Monday, February 20, 2012

Spring Break Guide: Cancun

Meet Derrik Chinn, travel planner extraordinaire and owner of Tijuana tour company, Turista Libre. He is our featured guest blogger and is giving tips and tricks for all of the hottest Spring Break destinations. We're kicking things off with Cancun, the ultimate Spring Break locale.


Cancun Guide curated by Derrik Chinn (above far right)

Cancun is, has been and perhaps always will be first and foremost a notorious playground for gringos and their European brethren, and its most infamous, obvious amenities attest to this. The booze cruises, the monstrous clubs, the fake tattoos, the tequila funnels, the Pleasure Islandesque debauchery. It's all an ever-tempting distraction from the fact that the Yucatan peninsula is one of the most ecologically unique sites on Earth. Cancun. It's way more than a beer billboard, güey.

Playa patrol. A brief 101 on the beaches. Party at Playa Tortugas. Escape the party at Playa Las Perlas. Surf at Playa Delfinas. Snooze at Playa Langosta or Linda.

Take a break from the beach in a sinkhole. Natural wonders abound in a tropical paradise like this, but it's a mecca for aficionados of the planet's ultimate swimming holes: cenotes. Sinkholes caused by collapsed limestone that dot the Yucatan terrain, many connect to underground rivers and complex subterranean cave systems as deep as 300 feet below the surface. Once used for sacrficial offerings by the Maya, who considered them portals to the netherworld, they've since become remote oasises for swimmers and cave divers. One of the more popular stops on the Cenote Trail, which runs along the Cancun-Tulum freeway, Las Mojarras ( measures 200 feet in diameter and 45 feet deep. And it's rigged with a zip line, diving towers and camping facilities. Other cenotes worth checking out along the route: Siete Bocas, Boca del Puma and Verde Lucero.
Indiana Jones' Yucatan dream pad. The farther you push into Latin America, the more probable your chances of stumbling upon some ancient megacity that the jungle swallowed centuries before the conquistadores set sail. Among those is Chichen Itza, one of the more of the more impressive reminants of Mayan civilization and a two-three hour drive from Cancun. Active from 600 to 1200 AD., it's now one of Mexico's most visited archaelogical sites, banking more than a million visitors annually.

Chichen Itza

Townie time. Mexican tourist destinations like Cancun are always a tale of two cities. One is specifically for visitors, home to high-end resorts, star restaurants and posh nightlife spots. The other holds the side of the city only the locals know, the true root of the city's original flair. Escape the whitewashed hotel zone for downtown Cancun and park it at Parque Las Palapas, a plaza at the intersection of Tulipanes and Alcatreces where impromptu amateur hour is every hour for local Latin American Idol hopefuls of all ages, while you kick back a few empanadas and tamales. Nearby Mercado 28 is where to head for a Mexican arts and crafts shopping spree for Saint Death statues, serapes, tire-soled sandals known as huaraches and such. Then stroll down Avenida Yaxchilán, a central thoroughfare lined with divey cantinas and restaurants usually reserved for locals but with always room for a loaner gabacho or two.

Wet and wild. In the Mexican Carribean, where playa paradise is here, there and everywhere, you're right to wonder why anyone would waste time at waterpark. That is, unless, you know that few waterparks in the world compare to a Mexican waterpark, which comes as a vital lesson to the average foreign visitor: One's safety, even in environments such as waterparks where the gringo custom of million-dollar lawsuits usually ensures that an establishment keeps everything up to code, is never to be assumed. "Ride at your own risk" is the unspoken law, but the tradeoff of the heightened chance of peril is the added freedom to do so in ways never conceivable in the U.S., namely headfirst either on your back or stomach. Wet'n Wild, Cancun's lone parque acuatico, houses some six slides, a lazy river, wave pool and a full bar.

Forging la fiesta. CocoBongo is a massive dance club whose campy rap is preceded only by its cultish take on Vegas-style shows, and probably the only bar in which you'll see a Lady Gaga impersonator who isn't a man. Mambo Café books live música latina acts from Colombia, Venezuela, the Domincan Republic and Cuba; here's where you'll learn that it really is all in the hips. Live lucha libre (masked Mexican wrestling) and bikini contests happen at Bulldog Cafe. The City calls its million-watt sound system the best in Latin America, and the performer hall of fame includes the likes of 50 Cent, Sasha, Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk. Dady'O, known for its light shows, recently played host to a DJ set by LMFAO's Redfoo.

Spring break is not for sleeping. Cheap: The Cancun Nest Hostel, centrally located downtown. Cool: El Rey del Caribe, 31-room eco-hotel, downtown. Sweet kitsch: HotelXbalamque, ode to Mayan Jaguar god of the universe, downtown.

El Rey del Caribe