Cancun was nothing like I expected it would be. Let me explain…

I’m going to start this by being flat-out honest and letting you know that Cancun has never been the top of my list of places that I must see before I die. Of course everything I’ve heard about the place has sounded really nice, and all the pictures that I’ve seen have looked stunningly beautiful and inviting.

However, I think the fact that it’s a popular spring break destination for US high school and college students is what has cheapened my image of the place over the years. I’ve never been a big fan of the “party-till-you-puke” (and/or end up dead) spring break thing, and it’s the primary reason why I naturally stay away from places cater to that kind of crowd.

Daytona Beach Florida gives off that same kind of vibe to me (whether it deserves it or not), and I’ve yet to step foot in that town. No offense to anyone who lives there of course…

Beaches of Cancun
Can you believe that I’ve never had an overwhelming urge to visit a place that looks like this? Yup, I’m weird that way.

But now that the trip is over and I’m sitting here at home writing this trip report, there’s a lot I’ve got to say about Cancun. Some of it good, some of it bad, but overall the biggest point I want to make is that Cancun wasn’t really what I expected it would be.

What exactly is Cancun like, anyway?

Sure, there were plenty of palm trees and lots of beautiful beaches, just as advertised, but it didn’t really have the feeling I was expecting. I realize that’s super vague way to sum everything up, so allow me to explain…

Cancun is not the party town I thought it was

As I was stepping out of the airport and into a taxi, I began mentally preparing myself having to deal with all the drunk American tourists crawling around on all fours, screaming obscenities into the wind, and puking uncontrollably all over the place.

I have a vivid imagination don’t I? And while I actually did see some of that in certain spots, it wasn’t like it was happening all over the place.

Most of the tourists (who were Mexican by the way), were courteous and friendly – and most importantly, very well-behaved.

The wildest parties that I saw were contained to individual bars or boats away from the general masses, so not having to deal with that kind of crowd (if you’re not feeling up to it) is a huge plus in my opinion.

Crowded Cancun
Yeah, it’s crowded here. Thankfully it’s mostly quiet and peaceful, and I never even saw one person puking on the beach. lol

Cancun is exactly the party town I thought it was

Wait…what? Am I contradicting myself by saying the exact opposite of what I just wrote above? Absolutely not. I think it’s important to expand further on the point I made about the party spots being very localized and sheltered from everything else, that’s all.

While it is true that there isn’t a party on every corner, the parties that I did see were some of the craziest in loudest I’ve seen in a very long time. At least not since my college days! Ahh, to be young again…

For example, there was a large party boat floating around in the bay right outside my window on both nights of my stay which was both highly annoying and highly entertaining at the same time.

Annoying because it was a party boat with loud music and obnoxious DJs right outside my patio window, but entertaining because it looked like one heck of a good time.

Imagine being downwind of high-intensity Mariachi music mixed by a hyperactive Mexican DJ blasting over the loudspeakers just a few hundred feet off your patio when all you want to do is just sit and relax and listen to the crashing waves, and you can understand exactly what I was dealing with.

Good God. Couldn’t they have sailed a little bit further out to sea so as not to annoy all the boring old white tourists such as myself?

Cancun is more beautiful than I thought it would be

Have you ever looked at a travel poster for a tropical beach destination and thought that it looked far too good to be true? I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Cancun over the years that made me have those kinds of thoughts, so I’ve always been a bit skeptical as to what the place really looked like.

Long story short, now that I’ve seen the place with my own eyes, I can vouch for the authenticity of all those ridiculously good-looking travel posters.

That’s not fake news ladies and gentlemen – palm trees, white sandy beaches, and beautiful sparkling-clean turquoise water is abundant in Cancun and you never have to go far to find any of it.

Cancun beach colors
The colors of perfection right there. Does that look inviting, or what?
Cancun sidewalks
The beauty of Cancun extends far beyond the beaches – even the sidewalks felt jungle-like!
SANspotter selfie Cancun
SANspotter, doing what he does best (looking miserable, even at the beach). Ha! I swear to God I was enjoying myself immensely…

I’d go as far as to say that this was probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been – once I got away from the tourist spots, that is. There’s a reason why people flock to Cancun, and I’m now a believer.

Cancun is growing into a very large metropolis

For some reason or another I was totally expecting Cancun to be contained to a very small area with one centralized street with the typical (cheesy) tourist shops. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Cancun is actually a very large city, very spread out, extending well beyond just the tourist spots and hotel zones.

Every cheap American chain restaurant/brand you can think of (I’m talking about you, Applebee’s and Krispy Kreme) is well-represented here and to be honest there were times when I just lost my train of thought for a moment and felt like I had been instantly teleported back to Florida.

I’m serious – I’ll bet you could drop anyone there blindfolded, right in the heart of a really dense area, and they’d have to think really hard for a moment or two about whether or not they are actually in South Florida or Mexico.

For this reason alone, I wish I could’ve seen this place 30 or 40 years ago. I’ll bet it was real nice (and actually a bit Mexican).

I’ll bet you’re just dying to know whether or not I would ever visit Cancun again (voluntarily)

The answer is, without hesitation, yes. Despite the few negative comments above, I really like Cancun! However, in order for me to go back and enjoy myself to the fullest, it would have to be far away from the hotel zones or the main part of town.

Give me a quiet villa in a remote resort far from the hectic activity of central Cancun (plus a margarita) and I’d be very happy gringo. As a matter fact, I’ve actually started looking into something like that already for a future trip. As long as I don’t see – or hear – one party boat, it’s sure to be one heck of a good time.

3 things that will surprise you when visiting Mexico City for the first time

I’m a bit ashamed to write posts like this, because I’m afraid that it exposes my ignorance about the world in general outside the United States.

While I do consider myself to be well traveled, there’s a lot I don’t know and it usually isn’t until I’m standing curbside waiting for a taxi at a new-to-me airport that I start feeling anxiety about my decision to travel so far away from the comforts of home.

My first trip to Mexico City was no different, as I sure as heck didn’t know anything about this place other than what I’ve seen on TV. Tacos, mariachi music, and a smattering of broken Spanish was all I knew as I stepped off the plane – the rest I’d have to figure out as I went along.

But that’s what I love about travel. There’s no need to know everything before you go anywhere – the joy of travel is to learn and grow, discovering who you are as a person when faced with the uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

I’d certainly be a different guy without travel in my life, and I look forward to each new trip as an opportunity to push myself to learn something new and gain appreciation for culture that is not my own.

Discovering Mexico City was a very good experience for me. I’ve never been so deep into the heart of Mexico before, and the things I saw and experienced opened my eyes to the fact that not all of Mexico is like the Pacific cites of Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada.

This is a vibrant country – rich with culture and tradition, pushing aggressively into modernization and the future, but still proud enough of it’s heritage to hold on to it’s roots and not forget about it’s amazing history.

The 3 things that will surprise you when visiting Mexico City the first time

There were a handful of things that really surprised me about this city during my two-day stay, and I’d like to talk briefly about the top three. Yes, I do know that two days is hardly enough time to get aquatinted with a new place, but first impressions are powerful and lasting, and it’s not often I revert back on them for any new place, person, or thing.

1. It’s a big freaking city

Despite what we are led to believe by watching Fox News and CNN, Mexico City is a thriving world-class modern metropolis. I can hear you all sighing with disgust now (“you mean you seriously didn’t know that?”), but hear me out on this: my experience with Mexico is limited. I live 30 miles from the border, so all I hear about are “those damn illegals” and all the crime and corruption going on down there.

The media has even told us to avoid unnecessary travel to Mexico due to risk of kidnapping, theft, or…whatever. The largest city I’ve been to in Mexico before this trip was Tijuana, and I’ll be honest when I say that it’s not a place I would want to live. And even though I started this trip with a bit of skepticism (and feeling prepared for the worst), I immediately found Mexico City to be pleasantly different than my ignorant US-centric assumptions. It’s clean.

Full of happy and patriotic people. And it’s thriving. Everywhere you look there is construction and growth – there is a significant amount of money flowing here and it’s a city on the rise.

Mexico City graffiti
Scenes like this are what I envisioned Mexico City to look like before I went.
mexico city modern architecture
But I was really amazed at how modern and clean the central part of Mexico City is.
mexico city clean streets
City streets were clean, bright, and safe.
angel of independence mexico city
Despite how largely modern the central core of Mexico City is, it’s still rich with history and culture.

2. The altitude is not something to be taken lightly

Mexico City is 2,000 meters (7,382 feet) above sea level, and despite being an avid cyclist in really good shape, it was enough to make it difficult to catch my breath at times. I first noticed it on the morning of the second day as I was lying in bed completely calm, but my breathing was very heavy (almost gasping for air it seemed).

can be a bit of a hypochondriac at times, so right away I was getting worried that there was something very wrong with me. It was a weird sensation to say the least but thankfully it didn’t take long for me to put two and two together to realize that being on the 34th floor of a tall building in a city a mile and a half in elevation probably had something to do with it.

I kept monitoring my breathing all throughout the morning, and then compared it to how it was when I was outside walking. I was breathing much better down on the streets, even while walking at a brisk pace. The difficulty returned only after going back up into my hotel room, so it was quite obvious what was happening.

mexico city high elevation
Breathing might be difficult for some at these altitudes!

3). Crossing the street can be hazardous to your health

I fully admit that I’m writing this with a very sheltered US-centric point of view, but it really amazed me how scary it was to cross streets while walking around Mexico City. Especially in the busy areas and around monuments such as the Angel of Independence.

In that particular example, the only way to get to it is to make a mad dash across one of the busiest streets in the city (Paseo de la Reforma) at any slight break in the traffic flow. There are no designated crosswalks, no “official” place to cross the street, so you basically have to run like hell across a busy thoroughfare to reach the base of this highly popular monument.

The scary part about this is the fact that this is just one example of many that I saw, and it really makes me wonder how many pedestrians are struck by cars here every day.

Walking in Mexico City
Crossing the streets in Mexico City can be a bit dangerous if you aren’t paying attention.
mexico city bike lanes
Despite clearly marked bike paths and pedestrian crosswalks, car traffic is fierce in this city.
angel of independence mexico city
The Angel of Independence monument is located smack dab in the middle of a very busy intersection. Look twice before making a mad dash across the street!
mexico city traffic
Pedestrians waiting for a break in the traffic before crossing the street.

Despite the difficulties of the last two points, I returned home from this trip with a deeper appreciation for the country of Mexico, which is something I am greatly thankful for. The news media here in the US seems obsessed with painting a bad picture of Mexico and it’s people (illegal immigrants are a problem), so it was refreshing to go and see the place for myself – unobscured by the US media filter of doom and gloom.

I felt completely safe, the people were amazingly friendly, and I love how proud Mexicans are of their heritage. My only disappointment is that I wasn’t able to stay longer, though I am feeling confident I’ll be returning again eventually to pick up where I left off.