I have heard a lot about Cancun, from a total party scene to a great beach getaway, the stories are as long as the beach walks. I never did get to Cancun during Spring Break in college, but Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I did make for our winter escape. Touching down in a balmy 75-degree weather, the sun, the sand, and the tequila just beckons you to forget the troubles and enjoy the stay. This was our first time booking with Costco Travel, the traveling arm of the warehouse giant. The package consisted of flights, transfers to/from the airport, and an all-inclusive resort.
Cancun has two types of hotels: the regular stays and the luxury resorts. The luxury resorts offer a beach by the hotel; guests can simply walk up and enjoy the cabanas, margaritas, and the waves without having to leave the resort. For hotels not located in the luxury area, they require guests to the closest beach.
Hacking Tip: shop around websites such as CheapCaribbean.com and Expedia, and compare the prices with CostcoTravel.com. The dates do matter when traveling, and we found the best deal leaving on Saturday morning and coming back in the middle of the week. Checking other sites also helps gauge the value of an all-inclusive stay.
The pool or the beach?
After doing our homework, we finally decided to book at the Omni Cancun Hotel and Villas, convinced by the reviews on travel sites and Costco’s own rating for the hotel. The hotel is located in the luxury area of the city and seemed a good fit for our stay. However, the hotel did not completely meet our expectations, and perhaps the only part of the trip that we would reconsider.
Hacking Tip: after landing at the Cancun airport, and clearing Immigration, make sure you keep the slip given by the officer. The slip is required for verification, on the way back, and there is a hefty fine for losing it. After gathering your luggage, I would recommend walking straight out of the airport, ignoring other folks who are only interested in selling you timeshares. Timeshares are very popular in Cancun, and you’ll find salespeople at every step. Save yourself the time and energy, and simply walk out of the airport to fetch a cab, bus, or a ride to your hotel. As for the Mexican Peso, I would not recommend exchanging currency at the airport. The Exchange Rate is terrible and there may be a line. The best bet would be exchange it prior to leaving (many local banks can help you with that) or convert it at the resort. I would make it a habit to walk around in pesos, leaving only a few dollars for emergencies, because it makes it easier to negotiate when shopping, and gets you into thinking the true cost in the local currency.
One of the many sights
What to do there
The great thing about Cancun is you can have the trip that you want: you can spend all day relaxing by the beach and getting a tan, or enjoy the nightlife at the Coco Bongo club, or take days trips to discover the culture and history. Of course, if you’re like us, you can do it all.
After getting to our hotel, we were welcomed with some drinks as we check-in. Our room had an ocean view with the balcony facing the party that was taking place in the hotel pool. After freshening up and changing to our beachwear, we headed for the beach for lunch. The weather was beautiful, as the sun would bring the heat to the beach, making the sand warm as you take a walk. The water is incredible in Cancun, and I was glad that the pictures did justice to a light blue beach water that gets darker as you get further into the ocean. The salty water, mixed with a spicy mojito, is exactly how I pictured Cancun to be. After relaxing the rest of the day at the resort, Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I planned next morning’s adventure.
After waking up early and having breakfast, we left to visit Mercado 28, or Market 28, in the city. Cancun is a dream for public transportation, especially if you’re close to the main road. Buses run every 5 minutes to take tourists to the main drop off points: The American Mall, Mercado 28, and Walmart. The far is about 20 pesos (or about a dollar) for one person, one-way. The drivers are friendly and they’ll announce the stop if you ask them to. Taking the bus is very safe option and definitely cheaper compared to cabs or other private shuttles.
Mercado 28 is an authentic Mexican market, with rows and rows of shops. We almost got lost in the shops about 3 times. The bus will drop you next to a big store; don’t confuse this with the real market. As you walk along the street and pass stores, you’ll notice the following: every store will have souvenirs such as shot glasses, picture frames, magnets, and pottery; and, as you would predict, the prices will be sky-high and no one will negotiate. People are friendly and they will guide you to the market. Conversational Spanish is helpful, and it will take your far in the market.
One thing we would recommend is drinking fresh coconut water and eating the meat. Nothing quenches the thirst, walking in 80-degree heat, like drinking cold coconut from freshly cut coconuts. We asked someone if anyone sells agua de coco or coco fresco, and he took us to an ice-cream parlor that doubled as a juice bar. The owner kept the coconuts refrigerated, and he cut them in front of us so we could drink the water. After drinking the water, he cut the remainder of the coconut and gave us the coconut meat to enjoy with spices. We loved it so much that we drank two coconuts on the way to the market, and two on our way back.
You can easily spend three to four hours just browsing the market, and looking for deals. I would recommend buying the small tequila bottles, mini-bar size, at the market. If you’re into Añejo and Reposado tequilas this would be the best place to bargain for a deal. Mrs. CurryOnTravel spent the whole time looking at dresses, scarfs, and potteries. You can find authentic Talavera plates, jars, and bowls. Bargaining can be tough, but speak in pesos and know when to walk away.
Hacking Tip: while walking around the market we came across an excursion tour-booking agent. They are usually sitting in the open, with a table full of brochures. We wanted to visit certain spots, but before coming to Cancun, we didn’t find any good deals. The hotel offered a day tour that included a visit to the Mayan village, a sinking hole for swimming (Xenotes) and a visit to Chichen Itza. The tour included lunch and charged about $85 per person, and this was about the range we found online as well. After talking to the booking agent in the market, we negotiated a deal for $25 per person for the same tour. Their shuttle will pick up us up in the morning and drop us off at the evening, and lunch was included. Our “scam-y sense” was on full blast, but we decided to take the risk. We paid about $10 up front to book the reservation, with an agreement to pay in full when their shuttle picks us up. The tour price also included entry fees to Chichen Itza and Xenotes.
The next morning we got ready bright and early and had our breakfast before 7 AM, the expected time for the shuttle to pick us up. We were pleasantly surprised when the tour shuttle came on time to pick us up from the hotel lobby. The tour company brings all the tourists to a central location, in the hall of a strip-mall, and divides the group into English/Non-English tours. After paying the rest of the amount, we boarded the bus and left for the tour around 9 AM.
The first stop was to a Mayan village, reaching around 11 AM. Lunch was included in the cafeteria, and they were gracious in helping prepare vegetarian friendly dishes. The shaman of the village performed a ceremony to welcome the tour, and the gift shop contained plenty of items to souvenirs to purchase (with no room for negotiation).
After the village, the tour took us straight to Chichen Itza. The tour guide gave a background of the ruins, the history and it’s significance to the Mayans. We separated from the tour to explore on our own and take pictures next to the temple. We were disappointed when we learned that entrance to the Temple of the Warriors is closed. The weather was perfect as we explored the shops around the ruins after taking in the sights. For Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I this was the best place to shop for souvenirs. The owners were willing to bargain and the quality of the products were better than what we found at Mercado 28.
Temple of Warriors
After Chichen Itza, the tour went to a Xenotes, or a sinkhole, for swimming. The sinkhole is deep underground and onsite facilities allow tourists to change into swimwear. We decided to skip the swimming, and instead explored the gardens and the café. The café has one of the best espressos I’ve had, with locally grown coffee. I heard positive reviews about the sinkhole swimming with the only caveat of needing more time to enjoy the spot. As the tour was heading back to Cancun, we stopped briefly at the town of Valladolid. It was a charming place to spend about thirty minutes, walking and taking pictures.
Church of Valladolid
Hacking Tip: The tours to Chichen Itza run about 12 hours from the time the shuttle picks you up in the morning. We recommend bringing few water bottles, snacks, swimwear and towel if you’re interested in swimming at Xenotes, and of course, cash. The tour is hassle free, but they do try to upsell, such as renting life jackets at the sinkhole. Our tour guide warned us that there could be a problem with bringing backpacks, cameras and selfie sticks to the Chichen Itza ruins. Although we did not face an issue, my recommendation would be hide the camera and the selfie stick in a bag or a purse and take them out once you pass the gate. The sinkhole managers recommend that visitors use biodegradable sunscreen so the quality of the water is not impacted.
How to get there
Daily flights run from multiple airports to Cancun, so finding a flight is fairly simple. You can also find packages for the trip, and they are reasonably priced when factoring in airport transfers and hotel stays. General recommendation would be to stay close to the luxury area to save time on bus rides and an easy access to the beach. Otherwise, the city is quite safe and fun if you follow the general tourist guidelines.
Where to stay
Even though we stayed at the Omni Villas and Resort, we would not recommend it for our next stay. The staff was not entirely helpful and we were surprised to see that selling timeshares was their number one priority. No matter where you stay, it is my recommendation to stay as far away from timeshare presentations as you can. The promises are big, they will take your entire day, and in the end, you will not have much to show for it. You have to depend on individual waiters to help you in your stay, and they are few and far between. The rest of the staff seems to follow the hotel’s policy of doing as little as possible, whenever possible no matter how generously they’ve been tipped.
Hacking Tip: All-inclusive resorts are a great option when visiting with friends or family. Cancun is a family-friendly spot and everyone can have a vacation of his or her choice. If all-inclusive is out of the budget, then you can still enjoy the stay by going to Walmart and stocking up on supplies. The groceries are super-cheap and fresh compared to the US, and you can enjoy drinks without breaking the bank. At the resort, expect to pay a tip everywhere. Tips are encouraged and expected, especially if the resort is all-inclusive. Greasing the wheels help when getting a drink (and getting a real drink instead of sugar water) or asking the wait staff to customize a meal with vegetarian options. Find a good waiter and ask for them each time, they’ll know what you want and keep it ready. For the Omni Hotel, ask for Roberto in the La Paloma restaurant. He will work with the kitchen staff to make you what you’d like and tries to ensure that you enjoy your stay.
Let me know if I can provide more information about Cancun, and I’d love to hear how your stay was. Did you enjoy Chichen Itza as much as we did? Any hotel recommendations? Drop me a note.
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