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Cancun Trip Guide and Salsa Dance Report

By SalsaCrazy

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Well, I told you I was going to Cancun, and I did.  Just like this Salsera before me, I traveled the longer than expected trip from San Francisco to Cancun (6 hours by plane) on April 18th , 2001, and stayed a full week through the 25th.  This will be a rather long article (ok, itís REALY REALLY LONG), so if you want to skip directly to the salsa dancing portions, just click the link, otherwise, read on! If you are traveling there, I recommend reading the entire article as there are many invaluable tips spread throughout.    

Overall, the trip was a lot of fun, and I would recommend Cancun as a vacation spot to almost anyone. Cancun has gorgeous beaches, fantastic weather (In April, the weather was 80-90ís with high humidity and light breezes), and nonstop nightlife.  Iíd watch out before going in the summer as it gets VERY hot.  Note, we went right after Spring Break, and unless you are 18-22 and VERY into tons of people I would not recommend traveling to Cancun during Spring Break (March 15-April 15th). The week after was great.  The crowd in Cancun is very diverse in ages, but was mostly made up of Americans, Canadians and Europeans. Anyway, I donít think Iíll go back for quite some time as there are too many other great places to go in the world, but someday Iíll return.  It mixes a Las Vegas feel with Mexico.  It kind of reminded me of Southern California.

First, the bookings. We researched our options very thoroughly before leaving.  We looked at Suntrips, Apple Vacations, FunJet, and Runaway Tours. We opted for Runaway because we had a friend there, but really, almost any of these tour companies have their pros and cons.  Runaway (a local travel company) was very reliable, and I would recommend them. Suntrips was the only carrier from San Francisco to offer a direct charter flight, leaving at midnight. We opted however to travel on American Airlines with a stop in Texas.  The flight is longer than I expected Ė between 5 or 6 hours, and it took the better part of a day to make it there.

Hotels. Probably our biggest decision! I love fancy hotels and Cancun has a ton of them.  We narrowed our decision down to the Hyatt Cancun Caribe, The Fiesta Americana Condesa, and the Continental Plaza.  We chose the Fiesta American Condesa because it was the highest rated (in all the tour guide travel brochures. and on the message boards) and a little farther away from the ďmainĒ tourist strip.  I envisioned a true luxury hotel, and my star-filled eyes couldnít see past the marketing hype.  What we got was a fantastic lobby, a great pool area, a fairly nice beach, a not-so-great room (terrible bathroom), and laughably bad service (although they did improve as the trip went on).  In hindsight I would say, stay on the strip and go with the cheapest you can find.  What you should be concerned with is the hotelís location, room, pool and beach.  If the room is the most important thing to you, then you want to choose a high-end hotel, if the beach is the most important you HAVE to check the beach at every hotel.  Many high end hotels have lousy beaches! A deck is also a big plus.  In short, you want one.  The fifteen or so minutes I spent every morning out on our deck, looking at the swaying palms and into the endless clear blue crystal waters, was a highpoint of the trip.

There is one level higher than the hotel we chose. There is the Ritz and the Fiesta Americana Gran Coral Beach.  My advice is this Ė if you have the money and you want the absolute best, do the Ritz (the prices were the same). The Fiesta Americana chain was mediocre, and our trip to the Gran Coral Beach to check it out, showed the service to be sub-par.  However, the Ritz, was awesome! Great rooms, great service, very nice. What do you expect . . . itís the Ritz.

What I would recommend is going one to two stars lower than what we went.  Youíll get ALL the benefits of our vacation, youíll save some cash, and youíll probably get a better room.  The downside is . . . you might not have a huge lobby, or as nice a pool area.  The beach will, more than likely, be the same.  If we were to go back we would either stay at the Ritz (if I win the lottery) or the Contintental Plaza (which is very well located 3-4 stars, that is perfectly priced). Weíd also think about the Hyatt Cancun Caribe.  Specifically, we would not stay at the Fiesta Americana chain.

Cost: What exactly is the difference between hotels and how much does all this cost?  Ok, our hotel and air costs $2400, roughly $1200 a person, for an 8 day trip.  If we had gone with a cheaper hotel, like the Continental Plaza (which the previous Salsera recommended), we could have gone for roughly $250 - $300 cheaper (per person).  This is what I recommend. It is possible, with even cheaper hotels, to go for between 600-800 per person (through Suntrips).  My advice is to stay on the hotel strip, and stay as close to the northern edge of the strip as possible (if you are interested in nightlife or visiting Cancun city).

The Beach Chair Hysteria!  This was one of the funniest things on our trip.  How an easy trip down to the pool can turn into a search and destroy mission for a lounge chair.  As we were told when we arrived there, and as we experienced first hand, beach chairs go quickly.  By 7am, most chairs had a towel or book on them, as a show of being reserved, and by 9am, forget it Ė thereís not a beach chair to be found for miles. 

It turns out most people just reserve chairs (by placing a towel or book on them) and then never return.  Itís like dogs claiming their space by peeing on trees. Was this just an experience at our hotel? Are beach chairs plentiful in the rest of Cancun or is there a beach chair shortage throughout the city?  Well, it turns out, this is not an isolated incident.  Beach chairs are highly coveted at all the hotels.  Now, donít get me wrong, itís not that there arenít a LOT of beach chairs, but there are A LOT of people as well.  It seemed that as our vacation went on, there were less people, which had a noticeable effect on the patience needed to secure a chair.

There is a secret here.  Just find chairs you like, even if they are covered by towels.  Ask the people next to the empty chairs if theyíve seen people there (chances are they havenít). Touch the towels and see if they are wet.  If all seems ok, just remove the towel, fold it up, and place it behind the chair.  Plop down and relax.  Chances are youíll be ok, and saved yourself at least a Ĺ hour of searching.

The AI versus Non-AI dilemma!  Should your trip be all-inclusive or not?  For those of you that are unaware (as I was), an all-inclusive vacation is a vacation that includes all your food and beverages at the hotel you are staying at.  If you are a big-eater or heavy drinker, you can get a great package rate that includes all of that stuff at your hotel.  This is a great deal IF you are going to spend a lot of time at your hotel, hanging out by the pool/ocean OR you are going to return to your hotel for your 2-3 meals a day.  Since Iím not a heavy drinker, and I love to go out to eat, we opted against the AI plan.  The food we saw, included in the AI plan, didnít have a great deal of variety.

The need for water!  This is an expense we hadnít planned for.  While you can get purified water most of the time, youíve got to buy water the rest of the time (if not all of the time).  Most hotels have a purified water tap, but we chose to just stick with bottled water.  Unless you find a cheap place to buy it, it can cost up to $4 a bottle in the hotel zone! Be careful.  We went through at least 3-4 bottles (big bottles) of water a day.  For cheap water I recommend the grocery story in the Kukulcan Shopping mall.  We got our water there (many bottles at a time) and lugged it back to the hotel.  Actually, I was just reminded that the cheapest water we found was by the sole Laundromat in the hotel zone (the shop right next door, see below).

Public Transportation: Living in San Francisco this can be a frightening thought, however in Cancun, the public bus system is great! Tons of busses - never more than a few minute wait (even at 3 am), the busses will carry you along 24 hours a day, very quickly, to your destination. Cheap ($.50) for one way trip! Safe and clean as well - we saw one minor scuffle (by drunk Americans) the entire time we were there.  Busses are the only way to get around and the best! While cabs are plentiful, we never took one the entire time we were there.  The bus system is just too good.

Safety: Let's talk safety! This is pretty personal opinion as I always err on the side of excess caution, but overall Cancun is quite  safe.  Most of what you have to fear is going to be petty theft, and even that is very rare.  The hotel zone is safe at all hours. It just requires the same cautious behavior you would use anywhere.  The city requires a little more street smarts, but not much.  These places are pretty darn well-lit and busy.  The only problems we saw were caused by drunken people (and there are a LOT of drunk people).  The salsa clubs are very  safe - however places like Fat Tuesday's and Carlos n' Charlies are crammed with drunk teens!   

 

NECESSARY TOOLS 

The CanDo Cancun map! These maps are part guidebook, part map, and are HIGHLY recommended.  This is simply the best map you can get if you are going to visit Cancun. We used it everywhere, and if offers invaluable guidance.  I listed the website, and recommend these maps to help you out with where to stay, where to eat, and where to party.  Yes, it even lists Salsa Clubs!

Brant Bostonís 2x1 dining/club card! This is worth the prices of reading this long article right here.  This 2 for 1 card saves you a ton of money, and is well worth the $15 price. If you are not going all inclusive (and even if you are, but you are going to eat our once or twice), there are many GREAT restaurants supported on the card, and I highly recommend you check it out. It allows you to get reduced prices and entrees free and many Cancun hotspots.  A real money-saver!  In addition, Brant himself is a treasure trove of information about Cancun.  We had the card mailed to us prior to the trip (he will also deliver it to your hotel if you want), and offered us keen insights into what was hot (and not-so-hot) in Cancun.

 

WHAT TO DO AND SEE 

Chichen-itza: Chicken Pizza Ė the Mayan ruins.  We booked a tour through VI travel (our Runaway tours representative in Mexico).  They booked us on the Cancun Lines tour and it was great!  The guides were professional, knowledgeable, and funny Ė I would recommend this tour company. This is a long trip (2 Ĺ hours each way from the ruins), and the Cancun Lines people treat you right.  The tour included transport to/from hotel on a nice air conditioned bus, lunch buffet, and guided tour of the ruins (and all the Corona you can drink). It was $65 a person.  The highlight of the ruins is the one structure (pyramid/temple) that people are still allowed to climb.  You can climb up the 90 or so steps to the top of this pyramid, but be warned, climbing back down is a harrowing experience.  When I got up to the top, most people were terrified, clinging to the sides of the temple.  There were people crying and having panic attacks.  There are two sides you can climb, one with a rope. My advice Ė use the rope!  I had no problem bolting up the side of the temple.  When I got to the top, and looked down, whoa . . . not as easy.  You can also walk down inside the temple, but neither one of us did that.  Itís cramped and not good for people who even have slight claustrophobia.  Bring water Ė itís hot, and there is not a lot of shade.  One note Ė the buffet lunch was the best lunch I had on the trip. Something about that Habanero sauce in the little town we ate in . . .

Isla Mujeres (the Island of the Women): Located slightly off the Coast of Cancun, we opted to go solo, versus a guided tour.  We took the ferry over (the local ferry from Puerto Juarez) to the Island and explored it on our own. There are more expensive ferries you can take from the Hotel Strip, but I recommend just hopping the bus and taking the ferry from Puerto Juarez.  Beautiful beaches, less people, and cool shops.  I recommend doing your shopping here as it helps the people on the island.  We didnít have lunch here, but we did have some amazing Guacamole.  Itís a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere, and a highlight of our trip.  We even rented a golf cart and toured the island.  If youíre visiting Cancun Ė visit the island! 

Downtown Cancun: We only made it here once (to have dinner and go to a salsa club). From our Hotel it was kind of a long bus ride (30 minutes). The food is less expensive and was very good. We visited Stefanoís (member of the 2 for 1 card) and had great service, awesome food, and good drinks.  Itís an Italian place and has great pasta (with seafood of course). Also, the city has the cheapest internet cafťís (by far) at only $.50 an hour.  Thereís a lot of shopping to be done there, but honestly, we only went once Ė had a great time and would recommend visiting.

Doing the Laundry: Yes, we did the laundry in Cancun Ė yes, because of the heat and humidity you go through a lot of clothes. Yes, there is one Laundromat on the Hotel strip (if your hotel doesnít offer laundry service), and finally, yes this is where you can find your cheap water.  Located on the North End of the strip, itís on the map.

SALSA DANCE CLUBS

General Comments: Beautiful clubs!  Not many (if ANY) dance partners for men.  Mostly couples in the clubs! For women, the waiters will dance with you (especially at Batacha), for men, there were more available single women at Batacha as well.  I saw a couple of women at Azucar, but not plentiful by any means. I think the number of people available to dance, on any given night, is going to vary greatly (it did on the few nights we were there). Great music (when they are playing salsa).

 Azucar Ė Azucar was a beautiful club!  Well-maintained, air-conditioned, nice dance floor, great sound system, and centrally located (at the top of the strip near the Fiesta Americana Gran Coral Beach), this club was fantastic.  Live music, every night except Sunday or Monday.  $3 cover charge. One of the best things about this club, apart from the fact it was plush, was the bands.  They have quality acts booked there, and fantastic musicians. 

The band during our stay was from Cuba and sounded fantastic.  The name escapes me, but the band starts at 11pm (which is fairly early for Cancun).  Up until the band plays, there is great DJ salsa music. After the band plays, the breaks are filled with disco music with a mix of everything from Ricky Martin to Elvis.

There were not many dancers on either of the two nights we went to this club.  On the second night, we were the only two on the floor (slowly coaxing some others out). When the disco music starts, everyone seemed to loosen up.  While I wish they played more salsa music, what they played was excellent.

While we did see single people there, there were NOT many.  As a guy, youíd be able to find a few women to ask to dance, but as a woman, youíd have to strategically position yourself next to the dance floor and hope for the best!

While it lacks the buddy-buddy service of Batacha, the Maragaritas were awesome (and huge).

Batacha Ė Another great club, connected to the Hotel Miramar. This was a more casual place, and a more casual setting to dance.  Even though it is not outside, it gives the feeling of being so with its large wooden windows.

Since the place was more casual, we definitely saw more single people, and more people asking each other to dance. The waiters were very nice, and were often seen dancing with women customers (whether they new how to dance or not).  The band here, while not as polished as the one at Azucar, was quite fun and played many danceable tunes (with a  bit more Cumbia thrown into the mix). This club also played more salsa during the breaks.

The waiters here were less stiff and a little more casual than the ones at Azucar. They brought us a few free drinks and stayed around to talk and hang out.

La Candela Ė This club is in Cancun City.  There were no tourists there while we were there, but Iím sure a few wander in every now and then. You walk down the stairs into this black, tropical like room. Itís quite dark, and had some nice air conditioning.  It had very tiny chairs and tables! The first hour we were there was non stop merengue tunes.  They switched to salsa at about 11pm and plenty of people were dancing.

 The people were very nice and we had a fun time.  Plenty of dancers (mostly cumbia style, but plenty of others as well).  Also, many single people.  The layout of the club (and the fact that it is so dark) makes it hard to ask people to dance!

THE FOOD OF CANCUN

First off, the breakfast places!

Iguana Wana: Our favorite breakfast place! You can get 2 for 1 with the Brant Card and itís a great buffet.

100% Natural: Another great breakfast, while not a buffet.  It offers plenty of healthy food to kickstart your mornings (and in Cancun, youíre morning can sometimes be a little tough).  In addition, some fantastic smoothies!  They have a few locations throughout Cancun.

Captainís Cove: A highly rated and talked about Breakfast place which did not live up to expectations.  We found the food only fair, although the buffet was large.

Next, the dinner places!

Blue Bayou: In the Hyatt Cancun Caribe this restaurant is great! From the fantastic drinks, excellent service, unbelievably fine jazz (that makes you want to dance), and stellar food Ė you wonít want to miss this place.  Yes, itís on the 2 for 1 card as well!  Itís our #2 choice for Cancun dinner.  Cajun food done well!

La Valentina: Great looking place, but we were let down by its really bad service, and mediocre over-prepared food.  It has a great ambiance, sitting on the lagoon, but your patience is sorely tested by the poorly trained wait-staff. From our half-eaten plates being grabbed away, to our waiter who actually cooked, or overcooked, our meal (there was more garlic in our shrimp than shrimp) for us at our table, the place just was a disappointment.  My guess is we went on an off night, but we were the ONLY couple there! They take the Brant Card, but was the only restaurant to do so grudgingly. The have a Mexican seafood style menu with a large set of choices.

La Distilleria: Our #1 choice for Cancun.  From the great service, through to the best food, we had a great time at this Tequila Museum/Mexican restaurant.  The food was fantastic, and they had those excellent Pork Soft Tacos (the name escapes me), that were actually better than the ones we ate on our trip to Chichen Itza. Our waiter was great, the service was excellent and polished Ė and the desert . . . well, we donít even need to go there.  The drinks were varied and all were excellent!  You can relax in their ďcigar bar/port relaxation roomĒ after your huge meal.

La Dolce Vita: Much talked about as the first Cancun Italian dining experience, this restaurant was just fair.  Nothing special compared to the other places we tried. Fair Italian food! I liked Stefanos, in Cancun city, better, and it was far cheaper (and they took the 2 for 1 card).  Not much else to say about this place. 

Places we wanted to try but didnít make:  Lorenzillos Lobster House, The Plantation and a variety of places in Cancun city. 

And finally, Lunches!

La Arca (in Plaza la Isla Mall): We were attracted to this place because it has a HUGE Arc (yeah, like Noah) with tons of animals and decorations that are just plain impressive.  Itís actually a fine restaurant as well.  Yes, they accept the 2 for 1 card (although we forgot to use it).

Food Court (in Plaza la Isla Mall): A great food court (and they accept the 2 for 1 card).  We had a fine set of soft tacos and guacamole.  Nice place to relax and have lunch!

El Shrimp Bucket: Wow! We almost didnít go here because of the name, but itís actually a great place.  And best of all  -  salsa music playing non stop.  The waiters are all jumping around dancing with each other.  Quite festive and fun, the place is recommended for lunch! We did not get the shrimp bucket, but opted for Fajitas, and they were great. 

OTHER ACTIVITIES 

AquaWorld Ė Jetski and Jetboats! Fun in the lagoon . . . we had a great time going out on Jetskis.  But itís pricey, at $39 a half hour.  You can definitely find cheaper, but this is a very touristy locations that rents the equipment.  They are well run and keep the equipment in good shape. 

The last time I was on a Jetski was the 70ís and theyíve changed a lot since then.  I was on one of those stand up ones, and I was out in the Atlantic ocean.  Well, to make a long story short, I fractured my tailbone.  It was way too big a wave to jump . . . (lesson learned, kind of). Anyway, these JetSkis are the two person kind, and they go about ten times as fast, but are also ten times as stable.  In addition, we jetskiied in the lagoon, so NO WAVES! With that said, thereís still a lot of fun to be had trying to capsize one of these babies. I think I threw myself a good twenty feet into the air on one of those sharp turns.

We didn't do the Jungle Tour, but will probably do that next time! Those boats look fun to drive . . .

A Little History Ė Reprinted from http://www.cancunandrivieramaya.com/cancuncafe/

Cancun is located on the northeast shoulder of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. Thirty years ago, this area had no paved roads, no public services. Three people lived on the island of Cancun, caretaking a coconut palm plantation. Mainland Puerto JuŠrez had 117 inhabitants. In January, 1971, Mexican government engineers arrived to begin creating the world's newest resort.

 

Today, Cancun has more than 25,000 rooms and receives some 2.7 million visitors a year from all over the world, with most coming from North America. It's clean, modern, safe and prosperous. The hotels are located on the island, which is now connected to the mainland at both ends by causeways. Some 500,000 residents live in Cancun City on the mainland. In the Hotel Zone, you're likely to run into stars such as Donna Summers (seen looking for a house after giving two private concerts), Madonna (who already owns one), Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore (investors in the local Planet Hollywood).

Do you still want more info? Check out these links:

Cancun Online Cancun and Riviera Maya, CancunLite, Mexico Web, Cancun Hotline

Cancun online, cancun and riviera maya, Exploring Mexico, cancunlinks.com  

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