Nothing could have prepared me for that first sight of Mexico. After 10 hours of flying above the glimmering ocean, my eyes weren’t ready for the amount of green they were about to witness as the plane started its descent to the Cancun airport.
Yucatán Peninsula welcomed us with kilometers of lush green jungle. Staring through the tiny airplane window all I could see was the densely forested area with one, perfectly straight asphalt line cutting through it. That and a turquoise coastline, nothing more. I knew right away Mexico will be like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Boarding the Virgin Airlines plane in London I don’t think I had a clear expectation of what Mexico would be like. I’m embarrassed to admit that my head was full of stereotypical images – colourful skulls, thick mustache of the mariachis wearing sombreros and white sandy beaches. Beyond the vague idea of Cancun being the Ibiza of the States and Mayan ruins in Tulum and Chichen Itza, I knew very little about the place I was going to. The only thing I did anticipate was rain – the weather forecast maliciously promised abundant rain fall every day of my stay. Luckily it turned out that I knew about the local weather just as little I knew about Mexico.
Upon arrival we passed the all-female boarder control very quickly and entered the United Mexican States without any trouble. Had we tried to bring in any food that may have traveled with us from back home, or, like some travelers coming through the States, tried to stock up on cheap cigarettes before the arrival, the situation would have been very different. Luckily however our passage through the Mexican customs was pretty uneventful.
The arrival hall of the Cancun airport was quite modern and easy to navigate. Amongst the mix of taxi drivers eagerly seeking clients, my husband managed to find someone working for the airport able to provide information on pre-booked transport (it turns out that all the vehicles, buses and tour representatives await the arriving travelers outside the airport – important thing to note at an airport that does not have free wi-fi access for those of you who like me don’t always check all the further travel details before departure).
We were taken to our hotel by a kind Mexican man called Arturo Sanchez. Since our driver’s English was not great, I had a chance to practice my Spanish. Arturo, like most Mexicans as I soon found out, transformed from a quiet and grumpy-looking man, to a chatty individual excited to tell me about his country. Throughout the one and a half hour long journey from Cancun to Tulum, he kept on telling me about the local area and pointed out the avocado, banana and mango trees growing along our way.
The prolific, impenetrable jungle enfolding the grey of the modern highway constituted a peculiar contrast of the two worlds I entered. On one hand I was in the land of the Mayans, just meters away from the unruly world of nature that filled every free centimeter of space with yet another shrub or green vegetation. On the other, I was moving at a high speed through a smoothly paved road overseen by massive signs informing me about the closest mega-hotel or tourist attraction. On the side of the road, against the leafy background, stood giant billboards advertising the famous Coco Bongo night club or displaying photos of beautiful beach condos on sale. I felt as if someone created mini-USA in the heart of the Yucatan’s jungle. Further conversation with Arturo confirmed that the area, especially Cancun, was filled not just with American tourists but also many houses belonged to them, driving the local real estate prices up. Despite the inflated prices however, the Quintana Roo state’s economy is booming thanks to the visitors from across the border.
The high presence of the tourists also means higher investments in the local security, making Yucatan one of the safest parts of Mexico. Although visitors can drive safely through all the region’s major (toll) routes, any night travel is highly discouraged as theft, car hijacking at fake check-points and other crime are not uncommon after dark. Single women should be especially careful around Cancun where walking alone at night returning from a club can make them an easy target. Most resorts have tight security however and carefully check who gets into their premises. Despite the official reports, I personally felt very safe in Mexico, although I wouldn’t risk driving alone at night.
Dusk comes quite early in Yucatan in September/October time, as we drove with Arturo to our hotel, around 6 pm the sun begun to set. By around 6.30, when we arrived at Dreams Tulum, it was already dark outside. Before our route became enveloped in darkness, I managed to notice that the closer we got to the city of Tulum, the less “American” it seemed. The billboards gave way to local colourful houses and chapels, mega hotel signs began to get replaced with eco-parks and directions to cenotes, natural pits or sinkholes with crystal clear underground water. Everyone recommended Tulum over Cancun when we planned our trip and I was beginning to see why.