Riviera Maya, Mexico VS. Guadalajara, Mexico
People assume there are two different types of travelers. The first, a sun drenched, lay by the pool type who shouts out "Ay Amigooo, can I have another Pi-no Co-la-ta with Ice? What do ya call it? Hielo?" to every passing busboy. On the opposite spectrum stands a backpacking, dreadlocked hippie with ripped pants and a brand of bravery that will always force him/herself into the deep end of the water even if the cliff is decorated with jagged edges.
I like to think I'm a mix of the two, not because of my love for frozen alcoholic beverages but because I'm as fine tuned to adventure and spontaneity as the latter is to crowding around a body of water and soaking in the rays. I couldn't be fulfilled with a trip to Mexico if I were to just tan in a pretty resort all week long, and you shouldn't either. The point of traveling is to explore a new part of the world, and to see what it looks like with your own two eyes. If we never traveled, we'd imagine the world outside of our own homes a bloody, war torn, kidnapping on the daily shit hole trifecta (Sound familiar FOX news?).
So, the million dollar question:
Is Mexico dangerous? Is the country as drug crime ridden as the media (and possibly your parents) make it out to be?
I made my way to Mexico's second largest city, Guadalajara to find out.
Four days before I was set to fly out to Guadalajara, two Australian surfers road tripping through Mexico went missing. Their RV was found burned off to the side of the road in Sineola, a territory infamous for belonging to Mexican drug lord "El Chapo". Two charred bodies were found inside; the remains indistinguishable. This was one of the many bloody stories I had heard in the news about Mexico's "bloody drug war".
I imagined a city with gunshots sounding off in the distance like church bells chiming on the hour. Instead, I saw nothing that even resembled what I see on TV about Mexico. It was completely the opposite. It was shockingly normal. Guadalajara was a city of people living their everyday lives.
My play into the neighborhoods extended from the young, well to do bar crowd along Chapultepec Street into seedy streets with vendors selling hand me down shoes, used phone chargers and cracked iPhones. Even that wasn't anything too different than walking down the streets of NYC. People went about on their daily tasks, perusing Walmart for groceries and chatting over Cervezas. We strolled through crowded mercados haggling with street vendors and walked by families posing for pictures in front of Christmas trees.
I can't help but feel like an idiot for letting the media paint this picture of a drug armageddon in my head. Not once did I see any beheadings, shootings or drug deals going along outside, let alone feel in danger.
Herein lies another question:
Are resorts meant to distract tourists from what is really happening in Mexico?
I made my way to the Royal Catalonia Hotel and Resort in Riviera Maya, about an hour's drive from Cancun.
The answer is Yes. While staying in a resort does shield you from the living textures of a country's people and culture, staying in a resort amplifies a country's natural surroundings. Riviera Maya, home to the world's second largest reef, The Belize Barrier Reef extends for 190 miles from Cancun to the Honduras. Snorkelers and scuba divers can dive and for those who'd like to further explore, plenty of boats tours will take you out 45 minutes into the water and for a swim and snorkel. We were able to visit Cenotes, natural sinkholes, see forests of mangroves and play alongside Coatis, little raccoon like animals. Historical culture is prevalent in resort staying, as excursions surround the Mayan ruins of Coba, Chichen Itza and Tulum.
Which is better? Staying in a resort or trekking it like the locals?
Comparatively, Guadalajara had palpable, authentic Mexican culture. The songs of Mariachi bands drifted through the streets, and some of the greatest conversations happened around late night taco stands with locals. In the resort, Mexican culture is sanitized, simplified and packaged to be consumed by tourists for 30x the cost in the form of hand painted skulls and ceramics. While Mexican culture was lacking in the resort, we did meet people from Mexico, Italy, Australia, Germany and the states as well, which added to a worldly feel. It was mainly through excursions, leaving the resort that we were able to feel or see that culture, which even then is pretty touristy. For an authentic experience, visit the city. For a relaxing one, do the resort. If I could recommend a fully balanced trip - I'd recommend doing both. Take two days to explore a city, and five days in a resort. It'll be worth it.
Is Mexico dangerous?
Not the entire country.
Just as there is crime in the US, the crime is not abhorrently everywhere, and as long as you stay well within city limits, ride within toll roads, stay out of dangerous neighborhoods (don't worry, people will warn you) you will be fine. My good friend Lez once told me, "Don't let fears dictate your life, you should let hope do that". So I hope that this encourages you to travel and give Mexico a shot.
*This is not a sponsored post, all thoughts and opinions are my own. HOWEVER, if you would like to sponsor me - hit up the contact page above*