Things you need to see and know before you go to Cancun
As summer is settling in to San Diego, I am glad to say that I had an early summer this year, as I blogged in March. I went to beautiful Cancun and it was truly an eye opening experience since I had never seen the Caribbean Sea!
Bring out the coconut smelling tanning oils, frozen margaritas, daisy dukes, and colorful pedicures; it’s time for summer!
Here’s my much helpful travel guide to beautiful Cancun.
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(This is obviously for you who are not planning on renting a car.)
So first thing is first, from the airport to your hotel, this website is the cheapest option I found. You can book it online beforehand, and you do not need to prepay. It’s a $65 roundtrip to Zona Hotelera which is most likely where your hotel will be located. It’s very reliable and on time. The driver will wait for you outside the airport with your name on a sign, and you will have to pay the driver the full amount then and there. On the booking page you have to fill out your flight information, so don’t worry, they will be waiting for you. Once you pay, you will get a voucher for your return, so do not loose it because it’s your ticket back to the airport when you departure.
The public transportation around Zona Hotelera is the one going on Kukulkan Blvd, the main street. These buses goes to all the hotels in the area, to “The City” where all the nightclubs and restaurants are, shopping centers, markets, and Downtown Cancun, where you can find a Walmart and more markets. The most common buses are R-1 or R-2 but there is no need to know the exact routes, just ask if they are going to your destination. The rate is MXN$ 9.50 (or approximately US$ 1).
2. US DOLLARS
You can use US dollars to get around in Mexico. I don’t think I came across one tour, nightclub, or street vendor that didn’t accept US dollars. Now, this will occur under their terms of course. They will give you Mexican Pesos back, and the exchange rate isn’t the most accurate but at times you just don’t have another option or in our case, pure laziness. For example, today’s currency exchange is US$ 7.57 for MXN$ 100, but they will basically change it for US$ 10. If you think about it, it adds up, but we didn’t change that many dollars, only for transportation.
3. STREET VENDORS AND NEGOTIATION
Since I have expertise in negotiating with Chilean Street vendors, I did assimilate the same culture of street vendors in Mexico, and that constant persistency in selling what they are selling. You will be followed by vendors trying to sell EVERYTHING. And everything is also negotiable, and I am talking about 200% less of the initial offer. I’ve learned to negotiate in theory (business major) but I first experienced the practical training in China. I consider myself to be pretty good at it but it does require patience and a lot of time. If you really like an item in these places where there are thousands of markets and a lot of competition, you will find your wanted item in almost every store, so you have to take the “price temperature,” see what it’s going for on average, just make sure that you are not throwing out outrageous numbers at the vendors, you have to understand that what they are selling is probably the only income they have or at least a large percentage of it, so why even try to negotiate amounts that are insignificant to you. Once you take the “price temperature,” you will already hear vendors going down on the price to get your attention. When you start to hear a really low price of the same item, let’s say from US$ 40 to US$ 20, I always say US$ 10 and walk away after they say no, it only takes them seconds to agree to it in order to stop you from walking away with no purchase. Like I said, its time-consuming and exhausting.
4. TOURS, TOUR GUIDES, AND BUFFETS
You’ll see so many tour offers around Cancun, it’s almost like it’s a whole other marketplace of only tour offerings. You’ll see online prices, then you’ll see cheaper tour packages at the hotel you are staying at, little street offices offering even cheaper tours, and again, street vendors offering an even more cheaper version of the same tours. Just so you’ll have an idea, I saw one tour online for $150, but in Cancun I got 3 tours for about $200. But at the same time, this made it very untrustworthy, for every tour or package deal that we got, we constantly had that feeling that we were getting screwed in one or another way. After hearing so many offers and salespeople trying everything in their power to sell you a service, you start to grow that feeling of knowing that there is another option much cheaper somewhere else. We did get scammed in 2 occasions regarding promised activities, and although it wasn’t a big deal, you have to understand that added value, sometimes more than what the tour can actually handle, will be offered in order to make it more attractive for you. You will deal with true hustlers!
So first thing’s first, when they try to sell you all these tours with an all-inclusive buffet and open bar, do not expect a full-on Vegas buffet, you will probably see a 5 or 6 option buffet with rice, beans, beef or chicken, salads, and tortillas. For the open bar you’ll see, tequila, vodka, beer, juices, and sugary sodas, and that is all. In other words, it will feed you through a long tour day, but the quality of food is nothing extraordinary and the options are limited. Make it all about the tour and what you will see!
5. SILVER SHOPPING
Other than Mexican food and Tequila, Mexico is also known for their silver production and I really wanted to buy silver rings and made sure to research on other blogger’s website about tips on the topic. The only thing I read that sounded legitimate was that silver jewelry should have a certain number incrusted in the silver. I also read about a trick in which you could rub the silver ring on a gold ring and if the “silver” turned dark, it was fake. Well, I did not walk around with gold rings unfortunately, so yes, I got scammed on silver, luckily I only bought one ring. I don’t know if it is because I generally travel with that feeling that vendors will try to scam me, but I kind of knew that the silver salesman was just carelessly trying to sell it to me, and I walked right into it. I loved the ring, it was so pretty and colorful, but after wearing it for a few days it went dark and left that green color residue on my skin. Oh, well, lesson learned! Don’t buy silver anywhere else than malls, but then what’s the point, right?
6. CHICHEN ITZA
This majestic Mayan temple is very impressive and really worth taking a look at, but make sure you take a guided tour because other then the temple there is not a lot more visually impressive things around the area. The guided tour give you a lot more history about the smaller ruins around Chichen Itza, even the creepy stories of the Mayan sacrifices to their gods and their bloody soccer games. A lot more fun than the history classes back in High School, let me tell you that much.
7. XEL-HA / XCARET
These two parks are for the most part identical. We went to XEL-HA, but one of my friends had gone to XCaret, last time she went to Cancun, and her reaction and review was exactly the same. The only difference she could think of was that XCaret has a nightlife option with beautiful performances. The park is a gigantic artificial park with trekking, biking and snorkeling paths all around the park. Everything is provided to you with the entrance fee. The food and beverage is also included with the price. There is a main restaurant (International food court), a smaller American restaurant that serves pizza, burgers and fries, and lastly a third restaurant with more of an authentic Mexican feel to it. You can either take a cute shuttle buss, rent a bike (complimentary), or walk to the beginning of the artificial river and from there just snorkel you way back to the entrance of the park where they also offer swimming with dolphins (you would have to pay an extra fee for that). The area where you actually swim with dolphins is open, so you’ll get to enjoy dolphin shows as an outsider, which was good enough for me. Our friend Andrea was the only brave one out of us that got into the pool with the dolphins. When snorkeling we did not see a lot of fish, which they promised a lot around the park, so that was a little disappointing, but luckily we got to see the real deal fish out in the open ocean days later. Overall is a fun all day activity, I mean if you are in Cancun, you have to try it out.
Tulum’s ruins will look very small next to Chichen Itza, if you see them in that order of course. But what makes these ruins gorgeous is that they are right by the water, so you’ll get a killer view, which is great for beautiful pictures. And if you are lucky enough, you might even see sea turtles. There is an area that is blocked for entrance because the sea turtles nest their eggs in that beach, but unfortunately we did not get to see any sea turtles. It will take you max 30 minutes to slowly walk through the ruins, and after that you’ll have the whole day for yourself (if you go early of course, which we did). Since we already knew that this was the way to go, we had booked a little speed boat and snorkeling tour for the evening, what we didn’t know, was that it was a beautiful hidden beach. And although the Tulum ruins were okay, the A-HA moment for me was the “hidden” beach right next to it. I wish I can recall the exact name of the beach but it is essentially the first exit of the road after you walk out from the ruins. You will walk on a sandy road and pass all the taxi driver’s that are offering to take you back to your hotel. After all the taxi’s you’ll take the first exit to the water and walk a little more, and slowly and surely this amazing and heavenly paradise will unveil before your eyes. I was dumbfounded! The water was crystal turquoise, and beautiful long palm trees framed this amazing sea. You’ll see a little restaurant right when you walk in to the beach, but I would suggest to go a little further to a little shack bar called “Las Adelitas.” The food is great, they play Caribbean inspired music, and they serve drinks in big coconuts. Let me tell you, eating delicious food, drinking the coolest coconut drink, overlooking a heavenly scenery, and sharing all this with 3 of my best friends in history, was a true A-HA moment. Oh, and our waitress told us that the bar was owned by an American that just decided to drop everything he had in the U.S, to move out to Cancun to live a simple life on the beach. Isn’t that a story straight from a movie? All around, this was one of the best moments on my Cancun trip.
9. ISLA DE MUJERES
You know how I ended the Tulum paragraph with “all around, one of the best moments in my Cancun trip,” well, this was the other best moment of my Cancun trip. The excursion to Isla de Mujeres was by far the best package deal we bought. See, when you go on vacations, don’t you feel sometimes that you need a vacation from the vacation? Well, this day trip was exactly that, our last tour of the trip, and it was nothing but relaxing, beautiful, and very entertaining. It’s basically a whole day tour on the water on a breathtaking Catamaran where we just laid all day tanning and getting splashed on from the ocean’s mini waves. They have an open bar on the Catamaran, full on tropical music, and THE best tour guide, Sasha. This guy is a German man who lives in Mexico and speaks Spanish with an Argentinian accent, so random, but he is awesome! They take you to the underwater museum for more snorkeling and this is where you’ll see the real fish that all the other tours promises. You’ll see the big tropical fish swimming around with you! From there they’ll take you to an island for lunch (included) and then to the city of La Isla de Mujeres where you can go shopping for some really good artisan necklaces (like I did). The whole tour takes about 8 hours, and it’s really worth it. This is their Facebook page and I highly recommend taking the tour with Sasha, now question about it. DO IT!
Charlie & Carlos is hands down the best restaurant in Zona Hotelera. And I am not referring to the food, you can probably get better Mexican food in San Diego, but this place is all about the staff and the ambiance. It’s a loud, crazy, and bizarre! The staff is completely insane, scaring guests with fake spiders in their meal, or fake rats by your legs. They have these specific songs that they play and the whole staff gets up and make interactive dancing happening. It’s so good that we went twice!
Cocobongo claims to be better than Vegas and I think I already said this in my Cancun Blog, but yes, as a singular club this place offer a lot of shows, special effects, a great variety in music, all in one. The ticket was about $80, and yes, as a women, I could not believe it because we don’t pay entrance fee anywhere, maybe this as another scam? Nonetheless, you have to go to this nightclub, you need to experience Cocobongo because it’s simply amazing.
Here’s a video that I put together, in memory of my amazing trip with my amazing girlfriend. It almost brings me to tear to think about the beautiful memories that we once more created. I will for sure go back to Cancun, no question about it!
I ♥ CANCUN