Discovering Affordable Luxury in Cancun, Mexico
While there can be danger in traveling to the country of Mexico, the truth is, its prestigious resorts and beaches, upscale dining, and shopping make it worth the risk. At least for me.
Over the years, Mexico has become majorly Americanized, but it is still packed with incredible things to see and do. We love traveling there and have discovered affordable luxury in Cancun, Mexico unsurpassed nearly anywhere in the world. Here is what we recommend.
Cancun, A Great Success Story
Having been to Cancun many times over the course of twenty-five years, I have witnessed it growing to the world-class vacation destination that it is today.
Cancun is 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 quickly. Cancun’s elegant shopping centers, high-end hotels, and attention to customer service make this a trifecta vacation destination.
The blue hues of Cancun’s water are simply dazzling, as is the tropical climate. This part of the Caribbean Sea offers sparkly white sand beaches, ones you want to sink your toes into. Water sports and fishing are abundant in Cancun, Mexico or there are a plethora of phenomenal golf courses if that is more your speed. My husband swears by Moon Palace, a Jack Nicklaus designed course.
Cancun’s Luxury Shopping Malls
Cancun luxury is really apparent in the four distinct shopping areas of the city. Luxury Avenue, an upscale indoor mall, is chock full of high-brow shops such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Burberry. In the hotel zone, La Isla Outdoor Shopping Village offers mostly American stores and eateries (like Tommy Hilfiger and Chili’s, but the well-known brands attract many tourists.
Cancun’s famous flea market, Coral Negro Market, is filled with pushy shop workers that will drive you crazy trying to lure you in and sell you their wares, but the merchandise is plentiful and native to the area. A popular tourist hotspot is Flamingo Plaza (Plaza Caracol Mal) with unique attractions and restaurants including Rainforest Cafe, Coco Bongo Show and Disco, Pat O’Brien’s, and Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville. Cancun is known for its 925 silver jewelry. Vendors expect you to haggle over the prices so don’t pay what is first suggested. Many of the jewelry items are quite unique.
One of my favorite restaurants in the world (yes, the world!) is Cenacolo, a superb Italian restaurant in a Casula, yet candlelit setting in Plaza KuIkulcan. The attractive restaurant is known for their handmade pastas and outstanding wine list. Try try favorite meal: Beef Carpaccio (thinly sliced and perfectly paired with greens, oil, and herbs), “Little Green Hats”, and the Lobster Ravioli. Cenacolo’s version of Tiramisu is much closer to a mousse or pudding. It is served in a frozen bowl and the taste is heavenly!
Another great dining experience in Cancun, Mexico 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, with quality ingredients and velvety black beans. Our friends, who chose the buffet instead, were not crazy about the lower food quality. Hacienda has strolling musicians and a tequila list with selections that can run up to $200 a shot. All in all, this is a great place to take a group and you’re guaranteed a fun time.
Harry’s Steakhouse & Raw Bar is another great restaurant where you can get the freshest seafood dishes in a very upscale setting. This is where you go for incredible dry-aged steaks, creative cocktails, and impeccable service.
My top three favorite resorts in Cancun, Mexico are the Ritz Carlton, Le Méridien, and Casa Magna Marriott.
The Elegant Ritz Carlton
Cancun’s Ritz Carlton is the crème de la crème of luxury hotels. We were there once for a convention and again with our children for Spring Break. Our daughters loved the Ritz Carlton’s spectacular oceanfront swimming pool and hot tubs. The pool service was typical Ritz perfection with us never having to wait or want for anything. The food was tasty, too.
While at the Ritz Carlton Cancun, I attended the Ritz Carlton Culinary School Center twice, and it was well worth the cost. One class menu taught us traditional Mexican dishes such as fresh salsa, guacamole, skirt steak tacos, black beans, homemade corn tortillas, and the class favorite, Margatini’s. I still make several of these dishes today.
The second class I took was with my husband. We prepared a fancy Red Snapper, Shrimp Ceviche, and concluded with a trio of chocolate desserts. The dessert dish was amazing! I made and ate the best churros of my life here and the hot chocolate ganache was to die for!
On another trip to Cancun, Mexico, we stayed at Le Méridien, a Starwood Property. This small boutique hotel offers one of the best spas in town. I tried several treatments for research purposes, of course.
Le Méridien’s close proximity to the popular places in town makes it a great place to stay for conventions, which is why we were there in the first place. It is right in the middle of Cancun’s hotel zone and is situated so that every room has a partial or full ocean view.
Our executive suite at Le Méridien included a full living room, two small balconies, a full kitchen, two full baths, and a very spacious bedroom. Our rate was around $300 per night, which we found was reasonable for a luxury suite. The hotel gets an A+ for their impeccable service and delicious food.
Hands down, the best part of our Le Méridien vacation was the mesmerizing infinity pools. Three pools, located on staggered decks, features warm, cool, and cold water temperatures surrounded by plush beach lounges. They all afforded a lovely view of the sparkling ocean and beach. The poolside bar prepared perfect mojitos and creamy guacamole dip that we had daily.
Casa Magna Marriott
Offering “beachside magnificence”, as quoted from their website, is the perfect way to describe the Casa Magna Marriott. This resort will satisfy the traveler’s soul as it did ours. Though the Casa Magna is an older resort, it is tastefully decorated, has impressive restaurants, and ultimate beach views rom the swimming pools and oceanfront hot tub. At La Capilla, their Argentinian restaurant, try the Chateaubriand for Two, which was one of the best meals of our trip.
Bait and Switch- Marriott to Save the Day- A Personal Story
My first trip to Cancun is when my husband, Eddie, and I were very young and poor. A friend had sold us her timeshare points at a great bargain. We couldn’t wait to spend our big vacation in Cancun, Mexico.
When we arrived at the timeshare, they tried a “bait and switch” and the place was a dump and in an unsafe part of town. I was not having any part of this. We were exhausted from traveling, but took a cab to find something that looked familiar to us. Soon we encountered the Casa Magna Marriott, a brand we loved staying at and were loyalty club members of.
The hotel’s manager explained to us that they were sold out, but went as far as to call a nearby hotel and send us to their property for the night. The next day, he sent for us as soon as the Casa Magna Marriott could get a room prepared for us.
Though the hotel rate was greater than we could afford at the time, Eddie and I were welcomed to a lovely hotel room and a stellar resort with a 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.
Within days, Eddie and I had forgotten all about our first miserable day in Mexico and enjoyed a memorable vacation. To this day, twenty plus years later, we still choose Marriott properties whenever possible; Ritz Carlton brand, for luxury trips, Marriott or JW for everyday travel, and Residence Inn or TownePlace Suites, when traveling with our dog.
Side Trips in Cancun
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.
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