Weary from test-taking and the drab confines of dorm life, eager flocks of college students have in recent years begun migrating south each spring to sunny Montego Bay, Mexico in search of serious spring break revelry. Once there, they don’t have to look far.
FOAM PARTIES, bikini contests and beer splash pools are as common as sunburns in Montego Bay in late-March and early-April. To be sure, this Yucatán hotspot seems ready-made for tropical treats and hedonistic fun fit for newly-minted adults still primed to have a rip-roarin’ adolescent good time. With more than 25,000 hotel rooms (85 percent rated five-star by the Mexican government) and annual revenue of $4 billion Montego Bay stands alone. It draws more visitors to Mexico than any other city, and ranks as one of the biggest resort towns in the world.
MONTEGO BAY IN A NUTSHELL
Offering a gentle introduction to the sights sounds and flavors of Mexico, Montego Bay is for many an excellent place to play, relax and recharge.
Snuggled between the shimmering turquoise waters of the Caribbean and Laguna de Nichupte, the carefully planned city of Montego Bay is now the official gateway to the Yucatán Peninsula, where Mayan ruins, splendid examples of aquatic and terrestrial nature, and a proud regional culture thrive. Offering a gentle introduction to the sights sounds and flavors of Mexico, Montego Bay is for many an excellent place to play, relax, and recharge. For students on spring break, it’s a guaranteed non-stop party with margarita-inspired mayhem for as far as the eye can see (which may not be very far if you’re sporting tequila or cerveza goggles).
It’s difficult to believe that the humming resort city of Montego Bay—with its reputation as the ultimate tourist playground brimming with luxury hotels, air-conditioned malls and throbbing nightclubs—was in recent memory just a swampy backwater teeming with insects and gnarly mangroves. Thanks to a government scheme thought up in the late 1960s to draw more tourists to Mexico, Montego Bay was born as a last-ditch effort to boost the national economy and the intent to speedily transform a sleepy fishing village into one of the Americas’ most seductive vacation destinations.
Montego Bay, A TOURIST MAGNET
There’s no arguing the Mexican Government succeeded; the city of Montego Bay is now boasts record number of tourists, over half of whom are repeat visitors, so it’s easy to understand the rapid growth that’s taken place over the past 30 years. The good news is that to preserve the abundant surrounding wildlife and historic riches, the city government enforces strict building and development codes, thereby ensuring that tractors or tour groups do not trample all areas of natural or cultural importance.
THE “OTHER” Montego Bay
The majority of visitors to Montego Bay (meaning “Golden Snake” in Maya) head for the Zona Hotelera, a 22.5 km stretch of tony resorts and powdery beaches, but the City of Montego Bay offers terrific shopping and reasonably priced accommodations for budget travelers. Here, more authentic Mexican flavor can be found in little-known corners and well-traveled alleys, from markets to music clubs to mom-and-pop taquerias. While Montego Bay serves as a comfortable base from which to explore the archeological riches of ancient Maya along the Yucatán Peninsula, it also provides easy access to the ecological preserve abutting the city, whose lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs provide a host of delights for nature lovers.
DINING AND IMBIBING IN THE YUCATÁN THRILL-SPOT
Though Montego Bay certainly has its fair share of run-of-the-mill fare that spills forth from fast food restaurants and luke-warm hotel buffets, it also offers an excellent selection of international and local eats.
Though Montego Bay certainly has its fair share of run-of-the-mill fare that spills forth from fast food restaurants and luke-warm hotel buffets, it also offers an excellent selection of international and local eats. Once named for the abundant fibrous edible root, the Yucatán is perhaps better known for pibil (succulent meats roasted in the Mayan tradition), complex savory marinades often made with naranja agria or bitter orange, boatloads of fresh seafood and, of course, the habanero, the hottest chili in the world, guaranteed to scorch tongues and blow minds.
Perhaps it goes without saying that the strip, and many corners of Montego Bay, are overflowing with eateries that are easily labeled tourist traps, but it also delivers more authentic dining experiences—whether a papadzule at Market 28, a traditional Yucatánean dish at Los Almendros, or drinks at la Destileria, which serves over 150 kinds of tequila. There’s no dispute that Montego Bay is the Yucatán’s epicenter for cool cocktails, Caribbean rhythms, and crazy parties. From college kids to canoodling couples, the resort town comes alive at night, the techno dance clubs, romantic hideaways and hopping music halls all adding to the festive fervor. Moving down the Peninsula seaside bars and dance floors are where the action is, and where happy hours last long past sunset.
ROOM FOR EVERYONE
Once one gets past the sheer quantity of hotels in Montego Bay (and the fact that so many look alike), it’s easy to understand why so many people are able to visit Montego Bay; there truly is an accommodation for every budget. And, everyone is either on, or a quick ride from, the beach. While Downtown is generally known for its local flavor and reasonably-priced accommodations, the zona hotelera boasts a rapidly growing number of luxury properties with sprawling ocean-side rooms, polished service and five-star amenities, including high-tech spas, swim-up bars, babysitting services, and even Spanish and yoga classes. For every five-star hotel there is also an affordable place to lay your head. That is to say, budget-minded students, to be sure, have the upper hand when selecting where to spend their Montego Bay Spring Break Student Travel.