In Cancún I decided to stay with a Couchsurfing host. I hadn’t Couchsurfed since Morelia over a month ago and I was getting tired of hostel life. I just wanted to be able to unpack my stuff somewhere and leave it unpacked for a day or so. I had posted a public trip on the Couchsurfing website (this is a great way to find hosts) and had gotten several responses but decided to go with Arturo because he had time off work and great reviews.
When I arrived in Cancún from Holbox I took an Uber to Arturo’s home. The Uber driver asked me the normal questions, where I was from, how long I was in Cancún for, where I was going, how did I know this guy, of course all in Spanish. I told him I didn’t really know the guy I was staying with, we had met online through a website. It sounds crazier than it is in reality but it’s hard to explain that in Spanish. The driver told me that my Couchsurfing host lived in the most dangerous neighborhood in Cancún and I shouldn’t even walk around there during the day. I started to get really scared, thinking OMG, I’m staying with some random stranger from the Internet in the most dangerous neighborhood in Cancún?!
When we arrived at Arturo’s apartment building, the driver told me to take his number and if I needed anything, call and he would come get me immediately. By this point I was terrified.
Arturo came down to help me with my bags and led me up to his apartment. His building was old and dilapidated and not very inviting. Once we reached his apartment I still felt very uneasy. I realized I knew no one in Cancún, and it would be just be me and Arturo for the next few days.
Arturo told me he had gone to the market earlier that day and purchased some fresh fruit. He offered to make me a fresh juice which helped me relax a little bit. After our juice he suggested we go for dinner in a less touristy part of Cancún.
Atruo’s means of transportation was a motorcycle. I was both excited and terrified. You have to put a lot of trust in someone to ride on the back of their motorcycle, especially someone you just met. I was also uneasy with the fact that I’d have to put my arms around him to hold on.
Arturo took me to Parque Las Palapas, a great place to grab a bite to eat. There are several different food stalls located at the park as well as a stage that usually has free events on the weekends. Locals often gather here on weekends to let their children play, connect with friends, and grab a bite to eat.
Tonight’s event was a Carnival (like the Brazilian Mardi Gras) themed children’s dance troop performance. All the children were dressed in outrageous over the top costumes with bright colors, feathers, and sequins. I was mesmerized by the sheer talent and I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage.
When Arturo finally managed to pull me away from the performance, we got dinner from one of the food stands located in the plaza. We grabbed quesadillas from the stand located on the far right. You’ll know the place because it usually has a long line. The quesadillas were about $1 USD each and delicious. I recommend the chorizo but then again, I recommend chorizo-anything in Mexico.
If you’re in Cancún over the weekend, I highly recommend visiting Parque Las Palapas. They usually have some sort of performance going on on Saturdays and Sundays and it’s a great spot to watch and interact with locals.
The next day Arturo and I headed out to Isla Mujeres. You can easily take a 20-minute ferry from Cancún to the island. It leaves every half hour from 5:30 to 21:00 then every hour until midnight. The cost is $146 MXN (about $7.50 USD) round-trip.
While waiting in line to catch the ferry to Isla Mujeres, I was starting to get a sense of what the island’s vibe would be like. There were guys in line with muscle tanks, tattoos and trucker’s hats with coolers full of beer heading over to spend a “relaxing” Sunday on the beach. I’m not big on the whole spring break party vibe in Cancún but I felt I had to embrace it to fully appreciate Isla Mujeres.
The beaches on Isla Mujeres are truly beautiful. Despite the hordes of people, these beaches were the most beautiful I saw in México. However, the whole island revolves around tourists. The streets are lined with souvenir shops and all the restaurants are over priced but in my opinion it’s still definitely worth a day trip. Close to Playa Norte there is a shallow cove you can swim in with lots of tropical fish.
I was able to find a great local Mexican restaurant that was fairly inexpensive which I highly recommend, called La Lomita. It’s open from 11:00 to 20:00 daily and is located on Avenida Juarez #25 Sur.
To sum up my experience, all-in-all Cancún didn’t “wow” me and it’s definitely not a must-see unless you’re into partying and clubbing. However, I did have a great time with my Couchsurfing host Arturo. He really made my time there memorable. If you do find yourself in Cancún, I highly recommend making the day trip to Isla Mujeres. In my opinion, it’s not worth staying overnight on the island unless you’re into partying.
What to do:
- Parque de Las Palapas
- Day trip to Isla Mujeres
How to get to Isla Mujeres:
The are two ferry docks in Puerto Juarez that service Isla Mujeres. Gran Puerto Cancun (Ultramar) and Terminal Martima Puerto Juarez, they are just a few blocks apart and only 10 minutes north of downtown Cancún. The express boats leave every half hour from 5:00 until 21:00.