3 Nights in Cancun

Dear Traveller,

My first impression of Cancun was twisted by the tired crankiness that only comes from a 22 hour flight journey. So while the first night there I was not in love with the place I tried to keep an open mind. It reminded me of a weird mix of Surfers Paradise and Phuket. Our hotel was located at the top of the hotel zone and within walking distance to the clubs. The beach and hotels reminded me of Surfers but the people on the street trying to sell you everything from jewellery to club entry was what reminded me of Phuket. Not something that I wanted after a long flight when I just needed to relax, our venture out of the hotel was short only for food.

Speaking of our hotel, I stayed at the Krystal Cancun and really I can say that the best thing about it was the location. Beachfront with a nice pool overlooking the ocean with its own pool bar and located close to shops, restaurants and other transportation. I was really happy with where the hotel was situated. The facilities and the lobby of the hotel had a 4 star feel so it was unfortunate that our hotel room itself felt more 2 star. From the “$80 a night roadside motel” feel of the bathroom to the view looking out over the back service area and rooftop of the restaurant next door, complete with noisy pump which was programmed to go off at 6am for 15 minutes. Not knowing what any of the other rooms in the hotel were like I think we possibly had one of the worst, this was because the hotel hadn’t noticed the request for 2 beds in the room which meant it took him 5 minutes to find us something suitable. Another thing that slowed down our check in was the fact that somehow they’d dropped two letters from my surname and had the room booking under Jeanette Wards.
Nevertheless we didn’t spend much time in the room so the disappointment was minimal.

On my first full day in Cancun we walked to the nearby ferry terminal and took a trip out to Isla Mujeres. The first ferry ride was smooth and felt quite quick. Once we arrived on the island our plan was to collect a Golf Cart for the day and explore. Our first lesson was to bring cash to the island. The ATM on the main street we were warned recently was found with a skimmer attached and the EFTPOS terminals at the first two Goft Cart places were not working, however third time lucky we found a place that was working even though it was $100 Pesos more for the cart we were soon on our way.
The first stop was for a drink on the beach, soaking in the sun and the view of blue blue waters.
We then decided to enter the “Coolest place in Mexico” also known as the Ice Bar and they might just live up to the moniker as it was a chilly -18c. After a bit of conversation with the lady at the entry we decided to buy an entry only without drinks however she must have liked us as when we got inside they told us that we did have one included on our pass, the bar tender must have liked us too as he gave us a free shot each as well.
We lasted about 15 minutes in the Ice Bar, by the end of which my feet were starting to feel numb but they rest of my body had acclimatised, they give you a fur cloak to put on however as it was 30c outside I wasn’t wearing a lot underneath it and I only had sandals on my feet.
From there we drove to the Turtle Rehabilitation Farm. It was very busy and as touristy as I expected. You could purchase little packets of food to give to the adult turtles that weren’t being released and there was a man with a horseshoe crab scaring the little kids which was entertaining to watch.
From there we drove to the very tip of the island where there was a restaurant with a beautiful 180 degree view. More issues with the Eftpos machines when we tried to pay for our food but luckily the eventually worked and we were on our way. We ended the day with a walk around the main town of Isla Mujeres which was packed with shops and bars for the tourists before catching the last ferry back to our area of Cancun.

The second day of the trip was Luis’s birthday and I had booked as a present to him a visit to one of the seven new wonders of the world: Chichen Itza.
The tour started early however we still managed to get up and go grab some Starbucks before being picked up at 7.35am, we were shuttled to the main bus meeting point and boarded our coach for the 3 hour journey to the archaeological site. On the way there they served continental breakfast and the guides introduced themselves and filled us in on what was going to happen that day. The staff were great, funny and informative which is always a winning combination and we learnt how to count using the Mayan Calendar, don’t ask me to do it here or explain it though because it is very complicated.
The first stop of the day was for souvenirs made by and sold to benefit the locals of the area, while there were lots of pretty things knowing that I still had 10 weeks of carrying my bags I restrained myself. Though I was very taken by a local stone called Golden Obsidian which appeared black until the sun hits it when it turns gold. Fortunately for my wallet I couldn’t find anything made in the stone that I really wanted but it was very cool.
Finally we were on our way to the site, even with the early start we weren’t arriving at the park until midday. We had our tickets already (they’d been picked up during the shopping stop) and so we walked straight into the park. Our guide had us stand in the shade while he taught us about the different areas of the park like the ball court, main temple, sacrificial alters, sacred cenote and after about an hour with him we then had an hours free time to explore and take photos. One thing that surprised both of us was the amount of hawkers in the park selling trinkets and souvenirs, we had been warned off of them by the guides on our bus though.
Chichen Itza was a lot smaller than I had thought it would be however it was very pretty, two of the sides have been rebuilt to the original however the other two sides show the vandalism that happened when stones were taken from the temple to build nearby houses. Those houses are now also heritage protected so the stones can not be taken back again.
The design of the pyramid was fascinating with the whole monument acting as a calendar. There are special designs that can only be seen on the solstices and as the seasons change when the sun rises the light will hit completely on one side of the pyramid on the first day of one season and the flight hits another side completely on the first day of a different season. On top of that the stairs on each side all add up to the exact number of days in a year. There was so much more however I won’t list it all here.
After the park we were taken to a buffet lunch and sat at a table of 4 with two new American friends from California. As if the tour guides controlled the weather a storm broke right as we were all seated for lunch and being in the tropics it was pouring down, however the weather had all cleared up by the time we had finished eating.
From lunch we were taken to a Cenote for a swim, initially we had been quite excited about this idea however when we got there it was crowded with tourists and not at all what we had all imagined so none of us went in.
Then it was time for the long drive home and we were finally dropped at our hotel (second last to be dropped off with the boys from Cali being the last) at 8.30pm.

The third and final morning in Cancun was spent in the pool then having a lazy brunch before catching a taxi down to Playa Del Carmen for the next part of my trip. So while I spent 3 nights in Cancun I really didn’t spend much time there. The beach was beautiful and if you like large resorts then it will work for you however I much prefer the vibe and style of Playa Del Carmen even if the beach isn’t as nice. More on that later though!


Planning, planning, planning!

Dear Fellow Holiday Planners,

I know that I like to take my holiday planning to the extreme. After all, why would I spend my actual holiday planning my holiday? I like to have the main details all worked out and locked in before I go, while still leaving free time to explore and relax while I am there.
Perhaps this comes in part from knowing that I am indecisive and often will just opt not make a decision when I am put on the spot meaning that neither option eventuates. Perhaps it comes from my anxiety which doesn’t flare up as often when I have considered all my options and when I have clear expectations. Probably it is both.

There is now less than 3 months until I head off on my biggest trip yet and the details are finally all coming together. Back in February, I locked in my flights at the start and end of the trip and the last 4 nights accommodation, leaving 66 nights to plan. The next step was booking in my tours, after spending hours playing around with different options I settled on 3 tours and the shape of my trip came together. In the last month I have since booked all of my internal flights and in the last week finalised most of my accommodation.


So for those of you who are playing along at home my trip so far looks like this:

Flying with Virgin Australia from Melbourne to LA and then onto Cancun. I have splashed out a little on my flights and booked the Economy Plus seating for the long haul sections. This should give me priority boarding at the airports and extra leg room on the flights. There are a few other perks but these are the ones that I wanted.

Arriving into Cancun I will spend 3 nights here at the Krystal Cancun, booked because they were the cheapest option in the right area and the hotel looked nice enough. I really wanted something in the hotel zone and on the beach. The fact that the hotel is close to the ferry terminal for Isla Mujeres was a bonus as well because this is what I want to do on the second day of the trip. The hotel is also good for it proximity to some of the nightlife. My friend Luis will be joining me here and it is his birthday on the 3rd day of my trip which is why I am staying in Cancun to begin with. We are going to take a trip to Chichen Itza on his birthday and possibly end up at one of the aforementioned clubs if the long day and jetlag don’t conspire against me.

Day 4 sees us move down to Playa Del Carmen where I will spend the next week and Luis will spend another few days with me. While he is there we will go to see Cozumel, enjoy the Caribbean Sea, the food, the drinks and the culture. There might be a trip down to swim with some local Sea Turtles and to visit Tulum too.
After he heads back to Mexico City I will have a few more days here and I will definitely be checking out Xcaret which looks like a lot of fun. I am still trying to decide what other places I need to make sure I see while I am here. I am 80% sure that I will book to swim with the Whale Sharks while I am in Playa too.
I have chosen to stay at the Hacienda Real Caribe, again this is a cheaper hotel (I am going for 10 weeks, I needed to keep the price down) but I really liked the atmosphere in the photos of the property and it is a great location, close to the nightlife and heart of Playa.

After my week in the Riviera Maya I head over to Havana, Cuba. I am spending 2 nights here before my tours and am yet to decide which area is the best for me to stay in. These 2 nights are part of the 6 that I have left to book. While I am there I am going to book onto an old car tour for the day I arrive and a walking tour of the city for the next day. I am itching to take as many photos as I can of this beautiful city. If I still want to see more then I will jump onto the Hop On Hop Off bus for my third day before meeting up with my tour group in the afternoon.

My first tour of the trip is a week long sailing adventure with G Adventures. From Havana we are being taken down to Cienfuegos to board our Catamaran and spend 8 days sailing around the Cuban Isles. Can’t wait!

After this tour drops me back in Havana I meet up with my next new group of friends for an 8 day Intrepid Tour of Cuba that will take me to Vinales, back to Cienfuegos and on to Trinidad. The day that this tour ends I fly back to Cancun to start my third tour, also with Intrepid.

This time it’s a 17-day tour from Mexico to Guatemala via Belize, stopping for 3 nights at a place that has been on my bucket list for a long time: Caye Caulker and the Blue Hole. Here I am hoping to swim with the Manatees too. Which has also been on my bucket list for a few years; ever since I saw you could do it in Florida. (After I had already come home from my trip to Florida unfortunately, so this is another reason I like to be extra organised and thoroughly researched before I go anywhere now.)

At the end of my month-long stretch of back to back tours I will be striking out on my own. From Antigua in Guatemala I will spend one more night in Guatemala at the very exciting Guatemala Airport hotel (actually it looks really nice so I shouldn’t pick on it), for my less than exciting flight time of 5.30am where I will jet off to my actually exciting next destination of Roatan. Originally I had wanted to spend time in Utila the party island next door. But after carefully considering the prospect of multiple ferries after multiple flights and the need to do that in each direction while travelling on my own for the first time in non-English speaking country it seemed like less of an adventure and more of a hassle. Hence I have stuck with the equally as beautiful, less intoxicated and with more activities to choose from island of Roatan.

I am booked to stay here for 6 nights at the Lands End hotel in West End. While here I want to visit the Cayos Cochino which looks incredible and swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat at Anthony’s Key Resort. I might try a beginners Scuba Diving trip or head out snorkelling to look at the reef, hire a car to explore the island or just relax and enjoy the island vibes.

After my week in Roatan, I fly via El Salvadore to Panama City. Frustratingly I have a long layover in El Salvadore but not quite long enough to book the stopover tour that I found here which would take me to look at the town and the local Volcano. Hopefully, I will have seen enough Volcanoes in Guatemala though and I won’t feel like I am missing out.
I am only in Panama for 2 nights and as my flight arrives in at 11.30pm and flies out early when I leave I have decided to stay at another airport hotel but have yet to decide which one. On my 1 day in Panama, I want to visit the Panama Canal and I have found a tour that does this and takes you out to a National Park who have a large monkey population which sounds great. If this tour doesn’t end up running then my backup is a local food walking tour or just exploring the city for the day on the Hop On Hop Off bus.

My next stop after Panama is Jamaica, I have 7 nights here in an all inclusive resort, hello cocktails. I definitely want to do a trip out on the Bioluminescent Lagoon one of the nights that I am there and I am considering a trip to the resort town of Ocho Rios to visit Magic Mountain which has a roller coaster through the jungle themed like a Jamaican Bobsled. I also want to visit the town of Negril and see Ricks Cafe with its famous cliffs. Aside from that the other essential item I need to tick off while I am there is eating the famous Jerk Chicken!

From Jamaica I fly back to Mexico, it’s a long day of flying, however, I will have not 1 but 2 friendly faces to meet me at the other end. I am heading to Mexico City and will be staying with Luis again. Now my friend Yvette has booked to join me for the last 11 days of my holiday. So we will arrive into Mexico City at the same time (fingers crossed for no flight delays for either of us.) While in the city I can’t wait to visit Zocalo and take as many photos as I can of the beautiful buildings. We are going to hire a car and drive to some of the other sights further away on a road trip, visit Teotihuacan and the Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque. I am still trying to decide if I book a nights accommodation in Pueblo but I am definitely booking a night in San Miguel Allende the UNESCO-listed city which looks incredible. These are the last 2 of my 6 remaining nights to book.

From Mexico City, Yvette and I will be flying to LA where we will spend 4 nights down in Anaheim and 4 days in Disneyland. While we have both been several times before there is always so much to see and do in the parks and I didn’t want to end the trip feeling rushed because we tried to pack too much in.
Our flight arrives in at LAX in the early afternoon so the plan is to go to the Pirates Dinner Adventure that night for dinner and a show of sexy topless Pirates, we might check out Medieval Times one on of the other nights if we feel like it.
I am also hoping while I am there that I might be able to catch up with my LA buddies Cornelius and Ben if they are around!

From LA we fly back to Australia on my birthday to arrive in 2 days later because of the date line. I had considering flying over my birthday so that we skipped it and so that I stayed a year younger (because that’s how it works right!) but decided that being in Disneyland on my birthday was a better option.

So far I have locked in all my flights, 64 nights of accommodation and a handful of activities. Once I have the last 6 nights, a couple of transfers in the harder to get around places and the final essential day tours booked in all I need to do it wait.
Actually, now I have to think about what I am going to pack!

– Jeanette