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Mexico with granddaughter August 2021

Alaska Airlines changed my trip to Costa Rica in a way that was not to my liking. Now thinking of Mexico - perhaps Cancun or Oaxaca. I have not been to either area of Mexico, my granddaughter (GD) did go to Tulum when she was 5 or 6. She will be 11 in July. Would love to know how safe it is to travel in these two areas of Mexico. I have looked at the US State Dept website for safe travels and will admit, got more confused after perusing their alerts. We want to travel safely and not place ourselves n situations where we might be targets of any criminal activity. GD and I love nature and enjoy walking/hiking to see interesting areas of the country. Also want to have some cultural lessons - maybe take a cooking class or learn a dance of indigenous people.

Please pipe in and give me your thoughts. Thanks.

Posted by
1968 posts

I am in Mexico right now. We’ve been on the Yucatan Peninsula. We’ve done Valladolid, Merida and now we’re in Playa del Carmen, relaxing. We’ve seen Mayan cities like Chichen Itza and Ek Balam and we’ve seen the gorgeous architecture of Merida. We’ve swum in TONS of cenotes - your granddaughter would love them.
I blogged this trip extensively. I’m not allowed to post my blog here, You have to click on my name and go to my bio on this site - the blog is there. Look at the cenote pictures - natural small pools to swim in. They are spectacularly fun.

As to safety, the Yucatan feels completely safe. The state Yucatan is particularly safe. I know there’s lots of news stories about the Cancun area (Quintana Roo state) but we are fine here and feel comfortable. We’re not out late at night, we’re not searching around to buy drugs etc. You have to decide your own comfort level but we’ve felt fine during our travels.

We did hire a company to drive us around here so we could relax and see stuff.

Posted by
186 posts

You would have to pay me to go to Cancun but I love Oaxaca. Have been at least once a year from 2007 to 2018.
But if you want to experience more of an indigenous culture then Oaxaca is a clear choice. If you are interested in one of the world class cuisines then Oaxaca is rhe choice.
But obviously many love Cancun and just want the beach and Senor Frogs and Hard Cafe nightlife.
Obviously you're going to do some research on both places to better define your personal interests.

Posted by
725 posts

Cafetista: my daughter is pushing the Oaxaca area because she is familiar with it. How safe is it? That is my main concern at this time in my research since I will be traveling with my GD.

Valerie: the reason I started looking at Cancun was due to your posting and I have read some of your blog. I’m not sure we can afford a private driver/ guide. Thanks for your input on Liberia as well.

Posted by
4772 posts

I've been to Oaxaca a number of times, most recently about three years ago, and a relative lives there. I can't speak to the current Covid situation there or in Mexico generally, or obviously what it will be in August. If your safety concern is about crime, I wouldn't worry about Oaxaca. Apart from pickpockets, who are an issue all over Mexico, the city has very little crime and less violence. You're probably safer there than in any US city of comparable size.

Oaxaca has a higher percentage of indigenous people than most other parts of Mexico. It was home to the Zapotecs, whose ruins (Monte Alban, Mitla, Yagul, etc.) are among the best in the country, long before the Aztecs and Spaniards arrived. The surrounding villages specialize in amazing pottery, weaving, and other arts. Each village has a weekly market (on a different day). There are beautiful colonial churches in the city and several villages. The museum in Oaxaca city, formerly a monastery, traces the prehistory and history of the area and has artifacts from one of the ancient tombs of Monte Alban -- and there's an audioguide in English. Next to it is a botanical garden with examples of what may be the world's oldest variety of corn. Oaxacan food is well known, including seven kinds of mole sauce.

I've been to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. I'd like to visit Merida and Chichen Itza. I'm sure Cancun is a great winter beach destination, but I'm not sure I'd want to be there, or in the Yucatan generally, at sea level in August. Oaxaca is in the mountains, the city at about 5,000 feet. August is warm but not too hot, with a brief thunderstorm most afternoons which cools the place off.

Posted by
254 posts

When I was in the Yucatan, I heard people had problems driving out of Cancun with being pulled over for bribes but I drove all around from Merida to Chichen Itza and points north of Valladolid and never had any issue. Unless you planned on spending all your time in a resort, which doesn't sound like your thing, it is easier to have a car to get around to all the interesting sites. And I've never been to Cancun but probably wouldn't want to drive in the city anyway. Merida was bad enough dealing with traffic. Otherwise, the Yucatan felt quite safe. If you are ok with driving, stay somewhere away from Cancun. Check the Genesis ecohotel in Ek Balam that might be interesting for a few nights to contrast with Tulum/Cancun. If not, check day tours, but it's a big area and not sure how far away you can get on just a day tour. If you can get to Uxmal and the Ruta Puuc on the other side of the peninsula, it'd be worth it to see the different ruins and get some walking in.

Going to the city of Oaxaca, however, had more non-car options. The City itself has the main center square with obligitory cathedral, a couple good museums, etc., and walking around never felt unsafe (I'm a single woman). Not sure how the small day tours are running with Covid, but check out these: En Via is a non-profit that gives microloans to indigenous women in nearby villages to help start up a business and provides advice to keep them going, among other things they do. They make some money by doing tours to the villages to meet some of the women, learn about their businesses, get a chance to buy whatever they're selling (but no pressure), and see where and how they live. Plus you get lunch-probably a mole- made by the host family. If you want a cooking class, I did one by La Cocina Oaxaqueno and Chef Gerardo. You get a market tour as he buys the stuff for the lunch, and then you make it under his direction at his home. His mom cooked the chicken while he told us how to do everything else. Getting to Monte Alban to see the ruins would be either a day tour or by bus, which wasn't too hard to figure out although it helps to know some Spanish. Not sure local dancing is much of a thing in either area.

I thought the people in the Yucatan were a little friendlier, but maybe because I was in smaller towns. But I'd probably vote with your granddaughter and see Oaxaca. It's an interesting part of Mexico, there's tons to see and do and the day tours were reasonably priced (even at Day of the Dead when the town is packed), and you'd get to try all the different moles to pick your favorite!

Posted by
1968 posts

You’ve got some great information here! Dick makes a good point about weather - we were hot every day. It’s been about 95 or so most days. It’s a hot hot place to visit. January - our original travel date - can be cooler - maybe 85 or 90 but not necessarily so, judging from my research.

I can’t give you an easy price about the driver but you’re right, it was not cheap. I added things to the price - like a van instead of a Kia sedan and I asked them to drive all the way to the Cancun airport to pick us up and drop us back off - which is 3 hours from Merida. It was, for us, WAY cheaper than the 24-person Road Scholar tour we were supposed to take in January so we approached it with that mindset.

Good luck choosing - I think you’ll have fun no matter what.

Posted by
186 posts

The usual precautions re safety in Oaxaca. I walk all over town even at night. A few exceptions such as the Abastos market which is not safe. But other markets are safe and wonderful.

My friends who live there have received their vaccinations and tell me that in the city most people want and have also received the vaccine.
The villages above the city in mountains as high as 10 thousand feet have ecotourism opportunities including cabins for overnight. There are companies that can help you arrange this and work with the indigenous villagers to support the forest and nature.
Cabs are plentiful and can be hailed anywhere. The yellow cabs can go anywhere in the state including the craft villages. Minimum change was 50 pesos when I was there last. I usually take the buses but I will sometimes take a cab and if you want them to wait for you they will for whatever the hourly rate is. The cabs that are any color rather than yellow are specific to a village and are only allowed to provide transport to the village and back. All the cabs are safe and and are scrupulously honest.
Oaxaca city is around 5,000 feet which is why even in August it is quite pleasant and cool at night.
I could go on forever re Oaxaca because it's en mi corazon but the people of Oaxaca are the real treasure.

Posted by
1192 posts

Definitely Oaxaca over Cancun. You won’t have to worry about safety because the police are ll over the place, just stay on the beaten path.
There is a place I enjoy more than Oaxaca and that is Guanajuato. If you can go there instead, you’ll definitely be wowed by the experience. You can take a direct bus to San Miguel de Allende from there that I highly recommend.
All these places are listed as a level two safety wise. I hear even the level fours are safe in the tourist zones because they are so well patrolled by police. Do enroll in the STEP program so you have the latest information emailed to you.

Posted by
725 posts

Thank you all so much for this valuable information comparing the Cancun area with Oaxaca. I didn’t realize that Oaxaca was located in a higher elevation, thereby making the heat more tolerable. That alone might be a deciding factor for my choice.

Posted by
984 posts

For what it's worth we visited the Los Cabos area back in March and had a great time. Beautiful, interesting, safe, fun and easy to get around with cheap and plentiful Uber drivers.

Posted by
3232 posts

I haven't been to Oaxaca yet, but I think most of the talk about Cancun is dated.

Cancun's Hotel Zone has joined the all-inclusive craze of resorts farther south so there's not much pedestrian traffic and it's not a party city anymore. I actually think Playa del Carmen and the resorts on the Maya Riviera are now the busy party spots, leaving the Cancun Hotel Zone rather quiet and with the best beaches (especially those facing north away from the surf).

Several years ago we visited at Christmas which is supposedly the busiest time and found it relaxing. We were surprised how much we liked it.

But the two cities are so different, it depends upon what you want.

Posted by
1192 posts

Linda, Oaxaca’s elevation level is 5,102 feet, Guanajuato is 6,709 feet and San Muguel de Allende is 6.234 feet. Unlike Oaxaca, both Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are much more picturesque than Oaxaca.

Posted by
725 posts

If we stay in Oaxaca City, is a beach day trip an option?

Posted by
1192 posts

No, Oaxaca city is not close to a beach via public transportation and I don't recommend driving in MX because then you're getting off the beaten path and that's when problems are more likely to occur. Have you considered going to Merida?

Posted by
725 posts

MaryPat and Valerie,
I’m actually re-thinking this trip. Originally, and for almost 2years, I have been planning and talking with my granddaughter about a trip to Costa Rica. When Alaska Airlines reworked my flights in and out of San Jose with a stop in Liberia, I nixed the whole idea of Costa Rica. I’m trying to use my Alaska Airlines companion for this trip. So, then I was looking at Mexico - fewer stops. BUT, Valerie brought up a good point about considering Liberia as my transit hub. Now I am back to looking at a Costa Rica trip starting and ending in Liberia. I will post this in my Costa Rica thread and will have some questions on planning a couple of days in and near Liberia.