Not surprisingly, the first day of our trip was also the most hectic and least enjoyable period of our vacation. Our travels began in the (far too) early morning as we drove an hour and half to the nearest major airport, arriving two hours early for a 7am flight to Cancún. After a short, bleary-eyed stop-over in Dallas, we finally arrived in Mexico around 1:30pm.
The plan was to pick up our rental car and immediately head towards the Dzitnup cenotes of Xkekén and Samula, located just southwest of Valladolid, before ending up at our Pisté hotel. On paper, it seemed like a fairly modest plan. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a little over-ambitious.
Renting the car
Car rental agencies operating out of the Cancún airport are notoriously bad for springing large hidden fees, required insurance, or other charges on unsuspecting tourists. As a result, we decided to bypass the bigger-name agencies for the local Easy Way, which made all of their costs clear at the time of booking. Make no mistake, though: renting a car in Mexico is expensive, no matter who you rent from.
Know that and come to terms with it before you go.
Even with special discounts, having a manual drive car for two weeks was over $500, not including the price of fuel (and tipping the gas attendants). An automatic would have been even more. A big chunk of this cost is insurance. Mexican law requires drivers purchase local insurance, and this on its own will almost double the cost of the basic rental. Easy Way offered a special on getting the required insurance with additional coverages, and for our own peace of mind we went with this option. You *could* rent a car for slightly less, but what it will save you in money it will cost you in stress and aggravation and probably put a damper on your entire trip. Especially if something else goes wrong along the way. Which it probably will.
Easy Way’s office is actually outside of the airport, which means we didn’t have to pay the hefty “airport fee” that companies like Budget would require. This was nice, but it also added a different stress to the first day when, sleep deprived and disoriented, we had to figure out where to find the shuttle, wait to see if they needed to pick up anyone else, and then be driven to the office. [Likewise, when dropping off the car at the end of the trip, we had to go to the slightly-hard-to-find office and then be shuttled by one of the Easy Way staff back to the airport.] Our driver was very friendly and helpful, however, and these extra steps probably only added 45 minutes or so to the first day.
Once we finally arrived, the staff went over the paperwork and contact information with us, then had us inspect the car for any exterior damage. Having heard this was another area where people incurred large, unexpected charges at the end of the trip, I was extremely careful in my evaluation and noted any tiny ding, chip, or scratch I could find—much to the amusement of the guy working with us.
And then, finally, we were off.
Unfortunately, we were off in the wrong direction. Even more unfortunately, we had already stumbled into the busy, populous area of Cancún proper by the time we realized we were going in the wrong direction. Finding our way out was a bit of a trial-by-fire for Josh, who suddenly found himself driving a stick shift amongst multiple lanes of heavily trafficked roundabouts, but he nonetheless got us turned around and back on track without any loss of property or limb.
We opted to follow the advice of the Easy Way shuttle driver and take the tollway. If we hadn’t, I doubt we would have made it to our hotel before dark.
Because the tollway operates as a kind of express route, with local traffic mostly diverting to other roads, we saw very few other cars on the beautifully paved drive. After the hazards of Cancún, this felt amazing, and the long, straight throughway offered incredible views of the sky.
Unfortunately, it was already late in the afternoon by the time we left the city, which meant we would not have enough time to make it to the cenotes. We comforted ourselves with the idea that we might be able to make it back at the end of the trip (spoiler alert: we didn’t), and instead headed directly to our hotel.
I chose the Hotel Dolores Alba Chichén Itzá for four reasons:
1) Its close proximity to Chichén Itzá, Ik Kil cenote, and Balamkanche caves.
2) Its price.
3) Its “natural” pool.
4) Its positive on-line reviews.
Overall, it was indeed perfectly fine, if in slightly rougher shape than expected. Much of the concrete construction, including the more traditional swimming pool near the restaurant, was in need of repair and upkeep, although we were later to learn that this is not unusual for the great quantities of concrete-based domestic architecture in the area. That being said, the same conditions that were obviously so hard on the buildings were quite kind to the native flora and fauna, encouraging iguanas to scamper near (but outside of) our room and birds to join us for dinner. The “natural” pool (made from adding concrete reinforcement and embellishment to a pre-existing, shallow cenote) was open, and we spent our first evening in cooling water surrounded by palm trees, watching silhouettes of swallows and bats picking insects from the sky.
Or we did until I felt the troubling digestive rumblings brought on by our evening meal. After that, it was a quick sprint back to our room—where we stayed for the rest of the night.