Incredible Cancun Road Trip: Itinerary & Stops to Make

A Cancun road trip to Tulum can be an easy and fun drive! Cenotes, Mayan ruins, beaches, and more were on the road ahead. I knew we’d want to get around and see all the different things we possibly could.

When we started planning our Cancun road trip to Tulum, I knew all the stops we’d want to make right away. If you have followed my blog for a while, you know I love a good road trip. They are a great way to save money and make sure you can see everything in the area you want to. Here’s what you need to know about a Cancun to Tulum road trip.

Also, before you go on, please read my post about what to avoid in Tulum. There are some major issues with how this beautiful place is being treated, and you could unknowingly harm the environment you are going to enjoy if you are not careful. So – please read before going on a Cancun road trip! Now, let’s cover the logistics.

Table of Contents

Costs of our Cancun Road Trip:

Flight: $250

Car Rental: $164 (split by two is $82)

Hotels: $120 per night (split by 2 is $240 per person)

Activities/Food: $300

Total: $872

Tips for a Cancun Road Trip:

Why Start in Cancun?

If you noticed, our flight was cheap! There are cheap deals on flights to Cancun from basically everywhere I feel like all the time. We were able to snag really cheap ones. Spirit flies their regularly for $250 or less as well as Southwest – my two most frequented airlines. My flight to Cancun was only 6,000 points on Southwest (2,500 each way on Spirit) so I was able to use points for my flight.

Basically, Cancun is the easiest spot to get a good flight deal to and only a few hours from Tulum. Most people heading to Tulum use this airport and take a transfer. You can do this but it’s so easy to get from Cancun to Tulum by driving. Cancun also has plenty to do so with an extra day, you could try these things to do in Cancun.

Plus, renting a car is actually about the same price as a roundtrip transfer (per person it is typically $80) so renting a car and having the freedom your whole trip is a great option.

A cool option besides driving could. bethe new Maya Train that is set to open in early 2024. The route will be 1,500km long and go between cities along the Caribbean Coast and deep into the dense jungle of southern Mexico.

Subscribe to access my editable road trip packing checklist! Discover what to pack for an international trip here too.

Renting a Car

We initially booked a car rental online butm when we got to the airport, they wanted to put a $1000 hold on my credit card in order to rent a car. This is actually quite a common practice that many different car rental companies in Mexico require. I also learned there is mandatory insurance so what I thought would be $120 for the trip would actually be $280 – NOT HAPPENING for me. The price was too high and I didn’t want that large of a hold on my car. I decided to wait for my bf to land an hour later.

When he landed, we ended up finding a car rental service that was just standing at the airport. It turned out to be Enterprise, a large company here in the US that is known as reliable with car rentals. They only charged us $164 for the week (the other company was wanting $280 + insurance) and placed a hold on the card of $500 instead. This was a much better deal and we were glad we found this just outside the terminal.

Tolls

Something we were unaware of is how many toll roads there are coming back into Cancun. We didn’t have much cash with us at the end of our trip and this turned out to be a big issue. It ended up being a bit of a disaster and we had to go an hour out of the way to get back and still had to pay a toll that was just a little less. Be prepared with plenty of cash on your way back into Tulum! We paid about 350 pesos in tolls.

Gas

In Quinta Roo, you will most likely not be pumping your own gas. You’ll have an attendant who comes to your car and pumps the gas for you. Before going I read that people will possibly try to scam you when pumping your gas. I’ll tell you my personal story and then tell you possible other scams I’ve heard about.

We wanted to get gas at a gas station on the way from Chichen Itza to Cancun so we stopped and the sign said they took credit cards. We asked to use a card and they said the machine wasn’t working and that they wanted cash instead. We didn’t have enough cash so said we would move on to the next station.

All of a sudden he changed his mind and decided we could use a credit card. We are still unsure why this was the case. Maybe the fee is higher, maybe he wanted to skim off the top, we don’t know!

    1. Watch that you get your same credit card back. I read a story from another traveler who noticed two hours later that she has been given the wrong card back when having her gas pumped outside Tulum.
    2. Check the price on gas and whether they give you all the gas you paid for on the meter. I have heard stories of people saving the extra cash for themselves and not pumping the amount they are supposed to.

Where to Stay

Unfortunately, both of the places we stayed at were not eco-friendly and actually harming the environment. Be extremely careful when booking accommodations because many are built illegally on endangered species land, use diesel generators, and dump sewage. You can read more about what to avoid here.

I was able to research though, and find some good options for you while there:

    1. Ahau Tulum – beachfront and built with sustainability in mind
    2. Harmony Glamping – sustainable and upscale glamping on the beach
    3. Cenote Escondito Ecoglamping – affordable camping option
    4. Sanara Tulum – a luxurious ecofriendly resort on the beach
    5. Casa Xixim – private villas with sustainability in mind
    6. Prana Hotel – outside Tulum along the beach

Day 1: Cancun to Tulum

Drive from Cancun to Tulum

1 1/2 hours

After picking up our rental car, we headed out on our drive from Cancun to Tulum. The entire drive from Cancun to Tulum is near the ocean, but you’ll mostly get views of resorts on both sides during your drive. It took us a little over 2 1/2 hours with our stops.

Brewery, $5 USD for a flight

We got an early-ish flight into Cancun so we could enjoy our drive and make a few stops along the way. Not surprisingly, we ended up just stopping at a brewery not too far outside Tulum called Cervesas Pescadores and saw their beers throughout the rest of our trip so it was fun to stop in.

rooftop pool at highline hotel tulum mexico illegally built on national protected lands

Pool or Beach, free

We arrived in time to relax at our hotel and something very important on any beach vacation – plenty of downtime for relaxing! An afternoon spent enjoying our pool and relaxing before dinner was perfect.

Dinner in Town, $10

We chose to go into town for dinner. The initial plan was to check out Batey, but it was closed, so we went over to Amore Mezcaleria for some ceviche and smoky margaritas.

Day 2: Akumal Bay

sea turtle swimming in ocean in akumal bay akumal mexico

Akumal Bay – $5 USD

20 minute drive

Akumal Bay is famous for the sea turtles that love to feed on the grassy bottom of the ocean. I’ve heard complaints that it used to be free and now there are fees and it’s lost some of its charm. While that may be true, I still really loved it. You don’t need a tour and you’re fine to visit on your own. I think it is completely worth going but you’ll just need to plan ahead a bit. For more on planning, I have a whole post with all the details here.

Another great place to visit if you love sea turtles in Puerto Vallarta! They have a large sea turtle conservation effort going there and you can release baby sea turtles there too.

I recommend arriving at Akumal as early in the morning as you can, ideally no later than 9:30 am. We arrived right when the national park entrance opened at 9 am after parking right nearby. When we left around noon, the lot was completely full. Get there early to park and avoid crowds.

clean beach with palm trees akumal bay akumal mexico

There are ropes to fence off certain parts of the beach, then there are more ropes where only people with a guide can go-between. We walked past the first area and the boats and past the dive shop (pictured above) to a second snorkeling area with a ton of coral reefs. While snorkeling, we saw turtles, rays, and tons of fish swimming – it was honestly so stunning. I loved it!

We stopped along the road on the way back for lunch at a local spot that was less than $5 apiece. I had enchiladas that were so good!

private pool at highline tulum hotel mexico illegally built on national protected lands

Pool, free

More pool and beach time was in order! When in a beachy paradise, you have to take time to relax.

renting bikes in tulum mexico

Bike Ride through Tulum, free – $10

Many hotels offer free or cheap bike rentals and you’ll also find them all over town. They are a fun and different way to get around town that is eco friendly. The town was only a 15 minute bike ride from the beach and we chose to ride bikes down to the beachy part of town for a change of scenery.

evening drinks along the beach in tulum mexico

Happy Hour along Beach at Zamas, $5 a drink

As we rode our bikes along the beach and stopped at cute little shops, we started to notice everything was way overpriced compared to town. To our surprise,  many places offered happy hour for a decent price. We chose to stop at Zamas for drinks with an amazing view. It was a beautiful and relaxing spot with a nice DJ playing music. We enjoyed a few drinks and headed to a spot for dinner.

Dinner at Mina Tulum, $15

After some delicious drinks, we biked over to Mina Tulum and enjoyed dinner right on the beach. It was such a relaxing and beautiful spot that was worth the higher price.

Day 3: Xcaret Xplor Park

Xcaret Xplor Park, $120

45 minute drive

Xcaret is a set of “theme parks” throughout the Quinta Roo region of Mexico. They have 2 parks currently to choose from and we chose to visit their more adventurous park.

I am not one to typically go to a theme park, but this is not like other theme parks.

Everything in the park is an adventurous experience like no other. Everything is included and everything is so much fun. Below is what is included in admission:

    1. Two circuits with seven zip-lines each (2.4 mi total distance), which include the tallest in Riviera Maya.
    2. Amphibious vehicle to drive through the jungle and flooded caves.
    3. Paddling with special hand paddles along an underground river.
    4. Stalactite River Swim inside ancient caves.
    5. Hammock Splash.
    6. Spelunking hike.
    7. Unlimited snacks and non-alcoholic beverages (oatmeal cookies, fruit, smoothies, and flavored fresh waters).
    8. Buffet lunch.
    9. Locker for two.
    10. Rest areas, dressing rooms, and restrooms.
    11. Other services (WiFi, ATM, and shops).
    12. Free parking.

This is also a great thing to do with kids in Tulum! They will love the adventure, and there are parts of the park that are just for kids.

car mojito bar at batey in tulum mexico

Batey for Live Music and Mojitos, $5 each

This place came highly recommended by some friends who had visited Tulum previously so I wanted to check it out. I’m so glad we did!

They are famous for their mojitos and for a good reason. The mojitos were actually made with sugar cane by hand churning a machine made from a VW bug in order to make the syrup for the mojitos. There were all these different flavors of mojitos as well and we tried 4 different kinds. My favorite was definitely the watermelon mojito with chunks of watermelon right in the drink. So refreshing and delicious.

They have live music nightly and we enjoyed some different bands while sipping drinks. It’s a fun spot that I would highly recommend on your Tulum visit.

Day 4: Cenotes and Ruins

Cenotes

less than 20 minutes to each

Cenotes are natural pits, or sinkholes, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Due to the natural rocks that clean the water, the water is incredibly clear and of course very cold – they are caves after all! This was also the number one reason I wanted to visit Tulum. I wanted to experience these unique caves that are so special to this region.

There are a ton of really affordable cenotes around Tulum.

We started with Gran Cenote right as it opened because it is the most popular near Tulum and we wanted to avoid crowds. I’m glad we started there because it got crowded with tours by 9:30. We got there at 8:00 am when it was supposed to open. It ended up opening around 8:20 and we went right in. We stayed for about 45 minutes snorkeling between the two sides of the cave. There are showers, bathrooms, lockers, and pavilions there.

If you want something more secluded, head to the second entrance (that’s where these photos are all from!). This one was also unique because you could swim from one part of the cave into the other. The floor of Gran Cenote is also sandy and soft which is so nice!

walking up the ladder of cenote calevara in tulum mexico

Next, head to Cenote Calavara. Cenote Calavara is much more rustic. There are no facilities and you have to walk a path for a little bit past a house to get to the cenote itself. It isn’t very big, but it was fun because you can jump through small holes into the very dark cave.

The water is really deep so you need to be a confident swimmer or rent a life jacket. There is one large opening and two smaller ones. I almost hit my head on the side as I jumped so be careful! You’ll also have to use the large ladder to get in and out of the water.

standing in dos ojos cenotes cave outside tulum mexico

Our last (and my favorite) cenote stop was Dos Ojos. I absolutely loved this one because it was the largest and most interesting of the cenotes we went to. Dos Ojos means two eyes. Both of the eyes are cenotes that you can visit and are connected by an underwater cave system. Tons of people go diving here and because of that, the price is higher at $22 USD to enter. It was well worth the price!

We spent most of our time in the right eye because the divers did not enter there and it had a ton of space for us to snorkel. I loved swimming in this cenote and was fascinated by the extremely deep and clear water. Swimming while going through all the stalactite formations was like nothing I had ever done. It was definitely a highlight of the trip!
pyramid at muyil ruins tulum mexico

Sian Ka’an and Muyil Ruins, $10 USD

10 minute drive

In the afternoon, we headed over to Sian Ka’an biosphere to check out the Muyil Ruins and some great views. You can pay an entrance fee for the Muyil ruins and walk the path behind into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. You pay for each separately. Muyil is 45 pesos and Sian Ka’an entrance is 50 pesos.

I loved this because the ruins were basically empty and there was a really cool pyramid you could walk around. Behind the pyramid, you will see a path (I somehow always find a way to include a hike on a trip, something I am of course proud of.). This leads to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. Once you’ve reached this point, you’ll pay the other entrance fee to enter. You can walk through the biosphere and to the peer from there for some amazing views of this unique mangrove and crystal blue water.

This was an easy addition to our Cancun road trip that would have worked on the day we headed to Chichen Itza as well (it is on the way), but we chose to drive here a different day so that we had time to relax and didn’t see all the ruins in the area at once and get burnt out.

sian ka'an biosphere boat pier

If you want to take a boat ride, you can expect to pay 500-700 pesos a person to go through the canals of the mangroves as well as take a swim through them. It seems like a really great option but we were tired after swimming all morning and opted just to enjoy the views and hike.

If you don’t want to see the Muyil Ruins, you can directly drive to the Sian Ka’an boating dock and take a boat from there.

old white beetle in tulum mexico jungle drag

Nice Dinner near Beach, $25 

We had planned to check out Hartwood (a restaurant several people highly recommended), but it was closed all week long so we opted for a spot recommended by a friend of mine, Giatanos! It was delicious and the meat was melt in your mouth good.

The entrance was super cute! It had me wishing we were doing our Cancun road trip in a VW bug. Loved the look.

Day 5: Chitchen Itza and Vallalodid

Yoga on the Beach, $15

What is a trip to Tulum without yoga on the beach? There are several places that offer daily yoga classes along the beach and there is something incredibly relaxing and fun about doing a yoga class on the beach! I chose Ikal Tulum because they have a morning class daily at 8 am, shaded area, and it overlooks the beach.

I loved my morning yoga class with my instructor and would highly recommend it! Yoga retreats in Mexico are also really popular. Would be awesome to do one some day!

Tulum Ruins, $3.50

This is one spot I wish we got to earlier in the day! I would recommend going first thing in the morning if you can/don’t want to do yoga on the beach. We stood in line in the sun for about 40 minutes before we entered.

These ruins are pretty incredible and just $3.50 USD to visit. They are huge and there will most likely be a line, even if you get there early. You can spend a long time walking around, reading, and enjoying the incredible view.

There’s also a beach down below the ruins you can visit if you have time. It was full of seaweed while we were there, so we opted to skip it and just stick to the ruins. Walking along the cliffs and reading about the history of this sacred place for the Mayans was my favorite part

Chichen Itza, $12

2 1/2 hour drive

I was not about to miss out on visiting Chichen Itza while I was there! It was the 4th Wonder of the World I have visited and was really beautiful. Unlike the internet tells you, the last entrance is at 4 pm. We arrived at 3:55 and got the very last tickets issued for that day. I definitely recommend leaving Tulum earlier than you think to take this two and a half-hour drive.

Chichen Itza is a pretty incredible ancient city that includes a pyramid as well as the famous gaming arena of the Mayans. It is worth trying to take a tour because there are very few signs telling you about things. My phone worked and we were able to download a free walking tour guide that we read out loud as we walked from spot to spot.

I couldn’t imagine doing Cancun road trip without stopping at this wonder of the world. It’s honestly an easy visit – just be on time.

Valladolid for Dinner

1-hour drive

We decided to make a stop in a cute town on the way back to Cancun for dinner and drinks. Valladolid was a colorful little town located just an hour from Chichen Itza. We were able to get some delicious food in the town square (like these elotes) watch a musical performance, and go into some very cute shops. It was easy to park the car safely on a street right downtown while we enjoyed the evening.

Back to Cancun

2 hour drive

If you didn’t already, please go back to the tolls section of this post. This is the portion of the drive where we were unprepared and didn’t get in until really late because we didn’t have enough cash! Be prepared for your Cancun road trip!

5 day cancun to tulum road trip
A Cancun road trip to Tulum can be one of the best ways to see the Yucatan Peninsula. Find out how to plan your trip.

I was so sad when this trip came to an end because it was truly one of the most anticipated and fun trips I’ve taken. While there are things that make a trip from Cancun to Tulum tricky, the nature and beauty of this area of Mexico cannot be missed. You’ll love your Cancun road trip.

Meghan

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