February 15, 2016

Places To Stay In Bali

Bali is an island. It's not a town. Therefore, it's a huge. Several towns on the island make up the Bali island. That begs the question, where to stay in Bali? 
Lounge Chairs on the Beach in Legian
BEACHES 
If you are like me, I love beaches. My vacation stay on an island has to be beaches. Bali has many great white sand beaches. Each year, visitors go to Bali to swim, surf, or just lounge on the beach. Several beach towns there such as Kuta, Seminyak, Legian, Nusa Dua, Sanur... attract the most visitors on Bali island.
  • Kuta, Seminyak, and Legian are the busiest towns among all. You will find a lot of crowds and party going on there. It's the place to be for nightlife and shopping besides beaches. You can find several beachfront resorts and restaurants there. On the beach itself, there will be local vendors waiting to rent lounge chairs and sell you "Bintang" beers - inexpensive and light Indonesian beer, very easy to drink. These towns are definitely touristy. Because of that, beaches there are not as clean as Nusa Dua and Sanur. Moreover, competitions there make these towns more affordable. It's also worth noting that Kuta town is known for surfers. 
  • Nusa Dua is more of high end resorts town. You will find many luxury resorts there such as Hyatt, Westin, Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, etc. Thus, it can be very expensive to stay there, but it's great if you have hotel points to redeem free night stays there. The beach there is white sand and clean with very minimal local vendors. This resort town provides tranquility and relaxation, but it's not economical if you are on a budget. 
  • Sanur is another beach town that provides tranquility and relaxation. Local people think of Sanur is a quiet town, less crowds and party. During my visit to Bali, I was staying there for 5 nights. Sanur matches the criteria that I was looking for: white sand beach, less crowds, and affordable beachfront hotels and restaurants. We were staying at the beachfront Puri Santrian Hotel.
Lounge Chairs and Water Gazebo at Beachfront Puri Santrian Hotel in Sanur
CULTURES AND TRADITIONS
If you just want to get away from beaches or you are simply not into beaches, but you enjoy Balinese cultures and traditions, the town of Ubud is the place to be. The town of Ubud is known for Balinese traditional crafts and dance along with rice terraces and Hindu temples. Visitors go there to chill and hang out, so you will find several restaurants and bars along with many shops in the center of Ubud. During my visit, although I was staying in a beach town, but I took a trip down to Ubud to check out the town and hang out for a couple nights. It's a lovely town and hotels are more affordable there. The Monkey Forest there makes it a fun day to check out those naughty monkeys, and it's within walking distance from the Ubud Center. If you want to shop for Balinese souvenirs and crafts, you can check out the Ubud Market which is located in the center as well. Best way to get to Ubud is to hire a personal private driver.

The Monkey Forest in Ubud
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Some people just want to get away from crowds and the tourist areas. The ones that I mentioned above are the ones that are very developed and touristy, which make up the South of Bali. If you want an off the beaten path's experience, check out Amed and the East of Bali. I personally have not done that, so I can not express any opinions about that. I prefer more developed and touristy areas.

CONCLUSION
Depending on your interests, Bali island has several different types of towns that range from affordable and busy beach towns such as Kuta, Seminyak, and Legian to more pristine white sand beaches and less busy towns such as Sanur and high end resorts town of Nusa Dua. If you are into Balinese cultures and traditions, the town of Ubud provides that type experience with several restaurants and bars in the center to hang and chill. Amed and the East of Bali is for those that are looking to get away from the crowd in South of Bali.

Remember, you can get around in Bali easily by simply hire a personal private driver if you want to sample any towns before making your final decision on where to stay in Bali.

Check out more articles on Bali Indonesia


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February 14, 2016

Bali Public Transportation

Bali is an island that consists of many towns such as Legian, Kuta, Sanur, Ubud, etc. The public transportation does exist, but it's not the most convenient way to get around this big island. Attractions are far from one another and definitely require transportation.

The best way to get around in Bali is to hire a personal private driver. This is not a taxi-metered type of driver, but rather you pay him for the whole journey to and from your destination. He is not a tour guide either. Although he could suggest things to do and see, he is not going into the attraction site to guide you through the site and tell you about the history goodies. I am sure there are tour guides for that but the "personal private driver" that I am talking about here are not that type of guide. The vehicle will be just you and your party along with the driver. You take your own time and at your own pace to sightsee the site, the driver will always be there at the parking lot waiting for you to return.

There are a lot of those in Bali. It's not necessary to pre-arrange this. You can either book this through the tour desks all over in Bali or my recommendation is to ask the hotel. Talk to the driver where you want to go, or if you don't know where, the driver has a catalog book of many attractions site in Bali with photos that you can look at, then you can negotiate the price. Once you are agreed on the price, date and time, he'll take you to a site and wait for you to return so that he can take you to the next site(s) or take you back to the hotel after the completion of the journey. You then pay him, tipping is optional but please consider paying your driver if the service is good. He'll be with you the entire time and make some suggestions on the way to your destination. Please note that you are also responsible for paying for the site's entrance fees and your lunch/dinner.

Beautiful Cliffside Tanah Lot Temple in Bali can be seen with hiring a Personal Private Driver
We were staying at the Ramada Resort Camakila in Legian. We found our driver from the resort, Mister Super, through the hotel. He came to meet me and I told him where I wanted to see and what I wanted to do. I also looked at his catalog book to get more ideas. I bargained with him the price a little bit. He was very friendly and really reliable. He speaks perfect English and was very knowledgeable about Bali. Best of all, he's a super good driver. We have had bad experiences with good and bad drivers in Bali, but Mr. Super is a very good driver, so we felt super safe riding in his van. He was our personal driver the entire time during our visit to Bali. Below is our driver's business card. Although it says he stands by the Ramada resort, he's available to be hired for any visitors staying at other hotels or resorts. He'll go meet you in person. Unfortunately, he does not have email address but you can call or text him on the phone or email Ramada resort to get ahold of him.

Our Personal Private Driver in Bali
Bottomline
Bali's public transportation does exist, but it's not the best and most convenient way to get around in Bali to sightsee things. The best way is to hire a personal private driver either through the tour desk or ask your hotel for one. He'll be with you the entire time, taking you from the hotel and to your destination roundtrip, allowing you to visit attraction site(s) at your own time. You pay him for the entire journey, and he helps you make some itinerary along the way to your destination. This is a wonderful way to see other areas in Bali and to check out some amazingly beautiful temples in Bali. I strongly recommend this if you want to do a few day trips here and there while visiting Bali, or you simply want to get from beach towns to Ubud.

Complete Bali Indonesia Series



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Bali to Lombok and the 3 Gili Islands

Bali island is a paradise in itself. If you are looking for different island atmosphere, consider Lombok and the 3 Gili islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno.
Sunset at Senggigi Beach in Lombok
First and foremost, you can not do day trips to these islands because it takes a little bit of time to get there by sea and I assume you want to spend time there exploring the islands. There are lodgings available on both Lombok and the Gili islands.

Why Lombok and the Gili Islands?
Lombok is a not quite the same as Bali. Personally, I think Bali is way too touristy and Lombok is more laid back and has lesser crowds. It's a place for tranquility and relaxation. Sunset at Senggigi beach in Lombok is my favorite. The Gili Islands, on the other hand, the Gili Trawangan is more of a backpackers island and is more touristy than the other two islands and Lombok, but all 3 islands are not the same as Bali. It's truly worth checking them out. The good thing is, all 3 islands are close to one another so it really is just a short boat trip for an island hopping's experience. Gili Islands are known for amazing diving and snorkeling spots. Lombok is a little bit further but a day trip from there to the 3 islands is possible and highly recommended.

The 3 Gili Islands close to one another
How to Get from Bali to Lombok and the 3 Gili Islands?
Getting from Bali to Lombok and the 3 Gili Islands is very simple. Lombok is the only one that can be reached by either air or sea. Once you arrive in Lombok, then you can charter a boat to the Gili Islands.

By Air: 
There's an International airport in Lombok. It's just a short flight away from Bali to Lombok for around 25 minutes and it's cheap. Obviously, if your time is sensitive, getting from Bali to Lombok by air is better than by sea. I personally don't like airports, there are too many security checks and hassles to go through, so I opted out for the sea instead and I got to see the Indian ocean on the way to Lombok from Bali.

By Sea:
You can reach Lombok and the 3 Gili Islands by boats. I recommend fast boats, which take approximately little over 1-2 hour max depending on the boat operator you choose and stops before your destination. There are several tours company there in Bali that will help you out with this. You can also make fast boats reservations online in advance so you don't have to deal with that when you get there and you get to also learn about the boat company that you will be getting on first for safety and reliability reasons. I recommend the gilibookings.com - it's basically an online booking service, but the fast boat service providers on that site are well organized, good, and safe.
  • All boat company on the gilibookings site provides complimentary shuttle pick up and drop off from your hotels and resorts in the main towns such as Sanur, Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua, Ubud, etc. 
  • I also want to mention that Scoot boat company takes longer (around 3 and half hours) than other boat company to reach Lombok and the Gili's because it has to stop at another island before routing to Lombok and the Gili's. Gili Cat and BlueWater Express companies are good. I have not experienced with the Gili Cat, but I have with the BlueWater Express. I'll do another article on my review of that fast boat later on. 
  • Gilibookings's cancellation policy is, you will get a full refund if you cancel more than 2 weeks from the date of arrival. No penalty for date change, but subject to availability of the new date.
  • The price on the site are in US Dollars. They also offer some special island discount vouchers on food, drinks, and activities that will save you more than 10% of the ticket price back while visiting the islands. Those discount vouchers are included in the ticket price and you select it during the online booking process.
  • E-ticket emailed instantly. 
  • From my personal experience, they have great customer service to answer any questions via email.  
  • The ocean waves and weather can be unpredictable, so bring some meds for boat sickness in case of a rough boat ride. 
We did the fast boat from Sanur to Lombok and stayed there at the Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort. We then charter a slow boat from there to see the 3 Gili Islands as a day trip. If you are going to Lombok via fast boat, and unless your hotel is within walking distance from the port that your fast boat stops at, it's VERY IMPORTANT that you pre-arrange a pick up from your hotel or resort in Lombok because Lombok is not like Bali that is full of taxi drivers. It's more quiet and therefore lesser transportation means. In fact, when I was there, there was none! Thankfully, I arranged a pick up from the resort beforehand. Gili Islands, on the other hand, you don't have to as it's much smaller and easier to to get around. They also have horse carts going around that is the mean of public transportation there.

Transportation on Gili Islands

Complete Bali Indonesia Series


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February 13, 2016

Cheap Ways to Get to Europe

My favorite traveling saying is: Traveling does not have to cost me a fortune!

Below are the ways to get to Europe that I can think of without costing you arms and legs from the United States. Traveling is not free. Although you are using miles to redeem for flight, keep in mind that miles do have values and you have to pay some airport taxes and fuel charges on miles redemption, so it's not totally free, but it sure helps a lot!

Getting to Europe With Miles
  • American Airlines costs 20,000 miles one way in economy during the off peak period of October 15 - May 15. Starting in March, American Airlines will cost 22,500 miles one way in economy during the off peak period of January 10 - March 14, November 1 - December 14. Normal period, American Airlines costs 30,000 miles one way in economy. 
  • United costs 30,000 miles one way in economy. 
Getting to Europe With Low Cost Carriers
  • WOW air has a $99 fare  one way from certain cities in East Coast and West Coast to Europe.
    • The downside of this is the surcharge for bags and seat assignment. Flying transatlantic can be cruel if you are sitting in the middle seat. 
    • You have to fly from your town to the cities that WOW air flies. 
  • Norwegian Air has cheap fare from certain cities in United States to Europe, specially the Scandinavian countries.
    • The catch is the surcharge for bags and seat assignment.  
    • Make sure to display the website in Norwegian language so that the fare will be priced in Norwegian Krone, which is much cheaper than US Dollars. Use Google Translate extension for Chrome Browser and a no foreign transaction fees credit card to purchase the ticket. 
    • You have to fly from your town to the cities that Norwegian Air flies.  
Getting to Europe With Other Cheap Ways
  • There may be deals that could pop up once in awhile along with some airline mistake fare. That's possible. 

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February 12, 2016

Introducing Klook

I never heard of this travel service before until one day I received an email from AirAsia, Malaysia's low cost carrier, about extra earning their loyalty's program BIG Points after making a purchase on Klook.

Klook is a website that sells you activities tickets at a discounted price. To see if this is true, I ran some tests for Hong Kong destination as I was going to take my parents and my sister to go see Disneyland park there.

First I looked at the official Hong Kong's Disneyland website. For the date that I wanted, 4 one-day tickets for 2 adults and 2 seniors come to HK$1278 (~USD$164). Whereas on Klook, for the same type of tickets, the cost is actually HK$1160 (~USD$149), making it a total savings of $15 US Dollars. Not bad!

Then I ran another test for Ngong Ping 360's Crystal Cable Car ride. The official Ngong Ping's website sells one adult ticket for HK$255 round trip, and Klook sells for HK$210. So Klook is a little bit cheaper. Klook does not have discounted ticket for seniors. I have 2 seniors in my party, but the total ticket price purchased with Klook for 4 adults is still cheaper than purchasing through Ngong Ping for 2 adults and 2 seniors. Moreover, Ngong Ping tickets purchased with Klook, there's no need to pick a time, it only requires to pick a date. Ngong Ping website requires both date and time.

So, depending on your personal situation, try to do comparisons before jumping on the ticket sales from Klook. Overall, I still think Klook is a good website that is worth looking into when you want to purchase activities ticket at a discounted price. They have several destinations mainly in Asia. The booking process is very convenient and you get your e-ticket instantly via email. If your plan is concrete and you don't want to stay in a long queue to get a ticket, getting ticket online is the way to go.

The Booking Process
  • Go to www.klook.com
    • They also have mobile app for both Android and Apple, and for a limited time if you make a purchase on their mobile app, you can apply a coupon MOBILE10 to get HK$10 (~USD$1.28) off. 
  • Sign up for a Klook account or use Facebook to sign in. This way you can review your booking later on after your make a purchase. 
  • On the website, you can select the language that you prefer the site to be and make sure to select the destination's currency because you will be paying a little bit cheaper using a no foreign transaction fees credit card to pay in their currency as opposed to US dollars. Their exchange rate is not as good as your card's company. 
  • Select the activity that you are interested in, read the cancellation policy, and follow the straight forward booking process. 
  • On the final payment page, besides your information, make sure to enter your mobile phone number correctly and make sure it can receive text. After you put in your credit card information, Klook will send you a text with a code for security verification before processing your order. I haven't tried in the case that if you don't have a phone number, perhaps they will verify through email? It's also worth noting that if you have Air Asia's loyalty program called BIG shot, you can enter there too. There's a promotion that's going on now for that airline program with Klook.
  • You should receive an email instantly. That's it! Enjoy your activity and savings!

Complete Hong Kong Series


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Copenhagen to Stockholm by Train SJ2000

Europe is my favorite continent to travel to because traveling from one European country to another is so fun and convenient. You have the options of bus, train, ferry, so on and so forth. Yesterday I wrote about the ferry crossings from Oslo to Copenhagen. Today I am going to show you how to book the high speed train SJ2000 from Copenhagen to Stockholm.

When it comes to the price ticket for traveling via train in Europe, the sooner you book the ticket the cheaper the price is. Most train company usually opens for booking 90 days in advance. The SJ2000 train is one of them.

The Booking Process
  • Go to www.sj.se
  • On the right hand side, you can select English version. Whatever language you select won't matter to the price like the ferry crossings from Oslo to Copenhagen.
  • Before jumping on to the From and To section, check out their Best Buy Calendar tab to see the possible lowest price. It's a pretty neat tool. You can select your From and To there as well. Going from Copenhagen to Stockholm, make sure you select Kobenhaven H, which is the Copenhagen Central Station. Your destination is Stockholm C as in Stockholm Central Station. 
  • Alternatively, if the Best Buy Calendar tab doesn't work for you, you can always go to the Buy Tickets tab, pick a date and how many adults, etc. There are some check boxes for Show SJ only, Show high-speed train, show buses.... please note that the SJ2000 train is the one that goes high speed and non-stop for 5 hours and 50 minutes. Therefore check Show SJ only and uncheck show buses. If you don't do that, it will display results of SJ2000 train along with other train/bus that has at least 1 stop as shown in my screenshot below. I personally don't like the hassles of changing train or changing train to bus... so this is completely up to you. 
  • On the result page, you will see the fare for both 2nd class and 1st class. For May 11 date, the ticket fare is 195 SEK (~$23 US dollars) for a non-rebookable ticket for SJ2000 train. There's also a little text that says "Later journeys the same day" in case it only shows morning train ones.

    Copenhagen to Stockholm on high speed train for only $23 US Dollars!!
  • After selection, here's the part that I love about this booking. You get to reserve your seat. If you don't care which direction the train is going like I do, this shouldn't be a problem for you. I tend to get train sick if I am sitting and facing the other direction the train goes. Seat selection is included in the price, and they also provide you a seating diagram to look at. The train goes both ways, so it's important to know that from Copenhagen to Stockholm is Northbound and Stockholm to Copenhagen is Southbound. 
  • You have the option to add on a meal if you want. 
  • Finally, there's a booking fee, but there's no service fee if you pay for your ticket with a credit card. Make sure to use the credit card that has no foreign transaction fees so that you can select the option to be charged in SEK currency as opposed to US dollars as they tend to give you worse exchange rate than what the credit card company does. 

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February 11, 2016

Oslo to Copenhagen Ferry with DFDS Seaways


Besides other ways to get from Oslo Norway to Copenhagen Denmark such as flying, train, and bus, the most interesting and fun way to me is the ferry crossing, especially if you have never been on any cruises before. You can check out my review on the cruise ship here. 

DFDS Seaways is a European cruise company but they also provide ferry crossing between Oslo and Copenhagen and vice versa. The journey takes place in the evening at 4:30pm and arrive in Copenhagen at 9:45am in the morning, making it a total of 17 hours. Because this is similar to a cruise, you get to pick your own room to stay the night during booking, which is included in the price of the ticket. So you can look at it as renting out a hotel room for the night and you get to go to Copenhagen. The ticket price, however, does not include breakfast and dinner, but it's an add on option during the booking process, or if you want to save money, bring your own food and drinks!

I'll show you today how to book the ticket and the trick to get a cheaper ticket. 

The Booking Process
  • I prefer to use Google Chrome browser for this because I can add the Google Translate extension to the browser. If you don't use Chrome browser, the process would be just a little bit more challenging. 
  • Go to www.dfdsseaways.com
  • You will be prompted to select either UK website or EU website. Simply select one. 
  • At the right hand corner, you should see the Other DFDS Seawys websites drop down, select Norge as in Norwegian. The page will be completely in Norwegian language. That's why the Google Translate extension comes in handy. 
    • The differences between selecting English vs Norwegian site is that, if you are viewing English website, the ticket price will be either in Euro or British Pound. They are more expensive than Norwegian money Krone. 
  • I am just going to do Oslo - Copenhagen trip one way only for this. Kobenhavn is Copenhagen. Pick a ferry date, how many adults, vehicle or no vehicle, petty straight forward. 
  • You are now prompted to select cabin room. Since I'll be traveling solo, I picked the 1 bed seaview cabin. The price is the same as Interior room with no window. Below is comparison between the two different currencies according to today's rate I have been talking about for the same room type. Price may vary depending on your travel dates.


  • The rest of the booking process is simply some add on options such as meal, accommodation once you arrive in Copenhagen, insurance, passenger information, cabin detail (birth date in the format of  DD/MM/YY), etc. just pick whichever you are interested in. 
  • There's an administration fee of 28 Krone (~$4-$5) that will be added to the price of the ticket. There's also a service charge if you are paying with a credit card; however, there is no fee if you are paying with a debit card. Make sure the debit card has no foreign transaction fee. I personally used Charles Schwab debit card. It's one of my favorite debit cards for traveling overseas whenever I cannot use my points earning no foreign transaction fees credit card. The Charles Schwab debit card does not have foreign transaction fees and they reimburse all my ATM fees. If you don't have one, do the math to see if it's worth paying the service fee with no foreign transaction fee credit card. 
  • Once the transaction is approved, you are all set and they will send you a confirmation email. Enjoy the ferry (sort of cruise) crossings from Oslo to Copenhagen. 
Cruise Ship Review: Oslo to Copenhagen With DFDS Pearl Seaways
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February 4, 2016

Cancun to Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the world famous Mayan Ruins in Mexico. The pyramid looking temple is full of history way back to ancient time. There's no wonder that it's one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Several visitors go to Cancun or nearby areas tend to include a visit to Chichen Itza on their itinerary because a visit to there while in Cancun is a must do.
World Famous Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is located on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It's a little over 2 hours drive from Cancun. In this post, we'll focus on three options to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza:

By Car
You can rent the car in Cancun and drive to Chichen Itza. Most rental car agencies are the ones that you are already familiar with in United States such as Avis, Hertz, Budget, etc. As mentioned earlier, the trip takes a little over 2 hours one way. Driving in Mexico is on the same side as United States. The road is paved and it's an easy drive. Keep in mind that you will need to pay for the toll fees on the way.

I personally don't like driving in foreign countries, so this option is not my first choice. However, if you want to take your own time to see things on the way to Chichen Itza, and stop wherever and however long you want, driving is the way to go!

By Public Bus
The public bus transportation from Cancun to Chichen Itza is operated by the ADO bus company.
  • First, you need to catch Cancun City Bus to ADO bus terminal in downtown Cancun, then board the bus that departs from there at 8:45AM and arrives in Chichen Itza at 11:50pm. The bus returns to Cancun at 4:30PM and arrives in Cancun at 7:25PM. Therefore, you really have 3-4 hours there to visit the ruin site. Whether that time is enough or not, it's a personal thing to decide. There are also lodgings available in the area if you want to enjoy the site longer. 
  • ADO bus drops off and picks up from the parking lot in Chichen Itza that's across from where you pay for admission to the ruin site. Please refer to the Chichen Itza website for the latest fare information. 
  • Bus fare is 285 Pesos (about $14) one way as of this writing. Their website is currently only available in Spanish, and you cannot buy bus ticket online without having a Mexican credit card. You can either buy the ticket on the travel day or just to be safe, you can go to ADO bus terminal one day in advance to purchase the ticket. It is also possible to buy the ticket at the ADO booth at Cancun International Airport. 
By Tour Company
This is the means that my friend and I did. We booked directly from the Resort's activity desk. There are so many Chichen Itza tours company available in Cancun. The tour typically includes a pick up and drop off from your hotel and resort to Chichen Itza. Depending on what type of tour you are signed up for, there may be all inclusive food and drinks, other things to do and see, as well as the guide and time that they allow you to do on your own at the ruins site. It's a one day trip thing so make sure to plan a day trip for that. I personally prefer this option because I don't have to drive myself and it's nice to be picked up and dropped off from the resort. But obviously, this option is not very economical.

Our Chichen Itza Tour Bus Company: Cancun Passion

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February 3, 2016

How to get from Cancun Airport to Hotels and Resorts in Cancun?

Cancun 2015
The safest and most economical way to get from Cancun International Airport to hotels and resorts in Cancun and back to the airport is the public ground airport transfer. Private ground airport transfer is nice but can be expensive. Public ground airport transfer, on the other hand, is the most common way to go in Cancun.

The public ground airport transfer service is typically a shared van service. So you will be sharing the van with many other visitors, and waiting for your turn to arrive at your hotel and resort. If you are lucky, you may have the whole van to yourself. You are looking at about 11-13 US dollars per person one way, and a little bit cheaper for round trip.

My friend and I were staying at the Royal Sands Resort All Inclusive and we used Thomas More Travel for airport transfers as they are recommended by the Royal Resorts. The process was so smooth and painless. We made reservation with them through their online website and we were given an emailed voucher to show to the driver upon arrival in Cancun and before boarding the van. The fare then was billed to the room, easy and convenient! So if you are staying at one of the Royal resorts, I recommend that service. The price as of this writing is $12.80 US per person one way or $25.00 US per person round trip.

Try reach out to the hotel and resort that you will be staying at and inquire about any airport transfers that are offered. If they either don't have one or it's too expensive, search online for airpot transfer in Cancun. There are so many of them such as Best Day, Super Shuttle, USA Travel, Cancun Shuttle, Happy Shuttle, and more.

Check out more articles on Cancun