Happy Friday readers!
I hope you’ve all been keeping warm this winter. A couple of weeks ago I took a trip down south to Cancun for Reading week AKA Spring break, and I’m so excited to be sharing this experience with you! My bookings were made through Air Canada Vacations, and they turned out to be excellent agents because they provide direct flights from Halifax to Cancun, so I was out of the snow and in the sunshine within five hours!! They also provided a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel and back, and I knew I wasn’t in Canada anymore when the driver offered us some Coronas to sip on in the shuttle LOL.
The airport in Mexico was absolutely CRAZY though! I thought I had seen it all in some of the airports in the Motherland but boy, was I wrong. We were stuck in line for about an hour and a half because there was very little order and so much confusion everywhere. No one was actually directing travellers to where they should go so there was a huge swarm of people all standing haphazardly somewhere and sort of hoping that they would make it through Immigration at some point. Yikes. Just be prepared for this if you decide to visit Mexico!
Where to stay
Instead of booking an all-inclusive resort, we decided to stay at a hotel downtown called The Urban Oasis Cancun, which offered a breakfast only plan. This allowed us the freedom to eat whatever we wanted and to actually get to explore the city and the culture in Mexico without feeling tied to one specific location. The hotel was modern, beautiful, and hip, and the breakfast buffet was surprisingly great with options ranging from cereal, baked goods, and fruit, to bacon, eggs, nachos and even plantain! The pool area was the star feature of this hotel for me. It felt like we were in a music video for an all-white pool party haha.
What to do
After our whole airport fiasco, we were directed to some representatives who gave us a map of Cancun and gave us a run-through of different activities we could do during our 7-day stay. The representative offered lots of discounts for some of the activities we’d seen online that interested us, and offered to pick us up early the next morning for breakfast and a tour of the popular Hotel X-caret, all for a small holding fee. I would recommend holding off on booking activities online and doing this instead, as it saves you lots of money; but it does come at a price as you will see from day 2.
After checking in to our hotel we went for a walk to explore the downtown area and find places to eat. There was also a local Walmart which was great because we wanted to get some drinks and snacks to keep in our rooms. P.S: all local stores stop selling alcohol after 5 pm on Sundays, so just be aware of that when you go out looking for some!
On day 2, surely enough the airport rep from the previous day arrived to pick us up bright and early at 7am to drive us to Hotel X-caret, which was about an hour away. This hotel was PHENOMENAL. Literally breathtaking. I was physically shook at the sheer entrepreneurship that inspired this sort of palace to be built. We were offered a wonderful buffet breakfast, at which point we were introduced to someone who was going to take us through a 90 minute time-share presentation (remember the cost I mentioned earlier? Yup). Our guy basically took us on an exclusive tour of the hotel and all of its amenities, and I was obviously mesmerized because the hotel was so large, you could choose to go around the complex on a golf-cart or even by canoe!!
At the end of the presentation (which turned out to be 3 hours, hmph), we were finally free to actually do the activities we had woken up so early for, lol. We started out by enjoying a buffet lunch at the site, and then we got right into it. There was a good range of activities for the entire afternoon at the X-Caret park, including an ATV course, an hour-long zip-lining course, underground rafting in the ‘cenotes’, and snorkelling. Something to suit everyone’s taste. I don’t think I would go to this park more than once though, because every activity is rather draining and one attempt at each of them is enough for me.
Tuesday morning was yet another early rise! We had to be up at 4am to be ready for a shuttle to pick us up at 5: we were going to visit the old ruins at Chichen Itza! Chichen Itza is a very large historical city built by the Maya people around 600 A.D. It has been recognised as one of the world’s seven wonders and is certainly one of Mexico’s top tourist attractions. Because millions of people visit the Chichen Itza daily, we decided it would be worth it getting up at the crack of dawn to make sure we were the earliest arrivals at the site.
Definitely do this, because we avoided so many line ups and crowds by arriving at 7am. We booked our early tour through Expedia, but unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the provider. Our tour included a packed lunch and a very lively tour guide, whose humour and vast knowledge kept us on our toes throughout the long day. Contrary to our expectations, we were not stuck on the bus driving from 5am to 7am, but we were able to stop along the way at a Mayan village to get a more authentic experience with the people and learn more about their culture before exploring the ruins.
This was a phenomenal experience, as we actually got some great background information into the typically unspoken contributions of the Mayas to present day society. Did you know that the concept of hot stone massages is linked to the Mayas? Furthermore, the tour guide explained to us the way Mayas worship, and I found striking similarities between them and the Indigenous peoples of Canada. It was interesting to learn that the occupations and lifestyles of the Mayas were determined by their birth month, as each month represented a specific form of employment like farmer, builder, etc. We also got to try one of their main liquors, which is made from chocolate, corn, and honey – delicious! Since there was a large souvenir store at the village, I decided to get a colourful skull as a reminder of my journey to Mexico.
All in all, the ruins were amazing. All of the history that comes with them is spectacular, and you can only truly appreciate the experience by visiting Chichen yourself! Each building and structure was constructed with great tact and purpose; not one step lacked meaning. Wow. It all makes you marvel at the differences between modern society and pre-dated societies such as this – our generations have definitely weakened over time! Anyway, if you’re into history, this is definitely a treat for you. The tour was over by 2pm and the drive back only lasted about an hour, so we had the remainder of the day to read by the poolside and chill.
With all the early mornings we had, we definitely felt like we needed a break. We took the bus late Wednesday afternoon to a local public beach called Playa Delfines, which was about 40 minutes away. Buses are a really cheap and convenient way of getting around Cancun, and they come by very frequently, but here’s the fun part. Bussing in Mexico is an EXPERIENCE! Not only are they the fastest bus rides you’ll probably ever take, but most of them resemble party buses because of the huge speakers in the back blasting Latin music the entire way!
I was literally excited everyday to go on the next bus adventure and constantly hurled with laughter because of how much they reminded me of the public transportation at home, with their multi-tasking drivers who barely waited for passengers to get on before driving off. The beach itself was awesome. There was plenty of space and great shade offered by surrounding gazebos, and everything was free! Make sure to look up hidden costs before you go to the beach, as most beaches charge for shaded spots. The best part about this beach is that there’s also a nice large Cancun sign right at the front, which several people usually have to wait in line for. Still worth it.
This was definitely one of my favourite days. We had pre-purchased some ferry tickets (they’re really inexpensive and you can book them online ahead of your trip) to go to Isla Mujeres – Island of Women. I packed a few snacks, fruits, and a bottle of wine with me for a potentially spontaneous picnic.
The island was breathtakingly beautiful, and the main forms of transportation were golf carts and motorcycles, which were easily rentable. I would recommend getting a rental for at least an hour, because the island itself isn’t very big and you can pretty much drive right around it non-stop in less than an hour. The beach here was not as spectacular as Playa Delfines, and we had to pay for our spots in the shade, but it was just as fun and refreshing.
You don’t have to worry about food because there are SO many different restaurants packed pretty closely to each other that cater to different tastes, and some of them even have live music like the one we ended up at! This is definitely a cute and relaxing day trip, and the best part is that the ferry continues to run pretty late so there’s a lot of flexibility for when you would like to return to your hotel.
Day 6 & 7
Our last two days were pretty calm as we were quickly realizing that a 7 day vacation might have been a little too long haha! A woman at the registration desk at our hotel informed us that they offered a one-day outing to the all-inclusive sister hotel of the Urban Oasis, called Grand Oasis Cancun. All we had to do was sit through another time-share presentation (damn) and then we would have the rest of our stay to explore the resort. Hesitantly, we took the opportunity. This presentation didn’t last quite as long as the one at X-Caret, but I must say, it was a roller-coaster one indeed!
The all-inclusive resort was huge, with free alcoholic drinks, free meals and snacks such as wings, tacos, and ice-cream, endless swimming pools with swim-up bars, and a beautiful beach all on-site. We got to rent out some tennis equipment and play a little tennis, and there were also always some day parties happening since this is a popular spot for spring breakers and college students. I went to my first foam party and had a blast getting tipsy off of the very strong drinks served by the bartenders, woot!
However, I don’t think I could stay at an all-inclusive resort for an entire vacation because I think I would quickly get bored of doing the same thing and seeing the same faces everyday, but that’s just me. As far as nightlife goes, there are plenty of bars and clubs on the hotel strip in Cancun. We went to La Vaquita Cancun, which offered an Open Bar (free drinks all night) for $25 USD a person. Not bad. If you’re into HipHop music and hookah, definitely check this place out.
Where to eat
Our first meal was at La Parilla Mexican Grill. The check-in desk at our hotel offered us a coupon for free beverages at this restaurant to lure us in, lol, but it was quite pricey compared to other restaurants nearby. The service was not the best and the free drinks were quite watered-down. I personally wouldn’t go here more than once, even though the food itself was decent.
A spot you 100% need to check out is Gory Tacos in downtown Cancun! Their 4.5 star rating is not a joke!! I literally never knew great-tasting tacos until I came here; they were beyond delicious. My fave were the fish tacos. If you’re not yet sold, all cocktails are two for the price of one, and you get free tequila shots with your meal! If that isn’t joy :’). The hospitality is also impeccable, and the servers personally ensure that you are comfortable and all your needs are catered to without interrupting your meal too much. Best taco place in Cancun for sure.
A second place to look out for is Javis, a cute restaurant on Isla Mujeres. There are seats both inside the restaurant and a few outside, with live guitar music on the inside. While the wait time for this place was really annoyingly long, the food was certainly well worth the wait and turned out to be mouth-wateringly delicious. I tried the chicken kabob dinner and the Parmesan crusted chicken, yum! (I’m such a foodie).
Apart from these restaurants, there are loads of food trucks and vendors downtown who sell great Mexican food at really decent prices, you only need to explore and bring your palette! One thing I will mention about street food is that you’ll probably need a translator of some sort if you don’t speak Spanish. Y’all, I felt so out of place being unable to understand the vendors and it was definitely one of my main challenges trying to come up with ways to understand them and also order what I wanted. It pushed me out of my comfort zone a lot and made me even more inspired to learn a little Español for the next time I go to Mexico. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this travel guide and find it useful for your own visit to Cancun one day!
Have you explored Cancun before? What was your experience? What’s your next travel destination? Let me know in the comments!