Quintessential Quintana Roo

In November of 2008, my wife and I made our first visit to Mexico’s east coast state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan Peninsula. Our destinations were Cancun and Puerto Morelos. Passing through immigration was speedy and efficient. When we reached our hotel, the oceanfront Le Meridien Cancun Resort & Spa, located in what is known as the Hotel Zone, we were greeted by the hospitable staff who served us mango sorbet and handed us cool washcloths; nice touches after a day of travel.

We quickly settled into a daily routine. We slept in, had breakfast at Le Meridien and then spent a couple of hours on their spectacular beach or poolside. Later in the day, we headed out for sightseeing, exploring or shopping. Before turning in at night, we sat on the beach sipping Xtabentum, the liqueur of Yucatan, made of anise and fermented honey.

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Xtabentum

Our outings included a visit to the El Rey ruins, an important Mayan archeological site, easily accessible by public bus. One early evening, we took a “lobster cruise,” sailing on the calm waters of the Nichupté Lagoon. The romantic excursion featured a grilled lobster and steak dinner, live music, open bar and a spectacular sunset.

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Iguana at El Rey Ruins

Selvatica Park provided us with an opportunity to experience the jungle. Our adventure included traversing the tree-top canopy via zipline for my wife, a hike in the jungle for me and then an all-purpose terrain vehicle ride to a cenote for a refreshing swim and, finally, back to the base for lunch. Cenotes are extraordinary geological formations. The Mayans considered them to be sacred and the entrance to the underworld, inhabited by fantastical monsters and beings. They are, in fact, collapsed limestone craters that create sinkholes leading to the extensive system of underground fresh water rivers found throughout the region.

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Cenote Entrance to Cave

We carved out time to shop. According to many travel polls, shopping is the number one vacation activity. Cancun features a complete range of merchandise, from table tops within a traditional marketplace setting to modern centers featuring expensive brand names. Our two favorites were picturesque Plaza La Isla and Luxury Avenue’s high-end boutique mall.

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Shopping at Plaza La Isla

Cancun has a vibrant restaurant scene. We dined at three local favorites, Yache, Labna and La Habichuela. All serve interesting, well prepared and reasonably priced food. Their regional Mexican, Yucatan, Caribbean and Mayan cuisine will not disappoint.

The Cancun portion of our trip ended too quickly and we were off to Puerto Morelos and the Ceiba Del Mar Beach & Spa Resort. It is named after the mystical ceiba tree, which plays a big role in Mayan mythology. This magical tree was believed to connect the land with the sky. After we arrived at the resort, my wife and I had a “couples massage” in their spa, followed by cocktails at the roof-top Sushi Lounge and then dinner in the resort’s open air dining room, Xtabay. On another evening, we had a memorable supper at their Arrecife Grill & Lounge, overlooking the Caribbean. Our days were filled with reading, lounging, walking on the beach, swimming and enjoying the lushly landscaped surroundings. The languid atmosphere, setting and top notch service makes this a very special place. Ceiba del Mar is the “find” all seasoned travelers search for. It was a wonderful companion to our outstanding stay in Cancun at Le Meridien Resort & Spa. They are resorts that complement each other, one in the big city and the other a small intimate getaway, with their own personalities but in sync when it comes to pampering guests.

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Ceiba del Mar Pool

Hotel Hopping. In November of 2008, in the Best Resorts in the World/Mexico category, Le Meridien Cancun was ranked #11 by Conde Nast readers. The grounds, pool area and beach are magnificent and, with only 213 rooms, you won’t get lost. Their Spa del Mar and state-of-the-art fitness center features steam and saunas, Swiss showers, a waterfall whirlpool and 14 treatment rooms. The breakfast buffet at the hotel features a daily exotic, non-alcoholic juice “eye-opener.” Hot entrees plus ever-changing side dishes, assorted breads, fresh fruit, cheese trays, freshly squeezed juice and home made pastries and jams completes the menu. We found the staff at Le Meridien well trained, knowledgeable and friendly. Another nice touch: it’s a non-smoking hotel and has earned green certification. Check rates and availability online at www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien. There are three restaurants at the resort.

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Le Meridien Cancun

Ceiba del Mar Beach & Spa Resort was ranked #14 in the Conde Nast poll mentioned earlier. Additionally, in their January 2009 Gold List, it was ranked #1 in rooms and #1 in service, with perfect 100% scores from the readers. Mayan and Mexican influences abound in the design and décor of the 88 rooms and suites. All accommodations have ocean views and are spread throughout seven low-rise buildings, all near the beach and the two outdoor swimming pools. The restaurants serve traditional and creative Mexican cuisine with a Mediterranean influence. The resort also features nice guest touches like a library, complimentary computer use, on-site dive shop, twice daily room make up, 24-hour room service and a concierge. We particularly liked their daily beach BBQ with grilled chicken, hamburgers and pork chops, plus freshly made guacamole and side dishes. I recommend their Full American Plan (FAP) which includes all meals as well as snacks and an open bar. Check online for package specials at www.ceibadelmar.com.

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Ceiba del Mar Gardens

 

There are over 150 hotels, ranging from budget to five star, in Cancun. If you have time, “hotel hopping” can be a fun, inexpensive way to sightsee. We stopped at Starwood’s Westin Resort to look around and ended up in their Heavenly Spa for a massage. It was a wonderful treat. We also had an outstanding lunch at the Mitachi Seaside Grill at the Hilton Golf & Spa Resort.

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Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort

 

Food Fun. There are approximately 400 restaurants in Cancun. Here are my recommendations: the Lobster Dinner Cruise, on the galleon Columbus, departs from Marina Aquatours located in the Hotel Zone (www.thelobsterdinner.com). La Habichuela and Labna are sister restaurants, located in the heart of downtown Cancun. Labna focuses on Yucatan specialties and regionalized Mexican dishes in a casual atmosphere. The award winning La Habichuela restaurant showcases Caribbean seafood and Mexican specialties. Dine in their marvelous sculpture garden filled with native plants and trees and don’t miss their Mayan coffee with dessert (www.lahabichuela.com). Yache, in Playa del Carmen, recently won an award as the best restaurant in Mexico, specializing in regional cuisine. Their outdoor garden features fountains and frescos that pay homage to the Mayan civilization (www.mayacuisine.com).

Transportation Tips. Taxis tend to be expensive, but public buses to/from/within the Hotel Zone run often and are cheap. One can wave down a bus anytime and they will pick you up, even if you’re not at a bus stop. Additionally, the Green Line offers inexpensive transportation to/from the Cancun International Airport into town.

Money Matters. American dollars are accepted throughout Mexico. Take lots of singles and small bills. Use your credit card and charge in pesos not dollars (better exchange rate than at hotels and/or restaurants). ATMs abound around town. If you have leftover pesos at the end of your vacation, don’t worry. The Cancun airport has an abundance of shops, restaurants and other opportunities to spend them.

Safe & Sound. Bottled water is recommended. There are many convenience stores where you can buy six-packs of water at a reasonable price (vs. at a hotel). A good spot to refill them is in the hotel’s fitness center or the spa. Order sunscreen and anti-bug spray online from Mexitan, www.mexitan.com. They are a must for tropical vacationing because most nature parks require eco-friendly, biodegradable products. Buy the convenient travel sizes for easy packing and to meet TSA requirements for carry-on luggage.

Information & Ideas. Approximately 25% of the Mexican Caribbean is designated as an ecological reserve. The offshore coral reef that runs from Cancun to Honduras is second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef. It is a diver’s/snorkeler’s dream. A Selvatica Park, www.selvatica.com.mx, soft adventure canopy tour is a worthwhile excursion. Transportation to/from your hotel is included in the price. Consider the Cancun Visitors Bureau, www.cancun.travel, as your primary source for information, travel tips and advice on both Cancun and Puerto Morelos. The crystal blue Mexican Caribbean and sunny weather make the area a choice vacation spot.

Safe travels and enjoy the journey…

Howard Hian,
www.Travels-with-Hian.com

 

*Cancun International Writers 2nd. Place Award, 2010

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