Culture Shock in Cancun, Mexico

Mexico By

Arrival in Mexico

We took a flight from Orlando straight to Cancun. Orlando was slightly on the chilly side and it was with immense delight that we waked out into the hot, hot sun. I could feel my tan returning!

We organized a shuttle van to take us to our hotel. After we sat around for about ten minutes with no more people wanting to purchase a ride they offered us a direct taxi for the same price. 

Ambiance Suites

Ambiance Suites is located in downtown Cancun. There is a street on the beach where every hotel under the sun is located for a hefty tourist price tag. As we were only staying one night and wanted a more authentic Mexican experience we were recommended this hotel. 



The hotel was beautiful. The room was large and we were pleasantly surprised. It had double beds, a seperate living room, dining table and a small kitchenette. There was a restaurant attached and a pool out back. The staff were super helpful too, often coming to our rescue running out to our cab to speak to them in English.

After a rest from our travel we decided to head to lunch. That’s when the culture shock set in. The streets of Mexico are not well cared for, not after our stay in the US first world. The cars were old (like ancient rust buckets), the streets dirty and absolutely everyone spoke Spanish, a language we are not familiar with at all.

Talk about a step out of our comfort zone.

You see Asia to us is our backyard. We had travelled extensively through Asia for years. My first trip was in 1999 and no matter the language barriers or differences it is so close to Australia it doesn’t feel that foreign.

I have never heard much about Central America or been interested it. When we met the lovely Kings back in Bali who told us about Belize we knew it sounded like somewhere we should go. And then a few people mentioned how cheap a holiday in Mexico was & that our experience in Tijuana back in 2007 was not really Mexico. So we decided on the way to Belize we had to go South East Mexico.

Mexico may be America’s Bali, but it was super-foreign to us. And isn’t that the point of travel? To step out of your comfort zone and experience someone else’s way of life?

We felt so safe and normal in the US and it really was a big step to move South, especially considering the language barrier. We were not impressed with what we saw in Cancun in the 1 day we spent there (other then our time at Wet 'n Wild, so fun!) and very happily left for Playa Del Carmen the next day. It's safe to say that Playa Del Carmen was a saving grace for our stay in Mexico and we are glad to have picked that as our month base.

They say you either hate Cancun or you love it. The small part we saw? No thank you. But take me back to Playa any day, it was magnificent. I'm sure there would have to be some beautiful spots in Cancun that we missed. Can you tell me what they were? I'd love to know.

Reader Comments...

"I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" -

With all due respect, I think it's harsh to judge Cancun on one night and one lunch in an area that is not set up for tourism. I've lived in Cancun for over nine years and feel as though you really missed a lot of the great things about the city and destination. Not all the cars are "rust buckets", and yes of course everyone speaks Spanish, it's Mexico and it's not the tourist zone. The markets, the Museo Maya, the beaches of course, the lagoon, the hotel zone archaeological sites, many things to see and do that you wouldn't find in one day on Nader Avenue. :)

CancunCanuck Mar 27th, 2013

Absolutely right! We had a terrible day and it shadowed our whole perspective on Cancun. If we come back I hope you will show us the better side of Cancun. Thanks for evening the story out, we really appreciate it. Oh and I must say when we drove down the tourist strip it did look marvellous and WetnWild was a blast, so we are definitely only talking about the location we saw.

Erin Mar 27th, 2013

Too bad, you missed all of the wonderful things about Cancun! The unbelievably amazing beach and gorgeous colors of the Caribbean Sea, Nichupte lagoon, fabulous shopping, delicious food, exciting nightlife, and a chance to giggle and practice your high school Spanish. I have lived in Cancun for over 12 years and I am constantly discovering new things to love about it. I'm not sure why you would judge an entire city on a downtown businessman's hotel and ONE restaurant.

Kristin Busse Mar 27th, 2013

Hi Kristin, Thanks for writing. We loved the hotel I have no complaints about it at all. It seems I have missed a lot and I am sorry to have missed it, I had no idea! Will have to come back now.
It's a shame our first impressions of Cancun were not the same as yours, who has lived there. I am so glad there is more then meets the eye.
P.S in Australia we don’t learn Spanish in school so we had no idea what anyone was saying... Except the kids with their Dora the Explorer Spanish :)

Erin Mar 27th, 2013

I think it's great that you're getting out of your comfort zone. Your kids and you are learning so much right now. They will be amazing well rounded kids. They will accept all different kinds of people and even love them.

We've been living in Cozumel For almost 6 months now. We haven't been to cancun yet but I can say that we LOVE Cozumel, Playa, Tulum, Akumal, and every other place we have seen so far. We're tempted to become Mexican for life.

I'm sure we will not love every place we travel in the world. Sometimes the stars just don't align and it may be our fault but hey nobody's perfect right?

Anyway so happy to see another family enjoying the world. If you make it back to Cozumel anytime soon we should meet up for sure.

Heidi Mar 27th, 2013

Im so sorry to hear you didn't have a great first impression in Cancun. We spent 2 weeks there recently and absolutely fell in love with it! I too was a bit concerned as I had read so many things about Cancun being a party place and we would either love it or hate it. I went in thinking the worst to be honest!

But once we got settled in and explored the area, all my fears melted away and I started wondering what people were talking about! Perhaps it was because we didn't stay in downtown, we stayed toward the end of the hotel strip (closer to the airport end). We had a beautiful beach right at our door step and the bus took us into downtown for a mere 85 cents!

Perhaps it was because you were only there for 1 day, Im not sure, but I do think it might worth giving it another shot! We also stayed at Playa del Carmen, right after Cancun, and to be honest, we enjoyed a lot of things about Cancun more than PDC.

There is an gorgeous island just 20 mins off the Cancun coast called Isla Mujeres which was amazing. That in itself will probably change your mind about Cancun.

There is so much to do and see in Cancun that you definitely couldn't get a real feel for it in 24 hours. If you do get the chance, give it another go. I think if you look deeper you will be pleasantly surpassed :)

Nicole @ Suitcase Stories Mar 27th, 2013

Pleasantly SURPRISED :)

Nicole @ Suitcase Stories Mar 27th, 2013

Like others have said, downtown Cancun is really not representative of all of Cancun. The hotel/beach strip is a completely different world!! It is just like the gold coast in aus, or any of those types of places. Bali feels far more foreign than the hotel area in Cancun :) Although I actually didn't mind the downtown area. I like to feel that I am in more adventurous places though!

I prefer playa del carmen, but thats because it isnt as smooth as Cancun - at least the hotel area of Cancun.

Wheres Sharon? (Sharon) Mar 28th, 2013

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