Most of the people going to Cancun, Mexico book an all-inclusive resort in Zona Hoteleria (Hotel Zone) and chill there for the entire vacation. It’s a great deal where you pay everything upfront and then there’s unlimited food, liquor, beach and sun waiting for you. Getting away from cold in the months of December is just an excuse for the people from New England. In reality, it is the infinite Tequila waiting for them! But, spoiler alert : Hotel Zone is just another American city inside Mexico. You will get every single thing which can get in big cities in the US. They have malls, factory outlets, Starbucks and Panera Breads, and everything else except the real Mexican flavor. Staying in the zone is like staying in the US. It is not Mexico!
Resort in the hotel zone
Our goal is to experience the local beauty and hence we avoided the hotel zone. Our resort (still all inclusive) was outside the hotel zone. The resort had a private beach, open bars, unlimited liquor and a wide variety of cuisines. All these resorts have various tour company outlet stations to help you book local tours. Usually these are shit expensive. Actually everything is shit expensive because the locals know the incoming tourists are Americans with dollars. And to top it off there is no free wifi in any resort. You can buy it which is expensive, or decide not to check your emails and have a great time without it. For the first time in several years, I was out of cell phone and internet coverage for full 4 days! The first and last day was hard. First day because this all came up very unexpectedly as I had taken free wifi for granted. I mean, c’mon, even a crappy motel in the US has complimentary breakfast and free wifi. Never thought wifi would be a source of income to Mexicans. And last day because I started visualizing my exploded inbox and resuming work from next day. But in between those days, living without internet was the best part of the adventure.
We rented a car to get around and drive to nearby provinces. This proved to be cheaper. Secondly we look like Hispanics and I had learnt a few Spanish phrases to start a dialogue which helped in some instances. Yes, only in a few instances. Looking like one of their own, when Mexicans started talking colloquial Spanish with us, that too with lightning speed, tab ho gaya doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani.
We drove to Chechen Itza Mayan ruins. Yeah, the same Mayans which f*ed up in 2012. Following speed limits is very important in Mexico. The cops will pull you over just so that they can get some green bills under the table. Bargain hard if that happens. Pulling you over for over speeding I think is the best thing that can happen to you while driving. Things can get worse! Chechen Itza is a well-oiled tourist location. If you want time to yourselves, reach the place before 9am. All the local tourist busses start showing up by 10 and it can get super crowded. There are hundreds of local vendors where you can buy souvenirs – masks, skulls, hand crafted articles etc. Beautiful local stuff. Mexicans consider death as a transition of a person from this life into a better one. Hence they celebrate death and have a wide variety of skulls as gift items.
Local Mexican Town
We took the back roads on our way back. Bright sunshine and beautiful rustic landscape through these small Mexicans villages like Xcan, Kaua, Catzin made the drive amazing. Experiencing the local food in the town of Valladolid is encouraged. On our way back we stopped at Xkeken Cenote. Cenotes are something very popular places in Mexico. It is an underground reservoir of water. The natural beauty of such underground Cenotes is just mesmerizing. We were the only ones at Xkeken. Pin drop silence greeted us when we climbed down the cave. The waters were still and so clear that I could see the bottom. After sitting there for a few minutes appreciating the silence of nature, I jumped into the waters while wifey clicked pictures.
In the next couple days we did snorkeling, swimming and also visited the nearby island Isla Mujares (or the woman island). We sailed on the Catamaran towards Isla Mujares and jumped into the waters in mid ocean to see the oceanic life. The boat captain had some fish food which attracted the local fauna. Isla Mujares is known for its clear turquoise waters. Playa Norte (the north beach) is where we docked and got some tan. Being brown I don’t need to get tanned, it is just the American way of saying we chilled on the beach. The island is full of tourists and souvenir shops. But unless you want to spend 8 times more, Mercado 28 is the way to go.
Mercado 28 is the local market in Cancun. For Punekar’s it’s the Tulshi Baug (a very similar local market in Pune jyacha amhala jajwalya abhimaan ahe). Bargaining is the way to go here. We also bought a Mayan mask. The mask has a Mayan ruin, a mayan god and a couple Mayan ritualistic animals carved in stone. Mayan Calendars (carved in wood or stone) was also a good option, but given their 2012 fiasco, I went with the mask.
Overall, Mexican adventure was interesting. Coming from India, it felt similar to home, but frankly cleaner. The same equatorial weather, trees like coconut, papaya, almond, gulmohor, mango, roadside stalls, “yethe puncture kadhun milel” shops, mopeds like Activa, Dio and even cars like Matiz brought back some childhood memories.
1) Must do: Any one Mayan ruin (Chechen Itza, Merida, Coba, Tulum etc). Any one Cenote (Xkeken, Mayas, Suy Tum), Snorkeling, Scuba diving, Isla Mujares, Tulum. Daily tours are available to all these places. Driving your own vehicle can be cheaper. Xcaret is a theme park which is amazing but very expensive.
2) Car rental is cheap, but mandatory car insurance is expensive. We paid $40/ day when car rental was $2/day. Rest was insurance.
3) Gas is very expensive. It is almost $4/gal. Tolls are unrealistic. One way toll for go to Chechen Itza from Cancun was $20.
4) Cash (in $ or pesos) is accepted everywhere. But things are overpriced. Bargain hard
5) Take foreign currency from you bank well before travel. Exchange rates at airports are not favorable, exchange rates in Mexico are random.
6) Water is very bad. Drink only bottled water. Avoid ice.
7) Although it is a different country, Delta charges $25/bag for checking in bags. Travel to Mexico is considered “domestic” in that sense. Valid US visa holders do not need Mexican visa to travel for a few days.
8) Stay away from timeshares. Stay away from all sorts of people who would approach you with “we have selected you for…” or “you are getting a complimentary day pass for…” or “your name came up in a lucky draw..” etc