Mexico – All Inclusive! – party – beaches – tequila – teeny bikinis – bad hangovers – cartel…
Cancun has a certain stereotype which it seems happy to fit into, but if partying all night and getting sun poisoning on the beach all day aren’t to your tastes, there’s another side to this ultimate Spring Break destination that’s much more laid back and all around better.
Like usual this was a thrown together trip for a girlfriend and I: 3 days, 2 nights. We ditched the all inclusive resort idea and went with my favorite roughing it method: hostels. Hostel Natura Cancun is a great bet at $30 per bed per night, (just hope they’ve gotten the air conditioner fixed!) it’s a 5-minute walk to the beach and all the popular bars downtown like the big one, Coco Bongo. FYI – all bars have about a $70 – $80 cover at the door with all inclusive alcohol henceforth… though the contents of your drink might not always be exactly what you think you’re paying for… much of what you get is watered down and cheap and will double you over with one of those nasty hangovers that make you regret all prior life choices.
No matter what you do in fact it seems most things in Cancun have an upfront charge, and the term ”all inclusive” is used very loosely. You might pay $35 for entry to a beachfront cabana that’s “all inclusive” but once you’ve eaten or drank more than your $35 worth, you start paying for it and often then then price jumps. $35 seemed to get you and a friend 2 Modelo’s a piece and a light lunch under beach awnings and disco lights. Nothing like bad house music and disco lights in the middle of the day to kick-start a vacation.
Day 1: After meeting outside the airport where customs spits you out – I had arrived first and was already sipping on a margarita from an outdoor airport tikki bar, something I think all airports should adapt – we made out way to our hostel, purchased some towels at $5 a piece, and found our beds shut up with 4 others in a room fit only to be a broom closet; we changed quickly into our bikinis and hit the beach. The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking Modelo’s on the beach with house music pounding in our ears, looking out over some perfectly blue water. We were in Cancun and we had no idea what to do.
Luckily by the end of the day, worn out by our travels and the sun and the salt, we hung around the hostel rather than going out and met everyone else we were bunking with– some of them working for the airlines too in Atlanta and Australia, others came from Holland, Wales, England, and other parts of Mexico and the US – and they gave us some tips.
Day 2: Following their advice we booked a day tour through Xenotes for $119 a person to visit some nearby cenotes – exposed ancient pools of water or mystical underground caverns dating back to the Ice Age that show the careful affects of water on limestone over hundreds of thousands of years. Some give you the feeling that you’re at the entryway to the underworld. Typically I’m not an advocate for tourist traps – strapped into a bustling van with a dozen other Americans sporting fanny packs and silly hate for an entire day, but we didn’t have the time to be picky. We only had that 1 full day. So we asked around and the verdict was unanimous; we’d picked one of the best tours available given by one of the best tour companies.
The price included guided admission into 4 cenotes protected by the National Parks, a few great photo ops zip lining into caverns and kayaking down rivers, a swim with bats and catfish in the most enchanting waters you’ve ever seen because that’s something to brag about, and to top it off, an all you can eat lunch with drinks!
It allowed us to reserve our off the plane liquor minis for the long ride home.
(Another big perk, intimacy. You were never packed in like cattle with each tour fighting for space or their words to be heard. You could spread out or explore a bit on your own.)
Each cenote we visited has a history, a name, and an age. Time and the forces of nature carved each one into being exactly how they look today. The younger ones resemble mystical caverns with sinkholes being your only entryway – created by fallen trees when the roof of the cave could no longer bear their weight. The older ones (250 million years or so) were completely exposed to the natural world around them.
To the Mayans they were sacred. Each one remains protected by the figurine of a Mayayn god: the god of fire, of earth, of water, of wind… They used to make sacrificial offerings to then, believing that underneath them laid the portal to the underworld. I believe them.
We were belayed down through one of those sinkholes. I felt like a sacrificial victim entering the lair of the Mayan earth god as I was being lowered down. The only light was that reflected by the water of sun streaming down through the jungle, much like the moon at night, on the bluest waters I’m convinced I’ll ever see in my life. The cavern was illuminated in hues of blue, orange, and green, when it should have been black. Catfish are the only things darkening the water and quite unlike cats they were very social. But they aren’t the caverns’ only inhabitants. Float around in the mystical waters around the tall floating trees and look up. Fluttering around and behind the stalactites above are bats. As for the floating trees, they’re not really trees, they’re roots. They grow deep down, clumped together like tree trunks from the trees above searching for water. Once they’ve found their way to water they stop growing. It was easily one of the most spectacular hidden places I’d ever been.
By Day 3 our trip was over. We’d managed to go to Cancun and we never once went out to a bar. We completely bypassed the whole Coco Bongo scene. We must have stayed at the most laid back hostel because the most we did each night was share stories with everyone on the roof deck and when we ran out of them, ran downstairs for replenishments of beer and nachos from the conveniently situated burrito joint, and soon enough the stories started flowing again.
We left for the airport mid morning. Somehow I managed to use my limited Spanish to get all the necessary questions answered and we miraculously got seats on the first flight out. It was a good trip, brief, but a perfect taste of Cancun.