Cancun: Hate it or Love it?
In January 2016 I flew to Cancun on a one-way flight, not knowing when I would go back home. My first impression of the city was horrible. It was touristic, Americanized and expensive. People hassle you and try to get the most of your money and you end up lost in a chaotic tourist wonderland. It is filled with selfish tourists who expect everything from their vacation and have no interest at all in Mexican culture.
I assume it did not help that on my first day in Cancun I visited the most crowded beach, crashed my drone and sliced open my hand by catching it mid fall. Fortunately no one got hurt – except for me – and the drone survived. But after two days I left Cancun with the intention of never coming back.
The beaches of Cancun are stunning, but there are stunning locations and beaches all over Mexico, so why choose the most crowded place? For one, Cancun has some of the cheapest flights from North America. That actually is the reason I flew into Cancun. For a one-way flight from Montreal, I paid less than 200$ USD.
Six months later, while I was traveling between Honduras and Guatemala, I started planning a trip for my mother’s birthday. As much as I wanted her to join me exploring Central America, she preferred Mexico as the flights to Cancun were direct and cheaper.
I hated the idea of going back to Cancun, but I really wanted to see Isla Holbox, located three hours North of Cancun. I had only heard about this location after reaching the South of Mexico and had not been able to visit yet.
Reluctantly, I returned to Cancun in the most unenthusiastic way possible. I was excited that I would get to see my mother, but I had no interest in spending anytime in the chaotic Hotel Zone during my stay. I wanted to opt for the city center and a more local experience with good food and good prices. On my first night I stayed in the center but when my mom arrived, we moved to a beach side apartment. I understood why she wanted to be close the beach and not in a dirty city center. We actually ended up having such a nice place that it felt nice to be by the water at night.
The next day, we headed towards the center of the Hotel Zone and walked all along the beach. The water in Cancun is bright turquoise and the waves can be really intense on some beaches.
My mom and I just walked along the shore, talking about the time spent apart and swimming all day.
At the end of the afternoon we decided to head back to our apartment and we stopped by the grocery store because I wanted to cook for her. I really always hated how unauthentic and commercialized Cancun was, but at least it had every store and supplies you could ever want. Coming from Canada, I had no interest whatsoever in having access to those types of facilities, but after 5 months in Central America, I hadn’t seen a full grocery store in what seemed like forever. Then all of a sudden I was walking around a fine cuisine grocery store with imported food from Europe. I was looking at the fancy kind of food that I had almost forgotten even existed. Here I was, walking around a grocery store and being as excited as when I’m getting ready for a bungee jump. I mean, I had been cooking for months with the same 10 ingredients. That night we shared a good bottle of wine and a delicious homemade meal. I even found my favorite alcohol, Apple Cider, which makes for the best desert. The next morning we left for Isla Holbox and my hatred for Cancun was already toned down.
After 7 days in paradise on Isla Holbox, we returned to Cancun for one last day. We had planned going back to the beach and swimming again all day, but suddenly the day turned into a grey rainy day. We headed towards the biggest shopping mall in Cancun and spent the day there. My mom spoiled me, but that’s not only why I loved it. Shopping is always something that I’ve loved to share with her and since I hadn’t really indulged in my addiction in a while, it felt great. Here I was, a rainy day in Cancun, shopping in American fashion stores and having a blast.
Looking back, I think that the reason why I never liked Cancun is because it’s a vacation destination. You don’t go there to travel, you go there on vacation. Whenever I leave home, I am not looking for a vacation where all I do is relax and drink daiquiris by the beach all week. I think that’s the difference between taking a vacation and traveling.
Traveling is about exploring, visiting authentic places with less tourists, meeting locals and really getting a feeling of the culture. I’m not looking for a destination that lacks authenticity and is catered only to tourists.
Surprisingly, after 5 months of backpacking Central America, taking a vacation from remote villages and going back to having access to all the same luxuries I have back home felt quite good.
Let’s get real, Cancun is absolutely beautiful! Yes, it may be extremely touristic and chaotic, but there’s a reason it’s such a popular holiday destination. It is close to so many other wonderful destinations along the Yucatan Peninsula and its airport is the main point of access to all of them.
Now, I could recommend Cancun for a few days before heading towards the real Mexico. But don’t spend an entire week here without discovering all the other wonderful destinations along the Yucatan peninsula.