Bienvenidos, Baby
Still looking for a nice warm, tropical and civilized destination? You can’t do much better than Cancun, Mexico.
Snorkeling, miles of white beaches, and watersports
galore are only a few of the reasons why Cancun is a
favorite Mexican destination for adventurous Poles.
he beach was like nothing I’d ever
seen. A strip of empty white sand
lined by palm trees and blindingly
white hotels. Water so blue that it seemed
to be some vast special effect. Whitecapped waves and flashes of foot-long fish
actually swimming sideways within the
waves themselves.
Simply put, it was too much to take. I
ran with abandon, stripped off
my shirt, kicked off my
sandals and then
dove into the
waves, com-
photo courtesy of Fly Away
pletely forgetting that I had a wad of cash
in my pocket and that my pockets were
loose and open, as is normal with swim
So within five minutes of arriving upon
my very first Mexican beach I lost $400,
which was almost all of the money I had
brought to carry me over a four-day weekend in Cancun, Mexico. I also lost my sandals, stolen off the beach by the very next
wave while I was desperately chasing
glimpses of 50-dollar
bills skidding deep
across the sandy
ocean floor.
It was a crippling blow, but
not as difficult
to get over as it
might seem. This
was Mexico. I had
$90 hidden back
in my room. Breakfasts
were massive and laden
with fruit, shopping
was not a priority and
the fact of the matter
Poland Monthly No.25 (03/2004)
was, I simply didn’t care about the money.
I was thinking about the sea, the sun,
American co-eds wandering by in string
bikinis and the fact that to be in Cancun,
Mexico is almost always a case of being in
the right place at the right time, all of the
That said, it would probably be only fair
to point out that Cancun is not exactly off
the beaten track. It may not be the No. 1
tourist destination for Americans, but for
Americans traveling beyond their country’s borders, it is probably pretty close to
it. The result has been that what was once
a relative outpost with miles of beaches for
every large hotel has changed into something resembling a Mexican Cannes or
Nice. The poorer districts are far away.
English is the dominant language, and in
the summer American college students
are a dominant force, as are outdoor discos, bikini contests, drinking rum from
coconuts and the like. On the inner edge of
the Yucatan peninsula, Cancun was the
first of a series of Mexican resort cities to
attract American tourists to the region,
and for many Americans it was the first
and best reason to go beyond the border
towns of Texas and California and at least
get a glamorized picture of what the country is all about. Since the 1980s especially,
Cancun has gradually turned from the
exotic to a weekend getaway and even
retirement destination. Nearby Cozumel
has graduated from a truly adventurous
destination to a standard snorkeling hub
and other Yucatan attractions, such as the
walled fortress at nearby Tulum, have
gradually made their way onto agency
Yet there is much more to Cancun than
meets the eye. Although it is a city of
450,000, most visitors see only the “Zona
Hotelera,” or the 15-mile stretch that is the
tourist zone. What has become a resort
planner’s dream might as well be considered a showcase for the entire country—
but it doesn’t hurt that Cancun always had
a great deal to work with. On one side run
white-sand beaches for as far as the eye
can see, and if a bit of seclusion is necessary, it only takes some walking (or better
yet a quick taxi ride) to get beyond the
tourist zone to isolated beaches and coves
that run endlessly up and down the Gulf.
The water is always a stunning turquoise
to aqua blue and the lagoon side of the
island is pleasant, if not stunning,
although nobody swims there.
Of course, there is a reason why
nobody swims there. While the lagoon is
no longer infested with snakes (which is
actually the origin behind the name of
the city), it is home to not only the elusive
and harmless manatee, but also alligators
and crocodiles—some of which were in
full view on the lagoon side of nearby
Club Med. In fact, the locals’ favorite
tale—the truth of which cannot be
doubted in public—tells the tragedy of an
otherwise typical honeymoon couple.
The husband was bold and daring. The
wife, an attractively suntanned blonde.
The husband decided to try parachute
gliding behind a speedboat on the ocean
side of Cancun. The pretty, suntanned
blonde watched from a parasol on shore.
The line broke, however, and the pretty,
suntanned blonde watched her action
hero float helpless over the strip of hotels
and beaches (and incidentally over Club
photo courtesy of Fly Away
A closer look... Kodak underwater cameras are a must in Cancun and Cozumel,
although this unknown species was photographed a bit more professionally.
Med) to the lagoon where he had hardly
hit the water before being munched by
crocodiles and alligators.
This is admittedly a strange tale. It was
told to me by a shortish Mexican who
introduced himself as “Pepe the taxi driver.” Pepe’s taxi sounded as if he had substituted his engine for that of a stressed
out golf cart. Meanwhile, Pepe drove just
like all of the other taxi drivers in Cancun,
which meant I only rode about one mile
with Pepe before deciding never to take a
taxi again. But looking back at the narrow
strip of land that separated the gulf from
the ocean, and thinking about the gators
outside of Club Med, I just can’t imagine
that Pepe would have lied to me.
All the same, Pepe did give some good
advice, which ought to be passed on to any
Poland Monthly No.25 (03/2004)
tourist. First, prices are much more reasonable outside of Zona Hotelera. Second,
bandits outside of Zona Hotelera are plentiful as well.
Bandits in Mexico—it is a topic that has
to be addressed, simply because there is so
much folklore attached to a country that
has inspired literary works from Graham
Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” to
comparisons to a walnut in Ken Kesey’s
“One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Put
simply, La Zona Hotelera is about as safe
as any tourist district in the world. The
staff at any of the hotels are professional,
warm and on the lookout for anyone that
might mess up a good holiday. A journey
to “El Centro,” however—this being the
city center where the real Mexico is alive
and well—does come at your own risk.
photo courtesy of Fly Away
A surreal paradise... The Hotel Intercontinental Presidente
How to
get there...
ond is that breakfasts and
lunches are served with a
fantastic variety of fruit.
Snorkeling offers incrediThere are pickpockets. There are indigents up), suggested I walk Most travel agencies
bly clear water and swarms
traveling steadily north, looking for a bet- through his house to the offer package deals to
of multi-colored fish that
ter life in America, and some of them are beach, I just could not Mexico. Hotels vary in
would make a cinematogin desperate straits. El Centro, like any resist. The house was quality, but in the
rapher proud. (Grab a few
other city center in the world, hosts a few something straight out of Cancun area even lowKodak disposable underbad apples that recognize a careless the 1980s television show,
end hotels tend to
tourist on sight, so nighttime visits should Miami Vice. The beach was
meet three- to four-star water cameras before you
go, as they are much more
an isolated cove, with a
be taken with caution.
standards in Europe.
expensive beachside than
There is also the fact that in El Centro a sunset the likes I had never
Those dreaming of the they are in Poland—I
bit of caution should be taken with seen. But no sooner had the
missed a chance to get a
Mexican pride. Don’t haggle down the sun set than a pair of above-mentioned locapic of a pint-sized barracuprice in the open markets if you are not Mexican police officers tions should check out
da). Rays, urchins and just
intending to buy. I did this over a butter- appeared, telling me that I current offers from Fly
about anything else you
fly knife, flipping it open to see if I still had no right to be on a pri- Away Travel
can imagine are likely to
could (as well as to impress a certain vate beach and that I had to in Warsaw.
come into view.
female of the species), then after knock- pay $300 or go to the
Serious snorkelers should check out
ing the price down to only $4, I told the “tower.”
Put simply, I didn’t really haggle. I tried Cozumel island, which is also the perfect
seller that I was not really interested in
trying to run US customs with an illegal to explain that a wave had taken all of my launch pad for deep sea excursions. After
knife in my pocket. At this point I got a money, and when I offered the only bribe all, this is the same Carribean that
quick refresher course in Mexican curses, on hand (at the time this happened, this Hemingway used to love—marlin, bluefin
and for a moment I thought I might need was about 3,000 pesos—or about $1), they tuna, sharks, sailfish, grouper and dorado
became so enraged that they simply are all on hand—although tourists are
the knife after all.
sometimes surprised to find that hooking
For a final word of warning, stay off the stomped off cursing as they went.
a marlin or a sailfish means a three- or
Those with no “sea legs” should check out Parque Nizuc, near four-hour fight to the finish.
For those with no real sea legs, Cancun
the edge of the hotel zone, where those looking for a brush
and the surrounding jungle offer Mayan
with nature can “swim with the dolphins.”
ruins, go-kart race tracks, Wednesday
afternoon bullfights and at Parque Nizuc,
Even so, Cancun and the surrounding near the edge of the hotel zone, a chance
beaches after dark. I had been warned
about this by both my brothers and by the tourist areas are remarkably clean and to “swim with the dolphins.”
There are also the ruins. Top on the list
receptionist at the hotel, but when a man safe. The first reaction of many tourists is
in a white suit (no, I am not making this that the region is incredibly green, the sec- is the majestic city of Chichen-Itza. The
Paraiso de la Bonita was built by developers from Bali and features various themes in mind, including Masai and Thai suites along the beach.
Poland Monthly No.25 (03/2004)
ancient Mayan capital hosts Kukulkan, a
75-foot high pyramid (no, it’s not that
high, but it sure seems high), as well as
other massive stone ruins where virgins
and just about everyone else were slain to
various Mayan gods. Tours run about $80
from downtown Cancun. Remember,
however, that it’s hot. You’re going to the
jungle and you’re going to be there all
Call me a historic failure, but I’m just not
sure if it is worth it.
Another option (for those who want to
spend a day closer to shore, although not
necessarily on shore, is to go on a speedboat tour (Elite Jungle Tours at Marina
Punta Este, 888-1210). Tarpon fishing is
also recommended—the fish are big, fight
hard and are a fly fisherman’s dream
(Capt. Rodman Hunter at 044 987 874-6333
is worth a try).
Of course, the less adventurous are
likely to just sit around and enjoy the
sights at any of the 250 hotels in the
immediate vicinity. The Hotel Grand
Millia, the Hotel Viva Azteca and the
Hotel Playacar Reef Club are tops for fourstar and five-star hotels. Those looking
for real luxury, however, should try the or
the Hotel Melia Paradisus.
photo courtesy of Fly Away
Away from it all... The Hotel Melia Paradisus, 25 kilometers from Cancun
offers unrivaled white beaches, 496 rooms, six restaurants and luxury apartments.
The former, designed by architects
from Bali, includes 90 apartments with
various themes ranging from Bali, to Thai
to Masai, and if you want to forget about
work, stress, your lost love life or whatever, a Masai apartment on the Caribbean
ki i W
17 Stycznia 36/38 Street
(Ok´cie) tel. 48 22/846 86 99
Warsaw, Poland
would not be a bad way to start. No
gators. No sweat. No worries. Even if you
lost your shoes and all of your money,
you probably would not be particularly
upset—in fact, you might just look back
and laugh about it.
■ Preston Smith
Poland Monthly 02.04
Karolkowa 17/19 Street
(róg Wolskiej) tel. 48 22/632 97 96
Warsaw, Poland
Al. S