Cancún, México is a popular vacation destination for many Americans living on the United States' east coast and is often the only part of México many see. The first time I ever visited Mexico, I was about 20 years old. I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Cancún and only left the property for a day on an organized tour to Chichen Itza. I remember enjoying the hot weather and seeing beautiful blue waves for the first time. My next trip to Cancún was in my late twenties, while my husband and I were still only dating. I worked for Marriott at that time, so we stayed at the Ritz Carlton with my employee discount and a desire to relax. We only ventured out of the hotel for dinners and shopping. The next time we visited Cancún, it was for a family vacation over the New Year break from school. We brought the kids and a french Rotary exchange student who lived with us for the school year. This time we stayed at the JW Marriott. It was a short trip, and again, we only left the resort to dine and visit the Isla shopping area, where there is an aquatic show with dolphins. It was great for the kids.
Two years later, for our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to return to the Ritz Carlton in Cancún because we enjoyed our previous visit there so much and often reminisced about it. This time we took a cooking class, ate again at our favorite restaurant down the street, and explored the different shopping and tourist areas in the hotel zone. Since then, I have wanted to explore more of México because I know there is much more than Cancún. In February of 2020, I got that opportunity. The annual North American Youth Exchange Network (NAYEN) conference for the Rotary Youth Exchange program took place in Monterrey, MX. Through NAYEN conferences over the years, I have met so many Mexican Rotarians from all different parts of the country who are eager for visitors to know more than Cancún and Cabo. So, when planning our spring break trip this year, we threw around destination ideas while considering the travel restrictions many countries have in place due to Covid and how they were constantly changing. México had no Covid restrictions or requirements for visitors, plus the airfare was reasonable, so I started looking there. I was intrigued by México City, but my husband wanted to be on the beach, and I was craving some sunshine also. We decided to go back to Cancún again, but this time I wanted to explore more than the commercialized and touristy hotel zone. I didn't want to do all the same things again, I wanted this vacation to feel different from our previous trips there.
Since this trip fell over Easter Sunday, we decided to attend Mass at a local church. They offered Mass in English in the morning, but we wanted to hear it in Spanish.
We also rented a boat for half a day to explore more of Cancún, snorkel, and watch the sunset from the water. They brought us to Isla Mujeres, were docked and had lunch at a quaint beachfront restaurant recommended by our captain. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to explore more of the island. So, we vowed to return a couple of days later.
When we returned to the island, we took the 20-minute ferry to La Isla Mujeres and then rented a golf cart to explore. We went to the south point, Punta Sur, to see the Mayan ruins and the breathtaking natural beauty of the easternmost point of Mexico.
We then drove up to the north point to see Playa Norte, the most beautiful beach on the island. The water is calm, blue, and shallow, so it's a great place to bring a beach blanket and cooler to hang out in the sun and cool off in the water. Several restaurants and bars with live music line the beach, some even with swings for seats! You will also find yoga classes, massage therapists, daybeds, and beach chairs available should you want to treat yourself to some additional comfort and relaxation.
Of course, we still visited the shopping areas, tried some new restaurants, and revisited our favorites, but I'm glad we incorporated some new experiences. La Isla Mujeres has an entirely different vibe than Canún. It's far more relaxed and casual than the Hotel Zone. It is a small island, so it is easy to visit in a few hours. I highly encourage a day trip there if staying in Cancun, but there are several hotels on the island should you want to stay longer.
On this trip, we discovered that many restaurants in the Hotel Zone offer "dinner shows" with live DJs, dancers, performers, and fireworks almost like being in a club but still able to have a conversation while enjoying a great meal. It did not bother us, but not an experience we wanted for every dinner, and some were better than others. We enjoyed the show experience most at Ryoshi, an incredible sushi restaurant in the Isla Shopping center. Our favorite restaurants that we always visit for a nice dinner are Harry's, a steakhouse across from our hotel, and Fantino, a fine Italian restaurant inside the Ritz Carlton. La Parrilla is an excellent Mexican place for a casual lunch or drinks while shopping in La Isla shopping center.
Another thing that enhanced our trip was that I have been working diligently on learning Spanish. I have used every language learning service, from Rosetta Stone and Babble to Duo Lingo. However, it is essential to practice real conversation to become comfortable with a new language. The best way I have found to do this is through this program here. You can choose a native speaking instructor by reviewing their video bio, lesson plans or focus, their pricing packages, and then select a lesson time that works for your schedule! Lessons are through the website or Skype. I didn't have time to do additional homework, so I selected an instructor that would allow me to fumble through a conversation with the vocabulary I already knew and correct my pronunciation. It is flexible and customizable to individual needs. While in Mexico, I could comfortably greet people, ask questions, order food and respond in Spanish! I even got complimented once on my pronunciation! I highly recommend learning a few phrases and verbs in the native language of your destination. It helps to understand signage and conversations around you and interact with locals. It is a requirement for my Rotary youth exchange students before leaving for their year abroad.
When talking to people about visiting México, the number one question asked was if we felt safe. While we did see armed police patrolling both the shopping areas and the beach, I never felt unsafe during any of our trips. We walked from our hotel to dinner a few times, took taxis, when to a local church, and ate at some less touristy restaurants. Like many places in the USA and other countries, there are areas to avoid, but I can say Canún and La Isla Mujeres were safe and fun to visit.
I do hope to visit other areas of México in the future, especially Mexico City and Tequila, but I am glad that we got to know Cancún beyond the beach.
My husband and I love to travel. We have our favorite places, like Nantucket, France and Disney's Epcot, but we love discovering new ones too. We have vowed to visit a new country every year, as well as discover a new place within our own continent. Together we have visited; France, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Italy Luxembourg, Monaco, Bahamas, Morocco, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, Grand Cayman, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Aruba, Sweden, Bermuda, and The Netherlands. Our next destination - TBT!