Imagine getting paid $10,000 per month to swim with whale sharks, explore ancient ruins and lounge on the beach. Sounds too good to be true, right? Wrong!
In November 2017, Cancun.com began their search for their first CEO, as in Cultural Experience Officer. The job entails exploring Cancún for six months with all expenses paid and a monthly salary of $10,000. After sifting through 8,000 applicants, Cancun.com narrowed it down to 10 exceptional individuals and brought them to Cancún for final interviews. Ivan Nanney, aka “Ivan the Intrepid,” was announced the winner and began his journey as CEO in March.
Here at Beach.com, we’re interested in everything beach related in the Caribbean and Mexico, so naturally, when we learned of Ivan’s new position, we couldn’t wait to speak with him. We connected with Ivan during his stay at the brand new Xcaret hotel in Cancún.
Boise, Idaho-native Ivan developed a travel bug after taking a cruise in high school and then studying abroad in Spain and backpacking around the world. He got a job marketing for Idaho Potato Commission, where he drove a semi-truck with a 12,000-pound potato across the nation. He also worked on his content creation skills—skills that are vital for his current position as CEO. In Ivan’s own words, “‘Ivan the Intrepid’ kind of evolved as an opportunity to try and share my experiences, and as I’m learning, the things that I think that travel can give you. I wanted to share the good and bad, and how we grow through traveling. So that was kind of always the goal.”
Beach: In one of your videos I heard you say that you want to “change the world through travel.” What kind of change do you want to see? What kind of change do you think travel can create?
Ivan: Ultimately, my belief is that it makes you a better person. …I think that it’s a small thing, but I think that travel, obviously there’s different types, has the ability to create a ripple effect throughout your life and that’s why you should travel now—so that you can become the best person you can be and have these experiences that will affect the way you interact with the world from here on out. To me that’s why travel is so important and I think that you should do it now. Don’t wait. It begins within yourself and then it affects everything you do the rest of your life.
Beach: You’ve been the CEO of Cancun for six weeks now. What were you expecting going into the job and what’s different from your expectations?
Ivan: I feel like I had a pretty good expectation for the job. A lot of the headlines and stuff after I got it were like, “this guy is getting paid all this money to vacation in Cancún for six months.” I was pretty aware that it’s a job and it’s gonna be a busy job because there’s a lot to do, a lot to cover, and so it’s been good because it has been busy, and I want to look back at this six months and be like “yeah I got the most out of it.” […] There’s kind of an ambassadorial part of the job and also the content creation part, so with both of those roles, it definitely keeps you busy.
People ask what I do in my free time—well I don’t know. It’s hard because even in my free time I go out and explore and if I’m going out to explore I bring my camera and that’s content I’m capturing that will be part of a video or social media post later. It’s all kind of work…It’s hard to say. It’s a tough question to answer […] It goes back to that saying, “If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life” so I’m definitely loving what I’m doing. As someone who had a little YouTube channel and a blog, ultimately that’s what you would hope for—a job to make that sustainable.
Beach: Do you speak Spanish? Is there a language barrier or did you take classes before starting as CEO?
Ivan: Si, puedo hablar espanol, poquito. I always say it depends on the day and if I got a lot of sleep the night before. I studied it in school for a little bit. I studied abroad in Spain and I spent about seven months backpacking South America so I can get around. I can get by for sure, but there’s still a depth to the conversations I’m lacking so I’m hoping after this six months, I’ll know all the Mexican slang words and be able to speak with the locals.
Beach: You have a ton of things planned, what are you most excited for that you haven’t done yet in Cancún?
Ivan: I’d say first off, just because I’m here and it stands out to me, I get to spend the whole month at Xcaret, which is a brand new property, and I get access to all the parks. I’ll be getting very intimate with all the parks and there’s a wide diversity of activities. For me that’s really exciting. What I’m looking forward to later on in the year is the whale shark season, that’s been on my bucket list for a while now. The snorkeling and scuba diving is going to be very exciting with those 40-foot beasts.
One of the most magical things about this region geographically are the cenotes, such a unique formation. For those that don’t know, the ground here is so porous, that the water and all the rivers are underground and every once in a while there’s a section of the ground that dries out and collapses and exposes the water […] They are full, clear water pools that you can go swim and snorkel in and there are tunnels that are underground rivers that you can scuba dive in and they connect each other, it’s just insane. It’s crazy.
Beach: Why were you drawn to Cancún and to the CEO position specifically in Cancún?
Ivan: There’s definitely a lot of reasons that would attract someone to this job obviously, but for Cancún specifically, like I said, my first time ever outside the country was actually to this region of the world, the Yucatan peninsula. I went to Progreso and Cozumel. That was where I first experienced my first cenote and was the first time I got to watch life outside the United States […] those kinds of moments really stick with you. So, to me, when this job came about and it was in this part of the world it just felt like my travel life was coming full circle and I was finally making it back to where it all began. And to me it was really special in that regard and obviously what I love to do is explore, experience and share this job—from a job perspective. It’s definitely the dream job.
Beach: Can you tell us more about what the locals are like in Cancún and the areas you’re going to?
Ivan: Yeah, I get a lot of interaction with the locals who work in the hotels and out on the streets, the taxi drivers. And everything has been super positive. I talk to them a lot, especially because of what I’m doing here, and I want to know what they think of the tourism industry. The reality is that this part of the world was set up to receive visitors and to become a tourist destination.
All the industries here depend on us coming and everyone is super appreciative of everyone and knows how important it is to their livelihoods. It’s something that they’re all very passionate about, and you can hear it when they talk about the destination—the location.
It’s just fun seeing people from all over Mexico who’ve come here for the opportunities and to interact with travelers. Most people aren’t from here, they’re from other parts of Mexico. Hearing their stories of what brought them here and why they’re here is super fun. They love visitors from the US and Canada, and the rest of the world. When I tell them what I’m doing I’m like ‘my goal is to get more people to come down here and spend money!’ And they just laugh and they’re like ‘yeah bring them all!’
Beach: Is there one beach resort that stands out to you more than the others? Why?
Ivan: Every place is definitely unique, it’s hard because each one has their own offering. It’s hard to compare any to Xcaret because my experience here, from the architecture to the layout to the activities you can do, I mean they have a river where you can paddleboard and kayak around and they have four kilometers of beach. […]
It’s hard to find a bad stretch of beach down here.
I was talking to some people at Live Aqua the other day and they were like, “Yeah, when we saw the pictures for the hotel and we saw the beach, we figured, ‘don’t get our expectations too high, because it’s not gonna live up,’” but when they got here, the water really does look like that, the sand really does look like that. Hashtag no filter!
Beach: Is there a tour or site in Cancún that most tourists don’t usually take that you strongly recommend?
Ivan: There was a sustainability summit here and I got to go with them on the tour to Sian Ka’an, which is a biosphere reserve just south of Tulum. Sian Ka’an is actually a UNESCO Heritage Site and I went with a place called Community Tours and all the guides are Mayan. Our guide is actually the president now, I just posted a story about him on our Instagram. He grew up in the jungle harvesting gum from the gum trees. Before coming to the cities, they started this cooperative where they were guiding in Mayan only, into the jungle, and he only learned English in 2004. They started offering the tours in Spanish and English.
What I love about down here, with those eco-reserves, is it’s not like you just walk around and look at things. There are ways you can actually interact with nature. So, you’re taking boats out on the lagoon, you’re actually traveling down old Mayan travel routes through the mangroves and stuff. And then you get out and there’s a natural lazy river and you just float down it. It’s crystal clear water in between these lagoons. So that definitely stands out.
Beach: What would you say to those that are worried Mexico isn’t safe?
Ivan: [Laughs] I think that people need to give it a chance.
I think that you can’t define a destination by the headlines it receives. I think that we all intrinsically know that, but we forget when it’s not our own country.
The reality is that Cancún is very safe. It’s very travel-able. There’s a ton of travelers down here from all over the world that are having an amazing experience. Anywhere—it doesn’t matter if you’re in Omaha, Nebraska, or if you’re in Cancún, or you’re in Sao Paolo—you have to use a certain level of street smarts. There’s just certain things you don’t do when you’re in an area you don’t know.
Beach: What we want to do next is a quick-fire round of questions. I’ll ask you some questions about Cancún and you have three seconds to answer. Just shoot out the first thing that comes to mind—it’s really easy.
Ivan: Three seconds, alright. What if I say a bad word? You’ll edit that out, right?
Beach: What’s your favorite Cancún dish?
Ivan: I just had a molé crème brûlée and it was really awesome. Outside of that, food wise, I had a bread bowl, that had a habanero cream soup.
Beach: What’s your favorite nightlife scene or bar in Cancún?
Ivan: I’ve only been to Coco Bango so far, so I have to go with Coco Bango.
Beach: What’s your favorite tequila?
Ivan: I tried a Cuatrocientos Conejos, so 400 Rabbits, and it was actually a mezcal. I really liked it because mezcal is a little bit different—I did a Facebook live on it. It’s made from a different type of agave, but it’s got a real smoky taste to it and it’s usually paired with some oranges or cucumbers and stuff. I enjoyed the experience of it and also the smoky burn that comes with mezcal.
Beach: What’s your favorite Cancún beach?
Ivan: Favorite beach, I always say, is the one I’m at.
Beach: Favorite hidden gem?
Ivan: If we’re talking about food, I really enjoyed a place called El Palomar in Cozumel. That was an amazing little restaurant in an old historic building […] this place is actually a really nice restaurant that’s like, 80% local. I still consider it a hidden gem with amazing food.
Beach: What’s your best travel tip?
Ivan: Don’t plan everything. Leave some room for the unexpected and for the spontaneous events that can occur during a trip. Otherwise, you miss out on a lot of great opportunities because you’re too regimented. So type-A people—let it go!
Beach: Last question—in Mexico, is guac extra?
Ivan: No, in most places I’ve been staying, it’s included and it’s a bad thing ‘cause I eat a lot of guac!