Subject: Cathleen re: Cancun

I have followed this thread for a couple of days and kick myself for not responding. I have been to Cancun, which I think distinguishes me from all of the posters--at least I don't recall anyone relating personal experience. I will try to tell you the +/-, but let me preface my remarks by simply saying that (a) Cancun is a neat place to vacation, and (b) unless you choose really badly, anywhere you go--Cancun or otherwise--will please you because you're hungry for a vacation, a little romance, some fun... Attitude is everything in travel (IMHO).

We live in Houston, and like many Texans, we go to Mexico a lot because it's cheap, close, always wonderful temperatures, casual and in the same time zone--eg, Cancun is just a 2 hour flight away, and 2 people can go for a long weekend for great pkg deal prices. I can't recall where you live, but I would guess there are great package deals from your city, as well--the Mexican government (which develops these resort towns from nothing)and the related hotel/tour operators are great promoters. Also, the Mexican people are kind, really by nature and culture, but, of course, in resort towns, because they depend on tourists. Cancun is safe (it's a little strange to get used to, but in Mexico, armed police are everywhere) and actually quite Americanized. You can drink the water most places in Cancun. Cancun itself is basically two parts: the old town, which has the better shopping of trad'l crafts at the mercado and some trad'l restaurants--fun place to wander, a bus or taxi ride away from the second part: the hotel strip on the beach. One hotel next to another next to another...for miles. All sorts of touristy shopping, the ubiquitous Carlos 'n Charlies (a popular chain with atmosphere like Pat O'Brien's in New Orleans), a Hard Rock, etc. Now, I cannot recall but a couple all-inclusives right in Cancun. But you don't necessarily need one there because food is cheap, esp. if you are willing to go exploring. The hotels are all pretty nice, even those of most reasonable cost, i.e., you don't have to stay at the Ritz Carlton or Marriott (the top two properties as I recall) to feel like you're being pampered. Each hotel is keyed on its pool area running down to the beach. A day at the hotel consists of fresh fruit (great fruits in Mexico), coffee &b'fast breads whenever you get up, finding your pool chair for the day, getting waited on by the pool, wandering over to the hotel do-it-yourself-by-the-pool-drink-in-hand pottery table and making your own pieces, trying out the beach surf, cleaning up and getting into a casual summery dress, grabbing a cab to old town for dinner, disco'ing after if you want (Mexican resorts are big on late-late-night dancing) and then calling it a day. [Moral: if this sounds nice, look hard at brochures, descriptions, etc. -- a travel agent should have tons of material -- and choose a hotel with a great pool/beach area + pottery table, which is fun.] Other activities: all sorts of tours geared toward tourists--a day out to the ruins, a snorkeling adventure, a day to Xcaret, which is a Disneyfied but cool ecological park with exhibits, dolphins, Mexican musical show at night, etc. (has a website), a silly submarine ride that my kids loved--looking at the gorgeous tropical fish, etc.

For all-inclusives, the hot area nearby Cancun is Playa del Carmen, and that beautiful strip of beach consists primarily of all-inclusives because it is just far enough away from Cancun and any other civilized area that you want everything to be right there. Some of those properties are very nice; some will disappoint. Because your whole vacation is dependent on the choice, research carefully. (Not hard to do; tons of Cancun and Playa del Carmen stuff on the web, in guide books, available to TAs....) You get all the same activities in Playa del Carmen--actually closer to Tulum (the closest ruins in that area), XelHa (a favorite snorkeling site), Xcaret, etc.

Now, the negative about Cancun. Notice that is singular. The only reason people say don't do Cancun is because it is so touristy and Americanized. It is like any American beach resort you can imagine, transplanted to Mexico. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No. However, if that is not the experience you are looking for, then you might want to consider some of the options other posters mentioned. If you want beach, then look at Playa del Carmen (the primarily all-inclusive area mentioned above) or Cozumel, which is a lesser developed spot than Cancun, the big focus there is on snorkeling and diving, but still close enough to the same ruins, etc., available to you in Cancun. Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico side waters are calmer and prettier than the Pacific side if you actually want to swim/snorkel. If you don't care about water sports, but still want beach, then the Pacific side resorts are okay--Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta are very developed, Ixtapa (developed) &sister city Zihauteneo (forgot how to spell it-less developed) are nice spots.

I have been to all of the resorts mentioned so far. I have not been to Hualtuco yet, but have been wanting to go; I've not been to Manzanillo or Matzalan, which are two other Pacific Coast resorts that are developed but not too much.

The poster who suggested Oaxaca is correct--it is an ideal spot, much beloved place. Definitely a different type of vacation than a beach resort. There are several other interior spots that are nice.

If you have any questions about Cancun or any of the other places I've visited in Mexico, please feel free to e-mail me. Before I close, I will just throw out one thought: we tried cruising for the first time this winter and loved it. It's certainly an all-inclusive way to go, offers romantic opportunities, and you can get to Cancun at the same time--our ship had port stops in Cancun, Cozumel and Roatan, Honduras. It was a pretty divine way to vacation (which I define as a mostly relaxing event vs. travel, which I define as a participatory, experiential seeing-doing-going trip).

Diana Houston, TX