I recently returned from a 15 day trip through the Riviera Maya, Cuba and the Yucatán. It was an extraordinary trip full of so many amazing adventures. Although this isn't the blog where I am going to show all the amazing photographs that I took and talk about all the great places that I saw, this is none the less a very important blog. This blog post is about the things that I learned that I wish I would've known before I left for my trip.
I'm writing this from an American point of view.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR RIVIERA MAYA, YUCATAN, MEXICO, CUBA VACATION OR TRIP.
I read and studied extensively before going on this trip. I can't tell you how many blog posts I read. I had my trip completely planned out day by day on my Evernote. Yes I'm OCD. Nonetheless there were so many things that I didn't read anywhere that I wish someone would have told me. Here they are listed by importance.
#1 Make a copy of your passport and driver's license and make sure you save it to a passworded cloud drive that you can access from your phone. Also make a passworded gallery folder on your phone so that you can have access to it in case you do not have cell phone coverage on your trip. You will thank me for this later when you lose or have all of your things stolen while you are snorkeling.
#2 Absolutely do not leave anything of value in your car while you are in Mexico. There are times when you are going to have to leave things in your car and realize that you may have them stolen. If you park in an area where someone is keeping an eye on your car ask them if you can pay them a little extra to keep a closer eye on your car.... and even then don't leave anything valuable. Some of the beaches in the Riviera Maya have lockers, but most don't. Leave your valuables and your money at your hotel.
#3 Don't waste your time renting a car from all the places that say it costs $1.00 a day.. like Orbits, Expedia and all other websites. This is all a lie and you will be frustrated and angry when you realize that it will cost you $50.00 a day in "Mexican Insurance" and other crap. Rent from American Car Rental. I saw this on so many posts but had my fiance take care of the car rental... and of course I forgot to tell him about America Cra Rental. I should have told him about American Car Rental from the beginning. We rented from Orbitz for the first part of our trip before we left for Cuba which luckily was only a few days and then the following 10 days when we got back we rented from American Car Rental... much better experience. Only because their prices are clearly quoted on the website and nothing changes when you arrive at the counter. Huge relief! Also be aware that no car rental company regardless of the insurance covers theft of your personal belongings. Which is why I stated .. don't leave anything valuable in your car" Theft is referring to car theft.. lessen learned!
#4 Talking about cash, do not exchange your cash at the airport. The going rate for the peso in Mexico when we went on our trip was 20 pesos for $1.00 US Dollar. We exchanged all of our money at the airport for an exchange rate of 16 pesos for $1.00 US dollar. That was a huge mistake on our part because it was quite a bit of money.
#5 Carry only the money that you will need for the day. You will need more money than you think. I didn't take into account that that the Cenotes (Sink Holes with water in them.. a MUST for your visit) were all going to be so pricey I didn't read this anywhere on the Internet. Online resources posted that most are priced between $5.00 to $8.00, this is not true (As of Feb 2017, when I went.) Tips are big in Mexico...tips for someone keeping an eye on your car.. tips for your guides anywhere you go.. Tips for restaurants.. tips for the person who pumped your gas, there are no self serve pumps. Plus miscellaneous spending will take you off budget. There are so many wonderful things to buy.
#6 If you carry items that are expensive with you such as camera equipment. Place them in a backpack on your person with the backpack facing forward. This will prevent anyone from unzipping your backpack from behind in a crowded area and stealing any equipment. Also, I brought a slim running belt that I placed all of my cash in on a daily basis. Because you will only be bringing the amount of money that you need for each day a slim running belt is all you need. Something like this is all you need ... vacation running belt for money.
#7 http://www.globotreks.com/destinations/cuba/40-things-know-before-traveling-cuba/ visit this blog if you are planning a trip to Cuba. It;s very thorough and the information is pretty up to date. As a side note...We didn't need anything special to travel to Cuba. We got a visa from the Cancun Airport for about 20 bucks and they will also send you to another desk to buy health insurance for each day that you are there I think it was about $10.00 bucks a day per person. So there were no special trips needed to be able to visit Cuba from Cancun.
#8 For us Southern Californians , we are very much used to eating Mexican food. Especially if you live in Orange County or LA County. The food in the Yucatán is nothing like the Mexican food which we are used to. It's very good food don't get me wrong, it's just not the type of Mexican food that you are used to. A few of the things that may shock you. First of all the beans that are used in the Yucatán and in Cuba are black beans. I never saw a single flour tortilla either in the Yucatán or in Cuba. In the Yucatán they will serve you beautiful corn tortillas mostly handmade. In Cuba you will most likely get bread, if anything. I was warned by a friend of mine who is Cuban that the food in Cuba was not great. That they have a very little resources to be able to create amazing cuisine. I found this to be true. There are some trendier places where they are making better food but it's nothing like the food we can get here in Orange County or in the United States. The food in the Yucatán is pretty amazing but different from the Mexican food that we are used to having in Orange County. If you want to try authentic Yucatán food and happen to be in Merida please eat at the Chaya Maya. It's pretty amazing.
#9 Cuba really is a super safe place. It is in complete ruins and looks like the slumiest slums that you can imagine in most areas.. but it's just due to the architectural decrepitude. All of the people we came across were very friendly and warm.
#10 Bring cash on your trip. Don't bring credit cards because there is a high possibility that in Mexico or anywhere that you travel in any country your credit card information can get stolen. Of course bring some credit cards with you as an emergency but leave them in your hotel, carry one at the most with you.
#11 Don't prepay for your Joya Cirque Du Soleil Show in the US. Wait until you arrive in Mexico the possibility is there that you will find it for less. Don't pay for your snorkeling trip or Catamaran trip. There are people trolling the streets everywhere that can possibly get you these excursions for much less than the online price you would've paid from here in the US. We were having lunch at a restaurant and of course we look totally like tourists. We were approached by a really nice man named Miguel Angel.. Asking if we were going to be doing any of the shows or excursions. So the thing is, that everywhere in Cancun they are trying to get you in to do a timeshare presentation. We were offered as much $300 to do a timeshare presentation ...Literally at the same counter that we rented our car at, American car rental, there is someone pitching timeshare presentations and offering cash. They will start with $100.00 in cash then they will tell you they can get you $250.00 in cash and then guy offered us $300.00. We didn't partake in any presentations. But you can practically get your car rental for free or they can get you shows to the amusement parks in the area or the Cirque du Soleil show. If you have the time and the inclination... try to bargain for the best deal that you can get. We didn't go to any presentation but were still able to get a super cheap catamaran trip from Miguel Angel. The trip is normally over $100 and we got it for 50 bucks a person. Miguel Angel told us that because there are so many all-inclusive hotels and people are staying in their hotels now. It has adversely affected the economy and people's of the Cancun area. In the past people would leave their hotels and dine at restaurants, purchase gifts and excursions from around the area. That is no longer the case now. People rarely leave their hotels. They also pay very little to hotel employees. Miguel Angel.. Gets paid a commission for every excursion or ticket he sells on the streets. He makes his own hours, and makes a better income hitting the streets and doing this on his own instead of through a hotel. Warning: do not pay anybody cash before your excursion, make sure you meet them next door to the place where you are going and hand them cash then. We met Miguel Angel.. At a Starbucks across the street from the catamaran area... He came with us in our car. We paid him cash in our car and he purchased the tickets for us. If you make friends with someone like this they can tell you which timeshare presentations are the easiest to get through without purchasing anything.
#12 Try to get cell phone coverage through your cell phone provider for Mexico. I cannot tell you how important this was. Especially because we went through airbnb for our accommodations and we had to contact all of the people ahead of time to let them know were coming. We traveled to many cities and states in many different areas. Also having Google maps available any time was really helpful. If you don't have cell phone coverage download all of your Google maps before you leave the country for all of the areas that you are visiting. Here is the information on how to do that How To Download Google Maps for when you are driving and don't have cell phone coverage. I had phone and data though sprint but only 1 gig of data each additional gig was $30.00 which in my opinion was well worth it. For 15 days we used just over a gig... try to stay away from videos like Youtube or video conferencing apps which will eat most of the data.
#14 Things to bring... Buy your own snorkel and bring it with you. Most of the places you go to will rent you snorkel gear but they are not good quality.. bring your own and test it before you leave. Try this one out or check out the reviews on Amazon.... Snorkel set. Buy a big hat..wow... this huge hat saved me! Kept that bright sunlight out of my eyes! It was a life saver for both Josh and I! Forget about pinning all those cute outfits that you want to take on your trip. You will be living in your bathing suit. Your make up will be smeared all day.. if it hasn't been stolen already like mine was! LOL! Keep things simple. I lived in the same two pairs of shorts. You don't want to walk in sandals all day trust me! Take a good pair of cute flats that you can walk in.. really walk in. Take a pair of really good hiking shoes when you visit all of the ruins... FYI Uxmal is the best .. even better than Chichen Itza! Bring sunblock and Aloe.. you will probably get a pretty bad sunburn! Bring an underwater camera. Lastly.. get one of those underwater cases for your money. Get one sized for your needs and make sure you check it before you leave. Try to get one that fits your phone so you can bring it with you or leave it at your hotel. I have a hello kitty one that I have had for years. It goes around my neck and is long enough to tuck into my bathing suit... that way you don't leave anything on the beach.. DON'T LEAVE ANYTHING but your towels and hat on the beach.
#15 Be present and have fun! It was a trip of a lifetime.. these are the things that blew my mind..
#1 Uxmal.. these ruins are mind blowing
#2 The Cenote Sac Actun aka "Pet Cemetary" You get there by googling Sac Actun... It's deep down into the dirt road. You will pass a large cenote entrance to the left keep going another mile or so... the road will veer to the left and you will dead end there.. it's $30.00 but also includes a guided tour... we fell in love with Rodrigo, our guide, he is now a friend of ours who gave us the secrets from a local on all the places to visit in the Yucatan!
#3 Merida.. I think this city is completely under appreciated. I'm not saying that Cancun isn't wonderful. But once you have visited Cancun you probably don't have to visit again. Whereas a city like Merida, with its rich culture, beautiful architecture and it's wonderful people is a place I would visit over and over again. Plus it is the center for so many adventures. You can visit the West Coast from this point, you can visit Chichen Itza, so many cenotes.. cenotes in people's back yards..lol, and be in the hub of true Yucatecan culture! Also you must visit the Lucas De Galvez marketplace.. it's mind blowing!
#4 Don't miss the opportunity to visit Cuba. It is a life changing experience. I know that the $350 airfare can add a dent to your Riviera Maya/Cancun budget but it is well worth it. Visit it now before it changes. To see the unbelievable architectural detail in almost complete ruin and decrepitude is unbelievable. This country was practically stopped in time and I don't think that you can see this anywhere else in the world to this extent. The people are wonderful and the food was very affordable.
I hope this list helped you! If you can think of something I may have left out or would just like to join in the conversation please feel free to leave a comment. I am happy to answer any question.. please leave a question below and I will answer it as soon as possible. Thanks for reading this and enjoy! Be safe!
Edna and Josh are world travelers and adventurers. They prefer to be travelers not be tourists.
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