobello burger, vegetarian sliders with grilled vegetables or ‘chile en nogado’ stuffed with dehydrated fruits, sweet potato and zucchini. They even have a vegetarian ceviche with mushroom and broccoli instead of fish.
Playa del Carmen
Just like Tulum, Playa del Carmen is also very touristic and here as well every last inch of beach is bought by a big resort. And just like in Tulum you can also book your accommodation away from the beach and just enjoy one of your meals at a restaurant of a beach resort if you do want to enjoy the beach. We stayed at Ocean Zen Suites, a very clean 6 room hotel with a rooftop pool.
We enjoyed a lunch on the beach at Fuego, the restaurant of the Mahekal beach resort. The restaurant was quite pricy, you can go for the club sandwich and the pizzas if you’re watching your budget.
There’s one long street in Playa del Carmen (Calle Quinta Avenida) that’s filled with restaurants, hotels and shops. It’s also filled with tourists, but that makes it great for people watching. Just stroll up and down (it’ll take you a while to walk all the way), or have a seat at one of the many restaurants and watch the people walk by.
My favorite breakfast place in Playa del Carmen was The Pitted Date, this vegan restaurant has so many delicious options! This gluten free acai bowl is just one of the many healthy breakfast items on their menu. You can also go for one of their 5 vegan omelette dishes (without egg of course) or a breakfast burrito. More a sweet breakfast lover? Order your vegen, gluten free waffles with topping of your choice (tropical fruits, winter berries or choco monkey).