Category: North America

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.
Cancun, Mexico
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.
Cancun, Mexico
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.
Cancun, Mexico
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.
Cancun, Mexico
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.
Cancun, Mexico
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.

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Florida Keys: Best Road Trip in USA

Considered one of the best road trips in the United States, the Florida keys is a must while visiting the Sunshine State. The archipelago located at the most Southern point of the United States consist of islands connected through a series of bridges that offer one of the world’s best scenic drive.
Florida Keys, USA
The Florida Keys, also known as the Conch Republic, is a world apart from the rest of Florida. It has a Caribbean beach feeling with a nice party vibe. You’ll encounter plenty of different types of people during your visit; from young party-goers to families to retired people, loads of fishermen, scuba divers and the occasional afternoon drunk people walking barefoot in the streets. Whether you’re an active person or a lazy stay-by-the-beach type of person, you’ll find your place in the keys.
Florida Keys, USA
If you want to enjoy all the pleasure of a Caribbean island while remaining in the USA, this is the place to be. Amazing crystal-clear warm water awaits you with countless water sports activities available.
Florida Keys, USA

Scuba Diving

Florida Keys, USA
Aside from Hawaii, the Florida keys may offer some of the best scuba diving available in the USA. There are some amazing deep wreck diving that I wish I would’ve had time to try, but since I was with a friend of mine who happens to be a beginner we settled for an easy 12-meter deep dive along the coral reef. We saw many school of fishes and a beautiful sea turtle. The dive was warm and very relaxing, but I would most definitely recommend the wreck dives if you are an advanced diver.
Florida Keys, USA

Islamorada

Florida Keys, USA
The Charming island of Islamorada is perhaps my favorite place along the keys. It is the perfect island for an afternoon stop! After having lunch while looking at the tarpons from the terrace of the restaurant, I did a quick drone flight followed by a two-hour kayak ride through the mangroves.
Florida Keys, USA
The best way to discover the mangroves is to rent a kayak or a paddle board. You can take a guided tour, but it was cheaper to go without a guide so my friend and I were happy to get lost through the mangrove tunnels. Beware of the treacherous sun and bring sunscreen!
Florida Keys, USA

7 Mile Bridge

Florida Keys, USA
The feeling of driving on this bridge is absolutely incredible! This is the longest stretch of uninterrupted bridge along the keys. Pull down the windows, turn up the volume to one of your favorite songs and enjoy this delightful drive!

Marathon Island

Florida Keys, USA
Sombrero beach on Marathon island has a really nice long beach perfect for a sunny afternoon. By the time I made it to the island it was almost sunset, so we enjoyed a nice stroll along the beach and a quick drone flight. While flying my drone I spotted this awesome private island.
Florida Keys, USA

Key West

Florida Keys, USA
The last town, Key West, is the southernmost point of the United States and is only 90 miles to Cuba. Now that Americans are allowed to enter Cuba everyone is hoping for eventual ferry rides between the two countries.
Florida Keys, USA

Sunset

Florida Keys, USA
Key West is renowned for its beautiful sunset. Every night Mallory square is filled with people looking at the sun setting over sunset key. The town remains quite lively after sunset and most people enjoy a night out on Duval Street. There are tons of vibrant restaurants and bars with live music and festivities all week-long.
Florida Keys, USA

Hawks Key Resort

Florida Keys, USA
As I was driving down to Key West I stopped in a few different islands. I also stopped and filmed a few places from the road including Hawks Key Resort which looked amazing by drone.
Florida Keys, USA

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Holbox, Mexico

Isla Holbox: Mexico’s Hidden Paradise

The Yucatan Peninsula is the most touristic part of Mexico and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches of the Caribbean coast. From Cancun to Playa del Carmen to Tulum, Mexico has built a reputation for prime all-inclusive resorts locations. The lively country, the beaches, the food and the people make it a must to escape the cold North American winters. Despite being so well-known, the Yucatan Peninsula still has some hidden secrets only waiting to be discovered.
Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox – pronounced hol-bosh – is the jewel of the Yucatan. Some people call it the Tulum of 20 years ago, before the tourism industry took over. Now is the time to discover this beautiful island before it becomes the touristic chaos that is the rest of the Yucatan peninsula. Before traveling to Mexico, I had never heard of Holbox. Everyone started telling me how beautiful it was, but by then I was already in Southern Mexico so I did not visit. Then, a few months later, my mom and I were looking for a place to celebrate her birthday. Flights to Cancun were quite cheap and since I had already explored the Yucatan, there was only Holbox that I wanted to see. I took a break from Central America, flew to Cancun, and visited the island with my mom that I had not seen in more than six months. Maybe I find this island so out of this world because I was there with my mother, or maybe it is just as magnificent as everyone says. There is only one way to find out.
Holbox, Mexico

How to Get There

Holbox, Mexico
It’s actually really easy to get to Isla Holbox. Take a bus of from Cancun or Playa del Carmen directly to Chiquila. From there a ferry will take you to the island within 30 minutes.

The Island

Holbox, Mexico
About half of the island is inhabited with long stretches of untouched beaches. If you like long walks on the beach that can go on for kilometres, Holbox is for you. My mother and I spent hours walking by the beach and every time the heat would be getting too intense, we went for a swim.
Holbox, Mexico

Relax on a Hammock

Holbox, Mexico

This is the most famous picture of Isla Holbox! Relaxing on a hammock in the ocean with this breathtaking view. There aren’t that many hammocks over the water around the island, but on the beach, in most hotels and hostels, hammocks are everywhere. It’s all you need for the perfect afternoon siesta.

Holbox, Mexico

Rent a Golf Cart

Holbox, Mexico
If you want to explore the island in dept, you need to rent a golf cart. You can also use a bicycle, but to visit all the hidden beaches of the island, the golf cart is the best option. The most beautiful inhabited beaches like Punta Roca, are accessible through a series of little roads. It had rained the day before we rented the cart and the many holes along the dirt road had become small rivers. We even got completely stuck at some point, but with a little push and some mud splashing in my face, we were back on tracks.
Holbox, Mexico

Sunset

Holbox, Mexico
Holbox is renowned for its beautiful sunsets. Punta Roca is by far the best point to see it. Since we had rented the cart for the day, we made it back to this side of the island to film the sunset. At 6pm, a little before sunset, a white van showed up on the little path with a big group of locals. At first, we wondered if it was a good idea to be filming with the drone, but we kept on going anyway. Turns out that it was a group of locals who came to fish with a giant net. They were actually fishing for their families, not even to sell. I filmed them with the drone and they loved it. I loved it too! It looks great on video and it was such a random unplanned event that it became even more special. As they were finishing to take the fish out of their net, the sun started hitting the water and the view was just as magical as I had hoped for.

Murals

Holbox, Mexico
Holbox is surrounded by beautiful murals all over the town center. This little girl is one of the iconic ones and my personal favorite.

Food

Holbox, Mexico
There’s a lot of restaurants in Holbox that range from all prices and the food is simply delicious. Overall I would say that it was the best food that I’ve had in Mexico. The seafood is to die for, but there are also food trucks at night that will keep you fed for very little money.
Holbox, Mexico

Whale Sharks

Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox is renowned for its whale shark season. From June to September is the best moment to go on a tour and snorkel with them. Unfortunately, they weren’t around during my six-days visit to the island so I didn’t get to see them.
Holbox, Mexico

3 Islands Tour

Holbox, Mexico
This is the most popular tour on Holbox. It will take you first to Isla Parajos (Bird Island) where you’ll witness all the birds flying around from the beautiful wooden viewpoint.
Holbox, Mexico
From there we went for a swim at Yalahau, a natural pool of water on a small island that resembles cenotes.
Holbox, Mexico
The last stop, famous for having flamingos, was Isla de la Pasion (Passion Island). Unfortunately there was no flamingos to be seen during our tour. It even started to rain and I missed my chance to film with the drone. I still enjoyed myself and I would definitely recommend this tour during a stay on the island.
Holbox, Mexico

Sleep

Holbox, Mexico
There are a lot of hostels with budget dorms at about 10-15$ USD, but if you’re looking for a hotel it is a little more expensive. There are no resorts on the island, but you’ll find a lot of beautiful rustic villas or hotels by the beach that are very luxurious in their laid-back style. And by luxurious, I mean quite expensive. My mom and I struggled for a while to find a place to stay because I insisted to have a kitchen. I really wanted to cook, but the grocery stores on Holbox are very limited so it would have been better to save and rent a room without a kitchen because we ended up eating out almost all the time.
Holbox, Mexico

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Travel Guide: The Yucatan Peninsula 

So many people travel to Mexico in all-inclusive resorts, but unfortunately if you do that you don't get to see the best of Mexico. After flying into Cancun and staying there two nights, I felt like I had to get away of the tourists crowds and overpriced everything. It didn't help that I got my hand pretty badly hurt while using my drone on the very windy and too crowded beach of Cancun. Despite the fact that it has some very beautiful beaches, I can't enjoy places like Cancun because there are too many people and not enough of a local experience. It's probably the least authentic Mexican experience. I personally stayed in the hotel zone because I wanted to be close to the beach for my first days in Mexico, but I would recommend the city for a more local and way cheaper experience. After a day I escaped and took a ferry to Isla Mujeres to enjoy a more relax experience.

 

Isla Mujeres

The island is beautiful, the beaches are beautiful and the water is turquoise transparent, plus it's not so crowded so it's a great alternative to Cancun. The beach is super nice, but I much preferred renting a golf cart and going all around the island. Except for taxi drivers, almost everyone is driving these including locals. Renting one for the day is a must to see all the other side of the island and explore the turtle farm and stop all along to different beaches and cliff side. The only hostel on the island, Pocna, has beach parties every night. I hadn't reserved anything and when I arrived on the island and it was full so I ended up renting a small room with two other backpackers that I had just met at the hostel reception who were also looking for a place to stay. I had planned to go scuba diving the underwater museum, but because of my hand injury I had to skip on that activity, but I would definitely recommend it.

Valladolid

After three days on isla Mujeres, I headed to Valladolid, a small town close to the ruins site of Chitchen Itza. I looked up tours from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, but the prices are always so expensive it is better to just stay in Valladolid and take a collectivo in the morning to get to the ruins before the tour buses. Collectivos in Mexico are what most locals use to get around, they are big van with predefined routes and you can just wave at them along the streets for them to stop. Valladolid itself is a beautiful town and the least touristic of all the places that I have been to around the Yucatan. You can easily rent a bike and there are beautiful cenotes to visit around the area. I stayed at the hostel La Candelaria and it had one of the coolest garden area I've seen in a hostel.

 

Chitchen Itza

 

The Mayan ruins of Chitchen Itza are part of the new seven World Wonders, so it is a must to see in Mexico. Unfortunately, it is highly overrated and I haven't met anyone who considered it the best ruins of Mexico. The site itself is not very big and aside from the popular pyramid known as El Castillo, there isn't much to see. It also gets extremely crowded at around 10am because all the tour buses are arriving around that time. After that, it becomes almost impossible to take a picture without crowds of people and it takes away from the beauty. I'm happy that I arrived at 8am for the opening and got to see it with almost nobody there, but I still wasn't very impressed. I'm not even sure why it's considered a Seven World Wonder when there are ruins like Teotihuacan in Mexico or Tikal in Guatemala that are so much more impressive. If you are backpacking around Mexico and have time to stop in Valladolid, then I still recommend going because it's a Seven World Wonder, but if you have only a week or so in the Yucatan I would recommend doing other activities or visiting other ruins sites, like Tulum for example.

 

Coba

On my way to Tulum from Valladolid, I stopped at the Coba ruins site. What I like the most is that you can hike to the top of these Mayan ruins, which is not allowed in many archaeological sites in Mexico. So if you wanna climb to the top of ruins around the Yucatan, Coba is the place! The view from the top is great and we can see the entire site covered by forest and vegetation for miles ahead. There is even a path called the ancient Mayan route that use to connect Chitchen Itza all the way to Coba. 

 

Cenotes

The cenotes are probably the best thing about Mexico. They are natural sinkholes formed with limestone and they used to be a source of fresh water for Mayan people. The is such a great variety of cenotes around the Yucatan it is hard to even choose which ones to go to. Some of them are completely closed in what seems like tunnels, while others are completely open. What they all have in common is crystal-clear fresh and most of them also have small fishes swimming around you and even giving you the full fish foot treatment eating your foot's dead skin if you stay still long enough! Some cenotes have very big cave system and it was one of my dream to scuba dive a cenote.

Close to Tulum, is the cenote Dos Ojos, very renowned for scuba diving and snorkeling. As an introduction to cave diving I loved it and all I needed was an open-water certification to do it, especially since we only dive at about 11 meters. I enjoyed two dives in Dos Ojos -which basically means two eyes- and each dive is in one different eye, which represents two different caving system in the form of eyes connected together. The caves are completely dark and you need a flashlight at all time to see where you are going. Diving a cenote is a must for scuba divers in Mexico!

 

Tulum

 

Tulum has definitely been my highlight of Mexico. The beach is the most beautiful I've seen in the Yucatan and there is a tons of activities to do around the area. It's a great base to explore surrounding areas and even if Tulum is getting increasingly popular, there is still a very relaxed and less touristic vibe, especially compared to Playa del Carmen and Cancun. There is a lot of beautiful accomodations right by the beach, but they mostly consist of hotels, with a few hostels that are much more expensive than in the city center, which is about 5 km away. It is easy to stay in the center and rent a bike to get to the beach and the ruins. I really love the Mayan ruins of Tulum and the fact that they are built right by the sea on a beautiful beach makes it even more beautiful. It remains my favorite ruins site in Mexico, but from pictures and what I've heard Teotihuacan might be even better. There are so much beautiful cenotes and activities possible around Tulum that it's a great place to stay to explore the area. Akumal beach remains one of my favorite activities because you get to swim with sea turtles and IT'S FREE! Considering almost everything has a price around the Yucatan, don't miss this one!

 

Lake Bacalar

Lake Bacalar was on my way to Belize near the border and Chetumal, so after a strong recommendation from my taxi driver and fellow travelers I decided to try out lake Bacalar for two nights, which turned into six. The lake is also called the lake of the seven colors because there are such beautiful shades of blue. I had never seen a lake as transparent as Bacalar before. While I was there, I stayed at the hippie hostel Green Monkey which is located directly by the lake. Everyone would hang out all day by the lake, going for swims or kayaking and paddle boarding. During my stay, I ended up meeting a girl I know from Montreal without knowing we would both be there. Most people in Bacalar were either coming from or going to Belize so we ended up being five people heading to Caye Caulker together.

 

Here's the video of my three weeks in Mexico!