Hostel Versus Hotel: Experiencing Cancun Like A Local
When booking Mexican vacations either on a whim or well in advance, the more popular choice is almost always all-inclusive. That's the best way to get the most bang for your buck right? Well, having just got back from a flash-in-the-pan trip down south to the beautiful coastal Caribbean city of Cancun, I can honestly tell you that all-inclusive is definitely NOT the best way to experience Cancun if your preference is to live like a local while you travel the world.
A close friend and I decided to book a whirlwind trip somewhere hot and sunny after having to deal with one too many rainy days back home. The cheapest (and most attractive option) that came up was Cancun. Having been to Mexico two times previously (both times being all-inclusive), I wanted to try something different. I wanted to stay where the locals stayed, eat the food that the locals ate and truly immerse myself in the day-to-day life that was Cancun.
We decided on a cozy little hostel nestled in the heart of downtown Cancun just off Ave Carlos Nadar called the Mezcal Hostel. All the reviews we read said it was the best hostel in the city, and it definitely didn't disappoint. Not only were the staff and entertainment crew funny, engaging, and friendly, but fresh home-cooked breakfast and dinner came with the cost of our accommodation which was a nice surprise considering we expected to have to take care of our own meals for the entire trip.
Our first night in the city, we gathered a group of people from our hostel and went out and walked the city streets in search of some delicious street food, just itching to get a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine. We settled on a local restaurant called El Poblano and ordered mucho tacos de Pescado, and an order of Chiles Rellenos, which (for those of you that don't normally eat Mexican food) is a large poblano pepper that's skinned, boiled in spices, stuffed with fresh queso, deep-fried and then drizzled with fresh lime crema. YUM! Needless to say, we were hooked. 'Never again', I thought, would I ever want to sample another Americanized lunch buffet in a massive hotel banquet hall when I knew these explosions of flavour coudl embrace my palette.
The friendliness of the people at our hostel and the delicious food were only two of the many reasons why budget travelling was more enriching for us than the alternative. And I haven't even mentioned anything past the first day yet! Over the course of the next few days, we did as many activities as we could physically manage.
We rented bikes and set off to explore the Zone Hoteleria where Cancun's famous beaches stretched on for miles. We took a sailing tour on a catamaran with Cancun Sailing Tours to the Isla Mujeres and snorkelled around its clear crystal waters. We set off on a walking adventure to find a market square where all the locals gathered for late night eats and entertainment. We ate our body weight in pescadillas and tostadas de ceviche and even learned how to make our own ceviche at the hostel!
The number of new friends we made and the number of wonderful experiences we were able to cram into 5 short days was very impressive and honestly, I wouldn't change a thing. One of the fondest memories I have of our trip there was salsa dancing with a 70-year-old Mexican man named Javier in front of a 7/11 with a bunch of other locals gathered in the city square. We couldn't have planned that if we tried, which made it all the more special and a great story to tell.
If you've ever wondered what the other side of Mexico looks like and you plan on venturing to the Caribbean coast, I urge you to think twice before choosing an all-inclusive getaway and go with your gut instincts. You'll be all the happier you did.
Photos & featured image: Rose Huet