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Cancun


marthapook
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You're going to get a lot of disparaging comments, so be prepared.

If you're young and look fab in your bikini, you'll love it. The atmosphere is "festive," as we used to warn older tourists considering a trip there. And you didn't say when you're going but right now we're in Spring Break season, followed closely by Easter, and the place is a zoo. If that's when you're going, and if you're not young, I'd suggest you hop in a taxi and head down the penninsula about 30 miles or so and try to find a quieter spot. Over Spring Break, Cancun is beer bongs and booze and boobs tossed about in a restless sea of raging hormones -- complete with film crews documenting the whole thing for various episodes of "Wild On" and "Girls Gone Wild."

The only reason Cancun exists at all is to entertain visitors, and at that it's been wildly successful, pumping millions of dollars annually into Mexico's coffers. I think of it like Las Vegas with a beach, and without the casinos. Most of the hotels are located along a strip of sand that is a narrow island in the shape of a "7." The hotels are all glitzy high-rises lined up one after the other, like so many pastel cement dominos. There are luxury spa-type hotels, moderate and budget hotels. There are also a few enormous "time-share" type hotels that you'll get lots of recommendations for that I personally loathe (and I don't use that word lightfly). Many of these have the word "Palace" in the name. If you stay in one of them, be prepared for many "invitations" from the staff for various "parties," such as "orientation party," "Mexican night," etc. These are really just hard-sell time-share pitches, so beware.

If you're going there to do a lot of swimming, or are with young children, get out your map and study the island. The hotels on the beaches at the top of the 7 are much better in that regard. Along the length of the 7, the beaches face the ocean and the currents and rip tides can be dangerous.

The sand in Cancun is formed of something (I can't remember what) that doesn't absorb and hold the heat like most sand. Therefore, you can walk on it without burning your feet off. It's fine as white powder and just beautiful. The color of the Caribbean is just as shockingly neon turquoise as you hope it will be. Indescribable.

Cancun, contrary to what most Americans think, does not cater just to Americans. It is a worldwide vacation Mecca. The last time I was there was for a ten-day stay with my teenage daughter. The first few days she took up with the "whitest" folks on the beach. They were a team of young Irish soccer lads playing tournaments in Mexico. The second day, they were the "reddest" folks on the beach. Next up was a brief romance with a Peruvian fellow that was there with his entire family celebrating his parent's 25th wedding anniversary. One funny thing is that my daughter speaks fluent Spanish, although from spending so much time in Mexico, it turns out that she has a "Mexican" accent (who knew?). So the Peruvian family initially thought she was Mexican.

There are nonstop flights from Cancun into various European cities, and several South American gateways, so you'll find lots of visitors from all over the world. Upper-class Mexicans, too, like to vacation in Cancun because it's clean, modern, and a nonstop party.

Despite what you're going to hear about the place, let me assure you that if you are in search of a good time, you can easily find it in Cancun.

But if, on the other hand, you're in seach of a "quaint, picturesque Mexican fishing village," Cancun ain't it.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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If you're young and look fab in your bikini, you'll love it. 

young is relative

and so is looking fab in a bikini :wink:

thanks for the advice on the time share stuff and honestly i'm expecting it to be completely touristy - we're going just to get AWAY and because it's relatively cheap

but i certainly won't mind splurging on great meals

we're staying at the JW Marriot and aside from the Ritz Carlton restaurants - any place you'd recommend for great dinners?

also any advice on places where the locals eat?

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also any advice on places where the locals eat?

The locals.

Hum.

Well, "the locals" are all Mexicans that came from somewhere else to work in the hotels, restaurants, bars, discos, taxicabs, diveshops, tour companies, parachute and banana-float rides, etc., and they don't eat anywhere on the island. For one thing, they can't afford it. And for another, during their leisure time they're trying to get away from "us."

There actually is a town of Cancun, over on the mainland. It's small, but there are quite a few restaurants there; some tiny and unassuming, some larger and fairly nice. Many specialize in seafood and the Yucatecan/Mayan cuisine. I've eaten there several times, in various places, and had some really great meals. Although overall, I think that the food is better farther down the pennisula, around Playa.

I'm not any good at recommending restaurants for places where I've visited, but have not lived. I just like to explore around, try different things, open to everything. Regarding restaurants, I don't take notes and I don't remember well. (I've reflected upon this oddity and I think it's intentional, as I do very well with sightseeing and other attractions. Maybe some sort of "system" my subconscious has developed in order to keep me from returning to favorite restaurants rather than seeking out new ones.) The island with all the tourists has quite a few restaurants that offer the sorts of cuisine that tourists like. An Italian one comes immediately to mind. Most of those restaurants are pretty darn forgettable and very high-priced. Many of the hotels offer good food, but if you want a real Mexican experience with the local seafood/Mayan/Yucatecan dishes, try to buddy up with the people that work in your hotel and ask them where, over on the mainland, they eat. If you manage to turn them into friends, they'll even meet you there, and bring along some more folks. That's the best.

For breakfast, whenever I'm in Mexico, I always get chilaquiles with fresh fruit alongside -- I particularly love papaya with a couple of squeezes of fresh lime. Everybody down there makes great chilaquiles for breakfast. And I also love ceviche, and the Mexican-style shrimp cocktails. They make a great "lime soup" on the Yucatan, which I always get. And there are several traditional preparations using anatto seeds/achiote paste. It's bright red, so you'll see "Pollo rojo" on the menu. Very good, and "tipico." And there's usually some sort of fish (red snapper, "huachinango," is traditional) served "Veracruzano" -- which means "Veracruz" style -- with a sauce of peppers, tomatoes and onions. That's always good, fresh. Look for it.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Definitely head into downtown Cancun, just to get a different feel (and geez, you'll need it if you're there near spring break at all). The Parque de las Palapas is really pleasant on weekend nights, and there's a bunch of stands selling little snacks. Also, if you go over during the daytime, check out the main market--even more food, and it's especially cool because there's food from all over Mexico, catering to all the different workers in Cancun. And Gory Tacos, on C Tulipanes, is tasty--but only open until 8 pm.

In the hotel zone, there's an Italian place called Dolcemente Pompeii that's very laid-back and has plastic chairs on the beach--good food and a little cheaper than most places in the strip, and nice not to be affiliated with a hotel for a change. I got that rec from a PR rep at a hotel--it's kind of where the locals with the better jobs go. It's on C Pez Volador, which is right across (north) of the giant Mexican flag on the top side of the hotel zone. Also, the various incarnations of the Rolandi mini-chain (Casa Rolandi, Pizza Rolandi) are reliably good northern Italian with wood-oven pizza. And waaay on the south end of the hotel zone, near where the lagoon meets th sea, is a little ceviche place--I'm blanking on the name.

Definitely report back! I'll be curious to hear what else you find. When are you going?

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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Thank you both

The "tiny and unassuming" restaurants in 'town" you mentioned Jaymes and the Parque de las Palapas you suggested sound exactly like what I want

Jaymes, what is chilaquiles?

Fresh fish and ceviche is what I'm really looking forward to.....

I've traveled quite a bit but have never 'journaled'. I've always relied memory- which usually boils down to remembering the really good and the really bad - only. I think this time I might actually write stuff down and would gladly report back.

I am going April 16 - right after spring break - whew!!! - which is also nice because the rates drop dramatically - on the 16th (The JW Marriot was asking $359 per night on the 15th and $179 per night on the 16th.)

I'm kinda looking forward to it now that I know there are places where I can visit the local eateries for real food. The info you both provided gives me somewhere to start exploring from - thanks :biggrin:

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Chilaquiles are a sort of tortilla caserole thing that were invented a long time ago as a way to use up stale tortillas. I suspect that the day after tortillas were invented, somebody said, "Boy, these are tough now but we can't just throw food away. How can we moisten them up a little?"

That has evolved into what is a major breakfast dish all over Mexico. Basically it's stale tortillas torn up, salsa and cheese added. Although you see all kinds, including with chicken or other meat later in the day and served as lunch or supper, what you generally find for breakfast is much simpler. It's pieces of tortillas layered with Mexican white cheese and that wonderful tangy green tomatillo sauce and baked. It's ubiquitous at Mexican breakfast buffets. So if you go to any, look for it.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I spent a little time in Cancun - -damn party kids were calling me "sir"; I have never felt so old.

I had one good meal, at a place called La Destiliria. OK, it's a tourist trap like every single other restautrant on the island and, perhaps more damning, offers 150 different tequillas.

On the other hand, the food was very good. The lime soup was spectacular. All those tquilas are served neat, with a spicy tomato-juice back, and taste pretty good. And there were no rowdies. I would go back.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I spent a little time in Cancun - -damn party kids were calling me "sir"; I have never felt so old.

at thirtysometingish myself i anticipate being called ma'am at some point

ain't that what the margaritas are for???

anyway, Jaymes, thanks for the explanation on Chilaquiles - leftovers for breakfast sounds good to me.

and gracias lleechef for the info on Perico's and Busboy for that on La Destiliria

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Hey, I'll be down there again at the same time--probably going on April 19! I'll keep an eye out for someone journaling and chowing down!

I second lleechef's suggestion to go to Isla Mujeres for the day. There are a lot more casual, beachy, inexpensive places to eat there. Just north of the ferry dock is Cockteleria Picus, which is really just a hut and some chairs on the beach serving shrimp cocktail and ceviche--lunch only, though. Also, La Lomita, a little southwest of the square if I'm remembering right (it's kind of up a hill, hence the name) is another lunch place that residents go to with their own Tupperware containers to load up on whatever's on the menu that day. Also, for inexpensive, bohemian beach-French, Le Bistro Francais is nice--I had some fish there just browned in butter with a little fennel--great!

Oh, and one more pretty good thing in the Cancun hotel zone is the Mexican fast-food place Checandole, in the Flamingo mall. Right next to McD's.

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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Hello,

I'm so jealous! I've been all over the world and the Mayan Riviera is my number one favorite beach destination.

If you have a travel day planned, please try to explore the Yucatan coast of Mexico south of Cancun. About thity minutes down the coastal highway, there are some small beautiful towns like Playa Del Carmen (Shh, let's keep it that way!) where you can eat fresh seafood and walk through mayan ruins inhabited only by swarms of butterflies that are in the jungle right on the equally deserted beaches. Plus you can be back at your hotel in Cancun with little fuss and little driving or taxi time.

We loved Moros Crab House in Playa del Carmen, for incredibly delicious food and desserts in a unique house, as well as Cafe Dennis on the main zocalo by the pier in Cozumel. Their seafood quesadillas were out of this world. So fresh and juicy, with white Mexican cheese and chilis.

nb, Moros was closed for repairs the last time i was there in May.

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A great side trip from Cancun is to take a boat out to Isla Mujeres and spend some time wandering the island and/or snorkeling. By and large, the spring-breakers don't make it out there. There's a great restaurant on the beach, near where the boats come in, called Velasquez. Simple grilled seafood of the highest quality.

If you do head down to Playa del Carmen, Yaxche is an excellent restaurant serving food based on traditional Mayan recipes.

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Thanks to all for the helpful advice. Your rec's are exactly what I was looking for.

Zora, sounds like you go quite often....business or pleasure?

Also, Tighe and Marezion, we are definitely planning to go to Playa del Carmen and possibly to Isla Mujeres. We were going to rent a car when we landed but I wonder if it is nec??? Any thoughts???

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Renting cars in Mexico can be very expensive. The insurance alone is costly.

That said, most of the roads in the Yucatan are good, and well-marked. I've rented cars there and driven all over the place with no problems. But depending on what you want to do, and your budget of course, you might just want to rent a car for a day or two.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I'm sure you're already considering this, but if you haven't a day trip to Chichen Itza -- the old Mayan Town is well worth the drive time.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Renting cars can be very expensive in Mexico, as Jaymes stated, but if you are willing to do a little shopping on the internet and make a reservation ahead of time (and have a credit card balance to put up the usual rediculously large deposit) you can get a car at a reasonable rate. The Yucatan is wonderful and there are plenty of places that will make you happy that you went to all of the trouble. The last time I was there I rented a Volkswagen Thing for something that I remember as reasonable (maybe $50 US ?). It was a very fun little car and kind of nice having a convertible as well.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Marthapook, I do go down regularly--for work (travel writing), but it's not bad work, for sure!

Re: renting a car, you can find good Internet deals (I got a super-cheapie for $22/day last trip) from international companies online--it's often cheaper to pick up the car in the hotel zone, rather than at the airport.

But you don't really need a car--buses up and down the coast are very frequent and quite comfortable (it's only an hour from Cancun to Playa del Carmen). And it's very easy and cheap to get around Cancun by bus.

The only reason you might want a car is for the long trip to Chichen, for instance, so you could stop off in towns on the way back, which you can't do very easily with public transport. (Although, frankly, the ruins at Ek-Balam, just north of Valladolid, are closer, really cool, and not as mobbed--then you have some time to hang out in Valladolid, and maybe go swimming in the cenotes near there.)

On the coast, the fantasy of driving along and popping off at deserted beaches is pretty much foiled--everything's so built up. It only gets worth having a car if you go as far south as Tulum (two hours from Cancun). But you can keep yourself pretty entertained closer to Cancun--just inland from Puerto Morelos (half an hour south), for instance, are some neat cenotes that no one visits yet, and it's easy to take a bus to the highway junction for Pto M, then arrange a cab inland from there (or down to the town of Pto M, which is a pleasant, not very developed place)--just as cheap as a car, and you get to meet some Mexicans.

Just realized this has nothing to do with food (wait--good tacos in Puerto Morelos!), so you can PM me, marthapook, if you want any other info.

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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Renting cars can be very expensive in Mexico, as Jaymes stated, but if you are willing to do a little shopping on the internet and make a reservation ahead of time (and have a credit card balance to put up the usual rediculously large deposit) you can get a car at a reasonable rate. The Yucatan is wonderful and there are plenty of places that will make you happy that you went to all of the trouble. The last time I was there I rented a Volkswagen Thing for something that I remember as reasonable (maybe $50 US ?). It was a very fun little car and kind of nice having a convertible as well.

Not only is it expensive, but you do NOT, I repeat, do NOT, want to have a fender bender or a car accident in Mexico. Its one of the worst places to do that.

Suffice to say that you can get thrown in jail for something as simple a fender bender in Mexico, and can be fined a LOT of money. The local police in many of these towns are extremely corrupt. My uncle got thrown in jail for a week (and you really don't want to know what a Mexican jail is like!) and had to pay $10,000 in fines to get out about 10 years ago when he banged up a rental car in Acapulco.

Take taxis.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I'm also going to add that when using a credit card with rental places in Mexico, be very careful they don't charge your card more than once. A lot of them do. :blink:

edited to add: Playa del Carmen is my favourite place in the whole world :smile:

Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Ok. Great!

I was so totally convinced that we just had to drive.

Then Jason had to go and scare the $%!^ out of me. :shock: Thanks, J. :wink:

Anyway, I'm so grateful to you all and plan on spending a lot of time exploring thanks to your suggestions.

Zora, how jealous am I??? Not a bad gig.

I'm a little crazy right now - prepping for the resaurant show at Javits this weekend but I will pm you in a week or so.

Thanks for the help all.

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Ah, very timely, we just made last minute plans to stay in Playa del Carmen area (Royal Hideaway) the week after next. First time. Any more recommendations for restaurants other than Yaxche and Moros?

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi marthapook,

You may already be lying on some of that beautiful white sand, soaking up the rays as I write this, but-

I would recommend Los Almendros in Cancun city for Yucatecan dishes (inexpensive too!) and second the vote for La Distelleria. Sampling the vintage tequila flights was a real eye-opener for me, as I didn't think I liked the stuff. The waitstaff there is very knowledgeable and friendly as well.

"A good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." Virginia Woolf

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