HELLO ENGLAND, ARE YOU READY TO PARTY?!
We start part 2 of our Yucatan travels in Cancun, the most popular tourist destination in all of Mexico. We'd considered skipping it completely, expecting a sort of Las Vegas-on-Sea, but decided eventually to go and see it for ourselves as we were so close.
Cancun itself is a modern and uninteresting Mexican city which acts as a service centre and home for the thousands of locals who rely on tourism for their living. The main holiday area is about half an hour's drive away along the beautiful Caribbean coast in the Hotel Zone, a thin strip of land more than five miles long with the Caribbean to the east and a shallow lagoon, with warning signs not to swim because of the danger from crocodiles, on the west and a palm-lined dual carriageway running down the middle. It's certainly very American in style, all very developed with just a few gaps between the huge hotels providing public access to the beach but they're all set back far enough from the beach so nowhere feels too crowded.
Cancun strip was also the first place we'd visited in Mexico where the streets aren't set out in a grid system (mainly because there was only one road!) Most other towns and cities have Calles (streets) orientated north to south and Avenidas (avenues) running east to west, or just Calles with even numbers going up and odd numbers running across them. We got used to having to find an address like Calle 21 176 % 50 y 52; translated, this means number 176, 21st Street, between 50th and 52nd Street. Generally it's quite an easy, if a little dull, way of navigation although you still have to have your wits about you at the intersections to work out which way you're heading (and anyone who knows Tony will know how he struggles with directions!)
To keep costs down we stayed a 30 minutes walk or short bus ride away from Party Central, in a very nice Holiday Inn Express, set in gardens and with a big pool. We also avoided the timeshare and tour touts who offer 'all-day booze cruise' deals as well as over-priced day trips, for example to Chichen Itza for $130 per person (we'd paid 50p each for local transport plus entrance fees when we visited. Some hotels are all-inclusive and all try to get you to spend as much time/money at their bars and restaurants but for those who want to get out there's an area called 'Party Central' which has a wide choice of restaurants, bars and clubs with names like Daddy O's and Coco Bongo which don't open until 10 at night and don't close until dawn, a bit like Bessie and Geoffrey's (Linda's mum and dad) parties in Uppermill! (They are in their early 80s and have recently been asked to keep the noise down!) There are also several shopping malls up and down the strip, all with more food and drink options.
It didn't come as much of a surprise to find that everywhere in the Hotel Zone charges a lot more for whatever they sell compared to normal Mexican prices, even those on the rest of the Yucatan tourist trail with beer, always a good benchmark, a normal size bottle costing up to 3 times more, or £3 v £1.
We also had a day out on Isla Mujeres (Women's Island, so called because this is where the invading Spanish conquistadors left their wives for safekeeping while they attacked the mainland), a short boat ride away. Leaving from the dock at the same time were several booze cruise catamarans with participants wearing numbered T-shirts like Drunk 1, Drunk 2 etc. We hired bikes and cycled around the whole island seeing iguanas everywhere and pelicans by the coast, stopping to paddle in the sea and returning to the small town for some fresh prawn tacos for lunch.
We have to say that we enjoyed Cancun for the 3 days that we were there, it wasn't as AWESOME as the Americans would describe it but it was an interesting place and well worth a stopover.
Next stop, just down the coast, was Playa del Carmen, another resort town but with a very different feel to it compared to Cancun. It's a very walkable town with smaller streets and more personal hotels. We stayed in a gated condo area in a top floor penthouse with access to a shared pool and with breakfast included for just £33 per night. The beach and main town were a good walk away and we would have liked to have hired bikes but one had been stolen and so this wasn't possible.
The beach was the best we've seen in Mexico with white sand like powder and clear warm turquoise sea. Food both here and in Cancun has been less spicy (toned down to suit us tourists) and there has been a lot more choice and variation so we've been able to enjoy some flavours we haven't had for a while and to have a break from the chillies and tortillas.
Our final night in Mexico before crossing the border into Belize was Tulum, still on the Caribbean coast and home to another ruined Mayan city. We stayed in another lovely place with detached huts set in gardens. We hired bikes again to get around and set off to explore. The ruins are set on the cliffs above the sea in a beautiful location and there's even a small beach below. The photos we took aren't bad but unfortunately the sun was in completely the wrong place to capture the classic view of the fortress, beach and sea so we have to own up to including a shot of the Lonely Planet front cover in our photo album!
The next morning we were up early to get the bus south to Chetumal near the Mexican border where we would get a boat into Belize. We've spent a month and a day in Mexico; we've been a bit chilly at higher altitude, haven't had as many long walks as we'd have liked and have had enough of ruins for a while but we've really enjoyed travelling around a fascinating and very friendly country. Before we arrived, Mexico conjured up images of drug cartels, people smuggling and general danger but we have never felt at risk here and will remember our time here as one of easy and comfortable travel, hot but tasty food, some amazing landscapes, beautiful coastline and, most of all, friendly, polite and helpful and honest people. There's still the Pacific Ocean to explore on the west and two thirds of the country to the north of Mexico City that we never set foot in so there's a chance that we'll be back some day.
That's all for now, next stop Belize.
Love from Tony and Linda xx
Yvonne Towers Love reading about your travels, seeing your photos. The penthouse looked great - shows it is possible to visit places without being ripped off. Looking forward to reading about Belize. Von xx Feb 2, 2014
Celia I don't hold noisy parties whilst you are in No 3 I just wait for you to go away !! (joke!). All ok here but wish we had the warmth you have. It hasn't rained or been as windy here as you may have heard. I love your newsy emails and would love to go to Mexico etc sometime. Interested in your food - will you be bringing back recipies? Enjoy Belize and I look forward to more news. Feb 2, 2014
Glenn Hammat Glenn & Lyn Still following your trip with interest. Temp over 40 here day after day. Feb 4, 2014
Pam Davidson So enjoying your trip it's almost like being with you. Thanks for making it so interesting. Always looking forward to next episode. Feb 4, 2014
Anne ...so when you come home, and we get together for dinner, we won't be having chilli con carne then? great to hear all your stories, love reading them. enjoy the rest of your time..... xx Feb 4, 2014
Yvonne Towers Love reading about your travels and seeing your photos. The penthouse and pool looked great - shows it is possible to visit places without being ripped off. Looking forward to reading about Belize. Von xx
Celia I don't hold noisy parties whilst you are in No 3 I just wait for you to go away !! (joke!). All ok here but wish we had the warmth you have. It hasn't rained or been as windy here as you may have heard. I love your newsy emails and would love to go to Mexico etc sometime. Interested in your food - will you be bringing back recipies? Enjoy Belize and I look forward to more news.
Glenn Hammat Glenn & Lyn Still following your trip with interest. Temp over 40 here day after day.
Pam Davidson So enjoying your trip it's almost like being with you. Thanks for making it so interesting. Always looking forward to next episode.
Anne ...so when you come home, and we get together for dinner, we won't be having chilli con carne then? great to hear all your stories, love reading them. enjoy the rest of your time..... xx