Mexico part 2: Sun, Sea and Mayans
Welcome to part 2 of my Mexico travels. Before you go any further, make sure you’ve caught up with the Best of Central America Series (from Costa Rica where this trip started in March, all the way up to Belize!) and Part 1 of my Mexico travels.
So my month long G Adventures tour ended in Playa del Carmen (28th April ‘18) and I travelled to Cancun via taxi ($40USD) which took an hour. The local buses are cheaper of course but I was being boujee as my bag was heavy and we’d had too much fun at Coco Bongo last night! Cancun is well known for its spring break antics but luckily for us, the end of April is outside of this time. We had a week here and had booked 2 different accommodations as we couldn’t agree on one!
First we stayed at Casa Tortugas Boutique Hotel which is conveniently a 2 minute walk from the beach (Playa Tortugas). It is also 5 minute drive away to the start of the Hotel Zone (or a few minutes more by bus – just a minute walk to the stop – for 12 pesos one way and downtown Cancun is not too far in the opposite direction).
It has apartments within a hotel complex with an outdoor chill area and pool, overlooking the lagoon. The family who own it are so lovely and welcoming!
For the second half of our week, we stayed in Ocean Dream Hotel in the Hotel Zone. The main hotels and resorts are on this long stretch of road which begins with the clubs and restaurants in the centre and it seems to get more expensive the further you drive along! We were lucky to have a room facing the ocean and a private beach to enjoy! At night, you could see the lit up cruise ships slowly making their way across the ocean.
There is a lot to do in and around Cancun so here’s a summary of what we got up to:
Playa Tortugas – Turtle Beach. We visited this on day one as it was our closest beach to Casa Tortugas. It is more local than touristsy which I always enjoy. We were papped by a Mexican woman who wanted to show her son that she had met us…not quite sure who we were supposed to be though!
Isla Mujeres – literally Women’s island – as it was apparently once inhabitated just by women. The Mayans would send women here from Tulum to pray for 3 days every month (perhaps menstruation related?!). To visit this lovely island, you can take a ferry from a port site (Playa Tortugas had one) for $19 USD pp open day return. The morning ferry has entertainment on board with a saxophone player. They will offer to take your pic before you board…wait until you arrive at the island as a more scenic and free photo op awaits you.
The beaches on this island are so beautiful and quite peaceful relative to crowd numbers. You can also wander through the markets and explore the town on hired golf carts.
One of the 7 New Wonders of the World and the 2nd one that I had visited (the 1st being the incredible Machu Picchu in May ‘17). We went with Eknx tours ($75USD pp) which was arranged by Alex, the son of our host in Casa Tortugas.
Our first stop was a small town called Valladolid to visit the Mayan designed catholic church and have a stroll around.
Then we visited a Mayan arts and crafts centre, had a demonstration of making tortillas and enjoyed a buffet lunch (included in our price).
Next we made it to Chichen Itza and explored the ruins around it. Our tour guide for the day Rafael showed us around and explained the different ruins before letting us loose to wander. There are many market stalls inside the complex too which was a bit unexpected but far away enough to not spoil the views.
If you clap hard enough, it echoes around..the sound is incredible!
Last stop of the tour was to another cenote for a much needed cool down swim. Cenotes were thought to be passages to the underworld so it was a bit surreal casually entering one. The water is deep inside so less confident swimmers and children should wear life jackets.
We learnt so much on this tour about Mayan life. For example about Kukulkan (a word that some streets and roads were named after) which is a Mayan feathered snake deity. The Temple Kukulkan is the central temple of Chichen Itza (or El Castillo in Spanish). During spring and autumn equinoxes, the light falls on the temple in a certain way to cast a shadow which looks like a serpent going down it!
We also learnt about various Mayan sacrifices to please Gods (including that of their best athletes who won competitive games), the original observatory and more.
We booked a half day tour to visit the ruins here for $29 USD pp from mycancuntours.com. Tulum is just over a hour drive away from Cancun and the ruins are beautifully located next to the beach. The site is smaller than Chichen Itza so all can be seen in an hour maximum. The full day tours also include lunch, beach time and a visit to Playa del Carmen or another ruin site.
Tulum was an extension of Chichen Itza and was connected to Isla Mujeres for the movement of goods and women. It was then abandoned when there was a drought for 80 years and the many sacrifices to the Gods didn’t work. Kudos to the Mayans for trying for so long!
We passed through the tequila factory on the way back for a demo on the tequila making process and some free tasters to end the day.
Food and drink highlights:
To balance out our spending on tours etc, we cooked all breakfast and some of our other meals at our hotels or took snacks to the beach, getting cheap food and drink supplies from nearby supermarket Chendrai Selecto. For the rest of our time, I’ve summarised a few favourites below :
Chilis – American style food with quick service. My buffalo chicken burger was very tasty but any chicken dish is good (I did try everyone else’s too!)
Taco Factory – for chicken tacos and my favourite Jamaica drink. A very cheap lunch with a free refill of nachos for your starter.
Casa Tequila – this is a lovely fancy restaurant for dinner and tequila. Their nachos for starters are the best I had on my trip. I also had their pastor (pork) tacos and my favourite Spanish tipple sangria.
Natura – they serve natural juices and delicious food with a whole lot of flavour. We shared the beef fajitas which were 100!
Mextreme – this is a lively restaurant and gets very busy so I recommend going for a slightly earlier dinner to get a seat quickly. We were given a free starter card outside so we claimed it for a shared platter and then for our mains, the shared taco party which had a variety of taco fillings. The restaurant has live music and pleasant waiters with very sturdy heads…you’ll see what I mean if you go!
Golden Sea Chinese – because I have a little tradition of one Chinese meal wherever I go. Their food was delicious (spicy chicken my personal fave) plus the unexpected entertainment of drunk old Chinese people doing karaoke at their table!
Coco Bongo Cancun – from my last blog, you’ll know that I went to the Playa del Carmen one but I would’ve been a rude host to not show Albert this one. Unlimited drinks and the show plus dancing makes it oh so worth it!
Carlos’ N Charlie’s – this restaurant/bar is one of the few bars which has free entry. Also their drinks prices are pretty good compared with others. We went on a Friday night which was Latin night so lots of salsa and tequila! We also came here for Cinco de Mayo which isn’t a celebration in Mexico really but the margaritas were tasty!
Fat Tuesday’s Cancun – another place with free entry and usually has hip hop and RnB playing.
James – you get a beautiful view from the rooftop so it’s perfect for a date night. The view will cost you a bit though so dress for the occasion!
Top tips for Mexico
Use Mexican pesos where possible as the exchange rate is excellent (especially for us Brits!) If you opt to pay in dollars which most places will accept, your change will be in pesos at a poor rate. My favourite was “buy this fridge magnet for $1USD or 10 pesos (whilst we were there, 1USD = 17 pesos roughly so you do the math). Some tourist tours will quote the prices in dollars only so then you can get your haggling hat on.
Enjoy a drink at your hotel/Airbnb before going out as drinks are quite pricey. A lot of clubs will have an entry fee with open bar for $40 USD and above a night (per person) but we opted for the free entry places instead. Coco Bongo is one place I would recommend paying for though for the whole experience…make sure you check for any discounts on their website (Monday’s are cheaper for example).
Use the local buses to travel around town – for only 12 pesos per person, it’s an absolute bargain compared with taxis (who will ask for tips too). You can catch any bus to go along the Hotel Zone but to go downtown or elsewhere requires a bit of working out. Bonus is they run throughout the night too!
Be prepared to tip almost everybody – not just waiters (restaurants usually added it on anyways) but taxi drivers were also hinting strongly for this.
A little bit Spanish goes a long way. Even though most people can speak English well, I’m big on trying to communicate with the locals in their native tongue and they love the effort made, no matter how small.
Thank you for reading my Mexico post and I hope it’s inspired you to visit. I definitely want to go again but next time to Mexico City…maybe in time for El Día de Los Muertos (huge day of the dead festival celebrated after Halloween)!
Any comments and feedback as always are welcome below.