DAY 1Jun 18 2018
Arrived at Cancun airport in the late afternoon. Cancun airport doesn't have an airport owned transportation system and transportation mainly takes place via (expensive) private shuttles and taxis. After some research I found that a bus company named ADO has a busline running from the airport to Cancun. It also said that the tickets sales booth and the buses itself were hard to find and would likely require some directions from airport staff.
I found the exact opposite. Knowing what to look for (ADO), I almost immediately bumped into their ticket sales booth. You pass it on your way out of the airport towards the buses and taxi's. The lady spoke good English, was very helpful getting me the right ticket, and clearly explained where I needed to go. Buses go about every 30 minutes. It drops you off at the ADO bus terminal in the center of Cancun. From there, you either walk, take a taxi or another city bus to get to where you need to be.
What I wish I had known before is that ADO doesn't just run buses from the airport to Cancun. It also runs buses from the airport to Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Merida (and probably more places).
DAY 3Jun 20 2018
After spending a full day in Cancun, it was time to go somewhere else. I chose to go to Valladolid, for its nearby cenotes. It is also a very small city surrounded by nature, which appeals way more to me.
Mexico's bus system is amazing. It has regular buses between cities and is very easy to navigate. ADO is the main company that runs 'long'-distance buses and is very convenient. However, their website is in Spanish only and you can only book online with a Mexican credit card. Booking beforehand for internationals can be done through OXXO, but I'm not sure how that works because I haven't done it. Easiest thing to do is to just show up at the bus station and buy your ticket from the ticket booth. I made sure I was there several hours before to get a ticket to the bus I wanted as I was told they sometimes sell out right before the bus leaves.
When I showed up at the bus station, I noticed that there are more bus companies. Mayab and Oriente also run buslines between cities, and they are far cheaper than ADO. ADO is a 1st class busline, while Mayab and Oriente are 2nd class. Information on the 2nd class buslines cannot be found online. They don't have a website or a way to book tickets online. The schedule can only be found at the bus station itself.
The lady at the ticket sales booth barely spoke English, but let me look at the screen with her and with hand gestures and pointing we managed to figure it out. I had the option to book the 10:45am 1st class ADO bus for 198MXD, or the 10:40am 2nd class Oriente bus for 125MXD. With the Oriente bus being significantly cheaper, I decided to go for it and see what happens.
There was no difference between a 1st class and a 2nd class bus. Both were big tour buses, very comfortable, lots of space, with A/C. I was told the 1st class bus has entertainment in the form of movies... but really, who needs that? The 2nd class bus was filled with locals. I was the only traveler and the only one storing a bag in the bag storage below.
The only difference between the ADO bus and the Oriente bus is that the ADO bus is a direct bus driving over a highway. The Oriente bus drives over a local (but good) road and makes several stops and thus takes longer (3 hours instead of 2). I wasn't in a rush, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the little villages and it's people.
Absolutely loved that I was able to figure out the 2nd class buses and gonna take them again if they are an option. It's cheaper and more adventurous. If you're not in a rush, I don't see why you wouldn't take them.
DAY 4Jun 21 2018
Valladolid is a city with bikes! Didn't see bikes in Cancun and haven't been in more of Mexico to see if bikes are a thing.. but in Valladolid, bikes are definitely a thing! There are lots of people on bikes, specified bike parking, plenty of bike rental places, and my hostel has bike to borrow as well. But... as a tall European woman, riding the bike was definitely a challenge.
I biked down to a cenote about 7 km away from where I'm staying, and it took me about 40 minutes. Feeling almost embarrassed, but you try biking on a bike with close to flat tires, that's the size of a (what I'm used to) 7 year old kids bike, in 33 C burning sun and humid weather.. safe to say, the cool water of the cenote was a blessing!
Love that this is the way to get around though! Makes being here and doing this just that much easier :)
DAY 5Jun 22 2018
Chichen Itza is of course one of the main reasons 'tourists' visit Mexico. Being one of the seven wonders of the world, it is one of the most touristy and exploited 'attractions' in Mexico. Tours are promoted everywhere and leave from many cities, including Cancun, Merida, Tulum, Playa del Carmen..
But you don't have to go on a tour to see Chichen Itza.. It is actually really easy to get to and explore by yourself. It has its own bus stop, and is directly connected to Valladolid, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Merida. I took the 2nd class Oriente bus from Valladolid and paid 66MXD (about €3) for the ticket there and back. At the bus terminal in Valladolid, the lady was very helpful getting me all the right information. The first bus leaves at 7:15 and they go every 30 minutes after that. It drops you off right at the entrance, you buy your entrance ticket and can walk around yourself until the park closes.
The return bus however, was not so clear. It only goes about once per hour, but doesn't really stick to a schedule. It just shows up (or not). There are a bunch of tour buses parked. At the end of the tour bus parking lot, there is a tiny green bus stop sign, next to a big tree. As I was lingering underneath the tree to see what would happen while eating a quick snack, some more people (international travelers) showed up and sat down underneath the tree. The first and second couple just looked completely lost and didn't know where to go either. The third group that showed up, sat down in confidence with a nice cold can of coke. I went up to ask them if they knew anything about the bus or bus schedules back to Valladolid, and to my surprise, they had found someone with good enough English to explain the system to them. The tree was indeed the waiting spot for the regular line buses. When a bus came someone would come up and announce where the bus was going. They also found out that the next bus to Valladolid (where they were going as well) was leaving in about 10 minutes.
And it all happened like they said. First, the bus to Merida passed. A guy showed up out of nowhere shouting 'Merida!' and people for Merida went on the bus. Only a few minutes later, the bus to Valladolid showed up as well, and we all got back timely and safely.
I paid 317MXD for the day, about €15. Instead of doing a €50 tour. Yes, it's more complicated and tricky and takes more time to figure out. Yes, it may not be as comfortable and simple. Yes, you may worry a little bit about whether or not you'll find your way back. But I find the freedom to choose when I'm doing what worth way more than comfort. I saw one tour group of which the people were literally wearing tags with numbers on them. Do you really want to be a number?