I’ve never understood people who go on holiday during the Summer, I mean, I get it if they have kids and can only holiday when the schools are out but otherwise it just makes no sense to me that people leave England when it’s actually warm, it baffles me, it surely makes much more sense to stay put and enjoy the British Summer and then when it gets cold again in the Autumn and Winter, escape for some Winter Sun doesn’t it?
Well, I have to admit, Mexico had never been top of my list of places I wanted to visit, I’m a big fan of Margaritas and Chihuahuas and I like the odd fajita but when it was decided that we’d be going to Cancun for Xmas, I went along with the flow.
We flew with United Airlines and I have to say it wasn’t great for vegans as they didn’t offer any vegan options, the main in flight vegetarian meals were luckily vegan in both directions so I didn’t starve but it’s a long flight and the rolls offered later were a choice of cheese or turkey so had I not stocked up on supplies at the airport, I’d have arrived in Mexico very hangry having only had one small meal in 10 hours.
We finally did arrive though, no thanks to the ridiculously long and inefficient passport control and security at Houston as we had to change, note to self, always pay the extra and take a direct flight where possible and NEVER EVER go to Houston airport again, we could also have avoided having to get last minute ESTA’s if we hadn’t transited through the US.
Cancun’s ‘hotel zone’ is perfect if you want an all inclusive, resort style holiday but if you’re just heading out to Coco Bongo Island then it’s pretty much a tourist trap, drinks prices are inflated to the equivalent of that if you were drinking cocktails in London’s West end and you don’t get the feel of Mexico, you could just as well be in Vegas and trying to browse peacefully in the markets there isn’t going to happen, you have vendors constantly harassing you making it a painful experience.
We stayed in Downtown Cancun, only about a 10 minute bus ride to the Hotel Zone and the beaches, buses run every few minutes and you can get from one end of the strip to the other for 12 pesos.
I was impressed with the majority of Cancun bars having gotten rid of single use plastic straws and replaced them with either paper or biodegradable cactus based material straws in a bid to keep the oceans plastic free and protect the wildlife but disappointed and saddened by the amount of ‘captive dolphin experience’ parks advertised.
To visit Mayan ruins and Cenotes, you can either book guided tours or to save money brave the public transport and go it alone. One of the best ways to travel from Cancun to the surrounding areas is by Collectivo, or shuttle bus, they run 24/7 and are much cheaper than the ADO.
We decided to go it alone on our first trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, a Collectivo from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen and then another from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum worked out around 85 pesos per person each way, there are boards to read as you walk around to learn about how the Mayans built their villages so it was quite nice for this one walking around alone, we spotted lots of iguanas basking in the sun and a family of coati’s.
We then used google maps to walk about 2km to Cenote Calavera for our first Cenote experience which is the closest one to the ruins.
Only a small sink hole but an amazing experience, you can jump from the edge in to the water or like me, use the wooden ladder to get down to the water, the water is crystal clear and at first it’s a little weird and tickles when the little fist start to nibble at you but once you get use to them, it’s fine and once you swim in to the cave, you have bats roosting and flying about above you, if like me you’re a big fan of bats, it really is a magical experience.
Our second trip to Coba was an extra bus ride away, we were told there wasn’t a Collectivo from Tulum to Coba so we got an ADO for that part of the journey, at the ADO stn, we were also told by the ADO ticket seller at Coba that there was only one pick up time coming back so we didn’t get time to visit a Cenote along with Coba and then he sent us to the wrong place to get the bus so missed it and wouldn’t refund our tickets, I think he knew what he was doing and wanted us to pay again but as it turns out there is a Collectivo so my advice would be to steer well clear of the ADO rip off merchants and stick with the shuttle bus and reasonably priced cabs if you want to visit a Cenote after your Coba trip, just negotiate your fair before you get in your cab.
Coba itself was incredible, being more difficult to get to and therefore less popular with tourists, it was one of the last Mayan ruins that you cold actually walk up and we were lucky enough to be amongst the last people to able to climb to the very top as from the beginning of 2019, climbing the ruin has been stopped. The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking though, jungle as far as you could see with vultures soaring high above.
Being vegan in Mexico is tough, it’s like being vegetarian was in the UK 10 years ago, very little, if any options on what you can eat on the menus, if we’d have gone with one of the all inclusive resorts then I dare say that eating would have been easier but we wanted to experience the real culture and cuisine of Mexico so I pretty much survived solely on mushroom tacos, mushroom quesadilla and mushroom tortillas for the first week and a half by which time, Montezuma was taking his revenge on my stomach and I was all tacoed out.
We did however find a hidden gem in La Dolce Vita in Downtown cancun, an authentic Italian restaurant, with a few vegan options for me and then a nice surprise when you get the bill and it’s nowhere near as expensive as you’d expect, amazing service, great food and definitely one to seek out if you need a break from Mexican cuisine.
We took a day trip to Isla Mujares on a catamaran with drinks, snorkeling and parasailing included and a buffet lunch at a beach club but we weren’t left with much time to explore the island or sunbathe at the beach club and the buffet wasn’t up to scratch, neither of us fancied the snorkeling and unfortunately we couldn’t parasail from the catamaran on the day we went as apparently it was too nippy – although it certainly didn’t feel nippy so I don’t think you really get your dinero’s worth with the tour and my recommendation would be to take a speed boat over to the island from the marina first thing and another back in the evening so that you can explore at your own leisure rather than booking a tour for this one.
I did manage to get some amazing footage at the beach though of a group of brown pelicans diving for fish.
We decided to save the best for last and visit Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world on our last day and for this one we decided to book as a tour as with travel along with a stop at a Mayan shopping village, entrance to Cenote X’Cajum and lunch thrown in it worked out more cost effective and we’re glad we did.
We went with Amigo tours and our guide Rodrigo Cat was just brilliant, a very knowledgeable archaeologist of Mayan decent, he was so informative, we definitely came out feeling like we’d learnt a lot – including how to say hello in Mayan (ma’lob kiin) and have a new found fascination with Mayan history.
Centoe X-Cajum was much, much bigger than Cenote Calavera, open to the sky and 35 metres deep, you can hire life jackets if you want to but the water is still and we were comfortable swimming without despite the depth, no bats but some slightly bigger fish swimming about and I’m sure even bigger ones to be seen by those wanting to scuba dive.
There are an estimated over 6000 Cenotes in the Yucatan but only 2400 of those actually studied and registered, swimming in the Cenotes was one of the highlights of the trip and if I were to go back, I’d definitely seek out some more, places so tranquil yet were once along with the temples, places of sacrifice – eek.
I loved Mexico, learning about the history and culture, the colour, the wildlife, (I have a particular soft spot from the great tailed grackle, as common as a blackbird is here and only a little bigger but with a longer tail, feathers a deep shade of blue and a peculiar melody to their call) and up until a certain point, the food.
It helps to know a little basic Spanish as in a lot of the street food vendors and waiters in the more authentic restaurants don’t always speak much English. I learned the word for ‘mushrooms’ on my first day so that was pretty helpful for me and I started learning Spanish on Duolingo (I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before I went) from then on and by the end of the trip I was happily booking tables and ordering my food and drink in Spanish.
It surprised me how quickly I was picking up the language and as a result, one of my new years resolutions is to stick with Duolingo and be fluent in Spanish by the end of 2019.
I can definitely see myself visiting again one day, maybe staying further towards the Riviera Maya rather than Cancun.
A perfect Christmas in the sun.