Top critical review
17 people found this helpful
Cumbersome and awkward travel guide
on September 12, 2005
I just returned from a 2 week trip to the Yucatan peninsula. Starting off in Cancun and driving the cultural triangle route to the east to visit the Mayan ruins (Chichen Itza, Coba, Uxmal etc... and Spanish colonial cities (Merida, Valladolid etc...). For professional reasons I took along 4 travel guides (The Rough Guide to Cancun & Cozumel, DK's Eyewitness Top 10 Cancun & The Yucatan, Hidden Cancun & the Yucatan, and the Cadogan Yucatan & Mayan Mexico. In the past I've also used the frustrating Moon guide and weak Lonely Planet).
Of the 4 guides, each quite different in focus and style, I found "Hidden Cancun and the Yucatan" undoubtedly the most annoying and rate it 2 stars. Perhaps it's a bit stingy with the stars - other people have given it 5 stars, but with several other guides to compare it to, it's weaknesses became more and more apparent. Neither a good detailed history of the region nor particularly interesting or detailed in describing towns, cities and Mayan sites. The "Cadogan Yucatan & Mayan Mexico" though slightly larger and heavier was in a different league and perhaps the best book on the region for these purposes but also immensely enjoyable and readable with many excellent recommendations for food and accommodation.
The format "Hidden Cancun and the Yucatan" (a largish thick paperback seems) to suggest the same purpose but I think did a mediocre haphazard job. Even as a reference guide it fails to deliver with a pathetic lack of photographs and maps - those provided were as good as useless for reference (instead The rough Guide and Top 10 were infinitely superior and genuinely useful). By contrast, the reference information in "Hidden" is so poorly layed out and not conveniently accessible - excuse the pun, but without much better visuals, layout and concise text, "Hidden" does a good job of hiding it's information - not good when one is on the fly. For example different towns and villages were blended in a linear text dictated by routes (for example drivngh from Cancun to Playa del Carmen), so information for a given place you might want to visit might start at the bottom of a left page and run over the next without the name place ever making it to the top of the page. Places to dine, stay or shop would haphazardly fall wherever the text put them, never in sections starting a page top or in any consistent structural order. Perhaps the idea was to list everything in a rambling travelogue, place drifting into place running north to south, east to west, broken down by region. I just thought it made the book frustratingly inflexible and to idiosyncratic.
By the way, why on earth produce a guide book for use in the tropics on cheap uncoated paper? Perhaps because they publishers decided to give the traveler only 4 pages of photographs. This book really absorbed moisture and seemed to get heavier and heavier! I know that sounds silly but simple details like trying to turn a page when they seem to cling together in the humidity added to my wondering about the wisdom behind this book.
The 'hidden" part, the supposed trump card of this guide is of dubious merit. The "hidden" discoveries were few and far between, disappointing on the odd occasion I checked them out (I stopped after realizing that they weren't so special) and just not strong enough to hang the (title) concept of a travel book (series). Indeed I often found the 2004 version very dated and in the course of traveling, made far more interesting discoveries of my own. By contrast, "The Rough Guide" and "Top 10", both thin compact picture filled books with plenty of good maps and guides also contained far more recommendations of places to eat, stay and visit in a concise, coherent well layed out and easier to navigate manner that "Hidden Cancun & Yucatan" lacks. My girlfrined and I felt that they both immensely increased our interest in visiting various restaurants, Mayan sites, colonial towns, beaches, churches etc... In conjunction with the "Cadogan Yucatan" we were very well informed culturally, historically, visually and geographically. The 2 small pocket guides were excellent for walking about with when we left "Cadogan" and "Hidden" in the car - though we'd often bring "Cadogan" with us anyway because we couldn't stop reading it.
Another thing that I found grating and contrary to the "hidden" concept was the authors occasional statements of his personal preferences in side bars. Normally it's great to get another traveler's insights, but personally I found the actual comments annoying. For example, I strongly question how a writer appealing to people seeking out hidden and undiscovered corners of the Yucatan can suggest that Palya del Carmen's beach is his favorite on the Mayan Riviera. Maybe it was different when he was last there a couple of years ago. Another dated reference (or just downright crass) was his reference to the actual pueblo of Tulum as "a drab eye-blink off the highway, with a few stores, a taco shop and a palapa-roofed church". Instead we are treated to the authors name dropping of personalities he's rubbed shoulders with at Maya Tulum, a chic place on the beach. In fact the pueblo of Tulum is a fast growing little town with an impressively paved main street with many interesting shops including a large "Misik Artesanias" (another smaller one is on the beach) and the adjoining palapa-roofed "Charlie's". There are a couple of big bank branches (HSBC and Banamex) with ATM machines, a couple of laundromats, an excellent large supermarket at the entrance to town (opposite the road down to the beach). Get my point? This is a fast growing town that is trying to make itself interesting and attractive without making itself into another souless eurotrash hole like Palaye del Carmen. How long ago did Richard Harris write his review? Is he aware that a 4 lane road is being constructed between Tulum and Coba (and onto Valladolid) and an international airport in pre-construction there? This may be a particularly dramatic place for change but my point is that the book was often out of date and unfocused.