The Ultimate Route Guide for the East Coast of Mexico: So Many Blues

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This route guide for the east coast of Mexico is packed with hidden gems, parties and picturesque beaches. Find out how to travel to these incredible spots while keeping it stress-free.

Sunset in eastern Mexico

Over the past few years, Mexico has burst onto the international traveling scene. No longer just a holiday destination for Americans, it’s a phenomenal country that attracts an assortment of travelers — couples on a romantic getaway, backpackers looking to eat their body weight in tacos and digital nomads on the hunt for an affordable place to live. 

Well-established transportation routes make traveling along the coasts in Mexico easy. A popular and easy route to explore is the east coast of Mexico, hitting up famous spots like Tulum and Cancun as well as natural wonders like Bacalar. 

Keep reading to find out what the ultimate itinerary looks like, what to do in these spots, and how to get between destinations. 

How long does Mexico’s east coast route take to travel? 

pier with conch shells in Mexico

Everyone travels at different speeds. In general, the east coast can be explored in around 2 weeks, perfect for an adventure-packed holiday. 

I spent a month discovering the east coast of Mexico, but that’s mainly because I fell in love with Holbox and didn’t want to leave!

The ultimate east coast of Mexico Route 

Cancun to Valladolid 

Ek Balam Ruins on the east coast of Mexico

Cancun receives over 30 million visitors every year. It’s famous for its affordable all-inclusive resorts, white sand beaches and tourist infrastructure. It’s a great holiday destination but lacks authentic Mexican culture.

Still, starting your vacation by lying on a beach in Cancun for a few days is not a bad idea.

Now that you’re rested, what better way to get acquainted with Mexico than to visit its wonderful Wonder of the World, Chichen Itza? 

It was built by the brilliant Mayan civilization and dates back to 600 AD. Throughout the complex, you’ll find 26 Maya ruins, with El Castillo the star of the show. That’s the pyramid you’ve probably seen pictures of.

Sure, Chichen Itza is mind-blowing, and it’s nice to tick off one Wonder of the World, but Valladolid is the true star in my eyes. This colorful colonial town is wildly different from the rest of the East Coast. It’s bursting with culture, traditions and smiles and hasn’t been entirely infiltrated by tourists…yet!

Plus, this area is a hotspot for cenotes — sinkholes filled with vibrant turquoise waters. 

Don’t miss:

  • Ek Balam Ruins
  • Cenote Zaci 
  • Cenote Suytun 
  • Cenote Ik Kil

Pro tip: You have to try a marquesita while in Valladolid. It’s a crunchy, crepe-style dessert that originates from Yucatan. Opt for the cheese, chocolate and fruit combo. I know cheese and chocolate sound a little strange, but trust me!

How to get from Cancun to Valladolid

The best way to get from Cancun to Valladolid is to hop on an ADO bus — Mexico’s most popular bus company. 

Traveling around Mexico inevitably means long bus journeys. It’s a vast country! But luckily, the buses are comfortable with reclining seats and A/C.

There are departures throughout the day starting at 4 a.m., and the journey takes around 2.5 hours. 

If you’re tight on time, you could even visit Valladolid from Cancun as a day trip.

Optional add-on day trip: Cancun to Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres on the east coast of Mexico

For those who only have time to visit one island on Mexico’s east coast, I highly recommend choosing Holbox (more on that below). It’s a lot less touristy with a bohemian vibe that’s hard to not fall in love with. 

However, Isla Mujeres is only a 30-minute ferry journey from Cancun, making it a more accessible option than Holbox. And you won’t be disappointed by its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters.

Valladolid to Isla Holbox

lounge chairs on white sand on Isla Holbox east coast Mexico

After that splash of history, it’s time to actually go for a splash in Mexico’s paradise waters. Holbox is a largely undeveloped, dreamy island that boasts some of the most transparent waters you’ve ever seen. 

It’s quickly becoming one of Mexico’s top destinations and losing that hidden gem charm that made it so special. Don’t delay your visit here a second longer!

Spend your days lounging on the pristine white sand, exploring its never-ending sandbank, taking rescue dogs for walks and dancing on Hot Corner. You’ll know exactly what I mean by that when you get there.  

Pro tip: Time your trip between May and September to get the chance to swim with whale sharks!

Don’t miss: 

  • Three islands boat tour
  • Punta Mosquito
  • Punta Cocos

How to get from Valladolid to Isla Holbox

Getting there is easy, especially when you can book a direct bus + ferry journey from Valladolid to Holbox that’ll get you there in three hours. 

Holbox to Playa del Carmen

Scuba diving off the east coast of Mexico

After a few days spent relaxing in heaven, sorry, I meant Holbox, you’ll be switching up the vibe completely and heading to the famous town of Playa del Carmen

Many people make this city their sole destination in Mexico — there are just so many things to do. You’ll find hundreds of fancy hotels, shopping galore, and parties left, right and center. 

It’s a city that has something for everyone. 

It’s in the ideal location to go cenote hopping. And when you’re not doing that, it’s impossible to resist its stunning and lively beaches. 

If you’ve got your scuba diving license, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world. 

Don’t miss: 

  • Cenote Azul 
  • Cenote Jardin Del Eden
  • Punta Esmeralda

How to get from Holbox to Playa del Carmen

Unless you plan on swimming, you’ll need to take this combo ferry + bus to get from Holbox to Playa del Carmen. It’ll only take about three hours.

Playa del Carmen to Cozumel 

boats in the water in Cozumel eastern Mexico

Cozumel can be visited as a day trip from Playa del Carmen, but I recommend at least spending the night. 

Despite only being a super quick boat ride from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel feels a world away. 

It’s an underwater lover’s paradise, ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving and swimming amongst its colorful coral reefs. A boat trip is a must!

The best way to explore Cozumel is to hire a motorbike and zoom your way around the island. It can easily be done in a day and allows you to stop at various beaches along the way. 

How to get from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel

This will be one of the quickest journeys on your trip. Cozumel is only a 30-minute ferry from Playa del Carmen. 

To get back to Playa del Carmen to continue your adventures along the coast, hop back on the same ferry to the mainland. 

Playa del Carmen to Tulum

swings and beds on the sand in Tulum Mexico

Over the past few years, Tulum has graced our social media feeds with photos of beach clubs, bamboo statues and extravagant dinners. 

Yes, Tulum can be all those things if you want it to be. But it’s also home to out-of-this-world cenotes, fascinating ruins and idyllic beaches that most of us spend our days dreaming of. Tulum can be whatever you make it. 

Don’t miss: 

  • Renting bicycles and exploring Tulum 
  • Tulum ruins
  • Gran Cenote

How to get from Playa del Carmen to Tulum

You’ll be very glad to hear me say that getting from Playa del Carmen to Tulum will be a quick journey — it’s only an hour bus ride. 

Tulum to Bacalar 

blue waters in Bacalar on the East coast Mexico

After some time in Tulum, you might be looking for a bit more tranquillity. Bacalar is the perfect place for that!

Not everyone continues on to Bacalar, and that’s exactly why you should. That, and it’s one of the most picturesque places in the whole of Mexico!

Bacalar is home to a gigantic lagoon known as the Lagoon of Seven Colors due to its brilliant blue hues. In some places, the water is such a vibrant turquoise that it almost looks fake! 

The lagoon is best explored on a boat trip, kayak, or paddleboard. One thing you can’t miss, even if you don’t like early mornings, is sunrise over the lagoon. It’s unforgettable!

The breathtaking views don’t stop there! 

Head to Los Rápidos de Bacalar, a set of slow-flowing rapids that will blow your mind with their beauty. Experience what it feels like to be weightless as you float along with the water. 

How to get from Tulum to Bacalar

There are a number of bus departures from Tulum to Bacalar every day, making it a super easy journey, and it’s only about three hours.

Where to go after Bacalar

Palenque Mexico rock carving

Sadly, this is the end of your east coast adventures in Mexico. If you head any further south, you’ll be in Belize. 

However, if you want to keep traveling in Mexico (and you should), head inland to Palenque, a place that’s home to some of the most remarkable ruins in Mexico. Strap yourself in, as the bus journey from Bacalar to Palenque takes around 9-10 hours. The majority of buses travel at night, so one positive is that you save on accommodation. 

If it’s time to say goodbye to Mexico, you’ll probably need to head back to Cancun to catch your flight home. The bus from Bacalar to Cancun takes around 5.5 hours. 

Weather in Mexico 

long pier over blue water in eastern Mexico

The best time to visit Mexico’s east coast is between December and April. While these are technically Mexico’s winter months, the days are stunningly sunny and a perfect temperature. Most months experience temperatures between 24°C (75°F) and 28°C (82°F).

Sea temperatures average a delightful 26°C (79°F), providing perfect swimming, snorkeling and diving conditions. 

Rainy season in Mexico runs from May to September. Traveling during these months is still possible; just be prepared for short and intense downpours. 

The only months you should probably avoid are September and October when the risk of hurricanes is at its highest. 

Packing essentials for eastern Mexico 

east coast Mexico hammock time

Exploring the Yucatan Peninsula means spending a lot of time in the water, whether it’s the ocean or cenotes. And when you’re not splashing about, there are plenty of Mayan ruins to be discovered. 

Prepare for a beach holiday with some adventure!

Don’t forget these key essentials:

  • Swimming costume 
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Reef-safe suncream: You can’t use regular suncream at Los Rápidos de Bacalar and in many cenotes. Only reef-safe will do.  
  • GoPro: Trust me when I say you’re going to want underwater pics. 
  • Comfortable shoes/sandals: Exploring ruins means a lot of walking.
  • A reusable water bottle: A lot of accommodations offer fresh water refills. Save on plastic and money.
  • Plug A and B adaptor: Mexico uses the same plugs as the US.

Map of Mexico’s east coast

Traveling along Mexico’s east coast means you’ll be spending a lot of your time in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan peninsula. 

The route begins in Cancun, where you’ll head inland to Valladolid before heading north to Holbox. From then on, you’ll travel south, along the coast, to Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Bacalar. 

How to get to Mexico’s east coast

boat and three palms on the Mexican beach

Cancun is your entry point to exploring Mexico’s east coast. Its international airport receives flights from around the world, often being the cheapest spot to land in Mexico. 

To get from Cancun Airport to Downtown Cancun, you can take an ADO bus, which takes around 30 minutes. If you’re staying in the Hotel Zone in Cancun, close to the beach, getting a private transfer is a more convenient but expensive option. 

Ready to explore the east coast of Mexico?

cenote in Eastern Mexico

Discovering Mexico’s east coast means adventures, unique cultural experiences, unbelievably tasty food, dreamy beaches and unforgettable memories. 

Thankfully, the transportation for the most popular routes is efficient, easy to use, and available to book online. You can spend your time having the trip of a lifetime instead of worrying about how to get from A to B. 

Ready to explore more of Mexico? This is everywhere Bookaway can take you.

FAQ

What is on the east coast of Mexico?

You’ll find some of the country’s most popular destinations on Mexico’s east coast, such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. 

Is Cancun safe?

In general, Cancun is a safe place to visit. Most tourists spend their time in the Hotel Zone and downtown Cancun without problems. As with all locations worldwide, keep an eye on your belongings, as pickpocketers might try their luck. 

Are beaches better on the east or west coast of Mexico?

That’s a hot debate. They’re different. The beaches on the east coast of Mexico are picture-perfect, with white sand and turquoise waters. They’re also a lot more developed. 
The beaches on the west coast of Mexico can be a bit wilder, home to surfing, whale-spotting and endless golden sand beaches.

 

Posted October 17, 2023
Kate Woodley
After a 2-year career break travelling the world, Kate quit her job as a Management Consultant and went all in on digital nomad life. She continues to travel, working as a freelance writer and inspiring others to travel through her Instagram, Maskedtravelsx. Kate also shares her love of travel by running group trips to unique destinations — Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan etc. Where life will take her next? She has no idea!