This information is based on research undertaken in July 2011.
The cab drivers at Cancun airport have been jacking up the cost of a cab from the airport to Cancun. There have been reports of tourists being charged $50U.S. for this 20 minute ride.
Cancun airport is south of the city of Cancun. If your intention is to go south, then it makes little sense to first go north into Cancun.
There is an ADO shuttle bus that leaves the airport every hour to the southern city of Playa del Carmen. ADO is a Mexican bus line that provides first class service to the Yucatan region. The buses are either Volvos or Mercedes. They are air conditioned, have toilets, reclining seats and T.V. Traveling on an ADO bus is similar to traveling in an aircraft. The cost from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen is 100 pesos. Less than $10 U.S.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen in the 1980’s was a sleepy village of 300 people. 30 years later it has a WalMart. There is nothing sleepy about it in 2011. The main drag is Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue). A pedestrian thoroughfare which is home to bars, restaurants, retail stores and hotels. It runs parallel to the beach, one block inland. Streets in Playa are based on a grid system. Avenidas run north/south, Calles run east/west. Avenidas are numbered 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th. Calles are 2nd, 4th 6th etc.
There are 2 ADO bus stations in Playa. One is at the southern end of Quinta Avenida, (2nd Calle Norte) close to the ferry terminal to Cozumel. The other is at 20th Avenida and 12th Calle Norte. They are a 15 minute walk apart. A cab is 40 pesos.
The shuttle bus from Cancun Airport arrives at the terminal close to the ferry to Cozumel. This is good because all the cheap hotels are at that end of Quinta Avenida.
There are over 80 hotels in and around Quinta Avenida, the price range is from $50U.S. to $250U.S. per night. I looked at 5 hotels and stayed in 2.
Hotel Posada Freud, room had one queen sized bed. Between 8th and 10th Calle.
Maya Bric Hotel, between 8th and 10th Calle.
Hotel Pension San Juan, between 6th and 8th Calle
Casa Santiago Hostel, room had 2 double beds. Calle 10th, go towards the sea from 5th Avenida, it’s on the right.
At $50 to $60 they are not fancy, but they all have bathrooms en suite and are clean and safe. Each can be found on the web.
If you do not wish to stay on Quinta Avenida, then the Hotel Maya Turquesa on Calle 8 Norte between 10th and 15th Avenida, is in a quiet neighbourhood.
You can search Bookit.com for fancy, all inclusive hotels between $50-$80 per night.
If you survive the Tequila bars, the bus to the south goes from the ADO terminal on 20th Avenida and 12th Calle Norte. Just walk along 5th Avenida and turn inland on 12th Calle Norte. It is 3 short blocks away (15 minutes walk from any of the hotels mentioned above.)
Buses to Chetumal (the Mexican southern border with Belize) run at 6.20, 7.20, 9.20, 10.50, 11.50, 12.25, 13.20, 14.35, 15.10, 16.35, etc.
The journey time is 5 hours with a 10 minute stop after an hour at Tulum. Make sure you have warm clothes because some Mexican buses are cold enough to hang meat. The driver loves that air conditioning. ADO first class buses are first class. You pick your seat. Your luggage goes in compartments under the seating area. The seat reclines. There are toilets. The cost is 240 pesos (less than $24U.S.)
5 hours after departing Playa you will be in the ADO bus terminal in Chetumal. There are a few departures to Belize City but the best way to reach Corozal is to walk outside the terminal to the taxi rank and ask for the “Nuevo Mercado” (New Market). The cab ride costs between 12 and 20 pesos. The Belizean buses are old school buses. The fare to Corozal is $1.75U.S. These buses run every half hour from 7am to 6pm.
It takes 20 minutes to reach the border. You will have to exit Mexico. Depending on your visa and how long you want to be in Belize, this could cost you $20U.S. If your Mexican visa is valid until you return to Mexico, technically you can exit Mexico and return to Mexico on the same visa, with no need to incur the exit tax.
A taxi from Chetumal to Corozal is between $40 and $50 U.S. Make sure the Mexican cab driver has a passport with him; otherwise you will be stranded at the border. As a general rule there are no cabs at the Belizean side of the border.
Once you exit Mexico there is a free trade zone, so the borders are a half mile apart. You will then have to formally enter Belize. Belize grants a 30 day visa at no cost (but you will have to pay $19U.S. to exit Belize). Once the bureaucracy is out of the way, it is a 10 minute bus ride to Corozal. From Chetumal to Corozal takes about an hour.
Make sure you have $19 U.S. exit tax from Belize. Buses from Corozal to Chetumal run on the hour and half hour. The ride is an hour (depending on the crowd at the border) to the Nuevo Mercado (New Market), Chetumal. Transfer by cab to the “terminal de buses”.
Buses to Playa (and Cancun) depart at 00.45, 06.30, 08.30, 10.30, 12.30, 13.30, 14.30, 15.30, 16.30, 18.30, 20.00, 23.30. There is 10 minute stop after 2.5 hours at Felipe Carrillo Puerto.