Are you heading to Cancun this year? We are making plans to hit the beaches once again in one of our favorite vacation spots. This prototypical paradise is awesome for a combination of relaxation and adventure, but if you want to make the most of your trip, we've got some tips and tricks to help you out.
1) Book offseason at the resorts. Cancun's Hotel Zone sits on a wonderful stretch of beach at the edge of the bluest waters you'll ever see on the Caribbean Sea. The weather is warm year-round and the busy tourist season is from December to April. So the best time to go for frugal travelers is September to November when prices drop. You might see a few more periods of afternoon rain, but that makes a good time for naps, bar hopping or shopping. The hotel district is packed with dozens of top-notch resorts with amazing restaurants and pools, so shop around to find the best deal on a place with all the amenities you want.
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2) Learn some basic Spanish. You'll always get a friendly response from the residents in and around Cancun if you can say “hello” and order your meal in Spanish. We've always had a good time seeking guidance on learning new words and phrases, too.
3) Don't shy away from restaurant hawkers. When you head out for a meal, you'll be eagerly greeted by staffers enticing you to take a table at their restaurant. If you are undecided on where you will sit down to eat, take a moment to look at the menu, ask about specials and don't be shy about seeking an extra in exchange for your business. We've often scored a free drink or a two-for-one appetizer coupon just by asking.
4) Ride the local bus. The bus system is super easy to use, especially in the Hotel Zone. Plus, it's cheap. For about $1 (8.5 pesos to be precise, and you can ask for change if you want, but tourists typically just fork over 10 pesos — the equivalent of a buck) you can travel all the way from one end of the zone to the other. Just look for the buses with a big "R" in the window.
5) Try the tequila. Mexico produces fantastic tequila with nuanced flavors and an interesting production process. It's not simply a liquor you slam in an effort to get wasted (who knew, right?). Look for special tequila tasting sessions to learn about the history and process, or ask a bartender to recommend a unique flavor.
6) Bring plenty of sunscreen. The sun gets hot, and you want to be in the ocean or at the pool as much as possible. Don't let a wicked sunburn ruin your trip. Apply early and often. Also, if you're bald like me, you'll need a good hat.
7) Attend a turtle release. If you arrive during the right time of year, you might notice a roped-off area on the beach, indicating turtle hatchlings. Hotels have turtle-release parties several times a week — most often in August and September. Head out at dusk to watch the little green sea turtles and loggerheads fight their way out to sea. Conservation programs are important in a bid to replenish struggling sea turtle species
8) Bring pesos. Exchange some greenbacks for pesos so you get the best exchange rate and have better bargaining power at places that don't typically deal in U.S. dollars.
9) Try real Mexican meals. Careful of those salsas. We have a love-hate relationship with them. Deliciously spicy but will come back to haunt you the next morning. You'll find fantastic tacos, tamales and other recipes that include beef, pork and fish that go down so nicely with a few cold beers.
10) Ferry to La Isla Mujeres. Hop a ferry at Playa Tortugas (you can get there from your resort on a bus) and spend the day at Isla Mujeres, which is like stepping back in time. The ferry ride takes around 15 minutes and costs about $15 for a round-trip ticket. Rent a golf cart and spend the day exploring (it has one main road that circles the island) beaches, restaurants, shops and parks. We love to head over to go snorkeling and swimming at the small Garrafon de Castilla Hotel and Beach Club.
11) Explore ruins and cenotes. The Yucatan Peninsula is filled with ancient ruins of the Mayan people. Take a day trip to wander through sites still filled with stone structures and artwork that depicts the daily lives, religious rituals and sporting activities from centuries ago. Include a stop to be blessed by a shaman and descend into a cenote (underground sinkhole cave) for a swim
12) Go shopping. Vendors and shops are located all over Cancun, from formal storefronts to streetside kiosks and tables. Try the busy Plaza la Fiesta in the heart of the Hotel Zone for upscale boutiques, or venture to Yaxchilan Avenue in downtown Cancun to seek out local crafts for your souvenir shopping. Be ready to bargain for your best prices. The shop owners expect to make deals to earn your business.
Audrey Hyman is the owner and CEO of the Hyman Travel Network, a full service travel agency located in the suburbs of Washington, that specializes in cruises and all inclusive vacations