Quintana Roo, also called the Mexican Caribbean, is a state of Mexico that is part of the Yucatán Peninsula. Its shoreline along the Caribbean has grown in just a few decades into a major tourism destination. It includes large resort cities built for the Yanqui/Euro tropical vacation business, small communities with a more local Maya-Mexicano character, and fascinating ancient Maya archaeological sites.
Cancun is the largest and most famous destination of the Mexican Caribbean. It boasts hundreds of major beachfront resort hotels and draws visitors from around the world.
The Riviera Maya is a tourist corridor that goes from Puerto Morelos to Tulum. The Riviera Maya´s heart is Playa del Carmen, an eclectic and seductive city that mixes the Mexican flair with a Caribbean ambiance influenced for all possible cultures from all over the world.
The Costa Maya is south of Tulum to the border of Belize. It includes the state capital, Chetumal, the laid back scenic lagoon town of Bacalar, and the artificial atmosphere of cruise ship dock Mahahual.
- 1 Chetumal — hosts the Museum of Mayan Culture, and has several archeological sites nearby
- 2 Akumal — a small town with a spectacular bay, clear waters and underground rivers
- 3 Bacalar — an historic town with the beautiful lagoon of 7 colors
- 4 Cancún — beach tourism central
- 5 Mahahual (Majahual) — the next Playa del Carmen, a tourist development
- 6 Playa del Carmen — an eclectic and seductive Mexican city
- 7 Puerto Aventuras — a secluded, charming district
- 8 Puerto Morelos — a quiet fishing town
- 9 Xcalak — a remote village for great fishing and diving
Other destinations edit
Archaeological sites edit
- 1 Cobá – large ruined Maya city near Tulum
- 2 Tulum – impressive Maya archaeological site built in a cliff that faces the ocean
- 3 Kohunlich - large Maya archaeological site, much of it unexplored and unrestored, famous for its Temple of Masks
- 4 Dzibanche - Maya archaeological site that is thought to have been the seat of the Kan dynasty in the 5th and 6th centuries
Nature reserves edit
- 5 Sian Ka'an – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the biosphere reserve is an enormous area of coastal wetlands and tropical jungles
- 6 Cozumel – the largest island, it is a major scuba diving destination and a popular cruise ship port of call
- 7 Isla Contoy – an uninhabited small island and bird sanctuary
- 8 Isla Holbox – a tropical paradise away from the hustle and bustle of mega resorts
- 9 Isla Mujeres – small cozy retreat close to Cancún
This eastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula shares much history with the neighboring states of Yucatán and Campeche; a long Maya heritage and conquest by the Spanish in the 1500s. It was long part of the state of Yucatán. In the 1840s, however, local Maya people revolted against the Hispanic people who dominated politically and economically, starting what is called "the War of the Castes". With long battles the Maya succeeded in driving out the non-Maya from this area, and established their own government with the capital in Chan Santa Cruz, now the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. The Maya state was briefly recognized as an independent nation by the British Empire. An uneasy truce ended in the 1890s with a Mexican counter attack which succeeded in bring the area back under the Mexican flag in 1901. The area was then designated the Mexican Territory of Quintana Roo, named after Andrés Quintana Roo, a Yucatecan hero of the Mexican war of Independence in the early 19th century.
Comparatively sparsely populated and undeveloped, the territory of Quintana Roo did not achieve statehood until 1974, making it Mexico's youngest state. In the 1970s, Mexican developers realized the area's beautiful beaches, lush forests, and historic Maya ruins could make it a prime visitor destination if only infrastructure could be put in place. New highways were laid, new International Airports constructed at Cozumel and Cancun, and hotels were built. The tiny remote village of Cancun became a boom town, the first center of the new development of Quintana Roo, drawing a new population of workers and residents from other parts of Mexico.
Today Quintana Roo is popular with visitors with bustling tourism developments thriving while large areas of natural beauty remain unspoiled.
Get in edit
Highways link Quintana Roo to Yucatán.
By plane edit
Major international airports are Cancún International Airport (CUN IATA), Cozumel International Airport (CZM IATA), and Tulum International Airport (TQO IATA). Cancun International Airport is by far the largest, serving more than 30 million passengers per year. Chetumal has a small international airport (CTM IATA), but is primarily served by domestic flights to Mexico City (both AICM and AIFA). Tulum is a new airport, opened in December 2023 and is now the best option for travelers to Playa del Carmen and much of the Riviera Maya. Tulum is is served by domestic flights only, but international flights begin in 2024.
By bus edit
Bus service throughout Quintana Roo is excellent with many routes to cities in neighboring Yucatán. The main bus company is ADO. They have a station in downtown Cancun and in the Cancun International Airport, as well as Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and other cities and towns. Several second-class bus lines serve smaller towns and remote communities. Shared vans (combis) are common between some destinations (such as Tulum to Felipe Carrillo Puerto).
By train edit
Quintana Roo is a major focus area for the new Tren Maya intercity rail service. The railway's largest station is Cancún International Airport. Other stations in Quintana Roo will open in early 2024 include Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Tulum International Airport, Bacalar and Chetumal. Tickets and information about services are available on the official Tren Maya web site.
Get around edit
Quintana Roo, and Mexico in general has an excellent bus system. ADO (Autobuses del Oriente) is the largest carrier in the region. It provides first class bus service between major cities, sights and the airport. It is wise to use their app for buying and storing tickets, as you do not have to deal with buying them in person - when buying the ticket online, just show the QR from the app to the bus driver. Other bus companies in Quintana Roo include Caribe and Mayab.
Driving is a good way to get around because outside of Cancun, traffic is manageable, though sections of highway MEX-307 get congested and construction has been frequent in the early 2020s as the Mexican government works to significantly upgrade its infrastructure in tourism areas. On the island of Cozumel renting a motorbike is a fun, affordable way to see the island. Three-wheel motorcycle cabs called moto-taxis are used in some towns and on Isla Mujeres golf carts are commonly used as taxis. Taxis are generally safe throughout Quintana Roo and ride-hail apps like Uber are common, though arriving airline passengers should know that Uber and local taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers at the Cancun airport.
As of December 2023, Mexico has a modern, comfortable, affordable rail system throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. The Tren Maya (or Tsiímin K'aák if you prefer the Mayan name) has its main station at the Cancún International Airport with service along the Quintana Roo coast all the way to Chetumal. Initially, only the westward section towards Merida and Campeche is open for business, but stations in Tulum, Chetumal and the southern leg are scheduled to open in February 2024.
- Coral reefs - the Mesoamerican Reef is the second largest reef system in the world, it lies a few hundred meters offshore along the entire Quintana Roo coast. The reefs provide spectacular underwater scenery that draws scuba divers and snorklers from around the world. Reefs are a navigational hazard to shipping and several shipwrecks are among the most popular dive sites. The reef and its subsystems are protected natural areas that may impose special restrictions on visitors to the area. Dive tour operators can advise you of local rules but most sunscreen products are banned at reefs along the coast because they contain harmful chemicals that kill the living coral. Look for brands that are labeled as "reef safe". Reefs and protected marine environments include:
- Arrecife de Puerto Morelos National Park — reef system south of Cancun
- Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park — includes most of the popular dive sites near Cozumel island
- Arrecifes de Xcalak National Park — pristine, less visited dive sites near Mexico's southernmost Caribbean shore
- Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizuc National Park — long name, but it basically protects the offshore sites on the east side of Isla Mujeres, and the points at the top and bottom of Cancun's hotel zone.
- Aventuras Mayas — Offers jungle and ocean adventures, including zip lines, rappeling, snorkeling in tropical reefs and underground rivers, as well as visits to the archeological site of Tulum
- Garrafon. Garrafon Natural Reef Park is on charming Isla Mujeres, which is beautiful both in and out of the water. 35-minute cruise from Cancun.
- Swim with Dolphins — Swim with dolphins and enjoy this unforgettable and magic experience. Swimming with dolphins is everything you´ve imagined and more — and a chance to encounter these highly intelligent and friendly marine mammals which will fascinate and amaze you.
- Jeep Adventures. Your self-drive Jeep Adventure will take you on an amazing journey around Cancun and the surrounding areas and give you the chance to see parts of Mexico you wouldn't be able to see on your own. During your Jeep Adventure you will get to: Explore Mayan Ruins, visit a private jungle reserve, swim/snorkel in an underground cenote, experience an amazing interactive zoo, visit an authentic Mexican town, enjoy a buffet lunch on the beach, and many other activities all while under the guidance of a friendly, knowledgeable and humorous guide.
- Aqua Tours. Exciting water tour! Choose either a Jetski or two person Jetboat for a trip through the lagoon out to snorkel on the reef, their top tours are Jungle Tour and the Sailing Quest (Catamarans).
- The scuba diving and snorkeling around Isla Mujeres is unforgettable. The Manchones Reef begins just off of Isla's shore and the Cuevones and Banderas Reefs are close by. The waters are calm and clear — perfect for the beginner as well as the advanced diver.
- Lobster Dinner Cruise. Romantic night out. Both the guys and gals will enjoy this trip. Take a trip out on the calm lagoon on a beautiful boat with friends you have not met yet. The staff allow you to take part in the fun or settle back and watch the sunset. Steak and lobster is cooked on the boat and tastes so much better away from the city sounds
- Cenotes of the Yucatán
- Owing to the closeness to the Caribbean you can get a lot of seafood here
- Generally speaking most hotels and restaurants in places a tourist might conceivably pass through serve "internationalized" fare as well as more local food.
Beer is by far the most popular drink on Mexico's Caribbean coast and there are several small artesanal craft breweries in the state of Quintana Roo that can satisfy a traveler's taste for robust, full-flavored beers. New brewpubs open regularly and keeping a complete list up-to-date would be difficult, but here are a few of the local craft beers to start your beer-hunting journey:
- Cerveceria Tulum (in Tulum on MEX 307 at km 230) - mostly light-bodied ales including a golden ale, pale ale, and brown ale
- Cerveceria Akumal (in Playa del Carmen at Calle 38 y Av. 1) - hop-heads will enjoy the IPA and probably the American pale ale too, though their English robust porter is the maltiest and tastiest of the bunch
- Puerto Juarez Brewery (in Cancun at Puerto Juarez waterfront, Calle 51 #85) - Couple different IPAs, a lighter golden ale and a sour saison, seasonal offerings may vary
- Chela de Playa (in Playa del Carmen at E Nte. 17, Mundo Hábitat) - Microbrewery (not a brewpub) with hippie atmosphere and an assortment of ales, from IPA to a light poundable wheat beer
- La Obregón Cerveceria (in Chetumal at Av Álvaro Obregón entre 5 de Mayo y 16 de Septiembre) - lively brewpub with a local clientele that comes for the karaoke, always ask what's on tap because only the standard flagship brews are listed on the menu and there are always seasonal brews rotating on and off tap
The traditional beers of the entire Yucatan peninsula are Montejo and Leon, both brewed by Modelo in the Yucatan. Montejo is a basic light lager and Leon (also known as Negra Leon or Leon Negra) is an amber colored lager that Texans will find similar to Shiner Bock. Not exactly bold, but they don't offend mainstream drinkers.
There are three liquers that you'll find in Quintana Roo that you may not be able to find in any other state. All are worth trying if you run across them:
- Balche — unusual drink found only in the Yucatan, made from melipona honey and the bark of the balché tree (Lonchocarpus violaceus). Used by the Maya for ceremonial rituals.
- Xtabentun — unusual drink that is worth seeking out because it's generally not exported. Traditional Mayan liquer made from xtabentum honey and flavored with anise. The Mayans say it has hallucinogenic properties, but they're probably just trying to sell more Xtabnetun.
- Kalani — coconut and rum liqueur that's typically blended in cocktails
Stay safe edit
Quintana Roo is generally very safe for foreign travelers. Some reports of crimes and violence in the early 2020s center on the drug trade with either narcotraffickers getting shot or young foreigners trying to score cheap marijuana or meth getting beat up or shot by local drug dealers. Neither type of incident should overly worry most law-abiding travelers.
There are also incidents of petty theft. Leaving valuables in plain sight is never a good idea, not even on a beachside lounge chair while you just jump in the water for a quick dip. When you go on vacation, make sure that your common sense doesn't take a vacation too.