Sirens rang through the air as I was jolted out of a deep sleep. I looked over to my friend on the other side of the room, who looked equally confused as myself. Seconds later, the room shook violently. It was around three in the morning and our Oaxacan apartment was just hit by a relatively mild earthquake. It was somewhat scary and exhilarating in equal measure.

A visiting friend and I decided to take a month-long road trip to the south-east, towards Mexico’s beautiful stretch of Caribbean coastline known as the Riviera Maya.

We hadn’t exactly come up with a plan and were just winging it; seeing where the road would take us. We booked two first-class bus tickets to Mexico city at Nueva Central Camionera, Guadalajara. First-class is a must for this eight-hour, overnight trip. It roughly costs €30 and the extra leg room is well worth the price tag. As my compañero wanted to skip past the capital city, this destination was only a flying stop.

We arrived at México city’s Central Norte and didn’t have long to wait for the next bus to our first stop: the Aztec “place of the gods”, Teotihuacán. While the town itself is quite small, we were really here to see the Aztec pyramids on its outskirts.

Nothing prepares you for the first glimpse of Teotihuacán’s largest temple: the Pyramid of the Sun. It towers above the tree line as you approach. Tickets cost 80 pesos, or roughly €4. Both the Pyramid of the Sun and Moon are climbable, with the latter offering an impressive panorama of the surrounding countryside.


Our next destination would take us south to the city of Puebla - a must-visit city for any lover of architecture. We arrived late in the evening and while en route to our Airbnb, our taxi driver recommended we visit local café Profética for our morning coffee. This café didn’t disappoint. Apart from its great coffee, it features an amazing courtyard and also doubles as a library. If you head to the city’s main square (called the Zócalo), you can visit the Renaissance-era Puebla Cathedral; considered one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.

We spent a day in nearby Cholula (a half hour’s drive from Puebla) to visit the largest pyramid in the world by volume. At 80 pesos/€4, the entrance fee is reasonable and you can access the cathedral built onto its apex. A free train runs four times per day between Puebla and Cholula, making this an accessible trip. However, the train timetable is known to change- it is best to check online before you go.

Those looking for good beer and a bit of nightlife can head to Avenida Juarez in Puebla. We went to a bar called Bull McCabe’s and - despite its less than convincing attempt at replicating an Irish bar - the food was top quality and there was live music. Bars in Mexico tend to be more food orientated than in Ireland and it is customary to tip table staff.


Our next stop was two hours south, to the town of Tehuacan. Aside from their Museum of Evolution (and swimming pools featuring skin-eating fish), there was little to keep us there, so we pushed further south to Oaxaca.

This was the highlight of my trip. Oaxaca is a city famed for cocoa, unique cuisine, indigenous culture and artisanal crafts. The city is relatively high, giving us some respite from the heat. After booking into our mountainside Airbnb, we headed to the city centre (Centro) to indulge in street tacos and explore the sights; stopping to check out Templo de Santo Domingo and the neighbouring Museum of Culture. Centro is laden with artists’ stalls and offers a very chill vibe. The nightlife here is second to none and there are plenty of bars near the city centre. We settled in Txalaparta on Ruta Independencia- a very lively and atmospheric bar with different floors, each playing different genres of music.

Catedral Metropolitana de Oaxaca. Av. de la Independencia 700, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

We took two day trips while in Oaxaca: one to the Zapotec ruin of Monte Alban, and the other to the must-see Hierve el Agua- a collection of beautiful pools, ideal for swimming, and two petrified (calcified) waterfalls.


Our next destination took us east, into the state of Chiapas and its capital San Cristobal de Las Casas. While this city was beautiful but somewhat unremarkable, we did take a trip to nearby Sumidero Canyon. Buses run to the nearby city of Tuxtla Gutierrez for 40 pesos/roughly €2 and we disembarked at Chiapa de Corzo, where you can take a boat tour of the canyon for 300 pesos/€14.50. We spent two days relaxing in San Cristobal before heading to Palenque.

Hands-down the best of the pre-Columbian ruins we visited; this is where Mexico becomes more jungle-like.

Chichén Itzá, ruined ancient Maya city occupying an area of 4 square miles (10 square km) in south-central Yucatán state, Mexico

The forest around the ruins is a national park, so you have to pay a separate entrance fee of 35 pesos/less than €2 and then another 70 pesos/just over €3 into the ruins. The road between the two entrances is littered with guides. While Palenque is massive- with lots to explore- guides aren’t really necessary.

Yucatan Peninsula

From Palenque we took a five-hour bus journey to Campeche. We were eager to get to the Caribbean side of the Yucatan and, unfortunately, only stayed one night in this beautiful fortified city. We pushed on again, transiting through Merida in the north before heading east to see Chichen Itza.

This is the most famous of the Mayan sites in Mexico, but for us it was a little disappointing. The 500/€24 pesos entrance fee was not worth the tourist trap, although it was nice to see its well-preserved pyramid. We left quickly and found a bus at the entrance heading to Playa del Carmen.

A beach in Cancun gives perfect views of crystal clear waters of the Caribbean

We arrived in the coastal city with three days to spare before we had to catch flights in nearby Cancun and go our separate ways. We decided to rent a car to Cancun to relax on one of its beaches. On the second day, we went to the nearby island of Cozumel. This part of Mexico is touristy and is very expensive. Gone were the days of filling our bellies with 60 pesos worth of tacos! However, the mix of nice beaches and great nightlife was an ideal way to end our trip.

Travel Tips

Getting there

There are no direct flights from Ireland but there are multiple routes. I went to Madrid first, then Mexico City, before going to Guadalajara. Alternative routes go through the UK, France, Germany, Canada and the United States. The price of flights going through Europe roughly starts at €650/700 return for one person.

Tourist card

A tourist visa is not required for Irish citizens, however before landing in Mexico you will be given a tourist card (FMM), which permits you to stay up to 180 days. This has to be filled out and given to immigration who will stamp it and hand it back. Keep it! It has to be handed in when you are flying home. If you lose it, you will have to get a replacement or pay a fine at the airport.


Regarding security, Mexico is like anywhere else. You are highly unlikely to be affected by the narco wars. The cartels aren’t interested in tourists and your only concern will be petty theft, but thanks to a heavy police presence the threat of this is no greater than in any European city.

When to go

Unless you like extreme heat, I would also recommend going during the winter months and avoid going in April/May, which tend to be the hottest months in many parts.

Where to stay

Airbnbs are very useful if travelling around, prices vary but you can find some great deals. If you are staying in one place for a while consider renting a room for a month. My apartment cost me €130 a month.