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Archive for Quintana Roo

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!

6 Days in Tulum, Mexico

The sixth stop on my Mexico trip was the coastal city of Tulum, which is part of the Mayan Riviera in the state of Quintana Roo. The city is known for its bohemian, hippie-ish vibe, which was apparent to me as soon as I stepped off the bus. It’s a very laid-back, take-it-slow kind of place. That suited me just fine. I was looking forward to a bit of relaxation and beach time after all the day-tripping I had just done in Merida.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my relaxation on as soon as I arrived in Tulum, due to a slightly stressful occurrence that happened on my first day. After settling into my hostel, walking around a little, and eating a nice meal at a restaurant, I set out to find an ATM where I could replenish my nearly-depleted stock of pesos. I found a bank with a row of ATMs inside, and used one of them to withdraw some cash. An hour or so later, back at my hostel, I realized that I didn’t have my debit card on me anymore. I must have been so distracted with counting the cash that came out of the ATM that I forgot to take my card out of the machine.

I got up early the next morning and asked the extremely helpful girl working reception at my hostel to write a note for me in Spanish explaining what happened. I took the note to the bank as soon as it opened at 8:30 and showed it to a teller there. I was told I would have to come back later that day after the operator had come to check inside the machine. So there was nothing I could do at that point except to go ahead with my original plan for the day, which was to visit the Tulum ruins and then head to the beach.

Even though I felt like I had already seen more than enough Mayan ruins in Mexico, the ruins in Tulum (entrance fee: 70 pesos) were still high on my list because of their picturesque location. They’re situated high up on a windswept cliff overlooking the turquoise sea. It’s a very pretty sight.

Tulum

Most people rent bicycles to visit the Tulum ruins, since they’re located about four kilometres from the town centre. I decided to walk there instead, not only to save a bit of money, but also to avoid the hassle of trying to find a place to park and lock up a bike. Plus, riding a bike always hurts my ass. I never rent a bike to go somewhere that’s within an hour’s walking distance.

After spending an hour wandering among the ruins, I decided it was time to head to the beach. Luckily, the beach in Tulum is a short walk away from the ruins. I entered the beach at Playa Santa Fe and continued walking south to Playa Paraiso, where I laid out my towel on the powdery white sand in front of the turquoise water. Paraiso indeed.

Unfortunately, Playa Paraiso did have one major problem when I visited: tons of nasty seaweed floating in the water, brushing up against me while I was trying to swim. It totally ruined the experience of being in the water, feeling that gross seaweed all over me while I was trying to enjoy a refreshing dip in the ocean. It was kind of like eating something delicious but being unable to enjoy it because there’s a hair in your mouth.

Anyway, it was still nice to cool down in the ocean, even though I didn’t stay in as long as I would have if the seaweed hadn’t been there. After my swim I spent some time lying on the beach and getting properly burnt on the backs of my arms.

After leaving the beach I walked back to the bank to inquire about my debit card again. Bad news: They checked the machine and hadn’t found it. Oh well. At least I had the comfort of knowing that nobody else could use it without knowing my PIN!

The next day I went for another long walk, this time to visit two different cenotes. The first one, Cenote Calavera, is located about four kilometres from the town centre. When I arrived at the entrance to the cenote, I was treated to a bit of a rude surprise in the form of a 100-peso entrance fee. I had naively assumed that cenotes were free to visit, so I was kind of annoyed that I had to pay such a steep price to look at a small swimming hole. However, since I had already walked so far, I sucked it up and paid the fee.

After a short walk down a path, Cenote Calavera appeared before me. It was pretty cool, for sure, but it was quite small, too. You couldn’t actually go in and walk around, since the ladder led directly into the water. I don’t think it was worth 100 pesos, but it was a cool place to take pictures.

After Cenote Calavera, I continued a couple more kilometres down the road until I arrived at Tulum’s most famous and most popular cenote: the Grand Cenote. This one had an even more exorbitant entrance fee: 180 pesos! I paid up while grumbling inwardly about how unexpectedly expensive this day trip had been. At least I hadn’t spent anything on transportation!

When I set eyes on the Grand Cenote, I immediately understood why it’s so popular. It’s huge, with lots of space for swimming in the turquoise water. It even has dark, bat-filled caves to explore, and an area for turtles that’s off-limits to swimmers. I hadn’t brought my bathing suit because I didn’t realize how cool the Grand Cenote was going to be. I thought I would be content to just snap some photos and then leave. But as I watched everyone else swimming in the clear water, exploring all the secret caves that were inaccessible to me, I felt like I was really missing out. It looked like it would have been so much fun to jump into the water and swim around.

My fourth day in Tulum was pretty cool. A German girl and two Canadian guys whom I had met a couple nights earlier invited me to come with them on a day trip. They were renting a car to visit the ruins in Coba and three nearby cenotes. I jumped at the opportunity, since I don’t drive myself and therefore wouldn’t be able to visit these particular cenotes on my own.

The four of us rented a car in the morning (700 pesos for 24 hours) and set out for Coba. I think it took us about 45 minutes to drive from Tulum to the entrance of the ruins, where we paid the entrance fee of 70 pesos each.

I enjoyed the ruins in Coba less than the ones at Teotihuacan or Monte Alban, but more than the famous ones at Chichen Itza. The Coba ruins are spread out over a large area, so we spent a lot of our time just walking between each one. The walk is quite nice though; the ruins are located in the jungle and the path is completely shaded by trees, so we didn’t get too hot.

The main attraction of the Coba ruins is a large pyramid that you can climb. The steps are quite steep, so there’s a rope to hang onto while you’re precariously making your way up or down. From the top of the pyramid, all you can see is treetops, but it’s quite a nice view regardless.

After our visit to Coba we got back into the car and headed towards the cenotes. We visited three that are all located within a couple kilometres of each other: Cenote Tamcach-ha, Cenote Choo-ha, and Cenote Multun-ha. It cost us 165 pesos per person to visit all three. They were all quite different, but each one was amazing. Luckily this time I brought my bathing suit so that I could swim. It was my first time ever swimming in a cenote, and it was such a cool experience. (And there was no seaweed!)

Here are some photos of the first cenote we went to, Tamcach-ha. Amazing, right?

The second cenote we visited, Choo-Ha, was my favourite of the three. Seriously, how cool is this place?

The last cenote, Multun-ha, was my least favourite of the three. It was still super cool, but there were no rocks to sit on and there was nowhere to walk but the dock. Like I said though, still super cool!

Day 5 in Tulum brought more walking and more cenotes for me. I walked to two cenotes that are both located just off the highway leading into Tulum, right across the street from each other: Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido. I paid 120 pesos to visit both of them. They were completely different than the three cenotes near Coba that I had visited the day before. The ones near Coba are all located deep underground, lit by artificial light and accessed via long, winding staircases. Cenotes Cristal and Escondido, on the other hand, are beautiful pools located at ground level and completely open to the sun.

Here are some pictures of the lovely Cenote Cristal:

Cenote Escondido was just as dreamy as Cenote Cristal:

My last day in Tulum was spent once again swimming in the ocean and lying on the sand at Playa Paraiso. There were still tons of cenotes and other beautiful places around the city left to be explored, but I was trying to curb my spending. My day trips around Tulum had been on the expensive side, so for my last day I wanted to do something that wouldn’t cost any money.

I was pleasantly surprised by how little seaweed there was in the water, compared to the first time I had swum at Playa Paraiso. There was a little bit floating around, but it was totally bearable. I must have gone on a good day, or just picked the right section of the beach!

To sum up, I had a wonderful time in Tulum. There is so much natural beauty and so many incredible things to see and do in the surrounding areas. I noticed that most people at my hostel stayed considerably longer than the usual three or four nights that backpackers tend to spend in a city. I can totally see why — I would have loved to stay longer in Tulum myself, if only the cenotes were a little cheaper to visit! As it was, I packed up my bags after my sixth night, bid farewell to the awesome people I had befriended at my hostel, and boarded a bus to my next sunny destination: Playa del Carmen!