The New Cancun, Plus Riviera Maya and Tulum
Forget beer-bonging spring breakers; the new Cancun is grown-up and sophisticated with lush side trips to Riviera Maya and the ancient ruins of hipster destination Tulum.
The ancient ruins of Tulum
photo courtesy of tulum.com
Banish your preconceptions of beer- and tequila-pounding spring breakers and more-flash-than-class visions of Cancun. It is possible to experience a luxe, adults-only or family-friendly trip to Cancun’s sparkling Caribbean waters and powdery white sand beaches with nary a bikini contest in sight. Just avoid the month of March and book at one of Cancun’s many all-inclusive couples-only or family-friendly resorts. And with new daily direct flights from KCI airport to Cancun via American Airlines beginning next month, you can be sipping a prickly pear margarita beachside by noon. (The hotel zone is just 10 minutes from the Cancun airport.) Side trips to the lush Riviera Maya, approximately 45 minutes south of the Cancun airport, and the newly hippie-chic destination Tulum add to the nature and culture quotient.
When to Go: April is high season in Cancun and with less chance of spring breakers than March. In addition, Food & Wine magazine will host its popular Wine & Food Festival in the area. This year’s dates are April 28-May 1. The rainy season and hurricane season overlap from May to November, so your other best bet is to escape winter blues with a Mexican jaunt December through February.
photo courtesy of the ritz-carlton, cancun
The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun
This luxe resort directly on the beach offers all the amenities and excellent service known to this hotel brand. All rooms boast ocean views; a deluxe spa features several Mayan-inspired treatments such as an after-sunset Mayan Sanctuary Ritual massage on the beachfront terrace; and on-site dining options abound from a club grill, sushi bar, and Mexican café to more formal dining at avant-garde Mediterranean Fantino, a AAA-Five-Diamond restaurant. Romantics can arrange a seafood dinner at one of the hotel’s beachside cabanas. Foodies can take classes in Mexican and Yucutan cuisine at the seaside The Culinary Center or sample wine and tequila tastings. This resort regularly makes Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List. ritzcarlton.com/cancun
The ritz-carlton, cancun - photo courtesy of the ritz-carlton, cancun
Le Blanc Spa Resort, Cancun
Named the No. 2 All-inclusive Resort in the World by TripAdvisor, Le Blanc offers white sandy beaches and luxury amenities for adult couples only. The fresh and neutral decors feature Bvlgari bath products, an Apple TV, double shower heads, a special “pillow menu,” and in-room aromatherapy. The expansive spa includes 19 treatment rooms, such as Le Blanc D’Or Suite and a Vichy Suite and a full-service salon. Indulge in gourmet meals at Blanc International, Blanc Italia or Blanc Asia. Enjoy unlimited golf at a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course or book a tour with the Aquatwister boat/water ride that navigates through a local lagoon and mangrove channels — plus opportunities to snorkel on the edge of the second largest reef in the world. leblancsparesort.com
JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa
This resort offers private balconies with ocean views, pillow-top beds, marble bathrooms and a top-rated Mayan-inspired spa. Dining options, shared with the hotel’s sister property next door, include Italian, Thai, Southwestern and Argentine cuisines. A Kids Club is available for your tiny tots and golfers can play at nearby Riviera Cancun Golf Club or Playa Mujeres Golf Course. A dive pool, free-form adult pool and family pool accommodate all forms of loungers, or soak up the sun beachside. marriott.com/hotels/travel/cunjw-jw-marriott-cancun-resort-and-spa/
To Do in Cancun:
Today’s high-end Cancun resorts offer so many water sports, amenities, spa treatments and fine dining that you scarcely need to leave the property. However, for wanderlusts, city slickers and adventure seekers you can enjoy a day shopping at the outdoor mall La Isla Shopping Village (Coach, Guess, Zara, Swarovski) within the hotel zone, take in a birdwatching tour, swim in a cenote (luminous freshwater pools in caverns, once reserved only for the Mayan gods) or zipline through the jungles at Xplor Park Cancun, scuba dive at Musa and explore its underwater museum of 500 contemporary sculptures, or swim with dolphins and spot sea turtles at Xcaret ecological park. Major Mayan ruins Chichén Itzá, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, is just 112 miles west of Cancun and can be visited via a day tour.
Musa underwater museum
Sidetrip to Riviera Maya and Tulum
Forty-five minutes to an hour south of Cancun lies a 100-mile stretch of pristine beaches, archeological ruins and nature preserves that make up Riviera Maya and its glamorous main beach city, Playa del Carmen (the latter can be reached via a scenic boat ride on a ferry). You can venture from Cancun to Riviera Maya for the day, or better yet, book a hotel to more leisurely explore the region over a few days.
Riviera Maya Hotels
banyan tree mayakoba - photo courtesy of banyan tree Hotels & Resorts Pte. Ltd.
Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Asian-style hospitality and lush Mexican nature coincide at this sustainable five-star resort located within the gated resort development of Mayakoba. The Condé Nast Traveler Gold List resort offer 117 villas as the sole accommodations — from garden to beachfront properties — each with private outdoor pools and terraces. The spa offers Thai-inspired therapies in private therapy villas or a unique cascading Rain Walk and Aroma Steam Chamber. Likewise, signature restaurant Saffron sits on a deck overlooking tropical mangroves and serves contemporary Thai cuisine. Guests can golf at Mayakoba’s Greg Norman-designed El Camaleón golf course, home to the PGA Tour Mayakoba Golf Classic. banyantree.com/en/em-mexico-mayakoba
This sleek, high-design hotel is great for couples or families. It offers both jungle and beach settings with lagoon or oceanfront suites. Suites come with butler service, heated plunge pool, deck and boat dock, and outdoor rain showers. Rejuvenate at Sense Spa, lounge at three pool oases, golf at Mayakoba’s El Camaleón golf course that threads through jungle to beachfront, and dine at four stellar restaurants serving everything from contemporary Italian cuisine to sushi and tequila. rosewoodhotels.com/en/mayakoba-riviera-maya
Viceroy Riviera Maya
Viceroy is a low-key hotel in Playa del Carmen for couples and/or families with children 16 and older. There is no formal lobby, and the eco-chic villas are the sole accommodations. The 41 jungle- and ocean-based private villas include a patio and plunge pool, outdoor shower, hammock and 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. Enjoy temazcal baths at the seaside spa, gourmet restaurant La Marea, a poolside bar, and activities that range from scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and sailing to horseback riding. viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/rivieramaya
El CamaleÓn Golf Course at Mayakoba - photo courtesy of mayakobagolf.com
To Do in Riviera Maya:
Nature lovers should consider a visit to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, one of Mexico’s largest protected reserves and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Xplor (xplor.travel/) in Playa del Carmen offers ziplining through the jungles and underground floating and rafting tours in cenotes. For adrenaline junkies Hidden Worlds Family Cenote Park (mayazone.com/hidden-worlds), near Tulum, offers the jungle and splash zipline that end in the water; the Avatar, a sky cycling adventure where a bike is suspended above the jungle; plus the first roller coaster zipline in the world. The Dolphin Royal Swim at Dolphin Discovery (dolphindiscovery.com) offers a truly unique water ride via dorsal fin. Lastly, check out the world’s second largest coral reef from nearby Cozumel.
Once a sleepy beach community, bohemian Tulum has recently become a trendy destination for yoga lovers, fashion stylists and nomadic gypsets. More eco-chic than luxe, this is a laidback new-agey destination on the south end of Riviera Maya and about an hour and a half from Cancun.
To Do in Tulum:
One of its prime draws is the ancient ruins of Tulum, dramatically carved into cliffs along the coast when Tulum was a thriving Mayan trade center. These 13th- to- 15th-century homes, places and temples overlooking the azure sea are a sight to behold. Meanwhile, much of the architecture in town clings to the thatched-roof palapas style, and the town is divided between the beach side and jungle side. The entire town can be navigated by foot or bicycle. Another Tulum destination, though deemed a bit overrated by some visitors, is the world famous, open-air restaurant Hartwood (hartwoodtulum.com), located in the jungle. Expect an entirely wood-burning, Mayan-inspired menu from expat chef Eric Werner (the restaurant has no electricity!). Think roasted whole fish, grilled octopus, langoustine salad, papaya empanadas and eggplant with Mayan honey prepared in the open-air kitchen. Get in line mid-afternoon or expect waits up to two hours. Afterward, grab drinks at the sceniest hotel bar in town, Zamas (zamas.com), with its bright pink, blue and yellow tables. Shop local boutiques for souvenir leather sandals, sundresses, unique jewelry and local mezcal (a smoky version of tequila).
COqui Coqui Tulum Residence & Spa - photo courtesy of tulum.com
This boutique hotel and spa offers a good setting; a young, hip crowd; and excellent food. All 20 jungle or ocean suites include rustic limestone walls, freestanding tubs, a private pool or jacuzzi and terrace, Wi-Fi and air conditioning (not always a given in Tulum). The top-rated Yaan Spa offers private meditation classes, massages, energy healing and Mayan herbal baths. The hotel’s beach club includes a pool, bar and restaurant just steps from the ocean. betulum.com
Coqui Coqui Tulum Residence & Spa
Described as “rustic yet sultry,” Coqui Coqui is the brainchild of Italian designer Francesca Bonato and her husband, Nicolas Malleville, an Argentine model for Burberry and Gucci. Of course the couple’s fashion credentials brought in their share of A-listers — Jade Jagger and Sienna Miller are regulars. A rough-hewn limestone beach house was transformed into an intimate inn with six rustic-chic guest rooms with polished concrete floors, a glamorous black lobby, and sandy-floored restaurant. The spa offers a tranquil Ocean Bath Ritual including a candlelit coconut- and bath-salt soaking, among other treatments. coquicoqui.com/tulum/