By Alexis Yap
IT WAS the best spur-of-the-moment decision I’ve ever made in my life when I booked a flight to Cancun, Mexico from Jacksonville in Florida.
I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico and most of my family and friends here in the states discourage me to go considering all the recent cartel-related violence happening at the borders, save for Cancun though whose mesmerizing turquoise waters are isolated from any drug-related hostilities.
So here we go. Here are some tips you may find useful in planning your trip to Cancun:
1. Book your flight. I usually just google “cheapest flights to Cancun from (wherever I am).” In this case, I was flying out from Jacksonville. It was the closest airport from my location. Remember that there may be other airports within your vicinity. Also check flights flying out from those alternate airports as they may be considerably cheaper. As a general rule though, flights to and from regional airports may cost more.
2. Book your hotel. In Cancun, you will have two choices: to stay in the Hotel Zone or to stay in Downtown Cancun (Cancun Centro). The big 4-5 star hotels are located at the Zona Hoteleria and most of these hotels are located beach-front and offer all-inclusive deals. This means all food (including room service) and drinks (alcoholic drinks included) you consume at the hotel during your entire stay is unlimited.
There are cheaper hotels downtown where most of the clubs are located. Since I was a solo traveler and a Cebuano resident who has access to nice beaches back home, I chose a nice hotel at the Cancun Centro where I get to immerse myself in the Mexican culture. Besides, for only 12 Mexican Pesos (Php 32), the R1 bus will take me to Playa Delfines, Cancun’s most popular public beach where I can spend some time under the sun in Cancun’s world-famous beach.
3. Book your airport transfer online. Booking your transfer online is highly recommended as you may be overwhelmed by all the agents offering you private or shared rides upon stepping out of the airport terminal.
Note that there are so many companies to choose from online and be careful of fake websites. I booked my ride with Cancun Shuttle and I give them a 8 out of 10 rating just because the driver drove like a maniac towards the end of my trip. I was dropped at the door of my downtown hotel.
4. Book a Chichen Itza tour online. You’re already in Cancun so you’d be crazy not to see one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World while you’re already there. Wherever I travel in the world, my go-to travel partner is Viator.com mainly for their reliability and the quality of service and guides they provide.
They had several Chichen Itza packages available and I chose the one with a side trip to the beautiful, old Mexican town of Valladolid and a quick stop and buffet lunch at Ik-kil Cenote, where you can opt to take a refreshing dip before heading out to Chichen Itza, the highlight of the 12-hour tour.
Prepare to be amazed at the rich history behind the famous Mayan pyramid as there’s so much more to it than the magnificent structure that stands before you.
5. Buy your souvenirs downtown or at the malls. Don’t buy from the many vendors around Chichen Itza unless you are an expert bargainer. Prices at the souvenir stores at the mall are quite reasonable and many cool deals are offered. Of course, some stores downtown will have better prices but if you’re staying at the hotel zone, no need to go all the way downtown.
6. Explore Cancun Centro. Whether you’re a party person or a foodie, there’s so much of downtown to explore. I stayed at Suites Gaby located just a couple of blocks from Plaza de las Palapas, one of Cancun’s most popular public parks where a 24-hour food court is located. These festive space is where I had most of my delicious and authentic Mexican meals (Php 120 only for a giant burrito!) and Sunday night was especially busy, complete with a cultural show on stage and musical artists playing live music in the park. Eat to your heart’s content. Try the burritos, tacos, elotes, and churros. The people are nice and the food cheap and delicious!
7. Spend time at the beach. Cancun is world-famous for its turquoise waters. On my beach day, it was raining hard intermittently but it didn’t stop me from going. I was flying out the next day and I just had to soak up the positive energy of the magical Mexican beach. I hopped on the R1 (Rota Uno) bus from Avenida Tulum and got off at Playa Delfines about 25 minutes later. I put my bag on the beach and hit the water. If traveling alone, make sure to leave all valuables in your hotel safe and bring only a towel and a change of clothes to the beach.
If you’re staying at a beachfront hotel in the Hotel Zone, then beach all you want and order a cocktail, one after another.
8. “Tips not included”. You’ll see this sign everywhere in Cancun. It’s not required to tip but highly appreciated. I usually give 20 Mexican Pesos whenever I order a drink form the bar. That’s equivalent to $1 or Php50. And every day at my hotel, before leaving my room, I put 20 Mexican Pesos in the tip envelop for Tania, my room attendant who keeps my room and bathroom spotless. This is actually the reason I chose to stay Suites Gaby. Most of thei online reviews mentioned how clean their rooms and bathrooms were. On my check out date, I put in 50 Mexican Pesos and a note saying “Muchas gracias, Tania.”
I spent a total of three amazing nights in Cancun and to be honest, I wanted to stay for a couple more days. For a different experience, I’d stay in the Hotel Zone next time and buy an all-inclusive stay. I would go visit the famous Isla Mujeres and spend a bit more time at Cancun’s magical turquoise waters.