December 2014, my husband and I, flew to Mexico for the Christmas break. What a trip it was. So much that I want to share – things to do, things not to do, lessons learnt etc.
We landed in Cancun from Calgary, Canada. A few facts that I would like you to know before going to Cancun for the first time: the commercial zone is the Cancun Hoteleria zone (20-25 km long strip) which is separated from the Cancun city. If your hotel is in the hotel zone, you can hire a supercab from the airport to get there (17 USD/ person). Alternatively, you can take the ADO bus for 48 pesos per person (approximately 5 $) to Cancun downtown and then Route R1 to the Hotel zone for 20 pesos (2$).
Rent a car vs. no car: Most places in and around Cancun are doable by bus. The ADO (called by the initials) bus service is cheap and takes you pretty much everywhere within reasonable time. Route R1 and R2 connect the whole hotel zone and also the hotel zone with the Cancun city bus stop (for 20 pesos per person)
Couple of things that you can do in the hotel zone (in addition to chilling on the beach, ;)) :
Night show with memes of the popular american performers and singers, stage acts, etc. The tickets are around 80-150$/person, depending on the occasion.
A trick is to buy the ticket from outside the show building at around 10-11 pm. We stopped by a coco bongo place around this time, and the ticket seller was offering us the tickets for 30$/person.
La Isla mall:
If you want to try nice mexican restraunts (and cheap), or shop or visit an aquarium, this is the place for you.
“Isla” is “Island” in spanish, and “Mujeres” is “Women”. It is a sleepy little island around 20 minute ferry ride away from Cancun (20 USD per person) We took the “Ultramar” ferry. We did not check the prices for other ferries, so not sure if there is a cheaper way to get there (hey, may be you can swim 20 miles and get there for free, kidding!!) We went there to visit the city and to snorkel. While the sleepy island of Isla Mujeres was beautiful with tiny streets and filled with bars to relax and enjoy a drink, snorkelling, however, was a disappointment. There were no fish!!!!! It was a bummer, we had paid 25$ per person for snorkelling (for a group of 8) and we later found out that everybody paid different – so it really comes down to how you negotiate. They will tell you that they include lunch in the price – and it was meh!
You can rent a bike or a golf car to explore the island.
From Cancun, we took a trip to Chichenitza:
You may have to decide if you want to take a guided tour or not. The cheapest option to get here (with a guided tour) is this: http://www.cancun-discounts.com/tours/cancun/chichen-itza-tour.htm, or see if you can take a bus to Chichen itza from ADO.
We took a different tour with a tour company called Viator, It was around 70$ per person, and included Chichenitza entrance fee (~10-15$/ person), a trip to the cenote Ik Kil (not including the locker fee, which is nominal) and lunch at an amazing mexican place. (Footnote: Cenotes are huge sink holes in the Mayan land (and found only in the Carrabian Islands, I think) – some of them have underwater caves that you can explore with a guide. <You need to be PADI open water certified to go cave diving in the cenotes in Mexico>). We just thought this was a little expensive, but “cancundiscounts” was not available at the time we were looking. So if you are interested in going with Cancun discounts, book early, as they seem to get full pretty quick.
As for viator, our guide was awesome. His name was Hugo and was very well experienced about Chichenitza and other Mayan sites. Because Chichenitza is the newest of Mayan ruins (actually temples), they are in pretty good shape and well restored.
Swimming in cenote waters on a hot day was such fun. If you do not know how to swim, you can rent a life jacket for 7 pesos.
Another thing you should do is explore the city of Cancun, just to try out some real mexican food, talk to some people and experience the culture.
I found that the Cancun hotel zone, the major tourist destination that it is, is so different from the rest of Mexico. To explore Mexico more, I would highly recommend Merida. I researched a lot about Merida, but we did not have enough time to go there. It is famous for its churches, spanish architecture, caves and beautiful and colorful buildings.
Playa del Carmen:
We spent a couple of days in this beautiful city, that comes to life after sunset. 5 Ave or Quinta Avenida is the most happening place in Playa. People chill by the beach during the day and party in the evenings. Everything from chic pubs and bars to sheesha (haahh- I lost my sheesha virginity at Playa – at the age of 29, shame on me) can be found at Quinta Avenida. Just walk around or hire a bike or something to explore the beautiful city.
One thing that you should not miss, are the amusement parks near Playa, on the way to Tulum. In case you are wondering: Tulum is another of Mayan ruins located by the beach making it a beautiful site. A little further are the Coba ruins (the only ruins you are still allowed to climb).
The amusement parts – X-caret, Xel-ha and Xplore. They are expensive (90-150 $/person) but worth every penny. We looked up the difference between the three and decided to go to Xplore (as there were more activities in this one): To get to these from Playa, just take a bus (instead of a taxi) from ADO for 1.48$ one way. Or book the ticket at the ADO station and they give you to and fro transportation free.
XCaret: X-caret is an interactive zoo and is said to be the the most popular and the best out of the three. Swimming/ snorkelling through underground rivers to see fish. Now I thought these rivers were man made, for the purpose of these parks, but I was told otherwise. If you (accidently) taste the river water, you can taste the minerals that the river carries through. Observe the Stalectites and Stalegmites (limestone structures in the caves. Free buffey and beer, and the best part is the 2-3 hour performance showing the mexican history.
Xel-ha: Its all about water.snorkelling and cenotes.
Xplore: Ziplining (7 of them, before you finally land into water— wohooo) (but gets tiring in between), ampphibian trucks (awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome), rafting in underground river, swimming in underground river (they give you a life jacket, which makes it difficult to swim), free food (unlimited , burppp) and if it gets cold – there is an amazing campfire – where we met some fellow travellers. We went there at night (which is the cheaper option)
Side note 3: For a better comparison:
This was all we did this time around. Ofcourse we had to have our beach time (SUNBLOCK ALERT), and so we had to forego the Tulum ruins, and the town of Merida. But I am pretty sure, the next time I go, I will not miss these:
3. Cave diving in a cenote
4. Merida for its architecture (colorful buildings)
5. And ofcourse the whole different side of Mexico – Mexico city, Guadalajara…..
I am still on a Cancun high. I am learning spanish to prepare myself for a long trip to South America soon. yayyyyy!!! So, if you are planning to go to Cancun sometime soon, have a great time, and let me know your experiences.
Until next time.