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Skip Cancun & Tulum: Check Out These 3 Mexican Gems Instead

Cancun vs Tulum? How about neither?! Both have been overrun with tourists and have gotten much more expensive. If you are looking for a beautiful getaway in Mexico, check out these 3 spots instead on your next trip to the Yucatan Peninsula.

a boardwalk along the crystal blue green lagoon of los rapidos with title "3 spots better than Cancun or Tulum"


When I first arrived in South America, I had never heard of Bacalar. The primary draw to the area is the beautiful blues of the lagoon – they call it the 7 colors, but it’s really 7 shades of gorgeous blues. The lagoon gets the shades from the various depths, the minerals in the water and the sunlight hitting the water. Bacalar is still a bit of a snoozy town, with only 35,000 residents. The freshwater lagoon has a limestone bottom fed by underground waterways. It’s called “the Maldives of Mexico.” And before all the other tourists find this hidden gem, you should check out this amazing itinerary of things to do in Bacalar. 

Getting to Bacalar:

You can take an ADO bus from Cancun, Playa or Tulum down to Bacalar. Book your ticket in advance on the ADO app for potential discounts. The bus stop is just a 15 minute-walk to the lagoon’s edge, but taxis are also prevalent.


Isla Mujeres

If you are looking for nicer beaches with crystal clear water, powder sand and more upscale beach clubs, check out Isla Mujeres, just 30 minutes from Cancun. Less crowded than Cancun, yet filled with yachts and great restaurants, Isla Mujeres is the answer to a peaceful Mexico beach vibe. You can rent a golf cart or take the local bus to get around the island. While there, you can snorkel with whale sharks or enjoy a catamaran cruise.


Getting to Isla Mujeres:

Once in Cancun, you can take a Didi or taxi to the Puerto Juarez ferry terminal where Ultramar ferries leave every 30 minutes for Isla Mujeres. You can purchase your tickets at the terminal machines with credit cards or go to the ticket window to purchase in cash. The ferry arrives at Centro Playa on the island. If you want to take the local Islenos bus, turn right out of the ferry terminal and proceed 2 minutes down the main street until you see a bus sign (blue). There are often bus operators at the stop to assist tourists. Bus rides are 20 pesos for tourists. The Punta Sur bus route makes a full loop around the island, but just make sure that’s the route you are on when you board.


Holbox Island

No shirt, no shoes, no problem. If you are looking for a truly relaxing place with sand streets, lazy days and beautiful sunsets, head to Holbox Island. Located on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, the island is home to beautiful flamingos and other birds, long beaches, including one only accessible from a sandbar that is often submerged, bioluminescent plankton and a snoozy beach vibe. Check out my best things to do in Holbox for your next trip, including snorkeling with whale sharks.


Getting to Holbox Island:

Take an ADO bus from Cancun, Playa or Tulum to Chiquila. Walk 3 minutes to the ferry terminal. There are two ferry companies: 9 Hermanos and Holbox Ferry Express. One-way tickets are 300 pesos, but only 550 pesos if you buy roundtrip tickets at time of purchase. Holbox Ferry Express leaves every hour on the hour and 9 Hermanos leaves every hour on the half hour (9:30, 10:30, 11:30 etc.). Once you are on the island, the entire town is walkable in about 20 minutes, but you can also grab a golf cart taxi at the ferry terminal.


You will thank me for skipping Tulum and Cancun. Explore these other spots for a more relaxing, yet beautiful time in Mexico. Bacalar and Holbox are definitely worth the trek from Cancun or Tulum.


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