Monday, June 11, 2018

First Time in Mexico : Itinerary, Expenses and Travel Tips

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Mexico was initially not included in my Latin America itinerary because you know, safety issues. When you check out news about Mexico, especially Cancun, you'd read news about killings and the drug cartels. I was hesitant at first but I was thinking that it could be just like the Philippines. The media is sensationalizing the news to make it more interesting and engaging. I was not sure, but I decided to include it anyway. I have a valid multiple-entry Japan visa so I did not have to apply for a Mexican Visa. Yes, Philippine Passport holders with valid Japan visa do not need to get a visa to enter Mexico as of this writing.



I was in Cuba prior to my visit to Mexico. I arrived in Cancun late in the morning and I was surprised that Uber is not working in the city. I found out later that Uber stopped operating late last year because they had issues with local taxi operators and some government agencies.



My first impression with Cancun was really good. After clearing the immigration and customs, you will be greeted with staff that can help you if you have any tourism-related questions. The only problem I encountered was exchanging my USD to Mexican peso. The two exchange centers were closed and the only ATM in the arrival area only dispenses USD. The bus company that transports passengers from the airport to the city center only accepts Mexican peso so I had no choice but to go to the departure area to withdraw money from my debit card. Once you're in the departure area, you will not be able to go back to the arrival area to buy a bus ticket so I was left with no other option but to take a taxi to my hotel. The local taxis that drop passengers at the airport are not allowed to pick up passengers so I was forced to take an airport taxi (private car) which was quite expensive. It was initially at MXN700 but  I haggled and was dropped to MXN500 (USD25). It was still expensive but I wanted to leave the airport so I took the offer.



I arrived in the hotel around 1pm but the check in time is still at 3pm so I decided to just leave my bag and took a bus to the hotel zone to see and experience the best of Cancun. I never had an issue hopping on a bus, the bus stop is just a few steps away from the hotel and the travel time to the zona hotelera was just about 20 minutes. [Read: Cancun : A Beach Paradise in Mexico]



Cancun beach is gorgeous. I loved it. It's such a great place to beach bum and relax. It was early afternoon when I arrived in the beach area but I did not mind the hot weather. The clear water was so inviting I wanted to dip but I wasn't that prepared so I just watch the people swimming and enjoying the water. There were not much people in the beach at that time so it felt more relaxing. One thing I noticed is the presence of federal police forces in the beach area. I wasn't so sure if I should feel safe or frightened, but it's more of the former.



I went back to the hotel after a couple of hours. I took a bus and thought it would pass by the hotel where I,m staying but it didn't so I got lost. I took another bus with zona hotelera sign hoping that it would pass by the hotel. Again, I was wrong so I ended up going back to zona hotelera, again. Hahaha. I was already hungry so I ate in one of the restaurants in the area and took another bus after. I did not want to get lost again so I referred to my offline map and alighted in the street quite near to my hotel then took a taxi. I finally arrived in the hotel around 4pm.



A Day Tour to Chichen Itza
My old self would have done it DIY but I wanted convenience so I booked a tour online. The tour company has assigned a driver to pick me up at my hotel to the place where the bus is waiting bound for Chichen Itza. The driver picked me up on time so it was a good start. The bus departed around 9am and arrived in our lunch stop shortly after around 2 hours. We had our lunch before we went to Chichen Itza. [Read: What to See from Chichen Itza]




Chichen Itza was bout 20 minutes from our lunch stop. We arrived at the historical site at around 1pm. As expected, it was crowded.



Chichen Itza is an amazing place. I have a limited knowledge so I listened closely to our tour guide. I was amazed even more by how the Mayans lived. They were incredible!






I highly recommend you book a tour with an agency when you explore Chichen Itza because it's kinda complicated to DIY not unless you rent a car and drive your way. You can probably save a few bucks going there on a group tour than DIY alone.





Lazing in Mexico City
After Cancun, I headed to Ciudad de Mexico. I didn't have plans, I just wanted to relax a bit so I have more energy for my next trips. I stayed in Hotel El Salvador, a hotel within the historical center for convenience since I wanted to explore the city's churches and museums. It's super convenient so I recommend you stay there if you are looking for an affordable place within the historical center.



I basically spent more time in my hotel room than going out in my first two days in Mexico City. I was supposed to have day trip to Acapulco but I was too lazy to go out so I decided to stay in the hotel and rest. 



Hop on and hop off around Mexico City with Turibus
Again, I was too lazy to gallivant around Mexico City on my own so I decided to buy a turibus a ticket to have a glimpse of what Mexico  City has to offer to its visitors. It's a great deal if you are visiting the city for a short period of time. It was worth it. I got to see a lot for less. The good thing is you will be able to hop on and hop off anytime so I started the tour in the morning, on their first trip and ended early evening. I got to see some of the best attractions of the city like Basilica de Guadalupe, ZOCALO, and a lot more. 












The single journey ticket allows you to to hop on and hop off to five main tours around the city. I did 3 out of 5 and with the ticket price, I say it's really worth it. I could have done more but I had to go shopping for some winter clothes for my next destination so I only did the Downtown Tour, Polanco-Chapultepec-Hipodromo Tour and the Basilica Tour. I missed the Southside tour and the Santa Fe Tour. 




You can buy a Turibus ticket online at www.turibus.com.mx or go to any of the Turibus stops and purchase your ticket from there. If you are staying around the historic center, you can walk to ZOCALO and start your journey from there. If you have more time, you can book a tour outside the city center and see the Teotihuacan Pyramids, Guadalupe Shrine, Xochimilco & Coyoacan. Get your guide offers cheap tours on these destinations and more.





Travel Tips when Visiting Mexico for the First Time

  • Book an uber if possible, it's usually cheaper than taking an airport taxi.
  • Uber is not available in Cancun so your option is to take an airport taxi or take the bus to the city center. 
  • Sometimes, the exchange centers at the arrival area in Cancun Airport are close so make sure you exchange some Mexican Peso from the country you come from. If you don't have MXN, you can go to the departure area to withdraw cash or exchange currency.
  • Stay at the Hotel Zone when in Cancun if you want the beach. If you want to see more of the local scene then stay in Downtown Cancun
  • Book a group tour from a reliable travel agency. I highly recommended booking your tours in Mexico with GET YOUR GUIDE - it's affordable and reliable.
  • There is no exit immigration in Mexico City Airport so make sure you don't lose the immigration departure card given to you. It will be checked upon check in and will be collected upon boarding by the airline staff.
  • Book a room at Ibis Cancun Hotel if you want to stay in Downtown Cancun.
  • Book a room at Hotel El Salvador if you want to stay within the historical center in Mexico City.
  • Get a travel insurance!



Basic Spanish words and phrases to communicate with the locals

  • Hola (OH-lah) - Hello/Hi
  • Que Pase (keh PAH-seh) - Have a good day
  • Como estas? (KOH-moh-ehs-TAHS) - How are you?
  • Muy bien, gracias (MOO-ee-byehn, GRAH-syahs) - Fine, thank you.
  • Encantado/a (ehn-kahn-TAH-doh/dah) - Nice to meet you.
  • Por favor (POHR-fah-BOHR) - Please
  • Gracias (GRAH-syahs) - Thank you
  • De nada (DAY NAH-dah) - Welcome
  • Si (SEE) - Yes
  • No (NOH) - No
  • Disculpe (dees-KOOL-peh) - Excuse me (getting attention)
  • Perdone (pehr-DOHN-eh) - Excuse me (begging pardon)
  • Permiso (pehr-MEE-so) - Excuse me (may I get by)
  • Adios (ah-DYOHS) - Goodbye
  • Hablo un poco español (ah-BLOH oon POH-koh ehs-pah-NYOHL) - I speak a little Spanish.
  • No hablo español (noh AH-bloh ehs-pah-NYOL) - I can't speak Spanish.
  • Hablas Ingles? (AH-blahs een-GLEHS?) - Do you speak English?
  • Ayuda! (ah-YOO-dah) - Help!
  • Buenos dias (BWE-nohs DEE-ahs) - Good morning
  • Buenas tardes (BWE-nahs TAR-dehs) - Good afternoon
  • Buenas noches (BWE-nahs NOH-chehs) - Good evening / good night
  • No entiendo (NOH ehen-tyen-doh) - I don't understand
  • Donde esta el baño? (DOHN-deh ehss-TAH ehl BAH-nyoh?) - Where is the toilet?


Itineray and Expenses in Mexico

Day 1
Plane fare from Havana to Cancun via Interjet - USD150
Taxi (private car) from Cancun Airport  to Ibis Cancun Hotel - MXN500
Ibis Hotel - USD55
Lunch 41 - MXN41
Bus from Hotel to Zona Hotelera and back - MXN24
Taxi to Hotel (I got lost) - MXN35
Grocery - MXN148
Dinner - MXN72
Total expenses day 1 in Mexico: USD205 + MXN820 = MXN4,990 / Php12,985

Day 2
Chichecn Itza Day Tour booked via GetYourGuide (Chichen Itza, Cenote Swim and Lunch) - USD65
Water - MXN35
Lemonade MXN42
Guide Tip - MXN50
Dinner - MXN42
Ibis Hotel - USD55
Total expenses Day 2 in Mexico: USD120 + MXN92 = MXN2,532 / Php6,590

Day 3
Taxi from Hotel to Airport - MXN250
Lunch - MXN178
Plane fare from Cancun to Mexico City via Interjet - USD90
Uber from Airport to Hotel El Salvador - MXN128
Hotel El Salvador - MXN600/night
Dinner - MXN390
Total expenses day 3 in Mexico: MXN3,379

Day 4
Breakfast - MXN59
Lunch - MXN52
Laundry - MXN95
Dinner - MXN200
Hotel - MXN600
Total expenses day 4 in Mexico: MXN1,006

Day 5
Uber to Turibus - MXN47
Turibus Ticket - MXN180
Lunch - MXN106
Water - MXN10
Postcards - MXN50
Coffee - MXN190
Hotel - MXN600
Total expenses day 5 in Mexico: MXN1,183

Day 6
Uber from Hotel to Airport - MXN132
Snacks MXN165
Ref magnets from airport - MXN160
Total expenses day 1 in Mexico: MXN457

Total Expenses from Day 1 to Day 6 in Mexico: MXN13,547 / Php35,236 (For expenses prior to this leg, click here.)

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