As a traveler, I know I have to keep my expectations in check. But when the hype surrounding a destination is larger than life, I can’t avoid feeling extremely optimistic and excited of what I am going to experience.
Case in point: Hawaii. Tons of magazine and newspaper ads sing in unison praises to these volcanic islands located in the Pacific Ocean. Every day you get bombarded with subliminal and explicit messages stating the following: Hawaii is so pretty, it is so amazing, it is the best place in the world. Suddenly, you feel the urge to visit. And you get beyond thrilled (I mean giggling like crazy) when you finally purchase your ticket. In this case, Hawaii didn’t disappoint. After a few days exploring one of the islands, I can say with confidence: “Hawaii is a wonderful place”.
Too bad I cannot say the same about that other uber famous and over advertised place called Cancun.
After years of longing to visit this city bordered by the Caribbean Sea, I made it to its shores last year. I have to say I went with high expectations (maybe too high). To my dismay, I didn’t found anything of my like. I mean I didn’t see anything worth my time or stay. Overall rating: boring, boring, boring.
Before you start to scream in my face, let me make some clarifications. I am referring to Cancun’s hotel zone (that is the most famous part). I am not referring to downtown (which I think has a little soul), the Riviera Maya or the state of Yucatan. Do you get it? I am just referring to the ribbon of land forming the 7 figure and where most of the resorts are located. Capisci?
So, why I didn’t like Cancun? There is one main reason: if you are not staying in one of the all inclusive resorts, then this area doesn’t have a lot to offer.
As the name implies, the resorts in here have everything people staying there needs. There is no necessity to go out to eat, stroll, explore or discover. You may want to go out to shop. Therefore, the stores on the area are targeted to people looking for luxury which is not exactly what I was looking for.
I don’t know if I was too naïve or what. I was really expecting a wide and elegant boulevard lined with cafes, boutiques, artisanal shops and funky restaurants. In reality, the road traversing the area is composed of two lanes and you only see the entrances to hotel’s driveways. Plus, there are signs alerting people to be careful with the alligators in the areas close to the lagoon. This is one of the many facts resorts like to use to keep people inside the properties.
The only sources of entertainment are malls (!) and small clusters of U.S. originated restaurants and bars. I mean these places are not disgusting but what happened to the authentic Mexican food, goods or cultural displays. I like to travel to experience those. Of course, most of the stores and attractions in the malls are overpriced. Not even the supposedly interesting flea markets lived to their hype. I didn’t see anything worth buying. Even the postcards are lame (really old photos). Ahh and let’s not forget about the rude guys that want to sign you up for a hotel visit (read all-inclusive presentation). I have experienced my share of aggressive vendors around the world but those guys are just impolite.
Ok, what about the beaches in the area? I have to admit the beaches are pretty but the truth is that there are better ones in other parts of the Riviera. Plus, the resorts control most of the sand (and water). This situation got me a bit upset. The public areas are limited and there are no decent facilities. If you walk close to area were the hotel beach starts, there is staff that blocks you from walking (they are usually on a palapa). The boundaries in the water are set by a piece of rope and a buoy. This is not the kind of experience I want to have.
Overall, Cancun bored me to death. I can even say it is my nemesis because it stands for a lot I don’t want to see when I travel (no culture, no local production, segregation, different treatment depending on your travel style). It didn’t fit my travel personality.
Here is my humble advice: head to Playa del Carmen, Tulum or a town in the state of Yucatan (like Merida or Valladolid). Those places are more exciting for independent travelers (even though there are many resorts around that area too). If you are in Cancun, try to find a little bit of the Mexican soul in downtown (Centro).
In the sake of positivism, let me point out some things I liked.
The sunset was beautiful.
We ate in a restaurant called La Panza es Primero (The Stomach Goes First). According to them, the menu offers Mex-Mex dishes. All the decoration inside the restaurant pays homage to Mexican wrestling. Very cool atmosphere and the food was delicious.
And I was able to take my picture with Cookie Monster. A perfect Mexican experience!!
Have you been to Cancun? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section below.