AKA: A Newbie Spring Breaker’s Guide to Spring Break in Cancún, Mexico.
Having moved to the USA for one year to study, I really feel that it would have been wrong of me to not fully embrace the American Student way of life. This of course meant a crazy, tequila filled trip with friends to somewhere where the sun never stops shining. Enter, Cancún, Mexico. (I’d like to apologise for photo quality, I couldn’t bare to drop my iPhone 5S on the beach or in a nightclub so to minimise damage I took my old iPhone 4 with me instead!)
Cancún is a classic spring break travel destination, not least for those Americans who fall just shy of the USA drinking age of 21 and prefer the Mexican drinking age of 18. I had an absolutely fantastic time on this holiday and the 8 days I was there went by faster than I could ever believe. The main purpose of this trip (other than the aforementioned tequila) was torelax after a tough half a semester, so I chose to spend the majority of my time lying on the beach catching up on my murder mystery novels. However, below you will find general recommendations of how to spend a spring break in Cancun.
I chose to take only US$ with me because I didn’t want to lose out on exchanging my GB£ to US$ to MEX$ (peso). However, often when you pay with US$ you end up getting MEX$ as change anyway so you still have some local currency for emergencies. I took MEX$ cash out of an ATM using both my CaxtonFX card and my UK Bank card and had no problems so don’t worry about taking enough cash to last you a whole week. The ATMs I used charged only about US$1.70 for a withdrawal. Let me say here, spring break in Cancún is NOT cheap. Before I stepped off the plane in Mexico the only other “university student holiday” I had been on was to Salou in Spain and I (wrongly) assumed Cancun would be very similar. Students on spring break in Cancún are a captive audience and captive audiences mean $$$ for Cancún’s residents and businesses. I don’t regret a single penny I spent on spring break because the trip was just THAT good, but it would have been nice to know before I arrived that the absolute cheapest nightclub cover offered is $35!
Arriving into Cancún airport is a strange experience. From the air, Mexico looked nothing like I expected. It’s very green and covered in some kind of bush plant that I have still yet to identify. My main tip about this: Open your window blind on descent! It’s a great view of the beaches as you fly in. Once you’re off the plane be prepared for a long wait in customs and passport control with zero air conditioning. I actually had to stop by the bathrooms to change into cooler clothes as my freezing-overnight-in-Miami-airport clothes were far too warm for Mexican weather! Once through these queues, take my word that the easiest thing to do is find a nice person wearing a blue polo-shirt and ask them to take you right to your hotel/apartment. There are a LOT of people outside Cancún airport offering to take you to your hotel, only trust verified hotel shuttles or else the boys in blue who will take you to the Hotel Zone for $17 per person, which at a 35 minute drive is very reasonable.
The food in Cancún is really quite good. Moving from the UK to the USA I found a significant improvement in Mexican food and unsurprisingly travelling to Mexico improved it even more! Try to stick to independent Mexican restaurants if you can, you will get much better value for money than you will at the American chains such as Hooters, Dominoes or McDonalds (although it’s good to know that these chains are there and I can’t lie, I went to all three during my time in Cancún). My two favourite places to go were Marinero’s and Mextreme. This worked especially well because both these restaurants are linked so when you eat at one you get a money off voucher for the other. I could happily have eaten at these on alternate nights for every night of the holiday with money off every time! Marinero’s is a seafood and pasta restaurant that has a fantastic menu that serves a variety of dishes from all types of fresh seafood to burritos to vegetarian lasagne (what a treat for this vegetarian who has been living on fries since moving to the USA 8 months ago!) Mextreme is a classic Mexican restaurant with brilliantly enthusiastic staff that dance and carry drinks on their heads. Both Mextreme and Marinero’s also have a live Mariachi band that performs most nights.
Realistically, nightclubs are the most popular destinations in Cancún, especially around Spring Break. We went to Congo twice during the week as it is the cheapest place to go at only $35 for entry and an open bar. There is a VIP area just behind the DJ booth and if you can blag your way in, absolutely do. We did on both nights (it isn’t that hard) but makes for a less crowded night and if you pass tips to the right bar man they might even bring free drinks right to your table. La Vaquita is right next to Congo on the strip and both have a very similar vibe and price bracket. Thanks to Mexico’s gorgeous weather these clubs are able to be completely open fronted meaning they are well ventilated and never feel TOO crowded. La Vaquita is also open bar for around $40 and they have the bonus of giving you HUGE drinks so you need to visit the bar less often than some other places. Coco Bongo is well known to anyone who has heard of Cancún’s night-life scene, an absolute classic. It is without a doubt my FAVOURITE club that I have ever been to. It is incredibly expensive when you view the $90 as a nightclub cover, but when you view it (as I do) as payment for cover, open bar and one of the best shows in Cancun, it cannot be beaten. TIP: Decide which night you want to spend in Coco Bongo and go down that afternoon to buy your wristband early. We got a $20 discount for doing this (and free beer). Straight from the moment you enter the building the whole thing is just an experience. They offer free drinks when you stand in line and as soon as you get through the door. The whole club is set up as one room with a mezzanine floor as a HUGE stage where tribute acts from The Beatles to Lady Gaga to Michael Jackson perform all night. All I can say is get there early, you won’t want to miss a single act. From trapeze artists over the crowd to Chicago musical tributes and Vegas style kicklines, this club actually has everything. (Just writing this is tempting me to jump on the next plane out!)
On our last full day in Cancún we hopped on a day cruise over to Isla Mujeres. We went with Jungle Tours and a day trip cost us $50 each. This included an open bar on the boat, a Mexican buffet lunch on the Island as well as snorkelling, spinakking and the opportunity to pet (and kiss!) a shark. This is the only day that we spent out of Cancún itself and I’m so glad we did this trip, it was a fantastic way to end the holiday. The boat stopped just off the coast of Isla Mujeres and we jumped in to go snorkelling. This was, without a doubt, one of the absolute best experiences of my life and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I only wish I was the woman with a waterproof GoPro so I could relive it all! Isla Mujeres is very similar to Cancún, only smaller. There are lots of touristy trinket shops and a fantastic beach. TIP: If you are planning on spending a whole day on Isla Mujeres bring (or buy) a hammock as they have palm trees planted at the edge of the beach ideal distance apart to hang a hammock. It looked heavenly from my uncomfortable place sitting on the hot sand! After our hour stop-off in town we continued on to our Mexican buffet lunch and the opportunity to meet Monica the whale shark. The shark handler asks for Mex$25 per person (about US$1.60) to get into the shark pool and pet the shark. If she likes you, the handler will even give you the opportunity to kiss Monica (and who am I to say no to such a lovely animal?)
Other things to do:
The beach is, of course, an obvious answer to the question of how to spend time in Cancún. I was surprised to see that the beaches in Cancún are a lot less commercialised than, say, the beaches in Miami. There are hotel sun chairs of course, but not in the same number as other beaches so you never feel unwelcome. We actually stayed in an apartment just off the main strip and we had the closest thing to a private beach (a wooden sign hammered into the sand reading “private area”) that I saw anywhere. There’s certainly room for everyone, locals and tourists alike, on the beaches of Cancún. The Flea Market is something that I was excited about right until we actually tried to shop there. From my taxi ride from the airport I gathered that the Flea Market is somewhat of a Cancún staple but I thoroughly did not enjoy the “hard sell” techniques of the market’s store owners. In fact, the worst thing about Cancún in general was this “hard sell” sales technique that seemed to be adopted by everyone from waiters, to store owners, to tour operators. Maybe it just goes against something intrinsically European in me, but it just did not encourage me to buy anything! The only thing I ended up buying from the Flea Market was a pair of sandals (that I desperately needed due to the terrible sunburn on my feet, which are actually still purple to this day) which although I haggled, I ended up still way over-paying for, just so I could leave the market! If you would like to go to the Flea Market, by all means do, but be aware that it’ll be easier if you put up some strong mental walls and ignore everything you hear shouted at you! As mentioned above, there are also numerous tours operated out of Cancún. We actually jumped on a public bus (for US$1) to get to the harbour from which the tour boats left and I would definitely recommend doing this. There are some historical sites around Cancún too that I would have liked to have visited if we had had more time. Tours run out to these sites too as well to popular tourist activities such as dolphin swimming and parasailing.
Overall, I am incredibly glad that I chose to embrace the opportunity to live the true USA Spring Break experience and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone. Here’s me raising my tequila to Spring Break 2016 and all that it may bring!