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Archive for beaches

5 Days in Cancun

I made Cancun my final stop on my six-week trip through Mexico because I wanted to save the best beaches and the best parties for last. I was super excited for Cancun’s crazy nightlife and miles of postcard-perfect beaches, and this city totally delivered. Read on to find out how I spent five days in this tourist hotspot.

On my first day in Cancun, I arrived in the early afternoon after an 80-minute bus ride from Playa del Carmen. After checking in to my hostel and eating a huge meal of fried noodles and veggies at a Chinese restaurant (a girl can only eat so much Mexican food on a six-week trip), I decided to walk to the city’s main attraction: the beach!

My hostel was located in downtown Cancun, several kilometres from the beach and the Hotel Zone. I knew there was a frequent bus that shuttles people between downtown and the beach, but I didn’t know where the bus stop was, so I figured I would just walk. However, after walking for about 15 or 20 minutes and realizing how little the blue arrow on my GPS had moved, and how great a distance I had yet to travel before I reached the ocean, I decided that my plan to walk to the beach was a little too ambitious. I turned around and walked back to my hostel, where I asked a staff member about the bus that goes to the beach. He told me that the bus stop was just one block away from the hostel, and that buses come every 30 or 45 seconds, 24 hours a day. Best of all, a ride only costs 12 pesos. Perfect! I decided to save the beach for the following day, when I would have more time to enjoy it.

The next morning I walked one block to Cancun’s main road, Avenida Tulum, and found the bus stop easily. Sure enough, a bus came by before I even had time to dig 12 pesos out of my wallet. I got on the bus and rode it to La Isla Shopping Village in the Hotel Zone. I don’t know exactly why I wanted to see La Isla, since I wasn’t planning on buying anything. It’s just a super touristy, open-air mall with canals running through it. There was a Ferris wheel there that looked like it would have afforded killer views, but it didn’t appear to be in operation at the time.

I spent a few minutes walking around La Isla, then decided to walk five kilometres to Playa Delfines. I had heard there was a nice viewpoint over the beach there. I could have easily taken another bus, but I wanted to walk so that I could check out other beaches on the way, and also take pictures of the luxury hotels along the main road.

The first beach I came across was Playa Marlin. Just like every other beach I would later come across in the Hotel Zone, Playa Marlin is pretty much perfect. The powdery white sand goes on and on and on, the sea comes in my favourite shade of turquoise, and there’s tons of empty space to lay out a towel. It’s a basically flawless beach.

I returned to the road, walked a little more, and soon came across the entrance to the next beach, Playa Ballenas. It’s literally the exact same as Playa Marlin: absolute paradise.

As I walked along Kukulcan, the main road running through the Hotel Zone, I took pictures of the fancy luxury hotels, with their palm tree-lined driveways, perfectly manicured lawns, and elegant fountains. A world away from the backpackers’ hostel where I was staying!

When I finally got to Playa Delfines, the viewpoint wasn’t exactly what I was hoping it would be. It’s not that high, so you can’t see a whole lot of the beach from it. But you can see enough to realize that Playa Delfines is the epitome of the perfect beach. I snapped a million photos of it.

I hadn’t brought my bathing suit along that day, but I just couldn’t resist putting my feet in the clear aquamarine water at Playa Delfines. I walked to the shoreline and stood for a while letting the water wash over my feet, then I headed back up to the road and took a bus back to my hostel.

The next day I went back to Playa Delfines with a girl from Montreal whom I had met at my hostel the day before. The first thing we did when we arrived was to get in line and wait our turn to take pictures of each other in front of the “CANCUN” sign at the viewpoint there. (This was my idea, of course — I’m such a cheesy tourist sometimes!)

After that we picked a spot on the beach to lay out our towels, and I went swimming while the Montreal girl stayed on the beach. The water was absolutely perfect, refreshing and cold but not too cold. It was definitely the nicest swim I had in Mexico. I could have stayed in the water forever.

As we were lying on the beach after my swim, the weather took a bit of a turn for the worse. It would be hot and sunny for a few minutes, then the sun would disappear behind the clouds and the wind would pick up and blow sand in our faces. We never felt exactly cold, but we certainly weren’t hot enough to fancy going back in the water. So we just continued lying on the beach for the rest of the day, then took the bus back to our hostel.

The next day, both of us slept in until shortly after 1:00 p.m. (We had had a big night out in downtown Cancun with some other people from our hostel. As I recall, it involved lots of cheap white wine, followed by outdoor salsa dancing with locals in a public square.) Finally we managed to drag our hungover asses out of bed and take a bus to the beach.

We went to a different beach this time, Playa Gaviota Azul. It was quite a bit busier than the other beaches because it’s located right behind the main shopping and clubbing area. It was still just as gorgeous as every other beach in Cancun though.

Cancun

I went for a swim as soon as we had picked a spot to lay out our towels. Then, as we were lying on the beach afterwards, the weather started behaving the same way it had the day before. It wasn’t cold by any means, but it was not exactly swimming weather. We still enjoyed lying on the beach though. It was actually kinda nice to have a break from the oppressive heat I had been experiencing most of the time in the Yucatan.

I haven’t said much about the nightlife in Cancun, but I have to mention what I did on my second-last night, because it was one of the most fun things I did in Mexico. The Montreal girl and I, along with a few other people from our hostel, made a trip to Coco Bongo. If you haven’t heard of Coco Bongo, it is THE place to party in Cancun. It’s a nightclub that puts on nightly shows with acrobats, dancers, and performers impersonating famous singers. The best part is that the ticket price includes an open bar all night. At $85 USD per ticket(!), it’s not a place you’re going to party every night, but you have to go just once if you’re ever in Cancun. For a long time, I was hesitant to go because I doubted that any nightclub could be worth $85 USD, but I’m glad I finally bit the bullet and went. The performances were amazing and I had a lot of fun there. It’s a can’t-miss! (Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from Coco Bongo because the people working at my hostel warned us not to bring our phones, or even to bring anything except the money we would need for the bus. Apparently a lot of people lose their phones there. Let me tell you though, I saw plenty of people at Coco Bongo recording the performances on their phones, and I wished so badly that I had brought mine!)

On my last day in Cancun (which was also my last day in Mexico!), I went to Mercado Coral Negro, an artisans’ market just down the street from Coco Bongo. I browsed the wares a little but had to leave after only a minute or two because I just couldn’t stand the constant harassment I got from the vendors. I couldn’t go one-and-a-half seconds without someone calling to me, “Hola, senorita! Habla espanol? What you looking for? Can I help you? What you want to buy?” I tried my best to ignore them, but it’s hard work to ignore so many people that are right up in your face, so I just left.

After that I went back to Playa Gaviota Azul, which is just across the street from Mercado Coral Negro. I spent quite a while lying on the beach, soaking up as much sun as I could before I had to board a plane back to cold, dreary Toronto the next day. Then I gathered up my stuff, cast one last wistful glance upon the turquoise waves crashing in the ocean, and took the bus back to my hostel to start packing for my flight home.

As you can see by this summary of what I did in Cancun, it’s a great place to go if you want to be lazy and do nothing but lie on a beach all day. I met a few fellow travellers in Mexico who said they had skipped Cancun because they had heard it was too touristy. Personally, I think it would be a terrible shame to skip this city on a trip through Mexico. I always say that every place that’s touristy is touristy for a reason, and that is definitely the case with Cancun. I honestly think that the beaches here are the nicest beaches I have ever seen. If you’re looking for a place to just relax and soak up the sun for a few days, I wholeheartedly recommend Cancun. If there is a more perfect beach in the world than the ones in Cancun, someone please let me know because I would love to see it!

5 Days in Playa del Carmen

The penultimate stop on my trip through Mexico was the fabulous beach town of Playa del Carmen. Here’s a run-down of what I did during the five days I spent there.

I arrived in Playa in the early afternoon after a quick one-hour bus ride from Tulum. I had gotten very little sleep the two previous nights (Tulum nightlife is too much fun!), so I was not in the mood to exert myself too much that day. After eating, wandering the streets a little, and taking a few pictures of the beach, I went back to my hostel and took a nice long nap.

I woke up from my nap to a message from an Argentinian girl I had met in Tulum a couple nights earlier, asking if I wanted to go to Cozumel with her the next morning. I said yes, and we agreed to meet at her hostel at 8:30 a.m.

The next day, we met at the agreed-upon time and walked to the ferry terminal together to take the 9:00 ferry. (It leaves every hour on the hour.) The official price for the ferry at the ticket desk was 200 pesos one-way, but we managed to find a travel agent who sold us each a round-trip ticket for 300 pesos.

We disembarked in Cozumel after the 45-minute ferry ride, and set to work looking for a place to rent bicycles. After asking around a bit, we realized we weren’t going to find a place that would rent a bike to us for less than 200 pesos each, so we gave up that plan. Then we happened to run into an older British couple who were looking for the closest beach, and decided to share a taxi with them.

Between the four of us, we paid 300 pesos to take the taxi to Playa Palancar, a beach on the southwestern side of the island. I wasn’t super impressed with this beach. It’s not very wide, so there’s not a lot of space to lay out a towel. And if you go in the water, you have to wade through a nasty mass of seaweed close to the shore before you get to the nice, seaweed-free, swimmable water.


The Argentinian girl and I spent a short time at Playa Palancar, then took a taxi for 100 pesos to another beach, Playa Paraiso. This beach was better than the first one. We spent most of the day here, swimming and lying on the sand. The Argentinian girl brought her snorkel and saw lots of cool fish in the water. (She even told me that she found both Nemo and Dory).

Later in the afternoon we decided to walk south along the beach, and we discovered that it got even better the further we walked. Not only are the southern beaches much more spacious, but they were mostly deserted when we were there.

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. we left the beach and took a taxi back to the ferry terminal for 220 pesos. We started running as soon as we got out of the taxi, but we missed the 6:00 ferry by a minute or two. While waiting for the next ferry (at 7:00) we wandered through the city streets a little. It was a really nice place for an evening stroll, especially with the Christmas decorations that were up.

There was a cruise ship sitting in Cozumel’s port, all lit up and glittering on the horizon. It was just begging to be the backdrop for a little photoshoot.

After our photoshoot with the cruise ship, we walked back to the ferry terminal and caught the 7:00 ferry. We arrived back in Playa at 7:45. I had been planning to go out that night, but since we got back so late I decided instead to just grab some dinner, figure out what I was going to do the next day, and then head to bed.

The next day I decided to visit two nearby cenotes: Cenote Azul and Cenote Jardin del Eden. In the morning I walked to the spot where the colectivos leave, on Calle 2 at Avenida 15. On the street there was a line-up of people being shuffled into colectivos. I’m used to having to wait for a long time for a colectivo to fill up with passengers and leave, but there was no waiting this time. The colectivos were filling up as quickly as people could hop into them. Within a few minutes after I had left my hostel, I was on the road to the cenotes.

After less than a 30-minute ride, I got out of the van at the entrance to Cenote Azul and paid the driver 35 pesos. At the Cenote Azul ticket desk, I paid the entrance fee of 100 pesos and walked the short distance to the cenote.

Cenote Azul turned out to be one of my favourite cenotes of my trip. It was open, spacious, and impossibly gorgeous. Look at this crystal-clear green water:

I spent about an hour walking around and taking photos of Cenote Azul, then continued on to Cenote Jardin del Eden. The entrances to the two cenotes are just a few metres apart from each other. At the Jardin del Eden ticket desk, I was shocked to find out that the entrance fee was 200 pesos, making it the most expensive cenote I have visited. However, since I was already there and had nothing else to do that day, I figured I might as well pay for it.

After paying and receiving my wristband, I walked down the rather long but absolutely lovely path to the cenote. I honestly felt like I was in a fairy tale while walking down this path.

After a few minutes, Cenote Jardin del Eden appeared before me. It was certainly beautiful and impressive, but personally I preferred Cenote Azul. I’m really not sure why Jardin del Eden is twice as expensive as Azul, and I don’t think it’s worth the price they charge. If you only visit one of these two, I would recommend Cenote Azul. Don’t get me wrong — Cenote Jardin del Eden is still a beauty! But why don’t I let you judge for yourself:

After a quick swim in Cenote Jardin del Eden, I dried myself off and walked back to the highway. I crossed the road and stood waiting for another colectivo to carry me back to Playa. After only about one minute, a van came and picked me up, and I was on my way back to town.

The following day I decided to hit the beach. The beach in central Playa isn’t that great (there’s barely any space on the sand to lay out a towel) so I walked 45 minutes north to Punta Esmeralda. The beach here is so much nicer than the one in downtown Playa.

The coolest thing about Punta Esmeralda is the cenote located right on the beach, with its crystal-clear water flowing straight into the ocean.

My original plan for the day was to find a spot to lay out my towel, go for a quick dip in the sea, then spend the day lying lazily on the sand. However, the beach in this part of town was so nice that it was just begging to be explored further, so I kept walking along the shoreline, keeping the water on my right. I kept telling myself that if I didn’t stop and find a place to lay out my towel soon, I wasn’t going to have any time for lazing on the beach. But I couldn’t bring myself to stop walking, since the scenery was so beautiful and each section of the beach was so different from the one before it. I ended up walking about two kilometres along the shore, bare feet in the water, before deciding to turn around and head back.

When I got back to Punta Esmeralda, I finally took the quick swim that I had been meaning to take. The water was so cool and refreshing, and the ocean floor as I waded in was smooth and sandy with hardly any rocks. Best of all, there was no seaweed! (I was very happy about that last point, after my unpleasant experience at the beach in Tulum.)

I had spent so much time walking along the beach that I didn’t have any time to lie down on the sand after I came out of the water. So I dried myself off, put my dress back on, and started walking back to my hostel.

I walked to and from Punta Esmeralda by way of 5th Avenue, which is Playa’s main pedestrian street. It’s lined with restaurants, boutique stores, artisans, and people selling tours. It was quite entertaining to stroll down this street and take everything in.

What’s more, as you get closer to Punta Esmeralda, you’ll see that 5th Avenue and the streets branching off it are lined with tons of incredible street art.

Playa

On my last day in Playa del Carmen, I paid a visit to Akumal Bay, which is located about halfway between Playa and Tulum. Akumal is famous for being home to sea turtles that you can swim and snorkel with. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single sea turtle during my visit, but I still had a nice day at the beach there.

To get to Akumal, I once again walked to the colectivo station on Calle 2 at Avenida 15 and climbed into a van headed for Tulum. The drive to Akumal took about 30 minutes and cost 40 pesos. When my driver dropped me off, I had to cross the highway and then walk down a path for a few minutes before reaching the entrance to the beach. There I had to pay an entrance fee of 100 pesos to access the beach.

The beach in Akumal is nothing spectacular, but it is nice.

Even though I didn’t see any sea turtles in the water, I did see tons of fish. That is, I only saw one particular kind of fish, but I saw a lot of them. They were white in colour and quite sizeable, probably more than half a foot long and three or four inches tall. The water was so clear that I didn’t need a snorkel to see them. They were swimming all around me, so close that I easily could have reached out and touched them. In fact, a couple of times I even felt one of them hit me with its tail as it swam by. It was pretty cool. I’ve never seen so many fish while swimming in the ocean.

Overall, Playa del Carmen was cool and I had a good time there. Since it’s so close to Tulum, most of the places you will visit on day trips from Playa are the same places that you can easily visit from Tulum. I preferred the vibe in Tulum more than the vibe in Playa (it’s more chill and less touristy), but both places have their charms.

The next and final stop on my Mexico trip is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world: the one-and-only white-sand beach paradise of Cancun!

A Week on the Amalfi Coast 

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life. If you stand at any viewpoint along the coast and gaze out at the ocean, you actually cannot tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. The two just blend together into a seemingly infinite mass of blue. It’s almost surreal.

Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi

I stayed in a small village called San Lazzaro, which is part of a group of villages collectively known as Agerola. It wasn’t the most convenient place for exploring the Amalfi Coast, since the only direct buses from there are to Amalfi town. This meant I always had to change buses in Amalfi if I wanted to go to any other town along the coast. The other negative about San Lazzaro is that there is pretty much no nightlife there, at least as far as I could tell. It’s a very small, quiet town. 

The good thing about staying in San Lazzaro, though, is that it’s much cheaper than the more popular towns on the Amalfi coast, such as Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. The difference in food costs was actually striking. I paid literally half as much in San Lazzaro restaurants as I would pay in Positano for the same amount of food. I couldn’t believe how much cheaper San Lazzaro was. Another nice thing about it is that it’s so much less crowded, less touristy, and more laid-back than the other Amalfi Coast towns. It’s a good place to unwind at the end of a long day of hiking and sightseeing. 

Amalfi Leonardo's

Salad, pasta, and bread for daysssss. All this for only 9€ (including the cover charge) at Leonardo’s in San Lazzaro!

In order to get around to the other towns along the coast, you have to take the SITA buses that connect all of the towns with Amalfi. Make sure you buy your tickets in advance at tobacco stores or souvenir shops because they’re not sold on the bus. The price of the ticket depends on how far you’re travelling. (I always paid between 1.30€ and 2.90€ for a one-way ticket.) The buses are easy to figure out but they’re extremely popular, so don’t expect to get a seat most of the time. I almost always ended up standing in the aisle on my way back to San Lazzaro from Amalfi (an hour-long ride). 

If you visit none of the other towns on the Amalfi Coast, make sure you at least visit Positano. It’s definitely the most beautiful town in the region. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of pictures of it elsewhere, but here are some more. Because how can you ever get tired of looking at Positano? 

The best way of getting to Positano is to hike to it along a trail known as the Path of the Gods. It’s the most popular trail in the area, and the views it affords are spectacular. The trail starts in a town called Bomerano (which is a 15-minute bus ride from San Lazzaro) and ends at a town called Nocelle. From Nocelle, you simply walk down a looooooooooooong staircase to reach Positano. The whole hike, from Bomerano to Positano, took me three hours. Make sure you start early to beat the heat and the crowds. I started the trail at about 8:30am and that was perfect. People would pass by me every so often, but I was alone for the most part. 

Amalfi Positano

My first glimpse of distant Positano: love at first sight

You’ll also definitely spend some time in the town of Amalfi, since that’s where all the bus routes connect. It’s slightly less pretty than Positano, but it’s still an absolute beauty. Make sure you take a look at the beautiful Cathedral of St. Andrew in the Piazza del Duomo. 

Another town that you should be sure not to miss is Ravello. It’s not quite as well-known as Amalfi or Positano, but it’s a very pretty town that’s definitely worthy of a few hours of your time. It’s only a 25-minute bus ride from Amalfi, and you can save yourself a one-way bus fare by walking back. It took me a little under an hour to walk down the stairs from Ravello to Amalfi. (I wouldn’t attempt walking UP those stairs!) The top of the stairs in Ravello is right by the Villa Cimbrone. Just follow the signs to the villa and you’ll find it easily. 

If a nice beach is what you’re after, you’re spoiled for choice on the Amalfi Coast. There are tons of beautiful spots to go swimming. Personally, the only place I actually went swimming was in the town of Maiori, which happens to have the longest beach on the whole coast. It’s almost a kilometre long. I wasn’t ambitious enough to actually manage to snap a photo of the beach (I was too anxious to get into the water) but here are a couple pictures of me awkwardly posing in Maiori.

My next stop is none other than Rome. I visited the Eternal City five years ago when it was one of the stops on a cruise I took. I only got to spend a few hours there, so of course I barely scratched the surface. I’m so excited to be able to actually explore at my leisure this time!