Mexico and Belize are the perfect countries to pair for those looking to experience the Caribbean and ancient Mayan architecture. Along the way, you’ll stop by quaint seaside towns and islands, eating some of the most delicious food known to man, diving in some of the world’s best locations, and soaking up ruins all along the way. You can easily spend two weeks in Mexico itself, but if only we all had that time!
Note that this itinerary will have a lot of scuba diving because that is one of my favorite things to do, but there’s no need to do exactly what I did either! I have also added a second itinerary without much emphasis on diving.
Where I went in Mexico and Belize
I have visited Mexico numerous times and Belize once. This itinerary is how I would combine the two into one trip. These places are hot year round but July to November is hurricane season and weather can get volatile during this period.
In total, this itinerary is for anyone that has 14-16 days to spend in Mexico and Belize. At the end of this post, I have also included how I would craft a trip with around three weeks as Guatemala is next door and also very worthy of your time. The highlights of this trip are:
- Caye Caulker, Belize
- San Ignacio and surrounding ruins & caves
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect itinerary for you! Also, Mexico and Belize are the very common starting points for those looking to do the entire Central American route. I met loads of travelers spending months to travel all of Central America. These countries are small, well connected by bus transport, and safe to travel through.
- Ultimate Guide to Cozumel, Mexico
- Caye Caulker to Chetumal and Vice Versa Ferry
- Travel and Diving in Caye Caulker, Belize
- The Ultimate Guide To Diving the Blue Hole, Belize
This itinerary starts in Cancun as numerous international airlines fly into this airport, and ends in Belize City. Those with more time, Guatemala is the logical next destination before continuing on to Honduras, El Savador and so forth! There are numerous airlines that fly to Cancun from North America and Europe.
Cancun itself is primarily a resort town for all inclusive vacationers and Spring breakers. In fact, the town of Cancun was actually created by the Mexican Government with the sole purpose of attracting tourists from America. I’m not a fan of the place at all so I would recommend just skipping it altogether and taking a bus straight to Playa Del Carmen.
Day 1-4: Cancun to Cozumel
The trip begins in Cancun. Upon arrival, the first thing to do is take the ADO bus to Playa Del Carmen. Taxis in Cancun are extremely expensive and will rip off tourists without hesitation. A cab fare from Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen is $60-70 USD one way. There is no Uber here either which is frustrating so the only option is to take a charter bus.
Thankfully, ADO is a highly reputable and reliable Mexican bus company that will take you everywhere you want to go in the country. The cost on the ADO bus is around 200 pesos for a one way transfer.
Buses to Playa Del Carmen pick up right past the Margaritaville kiosk once you exit the airport at Terminal 3 and leave every 30 min. For the most part, I would recommend taking the ADO bus from Cancun down to Chetumal near the Mexico-Belize border. Depending on your guesthouse, they may also offer you group van transfers for a slightly higher price between towns so it’s up to you and your budget.
Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel
From Playa Del Carmen, there are two ferry companies that make the 45 minutes journey to Cozumel. The ferry costs around 150 pesos for a one way journey and runs every hour. I would opt for the yellow Ultramar tourist ferry as it is more comfortable. It is slightly more expensive but worth it for the views. Alternatively, the local ferry is totally fine too and their departure schedules alternate normally.
Spending time in Cozumel
The diving around Cozumel is some of the best in the Caribbean. Home to the Mesoamerican barrier reef, Cozumel is a divers paradise with many species of fish, coral, sharks, and crustaceans. Cozumel itself is a laid back island with tons of great bars and delicious food to offer. Avoid all the touristy chains, and venture straight to the many local taquerias. This is where the best food is at and at the absolute cheapest prices. Tacos can be had for 12-15 pesos each and the Al Pastor is absolutely on point here.
The diving here is also fantastic. It is the perfect place to get certified as the waters are warm, and the conditions are perhaps some of the most effortless in the world. Cozumel is known for its drift diving and I’ve not been anywhere else in the world where the dives are so effortless, as you’re literally drifting the entire dive site.
Day 4: Cozumel to Chitzen Itza to Tulum
From Cozumel, organize a day trip to Chitzen Itza, perhaps Mexico’s most famous and most impressive Mayan ruin. Similar to that of Tikal in Guatemala, Chitzen Itza also features a huge pyramid like temple representative of the Mayan people. Compared to Tikal, the main temple in Chichen Itza is smaller but visually I found it to be more interesting.
From Cozumel, take the ferry back towards Playa Del Carmen with all your belongings. The best way to do this trip with the time constraints is to book a tour. That way you can keep your stuff in their vans without having to lug it around with you. Tours will pick you up from the ferry station and drive you the 2.5 hours to Chitzen Itza.
Once you arrive, you’re usually free to explore on your own. There isn’t a whole lot else to do around the temple besides witness the massive temple. Expect to see a lot of tourists here but I still think it is well worth doing, and is architecturally much more impressive the the Mayan ruins in Tulum.
When you get back from the day trip, take a ride to Tulum.
Getting from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum
The first option is the trusty ADO bus. The bus station is located on 5th Ave. and Benito Juarez. The buses to Tulum depart from Playa del Carmen every day all throughout the day. If you miss one bus, the next one is always less than an hour away. The cost for this ride is roughly 80 pesos and takes 1 hour.
Alternatively, the taxi collectivos used by the locals are even cheaper but it’s likely they’ll deny you entry if you have luggage or make you pay for an extra seat. I would just stick with the ADO bus for this trip.
Finally, a private taxi can also be hired for this journey for the price of 600-800 pesos depending on your bargaining skills.
Day 5-8: Tulum and the Cenotes
The town of Tulum is my favorite town in the Yucatan region. It’s filled with local culture, delicious food, ruins, fantastic beaches, and less all inclusive resort madness of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. If you have to choose only one place to visit in the region, it would be Tulum in my opinion. It has everything.
There are a number of amazing guesthouses and Airbnbs to choose from. The options are much better than Playa in my opinion as it focuses more on rustic, back to nature type accommodations vs the concrete jungle near the beach of Playa. I would recommend something closer to the town center as accommodation near the beach can be far away from all the bars and restaurants of the town. Biking is my preferred method to get around town and many of the guesthouses will have bikes for use.
Cenotes In and Around Tulum
A cenote is a naturally formed sinkhole in the Earth’s surface made up of limestone. Millions of years of rainfalls ate away the limestone, creating underground cave pools. The water that fills the cenotes can be either fresh water, salt water or both. These naturally forming cave pools vary in structure. They can be completely open, similar to a lake, almost completely close with just a small opening at the top or somewhere in between.
No matter where you go during your trip to Tulum, it is an absolute must to visit at least one cenote while in Mexico. The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico has about 7,000 cenotes. So, there is no reason why you shouldn’t visit at least one. Trust me, after going to a cenote, you will never be able to look at beaches or pools the same way again.
Along the way to Tulum from Cancun or Playa del Carmen you will find a large amount of cenotes. Below is a list of the best cenotes along the way that we believe are worth the price.
- Cenote Azul (Entrance fee: $70 pesos)
- Chaak Tun (Entrance fee: $240 pesos)
- Dos Ojos (Entrance fee: $150 pesos )
- Gran Cenote (Entrance fee: $120 pesos)
The Tulum Ruins are considered one of the most preserved ruins in Mexico, though not as impressive as Tikal, Chichen Itza or other popular ruins, they are worth a visit. There is also a beautiful beach right by the ruins, so don’t forget your bathing suit. I found the Tulum ruins to be a bit of a let down. Perhaps it’s because it’s completely swarmed by tourists, but I just wasn’t as impressed by the architecture. I will say that the views of the beach are absolutely stunning however!
You can also choose to hire a guide here for 500 pesos or so but I didn’t find it necessary.
Admission fee: $59 pesos
Day 8-9: Bacalar
Continuing south towards Belize, the next stop after Tulum is the town of Bacalar. The lagoon is the village’s main attraction. It is referred to as the Lagoon of the Seven Colors due to the contrasts in its ground soils, its varying depths and intensity with which it absorbs the sun’s rays, all of which cause its waters to reflect seven different shades of blue.
Enjoy the incomparable landscape by boat, kayak, sailboat or jet ski. Admire the contrast of the lush vegetation surrounding the waters and let yourself be lulled by the singing of the birds, making this a magical experience. Bacalar has some of the bluest waters of anywhere I’ve seen in the world. It is incredible that it is actually a lake but has more shades of blue and turquoise than even the Maldives.
I stayed at the Green Monkey Backpackers near the lagoon for a very cheap price. From Tulum, it is a three hour bus ride on the ADO and these buses run all throughout the day.
Bacalar Lagoon is the place to go if you just want to chill out and relax. Rather than write at length, I think these photos should sum up all the fun things to do there – most of which revolve around the lake – be it swimming, snorkelling, boat trips, cliff jumping, kayaking, lazying in hammocks, camping or stand up paddle boarding at sunrise. Perhaps the best move to see a little bit of everything is to take the guided boat tour around the lagoon.
Day 9-12: Caye Caulker, Belize
After Bacalar, make your way down to the southern most port town of the Yucatan in Chetumal. From Chetumal, there is a once a day ferry that goes to Belize, stopping at the islands of San Pedro and Caye Caulker. Both options are fantastic. San Pedro is much bigger, more developed, and has all the resorts and restaurants you can think of. Caye Caulker is the much smaller, laid back cousin. Its motto is “Go Slow” after all. I spent 5 days in Caye Caulker and absolutely loved it.
It’s famous for the Great Blue Hole which is the largest cavernous ocean formation in the world. The diving in the area is fantastic, and perhaps the best in the Caribbean after Little Cayman. A visit to the Blue Hole is a must as this is perhaps Belize’s most famous attraction. One thing to note is that the Blue Hole day trip is not offered every day so make sure to check this beforehand.
The diving in Caye Caulker is not cheap however as there aren’t many shops. The dive trip to the Blue Hole is especially expensive cost around $300 USD.
Aside from the fantastic diving, I absolutely just loved the vibe in Caye Caulker. It was so chilled and relaxing. Many backpackers either start or end their journeys around Caye Caulker and everyone is down to have a good time. There are only a few bars here and it seems like the entire island is visiting certain bars at certain times making it a great place to meet new people and grab a cold one. I actively particited in this and the amount of rum punches I drank at the Split was bordering on alcoholism.
Ferry to Caye Caulker
The ferry ride from Chetumal to Caye Caulker is quite a mission. There is a lot to know about this ferry ride including entry/exit taxes and immigration. The boat ride itself is about 2.5 hours with a stop in San Pedro to drop off passengers and clear immigration. The ferry is on the pricier side costing roughly $55-60 USD one way. Nevertheless, this is the best way to get to the islands of Belize without having to cross the land border between Mexico and Belize, and driving towards Belize City.
Day 13-15: San Ignacio and ATM Caves
From Caye Caulker, I took the ferry to the capital of Belize City via the Belize Water Taxi. This is the same company that does the ferry from Chetumal, Mexico to Caye caulker. This ferry rruns multiple times a day but because of the tight schedule, I would take this ferry in the morning.
From the ferry station, there are multiple buses that will drive towards the town of San Ignacio on the Guatemala-Belize border. This drive is just over 2 hours. The town of San Ignacio is actually very interesting but due to time constraints, this trip is primarily to see the ATM Caves.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Tour
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) is one of the most famous archaeological sites containing skeletal remains of Maya human sacrifices. Many of these skeletons are still in tact and they literally sparkle. Yes you heard me right. Something to do with science and aging of the bones but it’s true.
I wouldn’t call myself a cave connoseur but any means, but this is probably the most amazing cave I’ve ever visited. It’s immense size and natural beauty make this a must visit for anyone coming to Belize. It is not easy by any means. There is plenty of hiking, swimming, walking in darkness, and everything in between. However, once you’ve overcome your basic fears, this place will for sure go down as one of the more epic things you’ve done. Certainly is for me!
One downside is that you cannot take ANY cameras inside the cave. A few years back, some idiot tourist dropped his camera ON an ancient skeleton and destroyed the remains. It’s always that one person that ruins it for everyone!
This is a day tour and lasts for roughly 8-9 hours leaving from San Ignacio. It’s possible to take the bus back to Belize City when you return into the city around 5pm. Otherwise, I would spend a second night in this town and return to Belize City the following morning. San Ignacio is much cooler than Belize City.
Day by Day breakdown
Day 1: Land in Cancun, transfer to Playa Del Carmen, and ferry to Cozumel
Day 2: Diving in Cozumel
Day 3: Diving in Cozumel
Day 4: Cozumel to Chitzen Itza
Day 5: Tulum
Day 6: Tulum
Day 7: Tulum
Day 8: Bacalar
Day 9: Bacalar to Chetumal to Caye Caulker
Day 10: Caye Caulker
Day 11: Caye Caulker
Day 12: Caye Caulker
Day 13: Caye Caulker to Belize City to San Ignacio
Day 14: ATM Cave tour
Day 15: Return to Belize City
Mexico and Belize Itinerary for Non-Divers
Obviously this itinerary has a lot of diving because I’m an avid diver, and well? The area has some fantastic diving. However, I know many people are not divers so if you’re not, this is how I would change the itinerary with more focus on Mayan ruins, and replacing a lot of diving with just a bit of snorkeling. You have to go to the cenotes after all even if you’re just snorkeling!
For non-divers, I would completely skip Cozumel. The island is cool, but if you’re not diving, I think there are better places to go in the area. Caye Caulker will more than provide for the rustic small island experience. For most of Mexico, I will use Tulum as the main hub as I prefer it to Playa Del Carmen and Cancun.
Day 1: Land in Cancun, transfer to Tulum
Day 2: Tulum – Explore the ruins
Day 3: Tulum – Chichen Itza Day Trip
Day 4: Tulum – Cenotes Snorkeling
Day 5: Tulum – Free day to explore
Day 6: Bacalar
Day 7: Bacalar
Day 8: Bacalar to Chetumal to Caye Caulker
Day 9: Caye Caulker
Day 10: Caye Caulker
Day 11: Caye Caulker
Day 12: Caye Caulker to Belize City to San Ignacio
Day 13: Explore the Xunantunich Mayan ruins
Day 14: ATM Cave tour
Day 15: Return to Belize City
Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala
Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala make an even better travel itinerary if you can swing the time. Guatemala is the capital of the ancient Mayan civilizations and its picturesque cities and lakes make it a must visit. Belize and Guatemala border each other and is very easy to get from San Ignacio to Tikal via bus.
This is the perfect way to start off a Central America tour. After Guatemala, head to Honduras, El Savador, etc.