I know people would love to think that living in Cancun means a beachfront apartment and seven nights a week at a disco. The truth is that we live in a normal neighborhood in a normal, concrete city. We work all week, the kid goes to school and there are very few party-till-you-drop nights. We don’t get to play like tourists on a daily basis, but weekends were made for road trips and Quintana Roo is our playground. We cruise the highway and seek cool things to do and new places to see, revisit old favorites and reconnect with the environment, clean air and sun. A fewchelas (beer) maybe, some fresh ceviche and fruit with spicy chili sauce, the basics, and we’ve had a great day.
One hot (I mean HOT) August Sunday, we packed up the gear (pareos, beach toys, snorkel stuff) and left town not really knowing our destination. We decided to go in search of a new cenote for some relief from the heat and headed south down the 307. Past Puerto Morelos, past Playa del Carmen, as we reached the area around Puerto Aventuras we started keeping an eye out for signs indicating cenotes (pronounced “seh-no-tay”, natural limestone sinkholes found in the Yucatan Peninsula). We stopped in at one of the “touristy” parks, but even with a locals discount it was going to cost us fifty bucks, not what we were looking for. We pulled out and saw a small cardboard sign saying “Cenote Azul” about ten meters down the road and decided to check it out. Fifty pesos, much more our style, we paid the fee and started down the rough jungle path.
We made our way down the slippery rocks, pushing aside palm fronds and descending down the trail. We could smell the cenote before we could see it, fresh and clean, the scent of the green jungle plants and cool water on a humid, sticky day. We passed a couple of small pools, occupied by families with shopping bag picnics and beer on ice. We finally came upon the main pool, like Eden in the jungle! The water was crystal clear, emerald and turquoise and royal blue. The rocky cliff had a lineup of young people taking turns making the big jump. Families lined the rocks around the edge and snorkelers flippered gently seeking the small black catfish and little “toe nippers” (not the scientific name, it’s just what they do). We climbed down the rocks and into the frigid waters, easing our way in up to our knees then just making the jump, skin tightening and goose bumps popping. The shivering stopped after a few minutes, we swam, we snorkeled, we refreshed completely, enjoying the laughs of our fellow bathers on family Sunday.
We spent about an hour frolicking before moving on in our quest for something new. We dried ourselves off and continued moving south down the highway. We hadn’t gone very far when we saw the sign for “Xpu Ha Beach” and knew that we had to stop. Hunger and thirst compelled us down the bumpy dirt road towards the sea. We found treasure at the end of the line, a cute little beach club on a most incredible beach. No big resorts around, no cruise ships, not much of anything except white sand and blue sea, the live salsa band playing and a couple of cold cheladas and hot quesadillas. Walking into the ocean we knew we’d found paradise, no rocks, no seaweed, no coral, no shells, just the most incredibly clear water! I could see the chips in my toe nail polish at four feet deep. A black cloudy storm rolled in, we stayed in the water and the band kept playing as the rain came down and then moved on, back to blue skies and sweaty heat. After getting our fill of sun, sand and sea, we gathered our gear and started on the road home to Cancun, knowing we had to return to Xpu-Ha, our new favorite beach. It was a fabulous day of exploring and enjoying just two of the natural wonders of the Riviera Maya. We’d already started plotting adventures for the following weekend.
If you are going to be traveling to Cancun, I say “Welcome, now get out!”. I mean get out of your resort, go exploring, find your own secret cenote or hidden beach. Coming to Cancun and laying on a lounge chair for seven days, you might as well be on a tanning bed back home. Take at least one day of your trip to have an adventure, there are so many incredible things to see and do outside the confines of the hotel. Mayan ruins, jungle tours, snorkeling and scuba diving, eco-parks and zip lines, road side taco shacks and fresh cocos, nature reserves and remote beaches, Cancun is so much more than sprawling luxury resorts and fancy schmancy restaurants and spas. So get off your lounger and discover!
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Kelly McLaughlin (aka @CancunCanuck) has been living and working in Cancun, Mexico for the last six years with her Mexican husband and their MexiCanadian son. She has an addiction to the beach and to exploring all the nooks and crannies of the Yucatan Peninsula seeking adventure. The trunk of her car is the permanent home of beach toys, snorkel gear and a tent, ready to hit the road when inspiration strikes in search of cenotes, jungle treks or a relaxing day on a hidden beach. Her blog “A Canuck in Cancun” was the winner of the 2009 Bloggie for best Latin American blog and she counts herself very lucky indeed to be able to live in paradise and write about it daily.
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