When the Canadian winter hits and I’m tired of being snowed in for five days straight, it’s time to book a vacation somewhere south of the border. Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula usually does the trick.
I’ve been there a couple of times now with friends for a little getaway fun, and I love it every time. But seeing as how most of my friends are students, frugality is top priority. If it’s yours too, try one of these experiences.
1. Take the ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres, “Women Island,” is a quick ferry ride from Cancun but it might as well be a whole different world. With just 11,000 people living there, the island isn’t overrun with rowdy party-goers like the city of Cancun is, and life plays out at a much slower pace.
The best way to navigate all 7 kilometres of the island is by renting a golf cart or scooter. Head to Punta Sur, on the southernmost tip of the island, where you’ll find the Sculpture Garden filled with art nouveau pieces. You can pay a small fee to walk through here, and the sculptures make an absurd contrast against the Mayan Temple to Goddess Ixchel. Walk the trail along the ocean’s edge. The water is the bluest of blues around here.
On the way back, swing by the turtle farm where a small donation is expected and you get to “ooh” and “aah” over baby turtles. If you really want to spend zero dollars, however, head immediately to the beach as soon as you step off the ferry. Grab a beer, and you’ve got the perfect afternoon.
2. Wander around the Cancun’s Mercado 28
Don’t come here for the tacky souvenirs – how authentic are they, anyway? My favourite part of this market was discovering Restaurante Margely. My Mexican friend Julio had accompanied me, and so he introduced me to some REAL Mexican dining…and beer, of course. Up until then, I had been eating the usual garbage served up by the chain restaurants that Cancun seems to love so much. But when in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do.
My favourite drink was horchada, rice water. Try some other traditional dishes, like chile verde (pork in a green chile sauce), or tamales (steamed masa with a filling).
3. Chichen Itza Day Trip
Alright, so this one will actually cost you a bit of money, but only about €46 if you go with the right tour operator. And seriously, the site plays such an important part in Mayan history, if you’re gonna splurge on anything it might as well be this.
One of the largest Mayan cities in history, researchers believe Chichen Itza had the most diverse population in the Mayan world, which would explain the variety of architectural styles at the site.
You’ll be blown away by the details in the pyramids and surrounding stonework, and you’ll leave humbled by the fact that such a “primitive” culture invented these creations thousands of years ago. Plus they started that whole “end of world December 21, 2012” scare, which fooled most of us. Who’s primitive now?
4. Visit Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen (or “Playa”) is a large coastal town about 70 kilometres from Cancun. Most people come here to hang out at the resorts, but the town offers a lovely, relaxed reprieve from the chaos of Cancun. You’ll find cobblestone streets, tons of boutique shops, and endless pubs and clubs.
Despite it not being as notorious as Cancun, the nightlife is still pretty awesome. Try drinks at Blue Parrot, El Pirata, Santenera, or Hotel Deseo. But perhaps Playa del Carmen’s greatest appeal is its 75+ restaurants and eateries, with food from all over the world. Try Thai noodles at Babes Noodles and Bar, or La Pesca for the city’s best seafood.
5. Snorkeling the reef
Around the city of Cancun and its neighbouring areas, you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel in the Great Mesoamerican Reef. Because the reef is so shallow, even inexperienced snorkelers get a close-up look of a spectacular underwater world with the kind of views you can usually only find while scuba diving. Grouper fish, corals, sea anemones, jellyfish, octopus, and more are all waiting.
You may have to book a tour to get to the most ideal locations, but a standard trip is about €30 for a few hours. Opt for a cruise through the mangroves, if possible. It’s fun to watch stingrays leap over your boat.
- Is There More to Cancun Than Partying?
- Mexico’s Coolest City: Guanajuato
- Day of the Dead in Mexico (Dia de los Muertos)