This is your best guide to the San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun Backpackers trail. Including the best stops and things to do, the best and safest bus routes and epic hostels to stay in all the destinations.
As I crossed the Guatemala and Mexico land border I still couldn’t quite believe I was really doing this. I had no intention of visiting Mexico. At least not this time.
My money was running out and I was planning my return from Guatemala to Europe, only to find that it was almost impossible. With the crazy airfares with three changes and some of them in the US, which was a big no-no for me mainly because of transit visas, it seemed impossible.
I remember sitting on my dorm bed in the Lanquin jungle thinking about how screwed I was as I searched for flights. At first I panicked, but then I thought: let’s check Mexico.
A direct flight from Cancun to Madrid for $200! I’m going to Mexico!!!!
In my typical fashion, I couldn’t just go straight home. I needed to make sure I had enough time to see some of Mexico as I travelled toward Cancun. I gave myself 3 weeks.
And yes, you heard it right, I was near the end of the money. But I knew I could do it for less than €1k. And I did it! (In fact, after checking, I spent a total of $750 including transport and accommodation)
I mean, I should have done it faster, but a backpacker doesn’t just come to a country for a week! So I made it a 3-week long journey and added it to my list of adventures. On a strict budget. Very strict.
Now that I was looking for places to stop by on the San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun route, I couldn’t find much information. So I asked around, asked people I met in hostels, and asked on FB forums, Reddit and all the possible places. After a week I had a rough itinerary, and it was a perfect one!
So if you like me, are travelling from San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun and want to make the most of this trail, I will spare you all the research. Here is the best backpacker’s trail.
San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun Backpacker’s Trail is incredible! You will pass through diverse Chiapas and Yukatan, Pueblos Magicos, Maya ruins, colonial towns and the best beaches. These 3 weeks made me fall in love with Mexico without seeing Oaxaca or Mexico City. I vouched I will be back and this time for much longer!
Table of Contents
San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun backpacker's trail
There is a short way and a long way to do this route. The longer one would consist of rerouting towards Bacalar and possibly Tulum or Playa del Carmen.
If you are looking for a quick answer I would say that the 3 places you should definitely make a stop at between SanCristobal de las Casas and Cancun are Palenque, Merida and Valladolid. If you can you should add Campeche and Bacalar for sure.
I did it in 3 weeks as I mentioned but mostly because I stayed in San Cris for 10 days. I loved it so much! I also spent 5 days in Mérida and 2 or 3 days in the remaining places. But of course, I could have done it in half of the time. But why would I do that?
If you are starting your trip in Cancun and planning to see the rest of Mexico I still suggest that you still do at least the shorter version of this route. You will encounter a Mexico that you will not see anywhere else after this.
I will list all the possible stops you could take on San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun route and you can choose where to stop depending on how much time you have and your personal preferences.
San Cristobal de las Casas
I fell so much in love with San Cristobal de las Casas that if my budget allowed me to do so, I would stay for months. But I’ve stayed 10 days and until now it’s my favourite place in Mexico.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a charming and slightly off-the-beaten-path (just) Pueblo Magico located in the stunning and lush department of Chiapas. Its surroundings are incredible and there are tons of things to do in the area like visiting the Cañon del Sumidero or taking a day trip to San Juan Chamula – the strangest village in Mexico.
But the truth is that you wouldn’t have to leave San Cris to have plenty of things to do. It’s full of great and affordable restaurants, bars, charming colonial streets and squares and people who are just a little bit different. It’s a backpackers town.
The town is also rich in culture and dramatic history so I recommend reserving a bit more than 2 days for a visit to San Cristobal de las Casas. Among the many things you can do in San Cristobal de las Casas, I recommend the legendary free walking tour, visiting all the vibrant markets and taking a day trip to San Juan Chamula.
If you are travelling to San Cristobal de las Casas from Guatemala by land border read this post about my experience of the crossing and all the important tips.
Where to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas:
- Puerta Vieja Hostel has been recommended to me numerous times mainly due to its social vibe as well as excellent free breakfast and free evening social meals.
- Posada del Abuelito is also highly recommended by a few of my friends! I wanted to book a dorm there as well, but it was fully booked back then so make sure you book it well in advance. It is a great cosy hostel with a fireplace and a delicious complimentary breakfast.
- La Abuelita Hostal & Terraza is also a great choice if you are looking for a safe hostel with great living space and a fireplace.
- La Chulada Hostel is where I stayed mostly because I loved their dorms. I really like big dorms with loads of privacy and curtains. Their kitchen is also amazing! I loved it there and made great memories!
- For a private room, I recommend Posada Sancris or Gaia Guest House!
Did you get your travel insurance yet? Travel Insurance will let you travel with the peace of mind knowing that no matter what, your unexpected medical or travel emergencies are covered. I use Heymondo for a few reasons. They have clear policies with no deductibles, the price is excellent for what they offer and the price doesn’t go up when you are over 30 years old. They have a dedicated, easy-to-use app and free assistance calls.
I can get a cover for a month or three months and I know I can travel with peace of mind and get the best product for my money.
Heymondo offers my readers 5% off so go ahead, and click on this link and get your quote.
Palenque is a must-stop on the San Christobal de las Casas to Cancun route.
Palenque is home to one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico and is often visited on a day trip or a quick one-night stopover. But what many travellers don’t realize is it is also a lovely town, and it actually is one of Mexico’s pueblo magicos.
It’s probably not the most magical of them all, but it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you are planning to visit the ruins anyway.
Palenque Maya ruins are by far my favourite. I actually liked Palenque more than Tikal in Guatemala. It felt more intimate, and the hike I found on my way back was beautiful. I loved the feel and beauty of Palenque ruins, and probably because I managed to arrive before the crowds, I really felt the connection to the forgotten world. It is a magical place surrounded by a lush jungle. Very walkable and what’s more, you can visit them without taking a guided tour.
But if you prefer you can book this highly-rated Palenque tour here.
I recommend staying 2 nights in Palenque so you can have a whole day to explore the ruins and the town. Moreover, as the majority of travellers leave and arrive by night bus, one night would not be enough to get a rest. It is typical that most backpackers take a night bus from San Cris and then leave on the night bus to Merida or other locations therefore hostels around Palenque do not have a special vibe. They do feel more like a stopover.
The town of Palenque is also worth a visit. There are plenty of places you could grab some food or drink and the town itself has a pretty local feel to it.
How to get to Palenque from San Cristobal de las Casas
Most travellers take an ADO overnight bus from San Cristobal de las Casas directly to Palenque. It is by far the best option as you will be saving on one night’s accommodation and will have a whole day in front of you once you arrive.
Although these two cities do not seem to be too far from each other, it takes around 9 to 10 hours to get to Palenque from San Cristobal because bus detours via Tuxtla and Villahermosa to omit the politically unstable territory. But don’t worry. Because of that detour, taking an overnight ADO bus from San Cristobal to Palenque and the other way around is safe, and many travellers choose to take this bus every day. I do not recommend taking fast overnight private shuttle buses. ADO is your best bet!
Keep in mind however that many hostels in the area won’t let you check in before 2 pm. But you can keep your luggage in storage and take a walk around town in the meantime. But if you hope for an early morning nap in the hostel this could not be feasible.
Where to stay in Palenque
- Cabañas Kin Balam is the best option if you are looking for a social hostel with a pool in the middle of the jungle. It is very close to Palenque Ruins but apart from this, kind of in the middle of nowhere. If you are only planning to visit the ruins and apart from that lounge by the pool, this should be your choice. The majority of the travellers on the bus from San Cristobal were heading there so it will be a great place to meet other travellers.
Casa Janaab Palenque – another popular option amongst backpackers. It is fantastically located 5 minutes walk away from ADO bus station and a big supermarket. You can also easily walk from there to Palenque town. This is where I stayed.
This hostel is a popular stopover for many Mexico and Latin America travellers, and it can get pretty social. The dorms and rooms are great, and I liked the kitchen too.
- Posada Nacha’n – Ka’anKa’an – the most affordable option. It has pretty good reviews for a price, and it could be a great budget option if you just need a place to crash for a night. Very basic though and with no common areas.
- For a private room, I recommend checking out the Casa Hadassa La Cañada, Maya Tulipanes Express or Casa 5 Bed & Breakfast
Campeche is one of the few off-the-beaten-path towns on the Yukatan peninsula and totally worth visiting. It’s beautifully colourful and bright and one of the best things to do is explore the city and walk through the picturesque malecón.
This city will make a relaxing stop on your San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun route especially before entering the tourist-infested remaining part of the Yukatan peninsula. Make sure you take the time to stroll down Calle 59 which is lined with trendy restaurants offering international cuisine.
Campeche is also a great place to immerse yourself in a vibrant cuisine reflecting its mixed heritage. The word “campechano” actually means “different things mixed together,” so be sure to try a little bit of that when visiting the town.
There are also some great and free things to do for free in Campeche such as strolling in its UNESCO-listed city centre or visiting the Fuerte San Miguel and Fuerte San Jose El Alto for a small fee. And of course, the spectacular sunsets are always free!
If you are looking for a place to base yourself for a few days and explore the surrounding areas, Campeche is great for that too. You can take many awesome day tours from Campeche likevisiting epic Calakmul Ruins or Miguel Colorado Eco Park.
How to get to Campeche from Palenque
The great news is that there are direct ADO buses from Palenque to Campeche and this is the best option. ADO buses are safe and comfortable and this journey takes only 6 hours. There are of course private shuttle options but ADO is definitely the cheapest costing around$37 one way. You can get a Campeche ticket directly with ADO or purchase it online with GottoGo.
Where to stay in Campeche
- Campeche isn’t really on a backpacker trail (yet) so finding a great, social hostel is a little bit of a challenge. Having said that, R&R Hostel Hostel offers excellent value for money and has a unique charm. For the best value for money, there is also a Viatger Inn hostel. Pretty basic but you still get a terrace and communal kitchen with comfortable beds.
- On the contrary, there are plenty of options when it comes to hostel rooms and other private accommodations. Casa Rosanna offers incredible value for money offering a private room for $16!
- Both Hotel Rath and Hospedaje San Jose offer great rooms also for a very reasonable price.
- If you are sharing with a partner or just fancy something really comfortable you should check out Casa de Zari B&B, Hotel Plaza Colonial or La Casa Rosal.
In my preparations for the trip to Merida, I read quite a few not-so-positive opinions about the city. Not from bloggers or online articles, but in comments and forums. So I was pretty curious to find out what the reality was and I had not expected much and genuinely thought it wouldn’t be a stopover to remember.
The opposite happened, and I deeply regretted giving the town only a few days. I could easily stay for a couple of weeks or more. In fact, I could imagine myself routing in Merida for even longer.
There is a lot of depth to this town but also boundless things to do, in as well as outside of town. Merida is officially the safest town in Mexico. It is a pretty big and very diverse city. Packed full of interesting architecture, a colourful old town, events happening nearly every night, heaps of fantastic restaurants and cantinas as well as very good theatre, Merida is so much more than most travellers expect.
But Merida’s charm is not immediately obvious and I can understand why someone just staying one night could not be overly impressed. Give this town a few days – you won’t regret it!
How to get to Merida from Campeche
The best and cheapest way to get to Merida from Campeche is by the ADO bus. The journey takes around 2.5 hours and the ticket costs between $20-35.
In case you decided to skip Campeche you could take a direct bus from Palenque to Merida.
Where to stay in Merida
- Nomadas hostel is very social and extremely popular, and I recommend booking well in advance. I stayed at Hostal la Ermita, and I really enjoyed its location, pool and cute little private room. The breakfast is definitely on the basic side, though. Hostal Barrio Vivo also has excellent reviews and features my favourite type of dorm rooms and as well as a great kitchen, a swimming pool and included breakfast. Zocalo hostel is also very popular among travellers to Merida.
- For a private room or more high-end stay consider Hotel Hacienda Merida which was highly recommended to me as well as Maison del Embajador Kuka y Naranjo is a great boutique hotel and I have heard really good opinions, so o and check it out too!
Have you considered an eSIM yet?
Tired of roaming bills or wasting time anxiously looking for a SIM vendor at the airport?
Airalo is the world’s first eSIM store that solves the pain of high roaming bills by giving you access to eSIMs (digital SIM cards). With eSIMs from Airalo, download and install a digital data pack from 200+ countries/regions and be connected anywhere in the world the second you land.
Bacalar is spectacular and some say it is the most beautiful place in Mexico. The clearest, most turquoise water changing into all possible shades of blue is just dreamy.
Laguna Bacalar is an actual lake located an hour from the Belize border and is a nature lover’s paradise. There are many magical things todo and places to visit around Bacalar. Starting with the charming pueblo magico of Bacalar to Cenote Cocalitos where you can spot giant stromatolites.
You can indulge in water sports, take a boat cruise or have fun at Balnearios beach club.
How about ziplining, spending a day in Los Rapidos (The Rapids) or visiting Mayan ruins like Dzibanche, Chacchoben or Kohunlich.
Don’t want to do any of those things? Stay in a hammock by the lake and enjoy this paradise on earth. Bacalar is one of those places that will remind you of how beautiful life can be.
How to get to Bacalar from Merida
The best way to get to Bacalar is by the ADO bus from Merida. You can also reach Cancun or Tulum first and then travel from there. But this would make you go back on yourself.
In order to visit Bacalar, you will have to make kind of a detour on your San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun route but it’s oh so worth it. You could potentially travel from Merida to Bacalar by bus and then move towards Tulum.
This part of Mexico is very well served by busses but I still recommend getting a bus ticket upfront. This way you might even get it a tad bit cheaper.
Where to stay in Bacalar
You won’t find too many hostels around Bacalar but there are few good budget options nevertheless.
- Che Bacalar Hostel & Bar Adults Onlyis one of the most popular hostels in the area and it is fantastically located. It is a place to meet other travellers and have some fun but it’s not the cheapest hostel in town, that’s for sure.
- Guarumbo Hostel on the contrary offers very good value for money and has a strong Pura Vida vibe. It’s pretty basic accommodation but you get great outdoors space, very friendly staff and you can rent a tent as well as a bed in a dorm. Please be aware that there is no shared kitchen.
- The Yak Lake House hostel is another popular choice among backpackers, but this comes with a bit steep prices for the hostel. But the atmosphere is great, you get to choose from daily activities and it’s located right by the water! It has a lively bar and sun decks so if you are travelling solo, this could be a great place to book.
- If you are looking to rent a private room on a budget I recommend checking out the Zayali – Guest House Bacalar or Gran Jaguar Hotel. For a midrange room in a great location and direct access to the lagoon, you should check out the Tortuga Bacalar.
- And of course, if you want to make your stay super special and fancy spending a bit of coins, the Khaban Bacalar Hotel Boutique or Hotel Rancho Encantado could be a great choice!
When I first arrived in Valladolid and did my routine ‘walk around’ I was like: Is that it? Valladolid is pretty small, after all. But not long later, I found out that Valladolid is not only a cute, laid-back town great for strolling around and taking photographs but there are also loads of great things to do in and out of town.
Valladolid is a small and charming Mexican town often visited on a day trip from Cancun or as a part of the Chichen Itza trip. This Mexican UNESCO Heritage Site town has, however, much more to offer than meets the eye.
It is a typical Mexican town with a park set in the heart of the town where you can hide from the sun, sit in one of the kissing chairs or white benches surrounding the fountain, enjoy your marquesitas or ice cream and watch the world go by.
Colourful colonial buildings, historical churches, street vendors, tourists, locals going about their lives and wearing their colourful dresses, local artists performing, markets, art workshops and even a cenote located right in the town centre! Not enough?
How about even more beautiful cenotes, Mayan ruins and great day trips? All this and so much more makes Valladolid a great base to explore the rest of the area while immersing yourself in authentic, laid-back Mexican life.
How to get to Valladolid
It is very easy to get to Valladolid from multiple locations like Merida, Cancun, or Tulum. There are frequent ADO buses running to the town and alight at the centrally located bus station. You can buy your ticket on the ADO website or via a search engine like Busbud.
Where to stay in Valladolid
- Hostel Candelaria is a fantastic, backpacker-friendly hostel offering great dorms, an incredible garden, and one of the best kitchens ever. Their breakfast is spectacular and included in the price. Every day, a couple of lovely ladies cook up different dishes like pancakes, eggs and tasty sandwiches. La Candelaria is definitely the best budget option for staying in Valladolid.
- Hostal Guacamayas is another great choice for budget travellers. This small hostel has a cool place to hang out, a well-equipped kitchen, is close to the city centre, and there are no bunk beds.
While you take the San Cristobal de las Casas to Cancun route, you can make a small detour and visit Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
I have not opted for this option for two reasons. First of all, I have run out of time. Second, I’d rather spend my time exploring more authentic and often off-the-beaten-path destinations. Yet as I have not visited either Tulum or Playa del Carmen I will not be making any personal comments.
- Both Che Hostel and Mayan Monkey have great reviews and are probably the best hostels to stay in if you are looking to meet other travellers and socialise.
- Mama’s House and Lum are definitely the best choices for solo travellers and also have fantastic reviews. Those two often feature in ‘best hostels in Tulum’ articles and they also offer great value for money!
- Che Suites Tulum Adults Only could be a great choice for those looking for a private room and who work while on the road.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen sparked quite a few controversies among travellers. Once an off-the-beaten-path fishing village, the aspiring boheme destination, is now just full of digital nomads and travellers looking for a ‘variety’ of adventures and fun.
Many backpackers despise Playa del Carmen for how non-Mexican it became. Filled with American tourists, crowded and expensive in the season, and with music blasting across the main beach, some say that Playa del Carmen is the opposite of what Mexico really is.
But some love it there and those are the people who ventured outside of the touristy beachside and went to discover the local parts of the city where food is more authentic and cheaper and where mostly locals hang around.
Yet that’s what I have heard or read about Playa del Carmen. As I mentioned earlier I have decided to omit both Tulum and Playa del Carmen and instead, I spent more time in Merida and Valladolid. I don’t regret my decision. And as much as I think I’m going to visit Tulum on my return to Mexico, I am not sure if I can say the same about Playa. But hey, maybe I’ll do it for reasons of clarification and investigation.
Have you been? What did you think? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us!
Once your San Cristobal de and Casas to Cancun trip is over and if you few spare days, you should consider a trip to Isla Mujeres.
Although many visitors opt for a few days’ stay on Isla Mujeres or an organized tour, you can definitely visit for a day independently and on a budget. If all you are looking for are dreamy beaches, sun and snorkelling, grab a picnic and drinks and this will be a very affordable and memorable day trip!
Of course, if you want to also do things like zip lining, swimming with whale sharks or kayaking, add some budget, but it’s well worth it!
And of course, you can also choose an And of course, you can always opt foran organised cruise to the island too!
How to get to Isla Mujeres
The ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres costs only around 190 MXN each way ($9.50), and taking one from Puerto Juárez will be the cheapest option.
So your San Cristobal de Las Casas to Cancun trip is nearly over but before you get on that plane, give Cancun at least a couple of days. As I mentioned in the article I wrote about Cancun, I didn’t want to like Cancun, but I ended up loving my time there and it was a perfect cherry on top after my 10 months long adventure.
Yes, it’s Cancun, full of tourists, expensive and lined up with high-end all-inclusive resorts. But it’s also Cancun Centro with Parque de las Palapas, cheap tacos and free Saturday salsa. Yes, it’s commercial and very party-like but it also has some of the most incredible beaches, ever! So give it a shot and end your trip on a high note!
Where to stay in Cancun
The downtown area of Cancun is the best place to look for affordable and backpacker-friendly accommodation. This is where you will find some cool hostels, private rooms as well as affordable places to eat.
- I stayed in Selina Downtown mostly due to its location – literally, 5 minutes walk to the bus station. The price was good and the dorms looked good in the photos. And there was a swimming pool! I am not a big fan of Selinas as they often lack the backpacker’s vibe and ridiculously overcharge at the bar and restaurant. But I wanted to give Selina one more chance. It was a decent stay.
- Nomads Hostel offers a rooftop pool with a huge bar, great dorm beds and a well-equipped communal kitchen. The location is also great. It’s a great place to meet other travellers too!
- Yet probably the most popular hostel in Cancun is The Mayan Monkey Hostel. The Mayan Monkey Hostel is a brand new hostel and featurs a rooftop pool and bar and includes free breakfast and dinner. For this, only although not the cheapest, it offers great value for money. There is an outdoor terrace where you can chill out, socialize, or even get some work done. On Saturdays, there is a BBQ and pool party!
- Hostal Venado 8 offers some of the cheapest dorms in town without skimping on quality and safety. If you are looking for an affordable party hostel and don’t mind putting up with everything that goes with the word ‘party’ then book your stay at Fiesta Party Hostel.
- If you are looking for a private room and hostels are not your thing you can also find affordable private accommodation in downtown Cancun. Worth checking out is Los Caracoles Bed & Breakfast and Bed and Breakfast Pecarí. Or if it’s more than one of you you can consider renting an apartment like Copan by Andiani Travel.
I hope you found this guide to the San Cristobal de las Casa to Cancun route helpful. I could not find much info at the time I travelled this route so I have written it with backpackers and travellers in mind.
Of course, you can make this trip more luxurious or comfortable, you could fly to many of the listed destinations and take private shuttles. But then you wouldn’t need this guide 🙂
Let me know if I answered all your questions and if there are some more, leave them in the comments.
Until then, stay free and happy travelling!
This post may contain affiliate links which means that if you purchase the product or make a booking via one of my links, I will receive a small commission. Please know that I will never recommend or promote a product I don’t believe in or haven’t used. This way, you are supporting this blog at no extra cost to you. Thank you!
My favourite Travel Resources
- For most of my accommodation management, I use Bookings.com and Hostel World. With both booking platforms, you will often get free cancellations and access to tons of reviews. Read them! You will also get the most extensive selection of all types of accommodation. I hardly ever look elsewhere. If you are travelling in Asia – Agoda is definitely worth checking out!
- Make sure you download Google Maps and, on the first day, download an offline map of your location. This way, even without the internet or Wi-Fi, you will be able to get to your destination.
Moovit is also an excellent and very underrated travel and journey-planning app. It works great in many countries and will show you all possible routes by public transport, including the timetables.
123Go — Great for tickets for trains, buses, ferries and charters in Southeast Asia! The best way to buy your ticket for the overnight Bangkok train! Rome2rio – Another great journey-planning app. If your way of travel is mainly public transport – you will use this app for sure!
The travel insurance I use is Heymondo, and their plan suits me perfectly. They have clear policies with no deductibles, the price is excellent for what they offer and the price doesn’t go up when you are over 30 years old. They have a dedicated, easy-to-use app and free assistance calls.
I can get a cover for a month or three months and I know I can travel with peace of mind and get the best product for my money. And it also covers COVID-19.
- I carry two debit cards with me. Given I don’t have a permanent country of residence, Revolut and Wise work fantastically. In case one gets frozen, stolen or simply lost, I have a backup. The great thing about both cards is that you can freeze them straight from your phone and transfer money between them in case you need to. You will also get a great exchange rate and create separate foreign currency accounts.
- I booked most of my tours via either Get Your Guide or Viator. You can also book locally, but I advise you to ask around and follow the local recommendations.
For more travel tips and recourses, visit Pati’s Travel Tips page!