Spring break! Woohoo! Isn’t that what comes to mind when you think of Cancun?
The beaches, the sunshine, the endless partying possibilities, easy flights, and visa free entry – it’s no wonder that it’s a mecca for American college students who flood the Yucatan peninsula in the month of March.
But, think again. Cancun has a laidback side to it, one I want to share with you.
Most people head for the Hotel Zone, a skinny belt of land sandwiched between the Caribbean and the Nichupté Lagoon. You can also choose to stay at the numerous resorts up or down the coast near Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres or Isla Cozumel, or root out a more authentic experience further inland, away from the tourist favourites. Land into Cancun, and grab a taxi or your hotel’s shuttle if it has one. Renting a car is a piece of flan, and agencies are seen in abundance along the roads and near the airport, as well as within hotels, so there’s a third option.
I stayed at Le Méridien, one of many resorts eating up coastal space. The cascading pools at this resort spill almost all the way to the sea. Dip your toes into the curling waves for a gentle splash, or go all out to parasail, jet-ski, or swim. The beaches are truly pristine, cloaked with white sand, and the water, a perfect Caribbean turquoise.
Mayan ruins are within easy access, if and when you want to tear yourself away from the beach. I strongly suggest you make the effort; after all, you don’t have to shake the sand from your feet for too long.
Driving to Tulum takes 2 – 2.5 hours. The road is a thoroughfare that takes you via Playa del Carmen to this beautiful spot once famed as a Mayan port. The site itself is beautifully maintained, with lush grass and pathways neatly laid out for visitors, so neat, that I almost wished for some disorder, something to give away the centuries of stories behind it. More impressive than the ruins themselves is their location, on a cliff overlooking the beautiful Caribbean. There is a tiny beach you can scramble down to if you don’t mind mingling with the light crowd that gathers there. Even if you aren’t usually a shutterbug, the views here beg to be photographed. Do not, under any circumstances, buy anything from the little stores outside the entrance to the walled site – a pair of colourful wooden turtles I purchased were victims of a wood worm attack, as I thankfully discovered before packing.
On the way to or from Tulum, you might want to stop at Xel-ha or Xcaret, water parks, where you can snorkel or spend some quality time with a flamingo or two. Other options to take in some of the Riviera Maya’s history are Chichen Itza, which will take you most of the day to get there and back, or El Rey, which is within the Hotel Zone.
A quick drive from the Hotel Zone is downtown Cancun, a city smartly catering to the annual droves of spring breakers with pulsating bars and clubs, and a massive mall to boot. There is also a market to root through and restaurants galore, waiting to be explored if you do find yourself there, spring break or no spring break.
With regard to food, try Puerto Madera in the Hotel Zone facing the Nichupté Lagoon. I went there twice in my four day stay, so rest assured the seafood and service is exemplary.
FOR THE EXAMINER'S LA READERS
Be aware that the U.S. State Department currently has a travel warning in place for Mexico. I wouldn’t worry about planning a trip to destinations like Cancun, Cabo, or Acapulco, but don’t do anything rash or intentionally drive along the border, and maintain a reasonable amount of caution as with any travel.
LENS: First visit, short vacation