MY EXPERIENCE AS A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER TO MEXICO
TAKING A LEAP OF FAITH IN MEXICO – YUCATAN
I am sure you’ve planned on visiting Mexico on your own many times, but never made it because of all the stories you’ve heard about Mexico. They are all true, of course, but we have a say in Romania “The Devil is not that Black” which absolutely describes the real situation in Mexico-Yucatan.
On my two-week trip in Mexico in the Yucatan region, I’ve mostly seen men traveling on their own and only two girls that were each of them traveling solo. The guys traveling alone were mostly Europeans, whilst the women were from Latin America, used to that kind of insecurity. I was not scared of going to Asia alone, but I had a bit of fear about Mexico. I’m so glad I found the courage to go and see for myself how safe or unsafe Yucatan is.
I cannot talk about the entire Mexico, as I haven’t been, but I can tell you about the Yucatan region. I’ve spent here two wonderful weeks.
My first stop was in Cancun, I arrived around 11 pm and was so scared I won’t get it to the hotel. But the first thing I saw once I got out of the bus station was all the police and army walking around. I did not know where to take the bus to the Hotel region, so I asked people around. They were all very nice and helpful and pointed me to the bus station.
The next day, I was looking for the bus station to go have breakfast and I was standing in the wrong place. A nice local guy came and told me where the bus is, which bus I should take, how much it costs, and the schedule. After he greeted me and left. Let me tell you I was nicely surprised as I was not expecting.
The thing that struck me the most was all the police, known as Guardia Nacional, driving at a fast pace in their cars with bulletproof vests and high-caliber firearms. At first glance, you could feel alarmed and question what is going on, but bear in mind they are there to protect the tourists. Once I understood that, I felt much more secure and relaxed. Of course, I also took precautions not to go alone during the night, not walking on isolated streets or less safe barios.
If you decide to rent a car to get around, know that Yucatán has restrictions on drinking and driving of 0.08% BAC limit. during the night there is a significant number of state police and even medical personnel, taking breath samples in their quest to keep drunk drivers off the road.
HOW CAN I PLAN A SOLO TRIP TO MEXICO?
So, let me tell you how I planned my trip to Mexico and the errors I’ve made.
I am a Flying Blue member and I first check the airlines that are on this loyalty program, as I have different advantages. Therefore, I took a direct flight Paris – Cancun with AirFrance to win XP points and Miles to my account. I also have an AmEx credit card from AirFrance KLM and each time I pay with the credit card I win Miles. Once I have enough Miles, I can pay myself a return ticket to a desired destination.
Therefore, even if I paid 300€ more for a direct flight with AirFrance, rather than a 2-segment flight with a layover in Miami, in the long run, I still win, as I can maintain my loyalty status and benefit from my privileges.
I recommend you use Explore section in Google Flights which will show you the fares on different destinations, like this you can choose either the better period for your desired destination or the best destination price-wise upon your availability. As for myself, I always choose my destination depending on the best fare at that moment among all the places on my To Do List. That’s why I will never know where I go next. Google Explore decides for me.
This is where things get tricky for most people asking my advice. But trust me, it all goes very easily once you have a system.
I have two loyalty programs for accommodation as well: I am a member of Booking.com and Accor Hotels. Accor Hotels is also connected to my Flying Blue loyalty program, so I win Miles on both accounts every time I fly or I book a hotel. Isn’t that wonderful?
If I find a good Hotel from the Accor Hotels chain, I will go for it, but sometimes I want to change, so I will go to Booking.com where I have Genius Level 3.
But sometimes, if I am not happy with the fare I find on Booking.com I will simply call the hotel and ask for a better rate than the one I have on Booking.com. You will be surprised to see that many Hotels accept to give you a lower rate because they want to retain you as a loyal customer, so they will simply not pay the discount to Booking.com, but give it to you as a Welcome Gesture.
There are two types of travelers when we talk about accommodation: those who will book everything in advance and those who will book only the first two nights and organize everything on the spot, like this they are more flexible in their journey. I would love to be the latter, but unfortunately, I am the first type, but I am working on it.
As I stayed more than two weeks in Yucatan, I decided to change locations. So, first, I decided to split my journey into different points of interest. For that, I made a list of what I would like to visit and searched online for what you can do there and how many days are required. Sometimes I don’t do my research properly and I regret it on the spot, as sometimes I can no longer change my plans. And of course, this is what happened in Mexico as well.
In Yucatan, I decided I want to see Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Holbox Island, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Balacar. Because I did not do the research properly, I allocated too much time to Tulum and not enough time to Holbox Island, which I loved more than Tulum. I left Bacalar for the last day and of course, something came up with the travel agency and they canceled the trip. I was so mad at myself because that was the destination I wanted to see the most in the entire Yucatan. But I’ve learned from my mistakes. I hope so, at least!
What I don’t do and I would recommend you to do is to be as flexible as you can to be able to change your plans on your trip. On the spot, talking with locals, and other tourists, you will always want to change at least one destination or extend an existing one.
Also, in Yucatan, there are so many local Boutique Hotels – very good standing, much cheaper on the spot than what you’ve booked on Booking.com in advance. So why not go for it, right? Trust me, you won’t regret it. Just go with the flow!
So, whenever you want to organize your trip, don’t hesitate to follow these steps. You can even travel for free on the Miles you won from the loyalty programs. Or sometimes you can simply upgrade your accommodation or fly in First Class on a long-haul carrier.
GETTING AROUND AS A SOLO FEMALE in mexico
Here is what you can do if you Travel Solo for the first time to Yucatan – Mexico:
- You can rent a car from the arrival airport and you can choose to deliver it at the departure airport, in case you depart from another city. I recommend you rent from an internationally known Rent-a-Car agency, to be sure you are safe. I’ve heard a lot of stories when people arrived at Cancun airport and the rental company was either closed or they didn’t have the selected car for them and they had to upgrade at their own costs.
Also, make sure to thoroughly inspect the vehicle and insurance/rental agreement before operating it. There is also limited parking in popular tourist areas like the Zona Hotelera in Cancun. Local police tend to pull over tourists, so always make sure you are abiding by all traffic laws.
- Rent a scooter. For instance, if you need to go for a relatively short distance and spend the day there, a scooter is very easy to navigate through traffic and very practical. I even saw two girls on a scooter with a sidecar seat. I enjoyed the idea so much. And it will be much easier for parking, especially in Tulum.
- Use public transport everywhere in Yucatan. Very cheap and practical.
In Cancun, you have the R1 & R2 busses that can connect the Hotel Zone, Boulevard Kukulcán (downtown), and Avenida Tulum. The buses run every five minutes and will take you back and forth between downtown and the Hotel Zone. A one-way fare costs 12 Pesos which is roughly 50 cents in USD/€. The buses do not accept foreign coins and make sure to carry Pesos on you, not bills, as it is difficult for them to break big bills. There are plenty of stations between Zona Hotelera and Downtown, but it will stop all along the way if you make a sign. The drivers are very accommodating and friendly.
ADO buses are very popular in Mexico as they run between airports and popular tourist towns in Yucatan, but also between cities. You can book tickets online or you can buy them from ADO stations for destinations like Cancun, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, and Chichén Itzá.
In Tulum, Collectivo is quite practical and cheap, 20 Pesos for residents and 30 Pesos for non-residents from Pueblo Tulum to Zona Hotelera. The bike rentals will tell you that Collectivo doesn’t take tourists, only locals working in zona hotelera but it is not true. For the entire week I stayed in Tulum I used only Collectivo and had no problems.
- Rent a bike and ride, especially if you are in Tulum and not a fan of Collectivo – public transportation from Tulum Pueblo (city center) to the Beach (Zona Hotelera). Several hostels and hotels include bikes in your stay, or you can rent directly from them, but they are a bit more expensive than bike shops. You can find them at every corner and rent them for around $/€ 6-10 a day. There are also options to rent mopeds.
Tulum is divided into two parts, the Pueblo and the Beach, about 3 miles apart and there is a nice sidewalk so biking is a great way to get around. However, the beach road doesn’t have any street lights, so riding at night can be difficult without a headlamp.
- Take the Ferry to the islands.
If you plan to visit Isla Mujeres or Holbox Island, the ferry system in Cancun is at hand. Ferries run all day between the island from three different docks in Cancun: El Embarcadero, Playa Tortugas, and Playa Caracol, all located in the Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera). Service is from 9 am to 9 pm at each departure location and ferries run every 30 minutes. Ferry fares typically cost $/€19 for adults and $/€ 14 for kids for a round-trip ride.
PROS AND CONS FOR A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER IN MEXICO
- Yucatan is much safer than I thought it would be
- Public Transportation system is very practical and in hand
- Locals are very nice to you when you ask for directions
- The food is extremely good
- The fruits taste heavenly – not like in Paris where they are tasteless
- I preferred like on the islands to the rest of Yucatan Make sure to allocate more time to Isla Mujeres and Holbox. You will not regret it. Small islands with a very nice charm and vibe. I felt so good in Holbox, even if it rained almost for the entire duration of my stay. But people for so relaxed and chill, they came barefoot to the bars or clubs, because it was all muddy on the ground and no one cared.
- The history of the Maya people and the story behind Chichen Itza, one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World
- A lot of patrol police in the tourist areas to make you feel safe and protected
- Sea water was amazing, and the sand felt like white flour underneath my feet
- PROPINA – This is the thing that drove me crazy the entire stay. Propina means Tips in Spanish. Is not like I don’t like leaving Tips, but not when it is violently imposed at all times and everywhere. They write you with the pen on the bill +20% propina and that is the amount they will charge you. There were places where I said I will leave propina in cash, as much as I wanted to, but then, they would charge me on the credit card the entire amount with 20% Propina included. I like leaving Tips when there was a good service. Tips must be earned.
- SHAMAN SCAM – People, please, don’t fall for this. They are not real shamans. They may be Maya descendants, but far from being Shamans. I took the day trip to Chichen-Itza and the guide on the bus told us very nice stories about her spiritual journey, which I completely believed. I still believe it now to be true. But she took us to a Maya village to get to know how the local Maya people leave in the forest.
Except there was no local village, but an installed hangar with fake gemstones for us to buy and to experience the shaman ceremony. I am a very spiritual person and I always base myself on my gut, so I said on the bus I will be open-minded and see if I feel the energy of the shaman. Let me tell you it was a big disappointment as they looked like actors acting for the day. Trust me, do not fall for that crap!
- PLAYA DEL CARMEN
OK people, where is la playa in Playa del Carmen? If you go, like me, for la playa (beach) you will be disappointed for sure. If you want to understand all the fuss around Playa del Carmen, imagine it’s Red Light District for Americans in Mexico. It’s a sort of Vegas meets Red Light District in Mexico. Everything is made for Americans which represents 40% of Mexican tourism. And I did not appreciate my time there at all, especially during the night. The bars and clubs are just too much.
WHERE TO EAT in MEXICO
My favorite restaurants in MEXICO
- Restaurante MEXTREME in Zona Hotelera, Boulevard Kukulcan Km 9.5
Very tasty fruits, a great breakfast, and an amazing atmosphere during the dinner service
- Bah Bah! Holbox Restaurante
Best spot for breakfast. Delicious pancakes. Good cappuccino.
- The Hot Corner
Excellent for an afternoon beer or an evening cocktail with live music. Best place to go out in the evening and have fun.
3. PLAYA DEL CARMEN
- Choux Choux Cafe
Best place for a royal morning breakfast or late brunch. Everything is so tasty.
- La Bodeguita del Medio
Actually, it is a true Cuban restaurant, but it is the best place to be in Playa del Carmen. Great Mojito, the best I’ve ever had in my life and life Cuban music with people dancing and having fun. Just go there if you are in Playa del Carmen.
- Raw Love Town – Pueblo
This was by far my favorite place in the entire Yucatan. Fresh and tasty Buddha Bowl, exactly how I like it, with fresh juices and a chill atmosphere.
- Taqueria Maya – Pueblo
If you want cheap tasty local tacos, this is your place
- La Pizzine – Pueblo
Very nice place, good pizzas if you want to try something else than tacos
- Casa Jaquar – Zona Hotelera
Very fancy place, expensive and 20% propina mandatory, but good tasty food and full of high-class people
- GITANO restaurant – Zona Hotelera
Same standing like casa Jaguar.
BONUS: VISIT MEXICO ON A BUDGET
- Plan in advance and start early
- Make a list of your favorite destinations in Yucatan
- Plan the most optimal route – it demands time and patience. I usually use an Excel file and sketch different routes to optimize time and money
- Try to go to Cancun or Playa del Carmen during the week, not the week-end, when it’s full of tourists and rates, are higher
- For Tulum it’s better to go only for the weekend and to stay in Pueblo. You can use Collectivo to go to Zona Hotelera or rent a bike. Hotel rates are much cheaper than in Zona Hotelera
- Go to public beaches, as they are sometimes even more beautiful than the resort ones
- Book hotels on the spot from local chains, they will be cheaper than booking online from known chains. And more beautiful and traditional
- Take the ferry to go to the islands, not daily excursions, as they are expensive and you will not have time to enjoy and explore the island
CHECK OUT THE BEST Mexico tours
DID YOU FIND THIS ARTICLE USEFUL?
Tell me in the comments section if you’ve been to Mexico and what was your experience. If you are planning to go on solo travel ask me for some useful tips that are not in this article.