When it comes to traveling abroad there is one reality that many countries around the world deal with that makes the destinations so popular with a certain type of traveler: prostitution. Mexico, like so many others, is a country where prostitution is decriminalized/legal. Which is one more reason why Cancun is such a popular tourist destination above and beyond the beaches, the food and the views.
Regardless whether or not you are for or against prostitution, it’s a fact of visiting Mexico. And if you live or visit Cancun, it’s a reality of being here. Male, female, straight, gay or bi, along with a healthy transvestite community, there’s a market for all types when you visit this Mexican seaside resort.
Prostitution in Cancun
The girls are, for the most part, South American beauties who can bring a man to his knees within seconds; a literal bevvy of Colombian, Mexican, Argentinean, Cuban and Brazilian delicacies that keep the nightlife of this seaside destination alive.
On the high end, they aren’t cheap; a mere hour with a girl at one of the primary brothels in town can cost you upwards of $300, and that’s an hour max. If you finish up before an hour has passed, you still get charged full price, so if you want to get your money’s worth you better enjoy your hour with some alternative activities. An all-nighter or “the girlfriend experience” can cost you upwards of $1,500 to $2,000.
The primary brothels are all very well maintained and clean and the girls/guys take very good care of themselves; this is top-quality trim and is marketed as “specialty spa treatment” or escort services. On top of that, the authorities regularly check in to make sure the girls (and guys) are keeping their health inspections up to par and that they have their “clean bill of health” certificate from a certified physician. Tourism is a major industry for Cancun, and the government takes it very seriously, which means legal prostitution is taken just as seriously. It’s a business, after all, and if you want business to be good you do things by the book.
Then there are the casas de las citas, which are essentially the low-end brothels frequented by the average, ordinary people living here, not the tourists. The girls are less exotic and more your girl-next-door types, and consequently the rates are far more affordable: you can get your rocks off for a mere $25 to $30 as opposed to spending $200 to $300 for an hour.
There’s also the Zona de Tolerencia, which is on the highway out to Merida and is lined with casas de las citas as well as bars and by-the-hour love hotels where you can walk in, pay a cover charge, buy a couple of drinks and then find yourself a pound of flesh for between $30 and $200, depending on how high end you want to go.
And let’s not forget the “highway workers”, or the girls who hang out on the side of the road waiting for the truck drivers to pick them up for a quick bang in the cabin of the truck. Or if you happen to be on a road trip and need a quickie to keep yourself focused on the drive ahead.
But there are also the under-the-water prostitutes wandering the streets of the city, the ones who aren’t afraid to walk right up to you, grab your junk and whisper nasty somethings in your ear. They are aggressive, they aren’t necessarily clean, and they are completely unabashed in their attempts to snatch a foreigner, hook, line and sinker.
They also operate completely outside of the law, since street prostitution is illegal. The only way to get overlooked is at the casas de las citas or one of the high-end brothels.
When I first arrived in Cancun I was by myself. I’ve never been afraid to walk the streets at night (I’m reasonably well-trained in self-defense and anything short of a gun or 3+ assailants I am reasonably confident I can defend myself against), although I certainly don’t break my own Travel Defense Mechanisms. And when I was new to the city I wasn’t exactly aware of the streets or the locations where the majority of street prostitutes hung out in downtown.
One of the first nights I was here I was hanging out on a street corner outside of my first apartment d0wntown on Avenida Yaxchilan, one of the main strips through Centro. It was late; about 1:30 in the morning, but I couldn’t sleep and I wasn’t in the mood to work, so I thought I’d just go out and see if maybe I could find a place to get some food or a drink before heading back to try getting some sleep.
I wasn’t quite prepared for a random girl passing by to just walk up, put one hand on my crotch, massage my piece, bite my neck and whisper in my ear asking if I wanted a blowjob. All within a less-than-five-second span of time that completely took me by surprise.
But what shocked me the most wasn’t her hand on my crotch or the bite on my neck. Instead, it was her free hand, which had at the same time snaked down into my right-hand pocket and was rummaging around looking for money. Thankfully, she was in completely the wrong side, and all I had in there was some spare change and my keys. Nor do I ever carry large quantities of cash when I’m out and about; usually no more than $20 or $30 USD, or the local equivalent.
My instant reaction was to yank her hand out of my pocket, grab her by her shoulders and shove her back with a sharp retort (in English; I didn’t speak Spanish at the time) along the lines of “Get the fuck off me“, hard enough that she stumbled several steps and bumped her shoulder into a tree. And proceeded to begin shouting and screaming at me while pointing and yelling.
I quickly retreated to my apartment before things escalated.
Later on, after I got involved with Cris, we were out walking hand in hand and had a girl walk by and grab my crotch and ask if we were looking for a third wheel for the night. My Spanish was up to par at that point, and I jokingly turned around and replied, “Gracias sabrosa, pero mis precios son demasiado caro para ti“, to which she laughed and sauntered off.
The above scenario has happened several times while walking down on Tulum or Yaxchilan anytime after 8 p.m., regardless if I’m alone or with Cris. Even though street prostitution is technically illegal in Cancun, it’s still pretty rampant in the downtown parts of Centro, simply because the area is flush with the backpacker and budget types who can’t afford high-end trim and are just looking for a good time on the cheap, so the girls (and guys and beyond; there’s a major gay and transexual community in Cancun) are always out and always looking for a mark.
I’ve also been hit up several times by gays and transvestites; they are fishing, looking for a mark, and it’s a no-holds-barred, equal-opportunity sea of fishes swimming by the downtown avenues.
Beyond The Pale
Remember, Cancun is not a dangerous city. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve lived here three years now (in September), and the city might have two or three violent crimes per year where someone ends up shot or knifed, and they are always associated with cartel-on-cartel violence, never against tourists. Plus, prostitution exists in every single city in every single country on the planet, legal or not, so get off your high horse if you are sitting there thinking your home town or city or country is “pure as virgin snow”.
(I highly recommend you start with my Living Off the Grid in Cancun, Mexico post for further behind-the-scenes information on the city, such as the fact the murder rate here is 2 in 100,000; that’s compared to 32 in 100k in Washington D.C., which means Cancun is 30 times safer than the capital of the U.S.)
That being said, pick-pocketing is a very real issue, just as it is in any city of the world, and if you are out on the streets late at night or anytime after dark I highly recommend keeping your situational awareness maxed out and staying sober. Because the type of girls who will walk up to you, snake their hand down your pants and bite your neck aren’t always looking to bed you. More often than not they are using that as a distraction to snag your wallet or your watch or some other valuables while your mind is otherwise occupied with your nethers being massaged by a tasty little morsel.
There’s also a huge difference between street prostitution and high-end escorts and the “girlfriend experience” types. Regular health checks, hours spent at the gym, expensive designer clothing and beyond are the mark of a professional, and you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two at a glance. Not to mention if you are the typical backpacker or budget traveler the latter will be way out of your price range.
Personally, I have no issues with prostitution as a legal industry, even though I’ve never technically hired a hooker. I realize there’s an underbelly and that human trafficking exists in some parts of the world, but it’s also a trade that goes back to the dawn of time. It’s a job, a service rendered, no different than myself freelancing for a client and writing their website for them. It’s an exchange of services, money for time, and if a person is of consenting age and has a desire to sell themselves for money, who am I to judge? Time = money, after all, and we all do what we have to do in order to put food on the table.
At the same time I realize it’s a controversial subject and not all of my readers will approve of it. Feel free to sound off in the comments below, but please keep things respectful and level-headed in tone.
For more Mexico-specific posts, don’t forget to check out:
If you are looking for more information on Cancun or Mexico in general, you can pick up our Live Like a Local Cancun guide, packed with other restaurant recommendations, apartment and condo referrals, tips on navigating the public transportation system, local negotiation tips and strategies, market and discount day overviews and more!