I stayed in my first Airbnb in Mexico City. It was great. I stayed in my second Airbnb in Cancun. It was…less great. Story time!
Once upon a time, there was a farm boy called Jack who traded his cattle for a handful of magic beans. Sorry, wrong story. Our story today starts outside an apartment building in the center of Mexico City, not far from Zocalo Square, home of a giant skeleton head.
We checked the text from our host, pressed #2 on the buzzer, and waited for our gracious host to come bounding out of the door carrying a basket of nachos and miniature bottles of tequila. We waited a bit more. And a bit more. We looked at each other. We pressed #2 again and heard it buzz. We’d never used Airbnb before and I confess to being a little worried at this point. What if this was a scam? We’d paid our money online but how did we know this host was legitimate? Even if we did get inside, maybe the photos would turn out to be misleading and this place was actually a crack-den. Finally the door opened. Angel the doorman, a smiling giant of a man, picked each of us up and carried us to our room on his shoulders.
The room was magnificent. The bed was so huge and soft you could leap onto it and get lost in its delicate caress. The bathroom looked like it been ripped out of a magazine with its fancy glass panels and walk-in shower big enough to have an orgy in. On the table by the door was a welcome basket filled with bottles of water, popcorn, and other generic snacks. Location-wise, the apartment was perfect. We were right in the heart of the city, within walking distance of Torre Latinoamericana and a bunch of museums. Our host had left a guidebook and map in the bedroom too, so we couldn’t get lost unless we tried really, really hard.
A few days later, after we’d explored Mexico City, ate the best freaking tacos in the entire world, and hit up Teotihuacan, we flew to Cancun. Cancun is in the Yucatán area of Mexico and is best-known as the place to visit Chichen Itza (even though it’s a three-hour drive away) and as the place that Americans go to get sun, sea, and syphilis (aka spring break).
Cancun is made up of two noticeable parts if you’re a tourist: the hotel strip, surrounded on one side by the Caribbean Sea and Laguna Nichupté on the other; and downtown, where everything else is. Our Airbnb was downtown. On the map it didn’t look so far from the beaches, but we didn’t factor in the heat, the lack of good sidewalks, and our inability to use public transport correctly (the first time we tried taking a bus we went the opposite way and ended up in a housing estate where everyone looked at us like the dumb tourists we were).
It was late when we arrived in Cancun. Our host had told us to take a taxi from the airport to the apartment because it wasn’t far and would only cost about $5. Here’s where Airbnb hit its first challenge. If you tell a taxi driver the name of a hotel, they’ll usually know where it is. Tell them a random street address in a residential neighborhood and there’s no guarantee they’ll have any idea where you’re talking about. Because of that, we spent 20 minutes in the taxi just crawling around badly lit streets in a quiet neighborhood. If we weren’t in a taxi, we would’ve looked like we were curb-crawling. Neither of us had phone data but we persuaded the taxi driver to call our host on his cell phone to explain where the apartment was.
The apartment itself was definitely a rung or two below the Mexico City one on the social scale. It had a locked gate out front, but the gate was made up of bars that you could fit your hand through and unlock from the other side. Seriously. It was no safer than hiring a toddle to guard your freshly-baked cookies. Inside, we had a bedroom with a bed that looked harder than the look my mum gave me when I didn’t eat my broccoli. There was a closet, windows that didn’t open, a small bathroom that hadn’t been cleaned since the invention of the toothbrush, and a lounge area that looked…well, the lounge area was actually pretty nice.
It was the little touches that made the Cancun apartment homely. It was stocked with endless toiletries, including new toothbrushes and even razors, a gift basket with a miniature bottle of tequila, and a giant lovable fat cockroach crouched in a damp corner. We called him Ricky. We spent more time than I care to admit playing “I Need to Pee But I Don’t Know Where Ricky Is.”
We spent four nights in each apartment. Four nights in the urban sprawl of Mexico City, in an apartment in a great location near Zocalo Square, with a host we never saw but had no reason to see. Four nights in a dimly-lit suburban neighborhood of Cancun with a cockroach called Ricky and a host we saw on multiple occasions, to fix things. Which was better? Mexico City, obviously. I hate cockroaches and I like massive soft beds. But Cancun wasn’t bad. For the price we paid, we couldn’t complain, and we had a whole apartment to ourselves.
All in all, we learnt three things. One, Airbnb is great. Two, Mexico is well worth visiting, especially Mexico City. Three, always, always, always trade your cows for magic beans.