Lost a wheel on a rolling bag

Checked a rolling bag on a segment between Auckland and Queenstown, New Zealand

Great news – Air New Zealand just gave us a new hardshell rolling bag right at the baggage claim. Repacked into a new bag and went on to pick up the rental car.

Deepest indoor swimming pool in the world

As you probably already know, we at LocationJumper.com think that diving and all other water-related sports are some of the most interesting travel activities.  For a long time, I’ve been wondering what the deepest man-made swimming pool is that’s open to the public.  One of the readers recently sent in a link to what we think is the deepest indoor public swimming pool:  Nemo 33. Nemo 33 is located in Brussels, Belguim.

The swimming pool is specializing in SCUBA instruction, but a freedive or a regular swim with fins is also an option.  Here is what you’ll see there:

Renting a car in Cancun, Mexico

Renting a car

I often get asked whether it makes sense to rent a car and drive on a trip.  To me, the answer is always fairly consistent: yes, if you can drive the local cars (and if your goal is specifically to get out of the city and see as much around it as possible), it’s always better to drive – simply because then you just get to see more of the area.

In Mexico in general, driving is easy and straightforward.  You just need to purchase Mexican insurance, even if you’re driving from San Diego and visiting only Tijuana.

In Cancun specifically, driving is very comfortable.  Rent a car in any hotel, CUN (Cancun airport) or at any local car rental company.  In our case, most of the hotels we stayed in had a local representative from Budget or Avis downstairs right in the lobby – you could book a vehicle for a 24-hour trip with no prior notice.  Remember that your credit card will often provide automatic basic (non-liability) insurance for the vehicle, so be sure to check with your bank which insurance you need to purchase separately, and which insurance is already covered for you in Mexico.

Driving a rental car in Mexico

When driving, there are no special rules that you need to know to get around safely; there are a lot of tourists on the roads.  The only thing is – watch out for boobs.  That’s what we call the huge speed bumps Mexican freeways have.  That’s right, freeways with speed bumps! Here are the details.

When a freeway enters a town, there are often unmarked speed bumps on the road to slow down the traffic.  Not sure why those are unmarked.  Actually, close to Cancun most highway speed bumps are marked. But the further you go out of town – for example, if you take Hwy 307 southeast to Tulum or Xel-Ha – the more often the unmarked speed bumps appear.  When we’re departing Cancun with a bunch of friends in one can, we always discuss that we should all watch out for speedbumps.  For the first hour, they are easy to spot, so we relax a bit.  That’s when they become unmarked, and on the first speedbump, the car flies high into the air from hitting a bump at a highway speed.  That hurts.  After one or two of these, the full car of people shouts out “Boobs!” to whoever is behind the wheel.  A bunch of people regularly shouting “boobs” is always fun to observe 🙂

We rented a car for day trips only – you only need a car for Akumal, Tulum, Xcaret, Cozumel and Xel-Ha.  Isla Mujeres, Zona Hotelera and Cancun downtown and within a walking distance or via a bus for $0.50.

What is the best time of the year to visit Caribbean resorts?

When to go

Certainly, the most crowded time for the Caribbean resorts is Christmas and New Year.  But few people know that right before Christmas, many of the hotels have some of the best deals of the year.  In particular, if you book your trip in an all-inclusive hotel departing back from your vacation on Christmas day, you will maximize the am0unt of things you can do during your vacation while getting the same deal for a much lower cost than usually.

December 12-23 each year is our most favorite days to travel to warm sunny countries, and the costs of the trips during those dates is usually half of what it costs to go just a few days later.

When not to go

Avoid June – in many Caribbean vacation hotspots, it’s a peak of the rainy season, and the amount of mosquitoes is overwhelming.  For example, when we stayed in Akumal, Mexico (near Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel), in the hotel room along with the standard showercaps, soap bars, body wash, lotion and shampoo, we also found a bottle of mosquito repellent – even with the repellent, the number of flying parasites was overwhelming, and many tourists in our hotel ended up never getting out onto the beach.

Also, avoid August through November – a hurricane season.

Where to stay in Cancun

Go to an all-inclusive hotel.  Read reviews on TripAdvisor.com.

Direct link to see Zona Hotelera on a map

In short, most of the hotels are located along a long stretch of beach that’s called Zona Hotelera.  The stretch of the beach is characterized by the direct access to the sea on the East side and a swampy lagoon on the back, West, side.  The hotels are located along the inverted “L”-shaped stretch of land: hotels are located along the north stretch of the beach and along the East stretch.

Beaches along the North shore are horrible.  There are docking areas for boats, rocky and cliff dropoff beachfronts, no surf resulting in a stagnant saltwater with seaweed, so we don’t recommend booking a hotel there. Also, definitely do not book anything in downtown Cancun – you will be suck in a port without any access to a waterfront.

Along the main “vertical” stretch of the Zona Hotelera, the main set of hotels is located.  East side is split into two sections: regular California beach style waterfronts in the northern half of the ocean-facing stretch, and the more aggressive southern stretch.  Northern half has concrete submerged blocks, dump truck tires on the sea bottom, etc.

We prefer the southern stretch of Zona Hotelera.  The waves are high, you can bodysurf without any special gear, and there are no surfers there, so the beach is ideal for sunbathing, swimming or having fun in the shallow water.  This stretch of the beach is also the cleanest in Cancun.

Alternative Hotel Locations in the area

An entirely different option is to stay in Isla Mujeres (but that might limit you in the amount of stuff you will see in the area if you will be “locked” on an island and tied to the ferry boat schedule).

You can also try Playa del Carmen (it’s on the mainland) or Cozumel (another – major – island).  Playa del Carmen and Cozumel are interesting on their own because of the top-notch diving and snorkeling experiences.  Did you know that Playa del Carmel sits where the second biggest reef in the world (after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef) is starting?  There is definitely plenty to see underwater.

Our personal favorite from the past – the area deteriorated recently due to the huge influx of tourists – is Akumal.  There are only a handful of hotels there, and the town is tiny, with no infrastructure, but the beach is beautiful, and the area is very secluded and quiet.  If you prefer a quiet Mexican get-away into the wilderness, this is the place to visit.  Akumal is the natural breeding ground for huge sea turtles, so you definitely won’t be disappointed.  Caution: by going to Akumal, you will gain the beautiful nature retreat at the expense of the quality of hotel rooms.  Hotels are old, rusty and are poorly taken care of, though tourists still come because of an amazing relaxing experience the area offers.

Personal safety in Mexico

The drug wars have not affected Cancun tourists too much, though it became in the past few years fairly common to see fully geared, masked military to police the beaches – looks strange sometimes when a fully clothed, heavily armed “convoy” is combing through the beach.  Something you would not see even 4-5 years ago, this sight has become more and more common in Yucatan peninsula.  Certainly, outside of the tourist zones in Cancun, the drug wars are ranging on:

A few days earlier, a retired army general was abducted, tortured and shot 11 times, less than 24 hours after becoming Cancun’s top anti-drug official. He, his aide and a driver were all found dead in a truck by the side of a road. Cancun’s police chief was arrested a few days later in connection with the slayings.