Mexico has proved to us that no matter how much you travel, there’s always more to learn. After 3 years of travelling together, including a year living abroad, as well as running a travel blog, Luke and I had come to think of ourselves as reasonably experienced travellers. Well, our first week in Mexico has shown us that no matter how experienced you are, you always have more to learn.
It’s bad enough for us to admit that we haven’t once managed to leave our accommodation without forgetting one very necessary item – whether that’s money, sun tan lotion, our passport, water or whatever else we need – since we got here. On top of that though, we had a lot of preconceived ideas about what Mexico would be like that turned out wrong and learned a couple of things we probably should’ve already known.
They Eat Tacos in Mexico, Not Rice and Beans
After spending a year travelling around Central America eating rice and beans twice, if not three times, a day, we loved it. I’ve read other travellers say that they were bored of rice and beans on day 3, but not us. We talked about rice and beans frequently on the lead up to Mexico and when we landed we couldn’t wait to get our hands on a plate of rice and beans.
Well, turns out they don’t eat rice and beans in Mexico. They eat tacos. While Mexicans do have rice sometimes and they do have beans sometimes, they’re not cooking it all the time and you certainly can’t get it on every street corner like you can in Costa Rica and other Central American countries. Tacos it is.
Travelling in the Yucatan is Expensive
Perhaps our biggest misconception about Mexico was that the whole country would be cheap to travel. We were wrong. Not all places are made equal – some are made with white sandy beaches and ports where cruise ships full of tourists can dock. The Yucatan coastline is super touristy as a result and full of resort hotels, which means prices have been driven up.
Our dreams of £2 plates of rice and beans had been dashed once again. Instead of the low prices we’d read about in the guidebook for Mexico as a whole, in tourist beach towns like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, accommodation and meals are more expensive than is ideal for budget travellers. It’s cheaper than the UK, sure, but it’s not budget-budget travel cheap for rice and bean eaters like us.
You Know You’re in a Tourist Town When There’s a Vegan Restaurant
On the plus side, all these tourists towns have been rocking out with vegetarian and vegan restaurants – especially the more hippy Tulum. So seeing as rice and beans wasn’t on the menu and we were going to be paying tourist prices anyway, we hit some vegan restaurants.
The health foodie in me was gloriously happy when I got a bowl of “ideal oats” – oats soaked in coconut and almond milk with chia seeds and sweet spices – for breakfast at La Senda in Playa del Carmen. We also ate some incredible vegan tacos at Charly’s Vegan Tacos in Tulum.
There are Wild Turkeys
“A turkey!” shouts Luke, pointing into the jungle and wobbling on his bicycle. I didn’t see a turkey, but it turns out that there are wild turkeys in Mexico. In fact, apparently European explorers actually found turkeys in Mexico and brought them over to Europe. I guess turkeys have to be wild somewhere.
Don’t Do It Just Because Lonely Planet Says So
Tulum has two main areas: the town which is built up along a noisy highway, and the beach, which is a few km outside the town. When we arrived in Tulum, we decided to do as Lonely Planet says and head straight to the beach area (also known as the hotel zone). This was definitely the middle-class decision and for us, a bit of a mistake.
While the beach is beautiful, the hotel zone is full of high-end resorts and expensive eating places. After a few days in a relatively well-priced jungle cabin that was the very last place on the hotel zone strip, we moved into Tulum town and loved it. It’s cheaper, more laid-back and it’s where all the locals are.
Breakfast in Resort Hotels Isn’t as Exclusive as You Might Think
While the jungle cabin we were staying in was awesome, it didn’t have a kitchen or a place to eat on-site and it was surrounded by large resort hotels with fancy restaurants. Having anticipated this challenge, we’d brought with us a stock of corn chips, little bananas, two pears and a sour mango.
Turns out you can’t live on corn chips for more than two meals in a row, so we ended up going across the road to the beach-front restaurant in a resort hotel called Rosa del Viento. We ummed and ahhed about it for ages, worrying it’d be all fancy and expensive. Turned out the staff were suuuper friendly, it wasn’t ‘exclusive’ at all and breakfast cost the same price as at all the other places we’d seen further down the strip (around 100 pesos / £3.80).
Airbnb can be Cheaper than Hostels in Tourist Towns
We figured out pretty early on into our trip that using Airbnb was cheaper than staying in a hostel in the tourist towns. Hostel prices started at 500 pesos / £19 for a double room and are even more expensive in the centre of town.
We stayed in some really awesome casitas that we found on Airbnb, including a British themed room in Playa del Carmen and a casita in a local street in Tulum. We also found the jungle cabin in Tulum through Airbnb (which was a steal compared to all the other hotels and hostels in Tulum’s hotel zone).
The Mexican Flag Isn’t the Italian Flag
This sounds so dumb that I don’t even want to say it. We were walking down the beach in Tulum and discussing how far we should walk. I point ahead and say, “let’s just walk to the Italian flag over there.” Luke nods, says nothing, and we continue walking. Of course, Mexico doesn’t have the Italian flag on their beaches, they have the Mexican one. That’s an easy mistake to make, right?
Mexicans are Really Friendly
Let’s end on a positive discovery! All of the Mexican people we’ve met have been really friendly. On our first day out in the streets of Mexico, we sat at a bus stop waiting for a bus going towards the beach. After about 30 minutes and a small amount of bickering between the two of us, we still hadn’t resolved whether a beach-bound bus would actually arrive at this particular bus stop.
Fortunately, a Mexican lady wearing bright pink yoga leggings and a crop top invited us to take a taxi with her and her husband to the main bus station and split the cost. During this 10-minute ride, she told us everything we needed to know about travelling in the area, gave us bus numbers, recommended a less touristy beach and even invited us to her birthday party the next day.
So Mexicans eat tacos, their flag has the same colours as the Italian ones and turkeys run wild near Mexican beaches. Every place is different and there’s always something new and unexpected to learn – or to at least realise.