50 Days in Quintana Roo: What I Thought of Mexico’s Most Touristic State — and My Favorite Things to Do

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Quintana Roo: it’s probably the most well-known and highly-touristed state in Mexico, and brings to mind all-inclusive resorts, powdery beaches, and turquoise water. That is — unless you dive under the surface. (No pun intended.)

After spending most of February in Puebla, Veracruz, and Chiapas (San Cristóbal de las Casas and Palenque), I decided to venture east to see what “QRoo” had to offer. I spent a month in Tulum, a week in Playa del Carmen, and 4-5 days each in Bacalar, Holbox, and Puerto Morelos. Let’s count it down!

Note: It (should) go without saying that opinions expressed are personal, individual, and not objective. Visit and make your own decisions.

Guide to Quintana Roo: Where to go on the beach in Mexico

5. Tulum: Is Tulum worth the $ (and hype)?

No offense to Tulum, but after a month living there… it was not my favorite. While I had a lot of fun and made some incredible connections, I do not feel Tulum is livable in the long-term: and how I measure livability is, among other considerations: cost of living, navigability, and amenities (things to do and also, the ease of doing the things). And Tulum to me ranked low in most of these categories. 

Negatives of Tulum: While (obviously), your lifestyle choices will impact your spending, there are things to me in Tulum that cost much more than they should — for example, it’s oft-quoted that Tulum has the most expensive taxis in North America (even more so than Manhattan); and I firsthand observed people pay a $3,000MXN cover ($167USD!) to see a DJ play at a beach club. Parking at the beach was expensive, drinks were outrageous, the beach was often overrun with seaweed, and more… I recognize that amazing experiences will cost you, but I draw the line at value — and in too many cases, I saw that the value was not aligned with the price.

While part of Tulum’s original draw was that it was a mecca for spiritualism and healing, I believe Tulum has been stained by Western greed and mestizo (Mexican and indigenous) resentment. Yes, I said it — don’t shoot the messenger.

Pluses of Tulum: The wide availability and variety of excellent, fresh vegetarian and veggie-forward dining options. For someone who once in a while can find Mexican food monotonous — I appreciated this about Tulum!

My best finds in Tulum: where to eat and where to stay

I stayed at a rental in the area of Aldea Zama, next to town, during my time in Tulum. To get around Tulum between the town and the beach (hotel zone), you need wheels (and I’d avoid the taxis if I were you). I suggest renting a scooter if you don’t have a car!

4. Bacalar, a hot new vacation spot

I had heard people rave about Bacalar, and it was only until after I left that I really understand why — because it’s better than Tulum! But by itself, especially since I’ve traveled A LOT across two-thirds of Mexico… I was not overly blown away by Bacalar. 

That’s not to say that the lake of seven colors wasn’t beautiful, because it was. I was just unimpressed because it was largely not very dog-friendly (in terms of water activities), which made it difficult for a dog mom and her pup to fully enjoy. Not only that, but the town was fairly sleepy (read: not much nightlife or things to do I could find), and I had hoped to make some friends. 

I really do think my time in Bacalar was a classic case of expectations vs. reality. Now that I’ve spent so much time in QRoo, coming back, I would probably see Bacalar in a different light — especially if I were with friends.

My best finds in Bacalar: where to eat and where to stay

3. Sophisticated and trendy Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, just “Playa” for short, is a comparatively big city, home to a lot of expats and digital nomads, and a big vacation spot for both Americans and Europeans. And as long as you know what you’re getting into (it’s a little like Mexican Vegas), I think you’ll have a good time!

It is probably slightly more affordable than Tulum, and has easier access to the beach and other areas of interest.

My best finds in Playa del Carmen: where to eat and where to stay

  • Happenin’ pedestrian street “La Quinta Avenida” is the place to shop, eat, and people watch
  • Playa also has a great selection of healthy and vegetarian options. I liked Peace & Bowl
  • For the best food (and most international options), traverse Calle 38 Norte… I relished LaBrioche de Playa for breakfast and French pastries, and Mae Thai for dinner
  • I recommend you stay at Thompson Beach House, of course! I had a wonderful stay. Read about my experience on Instagram
  • If you only do one more thing in Playa (besides walk La Quinta Avenida) this is it: go to Xel-Há Park! Learn more about one of the world’s greatest nature parks, offering ziplines, coral reefs, jungle trails, caves, and cenotes. I recommend the All-Inclusive Admission Ticket which includes a buffet and unlimited drinks

2. Puerto Morelos, the most Mexican town in Quintana Roo

Puerto Morelos, sandwiched between Cancun and Playa, is a smaller and slower-paced spot on the Riviera Maya — and I think it lives up to its title of the most “Mexican” town in the Riviera Maya!

Puerto Morelos is known for the Puerto Morelos Reef National Park, part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef — and I can attest to the gorgeous coral, numerous and multicolored fish, and lovely temperate and clear water. Inland is the Ruta de los Cenotes, a road headed inland that’s positively dotted with a number of cenotes (but many are on the more expensive side compared to elsewhere in the Yucatán, when it comes to the cost of admission).

I really enjoyed Puerto Morelos — dining out is fairly affordable (compared to its more-touristic neighbors), and there was plenty going on both during the day and in the evenings. The only flaw was that the beach on the national park was not dog-friendly. Fortunately, we learned of a “wild beach” a little bit south from some locals, so Penny still got some playtime in!

My best finds in Puerto Morelos: where to eat and where to stay

  • No visit to Puerto Morelos is complete without snorkeling in the coral. This is the tour I took, and it was probably the best snorkeling I’ve ever done — so many multicolored fish and the coral was beautiful!
  • I had some great food in Puerto Morelos. My Instagram post says it all!
  • If you’re fancying total relaxation at an all-inclusive, Dreams Jade Resort & Spa is lovely AND pet-friendly

1. And my number one spot goes to Isla Holbox: My FAVORITE place!

Ok, so everybody raved to me about Holbox too… but Holbox was WORTH. THE. HYPE.

One, the beach: the sand, the water, the depth — perfect.

Two: the liveliness of the town, and the fun people Holbox attracted. I met two Australians, a Czech living in Spain, a German and a Dutch woman (and actually, as I write this, I just realized I didn’t meet any Americans. Hmm!), and obviously, Mexicans — and everyone was sociable, which was a contrast to my experience in Bacalar. I think Holbox is a FANTASTIC destination for solo travelers, and I don’t award that designation lightly!

The only thing that I didn’t like about Holbox was the dryness and the blowing sand. Every time I left my hotel to walk around the town I was covered in a fine layer of sand. It’s a small thing, but it meant I always felt like taking a shower! Also, Holbox was a tiny bit pricier than the mainland, probably due to tourism and the fact it’s an island (and supplies must be ferried in).

My best finds in Holbox: where to eat and where to stay

Honorable mention: Mahahual

I didn’t spend a night in Mahahual (so I don’t think it’s fair to rank it), but I found Mahahual, between Bacalar and Tulum, completely charming. I went on a walk there, and played fetch with Penny in the beautiful turquoise waters. I think it would be a tranquil place to unplug for a few days!

Read more about my travels in Mexico, and note, I have yet to visit other popular spots Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, or Akumal — if you’ve been, let my readers know what you think and why in a comment below!

And P.S., while I may have left Quintana Roo, I’m still in Mexico (I’m a resident now, ya know!). Stay tuned for more adventures in the states of Yucatan, Campeche and beyond! ❤️😘 

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2 thoughts on “50 Days in Quintana Roo: What I Thought of Mexico’s Most Touristic State — and My Favorite Things to Do

  1. This looks like SO MUCH FUN. Thanks for heads up about Tulum – I was thinking of going there (and I still might!) but I’m not sure it will be what I want it to be, if that makes sense. Playa del Carmen may be more up my alley.

    And you are a REALLY good singer! I’m so glad you posted a link to that playlist of you singing. It looks like a lot of fun (and semi nerve-wracking, haha) and your voice is amazing!

    1. Awwwww, thank you so much!! I had so much fun performing!!

      Yes, I definitely think it’s important to remember that my POV is through my own lens, which is not divorced from everything else that’s going on in my life, internally and externally… and I firmly believe that everybody should come to their own conclusions. But hopefully my recap is helpful as one source out of many!

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