Throughout past month, I have been lucky enough to experience two very different parts of Mexico in two very different ways.
At the end of April, my mom and I took off to the dry desert of Cabo. We weaved through polluted cities along a perfectly paved four-lane highway, hugging the coast as we made our way to what the taxi drivers called “the boonies.” The Hacienda Cerritos wasn’t quite in the middle of nowhere, but it was a good two hour drive from Cabo San Lucas. We made a few day trips into the various cities along the coast, searching for something to keep us intrigued. I found some bongos.
When my friend offered a spot on her family holiday to Playa del Carmen, I would have been insane to refuse. My traveling style has always been limited to hostels, economy class, and couch surfing, thanks to my diminishing backpacking funds. An all-inclusive was just what I needed to extend my experience. We touched down in sunny, humid Cancun, checked into our resort, and only went out once for an entire week.
In order to adequately compare these two distinct vacations, I’ve decided to make two condensed “Pros” and “Cons” lists. However, it’s difficult to pin-point which experience was “better”, because they were both so different. I hope a quick glance at my experiences will help you decide what kind of Mexican holiday is best suited to you, if any is at all. (You can view photos of both places and both trips by clicking here).
HOTEL IN CABO:
- Renting a car and staying out of the big city gave us the freedom to explore far and wide. We spent afternoons in small cities, ate street food, and basically did what we want, whenever we wanted to.
- Because we had to pay for food and drinks, we never overate or got ridiculously day drunk. If it wasn’t for my horrific sunburn, I would have felt incredibly healthy the entire time. (SIDENOTE: Apply sunscreen. And then reapply. Ten thousand times a day. Or at least three.)
- The hotel was very small (only 10 rooms) and hung out into the ocean. The sound of pounding waves sung us to sleep each night.
- Being far away from everything made getting anywhere quite the trek. The Hacienda had a terrible dirt road that nearly ripped our rental cars tires apart. The rest of the roads were outstanding, but driving through the cities caused some anxiety. Not to mention trying to find parking.
- Because we weren’t at an all-inclusive, we had to pay for every meal and drink. Things aren’t expensive in Mexico, but it’s still an extra cost. Have the correct amount of American dollars or Pesos, because Mexicans don’t exactly enjoy giving back change. Service was also quite slow, lazy, and seemingly uninterested everywhere we went. My mom and I got used to referring to the working attitude as ‘Mexican time’.
- The waves in Cabo were far too rough for me to swim in. There’s a dangerous rip. The sand is a dirty brown and it’s common to see the Mexican military walking around the beach with rifles. It’s a little off-putting, to say the least.
- As the hotel was very small and I was only with my mom, I didn’t meet anyone else my own age. Unfortunately I did not experience the crazy “Spring Break” party scene as Mexico is so often portrayed.
ALL-INCLUSIVE PLAYA DEL CARMEN:
- Free food and endless drinks. All day, everyday. Need I say more?
- The service at Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort was incredible. Speaking as a frequent waitress and hotel staff, service jobs are not easy. The staff was efficient, friendly (maybe a little too friendly), and energetic; even if they were only doing it for a little extra tip.
- Not quite as open as hostels, resorts offer a relatively friendly, safe environment to meet other travelers. Of course, Mexico is chalk full of North Americans, making it impossible to escape our own annoying accents and habits.
- Free food and endless drinks means constant overeating, unnecessary indulging, and sweet sugary slushy alcoholic beverage breakfasts. The buffets aren’t always fresh and North American cuisine fills the menu. There is no authenticity here, folks.
- You can never trust anyone. My friend’s camera was stolen; mine broken. The maids came into our room more often than necessary. When making purchases, it’s imperative to haggle, but you’ll probably still get ripped off. With so much poverty and corruption, stealing is simply survival of the fittest. The people doing the dirty deeds have no conscious or remorse, so keep your valuables close.
- Resorts are secluded and Americanized. We left the resort once, by taxi, to go down a shopping street. That’s all I saw of Playa del Carmen: one evening hour. I could have been anywhere in the world with palm trees and sunshine.
- I’m not sure if it was just this resort, or bad timing, but there were couples everywhere, leaving few new single friends my own age. As I was with a friend, this didn’t matter much, but once again I missed out on Cancun’s “Spring Break” party scene, which was greatly disappointing.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery revealed by my initial trip and confirmed by my second was that I don’t really like Mexico, or countries like it. As a single female, I don’t enjoy being constantly hit on, feeling unsafe, or being restricted to a resort area. I’m an explorer; resorts are for relaxers.
I do not mean to dissuade you from visiting a resort. In both cases, I’m glad I went—if nothing else I got some cute beach pictures, time with friends and family, and an awesome tan. I just want you to have an idea of what’s in store.
I hope you are able to learn from my experiences to make yours even better.