Now that I’ve been to Mexico a few times, I’ve experienced a load of the local attractions (some even more than once if they’re particularly boss). Here’s the ones I’ve done and think are worth doing if you go:
It doesn’t sound like much but this was probably one of the best places I’ve ever been to anywhere. There’s so much to do. Xel-ha is an eco park based around a natural lagoon and it is beautiful. Like really beautiful. It’s about $89 for the day and that includes all your food and drink (it’ll be more if you arrange transport from your resort but we had care hire), it’s about 90 minutes away from Cancun and it’s really easy to get to on the motorway. You can hire snorkels and flippers there for free as part of your entrance fee and swim all around the lagoon. Get there nice and early, we didn’t arrive until about 2pm (after a run in with the Mexican police – don’t ask) and we ran out of time completely, there was still so much we wanted to do. With the cliff of courage, the zip lines, the lazy river, the rope swing and all the little caves and grottos you can swim in, the time will fly for all the family. For an extra fee you can do things such as swimming with manatees (which according to legends is where mermaids descend from) , swimming with dolphins and a sky bike ride. There are points all over the park where you can scan your wristband in and take photos and then at the end pick them all up on a usb stick for one price. We didn’t do this because we had my SLR but it was a boss idea – I imagine they would’ve charged around $15-20 for this.
Whereas Xel-ha had loads to do, Xcaret had loads to see. You can swim through an underground river via 4 different routes (don’t do the blue route, it’s almost completely underground and in the dark so you barely get to see a thing), visit a Mayan village, a Mexican cemetary (so beautiful), visit an aquarium and see so many animals. It’s like a cross between an ecological park and a zoo. It’s a little more expensive than Xel-ha at around $129 but if you buy the two tickets together at the same time you get a 15% discount which is great. It’s around a hours journey from Cancun. Out of the two I far preferred Xel-ha.
I’ve done this about 4 or 5 times now and I can’t stress how much you need to do it, it’s soooo much fun. For about £60-70 you get about a 3-4 hour voyage (from 7pm until abut 11pm) on a real pirate galleon (either Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger or Captain Jack’s Black Pearl) and that includes either a lobtser or steak meal, as much as you can drink bevvies and hours of entertainment. Without giving too much away, along with party games you’ll experience ghost ships and fights between ships. You’ll depart from a port about half way down the hotel zone near the Xcaret sky tower. Man the rigging! ARRRRGH.
Wet N Wild
This is where I originally swam with dolphins the very first time I was in Mexico and it included entrance into Wet N Wild water park which is at the far side of the hotel zone in Cancun. If I remember correctly I paid around $135 so it may be a bit more now but not only does that include your dolphin swim (you get to kiss them, carry them, high five them and ride them) but also your waterpark entrance and all your food and drink for the day. You don’t have to swim with dolphins to visit here, it’s great anyway so I would imagine that without the dolphins ithe entrace fee would be loads cheaper. Without going into too much graphic detail, there’s one particular slide which has a very steep drop and comes with… er… a free colonic so how’s that for a bonus? This is a great place to visit if it happens to be a bit rainy – you’re wet anyway.
There are two ferry ports departing from the hotel zone to Isla Mujeres and both are conveniently situated right next to both sets of Riu hotels so they’re really easy to find. It takes about 20 minutes to get over there and it’s only about £15 return. Once you get there my best bit of advice is to hire a golf cart (you’ll see at least 10 places as soon as you step off the ferry) you can then use it to get all round the island, it costs about £20 for the whole day. Make sure you visit Punta Sur (the Southern tip of the island) where not only will you find the temple of a Mayan fertility goddess (should you be inclined to get up the duff) but also the ‘Cliff of the Dawn’ which is the first point of Mexico to be hit by the sun every morning. Very Cool. Its also really secluded, so if you’re feeling particularly inspired by the Mayan fertility goddess then… yano… but I’m saying nada. 😉
view from Punta Sur
floating eco island – floats on used plastic bottles and generates all its own power
Mayan fertility goddess temple ruins
Mexican graveyard on Isla Mujeres
Swim with sharks
There’s a little beach on the way back from Punta Sur to the main ferry port on Isla Mujeres which we found by accident by adventuring down a little slip road (never be afraid of adventure). You can swim with sharks there for a donation. All we had left on us at the time was the equivalent of about £3, so we swam with shark for £3. Don’t be scared of this though necause any sharks you swim with over there are just nursing sharks, they don’t bite. The two we swam with were called Pancho and Monica Lewinski because “These sharks don’t bite amigo, they suck!”
Swim with dolphins
See Wet N Wild above, that’s where I did it but there are so many places you can do this. I think the 12 year old girl and wool with dolphin tattoo in all of us needs to do this once. It’s quite expensive really but it is so worth it, something you’ll always remember.
How can you not visit one of the actual wonders of the world? I’ve been there twice now and it’s just as breathtaking the second time around. The first time I went as part of an organised excursion so we had a guided tour. Having a guided tour has its pros and cons, yes you get to learn so much about the history of the place BUT you’re not really free to roam around. The second time I visited this year I played tour guide to my fella and showed him the best bits but we were also able explore every inch of the place on our own – we found an amazing cenote (natural sinkhole) which the guide had completely missed the first time around. This was where the Ancient Mayans used to carry out human sacrifices. When Chichen Itza was rediscovered in modern times, loads of gold and human remains were found at the bottom of the cenote. The main pyramd (El Castillo) which you’ll always see in pictures of Chichen Itza is actually a massive calendar – the Mayans were able to tell the exact day, week and month of the year by how the sun hit certain points on the pyramid. That is fucking clever. Just to top that off, if you clap loudly on the North side of the pyramid (you’ll see everyone clapping at the pyramid and think they’re weird, but stick with it) then you’ll hear an echo back, not of your clap but of the call of the Mayans sacred bird. Seriously. Youtube it if you don’t believe me. How they had the engineering skills to be able to pull something like that off baffles me. If I remember correctly it’s about a tenner to get in but you can pay up to £50 or 60 on an organised excursion price but that tends to include meals and transport. Take a bottle of water and wear a hat!
El Castillo at Chichen Itza
Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza
My little brother went away a few years ago to work as a croupier on a cruise ship in the Caribbean (wanderlust runs in the family). One of his port of calls on the little island of Cozumel happened to coincide with one of my holidays to Mexico so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see my ‘brother from the same mother’ 4500 miles away from home. From the Cancun hotel zone you take the bus into Cancun downtown where you can catch the coach to Playa Del Carmen and then the ferry to Cozumel. The whole trip is about 90 minutes each way. Cozumel is gorgeous. When you hit the ferry port if you get into a taxi and head left you’ll very quickly come to a tranqui private beach called Playa Azul (with free wifi!) whereas if you head right you’ll come to the party zone and all the main bars such as Senor Frogs and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. You have to go to Margaritaville, in the back they have steps down to the sea and a giant inflatable water assualt course which is way harder than it looks to complete. There are loads of places to snorkel around Cozumel too.
Check out the rest of Cancun:
Which Riu is right for you?
The Cancun Nightlife
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