Let’s Go Exploring! Cancun and Tulum: Under the Sea

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I was going to talk about South Korea, the next place we went to after Japan, but in a surprise twist, I decided not to. Instead, I’m going to skip ahead to Mexico because 1) I like to switch it up and 2) readers have been asking about the South East Asia equivalent in North America. Who am I to keep you from your dreams? So without further ado, we’ll fast forward to Mexico…

After you’ve been travelling for a while, you start to develop your own weird little travel vocabulary. For example, it’s no secret that I wasn’t a big fan of the food in Denmark . So when I say things like “Hm…this salad is very Denmark”, Wanderer knows exactly what I’m talking about. But I LOVED Denmark’s parks, so when I say “this attraction is very Denmark!” It means something completely different.

So when I say I said I was looking for the Chiang Mai of Mexico, it’s gibberish to other people, but makes perfect sense to Wanderer.

I thought Merida would be that city, but I was wrong. Despite it being somewhat comparable in prices, safety, warmth, and friendliness, it just wasn’t it. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Was it the beaches? Or the scuba diving? I decided to test out that theory by looking up some of the best diving and beaches in Mexico. And as it turns out, the dive site that stood out the most was MUSA– Mexico’s one and only underwater museum, located on Isla Mujeres near Cancun.

Now, what’s special about this museum is that it was created as a way to lure divers away from the reef to prevent damage. The artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, along with 5 other Mexican artists, created 500 sculptures of men, women and children which were submerged underwater. His intention was to create living sculptures, which overtime would grow into a reef. And since the statues were made from PH neutral concentrate with added holes, this would allow a new reef to grow.

He even salvaged broken pieces from nearby reefs as wings for this “angel” statue:

Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor

My favourite part is that he also included little “easter eggs” for scuba divers, like a chimney on a house that blows bubbles when you put your regulator up to it. Or this bubble-blowing woman :

Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor

So needless to say, we were super excited to dive the MUSA museum. And just like the Robot show in Japan, it was definitely not cheap, but SO worth it!

Here’s some footage of me carefully observing a brittle star, then putting it back, before accidentally kneeing a fellow scuba diver in the head. Good times.

Even though Cancun is known for its exorbitant prices, we were still able to find an Airbnb in the hotel zone, which was well-priced because it wasn’t a stone’s throw to the beach. Knowing that Cancun hotel zone is one of the most expensive places in Mexico, I expected it to have horrible deals and bad food.

We were pleasantly surprised. So apparently, if you’re a regular tourist and end up staying in a fancy all-inclusive hotel, taking cabs everywhere, and eating out all the time, you will be paying top dollar. But what the tourists don’t realize is that there are buses that run up and down the strip for only 8.50 pesos ($0.40 USD), and they literally come EVERY 30 seconds (believe me, I timed them). And if you look beyond the Coco Bongo’s, Burger Kings, and Starbucks, you’ll be able to find local restaurants that serve way better tasting dishes for $70-150 pesos ($3.50-$7.50 USD)!

So by taking advantage of the local restaurants, buses, and free beaches, we ended up getting a lot out of Cancun for very little.

Our $40/night AirBnb in the Hotel Zone with pool

The hotel zone felt a bit like an adult Disneyland to me, but I really enjoyed the beaches, and especially Isla Mujeres (an island just 30 min ferry ride from Cancun), which has one of the top #10 beaches in the world, Playa Norte.

After Cancun, we headed for Tulum, which is supposed to be a chill place with a hippy vibe. Some parts of it were pretty touristy, but we quickly feel in love with its walkability, tasty food, and quaintness. And remember how I said I developed an obsession for cenotes in Merida ? Well, as it turns out Tulum is THE place to go for cenotes.

You could go to a different cenote everyday for the 2 weeks and not even run out. From cenotes within deep caves like Dos Ojos, to outdoor cenotes with the clearest waters you’ve ever seen in Casa Cenote, Tulum is a cenote-lover’s heaven!

Like liquid glass

And once you’re done with the cenotes, you could take a collectivo (shared taxi) to nearby Akumal and go swimming with wild sea turtles. We didn’t expect to see any near the beach while we were there, but after swimming out just 30 feet from the shore, we saw 2 massive sea turtles munching on sea grass. And they weren’t even bothered by people staring at them either! They were simply chilling and eating, looking at us nonchalantly and going “What are you looking at?”

It was magical.

Photo Credit: P.Lindgren

Despite these 2 places being super touristy, we found enough reasonable restaurants that finding a deal was a breeze. I also discovered that being near a Chedraui (the Mexican equivalent of Walmart but WAY better) was pretty useful as we were able to pick up ingredients and cook a couple of times.

Here’s what we ate in Cancun and Tulum:

Enchiladas in mole sauce and cheese. Nom nom!
Ceviche – so fresh and tasty…and also *gasp* healthy!


Pancita de res — Mexican beef tripe soup. Not a crowd favourite but my PERSONAL favourite because it reminds me of the offal soups I ate in South East Asia.


Chilaquiles — the best hangover food ever.

Generally eating out at the local restaurants weren’t expensive…around $150-$230 pesos ($10-$15 CAD) for an entire meal for two, including drinks and tip. It wasn’t as dirt cheap as Thailand (less than $5) but definitely less pricey than eating out in Toronto.

And here’s how much we spent overall:

CategoryCost in CAD/coupleNotes
Accommodations:$40/nightPrices for accommodations in the hotel zone generally are pretty damn expensive and well over $100, so Airbnb was a huge help in this case. We ended up staying in condos with pools. We didn't end up getting an entire suite to ourselves like we did in Japan, but it actually turned out to be a blessing because not only did we meet a diver master who lent us a Go-Pro, we also ended up meeting Alice, the woman who showed us a whole new world with World Schoolers. So you never know who you're going to meet on your travels.
Food:$26/day$16 for eating out, $10 for groceries. Even though we were in the expensive touristy areas of Mexican, we found enough local restaurants that were way better than the touristy restaurants and groceries were dirty cheap.
Transportation:$8/day Getting from Merida to Cancun and later to Tulum via the ADO bus was only $28 CAD and $22 CAD per person. Getting around Cancun was dirt cheap with buses that cost 0.56 CAD Cents per person and getting around Tulum with Collectivos at $25-35 pesos  ($1.60-2 CAD) per person.
Entertainment:$18Entertainment was the highest cost here because of the Scuba Diving ($137.50 CAD/person for 2 dives, including wetsuit and Go-Pro rental). We got a super good deal at only $100 pesos ($7 CAD) for the Go-Pro because of our AirBnb host who worked at the dive shop. Other entertainment costs consisted of entry to the Cenotes where ranged from $120 pesos – $180 pesos per person ($8-$12), which was totally worth it because you could stay there for the whole day.
Misc:$5/dayMisc costs include tips, flip flops, meds and personal items, which are generally very cheap and can all be purchase from Chedraui.
Total:$97 CAD/couple/day ($72 USD/couple/day)

So even though I still hadn’t found the Chiang Mai of Mexico, I was glad we came to Cancun and Tulum, which despite of their touristy reputations, ended up having a lot to offer water-worshippers without breaking the bank.

That didn’t mean I was going to give up my search though…

To Be Continued…

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25 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Cancun and Tulum: Under the Sea”

  1. We visited Tulum last year and actually went to a lot of the same spots. Akumal is awesome isn’t it?! Maybe we saw the same turtles haha. We skipped Cenote Dos Ojos as we heard it was too touristy, instead if you drive further down the road there is Cenote Sac Actun, which is more off the beaten path but one of the quieter cenotes. Did you hear about Xcaret or Xel-Ha? They’re both pretty amazing (not cheap though, $100 or so each) and well worth a visit if you want a full day out.

    We steered clear of Cancun as I hear it’s more of a party vibe than a chill out zone, so we headed south to Tulum where it’s more relaxed and less partying. Interested how you found Cancun, was it as we thought? We went to Playa Del Carmen for one day and that was also a bit of a party vibe on the beaches.

    We stayed all inclusive in a 5 star resort (Grand Bahia Principe Tulum). I was surprised how reasonably priced it was, $1,000CAD for 8 days for two people. Considering all food and drinks were included, transportation to and from the airport etc. it was super reasonable at just $62.50 per person per day. Obviously you have to add on more for any day trips, but even so Mexico is a cheap place for Canadians and Americans to visit and for the weather and what has to be some of the best beaches in the world, it’s totally worth it. Our recent 5 day trip to San Francisco cost way more than that just for the hotels (which were very average hotels at best). It’s easy to see why the Mayan Riviera is so in demand.

    I think you would struggle to find any AirBNB’s outside of Cancun though, as most the Mayan Riviera is just a long stretch of resorts along the coastline with nothing but mangrove behind it. Other than Cancun and Playa Del Carmen there aren’t even many towns. Tulum itself isn’t really a town to stay in unless you’re in a resort, it’s more of a place to visit.

    We’re going back to Mexico this year but to the Pacific Ocean side, to Puerto Vallarta. It’s not supposed to be as hot as Cancun but that’s fine, I can live without 40 degree heat.

    1. We did hear about Xcaret or Xel-Ha, but considering it was an all inclusive, not the best fit for us 🙂 ( I get bored easily and don’t eat enough or drink enough for it to be worth it).

      Cancun wasn’t too crowded when we were there. I suspect people were freaked out because of the shooting at the nightclub in Playa Del Carmen and changed their plans to Dominican Republic. Oh well, their loss. It was super safe and the beaches were beautiful. Overall I would prefer Tulum to Cancun. More stuff to do and better restaurants.

      And yes, Akumal is our favourite beach. Can’t believe you can actually see turtles in the wild like that without them freaking out and running away from you.

      I’ve heard great things about Puerto Vallarta…supposed to be one of the top foodie places in Mexico (following Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Puebla) with gorgeous beaches. Hope you enjoy it!

  2. I got nuthin’ to say. Nuthin’, except that I feel like that little kid with their nose pressed against the shop window, wistfully looking at all the Christmas toys.


        1. Hey tkid,
          That article published in The Walrus is excellent, saddening, and should motivate us all to prepare for 2020 when many Canadian families are expected to declare bankruptcy.

  3. I think all couples have a language like that if they’ve spent enough time together. My spouse and I met at work and we worked together for over 8 years so we know a lot of the same people and if we see a TV character or meet someone who reminds us of someone we’ll say to each other “he is so Jon” or “That is such a Jamie thing to do”.

    There is an old children’s show from the 80s called The Storyteller and in one episode there was this bird who liked to get its back scratched and he called it a “scritchy scratch” so if I go up to my spouse and say “scritchy scratch?” then he knows I’m asking him if he can scratch my back.

    It’s so nice to have that with someone where you can articulate something so well with such few words where expressing the same thing to someone outside of the loop would take a much longer explanation.

    1. “say “scritchy scratch?” then he knows I’m asking him if he can scratch my back.”

      Awww…that’s adorable 🙂 Couple lingo is awesome…except for the people around us who are nauseated by our lovey-doveyness. Teehee.

  4. went to Tulum in 1986 .. yes a millenia ago . LOL

    we bought a hammock in Merida and managed somehow to hitchhike to the beach at Tulum

    no hotels anywhere . except a few huts where we strung our hammocks up inside ..

    food was basic nothing like you show . but it was DESERTED .and the beach was incredible with the empty ruins …. touristy ha .. no way back then …

    then we got a rough bus via Belize to Tikal in Guatemala and traveled thru there without any gringos anywhere ..
    times have changed i see.

    1. Wow. Yeah times definitely have changed. Now there are restaurants all along the main road and stores filled with touristy stuff for sale.

      Must’ve been so nice to have the place all to yourselves!

      1. however i think a return might be nice ….. even if its more touristy it also means there is more infrastructure such as tours to hard to get to places ..etc

  5. Wow, that’s awesome.
    We are planning to visit Cancun this Fall/Autumn (I am still confused of which one I should use) We have never been there and, frankly speaking, don’t know anything about it. But we have enough miles YAY to visit Cancun for free 😉

    1. Hooray for frequent flyer points! If you visit Cancun in the fall, I would recommend staying in the hotel zone…as it is much safer than staying in downtown Cancun. If you buy an all inclusive, you’ll all set for food, but if you decide to do what we did and book AirBnb, check out “CARNITAS MICHOACAN”, that’s the local restaurant we went to in the hotel zone. So good and cheap!

      1. Thanks a lot. First time visiting and with 2 kids we are thinking about staying in the hotel zone. But we would love to go and explore local places as well. Thanks for recommendation.

  6. Isla Mujeres is a gem! My sister got married there and I just fell in love with the place. Please tell me that you had a drink at one of the swing bars! So fun!!

    1. Thanks, Mr. Tako. It seems like any touristy place always has local options, it’s just not known to the tourists because they don’t advertise it.

  7. Great you kept talking about the ocident after all is where we live. Mexico will definitely be my home in fire for some years.
    MR, your front page needs some face lifting.. Just saying.

      1. Not many actually. Just the articles show up only after you scroll down. They could show up at once.
        On the smartphone it also doesn’t look very friendly.
        A question. Do you guys own a company in order to reduce taxation as indicated by Rich Dad Poor Dad book?

        1. yeah, I’m actually thinking of implementing a tiled view, where you can see more article all at once. Do you think that would help?

          As for the smartphone, we are currently using a default responsive template, eventually we’ll update it so that it’s more user friendly.Thanks for letting us know!

          And to answer your question, we are in a partnership so yes, we can write off business expenses to save on taxation. And the partnership isn’t just for MR, it’s for our freelance coding and writing work as well.

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