Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Central America Summer Getaway ✈ Cancun & Guatemala

First half of the year is over and as much as I traveled this year (9 weeks), they were all for work and the wanderlust in me was itching for a vacation. :P Since June was a slower month for work, I decided to reward myself with a trip right after my last CPA exam. In fact, this trip was quite a last minute plan and everything was booked only one month before. 

Technically, this trip was 'free' coz all flights and accommodations were booked using points and miles (I'll probably do a separate post on this). We ended up picking Cancun and Guatemala because that's as far as our flight miles would bring us while maximizing our points. Initially, I wasn't quite interested in visiting Cancun because it's so 'American' but after comparing several hotel options around Mexico, we decided to go with Cancun because of the attractions around the Yucatan area. Besides, Cancun is considered both part of Mexico and the Caribbeans, so I can say we've been to both...haha! :P

June 10 (Fri): Nashville - Cancun

We had to fly out from Nashville coz there weren't really any option for us to fly out from Huntsville as we redeemed our flights pretty late. Thanks to mom for letting us crash at her place the night before and dropping us at the airport super early the next morning. The flights weren't that long but I'm still kinda surprised that you have to pay for in-flight entertainment these days, and this is not even a budget airline.

After traveling for 7.5 hours, we finally arrived Cancun at 1.30pm. Was hoping to see some pretty coastline from the air but all we saw was trees. =.=

Getting from the airport to the hotel zone wasn't too difficult. Took the ADO airport shuttle (30 min) to downtown for $5/pax (MXN 66). It would have been $1 cheaper to pay in pesos but since they accepted USD, we didn't bother exchanging money in the airport. From the bus station, we hopped on the R1 city bus ($1/pax) that brought us to the hotel zone in about 30 min. The driver accepted USD and even gave us change in pesos.

Our accommodation for the first 2 nights and last night in Cancun at Aloft Cancun. I redeemed these 3 free nights by using only 10,000 SPG points. Not bad at all considering that the hotel was quite nice, conveniently located next to a supermarket, and best of all we got a free upgrade to an ocean view room thanks to my Platinum status. =P We also used the free bikes at the hotel and cycled to the car rental office on the first day. Picked up our rental car that evening and parked it in the hotel for free.

June 11 (Sat): Cancun - Chichen Itza - Cenote Ik Kil - Valladolid - Tulum - Cancun

We read a lot negative reviews about renting a car in Mexico but after much research, we still decided to book a rental car with Easyway through their website. We received a reservation code, thinking that the booking has been made and was expecting them to deliver the car to our hotel. Luckily we called again the day before we departed to confirm our reservation and guess what, we were told that they didn't have any cars available and our reservation was not confirmed. What?!?! Anyway, we ended up doing some last minute research the night before departing searching for another car rental company. What a great way to start our trip!

Previously, we did read about America Car Rental while doing our research but their recent reviews haven't been very positive and that was why we chose Easyway instead. But since Easyway was a fail, we decided to try our luck with America Car Rental. I called their reservation number, spoke to a helpful agent and successfully made a booking with them at a pretty reasonable price. He even said that they will send someone to our hotel to bring us to their office at Plaza Flamingo (hotel zone) the next day to pick up the car.

As mentioned earlier, we cycled to their office to double check on the reservation again the same afternoon we arrived Cancun, and they did have our reservation information. We also requested them to pick us up slightly later at 7.30pm so that we don't have to rush to return the car too early the next day. As expected, someone came to our hotel that evening to pick us up. We went through all the documents, opted-in for all the insurance (just to be safe especially in Mexico), rented a GPS, and inspected the car marking all the dents. The entire process was pretty smooth and the total cost for our 1-day rental was $47, even cheaper than the price that Easyway quoted ($53) so it was a win for us. =) 

Departed from Cancun towards Chichen Itza at 5.45am. The journey via highway 180D (toll road) took 2.5 hours and our goal was to get there early before the tour group arrives.

After 2.5 hours of boring drive, we finally arrived Chichen Itza at 8.30am. Quickly bought our tickets for MXN232 ($14) per person as we started seeing some tour groups coming.

Main landmark at Chichen Itza archaeological site...El Castillo/Kukulkan Pyramid.

Of course gotta do my signature' jumpshot. :P

Some other smaller ruins at this Mayan site. 

Spot the iguanas just chillin' around the site.

Finished our sightseeing at Chichen Itza within 45 minutes and on to the next attraction which was only a 10 min drive away...Cenote Ik Kil. Entrance fee was MXN70 ($4) per pax.

View of the cenote from the top and bottom. Cenote Ik Kil is sacred to the Mayans and the Mayans used this cenote for both relaxation and ritual services. Those vines hanging all the way from the top to the water makes the place looks more magical. 

We could have jumped in for a swim but decided to give it a pass as we still had a long day ahead.

Next stop...drove 40 min to the small colonial town of Valladolid.

Catedral de San Gervasio. Valladolid is small enough to walk around in less than an hour. 

Can't miss out doing the touristy stuff. :P

Lunch time!

Since we had a car, we decided make a big loop and drove all around Yucatan in a day. Our original plan for the afternoon was to visit Tulum and Playa Del Carmen. Drove 1.5 hr from Valladolid to Tulum and realized that we can't see the ruins at all from the beach (without paying the entrance fees to the ruins). Oh well, that's what happens when we don't do our homework beforehand. It started pouring as we were walking back to our car so we decided to head back to Cancun without stopping at Playa Del Carmen.

After 2 hours of boring drive, we finally made it back to Cancun! Quick stop at this public beach for a nice panoramic view of the Caribbean sea before dropping off our car.
June 12-14 (Sun-Tues): Hyatt Ziva Cancun All-Inclusive Resort (for FREE!!)

Checked out of Aloft Cancun at 7.30am the next morning and walked 5 min to Hyatt Ziva Cancun, where we spent the next 3 days (2 nights) chillaxing and enjoying all the nice facilities around the resort. Got these 2 free nights with the Hyatt Visa's sign up bonus. I took so many photos around the resort so I think it deserves a separate! Stay tuned for the next post. =)

June 15 (Wed): Cancun - Guatemala City - Antigua

After 5 days in Cancun, it's time to continue our journey to our next destination...Guatemala! Thanks Cancun for the beautiful weather throughout our trip!!

Our flight was delayed flying out of Panama and we ended up arriving an hour behind schedule. Fortunately, the complimentary hotel shuttle arrived just in time to pick us up to Hilton Garden Inn Guatemala City, where we stayed for a night (10,000 HHonors points).

After dropping our bags at the hotel, we got a cab to bring us to Antigua for $24/way. The journey took approximately an hour. P.S. Traffic in Guatemala city is pretty bad.

Antigua is a small city surrounded by volcanoes and renowned for its Spanish colonial buildings. Fortunately, the rain stopped when we arrived around 4pm. This arch of Santa Catalina is one of the famous landmarks here.

Antigua is small and easy to walk around. Most tourist destinations are close by and we finished our sightseeing within an hour.

Dinner and drinks before we head back to Guatemala City. Good thing the cab driver gave us his phone number when he dropped us off coz we managed to get him to bring us back to the city, worked out perfect!

June 16 (Thurs): Guatemala City - Nashville

After a quick stop in Guatemala for less than 24 hours, it's time to go home. This was a short but relaxing trip, great way to recharge after few busy months of work and studying. Glad that everything turned out well considering that we didn't have much time to plan and booked almost everything with points and miles. =P


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