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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cancun 2015

I'd been in Cancun before (in 2011, in fact) but only to dive in Cozumel and a cenote near Playa Del Carmen. That time, my camera flooded very early in the trip, so I was left with no pictures and therefore didn't bother with even a trip report.

This time, I had much better luck.

It is a truism that the first time you visit a place, you screw up a lot. It's only on later trips that you've optimized the heck out of your visit and can easily know what to do and when, so this trip report is more a "tips" report than any details.

We arrived on New Year's Eve, and then spent a day at the beach. The best snorkeling in the area was supposedly the Club Med next to the Westin, and I spotted an eagle ray, which was pretty good. But the winds were too high for Bowen to swim safely in the water, so we went back to the hotel's pool.

On the second I did a reef dive. The winds were high but the currents were strong, keeping the water clear. I've learned that diving in murky water does nothing for me, so this was a fairly decent experience. I soon learned why there were no dive moorings in the area. You jump in and are immediately swept into the water at 1-2 knots, too strong to swim against! So every dive was a drift dive, where you got picked up by the dive boat at the end. One of the other divers just kept throwing up, which must have been a miserable experience.

We went to Xcaret, which is a Mexican theme park. Reviews compared it with Disneyland, but it's a bit better if your kids are older or if you're adventurous. The centerpiece of the park is a kilometer worth of underground river that you get to swim through. Bowen was terrified at the beginning but enjoyed it within 200m of the swim. The place also had hammocks to lie in, a decent aquarium (not great), and various activities like swimming with dolphins, etc., which we didn't do since Bowen was still too young for it. I wouldn't recommend taking the plus package since the a la carte meals are so huge that you wouldn't save any money over just buying the a la carte package. The night show is also worth going to, but we didn't stay for the whole thing since Bowen fell asleep in the middle and we decided it was better to just return to the hotel earlier so he could sleep better.

Then I did a cenotes dive. The cenotes have the clearest water you can ever dive in, and it's mostly freshwater, which gives your gear a good rinse. Unfortunately, after that, the rest of my dives got canceled due to high wind and waves, so no more diving this time.

We'd booked our hotel through Costco, which had a deal with the J.W. Marriott in Cancun. In retrospect, staying at downtown Playa Del Carmen or at the Iberostar in Cozumel would have been a better idea, since downtown Playa Del Carmen was much more fun than downtown Cancun, and the Iberostar wouldn't try to nickel and dime you the way Marriott does.

Fortunately, the hotel next to the Marriott, the Hard Rock Hotel, had free wifi and if you wrangled a day pass, you got an all you can eat buffet too. I was impressed by nearly every one of their onsite sit-down restaurants. The kids facilities were pretty cool. The decor was garish, however, and the place was pretty darn crowded.

One nice thing about the area is cheap buses. A highlight was dining at Pericos. Authentic Mexican food, a great atmosphere, and just fun. Highly recommended. They even rolled out a bed for Bowen when he fell asleep on the bus on the way to the restaurant. A don't miss if you're in the area.

We also went to Playa Del Carmen and returned by bus, and it's a crowded and uncomfortable experience, but Bowen decided he enjoyed buses, so we put up with it.

I was disappointed that none of the hotels had hobie cats or other sailing dingies for rent, but the Hard Rock Hotel staff told me to just walk across the street to Aquaworld, where for $30 an hour I could rent a hobie cat. That took care of the sailing fix for me and Bowen. The boats were old and with a 3 year old aboard I wasn't going to push the speed limits, but it was still fun. They'd force you to go through instruction if you don't have a sailing certification so bring yours if you have it.

All in all, I'm not sure I'd have opted for another land vacation in the Caribbean, but for being stuck on land it was ok. Certainly the cenotes dives can't be had anywhere else, so if you're a diver for at least one dive you should suck it up and go for it.

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