Let it be known right away: Cancun is not my favorite spot. Kevin cares much more about beaches and ocean than I do and neither of us are fans of resorts. We spent a couple of days closer to the tourist enclaves, but enjoyed the local life away from the beach a little more. (Bonus: The more distance between you and the shoreline, the cheaper everything is.)
I will say that Isla Mujeres was worth a day-trip on the ferry from Puerto Juarez. The great thing about the island is that you can do everything in half a day, then relax. The southern-most point, where small cliffs drop into gorgeous turquoise waters, has a sculpture park. But since it costs to enter, we admired the metal art from a bit further down the shore.
Ten minutes away by golf cart from the tiny cliffs is the Tortugranja, a conservation effort. It costs just a few pesos to enter but has a dozen tanks turtles and other sea creatures. Outside in a protected sand pit are small wire enclosures protecting different sets of eggs that are soon to be hatched. Once the little turtles pop to the surface, they are taken inside to pools where it is safe for them to grow. A couple different species are kept in the building and in larger tanks outside. You can feed them, or, if you are outside, you can try to feed the turtles and see how much the greedy gulls get instead.
Other than those two things, the island and Cancun both offer beaches. And they are NICE beaches; the Hotel Zone has miles of sand. In some spots there are small shells and barefoot walking is a little pokey, but in other areas the sand is smooth sugar. Meandering along in front of the hotels isn’t quite peaceful though. Every three hundred meters down the beach is an identical stand selling parasailing and jet ski time. It felt like we passed the same day-drinkers, beach volley ball games, and people buried in the sand every few minutes.
The best part of Cancun is the local street food, normally only available in neighborhoods well away from the water. We had amazing pork and cabeza del rey tacos for only a couple of US dollars, the meat super tender and smothered in spicy sauces and lime. And at XB Burgers, the hamburgers and lamb burgers were juicy and cooked just right. Other carts on the sidewalks sell sweets, snacks, and sometimes things like marquesitas (crunchy crepes filled with chocolate and vanilla creams).
Unlike Merida, there isn’t a deep cultural history. Our hosts reminded us that Cancun has really only been a city for the last 40 years or so. Most of it is concrete apartment buildings and industry supporting tourists in large resorts. I prefer places with a little more variety. But to get a break from doing anything for a while, Cancun is perfect.
And it was the first time we rented a single room in a house rather than an entire place on Airbnb. Our hosts were a wonderful couple with adult children (hence the extra rooms). They made us breakfast each morning and had great stores about the city growing. It was a perfect opportunity to practice our Spanish a little more before moving on to South America.