I wrote this while on the last leg of a fairly long trip to the Cancun/Isla Mujeres/Tulum area. Here are a few things I've learned that will hopefully help others.
1. Cancun airport is the main airport. United has a nonstop flight from SFO to Cancun that takes only about 5.5 hours! It's therefore a pretty easy destination to fly to, from anywhere in the US. A friend in Fort Lauderdale said it was only a 2 hour flight.
(Cancun Airport tip: It's a big airport. Don't eat at Bubba Gump's -- it was the worst food that I had on the whole trip and the service was terrible. The food was all fried and obviously frozen, then likely baked. The french fries were like cardboard.)
2. I brought an AT&T GoPhone with me and it actually worked. This is an AT&T prepaid phone. It costs 25 cents per minute for voice and texts. I already had $35 on the phone so bringing it to Mexico made me more appreciative of this phone service. It took me a while to figure out the below, so if you have a GoPhone and are going to Mexico -- take note.
a. Calling back to a US phone (or Google Voice) when you are in Cancun:
from a forum: To place international calls from Mexico or Canada, you will need to use the international number format plus sign followed by the country code and the phone number. The plus sign can be accessed from most GSM phones by holding down the 0 key. For example, to call the U.S., whose country code is 1, dial +1, then the area code and phone number.
This worked fine for me. Just dial "+", the area code, and the phone number. It worked for a Google Voice number, but not a landline.
b. Texting to a US cell phone: just text to area code and phone number. No plus signs or "1-s" at the beginning seem to be needed.
c. Texting to a person with a US cell phone, who is in Mexico: same as b.
d. Calling someone in Mexico who has a Mexican landline or cell phone: when I was in Mexico, I did not need to enter any country code. To dial a landline or cell phone, I dialed the following: (984) 115 dddd (where d is a digit). This worked most of the time.
Here are some examples:
A friend who picked me up at the airport had a standard AT&T cell phone, not a GoPhone. Texting to him worked easily -- I just entered his area code and phone number. However, I could not reach him by voice.
I could text to my wife, who has a Google Volice number. I just entered "+" and then the area code and phone number.
3. The cenote snorkeling and diving is fantastic, out-of-this-world. I could spend weeks exploring these underground rivers, which open up at certain spots into the world's most beautiful swimming holes. Snorkelers can have a great time exploring these cenotes. Divers can follow guides deeper into the cenotes.
My favorites were Car Wash, which had tons of native tropical fish swimming around (but was otherwise roped off to help preserve the beautiful lily pads); Tajma Hal which featured many openings that let the sun's rays in; and Casa Cenote, which consisted of perfect mangroves, tons of mosquitofish and larger fish -- and flowed out to the ocean. My least favorite cenotes were the ones that had been over-developed and felt like Disneyland. I really disliked The Pit, where a guy sat there and kept pestering us for more and more money: "Did you pay at the entrance? Oh, but you need to pay if you are bringing a camera into the water. The Pit was a cool dive, but super-crowded since it was so small. " It's too bad; with few people and minus the money-grubbing attendants, the Pit would be a truly awesome diving experience.
4. I stayed in Tulum (and really liked it), which is about a 2 hour drive from the Cancun airport. A taxi from the airport to Tulum should be about $100; my host Bil Philips at Speleotech arranged a private shuttle for a friend for $90; and he told me that the public buses were not bad at all. Of course, for a guy like me who has six heavy bags, taking a public bus is not an option.
5. I've been in Isla Mujeres before. Here are some essentials:
a. Taxi from Cancun Airport to the Ultramar ferry in Puerto Juarez can cost up to $60. Be patient and hold your ground. I would offer $30 to $40 and someone will likely accept. There are two ferries from Cancun to Isla Mujeres. Take Ultramar. It's by far the more professional ferry.
b. On the way back, when you come off the ferry -- don't haggle with the taxi drivers that are closest to where you get off. Have the porter take your bags out of that parking structure to the street. There will be several taxi drivers there, who you can negotiate with. A fare to the airport should cost between $20 to $40. I wanted to get to the Marriott on hotel row in Cancun (a fairly long drive). The guys on the inside wanted $40, the guys on the street wanted $30, and then $20; and I got a nice guy for $15. I gave him $20 at the end for being a polite person.
c. I stayed at the JW Marriott in Cancun, which is on the long hotel row strip. It's not my favorite kind of place to stay. The hotels are all huge resorts that attempt to hold their guests captive. I found that a 7-Eleven, McDonald's, and Papa John's Pizza were all within a fairly short walking distance from the JW Marriott.
The hotel's website states that a taxi from the airport to the hotel costs about $40; but in reality, the concierge told me that taxis from the hotel to the Cancun airport cost about $25. That's what I agreed with in advance with my taxi driver.