Friday, April 27, 2012

The Yucatan Resorts...

The Lonely Planet explains that the town of Tulum is split into three distinct areas: The Archaeological Zone (home of the Tulum Mayan ruins), the busy center of town (home to such places as the bus stop, lots of souvenir shops, and the government offices), and Zona Hoteliera along the beach, where the resorts are. The guidebook is correct on all counts, but if that's the case with the small town of Tulum, what is there to be said about Cancun? Well, take those distinctions and just enhance them to the Nth degree - and voila, you get Cancun!

There really is no Archaeological Zone here - there's a small and fairly forgettable ruin 'El Rey' at the end of Zona Hoteliera. It would be utterly forgettable, if it wasn't for members of a very extended iguana family sunning themselves on top of the remains of the Mayan structures. The downtown is quite expansive - Cancun is a big city after all - and is also home to Walmart, Sam's Club, and Applebee's. With a pleasant sampling of street taco and quesadilla stands mixed in. The Zona Hoteliera is, well... kind of amazing, in its own way. My first impression was the Las Vegas Strip having been airlifted right from the middle of the Nevada dessert and plopped down on the Gulf Coast. There's lots of huge, high rise hotels; there are bars where American sports are always on TV; chain restaurants abound, and the all-inclusive resorts appear to be filled with tourists who are here for the express purpose of drinking cheap beer and visiting a few night clubs. And also hanging out by the hotel pool - the actual beach is much too far away... In a word, after seeing Cancun, I was rather underwhelmed by the Mexican resort scene. The beach was admittedly lovely however, so it had all started off well:

I did have to work rather hard to not get any high-rise hotels, bars, or crowds of tourists into the shot

But then again, I knew all of that - Cancun is very much the spring break destination for the East Coast and [especially] the South. Even when it's not actually spring break, the tourists here are still on spring break. Well, what of the visitors who are not here for Spring Break? Mexico does welcome all kinds, and apparently, the West Coast are very much accepted down here as well - they just have to drive a couple hundred kilometers South to the town of Tulum. Admittedly, the Lonely Planet description of Tulum's Zona Hoteliera did not instill a whole lot more confidence in me than what I had gotten out of Cancun. But I chose to go visit nonetheless... and upon arrival, my first thought was... I must have missed it? I mean, there were no huge concrete buildings. There were no American restaurant chains. All I could really see was actually just jungle, with the beach and water peaking through from a distance. I pressed on. The resorts were, in fact here - hidden away in the jungle underbrush, small, tastefully decorated buildings and cabanas dotting the shoreline. The crowds were markedly absent. The advertisements talked of eco-resorts, organic food at the restaurants, and yoga and massage classes on premises. They even seem to provide bicycles for the visitors to ride and stray away from the resort! It was distinctly un-Vegas like. And don't get me wrong, I enjoy Las Vegas very much, but it has its own place in the world, and that place happens to be in the middle of a barren and unforgiving Nevada dessert, non on Mexico's Riviera Maya!

Some backstory is in order - Erica is coming down to meet me down here for a few days in the middle of May. We'll be staying at the Playa Azul resort, in Tulum's Zona Hoteliera - I went to check it out; I am quite pleased with our selection! I cannot believe that had Natalya not recommended Playa Azul to us, we, not knowing any better, may have actually stayed on the beach right in Cancun... This is, in fact, my hope for the throngs of tourists who do stay there - I like to think that they just don't know better and have no clue what they are missing! I'm probably wrong, and the guy wearing the Keystone Light (do they even still make that!?) on my flight down has no interest whatsoever in even setting foot in one of them hippie Eco-Resorts down in Tulum, but I'm going to feel better in believing that he's wholly ignorant of Tulum's sheer existence! As for that existence... I took some pictures:

Cabana #2, which Erica and I will soon be occupying

View from the cabana onto the beach and the ocean

The beach at and around Playa Azul

Yup, I'm probably turning into a Seattle hippie snob at this point - I think I'm going to be ok with that! And hey, Cancun does have some redeeming characteristics to it as well:

Mercado 28 is a huge market, trading in anything and everything you could possibly need. Including Black Magic, if you trust the guidebook...

And Parque de Palapas is a cute little park just in the middle of town.

Well, that was about it though, really...

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