Cancun, Mexico – Spoil yourself at this premier coastal destination on Mexico’s Yucutan Peninsula
While I was living in London I received a proposal from a friend to meet them in Mexico. My first thoughts were why on earth go to a dirty, third world country when Europe is on my doorstep. But after some consideration I thought, why not, and to my unexpected delight I discovered a relatively unexplored haven known as Cancun (pronounced Cancoon).
Cancun was created in the late seventies after a survey showed it had the best year round weather – that being hot and tropical. It is situated on the Yucutan Peninsula, facing the Caribbean Sea and was an alligator infested swamp before becoming this water enthusiast’s and sun worshipper’s paradise.
Cancun has two distinct areas: the more traditional downtown area, El Centro and the Zona Hotelera, a long, beachfront strip of high-rise hotels, nightclubs, shops and restaurants – and this is where I was staying.
A 20 minute bus journey takes you from Cancun International Airport to the Zona Hotelera with concrete hotels structurally reminiscent of Mayan Temples that once dominated the area. The area has been devastated a number of times by various hurricanes but always rebuilt. It comprises a long island joined to the mainland by a bridge at each end. On one side there is the Nichupte Lagoon with its bustling marinas, whilst on the ocean side you have the inviting turquoise crystalline waters lapping the white sands that stretch the length of the island, some 5 kilometres.
Choosing a hotel on the strip is hard because of the fantastic array available. I stayed at the ‘Fiesta Americana Condessa’ which is typical of the hotels in the area and like all the others offers every amenity under the sun, has luxuriant surroundings and fantastic views of the ocean or lagoon.
The room we had was large, accommodating two double beds, cable TV, a well stocked bar, a safe and a balcony overlooking the pool and the beach. The bathroom had sachets of shampoo, conditioner, body moisturiser, a hair dryer and a water purifying machine. I didn’t really need to leave the room if I didn’t want to. At night the maids would roll down the bed covers and leave a chocolate on the pillow – I felt very spoilt and loved every minute of it.
The hotel was right on the ocean and it was only a short stroll to the beach, but unfortunately the lack of protection made it windy. This particular week, the seas were rough and so after being caught in one too many on-shore dumpers, I decided to make the even shorter stroll to the pool. Here there were free beach towels, swim—up bars, volley ball courts in and out of the water, sun shelters (to protect my acquired English tan) and beach wear fashion parades everyday. Waitresses served drinks (although rather watered down) from 10.00am onwards. Sun chairs were placed in the shallows of the pools so that you could hang your hands and feet over the edge when you began to warm up.
If lazing in the sun all day is too hard to handle you could break the monotony by spending the day snorkeling or scuba diving the reef off the coast, or sitting in a local cantina trying the local food, shopping in a range of ‘cheap and nasty’ to expensive shops or you could travel, as I did, deep into the Yucutan Peninsula to the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza.
Cancun has a varied nightlife. You can stay in your hotel and experience cocktail hour or head to the restaurants and bars.
Be a ‘Gringo’ in Cancun
Being another ‘gringo’ in the many cantinas was fun and good value. The food was glorious, and not just tacos and fajitas either. Fresh fish, lobster and shrimp were plentiful and you mostly chose the way you wanted them cooked. You could try the Ceviche which is classified as raw fish, but is marinated in vinegar with onions, peppers and spices and served on rice — very nice!
Conch was very popular served fried in bread crumbs. Chicken and beef were served in onions, green peppers and sauce, and wrapped in soft tortillas with Salsa Sauce (a spicy tomato and onion sauce) – simply a must! Guacamole was plentiful, fresh and truly yummy – even better washed down with a shot of Tequila. If these delights weren’t enough, McDonalds was in the centre of town along with many pizzerias.
Shopping was interesting. Items ranged from cheap to expensive. Some trinkets looked cheap and nasty, though, if you found a street stall you could pick up an authentic handmade wood carving of a Mayan God, some jewelry or a traditional woven Mexican blanket. Shopping malls are springing up all over the town with money exchanges (which you don’t need as they accept US Dollars), car rentals and designer stores — but who goes to Mexico to pick up the latest Chanel! Of course T-shirts were plentiful and how could I resist my ‘I’ve been to Cancun too’ shirt in psychedelic pink.
As my last day was approaching, I basqued in the sun once more in my luxurious surrounds. If you are looking to go to Mexico I would definitely spend some time in Cancun.
About the Author: Sharyn McCullum went to Cancun, Mexico on a package tour booked from Los Angeles. Her package included a return flight from LA to/from Cancun and 7 nights accommodation at the Fiesta Condessa Americana. It cost about £400 at the time.