My Solo Trip to Mexico Part 1: Not Just Tequila and Sombreros :)
I was planning my trip to Mexico for more than two years. It was one of the most important goals to accomplish and I finally made it!
I visited Mexico as a solo traveler and TOTALLY loved it!
Having local friends all around Mexico, I wasn’t even trying to look for a travel companion. Moreover, most of my friends are busy or just have no money for such a trip. So, I decided on a solo trip.
For me, if I just wanted to travel I could pick other much closer and cheaper destinations like Algarve or Rome (with 3-hour flight with Ryanair instead of a 3-day trip with numerous planes, cars, trains, and busses).
But, it is Mexico…
I was dreaming of visiting it for a long time and looking for cheap flights from different cities in Europe. Finally, I found a pretty cheap one from Amsterdam to Cancun that cost 400 euro for a return flight. And I bought it!
Preparations for the Trip
Most of my trips are just weekend trips to one city, maybe visiting 1-2 more. This one was 20-days long and I was planning to visit most of the interesting places in Mexico.
And to be able to be out of work for 20 days, I needed to do a lot of preparations not related to the trip. So, I didn’t really have much time on trip planning.
I asked my Mexican friends for nice places to visit, made a list of all their recommendations, and put the dots on the map creating an itinerary.
No time for them. I just planned points to visit and I booked my first hostel for 4 nights in Cancun. All the rest, I found out on the way.
I just packed my bag and went for the trip!
I knew that Cancun is a super touristic resort and that’s what I was expecting. So, when arriving at the airport, it was more or less what I expected. Lots of people trying to offer you their services.
I took the bus to the center of Cancun. And then, my first cultural shock.
I was expecting to see lots of expensive hotels, lots of travel agencies and companies offering other travel-related services. I saw them… but later.
Bus stations are usually located in the city center, so I was expecting to see some historical center, cute colorful houses, souvenir shops… What I saw was a lot of mess, streets with almost no lights, no road marking, old small buildings painted decades ago, crowds of people (and no tourists at all).
Later, I realized that most of the tourists visiting Cancun, buy tours and they simply go to the tourist area with miles of 5-star hotels where night stay costs more than the amount locals earn per month (around 170 USD in the hotels and restaurant sector).
While in the city center, there are only hostels (mine, among others) and cheap housing where the locals live.
My hostel (Coco hostel) had a pretty good location. From the pictures, it looked very ‘European’, similar to the hostels where I stayed before.
When I arrived, there was another shock to me.
The reception wasn’t inside the building, I could see it from the street, the common area and the kitchen just had 2 walls and a big part of the premises was under the open sky. The pool showing up in all the pictures didn’t have water, I didn’t get the keys to my room and it was never closed, and the showers looked worse than in any hostel I stayed before.
A couple of hours later I got used to that and actually liked it a lot! It had a great atmosphere with many friendly and sociable travelers (and hippies) mostly from Latin America chatting, singing and playing music. The showers inside the rooms weren’t that terrible.
I realized that if it never rains and the temperature is never below 20 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit), there is no sense in building walls and roofs everywhere.
The rooms don’t really need to be closed if the hostel is closed at night and there is always someone on the reception to let people in (or not). And they actually filled in the pool with water in a day or two, but I haven’t even used it.
Many hostels during my trip were similar, some better, some worse but I really enjoyed the atmosphere in ALL the places I stayed in. Before coming to Mexico, I was thinking of staying in private rooms just for safety, but the people staying there weren’t more dangerous than anywhere in Europe, they were regular travelers like me, and mostly from developed countries.
Visiting Cancun and All Quintana Roo
Quintana Roo is the region where Cancun and all other major Mexican resorts are located. Most famous ones are Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar and islands like Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.
I visited most of them, and every place was very beautiful and veeery touristic. And it was during the low season, in February.
Riding a golf cart with Belgian guys I met on the way to Isla Mujeres.
In this post, I’m only telling about my trip, adventures, and experience. I’ll give more tips for planning one on your own in a separate post. But I need to say that in Quintana Roo, you should plan everything in advance. Otherwise, you’ll just feel lost and buy an expensive tour from one of the people on the street who allegedly try to help you.
In some places, I did plan in advance, in some places I didn’t, and finally either arrived at the wrong time (when some attraction was closing) or paid more than I could have.
However, I liked the area. Although not very authentic, it is very beautiful. Check some pictures below:
First Day, First Adventures
When flying from Amsterdam, I had to make a change in Mexico City. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I had to spend about 5 hours at the airport although there were flights to Cancun every hour.
Anyway, I arrived at Cancun, checked in at my hostel, and went for a walk around the city (uselessly, there was almost nothing to see). In the evening, I got to know some people in my hostel, I also looked for people on the Couchsurfing app.
The receptionist also told me there was a dinner organized in a different hostel (but of the same owner). So, we decided to go there.
It was empty, and they were charging for food double the price you get around the city. We decided to leave, and have a snack at the main square with lots of street food vendors.
There are dozens of Mexican dishes with different names and different recipes in different regions. However, they look very similar and have very similar ingredients. Somehow, they still taste different, and really goood.
I’m not a foodie, I eat everything, and I was lost in all the variety of Mexican food, so it’s now hard for me to recommend you something. What I recommend is to try everything and choose your favorite!
Don’t be afraid that something is gonna be very spicy. In most of the cases, you’re the person to put a spicy sauce in the dish, so you can control how spicy you want it to be.
After a snack, we decided to go to meet one Mexican guy from Couchsurfing. He was also hosting one German-Peruvian girl (what a beautiful mix!), and somewhere she met two Austrian 19-year-old girls on their gap year (before, they visited Bolivia and Peru – and I thought visiting Mexico alone was crazy…).
We met in some hostel where they had really good live music in the bar. We stayed there for a while, then went to another hostel, where the Couchsurfing guy had friends, then went to the hostel of the Austrian girls (what a hostel crawl…), where some people were playing Flip-cup.
We decided to join them. We were playing against girls, then we lost, and had to take off our shirts, then there was karaoke… Finally, we finished around 4 am, about 24 hours after I woke up during the landing in Mexico City.
A Very Random Day
I don’t want to tell every detail of every day of my trip, but this one was really random…
I woke up pretty late. Jet lagging or just because of the long previous day. We decided to meet with the Austrian girls on the beach. They said more or less the time they leave but they didn’t have a local sim card, so they couldn’t contact me later. I just went there a bit later and decided that I might find them on the beach somewhere.
When I arrived, I saw a lot of people and realized that it would be hard to find them. And a second later I look to the left and I see the Austrian girls also looking at the beach.
A few hours lazy laying on the beach later, I just looked right, and I saw a French guy I knew who was on an exchange program in Poznan, the city where I study. And he was with a Mexican girl he also met here.
We started to talk and went to the water together. When going back to my place, I saw a group of about 10 people from my hostel. Just for you to understand how random it was, the coastline only of the Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera) is about 15km (almost 10 miles), and everybody just appeared in the same place.
Into the Unknown
Spending time in Cancun and all region of Quintana Roo was nice.
A very relaxing atmosphere, nice people, beautiful places…
But it was all similar to my regular resort trips like when I was in Mallorca and Lagos.
I was first a bit afraid to go further. While I’ve been to over 30 countries in Europe, I knew all the small details about trip planning and how everything works there.
But it was my first time in Latin America. And, I was traveling there alone with some Mexican friends thousands of kilometers away, no accommodation in the next place and almost no booked buses to go further. So, I had to find out how everything works on my own and from the experience.
Fortunately, everything turned out to be pretty organized and not as hard to understand as I thought.
My first stop after Cancun was Valladolid. I didn’t know what to do there, I just knew that it’s pretty nice.
When I arrived, I saw a luggage storage room at the bus station (fortunately, such there are such rooms in every major station). I was going to stay there for a couple of hours, and the price was relatively low.
So, I left my bag there and headed to the tourist office (I had a Mexican sim card and a downloaded offline map of Valladolid). There, they didn’t speak English but fortunately, I know some Spanish and understand much more, so I asked for things to do there, and the guy recommended me a couple of places.
I visited a museum in the same building. It was free to enter, had almost nothing interesting to see apart from a nice view on the main square of the city.
I walked on the quiet streets with almost no tourists and colorful houses along them really enjoying the time and laid-back atmosphere of the city.
There were a couple of particular attractions to visit in Valladolid. I decided to skip all the other museums and go to the cenote Zaci, have lunch at the restaurant that the tourist office guy recommended me and visit the local convent and take a taxi to Chichen Itza next to it.
I haven’t been to any cenote in Quintana Roo, but I really wanted to visit one. Cenote Zaci was amazing (and amazingly cheap to enter – just 30 pesos, less than $2). I really wanted to jump into one and make a video of it. Was pretty high, so I needed some time to decide but I finally jumped!
It seemed like a veeery long jump, and I finally got into the water. I had an amazing feeling. Both relief of the fact that I finally did it and freshness from the water during this hot day (even in February).
Valladolid has a 1 hour difference of time zones with Cancun, so it was one hour earlier there. I woke up early to take the bus and had breakfast before 8. So, I was very hungry when I went to the restaurant in Valladolid at 12, but for them, it’s not the time for lunch, so they only served breakfast, so I had scrambled eggs for the second meal in a row 😀
In many places in Mexico, there is often no difference in the prices of taxis and buses. So, you can have a 1-hour ride on a taxi for just $3-5. Depends on the area of Mexico, but the south is poor and cheap. The guy in the tourist office told me that convent is a good place to catch a taxi and it’s not as expensive as taking one in the bus station.
I followed his advice, but haven’t seen any taxis there. I found a taxi station, but they were only operating within the city, not going to Chichen Itza. So, finally, I returned to the bus station and took a bus there.
So many events, places, and faces, right? It may seem that by that moment, I’m already traveling for two weeks, but I was in Chichen Itza on the fifth day of my solo trip to Mexico! I’ll write about the continuation of my adventures in the next article.
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