Cancún is exactly what you think it is, a great place to lounge drunkenly on the beach all day, then head out at night to dance drunkenly on top of a table wearing a sombrero before passing out with a stranger and waking up (still pretty drunk) to your all-inclusive breakfast buffet. If you are looking for an authentic Mexican travel experience, look elsewhere. Cancún is about beaches, booze and reinforcing every ignorant stereotype you have about Mexico and its people. Body shots, anyone?
OK, fine, this is mostly true of the Spring Break version of Cancún, which is when the town and its underage tourists are on their worst behavior. But that doesn't mean that Cancún is exactly a cultural mecca the other 11 months of the year. The beaches are beautiful and the snorkeling and diving in nearby Isla de Mujeres is world-class, but prepare yourself for a hundred daily conversations with aggressive timeshare salesmen, snorkeling tour hawkers and insistent young ladies who really think you'd look great with a head full of braids.
You can try to escape the tourist bubble, but you'll have to go pretty far afield to find peace and tranquility. Don't expect it in nearby Playa del Carmen, which boasts a main drag lined with every tourist cliché short of a wax museum (too hot, probably). The much-advertised "eco parks" are like snorkeling in an aquarium -- pretty, but pretty weird. The ruins at Tulum are a better bet, and the two-hour bus ride to the Mayan temples at Chichen Itza is well worth the trip. That is, if you can go half a day without a body shot.
For lots more information about fascinating and forgettable travel destinations, check out the related HowStuffWorks links below.
Author's Note: 10 of the World's Most Touristy Cities
I did most of my traveling before I had kids and before I had money to spend on luxuries like hotel rooms with their own bathroom and food served by a waiter instead of a vending machine. This history of traveling unencumbered and on-the-cheap has probably fueled my overblown fear of looking like a tourist. As I said, there's no shame in being a tourist. We're all out-of-towners at some point. Why not embrace the cluelessness? Why not wait in line for the overpriced double-decker bus tour? Why not eat at the tacky jungle-themed restaurant where the waiters are dressed as toucans and lemurs? Why not turn down the self-consciousness dial for a few days, open up the guidebook and join the herd? Maybe I'll see you in Orlando.
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