After winning a free trip to Cancun several years ago, my friend Erin and I booked the week-long vacation for early November. It turns out that Hurricane Wilma, a category 5 storm, ripped through the Yucatan Peninsula just a week before we were scheduled to fly there. Yikes! Several days’ worth of flights were canceled, but everything was back on schedule just in time for us to make the trip.
The best thing about this vacation in Cancun was that it was all-inclusive, meaning everything was paid for. All-inclusive vacations are really a cheap way to travel to Cancun since you don’t have to worry about unexpected expenses.
The resort restaurants and bars were open all day (and in some cases, all night), and we could go in and get unlimited meals and drinks for the entire week without paying a thing.
We spent a week bouncing around from Cancun to Tulum to Playa del Carmen. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the island of Cozumel, one of the best scuba diving spots in the Caribbean, but that’s on our bucket list for next time!
At the resort, we enjoyed the free fruity drinks for all!
Wine on tap?! I had never heard of such a thing.
In retrospect, I’m not sure why we didn’t just spend the whole week at the bars enjoying the free booze. Oh, wait, I remember. Because we spent it at the beaches instead.
Because of the hurricane, the resort was sparsely crowded. It was maybe 20% full, which meant that at most of the fancier restaurants, we were the only ones there. The waiters would come up and ask, “You want tequila?” at every meal – even breakfast!
At one dinner, we were serenaded by a mariachi band.
The fake mariachi was almost as fun as the real thing.
And after the meals, it was back to the beach.
The laid-back week was the complete opposite of my current travel style, in which I cram as much as possible into a few short days.
The resort itself was spectacular.
Everyday during the vacation in Cancun, we would find a gift from housekeeping – a towel twisted into a random animal shape. On this day, it was a swan.
This was my first experience with a minibar. Normally, I don’t touch these, because they’re so expensive. We weren’t sure if the minibar was part of the all-inclusive package, or if we would have to pay for anything we ate. So on the first day, we drank just one bottle of Dos Equis. When we weren’t charged, we knew we had the green light to go nuts and empty it everyday, because it would be replenished the next day at no cost.
I did want to incorporate some cultural experiences into this trip, but because of the hurricane and ongoing clean-up efforts, many of the tours were canceled. We were able to sign up for a tour of Mayan ruins near Tulum. After a short hike through the forest, we arrived at the ruins.
The steps on these ancient structures were very narrow, so they have installed a rope to aid visitors with their ascent.
Looking back down from the top.
We also visited a local Mayan community. More than 6 million Maya still live in Latin America today. Our guide was friendly with one particular family and invited us to catch a glimpse of their way of life.
Their way of life consisted of large families living together in small huts while turkeys, ducks and chickens roamed around.
Our guide told us that she gives the family a payment whenever she brings in tourist groups. So while it felt a little odd that their whole life was on display for all of us camera-wielding tourists, at least they were benefitting from the arrangement.
The tour company also offered a snorkeling tour in a cenote, a deep natural sinkhole teeming with wildlife. Unfortunately, the snorkeling part of the tour was canceled, but we did get to stop by the cenote to see the turtles swimming around.
We also stopped at a market that had locally-made artwork for sale. Most of us just browsed, although one lady was an experienced haggler who scored a couple of deals.
Our resort was actually an hour outside Cancun, near the town of Akumal. So we didn’t get to spend time in Cancun proper, but we did get to have a somewhat urban experience when we boarded the local colectivo bus into the town of Playa del Carmen.
Playa Del Carmen had an active business district. I loved the store that sold gifts and novelties, like these skeleton dolls.
We stopped for an authentic Mexican meal.
The restaurant had a humorously mistranslated sign on the bathroom door.
And then it was back to the resort for some more lying around at the beach.
When we were tired of sitting at the beach, we moved back to the pool. The choice of where to spend our leisure time was so perplexing. It was a really tough call, and you should feel sorry that we had to make such painful, agonizing decisions.
They even had little trams to drive us to the beach, in case we didn’t feel like walking. Talk about being spoiled!
We only got really crazy with the drinks on the last night, when we went to one of the resort nightclubs and freely accepted the complimentary tequila. I remember spending some time on the dance floor trying to communicate in Spanish with these guys who only spoke Italian. Good times.
This blurry pic from the club is one of my few memories from the evening.
The good times ended on the flight home the next morning, when we were both borderline sick. Under normal circumstances, this might have been a miserable experience, but because there were fewer than 20 people on the plane, we got to stretch out and sleep it off.
The scariest thing about the plane was the “dinner” – some sort of microwaved box of food. I’ve never had another actual meal on a plane so I don’t know if this is what they all look like.
Other random memories from the trip: Watching South Park on the hotel tv with Spanish words dubbed over the original voices; being amused by the sight of spider monkeys on leashes in neighborhoods; wandering through backstreets of Playa Del Carmen and having more than one local ask us if we wanted to buy pot; wondering if they had dyed the water in the ocean because it was so clear and blue and there were so few fish.
Cancun was fun, and it instilled in me a burning desire to travel that has not subsided yet!
For more Mexico content, check out my visits to the Tequila Museum in Mexico City, the beaches of Zipolite and Mazunte, visiting Puerto Vallarta on a budget, a small-town Mexican cemetery, and tips for taking Uber and taxis in Tijuana.