Why Cancun Isn’t My Favorite Place In Mexico
Sure Cancun is beautiful, extremely so. A handful of people figured that out about 40 years ago and decided to create huge profits from its beauty. In the not too distant past, Cancun was nothing more than bare beaches and a remote coconut plantation. Now it’s a resort vacation mecca filled with rows of all you can eat and drink buffets in luxury hotels. There’s nothing particularly Mexican about the place except that it’s technically in Mexico. In truth, it lacks authenticity and culture but that’s to be expected from a town built to purely cater to tourism. And I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that in and of itself, vacations are awesome. What I am saying is don’t mistake Cancun for a genuine experience of Mexico.
In 1970, with funding backed by the Mexican government, The National Fund for Tourism Development started a 30-year project to turn Cancun from a sleepy fishing village surrounded by untouched jungle into one of the world’s most popular and busy vacation resorts. The project hit the ground running bringing big name hotel chains like Hyatt to Cancun’s sandy beaches first. After that, multi-million dollar resorts began to sprout like weeds.
Tons of places become exploited for their natural beauty or resources for the sake of money. As humans, it’s what we do. Building economies is important to our existence too. Humans don’t always do it wrong though, often we stop in time and take just enough. In some places, efforts to slow or regulate growth have helped to preserve natural habitats of wildlife and better the lives of families that occupied the land first. Cancun is not one of those places. There is a difference between taking advantage and taking for granted. The Earth offers many gifts and we should certainly use them but the tricky part is knowing when enough is enough-when too much has been taken or used. The fast growth and mass influx of money unsurprisingly caught the attention of Mexico’s famous cartel. It’s also no secret that much of the cartel is in cahoots with the government making it the perfect breeding ground for corruption. In the 90’s Cancun quickly became a hub for money laundering, human trafficking, and illegal drug sales.
During my 2 weeks in Cancun, I heard friends get offered a 13-year-old girl, I heard multiple stories of petty theft and people getting ripped off, and I had a rather eye-opening and shaking experience myself. My story involves an angry taxi driver, my scared Uber driver, and me screaming during a high-speed chase.
A cab driver tried relentlessly but unsuccessfully to run my Uber driver off the road. Eventually, he cut us off bringing the whole scene to a sudden halt. He sprung out of his car with a metal baton in one hand and a raging intention in his step. I bolted from the Uber and slid between the staggered, dueling cars. I ran through a grassy median of the empty highway to the other side. There was no one around, no one to ask for help. We were far from downtown or anything else. My Uber driver took off in reverse. Minutes later I watched as four other local taxis sped down the road to gang up on the man driving for Uber. They boxed him in and slammed into his bumper. I sprinted back to the restaurant I had just left. I explained to the staff what happened. They reacted with shock and compassion but with an acceptance that there is nothing that can be done, this is just how things work sometimes. One owner drove me to my hostel, the other promised he would check on the uber driver. They told me they would call the cops but that chances are that particular taxi company is probably owned by a local politician who bribes the cops and the taxi driver’s behavior is likely encouraged and supported. I was told by the locals, my hostel’s owners, and the server at the restaurant that Uber was safe and likely a better option. At an $18 difference, I had to agree. In the moment when faced with the two options, I didn’t want to support taking unfair advantage of tourists but I also didn’t want to support taking away from an established work force that was losing business to a new and ethically questionable service. In the end, my lack of funds dictated my decision and I chose Uber. It’s usually safe. Crazy things can happen absolutely anywhere and Cancun doesn’t feel any more dangerous compared to anywhere else in the world I’ve been. But that was no longer the point for me. My experience reminded me that laws and regulations mean nothing when the government is corrupt and plays its citizens like pawns. What upset me about the experience is how disappointing we can be as a species.
My trouble with Cancun and places like it is the damage done. How much stress do we have we put on the environment? How much corruption has to take place? How many humans have to be hurt or sold? How much money has to be made through power and manipulation before we’re forced to see the damage we cause and the change that needs to happen? Cancun is completely overrun with tourists. The majority will never be either forced to see or take the time during their 5-day all-inclusive stay to think about these things, others will spend their money in places and on things that perpetuate these problems without realizing it, and some will simply turn a blind eye or justify their choices to buy drugs just this one time, getting a hooker for the party, but just this one time, without taking responsibility for the collective consequence of their actions. My choice to take an Uber as opposed to the standard taxi service to save $18 clearly has consequences that could have easily gone unnoticed. It wasn’t my first Uber ride in Cancun after all and all the rest went off without a hitch. However, my last Uber ride in Cancun revealed there is much more operating underneath the surface of this happy, party-centric, vacation town. Now, I have the choice to ignore what happened or make the effort to learn more, ask questions, and make better-informed choices in the future about not what’s best for me but what’s best for the community to which I am a visitor. We have to take responsibility for our individual impacts, especially as tourists.
Despite my unfortunate personal experience, pessimistic view on corporate takeover, and general negative opinion of money-pit places like Cancun, the country of Mexico is safe to travel, friendly, and welcoming. I’d name it one of my favorite countries I’ve ever been to. I spent 6 months in Mexico and I can’t wait to return.
And with all that said, I am still very grateful for the wonderful moments Cancun gave me. I am grateful to have walked its beautiful beaches, to have watched some of the most unforgettable sunsets, and to have enjoyed fresh seafood with refreshing cocktails from its many tourist-ready restaurants with kind service from nice people eager to help make your day, your stay, your vacation a wonderful one. I met many amazing people both passing through and that now call Cancun home. Beyond its superficiality, this town is run by real people, many of them in business because of their genuine love to provide a service to others, a love for the beach life, and the desire to share that with others. There is much more to my time in Cancun than my unfortunate Uber ride. It’s important, however, to bring attention to these sorts of happenings to encourage us to think about how our actions affect the immediate moment in front of us as well as the greater picture of the world we occupy.
P.S. I contacted Uber directly and they ensured me they have been in touch with the driver. Everything was ok.
Don’t let fear lead and remain thoughtful, kind, and compassionate. We’re all in this together.