Recently, as the weather gets cooler here, my mind wanders back to warm weather and especially warm waters. I love lazing around in front of beaches and stepping into the Caribbean waters in the colder months, when I know back home everything is frozen in snow and ice.
Last year I wanted to really visit Cancun. I’d heard all about how it was a party city, how lively it was, how much of a break it would mean from the cold March temperatures in Toronto. So off we went! Imran had been there a few years before with his friends and didn’t mind going back with me so we booked our trip and counted down the days (at least I did, as I do for any trip that’s inching closer). Our resort was called Occidental Tucancun and we payed around $1400 per person for the all inclusive 7 day experience.
After the logistics of getting there were settled and we had reached our resort, we looked out the wide hallways to the ocean views, taking in the beautiful blue of the ocean water. It was brighter blue than the other places I’ve been to in the Caribbean so I was already in love! We checked into our room and headed downstairs to check out the rest of the resort and of course dip our feet in the water. I wanted to take a stroll on the beach, stuffing my toes in the sand and inhaling the ocean air. Being here for 7 days would never be enough – or so I thought until I saw the beach and the waves up close. They were massive! Almost taller than me and rushing to the shore. There were people that had struggled past the large waves and made it to the calmer side of the waters. But there were so many people that were getting slapped around by the force of the water rushing at them. I was nervous going close to the water. I’d been told Cancun waves are tall – I didn’t realize they were so tall they’d be higher than me! I don’t know if it was because of the time we went, in March, a week after kids and universities school breaks. Or if the waves were like this year round. I can’t swim so the thought of making it to the other side of these waters was nerve-wracking on its own.
Imran and I walked about a mile on the shore before turning and walking back. I was stunned (and not in a good way) because my last beach experience with him in Jamaica was divine (that experience to come in another post). It was clear we would not be spending much time in the waters on this beach on this trip, maybe we might dip in the pool instead. I don’t know why but I’ve never felt super comfortable in pools, let alone resort pools with a ton of other adults lolling around with drinks in hand. Just don’t feel the same closeness to the water or get that true vacation feel surrounded by all the people in resort pools. And in March, many people are still escaping the cold of their hometowns, so these pools were quite packed.
We did step into the pool a couple of times – the resort has an infinity pool which was nice to hang out in with little people. And we did ONCE make our way to the ocean waters, still on a day when the beach flags were red (they never changed from red or yellow the whole time we were there). When I tried going into the water I’d get pushed right out from the powers of the waves immediately. It was an exhausting exercise on its own so our retreat onto the beach chairs afterwards to just lay down and sunbathe in was a very relaxing experience.
Since we couldn’t go into the water here as much, Imran and I decided we’d do some excursions on our trip. This was my first time doing any excursions while vacationing in the Caribbean. On our honeymoon earlier in Jamaica, we’d spent every day in the water and never thought about stepping out of the resort. Hence why here was a perfect opportunity to explore Cancun, see historical sights of the region and snorkel in the ocean waters of Isla Mujeres. We booked two excursions right on our resort for about $140 each- the first was spending a full day on a day trip to Tulum and Coba, with a last stop at a cenote. Cenotes are cavities in rock formations that fill up with water and provide a relaxing retreat in many areas of the Yucatan Peninsula and of course other regions throughout. They’re beautiful to look at and enjoy time in.
The next day we were on a 7:30 AM coach for our full day trip to historical sites. Many resorts book trips for their clients and coaches go around to different resorts picking up people before making their way to the actual destinations. It was almost 8:30 by the time we were off to see Tulum. A couple hours later we were stepping off the coach and were going to be making our way to the ancient Mayan city of Tulum. You need to cross a thick tunnel to enter into the city because it was double walled – there is a larger outer wall and then an inner wall – I believe Tulum is actually called The Walled City.
It’s very well preserved and amazing to check out how the middle and upper class people lived in this space – close to the beautiful beach water where ships would dock. The Mayans were a smart civilization, using astronomy to live out their lives (one of the buildings had a hole form which sunshine would tell you what day or season or day – correctly predicting the equinoxes). This was a cool detail I still remember form our tour. The city also used to be brightly painted in different colours – while all the color is gone today, some red hand prints remain of people touching the buildings with painted hands. I cannot remember their reason for doing this but it might have been religious – this was a place for priests and religious leaders as the whole community was based on divinity.
Another cool fact about this place is that for ships to dock, they would need to correctly cross through a specific reef opening and also avoid rocks jutting out of the water to make their way to shore – many a ships were lost or shipwrecked because they just could not navigate properly in the area. At the time though, because it was a port city bringing in merchandise, it was a robust and thriving metropolitan. To hear the stories form our tour guide about this place and learn more about the ancient Mayans was fascinating. (It was a pretty warm day too I should mention!)
Our next stop was Coba. This was another thriving city of the region and holds such amazing historical facts that I was thrilled hearing all of them. First, you can climb the ancient ruins here! That’s not something we could do in Tulum because everything is well preserved but Coba is one of the few remaining places people can touch buildings and climb the huge pyramid and look over the top at the forests beneath.
This place was big on games, or more like games of sacrifice. The strongest men would play a ball game where they would try to score the ball through small stone holes in the side of a diagonal wall, only using their hips to hit the ball through the hole. This to me seemed impossible to do but this was in fact one of the booming sports played in the region at the time. And though it is debated as to who was sacrificed, I remember our tour guide telling us it would be the winning team or their leader, because the gods were supposed to receive the best of the best before they would rain down blessings on the people. In fact, this thought was so common at the time that parents would ensure their kid was built strong and mighty, because it was such an honor to be sacrificed to the gods. The big game was heavy on religious ceremonies and watched by only the most important leaders, priests and chieftains, although smaller games could be watched by the regular people.
Hearing all this history is fascinating to me because it’s not just something you’re hearing on TV but actually in person, while standing in the area it happened. Being here, touching the stones, sitting on the ancient ruin steps, climbing the very steep and very many steps to reach the top of the giant pyramid was an amazing experience and one I’d definitely recommend!
After this, our last stop was to an open air cenote. I’d been very excited for this part because my sister had gone on an earlier trip and loved the experience, making me excited to check it out myself. Before we went to the cenote location, we were taken to a site where the indigenous people still live and practice the old ways. Here we sat in a hut with the tour group, with a Shaman giving his blessing to us on visiting the cenotes – it was believed during their time that cenotes were entrances to the Underworld. This was a neat exercise to go through (although I feel like they’ve made this a part of their business to get money from tourists also – since you are asked to donate at the end of the ceremony).
After this, we were led to the beautiful blue and turquoise sinkhole we would be dipping in. Changed and strapped in life vests, we entered the cold waters and made our way around the large natural pool. I was a bit nervous at first! When you step in the pool you can see where it’s shallow and where it gets incredibly deep and dark, and stepping into this part of the water is a bit chilling. All in all though, this was a fun activity and although I couldn’t step in the beach waters of Cancun, I’m glad I was able to step into the cenote in the middle of a lush green forest.
Our 2nd excursion was for snorkeling in the middle of the ocean – this was an amazing but also a harrowing experience for me. It started off really well as we took a speed boat through the lagoons and into the open ocean where we’d be snorkeling. My first time in a speedboat (Imran had done this excursion before and so I felt super comfortable because he knew all about it) and we were jetting our way through the water until we reached an open space literally in the middle of the ocean where we’d be snorkeling.
Where this got difficult for me was when water kept escaping into my mouth and nose while I was trying to learn the ways of snorkeling. The waters were calm though so after I managed to hold the snorkel stick properly in my mouth, I was able to enjoy the beautiful reef under the water as well as the many colorful fish that were swimming around. I definitely found this to be my favorite thing I did on the trip, because I mean how often do we experience this really! And the fact that the water was full of life swimming around underneath and you could gently touch the coral (and try to touch fish), those 2 short hours felt like a serene vacation adventure.
Although we didn’t get to enjoy the Cancun beach waters in March last year, we saw and did other things on that trip that more than made up for it. Next time, I’d probably check how the waters are during the season I’m going back to the Caribbean, but if the place has any excursions to offer, I’m definitely taking those and making the vacation a thoroughly enjoyable affair (especially if I cant lounge around in the beach water all 7 days)!