Travel Like a Local? Or Travel Like a Tourist?

Much of my career is based around the simple fact that I am a Cancun local.

You can come to me if you want to know the cheapest ways to get around town, the best place for tacos, where locals hang out on weekends, and the best bars off the main hotel strip.

And this works out well for me. Why? Because the hot new trend in travel is to experience a city “like a local”. Like me. Like my friends.

The beach at sunset in the upscale tourist neighborhood of Playacar, Playa del Carmen

My family checking out the sunset in the off-the-beaten-path lagoon at Isla Blanca

Every year, it becomes increasingly less cool to look like a tourist or act like a tourist… even if you are a tourist.

I would like to present the other side of the coin: sometimes the touristy stuff is the coolest stuff.

My favorite example is where to get tacos in Cancun. Yes, there are some really great tacos al pastor right by my house. Some of the best in the city. The place fills up on Sunday at noon (right after mass lets out) with a long line down the sidewalk. But you know which taco joint I always recommend? La Parrilla. Yes, I’m talking about the tourist-filled taco restaurant on Avenida Yaxchilan that everyone visits after shopping at Market 28. Yes, the one with all the mariachi groups and the waiters who balance giant margaritas on their heads. It is without a doubt the most touristy taco place in Cancun. But guess what? Those tacos al pastor are friggin’ delicious. And it’s easy to find. And the margaritas are pretty good, too. And you won’t have to face Moctezuma’s Revenge the next day (unless you overdo it on the margaritas). La Parrilla is super-touristy, but they serve amazing authentic Mexican tacos that surpass many of the most hidden-away street carts.

I always say, “Sometimes touristy places are touristy for a reason. It’s because they are good.”

My family came to visit last week. My sister and brother-in-law really wanted 3 things:

1. To visit a cenote

2. To visit Xcaret

3. To eat at a hole-in-the-wall taco place where “they might get sick”

My brother-in-law almost seemed ashamed about wanting to see Xcaret because it is so touristy. But guess what? Xcaret is really, really cool. It’s always on my lists for best day tours from Cancun. It’s filled with tourists, but it is AMAZING. Stunning. Fascinating.

But on the “travel like a local” side of things, Jorge and I took my sisters and brother-in-law out to a cenote that most non-Mexican tourists don’t know about. We took a cheap colectivo van to get there and back, just like the locals. We snorkeled. We jumped off a cliff. Then we took another colectivo van to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. (Ok, the ruins were touristy, but we did it local-style… except for the hazelnut praline coffee I bought at the new Tulum Starbucks… seriously) It was everyone’s favorite day of their vacation, and it cost us less than $20 dollars per person.

Jumping off the cliff at Cenote Azul

Me (left) with my middle sister in a touristy area of Playa del Carmen

I guess in the end, my advice would be this: When traveling to Cancun, try to get the scoop on hidden local gems and ways to save, but don’t disregard the touristy stuff just because you won’t look as cool to your Instagram followers. You might be missing out on something amazing.

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