Contiki Review: Mexico Grande

After completing my first trip on Contiki to Peru in November, I was eager to head out traveling again with them on their Latin America tours. As a solo female traveler, I feel like Contiki offers me the opportunity to travel to places I want to go to with people my own age in a way that is safe, fun and pretty stress-free. Mexico has always been high on my list, so I booked the Mexico Grande Trip with Contiki.

Wait... you might be wondering

What is Contiki?

For those of you not from Australia, you may be wondering what I'm going on about. In a nutshell, Contiki is a travel tour company that specializes in group travel for those 18-35 years of age. Contiki has tours across the world, including South America, North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. What would you expect on your Contiki tour? Generally speaking, a group of similarly minded individuals, many from Australia (where Contiki began and is HEAVILY marketed), usually in the 20-30 year age group (depending on the tour destination). Of course, you will have a scattering of all nationalities in your group, but there are usually many, many Aussies on the Contiki trips. Many are solo travelers, like myself, or are traveling in pairs with a friend or partner. Contiki offers great itineraries across the globe for a variety of different interests and paces. One of the things I enjoy the most is that I can go alone, be safe, and all I really need to make sure of is that I rock up at the bus at the right time the next morning.  

Where does the Contiki Mexico Grande go?

Highlights of Mexico Grande

  • Visiting Chichen Itza and swimming in the Cenote
  • Walking tour of Mexico City & Visiting the Teotihuacan Pyramids
  • Mexican Wrestling (not on the itinerary, but our manager set it up, Thanks Abes!)
  • Colorful town of Guanajuato
  • Foooood!
  • Sunset sailing in Puerto Vallarta
  • Superman Zipline in Puerto Vallarta
  • Swimming with Whale Sharks
  • Epic nights out in Mexico

I enjoyed this tour because there’s a mix of culture, food, sightseeing and relaxation, as well as plenty of partying and clubbing. While we were on the road a lot (typical of Contiki tours), the tour itself was really great. It is definitely high paced and high energy however, with plenty early mornings and late nights. My favorite city was Guanajuato with all its colored houses. Our tour guide in Mexico City was fantastic. I loved the Teotihuacan pyramids and I do wish we had had longer there and at Chichen Itza. Merida is also a beautiful city, and Chichen Itza is in a league of its own. You also have the opportunity to swim in the Cenote nearby which is a lot of fun.

Like many other Contiki tours, the Mexico Grande links up with several other trips. The Mexico Grande is a 2-week tour across Mexico. For more information on the pacing and actual logistics of this trip you can check out my Mexico Itinerary. There are also plenty of other tours that link up with the Grande Tour including Mexican Fiesta (the first week of the Grande tour, excludes Merida and Cancun), Yucatan Highlights (joining in the second week of Grande, from Mexico City and includes Merida and Cancun), and then numerous other tours, which link up from Cancun to explore Belize and Guatemala. After my experience in Peru, I found it too daunting to join a tour that had already been traveling for a few days, and I didn’t want to miss out any of the other cities on the trip, so I opted for the Grande.

In Mexico City, we started with a group of 12, which initially seemed very small. By the half way stage we had all bonded really well. On the Grande (and linking up trips), there were a number of people traveling in pairs, either in couples or friends, and a large majority were Australian, in the 20-25 age group. My trip to Peru was a somewhat older mix, with most of us being in the 25-30 age group, also mostly traveling alone.  After a week together, we all had mixed feelings about picking up another 30 new people. I personally found the big group somewhat overwhelming (I’m more of an introvert to be honest). I made some great new friends but it was definitely interesting to get used to a massive new group of another 30 different personalities. If you were someone who finds groups daunting, I would definitely reflect on whether a group tour like Contiki is the right choice for you. 

 

Contiki Optionals

Contiki Optionals are activities and adventures that you can pay extra for to take part in. Depending on the trip depends on what kinds of activities you can opt into. Contiki offers a bunch of different optionals on the Mexico Grande, and I did all that were physically possible. Optionals are not included in your trip, you have to pay for these once you arrive in Mexico. On this particular tour, US dollars or Mexican Pesos was accepted, however on my previous trip to Peru it was only US dollars. With 3 days in Puerto Vallarta you have a couple of options:

  • Zip Lining, including the Superman (The longest Zip line in Mexico)
  • Marietas Island Adventure
  • Sunset Sailing Cruise

Ziplinning

This was such a fun option. You can read my full post about the Ziplinning trip and see the Superman video too. The trip takes you into the rainforest of Puerto Vallarta. The guides were absolutely hysterical and so much fun. We did a number of zip lines, repelling, climbing, and the Superman Zipline – the longest zipline in Mexico!

Marietas Island – Hidden Island Adventure

Our next optional was the following day with a visit by boat to the Marietas Island. I was really excited about this optional as it had been on my bucket list for a long time. I’ve seen it hundreds of times on Pinterest usually erroneously accredited to Portugal or Australia! When I realized it was in Mexico AND on my itinerary I couldn’t wait. We took a boat to the island where you actually have only a 50% chance of visiting, as a result of the tide and swell. We were lucky and the captain gave us permission to swim off. This was definitely one of the scariest things I've done that I’ve not had enough time to be scared for! There are guides there to help you swimming under the rock and through the cave to the island though. After your stay at the island, you board the boat again and continue to another island where you can snorkel, paddleboard and kayak. Once you’re filled up on adventure for the day, you can retreat to the boat to enjoy lunch and an open bar.  We saw dolphins and turtles on our way back to Port, and the crew is a lot of fun!

Sunset Sailing

This optional was probably one of the highlights of my trip. We boarded a sailboat late afternoon and spent the sunset sailing the coast of Puerto Vallarta. The staff were great and we shared a bento box of snacks. The sunset was beautiful and our group really bonded. We saw dolphins, which swam up the side of the sailboat as well. This was a beautiful optional.

In Cancun is where we had the rest of our optionals. Contiki seems to have changed it’s itinerary slightly, in that now you have to chose from two optionals on the same day, whereas previously you could do both on separate days. The two options were swimming with Whale Sharks or another optional which included ziplinning, caves and the Mayan Jungle.

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Seeing as less than 1% of the world has swum with whale sharks, I opted for this. It is difficult for me to not be bias about this option. I had a really tough time with it. I am an extremely sensitive traveler, and I get motion sickness really easily. What made me think I could handle being on a boat in the middle of the ocean for several hours is beyond me. I did not cope. The sea sickness is a legit concern if you are pretty sensitive like I am, and 7/10 of us fed the fishes. I was only able to get into the water once to swim unfortunately, as I was too weak after that. It was truly amazing though. An absolutely incredible experience! The whale shark was massive and its spots were so clear and standing out from the deep blue depths around it. That moment will be forever burned in my mind! After our trip we visited the Isla Mujeres, where we had ceviche and sandwiches in the water by the boat. I felt a lot better by this point. If you’re extremely sensitive to motion sickness like I am, I would think twice about this option… But of course, swimming with whale sharks in Mexico is a once in a lifetime opportunity as well! I’m glad I did it even though I was pretty miserable, clinging on to the side of boat most of the time.

Nightlife in Mexico

Mexico and Contiki are both known for their partying and nightlife in their own right, so the Mexico Grande tour is full of it. Almost every evening there was the option to head to a bar or club. The nightlife in Mexico varies from city to city, and is definitely something to experience, particularly in Cancun (we called this Mexico’s Little Vegas). I did not really budget for the bar and club excursions for this trip, nor did I want to go out every night, although many in our group did. Of course, you are under no obligation to head out, but when in Mexico…. It is always your choice, of course, but someone in your group will inevitably twist your arm and convince you. There are definitely a few nights that you should not miss out on, such as the first and last night out of the trip, the Mandala Club in Puerto Vallarta, the first night in Cancun, and the Coco Bongo experience. If you are planning on partying it up in Mexico, you need to budget for it. Generally speaking the clubs in the smaller towns, such as Puerto Vallarta, Guanajuato etc are cheaper then say Mexico City and Cancun. Often we would all pay for open bar or bottle service for the evening, from 450 pesos and above ($30 and up). In Cancun, it was significantly more expensive, with Coco Bongo costing $70-80 for the evening. If you plan on partying it up, make sure you budget this or are able to make withdrawals from an ATM while in Mexico.

Food on the Mexico Grande

Contiki usually includes a breakfast every morning of the trip, which is usually at the hotel. Lunch and dinner is not always included. It would be a good idea to budget for this too. Some of our dinners were included (i.e. already paid for), and others were not. You have the option of finding your own place to eat, but I always joined my tour manager to where he was going. Your tour manager usually knows the best places to eat at so I stick with them. Traveling on U.S. dollars, Mexico was cheap in terms of meals (with the exception of Cancun). Some of my meals cost me less than $1.50, and I was full. There are a variety of options to choose from and you can always venture off on your own or join your manager. I really enjoy Mexican food, and I am a big fan of only eating the local food on a trip. I found this really hard to do in Mexico though, I am completely ashamed to say. I wasn’t used to such heavy foods every day, especially in the morning, so I battled a little bit with food and ended up losing weight (you are supposed to gain wait when you travel!). Needless to say however, most of the meals that are included on the trip are amazing and delicious. You can read about my culinary adventure while on tour too.

 

Other expenses

Tipping

Keep in mind that when you are traveling through Mexico, your service industry workers are not as well compensated as you might expect them to be in your home country. What you might make in an hour, in Mexico a person would make that in a day, so it is important to remember to tip. I tipped all of my guides, bus drivers, and server staff. You do need to budget for this as it does add up. It is recommended to tip 10% on meals, but with the dollar being so strong, it is easy to tip more than that such as 15%. While it didn’t make a big difference to me, it does to the person serving you. Contiki also does not include tipping for your drivers and your tour manager. They recommend between $1-$3 US per day. 

Transport

You also want to be mindful of taxi trips home from clubs. Depending on the hour and city, a taxi will cost anything from 80-200 pesos. Ask your tour manager for the recommended amount before jumping in one (and always GO WITH SOMEONE ELSE).

In Cancun, our hotel was a little bit out of the way compared to the other cities. In this case we had to use public transport to get us to the restaurants/bars and other facilities. The bus stop was located right outside of our hotel and this cost us 10.50 pesos per trip.

Viva Mexico!!!!!

I had an amazing time traveling through Mexico with Contiki! There was NO way I would have felt safe enough to do this on my own, so I am grateful that Contiki travels through this region. A word on safety, I felt safe the entire time I was in Mexico. The only time I felt unsafe or panicky in Mexico was trying to get from the airport to my hotel in Mexico City. My pre-arranged $50 transport with Gray Line did not wait for me at the airport, and when I called to ask what was going on, they refused to send someone to help. As a solo female traveler to a region where I am not fluent in the language, and it is not exactly the safest place in the world, I was extremely annoyed, frustrated and full of anxiety. Luckily, another Contiki traveler (my eventual roommate) arrived at a similar time and I ended up sharing her ride. Apart from this moment of anxiety, I never felt unsafe in Mexico. However, I also exercised caution. I rarely wandered off by myself, and I always used transport with someone else. If you are staying in the tourist areas, it seems to be safe - this is also what the locals told me. You still need to have your wits about you, be observant and don't do anything stupid. Don't let other's perceptions and the media deter you from visiting Mexico, but be safe and mindful of what you do and where. 

Mexico was a fantastic country to visit. The Contiki trip covers you a broad selection of interests, from culture, history, partying, eating and relaxing. It is a high-energy trip though, and often I spent my hours off catching up on sleep or just relaxing near the hotel (not normal for me). I think the only thing that could have been improved upon would be the amount of time spent at different attractions and cities. I would have loved a second day to explore Guanajuato on my own, and more time at the pyramids and Chichen Itza would have really made the experience more poignant. Our guides at both sites were incredible and full of knowledge, I just wish Contiki was able to schedule more time for us to wander on our own at these sights. Apart from that, I loved the adventures we had and the places we visited. I met a great group of people, and made memories that will last a lifetime! Viva Mexico!  


HAVE YOU TRAVELED WITH CONTIKI BEFORE? WHAT TOUR AND HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE? IF NOT, DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD?