A couple weeks ago, I decided to head down to Mexico, to do some work and feel the sun on my face. Before that, I had only been to Matamoros and Tijuana, two places you should absolutely avoid, so I was really looking forward to seeing the best parts of the country and it didn’t disappoint!
IS IT SAFE?
Despite being a pretty seasoned traveller, this question lingered in my mind. Mexico has a really bad and bloody rep and the reality is some parts of the country are in a war-like state. Despite this, I felt completely safe from the moment I stepped outside the airport in Cancun. The Yucatan Peninsula, which includes Cancun, Cozumel, and Merida, fortunately, hasn’t been significantly affected by the brutal drug war dominating other parts of the country.
I walked around my busy downtown Cancun neighbourhood at night, used my camera on the streets, and talked and ate with strangers, without issue. As a solo woman, you may experience some visible attention from men, such as whistling, verbal calls, or staring. I’ve found that it’s mostly harmless and you can just ignore them.
(Outside Cancun International Airport)
WHICH ACCOMMODATIONS TO CHOOSE
Cancun is well-known for its all-inclusive resorts and package vacations. There are plenty of them and they are mostly located in the hotel zone, many with direct beach access. However staying at a hotel away from most Mexicans (excluding those working) wasn’t what I was seeking, so I stayed in downtown Cancun at Mezcal hostel. I opted for the 4-bed female dorm for $21 US a night.
Mezcal served as my central base while in Cancun. It’s located in a residential neighbourhood, with cheap, delicious eats nearby. I met people from around the globe at the hostel and even made friends with some young Mexicans in the neighbourhood. Here’s a tour of the hostel:
CAN’T MISS SITES AND ACTIVITIES
1. Chichen-Itza – One of the most visited sites in Mexico, this complex of Mayan ruins is a spectacular sight to witness. You can take in the pyramid, temples, intricate columns and the ball court in one day. I arranged an organized day trip from my hostel, it was safe, fun and easy.
2. Isla Mujeres – Just 6km off the coast of Cancun, this beautiful island is serene, filled with funky shops and crystal clear water for diving and snorkelling. It’s also more affordable than Cancun. This is a great base for those looking for something less busy than Cancun, and right across the bay.
3. Tulum ruins – These small ruins couldn’t be more idyllic, perched atop high cliffs and overlooking the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. After you explore the ruins, enjoy the breathtaking beach and water.
4. Go Diving – In Cancun, popular dives include Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc. If you are willing to travel a bit further, Cozumel, just south of Cancun, has been described as “heaven on earth” and has one of the world’s largest reef systems.
5. Swim in Cenotes – Cenotes, meaning ‘sacred well’, are natural groundwater pools filled with pristine filtered water. There are thousands of them along the Yucatan peninsula alone and well worth a visit. I visited the stunning Cenote Ik kil, near Chichen-Itza.
(El Castillo, Chichen-Itza)
HOW TO GET AROUND
The bus system is very safe and easy to use in Cancun. I took the ADO shuttle bus from the airport to the bus terminal in the city centre for about $3 US. It took about 30 minutes. The ADO bus system also gets you to Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Within Cancun, buses frequently travel back and forth between the hotel zone (and beach) and downtown. From my hostel, it costs $1 US and took about 20 mins most days to get to the beach.
(On a Cancun bus)
Cancun’s nightlife is legendary. Clubs like Coco Bongo and Mandala, offer over the top shows and DJs. I found that open bar packages were really popular (vs. single drink purchases), so be prepared to pay a surprising upfront fee ($50-$100 US) for a bracelet.
The hotel zone, where most clubs are located, is safe even late at night. As usual, take all the normal safety precautions of never leaving your drink unattended, buying drugs from strangers, or walking on dark or deserted streets.