Exploring Cancun Part 3: Seeing Cancun on Our Own

Our hotel as seen from the ferry on the way to Isla Mujeres

Venturing out from the hotel on our own… or at least on a ferry

KC and I had fun at Xcaret and Chichen Itza, but we also wanted to explore Cancun on our own. Our last two days in Cancun, we ventured out of the resort without a pre-packaged tour, first to Isla Mujeres (translated as “Island of the Women”) on the second to last day, then around the city of Cancun itself on our last day. Both places were designed to attract tourists, with Isla Mujeres easier for tourists to navigate.

Isla Mujeres

Welcome to Isla Mujeres, as seen from the ferry terminal

Welcome to Isla Mujeres

The island was so small that we were easily able to circumvent the entire island on a golf cart in four hours, with multiple stops.

Our sweet transportation around the island

Our sweet transportation around the island

Tiburon! (Sharks!)

We were zooming around on the main road when we passed a sign that read, “Fotos de Tiburon (Shark Pictures)”. “Turn around!” I told KC, “Let’s see about shark pictures!” I remembered reading on the ferry over that there are places on the island where you could take a picture with a shark. He turned around and we parked outside a cafe. I went inside and inquired about shark pictures. “$10US for a picture,” the waitress told me. We changed into our swim suits and went out to the shark enclosure on the pier.

As we walked out, the shark trainer met us at the enclosure and told us to get in and he would follow behind us. The enclosure was about 15ft long by 20ft wide by 8ft deep with two sharks (I’m not sure what kind, I think they were nurse sharks). They were lazily swimming in circles in the middle of the enclosure. “Go ahead in the water,” the shark trainer said, in English. I started down the stairs and lowered myself into the water. It was hot and humid day, so the water felt great. I was half way across the enclosure, swimming right above the circling sharks, when I remembered that it was that time of month and began wondering if it was smart of me to be the first one in the water, with that kind of scent. Luckily for me, the sharks didn’t seem to notice and I made it to the other side, unscathed. KC swam over to me next, followed by the trainer. The trainer grabbed one of the sharks on his way over and begin rubbing the shark’s belly when he made it over to us and talked to it, like it was a pet dog.

He showed us the shark and let us pet her (we found out it was female) and then we posed for a picture.

KC and I holding a somewhat tame shark with the shark's trainer nearby

KC and I holding a somewhat tame shark with the shark’s trainer nearby

After the picture, we were told to swim back to the stairs. Again, I was the first one to swim and I was a bit nervous swimming back over the sharks, but nothing happened. It was cool to pet and hold a shark, but a lot more anti climatic than I thought it would be.

An Abandoned Beach

We continued around the island, checking out various stops as we went. As I looked out at the water, I saw a beautiful beach with no one on it. I stopped the golf cart and jumped out. “Where are you going?” KC asked. “To the beach!” I said as I climbed down some rocks from the road to the sand. When I got down to the sand and looked to the left, I saw a family a little further down but no one else. What luck to find an empty beach in such a popular tourist spot, I thought.

We found an empty beach to enjoy!

We found an empty beach to enjoy!

We swam a little bit and got back in the golf cart, heading back towards the city. It was later that day that I heard some beaches were closed because of shark sightings (the kind that bite you and not the photogenic kind). I couldn’t remember the name of the beach, but wondered if maybe that’s why there wasn’t anyone out swimming on the perfectly pristine beach.

We eventually made it back to the hotel in once piece, having had fun exploring the island. You can see more pictures of Isla Mujeres on the Cancun Fun Photo Journal Page

Sunset heading back to the hotel

Sunset heading back to the hotel

The Resort Row Death March

The next day we checked out of the resort and checked in to a commuter’s hotel near the airport for our last night, so we would be close to the airport in the morning. That afternoon, we decided to check out more of the city and asked a cab driver to drop us off at a tourist beach, so we can find a place to get food, set up a picnic blanket, and relax. Well, the cab driver dropped us off at the public beach right next to the resort row, but the rest of the plan fell apart.

The beginning of the "death march" along resort row

This looks like fun, right? No

We started walking down the beach, looking for a cafe to grab a drink and food. All the cafes were attached to the resorts and would only serve hotel guests. Disappointed we kept walking along the beach, trying to find an alleyway or street between all the resorts to make it back to the street, but the resorts were built right next to each other, with no access to street in between them. Under the hot sun, we walked along the paradise beaches, looking for shade or a cafe that would serve us water. Both of us were carrying backpacks filled with stuff for a fun day at the beach and the backpacks started weighing down on us.

After what seemed like an eternity of what KC called the “death march”, I figured that if we go into the hotels, they would have to show us to the door because we weren’t guests. Determined to be thrown out of the hotel onto the street, we walked into a resort, found a security guard, and asked that they show us the door. “Are you guests?” he asked. “Nope.” I said. “Wait one minute,” he said. He called something into his radio and some other men in suits started walking towards us. Finally, we would escape this resort death march.

“Señor and Señora, let us tell you about our day passes,” one of the men began. I almost lost it. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone and wouldn’t be allowed to escape the heat. “No,” I interrupted him, “PLEASE SHOW US THE DOOR.” Baffled he gave us directions through the resort to the exit. As we were finally leaving, the doorman asked if we were sure we wanted to leave, to which I replied, “Where is the nearest bus station?” Fortunately, the bus station was just out of sight of the entrance, on the main road. I thanked him and we walked towards the bus. We decided to take it to the mall, where we were finally able to get some food and water and catch a movie.

On the way back, we figured the bus probably didn’t go to the airport hotel. Also, since the bus transported locals around the city and not tourists, we thought we had to speak Spanish. KC asked, “Donde esta le endo routo?” I almost started laughing at his Spanglish. The driver responded in English. “The route ends ahead, where are you going?” Eventually, we found our way back to the hotel.


The two days were very different from each other. Isla Mujeres was more of a tailored experience and exploring the city felt more like a trap. Both were learning experiences in navigating a foreign country. I’m glad that we went out on our own, getting away from a pre-packaged experience while we were in Cancun.

You can see more pictures of our time in Cancun our our Cancun Fun Photo Journal Page.

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