It’s hard to top Tulum as travel destinations go. Maybe that’s why our visit to Cancun was such a disaster. Well, disaster is a relative term. We didn’t have any terrible things happen to us. However, it was still a pretty bad couple of days….

Everything is Ridiculously Expensive

Everyone knows Cancun is expensive right? We thought we knew that too but we were hit hard with sticker shock. The bus ride from Tulum is reasonable enough (about $6 on sale), but a drink at the bus station in Cancun is more than the bus ticket! If you decide you want to eat at Outback, expect that $10 steak to set you back about $60! We spent more on food, drink, and transportation in 10 days in Cancun than we did in 30 days in Tulum.

Drinks aren’t the only expensive thing in Cancun. The taxi prices are outrageous. A $3 taxi ride in Tulum will set you back $10 in Cancun. Meals are five times what they are in Tulum. Count on the prices at fruit stands being five times what they are south of Cancun. The vendors know unwary tourists will pay anything, so why not? Think you may want to take home a piece of “sterling” silver jewelry in Cancun? Forget it because almost everything labeled “sterling” is fake, and on top of that the prices are ridiculous.

Rude Humans Everywhere

The Maya people of Tulum are exceedingly welcoming and friendly. They are the friendliest people I’ve met in twenty countries.  As soon as we arrived in Cancun, we could tell we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Our first Air BnB Host was extremely rude to me, but not my husband. If I tried to speak he rudely cut me off. We’re met with rude stares everywhere we go. Taxi drivers routinely pass us by for no clear reason.

If a taxi driver does grace us with stopping, he quotes a price five times above the normal fare. One can only haggle so much. We’re on the receiving end of rude stares every time we ride the bus. Maybe we we’re not supposed to ride the bus at all?

We still can’t decide who’s more rude in Cancun, the locals, or the entitled western tourists. Either way, the rudeness in Cancun is a stark contrast to the hospitality of Tulum.

Joe’s Almost-Fight on the Bus

One day on the standing room only bus ride home from the tourist zone, Joe almost gets into a fight. We’re packed in like sardines. It starts raining and every passenger simultaneously slams their window shut. The stifling heat is making everyone cranky. It’s the hottest place I’ve ever been (including Iraq). I almost pass out from the heat and humidity.

We couldn’t figure out why breathing takes second place to getting slightly wet. The breath, sweat, and body heat of the passengers was unbearable. The passengers care only about their hair, and the ability to breathe seems to take second place.

Joe’s sweat was pooling on the floor. He reaches over to crack a window so we can breathe. While a few passengers are happy with that decision, most become instantly enraged. Why? It’s all about the hair. Even though the passengers are clearly laborers returning from the hotel zone, they are preoccupied with their hair. The sight of grown men fussing over their hair spiked with product was almost comical.They would rather suffocate than have a drop of water hit their hair.

Heated words are exchanged between Joe and the passengers. Passengers begin exchanging heated words among themselves. Fortunately, the bus stopped at the next to the last stop and all of the passengers except three left the bus. One of the remaining passengers starts lecturing Joe about being respectful and remembering he’s visiting another country. Joe keeps cool and calm, even though it’s clear this guy wants a fight.

Aggressive Vendors

The vendors in Cancun take aggression to a whole new level. They will follow you until you give in. They will call you names in Spanish if you walk away. They will thrust merchandise in your hands with the hope of forcing you to buy something.

The vendors in Tulum are quite tame by comparison. I miss walking by the friendly vendors in Tulum and hearing, “we have the best junk in town,” or “come in and buy something you don’t need.” If you think you’re in for a pleasant browsing experience in Cancun, think again. We’re harassed in Cancun no matter where we go. We found respite from the harassment only in the high end mall and Wal-mart.

Filth Everywhere

Trash is everywhere in Cancun. When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. The bus seats are disgusting. The public bathrooms are appalling. Even the poorest family owned restaurants in Tulum made an attempt at basic cleanliness. In Cancun, forget it. No one has pride in their establishment. The pursuit of the dollar reigns supreme. The hotel zone is the only place in Cancun that is marginally clean.

We stayed in the “authentic” part of working class Cancun. We knew it wouldn’t be all roses. We weren’t expecting feces everywhere…the obviously human kind. Not since my days in Iraq, China, and Jordan, have I seen this much evidence of human beings defecating along the sidewalks and streets. It was EVERYWHERE!

Of course there is no TP if one is using the sidewalk as a toilet, so what do you do? You use your hand and wipe it on a column or a wall. Yes, you heard me right. Feces-stained buildings and columns. I wish I had a photo, because I don’t think anyone is going to believe me, but it’s true, and it’s disgusting. For the record I never actually saw anyone using the sidewalk as a toilet, so all this must happen at night.

Appalling Treatment of Animals

In Tulum almost everyone has a dog or cat. The opposite is true in Cancun. We saw so many pitiful stray dogs and cats that it was hard to bear. We tried to feed some of them, but we knew we can’t save them all. The way people treat other human beings in Cancun reflects in the way they (don’t) care for their animals.

Tulum is quite laid-back with a hippie-chill vibe. In Cancun, everyone is out for a dollar, and no one has time for stray animals. We had a hard time even finding dog food in Cancun. In Tulum dog and cat food is in every little store even though the portions are in in small bags.

You Might Drown

Everyone talks about the beautiful Cancun beaches right? Sure they are beautiful, but they are also dangerous. We visited several beaches all up and down the coast of Cancun. We visited the beach at different times of day, and in different locations and weather conditions. One thing is consistent through all of those visits; the dangerous rip current. Cancun is the only place where I’ve almost been knocked over and dragged under in calf-high water.

The undertow at the Cancun beaches is stronger than any beach I’ve ever visited. The lifeguard told us that drownings happen regularly. Also, at one beach, the lifeguard cleared the water twice in an hour because of shark sightings. So yes, go and enjoy those beautiful Cancun beaches, but accept that you’re probably not going to go for a swim. We were there in July, so maybe the weather conditions are different in the winter during the tourist season.

Would We Go Back?

Our trip to Cancun is not one of the horror stories that you hear from travelers around the world. However, I would not spend another dollar in Cancun if I didn’t have to. Our money is welcome, but with resentment. My one regret of our six weeks in Mexico is not staying in Tulum for those last ten days. The people of Tulum have a long history of hospitality and I can’t wait to visit them again.

It’s probably unavoidable to spend a night or two in Cancun if you’re transiting to other parts of the Yucatán. If you must spend some time in Cancun I recommend…

The Ruins of el Meco (we were alone for hours)
Alchemist coffee at Pasteleteria
El Rey Ruins & Playa Delfines Beach
Museo de Maya

Our trip wasn’t all misery. We had to leave our first awful Air BnB, (he lied about the distance to the beach). After that, we’re welcomed to a beautiful beach home by an amazing host. It was our host Africa, (yes that’s her name), that told us about the ruins of El Meco right up the road. Our trip to El Meco is without question the highlight of our stay in Cancun. In addition to enjoying the ruins alone, we watched a family of Coati playing in the jungle. They will come right up to you if you let them (we didn’t).

Just because our experience in Cancun was bad, that doesn’t mean yours will be bad too. There are a lot of fun things to do. My best advice is to avoid the hotel zone, souviner shopping, and taxis.