Before we made it to Tulum, we had already spent some time in Cancún and Playa Del Carmen. Cancún is a bustling, lively city while Playa Del Carmen is a coastal resort town, both sitting on the Carribean shoreline of the Yucatán Peninsula. In both places you’ll find pristine beaches, amazing food and a myraid of shopping and activites. It was during our stay in Cancún that we found one of my favourite places on earth – Cenote Ik Kil (more on this below). However, both Cancún and Playa Del Carmen are teeming with tourists and so if you’re wanting a good look at the real Mexico, the raw Mexico, I suggest going south to Tulum.
WHERE TO STAY
We spent two nights in Cancún at Aloft Cancún, situated in Zona Hotelera. It is a modern, quirky, artsy place with shots of bright colour everywhere, lounges and pool table in the lobby, a rooftop poolside bar and a very easy 3 minute walk to the nearest beach. There’s also a fitness centre which we didn’t actually use.
During our one night stay in Playa Del Carmen, we stayed at Posada Mariposa Boutique Hotel, a beautiful, fairytale-esque little place. The reception is open ceiling with trees, ferns and vines hanging throughout the lobby, giving it a Fern Gully feel. It’s right in the heart of Playa Del Carmen, with the markets, beach and restaurants right on our doorstep. One of my favourite hotels by far.
WHAT TO DO
There is so much more to Mexico than beaches and food. My two highlights…
Cenote Ik Kil – I mentioned in my previous post that my favourite part of Mexico is the cenotes. This cenote trumps them all. It is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the fortune of visiting. A five minute drive from Chichén Itzá, you walk through a rich rainforest before the earth opens up and reveals a beautiful slice of heaven. Hanging vines, small trickling waterfalls and fresh, cool water with rays of sunlight streaming into the large deep pool. More daring than I, Matt immediately backflipped off the wall of the deep hole into the water while I walked down the stairs and carefully slipped into the water. We floated on our backs, staring up where, far above us, was the rainforest, sky and rest of the whole wide world. If there is one place in this world you have to see before you die, this is it.
Chichén Itzá – Walking through these archaeological Mayan ruins is nothing short of surreal. We hired a car and drove to the site which is a good 2.5hr trip. The details on the the ruins illustrates what was important in the Mayan culture – agriculture & astrology.
WHERE TO EAT
The food. I don’t know if I can even do the food justice by writing about it. Wherever you go, you’re guaranteed to find really good, real Mexican. Due to the heat during the day, we ate plenty of fresh, sweet fruit. In the evenings, we indulged in amazing Mexican. Here are some personal recommendations:
Mextreme, a colourful, lively restaurant in the heart of Cancún that’s reasonably priced. We ate here the first night. We ordered Margaritas because… Mexico. To eat, we had a Mexican platter for two and a main plate to share of the national dish – Mole Poblano – chicken covered in a thick, rich, chocolate-tinged sauce. It was a lot of really, really good food which we ate to the sounds of a Mexican band decked out in traditional clothing. The waiter delivered our drinks by carrying them on his head.
Restaurant Le’Natura which sits right next to a very busy, lively hostel and bar and so already the atmosphere was fun and inviting. We shared a plate of tacos and two mains which we washed down with giant Pina Coladas.
Los Rancheros Restaurant in Playa – here we shared a Mexican platter which was overwhelmingly good, and large – you could easily share between 3 or 4. We drank Pina Coladas of course and sat on the balcony overlooking Playa Del Carmen and all the night life. Upon leaving, the waiter gave me a rose made from a napkin – a very cute touch.
TIPS FOR MEXICO
- My number one tip is to not lose your head while on vacation. Use common sense. Sadly, Mexico is known for it’s criminal side. Matt and I never once felt unsafe, but we always, always kept our smart on. Keep valuables close and keep an eye on your surroundings. Always.
- Learn some Spanish. Doesn’t have to be a great deal, but if you plan to travel to a more local place like Tulum where English isn’t most people’s first or second language, a few phrases will be very helpful. Fortunately for me, Matt studies Spanish. Score!
- If you feel like you’re getting ripped off, you probably are. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but have a scout around before you make a decision.
- In Mexico, you tip.
- Learn your Mexican laws. Example – if you plan to hire a car, look up the road rules (even though they are hardly ever followed.) You don’t want to get yourself in trouble with police.
- Speaking of hiring cars, try and avoid driving at night because 1) some roads are not well kept. We drove past huge, gaping potholes at some points on our drive. 2) You never know who is wandering the streets at night, especially an area you’re not familiar with. Also, scout around different hire car places before you make a decision and remember online reviews are your best friends!
- Lastly, as Matt sadly discovered, wearing sunscreen is probably a very good idea. Especially if you’re coming from a different climate.
Do you have any tips for Cancún or Playa? Feel free to share below. 🙂