Backpacking in Mexico – Matilda’s travel experiences

¡Viva México, cabrones! Earlier this year I took a very special backpacking trip to Mexico. In about seven weeks I traveled through the east and a small part of the south of Mexico – and I am already sure that it was not the last time I will visit this wonderful country!  

Mexico – a whole new experience

Mexico was actually my first long-distance trip and also my first travel experience all by myself. But of course you meet many great and inspiring people on such a trip, so that you – if you want – do not stay alone for long. In fact, I also never felt unsafe as a woman traveling alone. All the people were always super helpful and friendly, from the salesman in the frutería who gave me travel tips for my planned route, to the bus driver who drove me closer to my accommodation so I didn’t have to walk far from the bus stop. 

If you are interested in my trip and the experiences I made on site, I am very happy to take you on my (small) round trip in the following. 

The beginning of my backpacking trip

I arrived in Cancún in mid-January – straight from cold and dark Germany to warm and sunny Mexico. To my surprise, I unfortunately had to realize that I had arrived in the middle of the American Ballermann. Cancún was therefore not for me at all, and although some friends warned me before I went there, my arrival in the city was a bit of a disappointment. I just hoped that my other planned stops would not be as touristy, expensive, and crowded as Cancún. Spoiler: My hopes were heard!  

After two nights in Cancún, I was already on my way to the next state, Yucatán. Here I had two stops – in Valladolid and Mérida. From Valladolid I visited the most famous and best preserved Mayan site in Yucatán – Chichen Itza. Unfortunately, the entrance fees had doubled during the pandemic, so as a tourist you had to pay the entrance fee of about 25€. That hurt quite a bit, but was still very worthwhile! 

Afterwards, I traveled on to Campeche, to the city of the same name, and after three nights there, I spent a very exciting night in the jungle near Calakmul. Here I booked with lovely people I met on site a tent on an eco-camping place, which was already inside the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and from where we hitchhiked the next morning to the Mayan site of Calakmul. This site was super impressive due to its location in the middle of the jungle!

Further travel route

From the next largest city we drove further into the state of Chiapas and spent two nights in Palenque, a less attractive city from my point of view. But the Mayan site in the jungle near Palenque was all the more impressive. For me, it was actually the most beautiful, but maybe that was also because we visited it very early and had the site practically to ourselves. The fog was still hanging in the trees and made everything look mystical. Another highlight were the waterfalls near the city. From Palenque, I moved on to San Cristóbal de las Casas. This city particularly catched my attention because of its indigenous population, history, and alternative scene. It catched me so much so that I even spent a second few nights there on my way back.

A good tip is to join the Free Walking Tour here. This is probably worthwhile in any city, but in San Cris it was again something very special. The tour I took (Thursdays at 10am) lasted about two hours. You get a free espresso at a local ecocafé and the tour ends in a backyard of a café and art collective with a pox tasting – the traditional alcoholic drink from the region. Another tip is the Cañon del Sumidero, through which you can take a boat tour and see some great animals from a distance. 

The last state on my trip was Oaxaca. Here, after a few days in the capital of the same name, from which you can also reach some great destinations like Hierve el Agua, I also had the opportunity to visit one of our socialbnbs in Zipolite – Piña Palmera! This organization supports people with disabilities and their families in Zipolite and surrounding areas. From Oaxaca, I traveled to Zipolite with a friend I met on site, and since we took a night bus, we arrived in the town early in the morning and caught a beautiful sunrise on the beach. After that I went to the socialbnb.  

My experiences at socialbnb Piña Palmera

I was warmly welcomed by the director Flavia and given a direct tour of the site by a lovely staff member. She explained to me many interesting things about the organization and how the work has changed over the past decades since its founding in 1984. The facility is huge and the entire premises range from kitchen, volunteer housing and offices to a small gymnasium, a medical treatment room, physiotherapy rooms and a vegetable garden. In addition, a small store is also run, selling handmade ceramics, clothing, soaps, sustainable organic foods such as oils and nut mush, and much more.

There are endless things to discover. All the people I met on the site were cordial and I felt welcome right away. Although I had booked a bed in a shared room, I got my own room, which felt like pure luxury after four weeks in hostel rooms! Since the room was in the area where the volunteers were also staying, I was allowed to share the common kitchen. The toilets and showers were right next to the small huts where people slept. 

There is also something magical about the town of Zipolite – a small hippie town, but one that is a bit smaller and quieter than nearby Mazunte or Puerto Ángel. To the place belongs a beautiful beach (attention nudism haha), where you have the possibility to surf. There is a large gay community and many vegetarian and/or vegan food options. During the day it is also worth a trip to the closer towns of Mazunte or Ouerto Ángel.  

After a day at the beach, you can enjoy the sunset at Playa Amor in the evening and then take a leisurely stroll through the town. There are various street vendor stalls, some of which sell handmade jewelry or other great handicrafts. Apart from that, time runs a bit slower in this place and I could have spent much more time there. So if you get the chance, be sure to check out Zipolite and maybe you can spend a few nights in Piña Palmera with Flavia and her team – it’s worth it! 

The end of my backpacking trip

After a few days in Puerto Escondido afterwards, I slowly made my way back to Cancún, from where I traveled back to Germany. My way led me along the Riviera Maya, where I spent some more nights in Bacalar, Tulum, on Isla Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. All of these places were beautiful in their own way, but much more touristy and therefore more expensive than the Chiapas or Oaxaca regions. 

All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed the two quieter states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, although the Mayan sites on the Yucatan Peninsula as well as the locally unique cenotes were of course very impressive! 

I hope I could inspire you to visit Mexico! If you have the chance to collect unique experiences, then take it and travel to this great country! Because: ¡México es chingón! 

Yours Matilda

If you’re wondering how you can be more aware and active on your next trip, check out this blog post. It explains how you can travel happier through Digital Detox.

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