How to have the Perfect 24-Hour Layover in Cancun
Summer may be over in New England, but as a flight attendant, it’s never too far out of reach. Recently I had the best Cancun layover and in an exercise in gratitude and making the good times last, I’m going to write about it.
On our Cancun layover, we took a day trip to Isla Mujeres, touristed, baked on the beach, and ate our faces off. If you’re a flight attendant, read on for how to have the perfect 24-hour Cancun layover. If you’re not, then read on to find a dope itinerary for a quick trip to Cancun or info on taking a day trip to Isla Mujeres.
How to Have the BEST 24 Hour Layover in Cancun
I was so excited to see that we had Cancun layovers in our bid packet for September. (A bid packet is a list of all the trips that are available to work for the next month. We use it to “bid” for our schedules the following month.) What I was less excited about was the fact that all of the Cancun trips had multiple legs (flights) per day and looked like a lot of work.
Those of you who know me personally or who have read some of the flight attendant content on this blog know that I work a lot of West Coast trips. Our crew hotels in Seattle, San Diego, and LA feel like my second (and third and fourth) homes. I love the cities. There is a lot to do, nice weather in Southern California and beautiful scenery in Seattle. But the real reason I work these trips so often is less about the layover cities and more about the flying part of these trips.
Almost all of the trips I request to work have this thing in common: they’re easy. I work one flight out West, layover, then one flight back to Boston. Having “one and done” workdays for so long has made me a bit spoiled. I look at trips that at one point, a few years ago, would have seemed fine—great even, and now I can’t bear the thought of so many legs. So many boardings. So many greetings. So many de-planings. So many opportunities for delay or things to go awry. So many times reciting the snack choices over and over and over again. Ugh just thinking about it makes me shiver.
With that being said, I was selective in my Cancun trip requests. I only asked for the “good ones”—for me that means as few flights as possible and a long layover. And somehow, happily, I was awarded a Cancun trip in my schedule. One that I thought looked relatively painless—only two flights per day with a sweet 27-hour layover as reward.
Laurette and I On the ferry to Isla Mujeres
Overall, this was a great trip. My Cancun layover was absolutely perfect, my crew was awesome, and most of the flights were super easy. But there’s always that one. And this trip was no exception.
Our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cancun tested my sanity and every decision I’d ever made that lead me to working that miserable flight. In a text to my bestie on my way to the hotel, I described it as “seven layers of hell in 90 minutes” and I meant every bit of it.
This was the Hot Mess Express. They wouldn’t keep their masks on. The kids were crying. The adults wanted to move their seats. They were up to get their bags when we were still taxiing. They were needy. They were entitled. They pressed their call buttons with harrowing frequency. They couldn’t figure out how to get in the bathrooms. They were in and out so much I had to wonder if they’d competed in some kind of water guzzling competition beforehand. They were in the aisle instead of in their seats. Bumping into one another. Getting in one another’s way, and worse getting in my way. Nothing terrible happened. No one died, we didn’t evacuate, we did not have to call the police. It just was a run-you-ragged kind of flight. The kind that exhausts you and makes you second guess your plans to go on your layover rather than isolate from all human interaction. The kind that makes you question whether this long Cancun layover is even worth the hassle.
But it is. It really is.
Writing this today, I found myself searching the rearview, trying to remember what the actual issues were on that flight. I recalled easily the feeling of hating my life for 90 minutes. But the actual things took some effort to recall.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. This is one of the best parts about my job. The worst flight I’ve had in a long time, and one day later I can’t remember why it was bad. I left those pax from Fort Lauderdale behind as soon as we got off the plane and started our layover, and now their misery is a distant, fuzzy memory. It’s beautiful.
And the layover more than made up for their nonsense.
I never say the names of the layover hotels we stay in because it’s an invasion of privacy for other crew and because it is a safety no-no. What I can tell you is that our crew hotel was perfect. Luxurious and beautiful with ultra-friendly staff and a great location. Plus, freebies like breakfast, snacks, and drinks. We, as crew, had the option to purchase an all-inclusive package for our stay for about $85. I declined since I don’t drink and planned to be out and about on an island all day. But it is a nice option to have! They had me at in-room Nespresso machines, and the white robes and cozy slippers were a sweet bonus.
It is a mixed bag, our layover hotels. Sometimes you stay at really nice places and sometimes you are at a basic Holiday Inn or Radisson. Fine. Decent. Good enough, no complaints. But every now and again we hit the hotel jackpot and get to stay in a place that is really fancy and way above our personal budget. Every once in a blue moon you get to strut into a gorgeous hotel dragging your bags behind you and are transported back in time to the golden age of air travel. When being a flight attendant was a truly glamorous gig. You look around and think “Yes, THIS is where I belong.”
Our hotel in Cancun was just this kind of place. The grounds were beautiful, we were right on the beach. Our rooms faced the ocean, so you could sit on your balcony and sip your Nespresso in your white robe while listening to the waves crash in the morning. I won’t go into too much detail about a place I won’t name. I’ll just say that I regretted not having another 24 hours to do nothing but laze around this beautiful hotel.
A white robe and slippers get me every time.
Going to Isla Mujeres
Getting There & Back:
Isla Mujeres is an island off the coast of Cancun, a 15 minute boat ride if you don’t have to make stops. We took the ferry from Coral Beach, where our hotel was located, and with all the stops along the way, the ferry ride took almost an hour total. This didn’t bother me since I was sorely lacking in sleep. I got to catch a little snooze on the way over.
The round-trip ferry ride on Ultramar was $26 US. The nice thing was that our return ticket could be used for any of the stops along the way to Isla Mujeres. The reason this mattered is the ferry service ends at different times for different ports. The last ferry back to Coral Beach, where we started from, would be at 5pm. And since we were going to the Island at 2pm that wouldn’t be nearly enough time. Instead, we ended up taking the 8pm ferry back to Puerto Juarez. Getting back to Coral Beach required a 25-minte, $25 USD (500 Mx pesos) cab ride. The price was steep, especially since my Uber app showed the ride only costing $139 Mexican pesos, but getting to our hotel as quickly as possible was the priority after a very long day. Having spent so much time in Mexico City, I expected Uber to be easy and available in Cancun as well. Technically Uber is “available” in Cancun, but the two times I tried to use it were not successful. One time no cars were available and the next time the app was loading and “looking for drivers” for several minutes before we called it off and took a traditional taxi.
For more information about taking the ferry to Isla Mujeres from Cancun, click Here:
On Isla Mujeres
On Isla Mujeres we hung out at Playa Norte, just a short walk from the ferry terminal and one of the popular beaches on the island. It was a busy Saturday at the beach, so there was no “private island” vibe to be found. Still, we had a blast. The crowds surprised my friend and coworker, who had been to the island before. She said the last time she was there it was not busy at all, and a very chill experience. Perhaps it was the time of year, or the day of the week, or the fact that right now there are limited options of travel destinations because of COVID. Whatever the case, the sun was shining, the water was a shocking turquois, and we were going to enjoy ourselves.
By the time we got to Playa Norte we were so hot and sticky from walking in the UV rays & equator-hugging humidity that we plopped down in the first spot we saw. Two beach chairs and an umbrella cost us $300 pesos or about $15 USD to rent for a couple hours. We were right next to some shops, a pier where boats came and went, dispersing and collecting tourists from the beach. If we could have held off a bit longer, we could have found a quieter spot on the beach, but by the time we arrived, the water—and jumping in it—was the only thing we were concerned about.
Later we walked along the beach all the way to the end. We found that the further we walked from the ferry port, the less crowded the beach was. At the point where the beach curves to the right wrapping itself around the tip of the island, there were hardly any swimmers or sunbathers. We did find something else on the other side, though. Boats, and lots of them. It seems that this stretch of the beach, on the northern side, was a popular spot for boats to park and its passengers to party. We could hear the music from the individual boats as we walked past, and saw vacationers letting loose, dancing and drinking on the decks.
Back at the cheap seats, Laurette and I undertook the hilarious task of trying to change out of our wet swimsuits and into dry clothes under our towels, in plain sight. It was less than smooth, but a few near-flashings later we were ready to leave the beach and hit the town.
We moseyed along calle Hidalgo, the main pedestrian drag that runs through the northside of town, checking out the tourist shops and looking for a dinner spot. It was quiet in the daylight of 6pm. There were some other tourists, but few and far between. The restaurants that were open were empty and the shopkeepers at every store beckoned us in from the front doors of their vacant stores. Laurette tole me it picks up and gets busier at night. a Tripadvisor post I read conveyed the same thing. And oh, how right they were. We ended up dining at the beach, but when we walked back through this area in the after-dinner dark, it was a completely changed place. All the restaurants had opened up, cute, funky interiors visible from the road. Strings of lights hung overhead in a zig-zag down the length of the street. The music changed every ten paces from radios and live musicians performing in the streets and bars. Where tourists were scarce the first time, now the tables at the restaurants were filling up, there were lines to wait at some of the food carts, the place looked alive.
Reviewers on the internet all called this the touristy area, and it certainly seemed that way. But while we love an off-the-beaten path adventure, we don’t throw shade at tourist spots around here. The area was super cute, and I would have loved to hang out for longer. There is plenty of accommodation on Isla Mujeres, so if you have a chance consider staying for a night or two to experience both this lively north section of the island and the less-populated parts. Golf carts are a popular way to get around, and they looked like SO much fun to cruise the island.
What to Eat
Truth be told, we ate quite a bit on our Cancun layover. So much yumminess that it feels wrong not to include a section on it.
There was the chips & guacamole we had at the restaurant on the ferry pier at Coral Beach. Then there was the sliced mango and pitaya (dragon fruit) we bought from a woman selling it on the side of the road. Then there was dinner. Strolling along Avenida Miguel Hidalgo, trying to pick a restaurant among the empty options we saw, nothing was jumping out at us. We decided we wanted fish. And the best way to eat fish is with a view of the ocean it came from. Back to the beach we went.
Lured by the sound of live music, we settled on an unassuming beach bar called Picus. The tables and chairs were plastic, the floor was sand, and the roof was of thatched straw—a tent, really. The ocean lapped at the shore behind the restaurant, and the two-man band played on the front end. It was exactly our kind of place. I took my shoes off to wiggle my toes in the sand while I wiggled my body in my signature “so-happy-to-be-eating” chair dance. Eating barefoot is just better, isn’t it?
If you end up at this place you MUST try the fish ceviche. We each got fish filet dinners, mine mango style and Laurette’s wrapped with vegetables and baked in foil, but the ceviche was hands down the star of the show. Limey and fresh with avocado on top, it was the perfect dish after a day baking on the beach. Go ahead and get the larger size and thank me later.
We may have put away a hefty portion of food at dinner, but that didn’t mean we were done. We wanted—nay, needed—dessert. We walked back to Av. Miguel Hidalgo in search of treats. Laurette got herself a marquesito from one of the vendors cooking them on the street. A marquesito is a local treat that starts out almost like a crepe—batter spread on a hot cast iron surface. But the plot thickens. Instead of the slow, circular swiping motion you watch form a crepe, this one is pressed with another hot surface, flames underneath, and rotated around like a waffle maker at a hotel. Once this soft shell is ready, the fillings are added. You can get banana, Nutella, and cheese or any combination. The cheese & Nutella version is the local favorite, so of course that was the one we were after. After these fillings are laid out in the middle of the just-cooked pastry, it is rolled up into a long tube. Paper is wrapped around the bottom, and you walk around taking bites of the thin, flaky crust and warm cheese & Nutella combo. At first, I thought it was churros that people were eating. It was not until Laurette was handed her marquesito that I realized this was not the island of gargantuan churros, but instead the land of marquesito. In the picture it looks a bit like an XL cigar, but I assure you it tasted nothing like one.
I had my heart set on ice cream (boring I know, but I’m a sucker for cold sugar), so I held off on the marquesito. I did get to try a bite of Laurette’s, though, and I was not disappointed. I opted for one scoop of pistachio gelato in a cone. (You can tell by the way I threw the number in that I have rarely ever ordered only one scoop of ice cream.) It was nothing to write home about, but was still gelato, and in my opinion, you can’t go too wrong with cold sugar.
The Nutella & Cheese marquesito is an island favorite.
The morning brought a free breakfast from the hotel—always appreciated by flight attendants—that consisted of eggs, hash browns, meats, bread, and apples. The fruit offering was a bit disappointing (since they have some incredible fruit in Mexico), but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Free breakfast > no breakfast.
The unfortunate part about doing this trip (besides the horrendous humans on our FFort Lauderdale flight) was that nearly all my food was taken by Customs & Border Patrol entering Mexico. I am used to giving up fruits and vegetables when re-entering the US from abroad, but for some reason did not realize I would also not be able to bring these items with me into Mexico. Not only that, but my already cooked eggs were thrown away. Apparently, any fresh food will be seized by Customs in the Cancun airport, so flight crews: Be mindful of this when you’re packing your lunch before a Cancun trip.
The loss of my packed lunch meant I had to buy food in the airport for my long night of work after my Cancun layover. I hate buying airport food, and try to never do it. But I do have to say the burrito joint in the Cancun food court makes a great vegetarian burrito.
This tossing of my food also made our free brekkie at the hotel more appealing. And the soft serve ice cream machine I hit up on my way out of the hotel wasn’t too shabby either!
My Cancun layover was so much fun, and if you have a chance to do it you totally should. Unless you are senior to me, then it was disastrous and terrible, and you should avoid it at all cost. This was a nice reminder of how much fun going out and adventuring in new layover cities can be. I got my first ever trip to Cancun, and I had the chance to get out of my same-old work routine and mix it up a bit. The trip itself wasn’t great, but when you have a fantastic crew and a layover like I did, it is not hard to look past those FLL demons and 14-hour duty days. I’m so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone for this four-day trip and so glad I powered through sleep-deprivation to hit the ground running in Cancun. In the end it was totally worth it. I am counting down the days and checking alerts for the next time I can go back to this awesome layover.
If anyone has suggestions for other fun things to do on a quick trip to Cancun, please share with the class! The flight attendants on this page (including me!) will appreciate it for our next layover, and the regular folx can bookmark for their next Cancun trip.
Thanks as always for stopping by, and have a kick-ass weekend!