Cancun, Chechen Itza and Tulum, Mexico

Fri, Dec 21, 2007 5-minute read

My first impression of Cancún was simple. “Oh my God, I want to get out of here.” Fortunately, it turned out to be slightly unwarranted, but the majority of what you hear about Cancún is true. It is full of hotels and fast food chains, it is full of fat tourists and it is full of locals trying to get your money. I was instantly ripped off by the taxi driver. Late in the evening without a clue where I was, I had been persuaded to accept the overpriced taxi with the promise that if the hostel I was heading to was full, then they wouldn’t leave me until we found one that was available. Well needless to say, as I exited the taxi, after making the driver promise that he would wait, tyres screeched as he left me stranded. Not a great start to my time in Cancún.

The hostel it self - Hostel Mexico - is actually pretty good. It’s cheap and cheerful - and at $11 a night - is a bit of a contrast to majority of the other accommodation available in Cancún. It was totally different to the delightful casa I had become accustomed to in Cuba - that is, well decorated double rooms with ensuite to 6 bed dormitory rooms and shared bathrooms. But it didn’t take long to settle back in to the way of life.

A jar of marmite brought me in to contact with Steve, a Londoner on a month’s holiday from work to explore Mexico. We instantly hit it off and agreed to travel for a few days. First stop was Chechen Itzá, one of the most famous ruins in Mexico, and now one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. From Cancun, by far the best way to visit is on an organised trip, despite my hatred of being shepherded between places like a scumbag tourist, and if you hunt around you can find a day of it, including travel, admission, guide, swimming in a nearby cenote and buffet lunch for $45. Chechen Itzá itself is quite amazing, although I’m reliably informed it’s by no means the best set of ruins in Mexico. It’s well worth getting a guide because otherwise you might amble around admiring the big pyramids, but when you find out the intricacies of the design, it adds a whole new level to it all. It blows your mind to think the Mayan people were coming up with some incredible architecture some 1200 years ago. There’s meaning in virtually every building and the attraction is dented only by the hordes of snap-hungry tourists infesting the site.

On the way back we stopped at a cenote - a massive underground pool - that are spread throughout Mexico as a result of meteorite shower thousands of years ago. You can swim in them, but only myself and Maria, a fellow coach-goer from Chile, opted to go in from our party. A shame really because they missed out on both some of the clearest and refreshing water I’ve been in (moreso than the cave swimming in Cuba), not to mention a fun 15 or so foot jump to get in. It may come as little surprise, but this was the highlight of the day for me.

Steve and I left Cancún the following day, heading down the coast to Tulúm, missing out the tourist haunt of Playa del Carmen. A break from the insanity of Cancún was welcome as we booked in to the Zazil Kin complex - a small place offering beach cabanas for about $20 a night. If you’re looking for some chill out time, then look no further. Waking up in the morning and, you guessed it, swimming, in the sea barely 100m from your front door is amazing. The place is very serene and tranquil and is wonderful for a little contemplation and relaxation. (Unless you happen to be sharing a cabana with a burly South Londoner who sleeps like a slain Rhino. With bad sinuses.) Travel tip: ear plugs are your friend!

After a couple of days beach time, Steve and I rented a car and drove to nearby Cobá, to inspect the ruins, which boasts one of the last in Mexico that still has parts that tourists can climb. Despite running out of fuel (and trying to persuade a taxi driver that he lend us some of his, which he wasn’t so receptive to) the ruins were indeed impressive, possibly moreso than Chechen Itzá. We failed to find the “really big pyramid” but we did find the “big pyramid” that you can climb. 112 steps up and at 42m you have a spectacular view of the area. We also had a look at the ruins in Tulúm, but time restraints meant it was a fleeting visit.

Steve and I parted company the following day - he was bound for Meridá, whereas I was returning to Cancún to catch a flight back to New York to spend the festive period with my brother. So despite Cancún, I feel like I’ve seen a bit of Mexico, and I’m now excited about the prospect of returning, most likely to Mexico City, sometime in the New Year.

Happy holidays!


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