For centuries, getting to the Yucatán Peninsula required a major sea voyage to one of the few ports on the Gulf of Mexico, only to be followed by harrowing and uncertain land treks limited to mule trains and narrow paths through the tangled jungle. Today, the peninsula is easily accessible. Visitors arrive every day via modern airports, a network of good highways, excellent bus service, or by cruise ship. From just about anywhere in the world, the Yucatán is only hours away.
The main international airports on the Yucatán Peninsula are in Cancún and Mérida. The Cancún airport is by far the busiest, with dozens of daily domestic and international flights. There are smaller airports in Cozumel and Chetumal, and another is reportedly being built in Tulum, though it remains far from completion. There also is an airport near Chichén Itzá, but currently it only receives chartered flights.
Most travelers use the Cancún airport—it’s well located for those vacationing in the Caribbean as well as for those traveling inland. Fares typically are cheaper to Cancún than to any other airport in the region.
Travelers who are planning to spend their entire time at the inland archaeological zones often choose to fly to Mérida instead—the city itself is an important destination, and it’s close to many of the area’s key sights and ruins.
Similarly, many travelers who only will be visiting Isla Cozumel fly directly there—it’s often more expensive than landing in Cancún but avoids the time and hassle of traveling from the mainland to the island (more time to dive and to enjoy the island!).
The airport in Chetumal is typically used for domestic travel. However, for travelers planning to spend most of their time on the Costa Maya, it may be more convenient.
There is a US$48 departure tax to fly out of Mexico—most airlines incorporate the tax into their tickets, but it’s worth setting aside some cash just in case.
The Yucatán’s main interstate bus hubs are Mérida and Cancún, with service to and from Mexico City, Veracruz, Oaxaca, and other major destinations in the country. There also are buses between Chetumal and cities in Belize and Guatemala.
Foreigners driving into Mexico are required to show a valid driver’s license, title, registration, and proof of insurance for their vehicle. Mexican authorities do not recognize foreign-issued insurance; Mexican vehicle insurance is available at most border towns 24 hours a day, and several companies also sell policies over the Internet. Do not cross the border with your car until you have obtained the proper papers.
By Cruise Ship
Increasing numbers of cruise ships stop along Mexico’s Caribbean coast every year, some carrying as many as 5,000 people. Many sail out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, stopping at Key West before continuing to Punta Venado (Riviera Maya), Isla Cozumel, and Mahahual.
Prices are competitive, and ships vary in services, amenities, activities, and entertainment. Pools, restaurants, nightclubs, and cinemas are commonplace. Fitness centers and shops also make ship life convenient. To hone in on the type of cruise you’d like to go on, research options on the Internet, in the travel section of your local newspaper, and by contacting your travel agent.
If your budget is tight, consider traveling standby. Ships want to sail full and are willing to cut their prices—sometimes up to 50 percent—to do so. Airfare usually is not included. Note: Once you’re on the standby list, you likely will have no choice of cabin location or size.
Cancún is an important international hub, not only for tourists from North America and Europe but for regional flights to Central America and the Caribbean. In southern Quintana Roo, Chetumal is the gateway to Belize and there’s a direct bus to Flores, Guatemala. Most travel to Guatemala, however, is through Chiapas, from the towns of [node: 81272 link Palenque] and San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Travel agencies can book tours to Belize, Guatemala, and Cuba, though its relatively easy to arrange a trip yourself. Most travelers do not need prearranged visas to enter either Belize or Guatemala, but they may have to pay an entrance fee at the airport or border. Call the respective consulates for additional information.
Note: The U.S. government prohibits most ordinary travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens—technically, Americans without permits are not allowed to spend money in Cuba, and hefty fines against Americans traveling there are being levied. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of Americans travel to Cuba every year, a large share of them via Cancún.
Most Cancún travel agencies sell plane tickets to Cuba; Americans are issued a separate paper visa that Cuban officials stamp instead of their passport. Needless to say, most American travelers manage to lose that visa before getting onto a plane back to the United States. Remember you won’t be able to use any U.S.-based credit cards, debit cards, or travelers checks in Cuba—take plenty of cash, as Cuba can be shockingly expensive. Also, don’t count on any help from the U.S. State Department if you have problems.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition