Cancun has something to offer everyone from luxury hotels to one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, here are just of few of the things we saw and experienced on our holiday.
by dkm1981 on March 7, 2010
La Isla mall is located in the centre of the Zona Hotelera in Cancun, right opposite the purple-painted Westin Hotel. All of the buses that run through the hotel zone stop outside the mall, making it easily accessible from anywhere in the area. It’s a shopper’s paradise, offering everything from clothes to jewellery, souvenirs to expensive gifts and a good selection of cafes and bars offering a place to rest your weary feet.It is well presented and, even for those who don’t love shopping, it’s a pleasure to wander round its various water features and well maintained walkways. Running through the centre of the mall is a canal that is lined with pedalos and little boats, which can be hired if you so wish. The canal is obviously designed to bring a little Venetian sophistication to the mall although, needless to say, it doesn’t quite have the same impact and beauty.There are plenty of shops to keep shopaholics happy – many familiar big names have establishments here, including Zara, Reebok and Lacoste. There are also plenty of boutiques, offering an array of unique items and offbeat clothes. For those who like to bag a bargain, there’s a large duty free shop. It looks very much like one you’d see in an airport and carries very much the same range – fragrances, beauty products, electrical goods and toys. La Isla mall is a souvenir hunter’s dream as well, with a staggering number of shops packed to the rafters with every kind of gift you can imagine, each offering ‘the best prices in town’.Catering for the huge number of American visitors to this part of Mexico, there is a massive Hooters Bar, which offers burgers and beers in laid back surroundings. There’s also an ‘authentic’ American diner that is worth a visit. Its fun, the prices are very reasonable and the soda floats and milkshakes are to die for! Aside from these, there are plenty of other places to take a fuel stop – coffee shops, cafes and food stands can be found scattered liberally around the mall.If you are looking for something to do other than shop, a very popular place is the interactive aquarium, where you can swim with dolphins or dive with sharks for a handsome sum. For the basic entrance fee, you’ll get a pretty fun couple of hours interacting with rays and macaws as well as watching many of the most popular sea dwellers.It doesn’t really get busy as the place is well large enough to cope with many visitors, although it’s advisable to eat outside the lunchtime rush (11am until 1pm) to get the best service in the restaurants.The shopping mall, for the most part, is covered, so it’s a great place to visit if the weather isn’t at its best. There’s plenty enough to do to keep you entertained for an afternoon – or even a full day at a push. It’s a pleasant place to wander round and makes a nice change from sitting around and sunbathing.
by dkm1981 on February 28, 2010
Only a fifteen minute ferry ride away from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a world away from its rather louder and brasher mainland neighbour and despite its popularity amongst day trippers, it offers a quaint and often calming atmosphere against the stunning backdrop of the Caribbean Sea.Since it offers fantastic opportunities for snorkelers and scuba divers, as well as those in search of an encounter with dolphins, there are a great number of trips available from mainland Cancun. However I would strongly urge you to explore the island under your own steam – it is certainly cheap enough and easy enough to do so. You can get a ferry every half an hour during the day from three different points in Cancun for a very reasonable $15US return per person. On disembarking from the ferry, you’ll be greeted by an astonishing number of sellers all offering you ‘fantastic’ and ‘cheaper than anywhere else’ trips to the islands many attractions. Battling through this tiny onslaught will find you in Punta Norte, the island’s main ‘town’, but more on that later. Your first stop should undoubtedly be at one of the shops that rent out golf buggies. There are hundreds of them and finding one close by isn’t difficult.Now why on earth would I want to hire a golf buggy I hear you cry! Well the short answer is that it is the done thing. The long answer is that it is a cheap, easy and, most importantly, a fun way to get around the island. The island comprises of one main road that circumnavigates it quite nicely and, at any one time, there are up to 500 buggies doing just that! It costs about $25US dollars to hire a buggy for a day and you’ll need to leave some kind of identification as a deposit. For that princely sum, you’ll get the most rickety machine you’ve ever entrusted your life to, a key and a driving lesson that is so quick that you’ll miss it if you blink. It’s not too hard to work out though – there is one forward and one reverse gear as well as two pedals, one that says ‘go’ and the other ‘stop’.Once you’ve picked up your trusty stead, you are free to explore the islands many great pleasures. Going in a southerly direction, your first stop will be the turtle sanctuary. For an entrance fee of around 50p, you’ll be donating to a worthy cause in the preservation of the endangered sea turtles that are bred for release into the wild. You can see the turtles in varying stages of their lives from the newly hatched babies to the giants that swim in the sea.On the way back down the little road stop at the ‘Island that Floats on Plastic Bottles’ – it’s a quirky little island that has been built by its rather eccentric owner who’ll take you on a guided tour if he’s around. Next stop is the Garrafon Park where you can take a swim in the magnificent blue waters, enjoying a little snorkelling if it takes your fancy. For the more adventurous, there is a series of fairly high zip wires to enjoy or you can have a go at ‘snuba’ which is a funny-looking set up that allows you to walk under water.At the Southern most point of the island is the Sculpture Park and Templo de Ixchel. Another 50p entry fee allows you to wander around the park which showcases various sculptures from artists around the world whilst admiring the absolutely breathtaking views. The Templo de Ixchel is a Maya ruin that has taken a severe battering over time, but the walk around it is an absolute must. You can walk down the side of the cliff to the waters edge where there are now barriers between you and the crashing waves. This in itself is rather unnerving, but well worth it. Back up the cliff are a selection of cafes and shops, which make it an ideal place for a refreshing ice cream before heading back to the car park where you have the challenge of distinguishing your own buggy from the thirty or so other identical ones! Heading back north along the main road you’ll have to mind the speed bumps which are alarmingly high when you go over them in a golf cart (that incidentally couldn’t possibly reach anything near a high speed). Along here you’ll pass the islands tiny ‘airport’ and a rather ingenious conch shell shaped house. On your right hand side is miles and miles of crystal clear sea. We stopped here for a photo opportunity and I have to say it’s the closest I’ve felt to being stranded in paradise. The miles of white sand are virtual empty and it is truly possible to feel at one with nature.Continuing along this road will take you back into the main town. Here is the only place where you feel a little intimidated in your little buggy – narrow streets lined with shops criss cross the area and people and cars dominate the roads. Don’t feel too alarmed though, the drivers are obviously accustomed to the buggy and are very considerate of them. The tourists not so much! Stop outside the cemetery and wander around the unnaturally brightly coloured tombstones. I’ve been to a few cemeteries in my time and I have to say that this is the most colourful and clean looking one I’ve ever seen. The graves are covered in what looks like bathroom tiles and it looks more like a children’s play area than the resting place of the island’s dead. It takes less than an hour to wander the streets of Punta Norte and there are plenty of opportunities to pick up some cheap souvenirs and sample some Maya cuisine before returning your buggy. This in itself is quite a challenge as all the streets are one way and many are pedestrianised – you’ll find yourself feeling like you are in some kind of life-sized logic puzzle before very long!If you are in Cancun, I can’t recommend a trip to Isla Mujeres enough – it offers a fantastic chance to explore and quaint, beautiful and fun island in the most novel way possible. It is an absolute must visit place for anyone in the area.
by dkm1981 on February 18, 2010
Now, when you go all the way across the world (well eleven hours in a plane anyway), you don’t expect to spend money on visiting the equivalent of the Sea Life Centre, but that is exactly where we found ourselves on our third day in Cancun, Mexico. The truth was, we’d gone to do some tax free shopping because the weather was a little cloudy. We were happily wandering around the open air shopping mall, La Isla, in the Zona Hotelera, when the heavens quite literally opened. Running to the only shelter in the mall, we found ourselves looking directly into the eyes of a scuba diver. Further inspection told us that this was the Interactive Aquarium Cancun, and the scuba diver was part of a huge tank filled with sunken ships and all manner of sea creatures designed to entice people to experience the pleasures within. I have been to many an aquarium in my time and I’ve walked under the shark tanks, marvelled at the scenes from Finding Nemo and been disgusted by the oh-so-pointless jellyfish that they contain, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of another one. But, as the other half pointed out, the rain wasn’t going anywhere and this was an indoor activity.So we each swapped our 140 Mexican Pesos (around £7) for a rather snazzy green wristband and in we went and I have to say I’m glad we did; it was a lot of fun and, surprisingly enough, we did things we’d never done before. The aquarium isn’t particularly large, but it is very well laid out and we spent just under two hours in there. The first room you go into has a series of tanks that contain all kinds of sea creatures. The focus is on learning about their habitats and food, so there are large informative placards next to each tank. Did you know that the jelly fish’s main predator is the giant turtle? (Another fantastic reason for making sure the giant turtle doesn’t become extinct, if you ask me). There are a number of fascinating creatures in here, from flat fish that blend against their surroundings, rather like a chameleon, to jelly fish that actually glow. If you look up to the roof, you’ll see the bottom of a huge tank from the floor above and you’ll catch a glimpse of a stingray or even a shark.Once you’ve left the darkness of the aquarium behind, you’ll go out into the interactive area where there are huge tanks with stingray, sharks, turtles, starfish and even crocodiles. The first tank has a big sign on that reads ‘before touching a shark, please speak to a keeper’. I wasn’t sure if this was one of those occasions where a sentiment has been lost in translation. Surely no-one would voluntarily touch a shark? But no, there were people lining up to feed the inhabitants of the pool. It was actually the stingrays that people were touching (it seems that it changes from day to day). I have no desire whatsoever to touch anything that can kill you, but I was happy to take photos as the other half stuck is hand into the tank. Apparently, one side feels like a cheap carpet and the other feels like jelly. Interesting, but I’ll take his word for it. At the other side of this area, strangely enough, are some macaws that are very happy to jump on your arm, spread their wings and pose for a photograph – some of them will even wave! Again I chickened out, but the other half was happy to oblige in a photo opportunity. He finished it with slightly scratched arms and a strong smell of fish, but he said it was worth it!Next come the dolphins. The aquarium offers a series of different packages where you can interact with the dolphins, play with them, swim with them and even become a trainer for a day. We opted to just look at them, but if you are interested there are prices on the website - www.aquariumcancun.com.mx – and any member of the staff, both inside and outside, will be happy to help.Finally there is a huge shark tank which you can observe from two floors. If you are feeling particularly brave, you can observe from inside the tank by opting for the ‘diving with sharks’ package, which lowers you into the middle of the tank in an acrylic box. Again we chose not to do this, but the people that had done, looked delighted (if not a little scared) by their decision.Aside from all this, there is also a pretty good gift shop offering all of the standard souvenirs and cuddly toys, as well as a restaurant.I wouldn’t recommend you make a bee line for the Interactive Aquarium Cancun, but if you are struggling for something to do on a rainy day, it’s absolutely worth a visit. We had a very enjoyable afternoon and the rain had stopped by the time we left – perfect!
by dkm1981 on February 11, 2010
The Riu Caribe (pronounced Ree-oo Careebay and not the ridiculous way many others have settled on) is an all inclusive resort located in the Hotel Zone of Cancun. It’s a five star hotel and its copious amounts of facilities mean it is worth every one its official stars. On a personal level, I’d give it four stars, we had a fantastic time and the hotel was great, but there are others in the world that are a little more luxurious.*Location*The Hotel Zone is Cancun’s tourist area and is home to hundreds of sprawling hotel complexes brought to you by the world’s biggest hotel chains. The Riu Caribe is located at the end of the Hotel Zone, closer to Downtown Cancun than the central area. We found that the location was perfect as it wasn’t right in the centre where all the noisy clubs and bars are, but it was just a short bus ride into the action. The buses stop right outside the hotel and are only about 35p per journey. If you do go into the centre, there is another Riu hotel called the Rui Cancun which you have full and free access to, including all restaurants and facilities.*Checking In*This was expertly done, by people who have obviously done it several thousand times before. All the facilities were explained to us and the location of the main restaurants and bars. We were given safe keys (no extra charge) and a few bits of advice and general information. The whole process took about five minutes and was seamless – much appreciated after almost 16 hours of travelling!*The Rooms*The rooms are large and spacious and have all the facilities that you need. Some people on other sites have commented that they could do with an upgrade. I would agree that the furniture is a little dated, but it is all extremely clean and serves its purpose. The bathrooms are lovely with sunken baths, powerful (and hot) showers, a hairdryer that certainly put my own to shame, and inexplicably a bottle opener attached to the wall!All of the rooms come complete with a free mini-bar that is refilled every two days with plenty of water, soft drinks and beer. There is also cupboard that contains vodka, brandy, rum and tequila on optics, which is also checked and refilled every two days. There are ice machines on every floor too, so you can enjoy your favourite tipple any time you like!All of the rooms have a stunning sea view and balcony; although the balconies are glass fronted so don’t offer much privacy. I would recommend asking for a room on the higher floors (ideally above the third floor) – not only are the views better from up here, but they are also further away from the bar area so there is no noise at night.*Food and Drink*The hotel is a 24 hour all inclusive resort and as such, you can get a staggering amount of food and drink any time you want. The main buffet restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with only half an hour breaks in between each serving. The selection of food available is incredible and the quality is not far behind. Even the most fussy of eaters will find something they like (including burgers, chips and pizzas), whilst the more adventurous will be able to tickle their taste buds with caviar, shellfish and odd looking fruits and vegetables. There are also three a la carte restaurants offering Asian, Steakhouse and Mexican cuisine. You have to book for all three restaurants although you don’t have to pay anything for them. The booking process is simple – there’s no need to get up early or wait in a queue – just visit the Mexican restaurant sometime in the morning and you can request a table at any of the restaurants over the following few days. There is only the Steakhouse that is actually a la carte – the others are simple buffets in smaller rooms – and it also offers al fresco dining overlooking the beach and sea. This was definitely the best one in my opinion, both for food and location. The Asian is a buffet using the guise of ‘show cooking’, but offers a change of scenery from the standard restaurant and the food is delicious. The most disappointing of the three in my opinion was the Mexican. As I expected the food was authentic and nothing like the Old El Paso kits you buy here, in fact the only thing I recognised was fajitas. The disappointing thing though, was that the food was completely tasteless. I was expecting plenty of spices and flavour, but actually found that it was impossible to discern any flavour at all. It seems that many other guests had the same feelings as us about this as well, which is such a shame.For those of you who want to drink until the wee small hours, there are numerous bars around the hotel, including a sports bar that also offers 24 hour snacks in the way of sandwiches, pastries and fruit. Make sure you have a look at the cocktail menus as there are some colourful and delicious concoctions available and I found it a perfect place to experiment away from my usual ‘safe choice’ of a Pina Colada!*Facilities*As I said, it is in this section that the hotel earns every one of its five stars – the facilities available cover just about everything you could possible want and/or need. There’s a huge swimming pool that is easily big enough to accommodate those people just wanting a relaxing swim even when there is an event such as volley ball taking place. For those who are a little more adventurous, try one of the free activities which include kayaking, snorkelling, sailing, hiring a pedalo or even taking a scuba diving taster session in the diving pool. The beach is gorgeous – everything you imagine a beach in the Caribbean would be and the waters are crystal clear. It’s a private beach and the sun beds are free and plentiful, which makes for excellent sunbathing for those who just want to relax.Away from the water there is a full spa (local charges applicable) as well as tennis courts, pool tables, table tennis, gift shops, a supermarket, kids club and so on; the list is indeed endless! Our particular favourite activity was whiling away the evening in one of the hammocks. They are located at the edge of the beach and are surprisingly comfortable for a bit of net hung between two bits of wood!*Tips / Other Information* -Don’t take food on the beach, because the seagulls will swoop down within seconds and you’ll struggle to get rid of them.-There are people selling all manner of things on the beach, from cigars to handbags, but they are not at all intrusive and don’t even speak to you unless you look like you might be interested in what they have to sell.-If you can’t live without internet access, there’s computers in the sports bar that are available for a small charge or you can take your own and use the free wi-fi in the lobby bar.-The resort is very popular with American holiday-makers, so all of the prices are quoted in dollars and you can pay in dollars as well. Also expect to see lots of American sports shown in the sports bar. Don’t worry though, one of the many screens in there usually has one Premier League game or another on!-Many people on other reviews sites have said that the service was terrible but vastly improved with tipping. I have to disagree – I found the service to be mediocre at breakfast and very good at dinner, regardless of the tipping. However I would remind people that a buffet does have very limited scope for offering good service, so don’t expect the world. In terms of tipping, there are no set rules and we found that we tipped when we felt it was worthy – much of the time we got our own drinks as well, so didn’t feel the need to tip.*Overall*I would highly recommend Cancun as a holiday destination and I the Riu Caribe as a great resort to stay. The food, service and facilities were all excellent for the most part and the location and beached were excellent. It is everything you’d expect and want for the price you pay and as I said earlier, the only reason I’m not giving it five stars is because there are more luxurious hotels out there!*For Information*I’m always reluctant to give prices as they go out of date so quickly, but just to give you some idea of value for money:We paid just over £1800 for two adults, for 11 nights all-inclusive, flying from Manchester in January 2010.
by dkm1981 on February 16, 2010
Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and is probably the most popular tourist attraction amongst the millions of visitors to Cancun. It is undoubtedly the most impressive, largest and most extensively restored of the Maya ruins and, in 2007, it became one of the 7 New Wonders of the World after a worldwide vote.The simplest way to get there is by an organised tour from your hotel although it is possible to go via public transport if you want a cheaper option and are feeling adventurous. The entrance fee is around £5 although it is worthwhile going on a guided tour if you want to learn something of the history of this impressive site.The site is made up of a series of various structures and buildings, the most famous of which is the impressive El Castillo Pyramid. The pyramid is right in the centre of the site and is impressive in its stature. Once upon a time you could climb the stairs on the sides of the pyramid but in the interests of preserving the structure, you are no longer permitted to do so. Aside from the obvious benefits of this decision, I think it’s a good idea as it means you can take good pictures without hordes of tourists blocking your view! The pyramid was built with the calendar very much in mind – there is one step for every day of the year and, supposedly, you can see the shadow of a serpent on the side of it at the spring and autumn Equinox, thanks to the way the light filters through the top.The most interesting structure in my opinion was the Great Ball Court. It was the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica and stands at 166m by 68m, surrounding by imposing 12m high walls. The game was played in front of large crowds and had the sort of following that you found in the gladiator fights of Rome. The idea was that two opposing teams would try to score ‘goals’ by getting the ball through the small hoop at the top of the two side walls of the court without touching the ball with their hands. The tension was high in the game as there was a lot at stake – the captain of the losing team would be decapitated. Like the rest of the site, the Great Ball Court has been very well maintained and there are some excellent depictions of the game carved into the walls.The Mayan people settled here at Chichen Itza because of the natural water holes (Cenotes) that can be found in the area. The name itself comes from the Maya words for ‘at the mouth of the well of Itza’. The Cenote Sagrado within the site was an ancient place of pilgrimage. Many items have been found in the Cenote, including pottery, jewellery and even human remains, which are believed to have been sacrifices to the rain god, Chaac.Chichen Itza is a fascinating place that allows you to immerse yourself in the history of the Maya civilisation. It is impressive to behold and wondering around the massive site is a belittling and intriguing experience. However, it is a tourist trap and evidence of this is there every step of the way. I was very surprised to find that souvenir sellers are allowed into the actual grounds of the site and you’ll find every one of the ancient roads lined with stalls selling every kind of souvenir you can imagine. The sellers are fairly intrusive, plugging their wares as ‘almost free’ and ‘cheaper than Walmart’, and if you show any signs of interest at all they pounce straight on you. I personally didn’t buy anything and thought that the fact they were there at all was more than a little distasteful.Overall, Chichen Itza is a fascinating place that must feature on every visitor’s ‘to-do’ list, after all, it isn’t every day that you get to visit one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, but do be prepared for the fact that it does come with all the trappings of a popular tourist destination.
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