Travelling, Cancun and Isla Mujeres, Mexico

December 18, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

We spent the last week in Cancun about 20 minutes north of Cancun airport at a nice, but soon-to-be-renovated hotel. We had a lovely ocean-facing room which provided gorgeous views, brilliant sunrises and sunsets. The downside with any hotel in zona hotelaria is it is very windy and it's loud - way more than one would imagine. Small price to pay for how lovely it is, though.

The first day we were there, the humidity was 95 percent. My spouse finds that cloying. I, however, LOVE it. Combined with a sunny, 25 degree day, it was heaven. Interesting tidbit: the combination of very functional air conditioning, high humidity, and tile flooring is instant steam bath and slippery floors if one wishes to leave the patio door open.... Two days after we arrived, I noticed a little warning label on the patio doors to the effect of "Always keep this door closed or the floors will be dangerous." Yup. Confirmed. Also, the wine glasses fog up and are ALSO slippery and there's no excuse for spilling perfectly good wine.

We learned a few things this trip. Things are shifting in Cancun. The zona hotelaria has become a bit "Vegas," with huge hotels lining the entire coastline from just north of the airport all the way nearly into the city itself. My impression is the various hotel chains have discovered a new way to fund their builds, being "giving away" adventures in exchange for 90 minutes of your time, in hopes that time will equal you spending a LOT of US dollars for some sounds-good-but-isn't deal. 

Our introduction to this new "vacation feature" came immediately on arrival at our hotel. We were checked in, got our keys, and our bags were whisked off to our room, but before we could head there ourselves - or to dinner, because it was 6 p.m. and we were hungry after a five-hour flight - we were "invited" to sit down with a coordinator to talk about our plans for the week. We mentioned in passing we were going to Isla Mujeres for a day, and to Selvatica (zip lines and other fun outdoor adventure-type stuff) sometime during the week, by which we provided our coordinator the needed entryway.

Our coordinator explained as guests, we had free run of our all-inclusive hotel and the other two in the area; one a few kilometres north, and the other on Isla. Then, we were offered free entry to Salvetica in exchange for a 90 minute "tour" of the hotel up the road.  We knew what we were in for but the per-person entry to Selvatica is $180 US, so in this case, we were willing to take that deal.

The entire pitch was actually 90 minutes, some of which was spent touring the sister hotel and about 45 of which was spent with a sales guy, who offered us food and drinks and more drinks.... followed by a conversation with his "boss," who made the fatal mistake of talking non-stop about himself and how rich he is. NOT a selling feature, when combined with high-pressure tactics to spend $10,000 USD as an initial "investment," and a further "only $210 USD per month" for 10 years, to get a reduced room rate of $700 USD per week, and a bunch of free weeks and transferable rights and all sorts of mumbo jumbo. No thanks.

They gave us $150 pesos for the taxi home though, so that was nice - except we should have saved that money and spend the 12 pesos each for the very convenient local bus that comes every five minutes and stopped directly in front of our hotel... oh well.

While we were up the road, we stopped in a La Isla Dorada - a pretty great outdoor shopping mall filled with mostly US chain vendors but also with a few local vendors. I have to say, Mexican pharmacia are great; they offer pretty much everything you need; flip flops (marked up at La Isla, of course) food, snacks, whatever over the counter drugs you might need, and tequila. LOTS of tequila.

Whilst wandering around La Isla, we happened on a kiosk offering reduced fares over to Isla Mujeres. The regular return fare is $20 USD - not terrible for a 20 minute crossing, but a deal is a deal. That, and the guy selling these reduced fares - $15 USD each - was somehow making college fund money selling these reduced fares.... I asked him several times if there was a sales pitch attached to these reduced fares, but he said 'No" each time. However, he was strident in making sure we contacted him the next day so he could personally escort us to the pier, with a "brief" stop for a free breakfast at a new hotel nearby the ferry terminal. This brief stop was the dreaded 90 minutes of our time.

This particular property was, admittedly, gorgeous. Brand new and on the north point of the zona hotelaria, it benefits from much calmer seas and nearly no wind. We enjoyed breakfast and informed our "guide" we would be saying no to whatever he offered us. He informed us we wouldn't have access to the reduced ferry fees if we didn't stick it out, so as we'd already paid for the crossing fare (I'm cheap like that), we agreed to go have a tour.


The tour culminated in a request for a $17,000 "initial investment" which was somehow magically going to be worth more money "next week," a monthly payment of $851 USD on top of that, all for the benefit of "ownership," "transferability," and only 10 years of payments at that rate. We did the math and the cost was about $170,000 USD for the privilege of only paying $650 per week for the 20 weeks vacation we could use in the next 20 years...  Three hours later, we (ok me) became a bit testy, as we wanted to be on our way over to Isla Mujeres... 45 minutes more and we were finally on the pier awaiting transfer, armed with a new beach bag, a bottle of questionable tequila and $300 pesos for the return taxi to our hotel.

As an aside, we had every intention of busing back to the hotel - 12 pesos per person is so cheap! My spouse wanted to make a stop at the Chedraui though. Chedraui is the Mexican equivalent of Walmart. They're everywhere. The one right in the bend of the road in the zona hotelaria is very upscale and has a fantastic food floor - it's a must-see for sure. So we debarked from the bus in front of what we thought was our target. I often leave the travel planning to my spouse - he really likes maps and stuff - and this night was no exception. Except we weren't at the right location. No worries, the other location was only 2k down the road - a nice walk on a warm night, so we set off, only to discover yet again, we were still FAR away from the correct location and we were now unsure of where the bus stop back south was... so the $300 pesos was ultimately spent on taxi fare. My spouse checked his map and realised how far off the mark we were... poor guy. He was chagrined, but nothing a nice meal and some mescal didn't fix.

Isla Mujeres is my favourite place on the Carribian side of Mexico. It's a tiny, weird island 1/2 a km wide and about 7 kms long, with a pirate history, great beaches, some interesting places to visit - a sea turtle intepretive centre and some ruins at the south end of the island - and some pretty great restaurants and shops at the north end. LOADs of US expats living there. My spouse mused about what might happen were one to enter a crowded place and yell "Maintenance Enforcement!" Isla is definitely worth a day trip and wonderful as a place to spend a few days. The bulk of the tourists head back over to the mainland at the end of the day, and Isla becomes very Mexican in the evenings. Good food, good music.

The day trip to Salvatica was loads of fun. The facility has an interesting history - some expat who crashed his plane there 90 years ago, and decided to stick around. There is an old, wrecked DC3 on the site - rumoured to be the real McCoy. Who knows.... There are a bunch of zip lines, some of which you're flying on in "Superman" position, and others hanging. They have a jungle roller coaster complete with noisy, rough, "is this safe" rickety metal tracks. There's a gorgeous cenote - essentially a 25 foot deep crater in the limestone - filled with lovely, cool water, into which you can dive or fling off a trapeze line. And there are ATVs and some lovely, huge mud puddles to plow through, following which you're back to the cenote to dive in and wash the red mud off. Included is a mid-day meal and a light supper of chicken, rice and beans. Very satisfying after a fun day.

So. Advice. Pick your battles. You may pick up a GREAT deal on an adventure, meaning you may end up saving a wad of cash by giving up 90 minutes of your time, providing you are offered this through your hotel. The deals offered at the various kiosks in La Isla, and various other locations littered throughout the zona hotelaria, however are "avoid, avoid." Those deals are not "sweet" enough by any stretch and the 90 minutes can quickly turn into three hours of forceful, confusing sales pitches.

Above all, be forewarned: these sales pitches SOUND like they're potentially selling a great deal. They do NOT. They are as close to a scam as legally possible and they rope you in to a non-resellable "investment" that is not an investment at all. Learn to smile, nod, take the freebies, and say NO. A lot. To whatever they offer.

Isla Mujeres, MexicoUnknown dancer


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