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I was going to talk about South Korea, the next place we went to after Japan, but in a surprise twist, I decided not to. Instead, I’m going to skip ahead to Mexico because 1) I like to switch it up and 2) readers have been asking about the South East Asia equivalent in North America. Who am I to keep you from your dreams? So without further ado, we’ll fast forward to Mexico…
After you’ve been travelling for a while, you start to develop your own weird little travel vocabulary. For example, it’s no secret that I wasn’t a big fan of the food in Denmark . So when I say things like “Hm…this salad is very Denmark”, Wanderer knows exactly what I’m talking about. But I LOVED Denmark’s parks, so when I say “this attraction is very Denmark!” It means something completely different.
So when I say I said I was looking for the Chiang Mai of Mexico, it’s gibberish to other people, but makes perfect sense to Wanderer.
I thought Merida would be that city, but I was wrong. Despite it being somewhat comparable in prices, safety, warmth, and friendliness, it just wasn’t it. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Was it the beaches? Or the scuba diving? I decided to test out that theory by looking up some of the best diving and beaches in Mexico. And as it turns out, the dive site that stood out the most was MUSA– Mexico’s one and only underwater museum, located on Isla Mujeres near Cancun.
Now, what’s special about this museum is that it was created as a way to lure divers away from the reef to prevent damage. The artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, along with 5 other Mexican artists, created 500 sculptures of men, women and children which were submerged underwater. His intention was to create living sculptures, which overtime would grow into a reef. And since the statues were made from PH neutral concentrate with added holes, this would allow a new reef to grow.
He even salvaged broken pieces from nearby reefs as wings for this “angel” statue:
My favourite part is that he also included little “easter eggs” for scuba divers, like a chimney on a house that blows bubbles when you put your regulator up to it. Or this bubble-blowing woman :
So needless to say, we were super excited to dive the MUSA museum. And just like the Robot show in Japan, it was definitely not cheap, but SO worth it!
Here’s some footage of me carefully observing a brittle star, then putting it back, before accidentally kneeing a fellow scuba diver in the head. Good times.
Even though Cancun is known for its exorbitant prices, we were still able to find an Airbnb in the hotel zone, which was well-priced because it wasn’t a stone’s throw to the beach. Knowing that Cancun hotel zone is one of the most expensive places in Mexico, I expected it to have horrible deals and bad food.
We were pleasantly surprised. So apparently, if you’re a regular tourist and end up staying in a fancy all-inclusive hotel, taking cabs everywhere, and eating out all the time, you will be paying top dollar. But what the tourists don’t realize is that there are buses that run up and down the strip for only 8.50 pesos ($0.40 USD), and they literally come EVERY 30 seconds (believe me, I timed them). And if you look beyond the Coco Bongo’s, Burger Kings, and Starbucks, you’ll be able to find local restaurants that serve way better tasting dishes for $70-150 pesos ($3.50-$7.50 USD)!
So by taking advantage of the local restaurants, buses, and free beaches, we ended up getting a lot out of Cancun for very little.
The hotel zone felt a bit like an adult Disneyland to me, but I really enjoyed the beaches, and especially Isla Mujeres (an island just 30 min ferry ride from Cancun), which has one of the top #10 beaches in the world, Playa Norte.
After Cancun, we headed for Tulum, which is supposed to be a chill place with a hippy vibe. Some parts of it were pretty touristy, but we quickly feel in love with its walkability, tasty food, and quaintness. And remember how I said I developed an obsession for cenotes in Merida ? Well, as it turns out Tulum is THE place to go for cenotes.
You could go to a different cenote everyday for the 2 weeks and not even run out. From cenotes within deep caves like Dos Ojos, to outdoor cenotes with the clearest waters you’ve ever seen in Casa Cenote, Tulum is a cenote-lover’s heaven!
And once you’re done with the cenotes, you could take a collectivo (shared taxi) to nearby Akumal and go swimming with wild sea turtles. We didn’t expect to see any near the beach while we were there, but after swimming out just 30 feet from the shore, we saw 2 massive sea turtles munching on sea grass. And they weren’t even bothered by people staring at them either! They were simply chilling and eating, looking at us nonchalantly and going “What are you looking at?”
It was magical.
Despite these 2 places being super touristy, we found enough reasonable restaurants that finding a deal was a breeze. I also discovered that being near a Chedraui (the Mexican equivalent of Walmart but WAY better) was pretty useful as we were able to pick up ingredients and cook a couple of times.
Here’s what we ate in Cancun and Tulum:
Generally eating out at the local restaurants weren’t expensive…around $150-$230 pesos ($10-$15 CAD) for an entire meal for two, including drinks and tip. It wasn’t as dirt cheap as Thailand (less than $5) but definitely less pricey than eating out in Toronto.
And here’s how much we spent overall:
|Category||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$40/night||Prices for accommodations in the hotel zone generally are pretty damn expensive and well over $100, so Airbnb was a huge help in this case. We ended up staying in condos with pools. We didn't end up getting an entire suite to ourselves like we did in Japan, but it actually turned out to be a blessing because not only did we meet a diver master who lent us a Go-Pro, we also ended up meeting Alice, the woman who showed us a whole new world with World Schoolers. So you never know who you're going to meet on your travels.|
|Food:||$26/day||$16 for eating out, $10 for groceries. Even though we were in the expensive touristy areas of Mexican, we found enough local restaurants that were way better than the touristy restaurants and groceries were dirty cheap.|
|Transportation:||$8/day||Getting from Merida to Cancun and later to Tulum via the ADO bus was only $28 CAD and $22 CAD per person. Getting around Cancun was dirt cheap with buses that cost 0.56 CAD Cents per person and getting around Tulum with Collectivos at $25-35 pesos ($1.60-2 CAD) per person.|
|Entertainment:||$18||Entertainment was the highest cost here because of the Scuba Diving ($137.50 CAD/person for 2 dives, including wetsuit and Go-Pro rental). We got a super good deal at only $100 pesos ($7 CAD) for the Go-Pro because of our AirBnb host who worked at the dive shop. Other entertainment costs consisted of entry to the Cenotes where ranged from $120 pesos – $180 pesos per person ($8-$12), which was totally worth it because you could stay there for the whole day.|
|Misc:||$5/day||Misc costs include tips, flip flops, meds and personal items, which are generally very cheap and can all be purchase from Chedraui.|
|Total:||$97 CAD/couple/day ($72 USD/couple/day)|
So even though I still hadn’t found the Chiang Mai of Mexico, I was glad we came to Cancun and Tulum, which despite of their touristy reputations, ended up having a lot to offer water-worshippers without breaking the bank.
That didn’t mean I was going to give up my search though…
To Be Continued…