Upon arriving at Cancun International airport, I felt a very warm Mexican welcome and I was excited to fully delve into a backpacker lifestyle. My dream was finally real – I was at the beginning of a remarkable journey in a foreign land. I am young, free and single with a desire to experience and understand more about this fascinating world. To experience different cultures, ways of living and meet people from all walks of life. I quit my job and bought a one-way flight ticket to Cancun in Mexico. Once I took the big leap, I knew the rest would unfold. Talk about Livin’ The Crazy Life! (La Vida Loca!)
First impression of Mexico was fantasico! I enjoyed the warm weather, the colourfulness and vibrancy as well as being in the presence of friendly Mexicans communicating in what I call is ‘the language of love’ – i.e. Spanish. I must say, I prefer the local ADO bus system to that of similar coach companies in England. First class ADO buses offer spacious seating, aircon, charger sockets, selection of films, luggage space and some offer WiFi access. The ADO buses are comfortable to western standards and affordable. Tickets can be purchased on the day of departure but you’d have to be flexible on times as tickets sell out quick! Fortunately, Jo (my travel buddy) and I caught the first bus going from Cancun airport to Playa Del Carmen! Jo spent four days in Cancun and absolutely loved the all-inclusive boat cruise in Isla Mujeres. Fiesta fiesta (that’s party party in English 💃). The Mexicans sure do know how to do just that and how to enjoy themselves.
Playa Del Carmen reminded me of a Cancun alternative for spring break type Americans to enjoy the summer weather and have fun. Playa Del Carmen is well set up for tourists. It’s not authentic Mexico but it is a destination with a glistening beach, touristy shops on Fifth Avenue, restaurants and street vendors. There are people on the streets selling tours and offering packages to nearby touristy attractions. Jo and I did our h/w and put our bartering skills to the test. Same tour, different prices? The customer has a lot of bargaining power. Use it to your advantage. Jo bargained us a great deal to swim with the dolphins in Cozumel and unlimited food/drinks! We bought our ferry tickets and the next day we embarked on the ‘Ultramar Express’ 45 minutes away to Cozumel, an island off the Caribbean coast.
Amazing experience getting up close and personal at Dolphin Discovery Cozumel
In Playa Del Carmen, I enjoyed the delicious food, luscious beach, night entertainment shows and much more. Jo and I checked out a restaurant that was recommended on everythingplayadelcarmen.com. It’s a place that the locals would eat and afford. Eating in that local restaurant was the first time we communicated in Spanish to order a meal and ask for the bill. With the little Spanish I had I was happy to have received a plate of food of which I ordered and it was tasty! Ooh I do love Plantain on the side (that’s Platinos in Spanish). Practicing on Duolingo and Memrise Apps came in handy.
The only thing we booked in advance was our first week of accommodation. In Playa Del Carmen we stayed at The Yak Hostel and Rio Playa which I both recommend. The Yak is chilled, friendly and sociable. Rio Playa is more of a party hostel and every day is ladies night. Ladies drink free with selected drinks between 9pm – 11pm. We were sippin’ and lounging by the pool making the very most of this pre-drinking time. We rounded up a few girls from our dorm to see what the Playa’s nightlife scene is all about. We salsa’d away in one club and got down low in another. Somehow ended up strolling along the beach coast for a midnight walk. Not a bad night out! Beats the overpriced and commercial Coco Bongo night which I hear is good but I think its over-commercialised and I’m more for the company I keep.
An hour’s bus ride journey away, we touched the soil in Tulum. I really enjoy spending a few days in Tulum and I met some interesting people. So this is what happened:
Tulum Ancient Ruins by the beach. The first ruins I saw in Mexico and the Iguanas!
Jo getting handcuffed by a Mexican police man!
Night out with Jo’s friends
Riding a bike to visit Gran Cenote
An American girl we met at the Mamas Home Hostel traveled from Nicaragua up north to Mexico. She gave us lots of advice and funny stories! She invited us to eat soup and tortilla chips at a local restaurant, which was lovely. At another restaurant we stumbled on the day after, we later found out that it was listed in the Lonely Planet guide. Hands down, it was the most delicious medium size wood-fire cooked pizza I have eaten. The best taste. The next day, we grabbed some chicken and cheese tacos for the journey and caught a bus to Yokdzonot, a village near Chicken Itza ruins. I recommend staying over the night before to get to Chicken Itza early before the tourist buses get there.
A great place to stay is at The Yucatan Mayan Retreat, Ecohotel. After a long bus ride, we really wanted to have a comfortable sleep and we got just that. A private two double size bed rooms, television, room service, huge walk in shower and ensuite bathroom with complementary books to read, DVDs to play, soap etc. It might not seem like much but the extra soap or cream here and there or even clean towel can be useful to a backpacker. If you arrive to Yokdzonot on a Sunday like we did, I would advise to bring food as most food shops are closed. Also bring mosquito repellent. 20 minutes bus ride away, we got to Chicken Itza early. I was excited about this ruins because it is one of the top 8 wonders of the modern world. I enjoyed visiting and seeing the cenote (which was believed to lead to afterlife) and hearing the sound echo back after clapping (that’s how the Mayans communicated). Lots of souvenirs to buy if you have the space in your bag! The picture below is of Jo and I forming a heart shape – I ‘heart’ Chicken Itza! Below that is a picture of the cenote in Yokdzonot.
We prepped ourselves to go to Merida. One of my favourite hostels in Central America is Nomadas Hostel in Merida. We prepped ourselves to go to Merida. The hostel we stayed at is one of my favourite hostels – Nomadas Hostel. I heard great things about the hostel before going and we ended up staying a few days extra because we liked it so much. It felt homely, sociable and the staff were extremely helpful. The hostel runs salsa classes, meditation and cooking classes weekly.
Yes, that’s a hostel! That’s where I was chilling, on a hammock and Skyping home.
There was a nearby Walmart. I got excited about purchasing a £6 cooked whole Chicken. Cheap and plenty to share. We got inspiration from fellow backpackers to cook our own food. I didn’t know it was luxurious or seen as a treat to eat out at a restaurant. I’m glad to taste the local food and balance home-made cooking. We went to the supermarket, bought ingredients and cooked all types of local food and simple dishes. At the hostel, we joined a class to learn how to make Tacos from scratch… It was a tasty dinner!
Cooking and eating Tacos – Nomadas Hostel
The salsa sessions at the hostel were great. Lots of people turned up and an equal proportion of females to guys. I learnt a few new moves but getting practice was the main thing. We took a day trip to a nearby beach in Progreso. We took a photo in front of a beautiful toucan statue and we enjoyed the non-touristic beach. We figured to save time, we’d catch an overnight bus to Palenque. We arrived early in the morning, it was raining and dare I say, it was cold. Thankfully, the day perked up and I met some great people at the hostel. I remember a woman told me about her Chile and Peru travels and an older lady said she was using her retiring money to travel around the world. I don’t blame her and I was lucky to cross paths with her on her fascinating RTW-trip. I also met Mike, a cyclist, who Jo and I visited the Palenque ruins with. Seeing the ruins was great and I felt like a lost explorer. The cloudy mists among the forest was great to see and I won’t forget the sound of the howler monkeys deep in the jungle.
Quickly moving on due to bad weather and the local active Zapatista movement, we arrived in San Cristobal. I didn’t like the hostel we stayed in and I felt cold – I needed at least one blanket and my thermal vest. We bumped into a few people we knew. Funny how the backpackers community is – it’s easy to bump into people you already know and share tips.
I had two highlights in San Cristobal. One highlight was visiting a church in the village of San Juan Chamula. Being inside the Church felt spiritual and deeply connected. In the church, sacrifices of chickens are made. Outside the church, I gave a group of kids a packet of biscuits and I could tell the kids were so happy to receive it. My second highlight was visiting the San Cristobal canyon. Jo and I booked a Spanish tour and we had a boat ride through the canyon. The air brushing past your face is a refreshing feeling. We saw crocodiles, sloths and black sparrows. No photoshop – I actually saw a love-heart shape cloud in the sky. Just WOW.
Long life memories in Mexico