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Sunday, December 4, 2022

The smart traveler’s guide to flying to the Yucatán Peninsula

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Mexico receives an average of 45 million visitors a year, and momentum only seems to be growing. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pristine beaches, ancient ruins, charming colonial towns, and luxury resorts, Mexico does have it all. It is no mystery why Mexico is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire world. 

There is nothing quite like getting on an airplane (especially during the winter) and landing in sunny Mexico. But as with all other major destinations, travel to Mexico is not always smooth. That is why more and more holidaymakers are looking for direct flights to their favorite destinations.

Mexico’s Caribbean coast has over 100,000 hotel rooms at every price point imaginable, so doing your research really pays off. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

While most travelers from major cities in the United States, Canada, and Europe fly directly into Cancún, those living in smaller cities and towns don’t have that luxury. Then there is also cost to consider, as itineraries with one or more stops tend to be considerably less expensive. 

Did you know? Chichén Itzá actually has its own large international airport, though it really never “took off.”

Chichén Itzá may be Yucatán’s most famous archaeological site, but there are actually dozens of other impressive Maya ruins on the Peninsula open to the public. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But regardless of where you are traveling from or where your final destination in Mexico happens to be, an understanding of the country’s airports and distances between attractions will always be an ally that can save you money. 

Cancún International Airport

Cancún International Terminal 3 receives most incoming flights from the U.S. and Canada. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

This airport is the second-busiest in Mexico (after Benito Juárez) and third in Latin America. It acts as a major hub for Cancún, the Riviera Maya, and southeast Mexico. 

Dozens of airlines with direct flights to cities around North America, Europe, and Asia operate daily, making it the most popular port of arrival for vacationers on their way to Mexico’s Caribbean and the Yucatán Peninsula.

Cancún may be the most famous destination on the Yucatán Peninsula but is by no means the only place worth visiting. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pro Tip: Never just get in a taxi at Cancún’s airport without negotiating the total price beforehand

Cancún’s airport shuttles are free and just as fast as taxis, so unless you are really pressed for time they are by far the best option. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The airport has four terminals connected by free shuttles, which leave every 15 minutes. The airport can get busy but is in general quite efficient, though arriving early is still important. 

Cancún’s airport seems to be perpetually full to the brim, so make sure to get there early. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

One of the trickiest things about arriving at Cancún International is finding the best way to get to your final destination. As you leave the terminal you will be bombarded with offers for “almost free” taxis which are in fact extremely overpriced. Unless you have a pre-paid transfer waiting for you, your best bet is to find the ADO bus counter in whatever terminal you happen to be in and go from there. 

Keep in mind that the ADO bus from Cancún’s Airport to Cancún and Playa del Carmen will drop you off in the city center. From there you can take another bus or taxi to your final destination. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pro tip: If you are doing a multi-destination trip, leaving Yucatán from Cancún is a good idea since it has the most flights

This is by far the cheapest and safest way to get to Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and other nearby destinations. If you are making your way to destinations further afield like Valladolid or Mérida, you can also take a bus directly from the Cancún Airport. Take a look at ADO’s website for prices and itineraries. 

Cozumel International Airport

Cozumel is famous as a major cruise ship destination, for its world-class scuba diving, beaches, and Mayan ruins. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Though much smaller than Cancún’s airport, Cozumel International is still a great gateway to Mexico’s Caribbean from several U.S. and Canadian cities, including Toronto, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Montreal. The fact that the airport is so close to town and all of the resorts also means short transfer times and less of a need to leave super early. 

Pro Tip: Ferries from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen leave every half hour, but it’s still a good idea to buy your ticket ahead of time

In such a small airport, flying in and out of Cozumel international is usually a breeze. Photo: Courtesy Cozumel Airport Authority

Pro Tip: Paying in dollars or euros is always more expensive, so remember to have pesos in hand. 

While it’s true that flights into Cozumel International are, on average, more expensive than those to Cancún, if Cozumel is your final destination, savings often mitigate the extra cost of the flight on transfers, ferries, and taxis. 

Chetumal International Airport

Chetumal may not be a huge destination in itself, but its proximity to Bacalar, plenty of Mayan ruins, and the border with Belize make it a convenient place to fly into. Photo: Carlos Rosado an der Gracht

Many people may be surprised to see Chetumal on this list. But as it happens this tiny airport is really growing at quite a surprising pace. At the moment the only international flight from Chetumal is to Guatemala City, but if you are looking to visit Bacalar or go on to Central America from a trip to Mérida or Mexico City, flying into Chetumal makes all the sense in the world.

Pro Tip: If you need a wheelchair or assistance at any airport in Mexico, the airport must offer these services at no cost. 

Chetumal is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo, a fact that even many Mexicans ignore, as cities like Cancún and Playa del Carmen are so much larger. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The airport’s facilities are rather basic but are functional enough for most travelers. Best of all long lines are a rarity and its proximity to town makes for easy and inexpensive transfers. 

Mérida International Airport

Recent improvements to Mérida’s International Airport now position it as one of the best in the region. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Like Chetumal, Mérida’s airport is currently experiencing quite a bit of growth, but on a much larger scale. Officially the Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport, Mérida’s airport has recently been refurbished and is now among the best in the Peninsula.

Mérida has long been a popular destination for those seeking to explore its colonial charm and nearby Mayan Ruins. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The airport operates direct flights from several destinations including Houston, Miami, Toronto, Havana, and Guatemala City, as well as several daily flights across Mexico. Getting to Mérida’s airport is easy and inexpensive by taxi or ride-sharing apps, but when you fly in only registered taxis are allowed to pick up travelers. To bypass this rule, all you need to do is walk a couple of hundred feet along a path out of the airport onto Avenida Aviacion and hail a cab or Uber/DiDi from there. 

Pro Tip: To avoid Mérida’s airport’s excessive taxi fees just walk a couple of hundred feet to exit the airport

Over the past years, there has been a lot of talk about building a new airport to serve Mérida in the municipality of Umán, but nothing has yet materialized and most agree it to be unnecessary. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Campeche’s airport

With such few flights but good infrastructure, Campeche’s Alberto Acuña Ongay airport sure has room to grow. Photo: Courtesy

The airport in Campeche’s Capital of the same name is a good size and feels quite modern. The thing is that it receives very few flights, almost all being to and from Mexico City.

Did you know? Campeche is the only state in Mexico that borders two countries, these being Belize and Guatemala

Campeche is a charming colonial city with remarkable architecture and an extremely long boardwalk that goes on for over 5 miles. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But despite its limited amount of flights, flying to Campeche can be very convenient if your main destination is the City of Campeche itself or the many ruins in the area. 

The Airports of Mexico City

When you fly into Mexico city for the first time it’s hard to not be taken aback by how huge it really is. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you are looking for a deal, or are flying out of a city without any direct flights to Cancún, you will likely have to make a stop or layover in Mexico City. While this may sound daunting, it’s not all bad. 

Benito Juárez International Airport

Mexico City’s main airport can at times be overwhelming, just keep your cool and ask the staff for help if you need it. Photo: Courtesy

Despite being in what feels like a constant state of construction, Benito Juárez International draws criticism for its out-of-date facilities, inefficiencies, and chronic delays. Then again this chaos is understandable (to a point) as on an average day the airport’s two huge terminals handle nearly 100,000 passengers a day with flights to well over 100 destinations. 

Doing a two or three day layover in Mexico City before moving on to Cancún or Playa del Carmen is a great opportunity to visit its world-class museums, Aztec ruins, and several of the country’s best restaurants. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pro Tip: If you are low on funds you can get to Mexico City’s airport via CDMX’s subway Line 5 for just 3 pesos, roughly 15 cents USD.

Movement between terminals can be sluggish, as the train designed to connect them all is often out of service; forcing travelers to use cramped buses to move around. The airport has a handful of decent lounges including Lounge 19 and Centurion, as well as a handful of fairly decent restaurants, fast food joints, and snack bars. 

Aztec Ruins at El Templo Mayor with Mexico’s bustling capital rattling on in the background. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Pro-tip: Benito Juárez airport in Mexico City has some surprisingly good restaurants including Tasca Don Quino, La Mansion, and Vuela Carmela. 

Being Mexico’s busiest airport means travelers are often forced to travel through Benito Juárez, but it’s not all bad as the staff is generally quite helpful —  a necessity when navigating this behemoth. If you have a long wait ahead of you, be mindful of your belonging and stalk out a power outlet to charge your devices, as these are in fairly short supply. 

Toluca’s Adolfo López Mateos International Airport

Located in Mexico State, Toluca’s airport is considered the main alternative for Mexico City’s Benito Juárez, as it’s only 25 miles away. Photo: Courtesy Toluca Airport Authority

Though it’s officially an international airport, it currently only operates domestic flights, though new international routes are being planned. So why mention this airport at all? Well, several of Mexico’s low-cost carriers fly on the cheap out of Toluca to destinations including Cancún, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and Mérda. So if you are looking to spend a few days soaking in the culture of Mexico City, before hitting the beach, this can be a great option. 

Pro Tip: Getting to and from Toluca’s Adolfo López Mateos to Mexico City can be more complicated than one would think, so make sure to book a transfer ahead of time. 

Felipe Ángeles International Airport

Though the Felipe Angeles airport opened just last March, it is already showing signs of looking rather run down. Photo: Courtesy

In the municipality of Zumpango, Felipe Angeles Airport is 27 miles from Benito Juárez International. To facilitate transfers, Mexico City’s government has announced new bus routes to connect the airports, as well as express services for roughly 150 pesos, or US$7.50

Pro Tip: This may sound weird, but check out the airport’s bathrooms, some are truly extraordinary. 

One of the few highlights of Felipe Ángeles International is its Luchador-themed bathroom. Photo: Courtesy 

Inaugurated just this year, the airport was envisioned as an alternative to Benito Juárez, but is marred in controversy and has failed to attract any international flights and only a few domestic ones. It is on this list so you know to avoid it, as its facilities are notoriously terrible.

Do you have any travel advice you think would be helpful to our readers? Send us an email at: carlosrosado@roofcatmedia.com

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