How to Get from Cancun to Mahahual: Your 2023 Local’s Guide

It is relatively easy to get from Cancun to Mahahual and the journey can be made in a matter of hours. There is a distance of 355.7 km between the city of Cancun and the sleepy fishing village of Mahahual. 

The two destinations make a nice travel pairing if you are visiting the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and will be spending time in the Riviera Maya. After all, peaceful Mahahual makes a stark contrast from the city of Cancun and is a nice place to escape the crowds for a few days.

Better still, Mahahual makes a great jumping-off point for exploring the wider region of Southern Quintana Roo. For instance, from here you can take trips out to Lake Bacalar, and the ruins of Chacchoben, Oxtankah, Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Kinichna. 

Cancun to Mahahual

Visiting Mahahual 

The little coastal village of Mahahual was nothing more than a quiet fishing town until recently. Tourism to the area is still a very new concept, and you will just find a handful of hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops along the main Malecon here.

Think of Mahahual as a slightly livelier El Cuyo. Unlike Cancun or Tulum, Mahahual does not have a vibrant nightlife scene and it sees far fewer tourists than its better-known counterparts.   

This is a place to venture to if you want to relax and unwind for a few days, rather than a destination that is about seeing the sights. If spending your mornings relaxing on a white-sand beach overlooking the translucent blue waters of the Caribbean, and your afternoons 

How to get from Cancun to Mahahual 

Cancun to Mahahual

The easiest way to get from Cancun to Mahahual is to rent a car. However, not everyone feels comfortable driving in Mexico and so if this isn’t for you, rest assured, there are other options available. 

There is currently no train route from Cancun to Mahahual or the southern part of Quintana Roo, though this is set to change at the end of 2023 when construction work on the Tren Maya train is completed. From then, you will be able to take a train to Bacalar for Mahahual. For now, the only public transport option is the bus.

Alternatively, you can take a taxi or organize a public transfer. However considering the distance, this isn’t going to be the most economical choice.

The best way to get from Cancun to Mahahual is arguably subjective, depending on you, your budget, and your personal preferences. Let’s have a look at the different options available.  

Rent a car in Cancun and drive 

Renting a car in Mexico gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility in planning your Yucatan itinerary than having to depend on public transport. Several reputable international rental companies operate in Cancun and you can pick up vehicles from the airport and the city center. 

Expect to pay between $20-30 a day for a rental including full coverage insurance. Discover Cars is a great platform to use to compare and contrast prices between various providers.

The road conditions in the Yucatan peninsula (states of Quintana Roo, the Yucatan, and Campeche) are very good and the roads here are well maintained. You don’t have to worry about potholes in the road, navigating along dirt trails, or anything like that.

People seem to automatically panic at the concept of driving in Mexico but road rules are enforced here just like anywhere else. In Mexico, you drive on the right-hand side of the road just like in the United States and most of the world.

Penalties for speeding, being on the phone while driving, driving under the influence, and other illegal behavior, are strict. So, people tend to be pretty good at driving carefully. 

The maximum speed limit on a Mexican highway is 110km/h. On main roads, it is 70km/h, and in built-up areas, it is 40 km/h.

Look out for topes (Mexican speed bumps). You will often find signage that warns you about topes but oftentimes you will not and some of them are very street! Topes come in all manner of different shapes and sizes.

It is better not to drive at night, mostly because many of the roads between cities do not have street lights. Wild animals and packs of stray dogs often wander into the roads, creating hazards.  

The road from Cancun to Mahahual 

To drive from Cancun to Mahahual, you need to follow Mexico Federal Highway 307 southwards. This road is very safe and is frequented by a lot of tourists and locals alike. 

Once you exit the city, you will pass by Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Tulum, and the Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve. Continue following Highway 307 down until you reach the little village of Limones.

After passing through this settlement, you need to take a left turn onto Quintana Roo El Cafetal Mahahual. Continue along this road for about an hour and it will bring you to the gorgeous fishing village of Mahahual.

If you have a flexible schedule, you can make several stops along the way – spending a few nights in Playa del Carmen, a few nights in Tulum, etc. Alternatively, you can break up the 4.5-hour drive by stopping for lunch in Tulum and making a brief stop at Lake Noh-Bec to stretch your legs.

There is no signal in remote parts of Quintana Roo, and after passing the Sian Ka´an reserve area, you will probably note that you have no data or signal. It is a good idea to purchase a Mexican sim card in Cancun so that you can stay connected as best as you can. 

There is a great deal of nothing along the final stretch of the journey on El Cafetal Mahahual. You will pass by a couple of street vendors selling pan de elote and fresh coconuts but overall, it’s just a long stretch of road surrounded by trees and very few (if any) other vehicles on the road. 

Is it safe to drive from Cancun to Mahahual? 

It is very safe to drive from Cancun to Mahahual. Since so many tourists use Highway 307, the police make a lot of effort to keep it safe.

Mexico, in general, is safer than media portrayals and stereotypes would have you believe. Obviously, you should use common sense when driving here as you would when traveling anywhere else. But you don’t need to worry about unsavory types stopping you or encountering anything out of the ordinary. 

Police checkpoints on the roads in Mexico 

You will often pass police checkpoints on the road in Mexico. These are commonly found at state borders and on the outskirts of major cities and tourist attractions.

Sometimes, they may pop up randomly in a part of the state where they have not been previously. Although passing through a security checkpoint with armed police can be intimidating, these are just a precaution and they exist for everyone’s safety. 

The police are looking for any illegal activity or things like drugs and weapons. They wave most people through and as a tourist, it is highly unlikely that you would be stopped.

Still, on the rare chance that you are stopped (to reiterate, it is not at all common and is very unlikely), you just need to cooperate. You may need to show your passport and IMM immigration card, so do keep these with you at all times. After finding there is nothing untoward, the police will just wave you onwards. 

Take the bus from Cancun to Mahahual
Take the bus from Cancun to Mahahual

Cancun to Mahahual bus 

Public transport wise, the only option that you have for getting from Cancun to Mahahual is to take the bus. Mexican ADO buses are very comfortable, clean, and modern.

Most have bathrooms, air conditioning, reclining seats, complimentary wifi, and USB charging points on board. The first-class options also come with additional extras such as cushions and blankets, airplane-style seatback televisions, complimentary snacks, coffee, and bottled water. 

Although traffic can affect scheduling, buses in Mexico are usually very reliable and run on time. The only problem?

There is currently no direct bus from Cancun to Mahahual, or from Cancun airport to Mahahual. So, you need to first take a bus to Playa del Carmen, then transfer to a bus to Mahahual. This ends up taking about 6 hours in total, which is substantially longer than driving yourself or organizing a private transfer.

There are several bus stations in Cancun. Notably, there is one at the airport, one in the city center, one in the hotel zone, and one on the outskirts of town. 

If you are flying into Mexico and plan on heading straight out to Mahahual, it makes sense to get a bus directly from Cancun airport. Alternatively, if you are already in the city, the  ADO Centro (Av Uxmal 5) in downtown Cancun is a convenient choice. 

ADO First class bus

Taking the bus from Cancun Centro to PDC

Services from ADO Centro Cancun and Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen run very frequently throughout the day. There is a bus at about 00:30. Then, buses run every 20-30 minutes from 06:10 am.

Buses run less frequently after 20:00 p.m. The last bus of the day tends to be between 23:00 and 24:00 p.m. The journey from Cancun center to Playa Del Carmen takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes.

You can check the precise schedule via the ADO bus website or app. Both are available in Spanish only, but the schedule information is pretty self-explanatory. 

Taking the bus from Cancun Airport

Buses from Cancun Airport to Mahahual depart from terminals 2, 3, and 4 every 20-30 minutes between 6 am and 8 pm each day. The journey takes about an hour.

You will find small ticket booths on the outskirts of each terminal building where you can buy your bus ticket. However, you should try to ensure that you have plenty of small bills as these ADO vendors usually do not accept cards and do not have change. 

ADO Lounge in Cancun Centro
ADO Lounge in Cancun Centro

Purchasing your ADO bus ticket

You can purchase your bus tickets online, in advance if you want to secure a particular seat or if you are worried about wanting to have everything organized before you go. Since the ADO site and app often glitch when you try to make a payment with a foreign debit/credit card, you might find it easier to purchase your tickets via Busbud.

However, this site does take a commission. You can also buy tickets directly from the ticket offices at each bus station.

Since services depart so frequently, you don’t really have to worry that a particular service is going to run out of seats. Do try and arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your intended departure time to allow yourself plenty of time to buy a ticket and get onboard. 

Bus ticket prices vary depending on demand and seasonality. (The peak season in this part of Mexico is between November and January).

You are looking at between 98 ($5) and 228 ($11.50) pesos per person for a one-way bus ticket between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. From PDC to Mahahual, the bus costs between 180 ($9) and 300 pesos ($15).  

Taking the bus from Playa del Carmen to Mahahual 

Autobuses Caribe operate a bus service from Playa del Carmen to Mahahual once per day. The bus departs at 08:00 a.m. and makes a brief stop in Tulum before continuing onwards to Mahahual.

The official journey time is 4 hours. However, you should allow for a slightly longer journey in case of traffic.

There are a couple of bus stations in Playa del Carmen. But the main one, and the one where you will arrive from Cancun and transfer for Mahahual, is the station situated on 5th Avenue and Juarez Street. 

Arriving in Mahahual 

The bus station in Mahahual is very central. Since the fishing village is very small, you will be able to walk from the station to your hotel in a couple of minutes.

If you have a lot of luggage, you can take a local taxi. Taxis are always waiting close to the bus station and the journey should not cost more than a couple of dollars.

Organize a private transfer/cab 

Arguably the most comfortable option for traveling from Cancun to Mahahual is to organize a private transfer. This way, you have a door-to-door service taking you from either Cancun airport or your hotel in Cancun to Mahahual.

A private transfer completely removes any of the stress or hassle of having to figure out how to get from A to B, wait for buses, etc. If there is a group of you, it doesn’t really work out any more expensive than having to buy individual bus tickets. 

Better still? You will be traveling in style in an air-conditioned vehicle with a bilingual driver, and complimentary bottled water.

If you prefer not to rent a car, this is arguably the next best option. This way, the journey to Mahahual by road takes around 4.5 hours, rather than the 7 hours or so that it takes when you have to change buses numerous times.

For a private transfer, you are looking at around $350 each way or $700 round trip for up to 8 people. While that obviously isn’t the most economical choice, it is also not quite as expensive as you may imagine if there is a group of you. 

Assuming there are 8 people, it works out to around $43.50 per person, each way. If there are 6 of you, you are looking at $58 each. Long-distance bus tickets in Mexico are not that much different in price. 

Take a taxi or an Uber 

Uber exists in Cancun (it is actually the only part of Quintana Roo where it is legal). So too do several licensed taxi firms.

You may be able to pre-book an Uber or a licensed cab firm to take you to Mahahual but you need to be mindful of the price. At the very least, you are looking at around $300-$350 one way, and often, prearranged private shuttles work out better.

Not only is the price of a private shuttle service either cheaper or comparable, the service and vehicle are usually better. There is a difference between traveling in a luxury Mercedes Benz and in the back of a regular street taxi. 

Similarly, not every taxi in Mexico has functioning air conditioning or strong air conditioning. Traveling long distances in 95-degree heat is unbearable without AC! 

Be mindful of taxi scams

Unfortunately, taxi scams do exist in Mexico, particularly in tourist hotspots like Cancun. To avoid being the victim of such a scam, you should either prearrange a car via Uber and check the driver’s past reviews or have your hotel/the airport organize a vehicle for you. 

There is no accountability when you get into a random car on the street and this is how most scams occur. You are more likely to find a driver who is willing to take you to Mahahual if you pre-book the taxi. Street cabbies may not be open to accepting the journey as they then have a long journey back to Cancun with no fares.  

Agree on a price with the driver before you get into the vehicle. It pays to have an offline map app such as Google Maps or Maps Me on your phone so that you can follow the route that you are taking.

Fly to Mahahual

The closest large international airport to Mahahual is Cancun International. There is a small airport in Chetumal but it is mostly for private flights.

As a commercial airline passenger, it is very unlikely you would ever use this airport. So, although it appears as though a closer airport to Mahahual exists, it isn’t a practical consideration. 

Final thoughts on traveling from Cancun to Mahahual in 2023

Do you have any additional questions or concerns about making the journey from Cancun to Mahahual (or vice versa)? Which transport method do you prefer for making the journey? 

If this is your first time traveling to Mexico, you might find these travel tips useful. Have a wonderful trip!

Buen Viaje! Xo 

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.