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Come With Me To Cancun, Mexico: A Travel Diary

Vacation season has landed and our contributor Karen (@themodestmango) had a head start. Here's what she thinks you should do if you find yourself by the blue waters of the Mexican city.
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A Szechuan-born Texas native with a New York-bred attitude, Karen Tang (@themodestmango) is currently based in New York with a big passion for spicy food and chubby kittens. When she isn’t travelling as an engagement manager at a tech company, she’s an avid fitness fan with a penchant for boxing and yoga. Summer’s in the air – and the heat – and having had a head start with vacation season, Karen shares her travel diary from Cancun and some of her favourite spots.

As one of the most popular beach getaway spots in the region, Cancun offered me a perfect blend of restful relaxation and active exploration away from the hustle and bustle of my otherwise hectic city lifestyle. The city of Cancun is located along the coast of Yucatan Peninsula on the southeastern tip of Mexico. Most famously known for its scenic blue Caribbean waters and an easygoing culture, Cancun is the destination to turn the page from any leftover winter blues to a brighter and livelier Spring chapter. Historically, the land was native to the Mayan civilisation several centuries ago, so the Mayan ruins remaining onsite also play a big part in Cancun’s appeal. After spending about a week here, I can tell you that regardless of what kind of trip experience you might be craving – or if you just need some ideas for your upcoming beach vacay somewhere else – there is something here for everyone. Read on for all-you-can-do activities ranked from least to most active.

FOR THE BEACH BUM:

Cancun’s hotel zone, or Zona Hotelera, runs 15 miles (24 km) along the eastern coast of the city and has an extensive row of resorts along the shores. Most of these resorts face the Caribbean Sea and include their own private beaches. If you are looking for the classic but slightly luxe beach experience, resorts are the perfect way to go. You can expect to enjoy your days laying under the beach umbrellas, listening to the sound of ocean waves, or simply lounging in the pool or Jacuzzi, sipping on cocktails or smoothies. I stayed at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun resort. It’s a mouthful to say but I guarantee the beachfront views and resort amenities really hit the spot for someone looking to treat herself while taking it as easy as possible.

 

FOR THE FOODIE ON THE GO:

Since everything is made fresh and local, the food is good just about anywhere here. But if you are looking to try different restaurant vibes, I do have some must-try items off the menu. Guacamole is a must and the best part about it are the guacamole carts with bowls of ingredients brought next to my table and then made live, a common thing in Cancun. Next, tacos. I highly, highly recommend Mextreme for their “Taco Party” tray, where you make five different types of your own. For something fancier, Porfirio for a sunset dinner, but ask for an outdoor seat and get the “Tacos de Canasta”, which features eight little tacos wrapped in a warm blanket and served inside the basket of a mini bicycle, and the “Tuna Carnitas”. How freaking cute is that? And finally, don’t forget mango smoothes and chelarita, a margarita with an upside-down beer bottle stuck to the top.

 

FOR THE TASTE SEEKER:

If you need to get away from the touristy spots but still want to explore, take a 30-minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres. This charming island town lies north of the hotel zone. There are limitless colourful houses along the southern strip where you can rent a golf calf to slowly and serenely take it all in. I stopped by the adorably mango-themed Polos Mango Café for a late lunch – two mango juices and a mango fish taco – but the restaurants here are really just as cute as the island itself. Punta Sur, also in the south, is great for a day at the back and hiking. On the north is Playa Norte, a slightly more commercial beach and shopping alternative. Isla Mujeres was definitely my favourite part of the trip.

 

FOR THE HISTORY BUFF:

One of the most popular sights in Cancun is the Ruins of Tulum, about two to three hours from the hotel zone. Historically, Tulum served as a major trading post for the Mayans and the structures remain to this day. If you are short on time, the El Rey Ruins, only about 20 minutes by car from the hotel zone, is an alternative. While not nearly as majestic as Tulum, it is still a great way to soak in some historical culture. I would recommend setting aside at least half a day for either one of them. If you are looking for a challenge, I recommend visiting Coba as they allow visitors to climb the steep steps of the ruins.

 

FOR THE ADVENTURER: 

If you are the sort who cannot sit still and just want to get out there and see what is in store, I recommend the various water activities in Cancun, particularly scuba diving in the Cancun Underwater Museum. First, you purchase tickets and attend diving lessons through Aquaworld to prep you for your final dive – some 9 metres – into the museum. Then, structured like a tour but with some diving and swimming, you get to see ancient artefacts in the sea along exotic ocean life. How often do you get to visit an underwater museum, and not one where you’re standing behind the glass? Xel-Ha is another aquatic experience where you can do just about everything: snorkelling, water zip landing, boat tours, floating through mangroves on tubes. It is a mix of relaxing and active attractions, and the best part is you are completely remote from any commercial development, allowing you to be fully immersed in the most interactive way possible.

A note on safety: If you have been following Cancun in the news lately, you might have seen the coverage on increased crime rates. It’s quite unfortunate that this has been the case recently, but I did my research before booking this trip and was able to have a fantastic time by staying in the hotel zone and away from Playa del Carmen (where increased violence has taken place). Despite the headlines and personally feeling a bit wary before landing in Cancun, I managed to have a wonderful time here free of worries with no issues along the way. If you are planning a trip here soon, I highly recommend reading up on the latest news just to be cautious and informed. This is a beautiful place and I hope the incidents that have already taken place become a snapshot of the past so everyone can enjoy Cancun free of worries.

What To Read Next: What I Learned From Packing Up And Moving Across The World On My Own, Ask A Londoner: The Best Vintage Shopping Spots In London and KULALA Weekends: The Best Food Trucks In San Francisco Right Now | All images by Karen Tang

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