Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cancun

Cancun has long been declared a great getaway spot.  Frankly, while some things there are good, I won’t go back.  Cancun is dated, run-down and way too touristy for my tastes. Still, I think it was worth visiting one time, just to see it for myself.

On the upside, the Cancun airport is nice.  It is small and very well-organized.  The timeshare vendors don’t pounce on you as they do in Cabo.  Transportation from the airport to the hotels is easy.  There are several taxis right outside the airport doors.  The best way to go is to use Super Shuttle.  We booked our ride on-line while we were waiting for our departure flight.  The fare was a quite affordable at a mere $11.00 each way.  It’s a shared van but it was clean and the drivers were very good. 
We stayed at Krystal International.  I’ve read some bad reviews about the place but I disagree with them.  We found the hotel to be clean and the service staff outstanding.  Everyone from the housecleaning staff to the restaurant waiters was attentive and polite. We expected a small room with a kitchenette but were given a two-room condo at no extra charge.  The ocean view was beautiful.  Some reviewers complained that there are no hairdryers in the rooms but both of our bathrooms had wall-mounted hairdryers. 


There is one big draw back to the Krystal and it has nothing to do with the hotel itself.  Just a few yards away sits a large nightclub that plays unreasonably loud music at all hours of the night right out on the beach.  There is no escaping the loud thumping base and distasteful music that goes on until 3:00 in the morning.  The same club sets off a fireworks show from a boat at 1:00 a.m.  As lovely as it was to watch fireworks being shot from the water right off our balcony, it was not lovely to be kept awake at that hour.  If you love the nightlife, this is a great spot.  If you prefer to sleep at night, this is a horrible spot.  I do not understand why the neighboring hotels put up with that extreme level of noise. 
The good news is that the beach and the pool made for good napping during the day.  The wait staff also serve food and drinks by the pools, as well as at the beach cabanas. 

If you go to Cancun, take a bus tour out to Chichen Itza.  In my opinion, it is the only thing that makes Cancun worth visiting.  The ruins at Chichen Itza are just awe-inspiring.  It’s really touristy now but nothing can really mar the magic of those ruins. 

 
There are several tour groups that offer the Chichen Itza package and they are all pretty much alike.  When you arrive at Chichen Itza, the parking lot looks like any other tourist attraction.  There are ticket offices and shops and thousands of people milling about.  Our group was split into two groups to accommodate both English speaking and Spanish speaking tourists, and then led up a long path that cuts through the jungle and that is lined with locals selling all kinds of souvenirs. 


At the end of the trail, you will come a large, flat clearing.  Be prepared to have your breath taken away.  As we got to the clearing, we all gasped at the beauty and wonder of the ruins.  Cameras were snapping away as our guide explained the history of the site and the Mayans.  Some folks mistakenly believe that the Mayans disappeared.  They did not.  They just abandoned Chichen Itza.  Their descendants still live in the area and many still speak the Mayan language, not the Spanish spoken throughout the rest of Mexico. 

Our incredibly informative guide led us around the area for 90 minutes, giving us a riveting account of how the games were played and the sacrifices performed.  At the end of the tour, our group disbanded and we had an additional 90 minutes to explore the grounds and to shop.  I bought several souvenirs there.  Those vendors love American dollars and they also love to bargain. 


Here’s the way the game works:  First they draw you in, “Hey lady, $1.00”.  When you get to their table they will steer you away from the tiny $1.00 stuff and direct you to the larger, more expensive items.  You ask how much.  They quote a price.  You hesitate, admire the item but offer a lower price.  They counter.  Almost every time, you will arrive at 75% of the original price.  Please be compassionate and don’t try to bargain them down too much.  What they sell is inexpensive to begin with and this is how they make a living.  I came away with some very good souvenirs at great prices.

On another day, we took a ferry to Isla Mujeres, commonly known as the Isle of Women.  The streets are lined with fun shops and restaurants on the beach where you can sit barefoot in the sand.   There is also a large public beach there where vendors offer souvenirs and massages.  You can rent golf carts and scooters if you want to explore the whole island.

I mostly shopped at the Mexican Market (Yes, that’s the name), which was just a couple of blocks from our hotel.  The Market sells every kind of Mexican souvenir you can imagine at fair prices.  The best souvenirs to buy are sarongs, beachwear, chocolate, pottery, leather, coffee and alcohol. 
I can’t say that we had any great dinners while in Cancun but the food was decent nearly everywhere we went.  Dinner at Hacienda el Mortero was fun.  The place was a little bit cheesy with a wandering Mariachi band, a photographer pushing pictures of diners with Sombreros, etc., but sometimes cheesy is fun and this was definitely fun.

What else is there to do in Cancun?  The water is the most beautiful shade of turquoise and crystal-clear, so snorkeling is good there.  Parasailing is popular, as well.
When you go to Cancun, you really don’t need to exchange money.  Most places take MasterCard or American dollars.  However, don’t plan on using your Discover Card.  No place I went took Discover. 

As far as what to wear, beachwear is the norm absolutely everywhere.  I wore a long sundress to dinner a few evenings and felt overdressed.  People appear at dinner in shorts, t-shirts and sneakers.  I saw young girls going into the noisy nightclub wearing nothing more than bathing suit tops, shorts and flip-flops. 
If you go to the ruins, you will definitely want a hat and sturdy walking shoes, as well as a good bug repellent.  Don’t forget your sunscreen because the sun can be brutal.

While I’m glad that I went to Cancun just once, I won’t return.  It was worth the trip just to see the ruins and learn about the intriguing Mayans.  However, should I ever go back to Mexico, it will be to elegant Cabo, not tattered Cancun.