I started my bicycle touring career on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. As a complete newbie to bicycle touring the first days haven’t been easy but I was also surprised about the good infrastructure, the friendliness of the people and the high amount of security in Mexico.
In this blogpost I want to share my experiences and give some information for other touring cyclist who might be interested in bicycle touring through Yucatán in Mexico as well.
Bicycle Touring Yucatán Mexico – The roads
The main roads
I started cycling with my partner Brad in Cancun. Of course the roads out of this big tourist town are quite well maintained but it basically stayed like that throughout all of Yucatán. The roads are usually very wide which means at least three cars could technically fit next to each other. Most of the main roads we cycled on had a wide shoulder of about one to one and a half meters. Even if there are no roadmarks, the wide roads still offer enough space for all participants of traffic.
Nevertheless many crosses and graves along the road reminded me that it can still be dangerous on Mexico’s roads. It’s always mandatory to be very attentive and give way if you have to. Worst case you should be prepared to get off the road at all times.
The roads up north towards Isla Holbox get a little smaller but are still in good shape. On Isla Holbox itself (if you want to go there), the roads consist of solid sand that can get very muddy if it rains.
We cycled on some backroads from Tulum down south through Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. These roads are sand and gravel pists with countless potholes. I didn’t like the two bumpy days we spent there too much but my partner Brad loves roads like that. Maybe they are a bit more for the advanced cyclist?!
Cycling into towns and villages you will encounter the usual “topes” or speedbumps. They come in different versions: bumps made of bitumen, metal bumps (some are a bit tricky to cycle through) or just big ropes laid across the roads. Actually a good system to slow down the traffic because every car, moped or even bicycle is affected. In Germany we narrow down the whole road e.g. with a flower basket or something. But if noone is coming from the other side you can still speed through. No chance with the speedbumps! They are also called “sleeping policemen” by the locals.
Bicycle Touring Yucatán Mexico – Towns & villages
I loved cycling through towns and villages, especially the small ones because as a “gringo” cyclist you are always special! Cycling into one of the small villages, the people will look at you and most of them will greet you so make sure you give a smile and a friendly “Holá” back.
Dogs run around freely in all villages but usually they are too tired, too weak or maybe just to friendly to bark at you. In total I think we have been barked at three times by an angry, property-defending dog. You can also see in the eyes of the dogs that they don’t often see a fully-loaded touring bicycle.
In regards to resupply almost every small village has a little shop or mini supermarket where you can buy some stuff. Unfortunately it’s most of the time a collection of unhealthy snacks accompanied by coca cola bottles up to the 2-liter-size. Often you can also find small local restaurants or people selling typical Mexican food like “pollo asado” (grilled chicken).
Bicycle Touring Yucatán Mexico – What to see?
The Yucatán peninsula offers lots of places – tourist destinations as well as places off the path – you can explore while bicycle touring through the Mexican landscape.
Here is a selection of places we have visited:
- Isla Holbox – Isla Holbox was our first destination and is a very laid-back and relaxed island in the north of Yucatán.
- Cenote X’Canche and the ruins of Ek Balam – A great place for a swim, some nice Mayan ruins and a nice campsite. Anything else you need?!
- Valladolid – A central town where we stopped for a small rest and some good food. My recommendation: Go to the local markets and cook by yourself!
- Chichén Itza – One of the seven world wonders and a must-see on the Yucatán peninsula!
- Tulum – A touristy coast town with the famous Mayan beach ruins (we didn’t visit them) and some awesome cenotes to swim or dive in. We had our underwater adventure at Cenote Angelita and Dreamgate. Check out some photos on Google. Dreamgate is just amazing!
- Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve – For us it was a big adventure to cycle through our first area with jaguars and crocodiles and all the wild animals Mexico has to offer. Did we see any? Read more about Sian Ka’an here!
- Bacalar – Situated at a picturesque lake Bacalar is also one of Yucatáns main tourist destinations. We stayed there for a night and without planning got to see carneval in Bacalar!
- Chetumal – Chetumal is a big town at the border to Belize and the capital of the state Quintana Roo. We found a great place to stay and had some rest days before cycling into Belize. My recommendation: taxi rides are very cheap and it’s nice to sit in a car after weeks of cycling! 🙂
Bicycle Touring Yucatán Mexico – Where to stay?
Finding a good and cheap place to stay is often a challenge for us. Here a selection of places I liked most while bicycle touring through Yucatán (prices from February 2018):
- Hostel Ide Y Vuelta on Isla Holbox: a nice place to camp at, MEX$ 150 per person for one night, includes breakfast, the only downside is the swamp behind the property and the resulting bug-invasion
- Camping at Cenote X’Canche: Would you like a private swim in a cenote? Then I recommend camping directly at the cenote X’Canche. The best is that you get access to the cenote after the opening hours! MEX$ 100 for camping and MEX$ 50 for the cenote
- Camping in the garden of Hotel Pyramide in Piste near Chichén Itza: A cheap option to stay close to Chichén Itza. We found some of the best local food in Piste!
- Hostel Sheck in Tulum: Nice and clean private room, the people at the hostel are very friendly, we got a special discount for cyclists!
- Hotel Casa Anaya in Chetumal: A great place for a rest! Nice and clean rooms, best quality we got for that price so far, Netflix :-), MEX$ 363 per night and room
Bicycle Touring Yucatán Mexico – Safety
Safety is always a topic and a concern for friends and relatives if you travel to countries far away. For some reason for most people Mexico seems to be on the list of not so safe countries. To make a long story short: I always felt safe while bicycle touring through Yucatán. It starts with the very friendly car and truck drivers that go out of their way to make room for us cyclists. The people are all friendly and most of them highly interested in where we come from and where we are heading.
Police was very present in town and villages but also on the road. The officials always had a friendly greeting for us and we had never any issues. I remember one road where an official car turned around and stopped beneath us. It turned out that it was someone from an official tourism agency and his job was to make sure that all tourists in one area are safe and enjoy their travels.
Another time we cycled through a very small village and left on a bumpy backroad. A guy on a moped followed us and stopped us. He asked if we are sure to be on the right way and his only concern was that we might have taken a wrong turn. That was the reason why he followed us from the village!
Safety & the bikes
Of course we are nevertheless careful and take precautions. We lock the bikes together and if possible tie them to a tree when we are camping. When we stay at a hotel we usually take them into our room – yes, it’s possible at most of the places.
We left our fully loaded bicycles at the entrance to the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam, as well as Chichén Itza. We leave them standing on the side of the road when we go to a restaurant to have lunch. Of course we keep an eye on them whenever possible.
To sum things up, the Yucatán peninsula appeared to me like a very safe place to travel to and a great destination for bicycle touring.
Bicycle Touring Yucatán Mexico – What I learned about the bike
- It’s important to put the panniers onto the bike in the right way, otherwise they shift around while riding and you can get problems.
- Shifting with the Rohloff is supposed to happen between pedal strokes when there is no pressure on the pedal
- The gears below gear no. 7 make a little bit of a noise, that’s normal.
- If you want to “lock” the bike (e.g. for a short visit of a supermarket) put it into gear 14. It’s nearly impossible to ride away then, unless you know.
- Put the back brake on to twist the bike around. Then it’s easier to control the heavy weight on the back wheel.
- The pedals spin while pushing the bicycle so be careful and try not to hit the pedals against your legs!
- The screws that come out of the pedals are very sharp and can make deep scratches!
- So far I am very happy with all the bicycle touring gear I chose to carry!
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