In this article, I discuss why I didn’t like Cancun. Hint: The place does not fit my travel style at all.
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 about 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 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 in 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 the 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 there is nothing wrong with these places 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 the area where 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 those areaa too). If you are in Cancun, try to find a little bit of the Mexican soul Downtown (Centro).
For 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.
I agree with you 100%, Ruth, even though I’ve never been to Cancun, and have no desire to go there (of course, if any client wants to pay me to go there, I wouldn’t turn them down!). There’s no way to get the flavor of the “real” Mexico (or any other country, for that matter), if you’re staying in a place where the tourists are segregated from the outside world. I guess you could say you’re getting the “Disney-fied” version of the place. I was in Aruba a few years back (and it actually was for work, not vacation), and despite the beautiful beaches and friendly people, I felt like I was in the US. Nearly everyone on the beach or in the restaurants was from the US. The only locals were the workers.
Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista says
I have never been to Cancun either and would only go as a gateway to some of the Mayan ruins. Cancun was designed for tourists! They actually designed the sand and everything specifically for tourists so I was not surprised to hear you say it lacked the charm and local feel. It wasn’t meant to.
Jan Ross says
I have been to Cancun and Riviera Maya and you are correct that Riviera Maya is a much more authentic experience. Although I have to say I did enjoy our all-inclusive resort in Cancun. We were actually outside the hotel zone at the Moon Palace and it was just far enough way to have a little more character. But Riviera Maya was still nicer – aside from the huge iguanas everywhere! I never did get used to them.
Camels & Chocolate says
I’m in agreement. I only went for my senior trip in high school, though, so we still had a blast. That dolphin beach sure looks nice, though!
Courtney Mroch says
LMAO! What a title! And I LOVE your last photo. (Don’t get me wrong, I like them all.) But Cookie Monster? Come on. He’s just so awesome you can’t help but pose with him! Love it!!!!
I had a very similar experience in Cancun. We had tried to do the trip independently and on a budget by staying downtown and commuting out to the beaches and it wasn’t easy. If I were to go back again it would be to relax and go the all-inclusive route staying at one of the resorts, otherwise I agree that Playa del Carmen and Tulum are much better suited to independent travelers.
Scott - Quirky Travel Guy says
I can see how Cancun would be boring outside of a resort. I stayed once at a resort and it was awesome there, but not much to do nearby. We did go to Playa del Carmen and to some ruins to get a bit more culture.
Dani | Globetrottergirls says
Totally agree! We didn’t like Cancun at all, it didn’t do anything for us. The huge hotel buildings reminded us of Vegas, and all the bars and restaurants were totally overpriced. We headed over to Isla Mujeres, a small island just off the coast, and we’re so glad we did! Worlds apart from Cancun!! We felt like we were in the middle of the Caribbean, the beaches were AMAZING, and everything was half the price than in Cancun. We also preferred the beaches in Akumal, about an hour south of Cancun. There were only very few tourists and the beach was lined by coconut palm trees – paradise!
The pictures you’ve posted are great, but I have always felt that Cancun was a place gangs of friends went to get smashed… Might be “Beverly Hills 90210” have had a negative effect on me 😛
Thanks for sharing your experiences here 🙂
Thanks Annie. I know Cancun has a party central fame but I don’t really mind that aspects. Is the other things I mentioned in the article that bothers me.
Mauricio Madera says
Hi Ruth, you’re so right. I’m a Mexican citizen from Northern Mexico and I went to Cancun in July. I had a very high expectations about that destination, thinking about beautiful beaches surrounded by palm trees and rainforest, but few days before my arrival I investigated and saw images on google maps of the hotel zone of Cancun and I was completely dissapointed that all the beach shore is crowded of huge hotels and resorts. Fortunately my trip tour included visits to Tulum, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, I only stayed in Cancun to sleep. I fell in love with Tulum, that was exactly my idea of a tropical Caribbean paradise. As a Mexican i’m so sad and shamed about what our government allowed in Cancun, is an extreme ambition to exploit its beaches to the limit, and it destroyed its beauty.
Hi I actually live here and have lived her for four years….9 in Mexico in total. What you say is true, but who comes to Cancun for culture? For what I have seen of the type of tourist they seem to want a package, hotel beach and Bacardi style holiday….. I do not recommend down town central Cancun at all…stick to the hotel zone.