good place to take a Spanish-speaking week's vacation?
June 4, 2013 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Wrestling with Mexico vs. Spain vs. ???

I want to go away for a week to a Spanish-speaking place. Leaving from New York. Last year Puerto Rico was perfect: short air time, cheap, enough interesting historical stuff, food eh but whatever. But that was last year. Now it's this year:

(1) how dangerous is it REALLY to go to Cancun in order not to go to Cancun but, rather, to see Tulum etc.? Would we seriously be kidnapped and murdered?

(2) would it be "worth it" (more money, longer flight time, worse jet lag) to fly to Barcelona to stay for a week? including a few side trips such as Montserrat (sp.?)(<<spelling, not spanish)

(3) anyplace else?

e.g. Dominican Republic = resorts or what I hear is a pretty deserted Santa Domingo (and not very safe)
South America: we went to Ecuador in 2006 and it was a great trip but it sort of satiated my South American travel desires (Argentina = too far, airfare so costly! )
Husband has seen Peru already and I have little desire etc.

Central America: e.g. Costa Rica: I don't have any desire to wander around rainforests; Ecuadorian Amazonas was definitely enough of that! not a "nature person", really, though love a nice beach (as long as umbrellas are available, not to mention Public Toilets!)

So this is my free association, any suggestions welcome -- but really DANGER IN MEXICO is my main question!!! gracias.
posted by DMelanogaster to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Barcelona is an amazing city, we were there only for a few days on either end of a cruise, but man - beautiful weather, great food, friendly and helpful people. Would not mind going back some day.

Buenos Aires is worth considering - it's a very cosmopolitain world city with amazing cuisine and culture.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:45 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I spent two weeks in Barcelona a month ago. It was fantastic and I can't recommend it highly enough. However, while everyone will speak Spanish back to you, Catalan is really their main language and I found myself getting a bit annoyed at how many signs I could just almost understand...
posted by DynamiteToast at 9:49 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

how dangerous is it REALLY to go to Cancun in order not to go to Cancun but, rather, to see Tulum etc.? Would we seriously be kidnapped and murdered?

I did this in 2007 and am still alive.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:52 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Being of Basque and Galician descent, I have to plug the north. Please consider Bilbao. There is the Guggenheim and many historical sights. I also understand that it has a nice night life.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:55 AM on June 4, 2013

Northern Spain is glorious this time of year, but so is Catalunya. Be aware that in major cities in both locations, Spanish is not the only main language spoken.

No one is going to kidnap and murder you in Cancun.
posted by elizardbits at 10:02 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

DANGER IN MEXICO is my main question

Danger is overrated, as long as you're not in the border states and not making stupid tourist mistakes.

to fly to Barcelona to stay for a week

Barcelona was beautiful, one of my favorite cities, one of the few places I'd go back, and I loved picking up some Catalan there. As far as Spanish goes, you might prefer Bilbao/Madrid/Seville/Cordoba.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:03 AM on June 4, 2013

If you can fit Barcelona in your budget, then yes, it is an amazing, world-class city on the order of London or Paris or New York in terms of amazing food, sites, history, activities. The only thing that might make me hesitate to recommend that as your #1 destination is that if you had more time in Spain, you could have an even more incredible trip. If you typically only take 1-week vacations, then go for it. If you think you might be able to take 2 weeks in a year or two, then maybe hold off until you can spare more time to do the area justice.

That said, the murder rate in Orlando is higher than the murder rate in Cancun. Would you worry about being kidnapped and murdered going to Disney World? If Mexico is where you would like to go, you will be fine, statistically speaking.
posted by drlith at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2013

Cancun is fine and safe. The areas surrounding Cancun are also fine and safe. I was there in.... 2011? We drove around the Yucatan, went to Chichen Itza, went to Tulum. You will be neither kidnapped nor murdered. Everyone there wants the tourists to be happy and safe so that they keep coming back and spending money.
posted by baby beluga at 10:18 AM on June 4, 2013

Are Americans Safer in Mexico than at Home? The answer is yes, unless you are specifically going to the more dangerous parts of the country to engage drug cartels. Its a good example of how the media shapes perceptions.
posted by vacapinta at 10:48 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've heard that Huatulco Mexico is the latest tourist go-to place. I've never been been there myself, but thinking about it. I've been to Cancun several times and consider it safe. Another thing to consider is that the Spanish language varies from region to region.
posted by gabem at 10:52 AM on June 4, 2013

Also consider Mexico city and Oaxaca. Two other remarkably safe places, despite perceptions.

Nothing wrong with Barcelona though, although I prefer the museums in Madrid. There's a high speed rail between the two cities which takes 2.5 hours. So it is possible to see both great cities even in a short stay. Barcelona feels more international, even taking into account all the Catalan signs. Madrid feels much more Spanish. It is interesting to contrast the two.
posted by vacapinta at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2013

Mexico is huge and full of amazing things. Based on my own experience I can highly recommend Oaxaca and Guanajuato.
posted by silvergoat at 10:54 AM on June 4, 2013

I was just in Cancun and Tulum in January. It is definitely safer than a random American city.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 10:54 AM on June 4, 2013

I was in the Yucatán last year, and for seeing it and surrounding sights, I really enjoyed Mérida as a seemingly more "authentic" Mexican experience. Less touristy, very safe.
posted by pitrified at 11:03 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Barcelona is a fantastic, cosmopolitan city (I'm very biased, having visited 8 times albeit some of those were just long weekends) and there are so many cultural activites and things to see that you would never be bored. Just got to be careful of the many pickpockets and bagsnatchers though (not for nothing is there a web page called "I got robbed in Barcelona").

Without having visited Mexico I am sure there lots of great things to see there too and maybe it's better value for money. As others have said it's not unsafe either (so long as you have a sense not to drift into the bad parts of town) but the question is not "Would I be kidnapped and killed" (highly unlikely) but "Would I be often worried about getting robbed and killed and would that get in the way of my holiday?" which is one only you can answer.
posted by AuroraSky at 11:29 AM on June 4, 2013

I was in Tulum (and all around the Yucatan peninsula) last year around this time. Extremely safe. Never once did I feel even the slightest bit endangered.
posted by queens86 at 12:41 PM on June 4, 2013

Another vote here for Mérida. There are direct flights on United from Houston, just two hours. It's a good base to see a ton of ruins (skip Chichén Itzá, but Uxmal is worth it and Mayapán and Ek Balam are nearly deserted and climb-able). Within easy reach, you've also got Mayan towns, cenotes (swimming holes), fancy haciendas... It's less touristy and much more colonial-charming than Cancún, and safer, too. People sit in the main plaza downtown working on their laptops at 10 PM.
posted by ceiba at 1:38 PM on June 4, 2013

P.S. it will be HOT in Mérida from now until October or so. Often 95 Fahrenheit during the day, with an evening rainstorm to cool things off a bit but add to the humidity.
posted by ceiba at 1:42 PM on June 4, 2013

Mallorca/Menorca are great. Valencia is underrated. All 3 are easily reached from Barcelona.

Bocas del Toro in Panama is one of my favorite spots. Great beaches, a cool multicultural town, cheap. Panama City is very comfortable and modern, not like BA or BCN, but for Central America it's great.

Jetblue flies to Cartagena from NYC. That was a beautiful city, with lots of great sights not far away. San Gil was one of my favorite stops anywhere in the world. Maybe a bit more outdoorsy than you seem to like, though.

For me it'd be Belize (because I haven't been). But that's me.
posted by karst at 3:52 PM on June 4, 2013

Barcelona. I love, love, love Merida and the Yucatan peninsula but Spain is divine. If you like wine at all then get out to the Priorat or La Rioja as well
posted by FlamingBore at 8:26 PM on June 4, 2013

Very very interesting responses. There is no JetBlue to Cartagena. But Cartagena looks really interesting right now. I think Spain will wait until there is more time (and $$$) and the Catalan situation makes it a little problemmatic. Airfare to Spain is very high right now (to anywhere in Europe).

Also looking into those spots in Mexico, particularly Merida.

Thank you so much. (Gracias!)
posted by DMelanogaster at 3:43 PM on June 5, 2013

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