Backpacking Central America is something that we have dreamed of for a while. Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico are completely different countries, yet they are located in close proximity on the Yucatan Peninsula, on the border between Central and North America. It makes total sense to visit these 3 countries together during a round trip. At least Belize and Guatemala are small enough to see the main highlights in a relatively short time. And from Mexico you will only visit the tourist highlights in the north of Yucatan on the central america itinerary presented here.

You can thus, in a short time, see three countries that have strong cultural similarities (including the Mayan culture), but are actually completely different. We traveled to these three countries as part of our trip of Central America and were extremely excited about this part of the world. On our tour of Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, we saw beautiful colonial cities, climbed active volcanoes, walked around ancient Mayan sites, dove with sharks and swam in underground cenotes.

In short, on a itinerary through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico you will experience so many different things in a short time that you won’t want to leave.

Backpacking Central America – Itinerary Guatemala, Belize & Mexico

It sounds like a lot to visit three countries during a single backpacking trip, but we think it is very doable if you have about 4 weeks. We did this itinerary in just under 5 weeks, but were also stuck in Antigua, Guatemala for over a week due to an intestinal parasite that struck us down. Within 3 weeks this route would be doable in our opinion, but only if you cut out some points. Otherwise you would have too much stress.

Isn’t a round trip on your own with a backpack through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico totally dangerous? No, we don’t think so!

You can travel through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico from south to north or the other way around. You can choose the cheapest flights you can find. With this Central America itinerary, an open jaw flight (e.g. outbound to Guatemala, return from Cancun, Mexico) definitely makes sense, since a round trip, that would take you back to your starting point is not so easily possible here.

However, if that is your wish, then you could extend the route so that you start from Valladolid and travel south through Mexico (via Merida, Palenque & San Cristóbal de las Casas) to arrive back in Guatemala.

Destinations of our Central America itinerary through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico:

  1. AntiguaGuatemala
  2. Semuc Champey
  3. Flores
  4. Tikal
  5. San IgnacioBelize
  6. Placencia
  7. Caye Caulker
  8. Ambergris Caye
  9. BacalarMexico
  10. Tulum
  11. Isla Mujeres
  12. Valladolid

On Google Maps we have marked the individual route points. On this map you can see our exact route through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico.

Google Maps

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Our individual stops are described in detail in the following chapters.

The adventure will start in Guatemala. If you arrive by plane like us you will arrive in Guatemala City. We choose to drive right away to Antigua from the airport. But if you like to explore the capital city there are a lot of things to do in Guatemala City.

#1 Antigua | Dreamlike Colonial Town

The first stop on our itinerary through Guatemala led us to the small colonial town of Antigua. We felt right at home there. We spent a few more days here than planned due to illness, but we didn’t regret it at all. Antigua really has a charm that we have not seen in any other city in Central America. And that although the city is very touristy. Both backpackers and families vacation in Antigua. There are many tour operators, McDonalds, Taco Bell and souvenir vendors. But the good thing is, you don’t notice it that much.

Antigua Guatemala

The souvenir sellers are not so pushy and all the fast food stores don’t have blatant advertising on the facades, but all pretty uniform looking store signs. This is to maintain the style of the city and it works pretty well. In addition, the stores are mostly totally stylishly decorated in colonial style from the inside. We have never sat in such a beautiful McDonalds.

In the courtyard, there is even a beautiful fountain next to the obligatory Ronald McDonald figure. We think Antigua is worth spending a few days there, no city in Guatemala we found so relaxed and almost picturesque. You can read what our highlights in Antigua were in our separate trip report.

Hotel Recommendation in Antigua

If you want to stay in a charming and unique Hotel we can highly recommend the Meson Panza Verde*.

Backpacking Central America | A Perfect Itinerary for Guatemala, Belize & MexicoMeson Panza Verde

  • Luxurious and Comfortable Rooms
  • Amazing Pool
  • Beautiful Backyard
  • Excellent Restaurant
  • Delicious Breakfast

Meson Panza Verde | Check Prices*

Hiking on the Acatenango Volcano

The hike up Acatenango Volcano was definitely our highlight during our backpacking trip in Guatemala. The hike almost took us to our physical limits, but it was worth every drop of sweat and the sore muscles afterwards. Not only do you spend the night on an active volcano*, you also have a continuous view of the opposite volcano, Fuego, which spews ash, smoke and lava at regular intervals. At sunrise, it then goes up to 4000 meters on the summit of the volcano to see the sunrise above the clouds.

Book a Tour to Hike the Acatenango Volcano | Check Prices*

If that’s not enough to make the hike palatable to you, here are all the details again in our trip report:

Transportation from Antigua to Semuc Champey
Travel by bus takes about 9 hours in a minibus to Lanquin.
Cost: approx. 15 € per person

#2 Semuc Champey | Natural Pools and Caving in the Jungle

Semuc Champey was truly one of the scenic highlights of our Guatemala itinerary. We had seen some pictures and read articles about it beforehand, but they just don’t do this beautiful corner of the world justice. Even though it was relatively crowded during our visit, the atmosphere here is great. The natural water pools of Semuc Champey look beautiful and are great to splash around in.

Pools in Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey was created by channeling the raging Rio Cahabon through a limestone cave system. This has created wonderfully calm pools above the caves. In these turquoise-blue pools you can swim and relax and just enjoy the day. Besides, the whole thing also looks beautiful.

Right next to Semuc Champey there is also the Kan’ba Cave*, where we did a hike of about one hour. The only light in the cave, which is flooded with water, came from candles that we carried with us. A mad experience, which we have never experienced anywhere in the world.

Guided Tour to Semuc Champey and Kan´ba Cave | Check Prices*

Backpacking Central America | A Perfect Itinerary for Guatemala, Belize & MexicoHotel Recommendation in Semuc Champey

If you want to stay in a beautiful hotel surrounded by nature and in walking distance to Semuc Champey we can highly recommend the Greengos Hotel*.

Greengos Hotel

  • Great Location surrounded by nature
  • Amazing Pool
  • Lots of hammocks to relax in the garden
  • Amazing food

Greengos Hotel in Semuc Champey | Check Prices*

Transportation from Semuc Champey to Flores
The journey by bus takes about 10 hours
Cost: approx. 14 € per person

#3 Flores | Peninsula in Lake Petén-Itzá

Flores was much more to us than just a place to stay or to visit the Mayan temples of Tikal. In the end, we were glad that we didn’t choose the much more expensive option of staying directly in Tikal. Because then we would have missed a lot.

Flores is a very small island in Lake Petén-Itzá and is only connected to the mainland and its sister city of Santa Elena by a long land bridge or causeway. Because the island is so small and surrounded by water, almost every hotel is also on the waterfront and offers great views of the lake.

Flores is really nice to look at with its cobblestone streets and nice little houses and it is worth to explore the island in 1-2 hours. Especially the center of the island with its church perched on the hill is much quieter than the outskirts with the many restaurants and bars. While strolling you can explore the numerous souvenir stores of the island and pay a visit to the only larger supermarket (which also has an ATM).

Flores Guatemala mit der Drohne

Rent a Kayak

You can rent a kayak for free at one of the many hotels or restaurants on the island. You have circumnavigated the island very quickly and can also go to the beach (Playa San Miguel) on the opposite side or to one of our highlights of Flores: The Rope Swing of Jorge.

Ride by cab boat to Jorge’s Rope Swing

We discovered this activity on Flores just by chance. Jorge’s Rope Swing is a small bar on the opposite side of the lake. You can get a water cab to take you over for small money and it’s best to make a time for the pickup right away. At the bar you have to pay an entrance fee of 10 quetzales, but then you are allowed to use the ropes that are attached to the trees there to swing into the water.

Not only does this sound like a to of fun, it is. When we were there, there were only two other girls on site, so we had everything almost to ourselves. Not only is it a great place to swim. Jorge also offers delicious food and tortilla chips with guacamole. We spent a great afternoon there. Learn more about Jorge’s Rope Swing here Tripadvisor

Hotel Recommendation in Flores

Backpacking Central America | A Perfect Itinerary for Guatemala, Belize & MexicoThe Hotel Casona de La Isla* is a great place to stay in Flores. You are rights at the lake and everything is well organized.

Hotel Casona de La Isla

  • Great Location with lake view
  • Amazing Pool
  • Offers Daytrips to Tikal
  • Tasty food
  • Good Air Conditioning

Hotel Casona de la Isla in Flores | Check Prices*

#4 The Mayan Site of Tikal

Tikal is one of the most important Maya sites in northern Guatemala and was inhabited by the Maya since 1000 BC. At the same time, it is also one of the best explored Maya sites and has been considered abandoned since the 10th century. Tikal is very well developed and can be easily reached by bus from nearby Flores.

Unfortunately for us, Tikal did not have the mystical jungle atmosphere we had imagined. Nevertheless, the numerous temples are very beautiful to look at. But it only takes a little imagination to imagine how an advanced civilization ruled here hundreds or almost thousands of years ago, and produced this wonderful architecture.

TIkal, Guatemala

Many of the temples in Tikal have not even been uncovered, but have lain dormant for centuries under a dense dress of bushes and trees. If you didn’t know that one of the most important Mayan sites is located here and you just happened to walk through this forest, you wouldn’t even recognize these green hills as temples. This is probably one of the reasons that Tikal remained undiscovered for so long.

All in all, we were of course impressed by the architectural masterpiece of the ancient Maya and also by the importance and history of Tikal. But, anyone who has been to Angkor in Cambodia, as I have, has probably seen more impressive temples. In Angkor I found the atmosphere much more intense and mystical. Maybe one reason was that on the day of our stay the Guatemala Triathlon passed through Tikal. Or the Mayan culture is just not for us. But that should not stop you from visiting this unique site.

Tour to Tikal in Guatemala | Check Prices*

Learn more about our Tikal visit in our travelogue:

Transportation from Flores to San Ignacio
By bus, cab and border crossing, the entire trip takes 3.5 hours. We have also written a separate article about this.
Cost: approx. 19 € per person

#5 San Ignacio | Relaxed Small Town

San Ignacio is the first major town in Belize when crossing the border from Guatemala. And it is a wonderful and easy introduction to the Caribbean country. The clocks really tick differently here and although San Ignacio doesn’t really have any major attractions, we felt very comfortable here. But San Ignacio is also a good place to go hiking in Belize.

Although San Ignacio has only 10,000 inhabitants, it is still the second largest city in Belize. Crazy! After the exhausting journey from Flores in Guatemala, we allowed ourselves a few days of rest and relaxation here.

Cahal Pech, San Ignacio, Belize
Cahal Pech, San Ignacio

Cahal Pech

The only major sight in San Ignacio is the Mayan site of Cahal Pech. You can even reach it by foot from the city center, but we would not recommend it from our own experience. It goes steeply uphill all the time. You can get a cab for 5 Belize dollars (about 2.50 €). Cahal Pech includes over 30 buildings in a total of 7 squares and was inhabited until 850 AD. The entrance fee is 10 BZD (5€) and once you are inside, you are almost alone with yourself and the Mayas.

The special thing about this site is not its size – the Mayan site is not really big – but its isolation. During our visit to Cahal Pech, we were completely alone and that conjures up a completely different atmosphere than, for example, in Tikal, even if the temples there are of course much larger. We found it great to walk around, take pictures and explore the secret passages, paths and temples.

Branch Mouth Park

We also walked from our hotel in San Ignacio, although the distance was actually much too far in the blazing midday sun. In addition, the path is also not so appealing. But the park, which is not a park in the real sense, is very beautiful and invites to splash around.

At this point, the Mopan River and the Macal River meet and together form the Belize River. In addition, there is a magnificent play of colors of the two differently colored rivers, which is most beautiful to see from my drone.

San Ignacio, Belize
Branch Mouth Park, San Ignacio

There’s no lawn or other amenities here, but you can lay your blanket by the river and stew in the sun for a bit. If you’re feeling quite adventurous, you can also jump into the water from the small suspension bridge that crosses the river.

Overnight stay San Ignacio
We slept at D’s Guest House* on a quiet side street on the edge of downtown with air conditioning and a shared kitchen. Cost for a double room: from 35 €

From San Ignacio to Placencia
By several buses in about 6 hours to Placencia. Read more about bus travel in Belize here.
Cost: approx. 8 € per person

#6 Placencia | Family Idyll on the Caribbean Coast

Placencia is a very relaxed village on a small peninsula in the south of Belize. We had been thinking for a while if we should go to Placencia at all. We didn’t know if it would be worth it. Also, our first look at the beach in Placencia rather shocked us a bit, as the beach was full of washed up seaweed piled up in heaps all over the beach.

Kleine Insel vor Placencia, Belize
Small island off Placencia, Belize

However, our initial negative opinion quickly turned into the opposite and we felt very comfortable in Placencia after all. Of course, this may have been due to the fabulous weather and our really cozy accommodation near the beach*. The village of Placencia stretches over a few kilometers at the tip of a 25 kilometer long peninsula and has on one side actually continuous sandy beach and on the other side mangrove forests and marinas.

Hotel Recommendation in Placencia

The Hotel Azure Del Mar* is a great place to stay in Placencia if you want to be right at the beach . You are rights at the lake and everything is well organized.

Hotel Azure Del Mar

  • Directly at the beach and sea
  • Amazing Pool area
  • Tasty food
  • Perfect for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking

Hotel Azure Del Mar in Placencia | Check Prices*

The Beach Sidewalk

Placencia’s visitors tend to be older (and families with children) and there are many fancy and also rather expensive beach hotels. The special thing about the hotels in Placencia is that most of them are not located directly on the street, but a bit off the road.

The hotels are connected by a so-called sidewalk, a small asphalt path that is reserved for pedestrians. On this sidewalk you can stroll from beach section to beach section and from one souvenir shop to the next. And all this without street noise or the fear of being run over.

The Beach in Placencia

The sandy beach in Placencia has, like many beaches in Belize (e.g. on Caye Caulker), to fight with sea grass. This does not only look unattractive, but also spoils the bathing fun. But something is being done about it. The sea grass is regularly swept up and cleared from the beach by tractor. Otherwise, the beach is very beautiful and is completely public.

Although almost every hotel has a private beach section, but this is always located a little further back on the beach, so that you can walk the entire beach without stepping on private property. The sand in Placencia is not as fine as on other beaches and also the waves are a bit rougher. The water is turquoise blue and wonderfully clear. If you want calm water without waves, but with more people, you have to walk to the small harbor at the end of the peninsula.

There is hardly any swell and during our visit only a few more tourists than at the other sections. Alternatively, you can also book an excursion with a catamaran. You have the opportunity to discover small, paradisiacal islands off Placencia, as well as the spectacular underwater world while snorkeling.

Read our detailed travel report about Placencia here:

 From Placencia to Caye Caulker
First by bus within 5.5 hours to Belize City. Then by Belize Watertaxi in about 30 minutes to Caye Caulker.
Cost: approx. 19 € per person

#7 Caye Caulker | Backpacker Island without a Beach

If you are a backpacker in Belize, you will almost inevitably end up on the island of Caye Caulker, which is located in the Caribbean Sea off Belize. Caye Caulker is considered the backpacker’s paradise and has some highlights and sights to offer on land and also on water. We were there for a few days and were really surprised at first that Caye Caulker really has no beach.

Is there a Real Beach on Caye Caulker?

No. Unfortunately there is not. Caye Caulker is not the typical Caribbean island with palm trees on a soft sandy beach. If you are looking for something like that, then you should rather go to Caye Ambergris, because there you will find the most beautiful beach of Belize in our opinion.

Caye Caulker per Drohne
Caye Caulker by drone

There is sand on the island, of course. Actually, everywhere. All the roads are full of it. This also leads to the nice fact that when it rains, the puddles on the island are not dirty brown, but rather beige. Just because of the sand.

But the beaches that exist on the island are either:

  • full of seaweed
  • not safe due to heavy boat traffic
  • too small to really call them a beach
  • or they have no direct access to the water (like at The Split)

Therefore, you should not go to Caye Caulker if you want to spend a typical beach vacation. You won’t have that. But there is one kind of beach.

The Split

This is probably the most famous… well, what actually? It is not a beach. There is sand, but it is not a typical beach that leads shallowly into the water. To get into the water you always have to climb down a ladder or stairs. Nevertheless, it is totally cool there.

The split is located at the north end of (the tourist part of) Caye Caulker and separates the island from the northern part, which is not developed for tourism. The split between the two parts of the island is said to have been created by a hurricane in the sixties. Theoretically you can swim through this split, but you should be careful. On the one hand because of the strong current and on the other hand because of the many boats that pass through this gap between the islands.

Drohne auf Caye Caulker

The area around the split actually belongs to a bar, the Lady Lizard. So if you want to use the many loungers, tables and the big diving tower, you would actually have to buy something at the Lady Lizard. But nobody really cares about that. We were able to lay there in the sun all day without having to buy anything.

Explore the Underwater World

The best thing to do on Caye Caulker is definitely exploring the underwater world. Around the island are several reefs that you can explore as well as places where are a lot of sharks. You should go a book a snorkel tour at Caye Caulker* to visit the best snorkel spots.

Go on a Snorkel Tour around Caye Caulker | Check Prices*

Accommodation on Caye Caulker

The Sea Dreams Hotel* is a small oasis directly on the Split on Caye Caulker. Here you can expect your own dock, a great terrace, really good breakfast and just a totally cozy atmosphere.

Sea Dreams Hotel

  • Great location with sea view
  • bikes, kayaks and SUPs for rent
  • Comfortable rooms
  • Delicious food
  • Good air condition

Sea Dreams Hotel auf Caye Caulker | Preise prüfen*

Overnight stay Caye Caulker
We spent the night at the Caye Caulker Beach Hotel*. There is no window in the room (which is not so bad) but air conditioning and a roof terrace.
Cost for a double room: from 50 €

From Caye Caulker to Ambergris Caye Belize Watertaxi took us to Ambergris Caye in about 30 minutes. Cost: approx. 9 € per person

#8 Ambergris Caye | Caribbean Island with Dream Beach

Caye Ambergris in Belize has, on the one hand, a beautiful side with the Secret Beach and the offshore coral reefs. On the other hand, the main town of Ambergris, San Pedro, is less beautiful. It stinks of exhaust fumes, everywhere you can hear the rattle of golf carts and it feels like everything is even more expensive than in the rest of Belize.

Nevertheless, we find the island very worth seeing and do not regret having been there. San Pedro is the bustling center of Caye Ambergris. In fact, it is a small town where many cars and especially golf carts drive through the area. Accordingly, the main streets in the town are crowded, noisy and stuffy.

If you want to stay in a central but quiet location in San Pedro, we recommend you to stay on the side of the lagoon. From here you are in a few minutes in the middle of the action between stores, supermarkets and restaurants and at the same time it is quiet and relaxed on the lagoon side.

Secret Beach auf Caye Ambergris
Secret Beach on Caye Ambergris

We had read before that Caye Ambergris is much louder and busier than Caye Caulker and that there are much more parties here than on the sister island. We can’t really confirm that. Also on Caye Caulker we have seen many party-seeking young people and found it not much less bustling. Sure, on Caye Ambergris there are real streets and many cars. You don’t have that on Caye Caulker. But if you live on the right side of the island or are outside the town center, we found it almost as relaxing and laid back as Caye Caulker.

The Secret Beach on Caye Ambergris

But our biggest highlight of Caye Ambergris was a very special beach, the Secret Beach. From what we read in advance, we were not that impressed by Secret Beach. Quite far away from San Pedro and also quite crowded it should be. But when we went there the first time we were totally flashed! This was really the most beautiful beach we had seen in Belize so far.

The Secret Beach is not really long or wide. But the water is so turquoise blue and crystal clear that you can’t even see on photos that there really is water there. You can see right down to the bottom. We also saw many fish under the jetties and also corals there while snorkeling.

It was totally amazing. Right when you go into the water you see many small garfish (needle fish) and other fish. And under the jetties leading into the water you see thousands and thousands of other fish of all sizes and colors. We never thought we would see so many cool things right on the beach. But also the beach itself and the atmosphere was totally beautiful. Of course, it is quietest if you are there early in the morning.

We were there at 9am and had the beach almost to ourselves. Around 10 o’clock, the beach slowly fills up and becomes quite crowded around lunchtime. But the atmosphere still remains totally relaxed and serene. We felt super comfortable there and didn’t want to leave. We would even say that the Secret Beach on Caye Ambergris was the most beautiful beach on our whole trip through Central America!

Caye Ambergris Sunset Hotel PoolHotel Recommendation on Caye Ambergris

The Ambergris Sunset Hotel* is a small hotel at the lagoon of San Pedro. You stay in a quiet area of San Pedro and can still walk into the center. An as the name of the hotel says you can see beautiful sunsets from the rooftop terrace.

Ambergris SunsetHotel

  • Rooftop terrace with lagoon view and amazing sunsets
  • comfortable rooms
  • Nice, little pool area

Ambergris Sunset Hotel | Check Availability*

Read more about Caye Ambergris and the Secret Beach in our travel report:

 From Ambergris Caye to Bacalar
By Belizewatertaxi to Chetumal. From there by cab to Bacalar. Duration in total about 3.5 hours
Costs: The boat to Chetumal costs 55 USD. The cab about 10-15 € per person.

#9 Bacalar | The Lagoon of the Seven Colors

Bacalar was the first stop on our itinerary through the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and was more due to the fact that we didn’t want to drive that far after crossing the border from Belize. Most other tourists in Mexico immediately continue to Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cancun. But we didn’t feel like sitting in the bus for that long, so we chose Bacalar, a small town with a big sight: the Seven Colors Lagoon of Bacalar.

We found Bacalar on our trip to be a super introduction to a round trip of southern Mexico, as the town is quite quiet and relaxed and yet has a huge highlight to offer. A beautiful lagoon that shimmers in the most dazzling shades of blue and invites you to swim and take a boat ride.

Lagune Bacalar, Drohne

The Lagoon of Seven Colors

The Bacalar Lagoon was formed by the union of a total of 7 cenotes and is actually a lake and not a lagoon at all. The lagoon is one of the few bodies of water on the Yucatan Peninsula and is also called Lagunade los Siete Colores (Lagoon of Seven Colors) because it is said to shimmer in a total of 7 shades of blue. You can’t quite make out the 7 different shades of blue, of course, but in any case they are great colors and you can definitely make out 2-3 shades of blue. The water has a really nice turquoise blue and is crystal clear.

One of the best things to do in Bacalar is a boat trip. To sail along the beautiful blue waters* is just amazing and was one of the highlights we did in Bacalar. You should definitely not miss this adventure.

Private Catamaran Tour in Bacalar | Check Prices*

Lagune Bacalar
Bacalar lagoon

Bacalar Lagoon is connected to Mariscal Lagoon by a small channel (El Canal De Los Piratas Bacalar). At the point where the pirate canal meets the lagoon of Bacalar, the turquoise blue color play looks particularly beautiful. We can definitely recommend Bacalar. Considering all the loud and crowded tourist hotspots on the Yucatan Peninsula, Bacalar is a welcome change. The town is super laid back and the lagoon is just impressive and beautiful.

If you want to read more about Bacalar, check out our separate trip report:

Overnight stay Bacalar
We spent the night away from the city center at the Hotelito K’uyche’*.
Cost for a double room: from 25 €

From Bacalar to Tulum
By ADO bus we went to Tulum in about 2.5 hours.
Cost: about 10-15 € per person

#10 Tulum | Tourist Metropolis at the Riviera Maya

Tulum is a relatively small and touristy town on Mexico’s Rivera Maya. The town is just under 2 hours from its big brother Cancun and about an hour from Playa del Carmen. Tulum is located on the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea and has many great beaches to offer, but they all suffer from the massive algae plague (Sargassum) that has been going on for over a year almost everywhere in the Caribbean. This makes the beaches in Tulum unswimmable at the moment.

There are tons of algae on the beaches and also the sea is covered with a wide carpet of algae on the shore. Relaxed swimming or sunbathing on the beach is actually out of the question. This is a pity, because the beaches in Tulum are otherwise really fantastic.

Tulum Maya Ruine, Mexiko
Tulum Mayan Ruins, Mexico

The Mayan Ruins

Another highlight and perhaps the biggest sight in Tulum are the Mayan ruins. These are located directly on the sea and are visited daily by thousands of tourists. We did not visit the ruins, but just flew over them with our drone. We found the ruins not so exhilarating during our research and therefore limited ourselves to a few aerial photos. You don’t always have to go in everywhere.

Gran Cenote in Tulum

The many cenotes are one of the special features of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Gran Cenote near Tulum is not completely inside a cave, like many cenotes in Valladolid. It is relatively open and also very crowded if you are not here early in the morning. The tourist buses start arriving at about 10:30 am. Before that time it is quiet and you can use this time well to explore the cenote and take photos. But the special feature here is that there are two entrances to the cenote and they are connected by an underground cave. In addition, turtles swim around everywhere and this partly directly between the tourists.

Gran Cenote in Tulum
Gran Cenote in Tulum

So you can swim or snorkel through the crystal clear water of the cenote next to numerous turtles. A wonderful experience. You should therefore take your snorkel mask with you or rent one on site. The Gran Cenote also has its own sunbathing area.

So far, no other cenote we visited in Mexico had this. So you can’t just swim in the cenote, take a few pictures and then have to drive back. You can spend the whole day there, soaking in the sun, and if you sweat too much, hop back into the cenote for a quick cool down.

Read more about Tulum and the Gran Cenote in our separate trip report here:

Overnight stay Tulum
We spent the night at the Vanilla Apartments* just outside of Tulum.
Cost for a double room: from 50 €

From Tulum to Isla Mujeres
By ADO bus we went to Cancun in about 2 hours. From there by bus to the ferry terminal and by ferry (20 min.) to the island Isla Mujeres.
Cost: approx. 8 € per person

#11 Isla Mujeres | Overcrowded Island off Cancun

The fact that Isla Mujeres is only 15 minutes by boat from famous resort Cancun* is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing, because it’s a snap to get from crowded Cancun to Isla Mujeres and hope for your island dream. Curse, because Isla Mujeres is no longer an insider tip, but every Cancun vacationer takes at least a day trip to the island. The island of the women is really very beautiful and has paradisiacal beaches, but due to the sheer crowds we did not really feel comfortable on Isla Mujeres.

Round Trip to Isla Mujeres | Check Prices*

Playa Norte

Playa Norte is the main beach on Isla Mujeres. The beach covers the entire northern part of the island and is within walking distance of downtown (the city center). The sand is super fine and the water is crystal clear. Palm trees line the beach and everything could be so paradise-like. Could be… if it weren’t for all the other people.

It is really crowded on the beach and especially in front of the hotels one sunbed follows the next. Directly in front of the coast hundreds of sailing and sport boats anchor and spoil the view. Just because of the crowds we really could not feel comfortable there. We found it simply much too crowded.

Isla Mujeres, Playa Norte
Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

Punta Sur

This is the southernmost point of the island and costs 30 Pesos entrance fee (about 1.50 Euro). For just under 100 Pesos (about 4.50 Euro) you can take a cab from downtown. Punta Sur is the most southeastern point of Mexico and with its 20 meters above sea level also the highest point of the whole Yucatan.

You will find rugged cliffs and endless views of the sea to the horizon. You can also find a small Mayan site there, but it is not worth mentioning. But what we found coolest were the cliffs and the waves that constantly crash against them. The sea here has a wonderful turquoise blue and you can hike around the cliffs on several paths above or just above sea level.

Read more about Isla Mujeres in our separate trip report:

Overnight stay Isla Mujeres
We spent the night a little outside of downtown at the Hotel Suites Lorenz*.
Cost for an apartment: from 40 €

From Isla Mujeres to Valladolid
By ferry we went back to Cancun. Then by local bus to the bus terminal and by ADO bus to Valladolid. Takes a total of about 3.5 hours.
Cost: approx. 20 € per person

#12 Valladolid | A City full of Cenotes

Valladolid was our favorite city on our Yucatan round trip. This is how we imagined a small Mexican town. Colorful houses, colonial buildings, relaxed atmosphere and a green main square in the center of town. After our negative experience on the supposedly quiet Isla Mujeres the days before, we could relax in Valladolid and enjoy strolling through the beautiful city.

Hubiku Cenote, Valladolid

However, most people will come to the city not only because of the beautiful atmosphere, but on the one hand because of the Mayan site Chichen Itza and on the other hand because of the many beautiful cenotes that exist in and around Valladolid. We imagined Valladolid as a typical Mexican small town and found it exactly the same. The atmosphere of the city reminded us a bit of Bacalar, in the south of Mexico. No comparison to the chaos, traffic and tourists we found in Cancun or Isla Mujeres.

Valladolid is just under 150 km from Cancun and yet it is a completely different world. Sure, it is touristy and there are many souvenir stores in the city center, but this is in a very bearable extent and so that it is fun to explore the city. There are many beautiful cenotes very close to Valladolid and it is probably not possible to visit all of them even during a stay of several days in Valladolid.

But we think you don’t have to. We have researched most of the cenotes nearby and many look quite similar. Again, some are not that spectacular, so the entrance fee, which is usually around 100 MXN (5€) per person, is not worth it in our opinion.

Which cenotes we recommend and how to get there, you can read in our own travelogue to Valladolid:

Overnight stay Valladolid
We spent the night within walking distance of the bus station at the Quinta Marciala Hotel Boutique*.
Cost for a double room: from 25 €

From Valladolid to Cancun
By bus we went back to Cancun. From there we flew to our next destination: Colombia.
Cost: about 12 € per person for the bus. The flight is of course extra 😉

Backpacking Central America: Conclusion & Tips

Travel Tips & Conclusion about Guatemala

Before our trip through Central America we hardly knew anything about Guatemala. All the more surprised we were, which sights and highlights beautiful Guatemala would give us on our backpacking trip through the country. Colorful colonial cities, dense jungle, ancient Mayan temples and lots of volcanoes to discover. In addition, Guatemala is still damn cheap to travel. The prices are much lower than in the surrounding countries of Central America (e.g. Costa Rica) and you can travel with the tourist shuttles very easily and cheaply through the country.

Scenically, the country also has a lot to offer and accordingly we were thrilled by Guatemala. Here everything is somehow more pristine and natural. And the Mayan culture comes into its own here. We felt very comfortable and were simply fascinated by the nature and landscapes. If we had to recommend only one country from the three presented, then it would probably be Guatemala.

The most important information about Guatemala in short

In Guatemala, the means of transportation are the very famous chicken buses, discarded American school buses, colorfully lit and often with loud music curving through the cities. However, since tourist shuttles are also very cheap and comfortable to use in Guatemala, we only used them during our round trip. You can book them in every city at the numerous travel agencies and we never had any problems. Sometimes we even had a small TV in the bus.
In Guatemala you pay with the Guatemalan Quetzal. The quetzal is also the national bird of Costa Rica, but that’s just by the way. 1 Quetzal corresponds to about 0.11 €.
For Guatemala you do not need a visa if you have a German passport. you are allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. There is also no entry or exit fee.
Guatemala is generally a safe country to travel. If you stay only in the tourist areas and follow the known rules for tourists (do not walk through dark alleys at night, do not openly display valuables, etc.) then you should have no problems in Guatemala. In case of a robbery, don’t play the hero, but hand over your valuables and stay calm.
As in all countries in Central America, Guatemala has a dry and a rainy season. The dry season lasts from November to May. This is also the best time to travel. The rainy season stretches from May to October with a short dry period between mid-July and mid-August. This is therefore also a very good time to travel through Guatemala

Travel Tips & Conclusion about Belize

We really liked the caribbean vibe of Belize. Very different from Mexico and Guatemala. The “easy vibe” and openness to mind-altering substances (“Don’t be shy to get high”) create quite a pleasant atmosphere here. You can get along great with English and the sea is of course incredibly clear and beautiful. You can’t usually enjoy it from great beaches, but diving and snorkeling are a dream here.

The most important information about Belize in brief

In Belize, as in Guatemala, there are chicken buses, but here they are less colorful and less dangerous. They are actually used by all the locals. There are also regular bus terminals in the cities here where you can buy tickets. But you can also stop a bus on the way and get on. Tourist shuttles do not exist here at all. Cabs are also available in the cities, but they are often very old and anything but safe.
You pay with the Belize Dollar (BZD), which is pegged to the US Dollar at a ratio of 1 to 2, so you pretty much get 2 Belize Dollars for 1 Euro. This makes it very easy to convert in your head when paying. With the US dollar you can pay just as well. It is accepted everywhere as a means of payment and sometimes you even get change in USD if you have paid with Belize dollars.
For Belize you don’t need a visa if you have a German passport. You are allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. You have to pay an exit fee of 20 USD, no matter if you leave by boat or plane. You do not have to pay anything when entering the country.
Belize is a safe country to travel. If you stay only in the tourist areas and follow the known rules for tourists (do not walk through dark alleys at night, do not openly display valuables, etc.) then you should have no problems in Belize. In case of a robbery, don’t play the hero, but hand over your valuables and stay calm.
Like all countries in Central America, tropical and humid Belize has a dry and a rainy season. The dry season lasts from December to May. This is also the best time to travel. The rainy season is from June to November and hurricanes can occur between August and October.

Travel Tips & Conclusion Mexico (Yucatan)

We found the state of Yucatan in Mexico mostly too touristy. Of course there were also quiet and original places, like Valladolid, but the area around Cancun was really too much for us.

The most important info about Mexico in a nutshell

Mexico has a very well-developed network of long-distance buses. The largest provider is ADO. Tickets can be purchased online, via an app and directly at the bus terminals. Since things are a bit more “civilized” here than in Belize, for example, it is not possible to stop on the way to get on. This is only possible at the official terminals.

Mexico has the Mexican Peso (MXN) as currency. However, US dollars are also accepted everywhere.
For Mexico you do not need a visa if you have a German passport. You are allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. There is an entry fee in Mexico of currently just under 500 MXN (about 23 €). There are no separate fees to pay when leaving the country. Exit stamp The passport must be stamped separately when leaving the country at the migration office. This was done for us at Cancun Airport in a separate office in the airport terminal. There we had to run (after check-in) first and queue. It took forever. So keep that in mind when you leave the country!
If you stay in the tourist areas of Mexico, then you should have no problems. We never got into a dicey situation. You should of course be careful and avoid dark corners and don’t show your expensive camera or jewelry everywhere. Mexico is still a poor country for the most part and there is a strong wealth gap with most tourists. In case of a robbery, do not resist, but give everything away. Your health should be worth it.
As in all countries in Central America, Mexico has a dry and a rainy season. The dry season lasts from December to April. This is also the best time to travel. The rainy season is from May to October. Between June and November is officially hurricane season in Mexico.

Did you like our Central America Backpacking post or have any questions about our Guatemala, Belize and Mexico travelogue? Then feel free to write us a comment!

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