It’s been raining a lot here in Northern Florida. Mostly just daily thunderstorms, but it’s got me daydreaming. About somewhere warm and sunny with lots of white sand beaches and clear water. For a lot of people, this means the resort hub of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Just think of it – a view of the water from your bedroom window, a swim-up bar with unlimited piña coladas, and as much Mexican food as you can eat. Well, what if I told you that there’s somewhere better than Cancun… for a fraction of the price?
That somewhere is Puglia, Italy. The region that makes up the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is bordered by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. With miles of peninsular coast, it boasts some of the best beaches and best sea food in the country. While it’s not the most visited region in Italy, don’t let that stop you! In fact, the lack of tourists adds to the appeal. Let me break down the three main ways that Puglia is better than Cancun.
1. It’s Infinitely Cheaper
Because Puglia isn’t as popular as, say, Tuscany, you don’t have to worry about everything being a tourist trap. Compare that to Cancun, where every vendor is going to charge you double just for being a gringo. You are more likely to get food, accommodations, and services for the local price in Puglia.
Hotels are quite reasonably priced and an entire apartment or house on Airbnb can go for as low as $30/night. Of course, it’s not an all-inclusive resort. But then again, neither is an all-inclusive resort a medieval stone villa. While you wander the streets around your Airbnb, snag a heaping serving of the irresistible gelato. Worry about your waistline, not your wallet – anywhere in the region, it’ll only set you back €2.
You might be thinking that it’s all well and good, saving money on hotels and gelato, but what about airfare? Well, it depends on where you’re flying in from. Obviously, flights to Italy from North and South America are going to be more expensive than flights to Mexico, but you’ll recoup that difference in what you save during your trip. For anyone living in the EU or Asia, Puglia becomes an even more attractive choice.
2. The Beaches Are Just Better
Okay, don’t crucify me. I’ve been to Cancun, and it’s awesome! But… there’s no comparison. Part of what makes Pugliese beaches so amazing is the location. Nestled between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Puglia experiences incredibly mild weather. Both are narrow, closed seas, bordered by land on nearly every side. This keeps the seas calm and clear, unlike the neighboring, more temperamental Mediterranean. Walking out into the absolutely still water of the Adriatic is one of my best memories of Italy. And because the seas are closed, the water is saltier as well. Hello, effortless floating.
Of course, you can take a dip in the Adriatic anywhere along Italy’s east coast, but in cities like Venice, Rimini, Ancona, etc. tourists flock to the beaches. The same is true of the much lauded beaches along Cancun and Playa del Carmen’s resort strip. Pugliese beaches deliver the same crystal water, sugar white sand, and dazzling view with none of the congestion. Most of the friendly faces you’ll meet while sunning yourself are locals.
If you’re not interested in just swimming or laying out, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the coastline. Acquaviva di Marittima where a fresh water spring and the Adriatic sea collide, Zinzulusa Caves (or any of the caves in the region), and the bauxite quarry and lake near Otranto are just a few of the fascinating natural wonders to explore while on holiday in Puglia. The peninsula is small enough that travelling between destinations is an easy task.
3. The Local Culture Is Everywhere
In Cancun, everything is tailored to meet tourist expectations. Tacky souvenirs, inauthentic food, pre-recorded tours – you probably won’t even hear anyone speaking Spanish! If you’re looking for an authentic Mexican experience, Cancun’s not it. Puglia won’t give you an authentic Mexican experience either. But it serves up good old fashioned Italian culture like a pro.
From the delicious food to the musical Italian you’ll hear everywhere you go, Puglia is a cultural oasis. Once again, Puglia being less-traveled works in your favor. The restaurants cater to locals so they churn out quality local cuisine for rock-bottom prices. And what cuisine it is! You’ll find pizzerias of course (it is Italy after all), but also a wide variety of southern specialties that the rest of Italy just can’t match. Sea food, pastries, handmade pasta… nobody does it quite like la mia bella Puglia.
All that coastline has made created a melting pot. It shows in the cuisine but also in the very buildings themselves. Architectural and historical marvels abound: the soaring Baroque grandeur of Lecce, the white-washed medieval Ostuni, the fishing village of Gallipoli where stands the oldest fountain in Italy. These, along with countless other sights, are just part of the landscape and require no admissions ticket or lengthy queue to experience.
Best of all, the people of Puglia are so warm and delightful. Although most people speak enough English that you’ll be able to find your way around, they will patiently converse with you in Italian if you’d like to practice. Making new friends in Puglia is not only easy, it’s the best way to discover the region. And if your new friends are anything like the friends I made there, you’ll find yourself attending concerts and poetry slams and birthday parties.
So… See You in Italy?
If you want to lie by a pool, dine at a buffet, and mingle with other tourists – and believe me, the lure of a swim-up bar is no mean thing – Cancun is waiting. But if you want to soak up the Mediterranean sun, immerse yourself in local culture, stuff yourself full of incredible Italian food, and still have money left over for a bottle of regional wine… Well, now you know where to go.