Playas, Mayas e Iguanas: Cancún 2014!!
*Beaches, Mayans and Iguanas.
On the 14th of January 2014 I hopped on another plane (direct this time) to Cancún, Mexico to visit a friend on my course at uni. As part of language courses it's compulsory to spend a "year" abroad (minimum being eight/nine months). We can choose to study, work or be an English Language Assistant; in Europe this done with the British Council. Rosie however is one of about ten students who signed up to our university's teaching assistant exchange in different parts of Mexico, working in the local university. The one she works in is called Universidad del Caribe (University of the Caribbean)! So cool!!
Anyway, it was exactly a month after I left Brazil (where I've been for my Year Abroad) so at the time it felt like I spent more time in airports than I did in train stations (slightly more regular for an English twenty-something year old), or at home even! Scary thought...
For now, I'm just going to give you the main points from my trip, but stay tuned to my Youtube channel (see link below) for video installments, and future blog posts for more information!!
Top 5 Favourite experiences (in no particular order):
1. Visiting Chichen Itzá (one of the seven New Wonders of the World).
2. Snorkelling on the coast of Isla Cozumel (an island off Playa Del Carmen).
3. Being a mystery customer for Xcaret Park (this I will go into more detail at some point).
4. Driving round Isla Mujeres in a golf buggy (£25 for the whole day!).
5. Playa Caracol (a beach I frequented along the Zona Hotelera (the Hotel Zone).
And negative experiences?
The many many people who try to beckon you over, yell at you, etc to buy their merchandise, and then get angry with you whether you ignore them or say "no thank you". It's extremely frustrating! But something you have no choice but to deal with while you're out there.
Do you need to be able to speak Spanish?
It helps if you know a bit because you generally get better service and don't get scammed. But everyone speaks English to a certain degree so you don't have to worry. Personally I think it shows respect to locals because it's not your home and nobody outside of English speaking countries "should have to know" English! They're not thundering around telling people they should know Spanish, or Mayan! (Rant over I promise).
It's not so much what we were doing so much as the vibe from the moment. The last Saturday evening I was there me, Rosie and some of her friends were sat on the beach drinking homemade Paloma cocktails having a casual conversation about the most random of things. It was January and the cool season, but still reasonably balmy so it was a mild temperature. The whole evening was just so chilled and I came away from it so mellow. I LOVE those kind of moments! I got that feeling a couple of times when sat on the beach in the late afternoon after a morning exploring :) Perfecto!!
Thinking I'd lost my GoPro camera... Yes, this happened.
During the afternoon before my favorite moment, we spent the day on another beach, swimming, mucking about and taking pictures. The waves were really huge but such a lot of fun if you got out near them. I also love water and am not great with keeping still on the beach so I was straight in there with my camera. However one massive wave sent me flying and I lost the grip on my GoPro... Fortunately a friend found it again, the water being so clear (thank you nature!!), but it still comes back to haunt me every so often... Not pleasant.
Favorite Mexican Dish:
I know you can make these at home, but a real Mexican Burrito (rice, vegetables (tomato, onion and herbs), chicken/meat, Guacamole all wrapped up into one tortilla wrap) is *the* bestest thing EVER!! Especially with a glass of fresh juice too.
Favorite Mexican Drink:
Again, this you can get anywhere, but a strawberry Daiquiri slushy (it's alcoholic) while chilling on the beach is the perfect refresher (for over 18s of course!).
Freshly squeezed juice was another favorite.
I stayed with Rosie's host family for the year. Three in a bed (it was a huge one though) #crowded
They were really welcoming and treated me like family: they were so sweet!! Rosie's host mum would always cook us meals and she even took me to the beach on my second day so I knew where it was!
Personally I preferred living with a family because they lived just outside Cancún city centre so I got to experience the best of both the local and tourist worlds. Cancún has a double identity and staying with locals was an eye opening experience.
Buses. They're really cheap!! About seven-nine pesos which is about 35-50p per way and per route taken (ie. sometimes you have to take two buses to get somewhere so you have to pay two fares).
You get the R1 or the R2 towards the Zona Hotelera/Hotel Zone and they're very regular.
The condition of buses vary but generally they're really comfortable, especially the R1 and R2 buses because they're made for tourists. A lot of money is poured into tourism in Cancún.
One thing to remember about buses in Cancún is that you can pretty much get on or off wherever you like. I got buses from random spots along the road and they pretty much always stopped - the exception being on really busy main roads. Likewise with getting off, you can either ring the bell (although they are only about three along the whole bus) or yell "baja" ("getting off") said like "ba-ha" and they will usually stop for you.
Did you buy a guidebook?
Yes, I did because I like to read up a bit on what's available before I arrive. I also knew that I'd be spending some time exploring by myself (because Rosie works) so I wanted to keep myself entertained :) I bought the most recent copy of the Cancún Lonely Planet guide. I also then bought a town map when I arrived, but I didn't need it.
Although one thing to think about before you go is that locals are terrible with directions so my advice is to rely on them as little as possible and just do your research first!! Trust me! Even taxi drivers are awful!! If you need directions, it's best to go to the Tourist Information huts that pop at random intervals. The only one I know of is opposite the Flamingo Shopping Mall.
Who did you fly with? Which airport?
Thomson from London Gatwick.
Where did you buy flights?
Skyscanner web page.
Top 5 Travel Tips:
1. Be sure to buy mosquito repellent before you leave!! Mexican repellent apparently doesn't work!! I bought Jungle Formula; make sure you apply it to all exposed skin! Some nights they darlings went for toes or places that I couldn't reach on my back.
2. Keep cash on you as much as possible. As a Brit, my card only worked at HSBC cashpoints/ATMs. Fortunately there were a couple around in the Zona Hotelera, Playa Del Carmen and Isla Mujeres, but you've been warned!! Also, some cashpoints only dispense American Dollars instead Mexican Pesos, and not all places accept Dollars!!
3. Ladies, ignore the sweet talk!! My favorite line was "for a lady with such a beautiful laugh, I will give you a discount on any of these tours". To set the record straight: my laugh is anything but beautiful. Vendors - paritcularly those of the male variety - will do anything to sweet talk you into buying something. But let me ask you this, how do you know he is not giving you the same price as that other "beautiful lady with the sparkling eyes" a few paces ahead? Or the bloke over the street with a firm handshake? Unless you really like it, do not be fooled!!
My apologies to all vendors but for you it's business, for us it's just a bit annoying.
4. Do NOT travel by coach across states or on main roads in general after dark!! There are no flood lights or cat eyes (little red/yellow/green reflectors) on the main roads so the risk of an accident is that much higher!! In the centre and on the Hotel Zone strip it's fine.
5. Unless it's included in your flight, make sure you put aside cash for the Immigration fee, which they make you pay as you leave!! (About £40).
I think that's it for now, but stay tuned for more!! I will leave you with the first video installment of my Cancún adventure (click on the link and it'll open in another window)!! Hope you enjoy!!
Cancún Vlog Part 1: