While there can be dangerous activity in the country of Mexico, the truth is, the prestigious resorts and beaches, upscale dining, and shopping make it worth the risk. Over the years, Mexico has become majorly Americanized, but it is still packed with incredible things to see and offers affordable Cancun luxury.
Having been to Cancun many times over the course of twenty years, I have personally witnessed it growing to the world class vacation destination that it is today. Located on the northwest Yucatan Peninsula, the Mexican state Quintana Roo began in 1974 as a pioneer of the planned-center cities and implemented it to top tourist destination quite well. Cancun’s elegant shopping centers, luxurious hotels, and attention to customer service make this a trifecta vacation destination.
The colorful waters of Cancun are simply dazzling and the tropical climate on the Caribbean Sea offers sparkly white sand beaches. Water sports and fishing are abundant here plus there are a plethora of phenomenal golf courses, Moon Palace, a Jack Nicklaus designed course, being my husband’s favorite.
Cancun has four distinct shopping areas: Luxury Avenue, an upscale indoor mall, chock full of high end shops such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Burberry; La Isla Outdoor Shopping Village, in the hotel zone, with mostly American stores (Tommy Hilfiger) and restaurants (Chili’s); the famous flea market, Coral Negro Market, with pushy shop workers that will drive you crazy trying to lure you in and sell you their wares; and Flamingo Plaza (Plaza Caracol Mal), a tourist hot spot, with unique places such as Rainforest Cafe, CocoBongo Show and Disco, Pat O’Brien’s and Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville. Cancun is known for its 925 silver jewelry and the prices can be bargained for. Some pieces are quite unique.
One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Cenacolo, located at Plaza KuIkulcan, and is known for their hand made pastas and outstanding wine list. Try the beef carpaccio, “little green hats”, and lobster ravioli. Their version of tiramisu, closer to a mousse or pudding and served in a frozen bowl, is sheer decadence. Cenocalo is superb homemade Italian fare in a beautiful, yet casual candlelight setting. Another great meal experience is to attend a live dinner/dance show buffet at Hacienda Sisal, or you can skip the dance show completely and just order from a menu. We had the best fajitas ever , with delicious quality ingredients and velvety black beans, but our friends who had the buffet were not crazy about the lower food quality. Hacienda has strolling musicians and a tequila list, some old and expensive, that runs up to $200 a shot. All in all, this is a great place to take a group and a guaranteed fun time.
My top three favorite resorts in Cancun are the Ritz Carlton, Le Meridian, and Casa Magna Marriott.
Cancun’s Ritz Carlton is the creme de la creme of luxury hotels. We were there once with a convention and another time with our children for Spring Break. My daughters loved the spectacular pool and hot tubs. The pool service was typical Ritz perfection and the food wonderful as well. I attended the Ritz Carlton cooking school twice, and it was well worth the cost. One class menu taught us Mexican featuring fresh salsa, guacamole, skirt steak tacos, black beans, homemade corn tortillas, and the class favorite, margatini’s. The second class, with my husband, taught us how to prepare red snapper and shrimp ceviche, and was concluded with a trio of chocolate desserts. The churros with hot chocolate ganache were simply to die for!
Le Meridian, a Starwood Property, is a small boutique hotel, with one of the top rated spas, The Spa Del Mar, in Cancun, and the close proximity of everything makes it cozy and is great for conventions, which we were attending. It is right in the middle of the hotel zone and is situated so that every room has a partial or full ocean view. Our executive suite included a full living room, two small balconies, a full kitchen, two full baths, and a very spacious bedroom. The rate was around $300 per night, which we thought was reasonable for a luxury suite. The hotel deserved an A+ for their impeccable service and delicious food. The best part of our experience at Le Meridian were the mesmerizing infinity pools. Three pools, located on different and lower decks, feature warm, cool, and cold water temperatures surrounded by plush beach lounges and a beautiful view of the sparkling waters. The poolside bar makes a perfect mojito and guacamole dip, but our group did drink enough mojitos to render the restaurants out of mint leaves.
The “beachside magnificence“, as quoted from their website and perfectly fitting, of the Casa Magna Marriott will satisfy the soul of the traveler staying here. Though Casa Magna is an older resort, it has tasteful and impressive restaurants and the swimming pools and hot tub on the oceanfront are dazzling. La Capilla, an Argentinian restaurant, has an amazing Chateaubriand for Two, a Roquefort cheesecake (NOM), or you can opt for their salad bar.
Our first trip to Mexico, when we were young and poor, was to stay at a friend’s time share, but when we arrived, they tried to “bait and switch” us to a dump, in an unsafe part of town, which I was not having any part of. We were exhausted, but took a cab to find something that looked familiar to us, the Marriott Hotel. The manager of Casa Magna explained that they were sold out that night, but went as far as to call a hotel and send us to a close-by property, and again send for us the next day when the Marriott was able to prepare a room for us. Though the rate was greater than we could afford at the time, we were welcomed to a lovely hotel room and a resort with the most friendly staff that made us feel totally relaxed and at home. Marriott Corporation helped us make the most of an otherwise bad travel experience, and within days, we had forgotten all about our first miserable day in Mexico and enjoyed a memorable holiday. To this day, twenty plus years later, we still choose Marriott properties whenever possible; Ritz Carlton, for luxury trips, Marriott or JW for every day travel, and Residence Inn or TownePlace Suites when traveling with our dog.
For a quick day trip, explore the Mayan history by visiting Tulum, the ruins of a walled city fort to defend against warriors in the 1200 AD era on the top of a cliff overlooking the tranquil Caribbean Sea. The guided tour was informative and the guide kept it light and interesting; you will not understand the amazing ruins you are seeing without one. Take a swimsuit as you can enjoy swimming while there. Beware, this does require a two hour drive.
FYI: Cancun is known for its wild party atmosphere at places like Señor Frogs and Carlos ‘n’ Charlie’s. While these establishments are great fun, do not go if you think you might be easily offended at the scantily clad and drinking crowds. They get very rowdy. These are a treat for the open-minded traveler, but are not the family fun places for all ages.
FYI: The beaches in Cancun are mostly marked with red flags because of the rough waters and current.