January 2018 Trip Report: Cancun

It breaks my heart to see all the violent news coming out of Cancun these past few months. I've been to the Cancun region the most out of any other trip, 5x in the past 10 years. Most recently I went over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend this past January and as usual I had an amazing time. If you haven't been yet, below are some of my thoughts and observations over the years:

 Pool at the Westin Lagunamar

Pool at the Westin Lagunamar

The Cancun Area

  • Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are all accessible from the Cancun airport. Cancun is the closest (20 min away), while Playa del Carmen can be anywhere from 45 min to an hour by taxi, and Tulum is about 90 minutes away by taxi. I haven’t been to Tulum yet, but it’s probably next on any future trips down there. Tulum is more low key/casual—the hotels there are more boutique, or bed and breakfast-style. It won’t be like grand resorts or anything and not as lively. From what I hear, most people go there for the more laid back/wellness-type vacations (ie yoga/hipsters, etc). Playa del Carmen and Cancun is much more family friendly. Cancun is super commercialized though, and I prefer Playa del Carmen more in terms of the downtown scene and the food (cheaper, more local Mexican food). Cancun is much more touristy. Both areas are pretty safe to visit, but you do have to watch out for scams and don’t go off the commercialized streets (ie don’t go anywhere that looks empty).
  • If you do go, they take both US Dollars and pesos, but you will get a better rate if you exchange dollars for pesos. So for example when I was just there, a taxi ride was 130 pesos but I didn’t have enough pesos on me and I knew the conversion was $8 USD but the driver charged me $10. Some charged $8 but others will say 10. It’s not metered, they’re flat rates so you have to ask before you get in how much it costs. I know I could’ve argued but given that I know they don’t make much I didn’t (but I was annoyed based on principle). Right now the exchange rate is about $1USD to 20 pesos but the hotels will exchange it for 18 pesos, which is not bad. You can def get a better rate at the ATM or whatever but at the end of the day I only spent like $60 USD in pesos btwn me and my friend (we were super lazy and took taxis to dinner the whole 4 days we were there). We didn’t have a problem using credit cards for food, just for taxis and tips you may need pesos for (and I also brought small $5 USD bills for tips).
    • I went to Cancun because SPG (the hotel rewards) sent me this amaaaaaaazing deal for the Westin Lagunamar. The deal was $320 for 4 nights, total. So I split w a friend, and we stayed there and the resort is fantastic. However, the reason why I got the deal was because they tried to sell me on a timeshare when I was there (I had to sit thru a 90 min presentation) but honestly, it was worth it cuz we paid so little for a great place and I got additional points for sitting thru the presentation (and I stood my ground and said no to the timeshare….they can’t hustle a hustler! Haha). I like going to Cancun though because there are SO many resorts and so I find the experience to always be different. You should research which resort to stay at though, as the beach property does depend on where you stay. The beachfront at the Westin was really clean and gorgeous. The neighbor resorts were also as nice, but not as nice as the Westin. But, not bad either. Other places I’ve stayed at and liked were:
      • Beloved Playa Mujeres: https://belovedhotels.com/; I stayed here for a friend’s wedding maybe 3 years ago. Nice resort, and all their water activities were free too (ie paddleboarding). I remember the ocean here was calmer too. Just FYI the ocean in Cancun is super rough, so you don’t really go in the water unless you’re a good swimmer. I think the water by Playa del Carmen is a lot calmer than Cancun. Cancun also tends to be windier as well. We were lucky and have two great warm sunny days, but the other two days were a bit chillier and windy (but still good enough to sit outside).
      • Royal Haciendas: https://royalreservations.com/resorts/the-royal-haciendas; I stayed here a few years ago for a friend’s bachelorette party and this was soooo nice too. Excellent pools and rooms (they have kitchens). This is closer to downtown Playa del Carmen as well I think.
      • Hyatt Playa del Carmen: https://playadelcarmen.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html; I stayed here two years ago in Feb. I actually went solo and I had a great time. The beach was not as nice, but the pool was great and they have an amazing spa where I spent a whole afternoon in. It is also right next to downtown so no taxi required to go into downtown, unlike other resorts which are further away. But, may not be good option cuz it’s kind of clubby (they play loud music for the younger people to hang out to).
 Sunrise from my hotel room this past January

Sunrise from my hotel room this past January

  • Other things to do in Cancun: There are tons of activities and tours but honestly I like to go and just chill at the resort. The Mayan ruins sound interesting but in my opinion are not really. Ha. They used to allow people to climb them but they don’t anymore, and the bus ride to get there is long. Isla de Mujeres is also touted as something to do but I also think you can skip it unless you just want to get out of the resort for a day. You take a ferry there and spend an afternoon walking around, but it’s mostly the same shops (touristy) that you’ll find downtown. You can do snorkeling etc but it’s not that great.
  • They do have some water amusement parks—I’ve been wanting to check those out but haven’t. But they seem fun/different than the ones in the US. 
 Life's a beach

Life's a beach

  • If you do go, def arrange your hotel transportation in advance. Some hotels provide it, others don’t. If hotels provide it they will still charge you though and it’s not always the best rate. I used Canada Transfers for Cancun and it was great, so easy and great rates: https://www.canadatransfers.com/

We paid $53 round trip for two people, and it’s a private transfer so you are not stuck waiting for other people. I made the rsvp online and printed the vouchers and paid in USD cash in person when they picked us up. Returning to the airport they were also right on time. I highly recommend using them (and they give you water bottles when you arrive—do not drink tap water in Mexico, ever!).

  • Exiting the Cancun airport is overwhelming. People will try to get your attention and sell you something (anything, a tour, a taxi, etc). When you exit, just leave the terminal, don’t stop to talk to anyone, and just look for the guy wearing the Canada transfer shirt and holding up a sign w your name on it (it will have other names on it as well)
  • Do NOT throw away the bottom portion of the Mexico document you have to sign when you pass thru customs. They take the top part of the doc, you keep the bottom w your passport and hand it in when you depart at the airport. My friend wasn’t paying attention and threw hers away and had to pay $32 USD for a new one to exit.
 The reason why I always return

The reason why I always return

 Viva Mexico!

Viva Mexico!