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Wednesday,  April 17, 2024 5:54 PM 

What’s the Maya Train like? Freddie Marsh rides the new Cancun-Playa del Carmen circuit

What’s the Maya Train like? Freddie Marsh rides the new Cancun-Playa del Carmen circuit
Freddie Marsh, BDM for Western Canada at Playa Hotels & Resorts, rides the new Maya Train from Cancun to Playa del Carmen. (Supplied)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Freddie Marsh is known for keeping track of travel agents that report their bookings.

But sometimes, the business development manager for Playa Hotels and Resorts is on a track – like last week, when he gave the brand-new Tren Maya (Maya Train) a go, riding the Yucatan’s new rail system from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and back.

The Maya Train is a 1,554-kilometre railway network that links five states in southern Mexico: Campeche, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Tabasco.

The aim of the project, a $20 billion-dollar system that was first announced in September 2018, is to connect beach resorts with lesser-known towns inland and archeological sites, including the historic Mayan ruins.

Tren Maya (Maya Train) links five states in southern Mexico. (Freddie Marsh)

The train opened its first stretch in December 2023, a route from Campeche to Cancun, with stops in the colonial city of Merida, the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and several other towns.

This month, the network unveiled its latest section, a route between Cancun and Playa del Carmen (including a stop in Puerto Morelos), introducing a new way to get from A to B to C in one of Mexico’s most popular tourist regions (it will eventually extend to Tulum).

Marsh was in Quintana Roo last week, from March 18-22, hosting a FAM for 14 new-to-industry travel advisors from Fareconnect at Playa’s seven properties in the area: in Cancun – Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara, Wyndham Alltra and Seadust, and in Playa del Carmen – the Hilton, Wyndham Alltra and the Yucatan Resort.

Freddie Marsh was in Mexico leading a FAM with travel advisors from Fareconnect. (Supplied)

He arrived in Cancun, the FAM’s starting point, a day early, and he had some free time. So he decided to hop aboard the Maya Train and check it out for himself.  

“I’m a bit of a train geek,” Marsh said, speaking to PAX about his experience. “I love travelling by train.”

The inside scoop

The main road from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, and vice versa, can sometimes jam with snarled-up traffic (depending on the hour).

The introduction of a train “is such a great way to get between the two cities,” said Marsh, who represents Playa in Western Canada.  

A social media maven, Marsh posted about his experience aboard the Maya Train on his Instagram Stories last week, and since then, he’s been “getting lots of questions” from travel advisors. 

“People are definitely interested,” the BDM said. 

Freddie Marsh, BDM for Western Canada at Playa Hotels & Resorts, rides the new Maya Train out of Cancun. (Supplied)

The first thing to know about the Maya Train in Cancun is that while it’s linked with CUN airport, the station itself is not located at the terminal.

“It’s on the other side of the runway,” Marsh shared, noting that there’s a free shuttle to get to the train station just beyond the airport’s exit doors (there are signs). 

It’s a big green AdoTur bus, Marsh said, and getting to the station takes about 10 minutes. (Passengers can also Uber there, if they like).

It appears more connectivity is coming though. According to Riviera Maya News, seven electric buses are also being deployed for the airport-Tren Maya station circuit from terminals 2, 3 and 4.

Green AdoTur bus offers a free shuttle from CUN airport to the train station. (Freddie Marsh)

There’s also a transport option, via red bus, to the train station from Central Cancun at the ADO Bus Station (Calle Pino, SM23, MZ56, Lt 1 y 2 Supermanzana 23, Centro, 77500). This, however, costs $120 pesos (about $10 CAD).

“You have to pay in cash, and you have to pay in pesos,” Marsh said. “I found out the hard way. I only had U.S. dollars, but luckily there were people on the bus who exchanged my money.”

Upon arrival at Cancun’s Maya Train stop, expect a “beautiful, massive station in the middle of nowhere,” Marsh said.

“There’s still a lot of construction going on,” he noted.

Passengers can buy their tickets at the station, at a kiosk or online.

Marsh recommends the latter. “The line [at the train station] didn’t seem to be moving,” he said. “I pre-purchased my ticket on the train’s website. I didn’t have to print it out either. Once I booked it, they sent me an email with an attached ticket.”

The Cancun-Playa del Carmen route is a roughly 67-kilometre segment that operates three daily round trips, with one-way prices ranging from 79 pesos ($6.40 CAD) for seniors and those with disabilities to 197 pesos ($16 CAD) for international passengers in “Tourist Class” to 315 pesos (around $25.50 CAD) in “Premier” class.

Of the two classes, Marsh chose to ride in “Premier” (“Why wouldn’t I? It’s only nine dollars more,” he said), and he loved everything about it, from the railcar’s spacious 1-2 seat configuration to the comfortable seats.

Marsh's view in Premier class aboard the new Maya Train. (Supplied)

“It’s very nice,” he said, adding that his car, during the ride, was only about a quarter full.

Getting from Cancun to Playa del Carmen takes one hour each way (that’s including the stop in Puerto Morelos), Marsh said. Food and drink service is also offered on board.

Marsh has one warning though: if you’re returning to Cancun by train and want to Uber to your hotel (in the Hotel Zone, for example), ride share isn't available at the train station.

“You can only take a taxi, which costs $1,100 peso (about $89 CAD), which is a lot,” he said. “I ended up taking the red ADO bus back to Central Cancun [and Ubering from there]." 

"A fun little adventure”

Will the new Maya Train attract Canadian visitors? Marsh thinks so.

While airport transfers to and from hotels are often included in vacation packages when they are booked through a tour operator, “we’re seeing more agents book directly with hotels,” Marsh said.

“For people who are booking direct hotels and flights this would be a great option,” he said. (Especially for travellers staying in the Puerto Morelos or Playa del Carmen areas).

Having a train run between Cancun and Playa del Carmen also opens the door for more day trips, Marsh added.

“If you’re in one city and want to visit the other for a day, the train is easy and affordable. It’s also a fun little adventure,” he said.

Marsh hopes to one day ride the Maya Train again, and next time, he wants to take the route from Cancun to Merida, the vibrant Yucatan capital that's famous for its Mayan and colonial heritage.

“The train is a great opportunity for people who want to explore the region,” Marsh said. “It’s opening up all of these destinations that people would have otherwise not travelled to. It’s making it easier to get around.”

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