My first foray into Mexico happened way back in 1996 when my friend Nadim and I crossed the border into Tijuana on foot from San Diego. Needless to say that photos do not exist from way back then but the experience remains strong.

The US-Mexico border is to the south of San Diego while the city of Tijuana sits directly on the Mexico side of the border. Tijuana is the 6th largest city in Mexico with a population of just under 2 million. Over 50 million people cross between San Diego and Tijuana each year. That’s over 100,000 per day. This includes around 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians.

And we were two of them.

The overwhelming memories were of poverty, begging and tons of really cheap booze.


Well, I nearly didn’t do this post because I couldn’t work out what to say about Cancun. Almost everything I say will be wrong…but at the same time be 100% accurate.

It is safe to say that Cancun has absolutely everything and that it offers nothing. It is Las Vegas by the ocean. Everything is overpriced. There is nothing here that is authentic but there are some very real experiences to be had here. Our exposure to Cancun is by no means representative but in hindsight I am not sure if anybody’s experience would be… it is ultimately whatever you want it to be.

It starts at the airport…from the Margarita Bar as you walk out to the $70US cab fare into town…you will be stung.

I think that it is fairly safe to say that every single 5 star resort conglomerate on the planet is represented here in Cancun at least once, with many having multiple offerings. For the most part they are incredibly flash, opulent and lavish…and the sit side by side in a 17 mile stretch of beach between the Nichupte Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea. They offer all inclusive resort deals at a premium price. A haven where your every need is catered to and there is no need to ever leave your private enclave.

Across the road from the hotels is the shops…of course…and every brand name is represented. If you can afford it, it will be available for purchase. Interspersed with the usual suspects of elite fashion and consumerism are local artisanal offerings at hugely inflated prices. These are held within large market type areas where the tourists can haggle to get their local souvenirs.

The most persistent and shrewd of hagglers may be able to get away with paying 250% over what the item is actually worth. These guys are professional sellers…and they are good at it. Enter the oblivious tourist with a wallet full of cash and an “I’m on holiday” mindset and the prices skyrocket.

The drinks are overpriced and often watered down and the food is typically exorbitantly priced. But the beaches are stunning, the service is first rate and the water is crystal blue, warm and inviting. And attached to overpriced tours are some incredibly good options of things to do in the nearby vicinity.

Of particular note are the ancient Mayan ruins (including Chichen Itsa), numerous sinkholes or nearby islands. But we were only here for around 24 hours and none of this was done by us, and certainly the 5 star world was avoided.

Instead we stayed true to form and crashed at the local backpackers in search of something that resembled the real Cancun. In this we were wrong, and we (for the most part) failed. But this more reflected our ignorance of the many versions of Cancun operating simultaneously, in parallel, and almost entirely mutually exclusively.

So what did we do…not very much. We wandered the backstreets, shopped in dodgy markets for overpriced trinkets and tried to find traditional, local places to eat. What we ended up with was a fantastic, authentic Mexican meal, from a dodgy restaurant that aimed to attract the tourists. It was cheap, tacky and brilliant.

We got incredible food, the best service we have ever received, 2-for-1 drinks, huge grins, lots of banter and a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon…and all for an reasonable price tag. And of course, the meal was washed down by some of the finest Mexican coffee (tequila). And if this is the real Cancun then we dipped our toes into the water, if it isn’t then we were miles away.

Our philosophy of travel has been to get as close to what is authentic as is possible. This mostly means living meagerly and eating from street food stores or dodgy street-side restaurants. And this is what we sought and found here in Cancun, but I am not entirely sure that this was what passes as an authentic experience. Some places (like the Gold Coast in Australia) have evolved to be true tourist towns and that the tourism in its various forms is what is actually authentic. Perhaps this is the case in Cancun.

Long story short, we had a nice time and I would happily return.

Travelling the world in a pre and post COVID state