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Three Things You Should Do In Cancun

May 25, 2011

By Nikki Taylor

I know, I know. Cancun is a typical tourist hot spot with the reputation of attracting crowds of annoying young spring breakers looking only to drink an endless amount of alcohol. But if you go during the right time of year, and you follow my advice on things you have to do while you’re there, Cancun can easily become one of your favorite places to visit.

The decision to visit Cancun was not my own. It actually started off as a joke between a friend (completely platonic at the time) and me. Dragged down by grey winter days and a slow spell at the restaurant we worked at, we would get through shifts by envisioning ourselves on sunny beaches with toes buried in white sands.

A couple of months later he came to work with some travel information he had gathered. I was in complete shock! I never thought we’d really go on the trip. But with all of the information in front of me (not to mention the cute gesture of him taking the time out to plan everything) I decided it was time to put our plan into action and purchase the airline tickets. To avoid the flow of spring breakers, we made plans for our adventure to begin at the start of June.

The first thing I remember after we got off the plane was the confusing bombardment of travel/adventure companies. I imagine my fate being similar to falling victim to the pretty sparkly trap that leads you head first into a small cesspool full of piranhas. I would have been eaten alive had it not been for my companions pre-planning.

Arrangements for transportation to and from the hotel had already been made through a reputable car service. So we eventually made it through the crowd to the man holding a sign with our last names on it.

Since our hotel offered the service, we decided to book all of our outings through them once we got settled. I’ll never regret making this decision. Not only did the guy break everything down for us and provide personal recommendations, he also gave us a break in prices for doing more than one event. When we later ventured out on the streets, we found out all of those companies we encountered at the airport, were spread out along the streets of the Hotel Zone.

If you’re like me, then traveling to a different country is done so you can experience different cultures, and not feel like you’re visiting a New York City located in Mexico. So here is my advice for making the most out of visiting a touristy spot.

1.  Get away from the Hotel Zone and venture into the city.

The first thing I always like to do when I travel is to explore. Lined with expensive restaurants and shopping centers, the hotel zone we stayed in is geared towards the tourists who want to be in a different country, but not really. So we ventured into the city via warp speed bus transportation and spent the day exploring various shops and local cuisine.

There is no better way to find an amazingly authentic place to eat than asking the locals. We got a lot of suggestions, but the reoccurring name was La Habichuela. We decided to check it out.

Sitting on the Mayan ruin-decorated patio lit by several tiny white lights strung through the jungle-like foliage, we enjoyed some amazing Caribbean influenced Mexican cuisine. The highlight of the night was the unforgettable trademark dish, the Cocobichuela. The Cocobichuela is a harmony of shrimp, lobster, and rice, cooked in a fruit splashed curry sauce, served in a real coconut, and a rim lined with a charred pineapple ring. It’s hard to believe, but it tastes even better than it sounds.

2.   Take at least one day trip.

We took two! Most are relatively inexpensive and well worth it. The first one we experienced was to the Isla de Mujeres. About an hour-long boat ride took us to a small island off of the coast of Cancun. There we spent the day swimming in calmer waters, visiting the sea turtle nursery, and shopping the small locally owned shops. The only downfall of the day trip was we ran out of time to do stuff.

Day two was dedicated to driving our own two-person speedboat on a “jungle tour.” We began in the bay and made our way through the maze of the mangrove forest. Once we cleared the saltwater-loving forest, it was full engines go, straight out into open ocean until we reached the coral reef. There we spent about 45 minutes enjoying heart racing encounters with beautiful reef fish and intimidating barracuda as we snorkeled.

3.   Swim with the whale sharks.

You have to make sure your timing is right if you want to do this one. The whale sharks’ migration patterns make these amazing creatures locals from June to September only. It’s also way more expensive than the other day trips, so be prepared. A lot of the day was spent on the boat going to and from the location. I had to take some medicine to help with the sea sickness.

It was well worth it once we finally located the white-spotted giants. The adrenaline burst was intoxicating as we turned the boat and headed towards them. Then a vulnerable intimidation took over as I realized how big this creature was. Words give no justice to the experience. It was surreal, dream-like with sun rays sparkling on the water, and an enormous, wide-mouthed, slow-moving creature swimming in front of me. Fascination held me so tight I could barely move.

Each day ended with a bottle of wine or a couple of beers on the beach rather than going to the various nightclubs. We would sit with our toes in the sun-warmed sand, staring at the waves as they swallowed the sinking sun. Smiles on sunburned faces, and breathes of content dominated the conversations. And the only regret was that we couldn’t stay longer.

Nikki Taylor is a contributing editor, writer, and collaborator of ideas for Cooks and Travel Books. She is passionate about food, traveling, exploring, learning, writing, and life. Also, the amazing friend mentioned in this trip is now her husband and life-long travel companion.

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