Escape America to Cancun and leave your stress behind. How do I know? I did. During the COVID19 lockdowns in the states, Americans have been flocking to Cancun. Here are some local places you should know about, whether you come for a week, or longer.
Upon returning to Miami intending to fly north in the states, I was sitting at a restaurant a few miles from Miami International Airport. After a week of sun and surf, the idea of heading back into the cold November winter didn’t sit right with me. So I scanned the map, perusing the Caribbean. I considered Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, The DR, and even Cuba.
But then I was surprised to see that Cancun was positioned much farther east than I ever imagined — it’s actually in the Eastern Time Zone, about 100 miles off the tips of Key West and Cuba. So I jumped on a flight, rented a room for a few days so I could find an apartment.
There are three prime locations in the Cancun area in the state of Quintan Roo — Cancun city, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum. (between Cancun and Playa Del Carment is Maya Riviera, which is where many of the big resorts are located – I shall be doing a follow-up article about my stay there).
In Cancun, I settled into an apartment about 8 minutes from the city center and 15-minutes from the beach. Cancun is a sprawling set of neighborhoods.
There are several beach areas in Cancun, but the most visited are located in the Hotel Zone. Further north 10 minutes, past Puerto Juarez, there are other high-end resorts in Isla Blanca. But the Hotel Zone has many more hotels, restaurants, and easy proximity to the center of Cancun.
The Hotel Zone is a separate narrow stretch of land about 45 minutes long, with water on both sides, jutting out from the edge of the El Centro section of town. (NOTE: the Mexicans take COVID19 seriously, and wear masks pretty much everywhere. If you refuse to wear one, this may not be the place for you.)
While most tourists tend to stay in the Hotel Zone at any of the many resorts, you can also stay in town for a fraction of the cost. A taxi to the beach will run you between 100-200 pesos (US$5- $10), although a taxi from the Hotel Zone is considerably more. So if you’re in the hotel zone and wish to go to town, then take the R1 or R2 bus for 12 pesos. They are clean and run very regularly every few minutes or so. So I’d take a taxi to the (from town) beach and then a bus (from the beach) back to town.
A perfect free beach is Playa Tortuga (Turtle Beach). When you enter from the parking lot, proceed up the walkway to the left of the OXXO (their version of a 7-Eleven). When you hit the beach turn right. They’ll try to guide you to the left where they try to steer the tourists. Go right instead, and you’ll see a restaurant there. You can rent a lounge chair and umbrella for $10 for the day (ask for Alfonso). The reason you want his chairs is that he works with that restaurant, and will double as a waiter, and their food and drinks are much better than the next choice. Margaritas will cost approx US$5, and you can get a freshly grilled fish dinner for approx $7. The beach is a cove, not too crowded, the water calm and perfect for swimming.
About 4 kilometers before Playa Tortuga, if you just want to hang on the beach without swimming, there is a secret little place I frequent called Cooco and Grill. As you travel down the Hotel Zone road (Kukulcan Blvd.) get off the bus at the first Starbucks you come to on your right (it is across from Hotel Temptation). Cross the street, go left, past Temptation, and at the end of the next hotel. walk through the far left corner of the parking lot to the pathway to the beach. Turn left and you’ll see the tables on the sand. The food and margaritas are good. (it’s not on the menu, but you can order a huevos Mexicana — scrambled eggs with opinion, pepper, and tomatoes, with tortillas, refried black beans, and a side of spicy sauce).
At the end of the day, if you don’t stay for the grilled fish at Playa Tortuga, you can catch the bus just outside on the main road. Take either the R1 or R2. About 10 minutes up the road, you’ll pass Puerto Cancun on the right. From there, get off at the second main road (Avenida Tulum) — one bus will cross and stop, the other will turn right and stop. Across from the Supermarket is a section of restaurants. I personally like El Pablano. You can get a plate of fajitas for about $7, and a Margarita grande. There is Mexican music is pumping into the outdoor seating area, and it’s a nice vibe. It’s a nice way to end a great beach day.
Very close to El Poblano is the Plaza Las Americas, a mall with a variety of shops and restaurants. Also close are two casinos.
Just off the coast of Cancun is Isla Mujeres. You can take a fun 45-minute catamaran ride that leaves from the marina right next to Coco and Grill (you can also buy tickets at Playa Tortuga, or near the Starbucks).
It’s essentially a floating open bar party. The cat heads to a private beach where there is a huge sound system pumping music; an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch; a tequila tasting bar; lots of beach lounges and beds. After a few hours there, the cat leaves and stops for snorkeling. It then continues on to the little town center of Isla Mujeres. I went with two friends, and it was a fun day.
In my next installment, I’ll write another article more about restaurants, Marcado 28, the Casino scene. I’ll follow that up with a week in Maya Rivera, and a day in Playa Del Carmen. Stay tuned!