Back in 2012, while I was planning on where to spend my yearly winter escape, I started to look around some Latin American countries that is not too far a-flight from Canada. My intention was to find a wintering destination as an alternative to the Philippines.
From recommendation of friends – Cuba and the Dominican Republic came up as the most budget-friendly destinations. Colombia also was a consideration, only because a Colombian friend told me about her country, specifically the City of Bogota.
I never even considered Mexico during those initial search. Probably because of the negative press that the country was getting in Canada affected my consideration.
Instead, I started short-listing cities and towns in Colombia and the Dominican Republic during research. Cuba, although a favorite of many Canadians because of cheap package offers – I did not include in my search because the internet in that country is so terrible, according to friends who visit every year. Good internet connection is one of the most important factor I consider in researching where to spend my yearly long trips.
1) Beach, beach, beach. This is the most important. I love snorkeling, beach bumming, sea food for a meal, kayaking or just being close to the ocean. As a native of a country surrounded by bodies of water (the Philippines), this special attachment to the ocean will never go away because I know how delightful the feeling is when spending time by a beach, under a coconut tree.
2) Reliable internet connection. The second most important thing in my list. I don’t take vacations per se. I work at least a few hours a day even on a holiday. And the only way I’ll be able to do this is if the place I’m going to on a holiday has a reliable and consistent internet to make communicating with the office in Canada cheap and easy.
3) Wildlife & bird watching opportunity. The next best relaxation that I love most, besides the beach, is wildlife watching and photography. I specially love watching coastal birds swooping down the water to catch food. And snorkeling is a favorite activity I begun to love while living in the Philippines – watching the wonderful wildlife underwater excites me.
4) Proximity to/from Canada. Since 2007, I have spent my winter holidays in the Philippines, my homeland. But the long flight involved going and coming back – I began to hate. 15 to 22 hours at the plane/airport each way is no fun, even if internet access is already available at an airport or even if the plane have individual entertainment systems. It could have been justifiable if I’m staying more than 3 months for holidays, sadly, I’m not.
5) Cheap airfare. Although it is cheap to staycation in the Philippines, the airfare going there is becoming more and more ridiculous. Even if more airlines added routes flying to Manila from Canada, there is nothing less than $1000 to get there. Besides the long flight time, airfare is another turn-off for me about wintering in Southeast Asia. I’ve set a budget of no more than $700 return and there are plenty down south within that budget.
6) Time zone almost sync with Canada. In relation to point no. 2, I started hating working as technical support for our business in a different time zone! Imagine having to be awake at wee hours in the morning so you can fix some data in your office computer. Yes, the internet have made remote work a possibility but, working at night affect one’s health, and you can feel it’s effect if you’ve been on the job long enough.
7) ¿Qué Pasa? ¿Habla Español? The past few years, I became interested in learning the Spanish language. That’s probably one of the reasons why I’ve been drawn to Latin America. I just came to realize that Spanish is another language that we Filipinos should have learned to speak and I want to at least be able to speak basic conversation.
So, those are the major points that will affect my choice. Looking at the list means no more Southeast Asia for me for the time being.
But how did Mexico came into play when it was not even considered initially?
The deal breaker really is the cost of airfare from Canada. Read on…..
When I started my research, the first thing I looked for were prices of accommodation and the airfare. I started to write a list comparing prices for the month of January using AirBnB as my reference for accommodations. And for the airfare, with our own reservation system.
Note that I want to be close to, but not necessarily along the coast. So looking at the map – in Colombia, I chose to compare the rentals in the cities of Cali, Cartagena and Barranquilla. In all three cities, accommodation close to the coast is cheapest at Cali. The airfare on the same period to Cali is between $700-$850.
In the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo was my city of choice and found out that the cheapest room is similar with Cali (about US$25/night) and the airfare for January is about $525. Not bad.
So, between Cali and Santo Domingo with everything seeming equal, it looks like Santo Domingo is the winner based on the price of the plane ticket. But that didn’t end there, though.
One day, while I was checking newsletters in my email, I read a post about the cost of living in Cancun by one of the bloggers I’m subscribed to. The subject of the article I was reading was about how cheap it is to live in Cancun, Mexico.
Being a very frugal traveler, I became suddenly curious about Cancun. And so, eventhough Mexico was not even a consideration because of some bad news I keep hearing about the country, I still checked the accommodation pricing and airfare using the same month as before. The cheapest room is the same but surprisingly, the airfare for the month of January is $420 only!
Holy smokes! That is one cheap airfare! Cheaper than going to Orlando!
Finding this out, I began comparing Santo Domingo and Cancun from my 7-factors list and all points weighed in similarly. It became difficult to decide.
Finally, I chose Cancun because the cheap airfare was very hard to resist. The final preparation I did before deciding to go to Cancun was to do more research on the city, including the crime situation, because like what I mentioned, Mexico is getting some bad press in Canada.
But my experience about warnings by governments and the foreign media about traveling to the Philippines in the past are usually exaggerated, so, I thought maybe this is also the case with Mexico. And the desperation to find an alternative to the Philippines as a wintering destination was really strong so that it trumps what friends and the press say about Mexico. So, months before my intended holiday, I finalized our first trip to Mexico even before I told my wife about it. And I’m glad I did and have never regretted that decision.
For two years in a row now, Mexico has replaced the Philippines as my new snowbirding destination and I’m liking the country more every time I visit. And I will keep going there until such time that I begin to set my sights to another country – or not…..
In my future posts, I will write about what I am beginning to love about Mexico. Meanwhile, if you want to read about our first trip to Cancun, you can visit the post here.