Curious how to get from Cancun to Mahahual? The two destinations make a great inclusion to any trip to the Mexican Yucatan and fortunately, the journey between them both only takes a couple of hours.
You have a couple of options available for making the 355km journey. You can take the bus, organise a private transfer/taxi, hire a car and drive, or from December 2023, you can ride the Mayan train.
You are in good hands here because I live in the Yucatan and have made this journey a couple of times. In this post, we will explore all of the various options available to you, their costs and their travel time, so that you can choose which one is the best for you.
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 ancient Mayan ruins of Chacchoben, Oxtankah, Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Kinichna.
How to Get from Cancun to Mahahual in 2023 and Beyond
The sleepy fishing village of Mahahual provides a stark contrast to the glittering hi-rises and hotel zone of Cancun, and the two destinations make a nice travel pairing. You can also use Mahahual as a base for further exploration of the Costa Maya.
From here, you can travel out to the gorgeous seven-colour lagoon of Lake Bacalar, the off-the-beaten-path Lake Noh-Bec, and the archaeological sites of Chacchoben, Oxtankah, Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Kinichna.
Mahahual itself is more of a place to relax than a place where you check activities off a to-do list. If spending your mornings relaxing on a white-sand beach overlooking the translucent blue waters of the Caribbean, and your afternoons having brunch or going to the span sounds like paradise for you, Mahahual is a perfect choice.
The easiest way to get from Cancun to Mahahual is to rent a car.
Driving in the Yucatan is not as daunting as it may sound and car rental prices here are so reasonable that if there are a group of you travelling together, it often works out better to rent a car than to purchase multiple bus/train tickets.
There is currently no direct bus from Cancun to Mahahual so you need to transfer in Playa Del Carmen which is a bit of a pain, but services do run frequently. From December 2023, you can also take the high speed Mayan train to Bacalar and then transfer to Mahahual, which should help cut down on your journey time.
Renting a car in Mexico offers you a lot more freedom and flexibility in your schedule and makes getting around a lot easier if you are embarking on a wider Yucatan itinerary.
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 both Cancun International Airport (CUN) and the city centre.
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 steep! 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 onto 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. You can opt to spend 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 Biosphere Reserve, 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 and the Costa Maya is a safe area. 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 so do keep this with you at all times.
After finding there is nothing untoward, the police will just wave you onwards.
Cancun to Mahahual bus
Taking the bus from Cancun to Mahahual is the cheapest way to make the journey and while not everyone is a fan of bus travel, Mexican 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 ADO 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 is that 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 organising a private transfer.
There are several bus stations in Cancun. Buses pick up from various terminals at the airport, from the ADO Centro in downtown Cancun and the hotel zone.
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.
Several different bus operators service this route including ADO, ADO Conecta (a smaller shuttle) and Amstar.
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. The first bus departs from Cancun at 06:00 am and then services run every 10-30 minutes throughout the day.
The The journey from Cancun centre to Playa Del Carmen takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes. The last bus of the day departs at 23:25pm and reaches Playa Del Carmen at 00:55am.
You can check the precise schedule via the ADO bus website or app or via Busbud. The ADO platforms are only available in Spanish, 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.
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 organised 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.
This site does take a commission but it is only around $1 or so. 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 85 ($5) and 250($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 although 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.
Take the Tren Maya train
On the 15th December 2023, the Tren Maya train will finally open to the public after years of work and anticipation. The train will cover a 1,554km route around the Yucatan peninsula, connecting travellers with dozens of towns, villages and Mayan archeological sites across the Yucatan.
Although the high speed train wll not run directly from Cancun to Mahahual, it will run from Cancun to Bacalar. Travelling down the coast of Quintana Roo will be much faster by rail and so you can travel to Bacalar, spend a day or two in the lake town if your schedule allows, and then take a bus or a taxi onwards to Mahahual.
Tren Maya tickets will be available to purchase at the various train stations and online via a dedicated website. The website isnt live yet, but tickets are expected to go on sale from the beginning of December.
Organize a private transfer service
Arguably the most comfortable option for traveling from Cancun to Mahahual is to organise a private transport service 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 many Uber drivers may not be willing to make the journey because of the distance and the fact that they are unlikely to find a fare on their return. You can pre-book an Uber in advance but I have done this in the past, only to find that after having a confirmed reservation for days, a driver cancels 5 minutes before the pick-up-
You also 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, air-conditioned Mercedes Benz and in the back of a regular street taxi.
Not every taxi in Mexico has functioning air conditioning and travelling 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.
What is the closest airport to Mahahual?
The closest large international airport to Mahahual has always been Cancun International. However, the “new” Tulum International Airport is set to open in December 2023 and is slightly closer to the beach town.
There is a small airport in Chetumal but it is mostly for private flights and it is extremely unlikely that you would ever use this airport as a commercial airline passenger, unless you are lucky enough to have a private jet!
Final thoughts on travelling from Cancun to Mahahual in 2023
Mahahual is a gorgeous place to visit during your time in the Yucatan. This little beach town, along with other similar lesser-known areas like El Cuyo and Akumal are reminiscent of what Tulum was like 10-15 years ago and for the time being at least, it sees a fraction of the crowds that are seen by more popular areas in the Riviera Maya.
Do you have any additional questions or concerns about making the journey from Cancun to Mahahual (or vice versa)? As I mentioned, I live in Yucatan (in the city of Merida) and I am always happy to help out with any questions or queries that you may have.
If this is your first time traveling to Mexico, you might find these travel tips useful. Have a wonderful trip and please dont hesitate to reach out to me if you need something.
Buen Viaje! Melissa Xo